Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dr. Phil wages a One-Man battle to Save our Children from Prostitution

On my day off yesterday, I was flipping channels and noticed the programming notes for Dr. Phil said it was about internet prostitution. So of course, I had to watch it. Wow! I'm very easily provoked. There are so many things on TV that make me crazy. But this was above and beyond. And what really makes me angry and so very sad is that very few people who saw that show will take a step back from it and really think about what was going on there.

So my first beef is a simple and kind of comical one. He started the segment I tuned in on by saying that he has 'made it his business' to make parents aware of the things that are going on on the internet so that they aren't 'the last to know'. Gee thanks Dr. Phil! Most parents are so stupid and clueless, they would have no idea their daughters are prostitutes if you didn't tell them! He called the show 'The Dark Side of the Internet'. As if these kinds of things are happening only because the internet is around. There's a reason why prostitution is called the world's oldest profession. It's been happening since before recorded history and throughout all that time, people who want or need to do it and people who want the services of prostitutes have been finding whatever means they can to meet up. This is not something that has suddenly just started happening because Craigslist came into being. The sex industry has always been a major driver of technology. Those in the sex industry are early adopters of new technologies and figure out quickly how to use them to their advantage. It's just the way it is!

On to the more serious issue on this show. The second segment was about a young woman (early 20's I think) who got into prostitution through Craigslist because she could not find a decent job when she finished school and could not afford to make her student loan payments. I thought she presented herself as very thoughtful, intelligent, and together. I was impressed with her ability to sit there and admit to the things she was doing without letting Dr. Phil or the audience really phase her. She had made an arrangement with one man who was paying her weekly to be her companion. She said she was not having sex with him but acknowledged that might happen at some point. She felt she was better off in this arrangement because it was safer for her physical and mental health than having sex with many men and she wanted to continue this arrangement until she could find another solution to her financial problems. That's why she was on the show, she claimed - to get help.

Rather than help her, all Dr. Phil did was berate her about the choices she had made and tell her that she needed to get real. It seemed to me that she was very real. If it hadn't been so cruel and upsetting, it might have been laughable because he kept trying to confront her with the reality of what she was doing when it was quite clear that she was very aware of the reality. Here's a paraphrase of some of the exchanges I can remember:

Dr. Phil: You do understand that what you're doing is prostitution?
Woman: yes, of course I do.

Dr. Phil: You know that what you're doing is very dangerous?
Woman: yes, I know it could be dangerous and that scares me and that's why I want to stop

Dr. Phil: You know you have to tell your mother (I'm not sure where this was coming from because her mother was never mentioned)
Woman: yes, I am planning on telling her and that's part of why I came here, so that I'm forced to be honest with the people in my life about what I'm doing

Dr. Phil: You know you have to stop doing this?
Woman: Yes, I want to stop doing it. I'm just scared that if I run into money problems again, I'll go back to it because I know I can make a lot of money quickly.

He continued to throw judgements at her without allowing her the chance to explain herself. So here are my answers to his judgements and accusations:
He said 'I don't care what you have to do to make money, you sling hash at the burger doodle if you need to'. Mr. Millionaire here has lost touch with the fact that slinging hash at the burger doodle does not pay enough to cover living expenses much less a $1000 a month student loan debt.
'Just default on your student loan'. Yes, she certainly could do that. But she went to school for interior design and probably, once she can get herself going, she may be looking at starting a business down the road. You can't do that if your credit is in the toilet. And I know it seems strange that someone would choose to sell their body rather than ruin their credit rating but it's a choice to be made. And defaulting on a student loan, at least in Canada, is not an easy thing to do. It follows you for many years. Did she ever have access to people who could help her deal with her financial problems? Probably not.
'Go live on your mother's couch or live in the back of your car in the alley'. Clearly, mother's couch is not an option. And how exactly does Dr. Phil thinks it's safer for a woman to sleep in her car alone on the street than it is to meet men privately for sex (she was not hooking on the street, she was receiving calls from men and making appointments)? My guess is that the car would be more dangerous. And it's pretty rough to keep yourself in decent enough shape physically and emotionally when you are living in a car, to be able to land a job when the opportunity comes up.

They then had another woman with a horrible story and graphic gory pictures to go along with it, come on and tell her how she was brutally beaten, raped and almost murdered while she was working in the sex trade. This was done in order to scare the woman into quitting. It seemed to me she was already scared. Then a cop who was on the first segment who trolls Craigslist and busts women for prostitution was asked for his two cents. He was extremely crude and judgemental, and talked to both women as if they were children. 'I don't know how many times,' he said, 'these women have to get beaten and raped and almost murdered for them to figure out that this is dangerous'.

I think that is exactly the wrong question. My question would be 'How many times does a woman have to be murdered and dumped in a field for us to realize that prostitution is dangerous and that the women who do it need protection?' I don't understand how this becomes the woman's fault when clearly, it's the fault of the men who are committing these heinous crimes. In most cases, if a woman has a better option, she will not choose to sell her body for money. It's not an easy thing to do. They made it sound as if it was a glamorous wonderful job and they just couldn't hold themselves back from the intrigue of it. What they can't hold themselves back from is the money they need to survive. Prostitution has always existed and in most modern-day societies it has always been illegal. Making it illegal has done nothing to stop it. Maybe it's time we all 'get real' and look at how we can deal with the real problem - which is not that women are selling their bodies for money, it's that they feel they need to and that they don't have other options. Let's protect those who choose to do it from the dangers, which is not the act itself, but the health risks and safety risks that can go along with it. We can actually do something about that.

In the end, Dr. Phil promised to set the woman up with counselling so she could deal with her 'issues'. I think her real issue is that she paid for an education that she cannot seem to use for her benefit and she has to pay her rent and her student loan bills. I hope the counsellor will give her a job that pays as much as she's being paid by this man she met. Then she won't need to do something she clearly wishes she didn't have to do.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Have We Really Lost our Innocence or Have We Never Had it At All?

If you read this blog, you'll have figured out that I'm a reality TV addict. I, like so many others I'm sure, find it fascinating to watch these shows that purport to portray 'real life' when we all know that having a camera in your face dramatically changes your behavior. Not to mention the editing and 'unscripted' scripting that goes on. Although they often show us the worst of human behavior, I do think that some reality shows can hold up a mirror for us to see what our society values - how are certain attitudes and behaviors portrayed in these shows?

One of the shows I watch religiously is America's Next Top Model. The show is diametrically opposite to everything I value, and yet I find it entertaining. But I think my love affair with that show may be coming to an end. I used to think that Tyra Banks was all right and had some decent values and was certainly entertaining to watch. Now that I've seen her talk show several times, my opinion of her has changed. On the premiere of the new season of Top Model, her attitude came out full force. For their photoshoot, the women (who are all over 18 but are always referred to as 'girls'), were asked to wear costumes that made them look like little girls and pose in a playground. In the background of all of the shots were three other women who were meant to portray 'bad girls' - one of them was pregnant, one of the them looked like a junkie etc. The idea, they were told, was to show how girls are losing their innocence. Tyra Banks told them that this is an important issue to her because she did a survey on her talk show that showed that 1 in 5 girls wants to be a teen mom and that teenage girls are 'out of control'.

So let's think about this. Tyra Banks left home and went to Paris to pursue modelling by herself when she was 16. Is that an innocent childhood? And more to the point is the fact that she is touting this idea of perserving the innocence of young girls when she has made her fame and fortune in an industry that capitalizes on the sex appeal of very young women. To get a foothold in modelling, girls really need to start in their mid-teens. 21 is considered old in the modeling world. They want very young girls and women working in the industry but they make up the 16 and 17 year-olds to look much older than they are and much more sexualized than they probably are. Talk about lost innocence! All of these ads end up in magazines and on TV for young girls to look at. Yet, we don't hear Tyra mention that the advertising and fashion industries are a major driver in the desire of teenage girls to look and act much older than they are.

The innocence she is attempting to portray is so idealized as to be laughable. She had these women in pigtails and short frilly dresses. It's such a narrow view of what a 'good girl' really is. I don't think very many of us wore pigtails and frilly dresses and played hopscotch in the playground every day. Sure, we may have done that sometimes, but we also studied math, played team sports, played music, hung out with our friends at the 7-11, talked about boys, flirted with boys (and girls), stole chocolate bars from the 7-11, felt lonely and depressed, snuck a taste of beer at a party, and maybe we had family lives that were pretty crappy and childhood was rough. No one has that kind of idealized childhood so why do we try to force girls to act like 'good little girls'? It's a standard that is not based in reality. And through that lens, a lot of behavior that is actuall pretty typical teenage behavior becomes 'bad'.

Girls are sexual beings. Tyra Banks of all people should understand that. Why are we so scared to let them be a little sexual? We portray images of sexuality all around them and then when, in real life, they start to let that out a little bit and feel their sexuality, we label them as bad girls and send them to counsellors to straighten them out. The whole thing just baffles me and I'm not the least bit surprised that so many girls are confused about sex and sexuality. I think if we could just allow girls a little room to be who they are - and that includes their sexuality - they might not feel so restricted and needing to break out and prove they can be themselves. If we acknowledge that girls are sexual and give them opportunities to express and explore that, they can take ownership over their sexuality and make decisions that make sense for them. It's so past time for us to stop treating teenaged girls like idiots with scary demons inside of them. Because the problem there is, when that's what they are told they are, that's exactly how they act.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Toy Reviews are Not All Equal

Nothing annoys me more than 'sex experts' who decide that they are also 'sex toy experts'. Even if a person is an actual sex therapist, that does not mean that s/he understands anything about toys. Sex and sex toys are two different things. So I get crazy when these 'experts' start talking about toys. Inevitably, people start calling me looking for these great toys and I have to try to explain to them that, no matter how much this expert raved about it, the toy is actually a piece of garbage. People are loathe to believe me because, hey, they saw that toy on TV. Shouldn't these people feel some sort of obligation to know what they're talking about.

Here are some prime examples:

Ok, Sue Johansen is an easy shot but I'm going to take it anyway. She does toy reviews often, in fact, she has a segment on her show for toy reviews. The first problem with Sue's reviews is that she willnever admit that she uses the toys - which she probably doesn't. It's not very informative or very genuine to simply talk about what 'your reviewer' thought of the toy. Why not bring that reviewer on? But even that isn't good enough. When they do have others on to review porn, they don't say anything at all. They don't tell you what is really in the movies, they just say whether they liked it or not, without even really saying why.

You can see some of Sue's toy reviews on oxygen.com. It's clear that she doesn't know anything about the toys. The one I particularly love is her review of a kit called the 'princess pleasure kit' which contains a toy from her 'Royal' collection. It's pretty clear that she's not even aware of the fact that the toy is from her line.

She gives a harness a great review even though it's got a horrible attachment mechanism, it's made of hard leather in a style that will clearly cut painfully into your inner thighs, and it has a nasty jelly rubber attachment.

Joy Davidson is another exmaple I've seen. Joy is a certified sex therapist and I actually respect her. She did a series of videos that you can find on her site and on youtube. Her toy session is laughable. She understands how toys work, but she doesn't know anything about what's a good toy and not. If you watch the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY0RSXLzXJ8&feature=PlayList&p=D560F571EE85BE93&index=8 , you'll see her demo the 'fluttering butterfly'. This is one of the worst toys I've ever seen. I actually have that toy in my bad toy box where it has been slowly melting to the point where it's almost disintigrated. Joy does show several items that are decent such as the Fukuoku, Liquid Silk, and a Sportsheets harness (minus the nasty dildo she's got in it). The problem is, she obviously doesn't know which is good and which is bad. You have to give people a little info on the toy itself, not just what it does.

Another great example is Laura Berman. I know, I take lots of shots at Laura Berman too but that's only because she's so out there. Laura Berman was on Oprah, again, several weeks ago. I missed it, but I've heard that she was promoting one of her toys. I know this becuase I had several requests for that toy. I can get Laura Berman's toys. And our policy here at the Tickle Trunk is that we will order toys for people even if we don't normally carry them. But I want people to be happy with their purchases and so I feel obligated to tell them that this Berman toy is a remake of the Hitachi Magic Wand. The Berman toy in question is made by California Exotics which is one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the world and produces mostly inferior quality plastic and jelly rubber toys. Why get that when you can get a Hitachi for the same price? It would be easy for me to bring in her toys because Laura's doing a great job of promoting them for me. But they aren't good toys. Again, the thought is there, the idea is good, but she doesn't know enough about toys to make sure that her toys are superior quality and to educate people about how to know that.

I have run across a great toy review site. It's a podcast called 'Sex is Fun'. One of my team members, Kristen, alerted me to this and it's fabulous. They review mostly top quality toys from smaller manufacturers and they really explain what the toy is all about. The reviewers use the toys themselves. They tell you what it's made of and what it can be used for and then they detail exactly how well they think it works. That is information you can actually base a toy purchase on! You can find sex is fun at sifreview.blogspot.com .