Readers nurturing the illusion that Stalinism vanished from the world in the brick dust of the Berlin Wall owe themselves this package tour of the totalitarian mind, a veritable Baedeker to the P.C.-paranoid brain. To her credit, Barry (author of Female Sexual Slavery, of which this book is an update) does not pretend to be objective in her broad, shallow survey of sexual enslavement throughout the modern world. In her introduction, she identifies herself as an early supporter of what she calls “The Dworkin-Mackinnon Ordinance,” and lambastes her opponents in the “Feminist” Anti-Censorship Task Force (quotations hers) as “lesbian sadomasochists and heterosexual women hiding behind their own pornographic lives.”
A self-described “abolitionist” in regard to all forms of sex-for-hire, Barry no longer believes there to be any meaningful difference between “free” and “forced” prostitution. “Challenging that distinction,” she declares, “is central to my work today.” Lifting off from this position, the author takes the reader on a quick helicopter trip over the sad and sorry lives of female sex workers around the planet. Mail-order brides from the Philippines, child slaves in Bangkok brothels, police-registered prostitutes in the legal red-light districts of Germany, and American porn stars blur past as dark patches on Barry’s map of worldwide villainy, individual circumstances dismissed as mere distractions from the broad reality that unites them: “prostitution—the cornerstone of all female exploitation.”
In her view, prostitution exists neither to satisfy the sexual needs of men nor the financial needs of women, but rather to facilitate class enslavement by gender through the use of economic coercion and physical force. She dismisses the contrary opinions of women who consider themselves to be voluntary participants in the sex industry as “expressions of hopelessness.” That out of the way, Barry quickly moves on to join battle with her new classes of enemies: pro-prostitution “sex workers” and “sexual liberals who promote pornography as free speech and prostitution as consensual sex.” These individuals, she asserts without a blink, belong on the same list with “pimps… pornography purveyors, wife-beaters, child molesters, incest perpetrators, johns (tricks) and rapists.” Though the inductive leap from sexual liberals to rapists would seem breathtaking to many, it clearly doesn’t faze an author who finds much to admire in postwar Vietnam’s brutal anti-sex work campaign, which subjects recidivist female prostitutes to forcible “re-education.” And you thought I was joking about the Stalinism thing.
It’s easy enough to dismiss this book as additional mad rantings from a radical fringe of the feminist movement, more embarrassing to its friends than effective against its foes. Unfortunately, in her haste to indict intellectual heretics, Barry further obscures the very real evil she so vividly identified in her previous book. By falsely conflating the real experiences of San Fernando Valley porn stars and children abducted from Indian villages, she insults the dignity of the former while trivializing the desperation of the latter. Like the collectivist regimes for which she feels such nostalgia, Barry endangers her own cause by looking for enemies where none exist while overlooking the real ones nearby.
Paperback: 381 pages