Queer Film History: Compare and contrast Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble

CJ Trowbridge

2019-12-01

Queer Film History

Compare and contrast Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble

Pink Flamingos is an excellent example of John Waters’ early work. It is historically Queer in all four ways. Many of the characters are queer. The lead for example describes herself as a lesbian who has, “done everything,” and wants to, “kill everyone, now.” The film’s author and director is a gay man. The film is widely appreciated by a queer audience, and the film presents – albeit absurd – depictions of people contradicting societal norms in ways which appeal to queer people in the audience.

Female trouble is an excellent example of John Waters’ later work. This film is also historically queer in all four ways. It features an almost identical cast of mostly queer people. Its author and director is the same gay man. It is widely adored by queer audiences, and it appeals to queer audiences in a different way from how it appeals to straight audiences.

Both films are deliberately political, especially with regard to the media. I am reminded in both cases of the words of William Gibson, “terrorism is innately media-related.” This trope is touched on in both films. In Pink Flamingos, the antihero expresses laughter and dismissal of the idea that the media may potentially not carry the story of her murder of the marbles, going so far as to threaten the lives of the children of the reporters who are present, in order to obtain her desired coverage. In Female Trouble, the antihero artist proclaims that she will be on the cover of every paper in the country before asking who in the audience wants to be famous and to die for art, before shooting them dead.

I see the main difference in the two films as the character of the antihero. In Pink Flamingos, the main character is a drag queen who has a “son” and a “mother” in her retinue as well as a traveling companion. In the case of Female Trouble, the main character is a woman played by a drag queen. Though the characters are similar, they have this subtle difference.  Also, Divine plays herself in Pink Flamingos, or perhaps an idealized version of herself. In Female Trouble, she plays a character, Dawn Davenport. I think this subtle difference allows the character to expand a bit further than in Pink Flamingos.

In Female Trouble, the members of the antihero’s retinue are less a gang and more a set of believable friends and neighbors. In a way, the second film is more believable, while the first film feels far enough away from reality to be allegorical without being topical. Female Trouble could almost happen, while Pink Flamingos feels like fantasy. After the nightclub scene, I found myself wondering whether Female trouble was based on a true story. I never for a moment thought that about Pink Flamingos.

I loved both of these movies. I see the queer I am in Female Trouble, and I see the queer I would like to be in Pink Flamingos. I think both of these films are queer and historically significant, but I think they offer very different value and purpose to their respective queer audiences.

Internship: Demographic meta-analysis of the Sierra College student body and disparately impacted success of its populations.

Executive Summary

Sierra college’s current approach to closing equity gaps is that we have three committees working separately on an arbitrary set of less than half of the demographics for which we are reporting success data. None of these committees focuses on intersectional identities. None of these committees is funded. And none of these committees has any real power outside of making recommendations.

For nearly all of the most impacted groups, their identities are not addressed by this arbitrary structure, and their success metrics are getting worse, not better.

What Is Disparate Impact?

Disparate impact means that people in some groups do not succeed to the same degree as people in other groups do, on average. Equity gaps measure how big the difference is between the lower success of some groups versus the higher success of some other group. In sociology, this is a major field of research. California recently passed new rules which base funding for schools on how well they close these gaps over time.

In sociology, we track several major impacted populations. We know for example that marginalized classes (such as people of color, women, transgender people, and others) will have disparate impact because these groups are suffering marginalization in society. Black people will be impacted versus white people. Women will be impacted versus men. Typically these differences are measured in terms of life expectancy, income, housing stability, etc. In this case we are measuring success at Sierra College for each group.

Who Is Most Impacted?

At some point in the last year, I asked several professors which populations are the most impacted at Sierra College. I was surprised to lean that no one knew the answer. Further research led me to learn that there was no current way of searching the data for the answer to this question. One could, for example, check the success of “gay black transgender students,” but there was no list of all the populations which could be sorted by their success metrics.

During the fall 2019 semester, I completed a sociology internship at Sierra College. The project was to build a new way of analyzing disparate impact. Over the course of the semester, I created a new database which contains all the public success data for all the groups which are large enough to be reported. A law called FERPA says that we can not report the success of populations with a size smaller than ten.

Initially, I tried to execute this analysis through the school’s research department. FERPA became a favorite roadblock which would be raised when I asked questions or asked for data. “[We can’t answer that because the answer could include data about groups with population sizes fewer than ten, so it would violate FERPA.]” When I followed up to suggest that we simply include the population size in the results, and remove any results where the size is less than ten, the response was that this would be infeasible. I quickly decided to simply conduct the meta-analysis myself.

Results and Methodology

My final report is available here. Demographics and population size are listed for all the populations, while success metrics are listed to the right. The data can be sorted by any value, and filters may be used in the search box. Additionally, I have also published the database as well as the tools I built in order to complete this project. Free tools such as SQLite Browser will allow anyone to query and analyze the database further.

The schools’ current equity strategy looks at identities from a non-intersectional  perspective. Sierra College has three committees working on student equity. One committee focuses on race, one committee focuses on gender, and one focuses on sexual orientation as well as gender-identity. None of these committees is funded or has any real power except to make recommendations. I want to repeat this point because it is the critical finding of this research. Sierra College’s current equity committees look at gender OR race OR sexual orientation/transgender. Sierra College’s current equity committees DO NOT look at gender AND race or gender AND sexual orientation. None of the equity committees look at the many other demographics such as foster youth status, income, veteran status, disabilities, homelessness, etc.

The system of looking only at one intersection at a time while not comparing them to others or including multiple dimensions leaves huge blind spots for the people working on closing equity gaps. I see two main problems that come from this  blind spot;

  1. The first major problem arising from this blind spot is that we don’t know what we don’t know. For example, all ten of the most impacted populations are black, but eight of them are also former foster youth. This highly significant factor is not addressed by any of the current equity committees. There are programs for foster youth, and there are programs for black students, but there is no one whose job it is to look at improving conditions for black foster youth. And so it’s not surprising that for all ten of these populations, conditions are getting worse, not better.
  2. The second major problem is the lack of an intersectional approach to closing equity gaps. We pay a lot of attention to race, but the fact that the most significant factor for black students is an intersection with foster youth status was previously unknown. It’s worth mentioning that none of the equity committees looks at foster youth status. In fact, while the school reports eight dimensions of demographics for success data, the equity committees are looking at only four of them. Several of the state’s required metrics are not being reported at all. (More on that later.) Despite the fact that foster youth status is the most significant factor impacting success of black students, no one is empowered to work on the issues affecting specifically black foster youth students.

This is not just about black foster youth students. Throughout the meta-analysis, we see examples where complex intersectional identities show disparate impact which one-dimensional identities do not. We see hundreds of students whose intersectional identities are not addressed or even observed by the current one-dimensional system. For example;

  • The ten most impacted LGBT groups are all non-white
  • The ten most impacted female groups are all non-white
  • The ten most impacted low-income groups are 70% non-white

In all of these examples, almost all of the intersectional groups show success going down, while success for the corresponding one-dimensional identities is going up. This is a critical flaw in the current system. When white women and black women are categorized together, the average looks like women are doing ok with a 0% change this year. But in reality, black women are seeing low and decreasing success while white women are seeing high and increasing success. The average is inaccurate and ignores the fact that people have intersectional identities.

  • Success of multi-ethnic homosexuals (n=23) went down by 24% this year.
    • Success of homosexuals alone (n=249) only dropped 4%, buoyed by white homosexuals (n=131) which saw a 3% increase in success, while some white subgroups saw success increases as high as 29%.
  • Success of low-income black women who were foster youth went down by 31% this year.
    • Females overall (n=12,594) saw a 0% change in success this year, buoyed by more privileged groups.

Opportunities For Further Work

Perhaps the most important piece of future work on this topic could be incorporating more demographics data about student populations. In many cases, Sierra College is not even tracking critical demographics data about student populations. For example, a student is only counted as disabled if they ask for an accommodation which is subsequently approved by the college. A student who shows up for class in a wheelchair while struggling with severe depression but does not ask for any accommodation (or whose request for accommodation is denied) is not counted as disabled according to Sierra College. This needs to change.

Additionally, Sierra College is not currently reporting all the required success metrics as listed by the California Community Colleges. Specifically, there are enormous swathes of data missing from the public website. In some cases, metrics are omitted entirely. For example, there is no mention of the required metrics “number of students who complete nine or more career education units,” or, “number of student who have attained the regional living wage.” In other cases, entire years of information are simply left blank where the data is reported at all.

Additionally, many longitudinal metrics are falsely reported as static by the school. For example, we have no way of determining the success of students who come out as LGBT at Sierra College because the school does not update this critical longitudinal demographic data. Instead the school falsely reports these longitudinal values as static when students enroll, as though these metrics do not change. So a student who comes out as gay or transgender at Sierra will be counted as straight or cisgender for their entire career at Sierra. Since these are already deeply impacted populations, their suffering and marginalization is going completely unreported by the school. It’s not clear to what degree this false and inaccurate reporting may be deliberate. The problem has been raised by interested parties and stakeholders on multiple occasions in recent years, to no change from the school.

Filling in these data gaps and correcting deeply unjust metrics would make important work for future researchers and activists at Sierra College.

Lastly, the work of updating and publishing this data should be conducted by the school’s research department. Students should not have to take unpaid internships and work for months in order to answer basic research questions which the school should already be reporting through its well-funded research department which ostensibly exists for this purpose.

Conclusion: My Suggestions

  1. We need more resource centers and engagement centers which are staffed more consistently and are available for students who need them.
  2. We need more resources and better training so that staff can actually explain them to people who need them.
  3. We need better outreach and research to honestly explore where the problems are and what the best solutions are.
  4. We need more intersectional cohorts. (ie. black foster youth, queer people of color, etc.) Many of the groups identified in this meta-analysis are more than large enough to form a cohort. This would allow students in these populations to build community ties with people like themselves. This is critical for success.
  5. We need to be funding equity committees and giving them actual power and permanent staff. These problems are not going to be solved by inviting untrained staff to volunteer on a toothless and unfunded committee.
    1. We need more equity committees. Having at least one for each of the demographics we are required to report would be a good start.
    2. Equity committees need training on intersectionality. These committees need to be working together and meeting more than biweekly, and doing more than planning fundraisers.

Reaction Paper: Economic Systems

CJ Trowbridge

2019-11-14

SOC 1: Intro to Sociology

Reaction Paper: Economic Systems

“The Fight For 15” is a flawed attempt to solve the problem of the decoupling of inflation from wages. Minimum wage is always stagnant, with occasional jumps, typically closer to a living wage. A living wage is a wage that is high enough for people to meet their basic needs and survive. This is not even considering their further needs in order to thrive, just basic survival. The problem is that there is always a delay between articulating a policy and adopting a policy. In the case of “The Fight For 15,” a static living wage was adopted as the eponymous condensing symbol. This was done in 2012. People are still fighting today for a wage which would let them survive in 2012. Meanwhile, inflation has continued to drive the cost of living ever higher, well beyond that rate.

Another problem is the sometimes legitimate resistance from people in the rural Midwest for example, where $15/hour is much higher than the cost of living. One solution does not work everywhere. In Oakland, where I spend most of my time these days, the cost of living is $18.73/hr. If “The Fight For 15” eventually succeeded, people in Oakland would be slightly less screwed than they are today, but still unable to survive.

There is another solution which does not receive a lot of attention, but which works well in my home state of Oregon. Different rates are established for different types of areas; urban, suburban, rural. Then each is automatically adjusted each year based on inflation. This means that for rural mountain towns, the minimum wage is lower than for busy urban centers. According to Living Wage Calculator, this has led to the minimum wage in various parts of Oregon being much closer to a living wage than wages in California. I think that stratifying the wages to match the local conditions is critical, as is adjusting the wages automatically on a regular basis according to increases in the cost of living.

As a gay man with a career in computer science and no children, I am very lucky. There are basically no jobs in my field making less than six figures. Family Budget Calculator reports that I will need less than half the average salary in my field in order to make ends meet. I will be fine, but most people will not. As someone with economic privilege, it is my duty to advocate for changes which improve conditions for the people who are losing out in our economic system.

 

 

Reaction Paper: Criminal Justice System

CJ Trowbridge

SOC 1: Intro to Sociology

2019-11-07

Reaction Paper: Criminal Justice System

The modern American “criminal justice system” has for centuries been an institution of deliberate systemic oppression. This purpose was greatly expanded in recent decades through the drug wars and through the ignorant actions of armchair broken windows theorists like Joe Biden. This system is designed based on profit incentives. These incentives lead to no consideration of whether it is a good or effective system for reducing crime or reforming inmates, only how it can make more money for its greedy masters. There may be a way to reform this broken and toxic system, but not apparently from the inside; radical change is needed. From school-to-prison pipelines, to mass incarceration of minorities through laws restricting personal liberties, to convict lease and sharecropping, the American “criminal justice system” has for centuries been a deliberate tool of oppression intended to leverage minority groups as commodities for the profit of evil private corporations.

During the 2016 election cycle, the biggest bet analysts gave for investors who thought Trump would win is to invest in private prison companies like The Geo Group, which he was predicted to greatly expand if elected. This turned out to be an accurate and timely prediction. In the weeks following his election, the stock price of Geo Group more than doubled.

According to the Kingdon Three-Stream Policy Window Model, there are three necessary streams that must be satisfied in society in order for policy change to occur as an incremental solution for a social problem. The first stream is the problem stream. A troubling social condition must be outlined and clearly identified and articulated. This view must also be shared by expert claims makers as well as by enough members of the public that it reaches a critical mass and receives media attention.

Second, clear policy changes need to be outlined and supported by the expert claims makers. In contrast to the evil corporate conservative think tanks who are churning out model legislation to hurt minorities, social justice advocates must work with lawmakers to craft legislation which creates positive change. These policy changes may then be discussed by policy makers in view of the press and under the lens of the media-awareness and social-pressure related to the first stream as outlined above.

Third, attitudes of politicians must be changed. This can happen through lobbying directly or indirectly. It can happen as a result of effectively leveraging the first two streams to create a large critical mass of both support and pressure to create change. Only at this point can the policy changes become law, and solutions can be removed from the whim of future bad-actor policy-makers like Trump.

Reaction Paper: Socialization and Culture

CJ Trowbridge

2019-09-26

SOC 1: Intro to Sociology

Reaction Paper: Socialization and Culture

I feel like I regularly come upon men offering free hugs, especially at queer events such as pride. Often these men identify themselves with clothing and signs offering further qualification such as “Free hugs from an accepting father,” etc. I approach these situations from a queer liberation perspective. I choose not to seek to use these people for the fulfillment of my own needs and desires, but instead to use my actions and choices to deconstruct toxic masculinity and reinforce queer liberation where I see it.

The point from a Foucauldian discourse analysis perspective is to take the power away from the panopticon by deliberately acting in a way which contradicts established norms and expectations, ie. “Queering.” Social change happens faster if we model it. Therefore when we see people whose intent/goal is to contradict established toxic masculinity discourses, we have a duty to engage them and model a more queer discourse by hugging so that passersby can observe the interaction and become socialized to the queering discourse. This may cause them to enter the cycle of liberation. These people may then go on to challenge and question other harmful discourses in their daily lives, becoming more liberated. Give a hug; liberate a passerby.

It is perhaps ironic to say that my response is certainly a product of my socialization into Sociology, Social Justice, and Foucauldian Queer Theory. I think the film shows that even in our toxically masculine culture, we always have an opportunity to exit the cycle of socialization and help lead people to liberation through the application of queer discourses such as the free hugs movement.

Reaction Paper: Theory or Field Research

CJ Trowbridge

2019-09-12

SOC 1: Intro to Sociology

Reaction Paper: Theory or Field Research (Conflict Theory)

I marched with Black Lives Matter at Burning Man this year. Burning Man is supposed to be an experiment in building a city the right way. Together, we arrive at the literal blank slate of a dry Pleistocene lakebed in the Black Rock Desert. We build a city called Black Rock City completely from scratch – the third largest city in Nevada – and then we dismantle it leaving no trace. During the two weeks we are there, we deconstruct every idea about urban life. We experiment with every fundamental and try to reject orthodoxy and any system of power and control. The result is very cool, very interesting results around better urbanism, better civic engagement, and better personal responsibility. But all is not well.

Going to Burning Man is expensive. It costs thousands of dollars, and several weeks of your life. During this time, you are essentially completely cut off from the outside world. There is a small chance that one or two emails might go through in the early hours of the morning, but that’s it. Later in the event, even that is unlikely. This is a cost that few can afford to pay, not just in terms of the dollar amount, but the power to walk away from work and other obligations for weeks at a time. It should therefore come as no surprise that in a nation with a 16% black population, just 1% of Black Rock City is black and 0% of the board of directors (Burning Man is a nonprofit).

Instead of representing the people they lead, the board of Burning Man is made up exclusively of wealthy white people from San Francisco. This imbalance of power in the hands of a small non-representative group sets up inevitable conflicts between people of privilege and people without privilege. It also excludes many important voices from the conversation and from the experiment. Wealthy white people from San Francisco and elsewhere have the resources and capital to leave their lives behind and spend incredible amounts of money on Burning Man, while people in marginalized communities do not. This conflict is growing.

This year, a coalition formed, made up of many newcomers from the deaf community, the queer community, the communities of color, and other marginalized groups. This coalition rose up to challenge the old guard and the entrenched wealth and power with its death grip on the steering wheel of society. Together, we marched into “Everywhere” (The sort of public headquarters of the board of directors). We disrupted their operations by taking and holding space. We presented a list of demands from Black Lives Matter. The first demand on the list was that the board be made racially representative, as well as committing to making the demographics of the city reflect the broader demographics of the people outside the city.

The board hid behind their power and privilege (Literally they hid in expensive RVs across the street.) and did not respond to the demands of Black Lives Matter. For now, this conflict will continue to escalate. Eventually, with a lot more work from these and other activist groups, the power that was taken from the people will be returned to the people, and in the words of the leaders of the protest, “Black Lives will Matter in Black Rock City.”

Comparing and contrasting Queer Theory and Critical Feminist Theory

CJ Trowbridge

2019-05-16

SOC 27: Sociology of Gender

Final Exam Assignment

Prompt: Compare and contrast the basic premises of any two sociological theories. How do these theories view the construction of gender? According to each of these theories, why does gender inequality exist and why is it maintained?

I am comparing and contrasting Queer Theory and Critical Feminist Theory. I will start with the fundamental ideas of each theory and then expand and analyze their perspectives on the social construction of gender and on gender inequality under each framework.

There are many forms and versions of Queer Theory. Foucault is one of its undisputed founding parents. (Downing 116) He famously based some of his ideas on Jeremy Bentham’s proposed “panopticon” prison design. (Giusti 91) The idea was for a circular jailhouse with a guard tower in the center. The guard may or may not be watching the prisoners at any given moment through mirrored windows. Additionally, the prisoners can see one another. This idea is part of a sociological theory which Foucault called Panopticism. (Foucault 208) This has the effect that the prisoners are constantly anxious about being observed by one another or by the guards, and they react by self-enforcing the rules of the prison. Foucault argued that this is how our labels work in society. If one identifies as a black lesbian woman, they become responsible for limiting themself to fit those roles, and for fulfilling all the expectations of those roles. They also become responsible for policing others to make sure they are filling their roles “correctly,” and not venturing outside of the norms to which they are socialized. All these ideas which people are expected to self-enforce and to impose on their peers came from many sources: bronze age religions, toxic masculinity, power and control dynamics, trauma, etc. and they feed into these systems of oppression, becoming self-sustaining and self-propagating. Hurt people hurt people. The trauma spreads through peer policing and the institutions and culture which are built on top of these systems.

Through the feminist lens, Queer Theory elucidates a major societal force which supports the oppression of women. People who have the label “woman” are in one of those jail cells. They are self-enforcing those roles and expectations to which they are socialized. They are pressured to police others and accept the policing of others. In this way, the social construction of gender is supported and enforced on the people by the people. Intrinsic to the American ideas around gender socialization is the idea of unequal value for people in different groups, or jail cells in Foucault’s panopticon. The idea of women working for less and being paid less are just another piece in the list of things people in these jail cells are enforcing on themselves and one another, according to Foucault’s ideas from Queer Theory.

Critical Feminist Theory applies critical theory to gender, examining the way pervasive systemic effects tend to impact gender groups. It recognizes that gender roles are a pervasive force in America which operate on the socio-cultural, institutional, and personal levels. Our culture broadly promotes and supports harmful ideas about the purported lower value of the work of women and the role they “should” fill in the family and the workplace. These ideas are enshrined in the many institutions which reinforce and support the oppression of women by imposing these ideas on them via their paychecks and internal power structures. These ideas are also personal and policed internally; both for women and for people of other non-male genders. Stereotype threat means that women who know they are being tested on the basis of gender will often perform worse than they would have, because on some level they believe they are supposed to. Interpersonally, microaggressions and domestic violence are excellent examples where out-group people are using violence and other tactics to oppress women because of the discourses they are socialized to by the American culture around them.

This has broad reaching implications for everyone who participates in American culture. This idea helps to explain how and why men are stealing resources and power at the expense of women. In the words of theorist Max Horkheimer, a theory is critical if it seeks, “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.” (Stanford) Critical Feminist Theory is generally seen as a framework for activism which seeks to elevate women to equal status with men by examining and exploring the systems and circumstances that conspire to maintain and reinforce the oppression of women. (Echols)

There are many areas where these theories overlap. For example, both theories embrace the idea of gender as socially constructed. Plants and other animals don’t have gender. Gender is a human invention. Gender is the roles and expectations associated with a gender group. Gender is fluid. Gender is dynamic. Gender is transient. It changes and resists definition. Those who prescribe roles and expectations associated with gender are many and they disagree on most of the details. The relationship we have with gender is always in flux. We may follow one set of ideas for a time, and set them down to pick up another. Likewise, we may identify with one gender for many years or just a few hours, and set that down to pick up another. Both of these theoretical frameworks offer ways of viewing gender as a constantly changing piece of our identity.

Both theories center the discussion on the people who are being oppressed. Queer Theory points out that in many cases, internalized oppression means many people are subconsciously complicit in their oppression and contributing to their problems because of their loyalty to their harmful labels. They may police their peers and reinforce the demands of the oppressor. Critical Feminist Theory highlights the tools of the master which are used to oppress women. A famous example from Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the a favorite line often recited which actually comes from Sarah Grimké, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Where Queer theory shines the light on the individual as the
source of a radical solution, Critical Feminist Theory shines that light on the larger culture and institutions.

Another point of agreement is the idea that gender is often harmful in American culture. American culture uses gender to limit a person’s sexual and emotional exploration. It uses gender to keep people in their boxes and their lanes. It uses gender to limit ambition and demand an affinity and interest for certain traits and talents. (Ie. Women are caretakers and homemakers. Men are breadwinners and warriors. Other genders are denied and erased.)

A point of disagreement is the implied solutions to many of these issues. Queer Theory advocates for the iconoclasm of all the harmful labels which are used to oppress people. It calls for a unified Queer Liberation where we all work together to radically liberate ourselves from the many systems of oppression which we can only face together. Critical Feminist Theory typically relies on institutional reform to incrementally address problems like the wage gap and the lack of gender diversity in many careers.

I have mentioned this before, but my favorite lesson from getting this degree in Social Justice has been the idea that all systems of oppression work the same way. These two theories do an excellent job of highlighting many of the problems with the oppression of women. They also illustrate another point. One could exchange “black people” or “poor people” or “fat
people” or any other marginalized group throughout this essay and all the arguments would essentially hold true. All systems of oppression work the same way. We could not have reached this point in the sociological journey where we can discuss queer liberation and liberation mindset without all the work done by Critical Theorists and Conflict Theorists and Queer Theorists and all the other sociological theorists. And now we know that only together can we interrupt these systems that oppress us and others and move forward to a freer and less oppressed future for all people.

Works Cited

Downing, Lisa. “The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault.” Cambridge University Press. 2008.

Echols, Alice. “Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1989.

Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.” Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1985.

Giusti, Gordana. Foucault for Architects. Routledge 2013.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 2019-05-15.
https://stanford.library.sydney.edu.au/archives/fall2008/entries/critical-theory/

Fascinating Case Study: Pay-What-You-Want Cafes

Pay-what-you-want cafes are a super fascinating case study at the intersection of many issues related to modern urbanism. Implementing this mission started with food security and grew to touch many other issues from racial sensitivity to consumer behaviors and our deep ethical dissonance around living differently than we believe we should.

This story includes themes ranging from utopian socialism to the discordant relationship between capitalism and philanthropy.

I highly, highly recommend listening!

 

Social Problems: Policy Analysis

CJ Trowbridge

Professor Jeffrey Sacha

SOC 301: Social Problems

2018-12-11

Social Problems: Policy Analysis Midterm

Imagine a child being forced to have sex up to twenty times a night by a trusted friend or significant other. This is a very typical situation for thousands of children being sex trafficked on a daily basis throughout California. Now imagine the police interrupt one of these encounters, only to arrest the child as a prostitute. Instead of taking them to safety, the police force them into the criminal “justice” industrial complex where their record will be tarnished, and they will face a lifetime of stigmatization and systemic punishment on top of the trauma and tragedy they faced as a victim of sex trafficking. Until earlier this year, this situation was actually standard practice and fully validated by California state policy. Following claimsmaking work by human trafficking nonprofits working with state senator Holly Mitchell and state assembly persons Christina Garcia, Tom Lackey, and Bob Wieckowski, a child safety bill was put forward to change this unjust policy. The new law says that children (who are unable to give consent for sex) cannot be held liable for prostitution, and that the police should be focusing on the people exploiting them rather than unjustly punishing the victims of these terrible crimes.

According to WEAVE, “Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Sex traffickers frequently groom victims and then use violence, threats, lies, false promises, debt bondage, or other forms of control and manipulation to prevent victims from leaving.“ Prostitution, conversely, is defined under California Penal Code 647(b), “[To] Pay or accept money or other consideration in exchange for a sexual act.” The situation of being forced into sex, which countless children face, is certainly a troubling social condition, but it may surprise the reader to learn that while a significant number of people in California agree with claims made by human trafficking nonprofits that prosecuting trafficked minors as prostitutes is wrong, some on the right argue that this new child safety law is wrong. In an op-ed published on the East Coast, California Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen wrote, “Beginning on Jan. 1, prostitution by minors will be legal in California…. So teenage girls (and boys) in California will soon be free to have sex in exchange for money without fear of arrest or prosecution.” (Ortiz) In an interview with KCRA news, the bill’s primary author Senator Mitchell responded to these misrepresentations from the right, “Children who are under the age of eighteen and cannot give consent should be treated like the victims of other crimes.”

For more than a century, the law throughout the western world has clearly established that children cannot give consent for sex. Despite that fact, it has become standard practice to hold children liable as prostitutes when they are forced by traffickers to have sex for money. This may sound like an edge case, but in fact it is quite ubiquitous. There are over a thousand cases of child sex trafficking throughout California each year, and the vast majority of the female youth in juvenile detention have been sex trafficked without any cases ever being filed. (California Child Welfare Council). According to Sacramento human trafficking non-profit WEAVE, “The average age of a young woman first being trafficked is 12-14 years old.” (WEAVE).

The standard practice in California and elsewhere has been to imprison and punish victims of child sex trafficking and not to press any kind of charges against the traffickers who perpetrate these crimes on children, while occasionally pressing charges against the people purchasing the children for sex. This law corrects this unjust practice by requiring police to focus on the perpetrators instead of unjustly attacking the victims.

In the future, I see this as becoming a valence issue. The conclusions proposed by the nonprofits fighting human trafficking are very reasonable and well thought-out. The opposition is absurd, catastrophizing, and just plain wrong even from their own standpoint. In the words of WEAVE CEO Beth Hassett, “There is no such thing as a child prostitute since children cannot give consent.” Any sex which involves a child is fundamentally non-consensual by definition. This law should not have been necessary because these truths are self-evident. The Republican claim that “prostitution by minors will be legal in California” is absurd. A minor cannot have consensual sex. A minor does not have agency to commit prostitution. Especially when those children are being forced into it, holding them as somehow responsible is just wrong no matter what perspective you hold.

In the current political climate where presidents openly boast about sexually assaulting people, and child rapists run for Republican house seats, it’s not hard to see why this issue is enduring unwarranted discussion. The biggest obstacle that claimsmakers face on issues like this is the ignorance of a determined and low-information opposition. I think the best solution to this claimsmaking problem would be building coalitions like the Prop 8 lawsuit did. The most famous conservative lawyer in the country sided publicly with the gays, forcing those on the right who were looking for any reason to disagree to instead take a second critical look at the issue.

Works Cited

California Child Welfare Council. Published 2013. Accessed 2018-12-11. Prevalence of commercially sexually exploited children. http://www.chhs.ca.gov/CWCDOC/CSEC%20Fact%20Sheet %20-%201.pdf

Nichols, Chris. Politifact. “Pants On Fire for claim California legalized child prostitution.” Accessed 2018-12-11. Published 2017-01-04. https://www.politifact.com/california/ statements/2017/jan/04/travis-allen/lawmakers-claim-about-california-legalizing-child-/

Ortiz, Erik.  NBC News. “New California Law Does Not Legalize Child Prostitution.” Accessed 2018-12-11. Published 2016-12-30.

WEAVE. “Sex Trafficking.” Accessed 2018-12-11. https://www.weaveinc.org/sex-trafficking

Social Justice: Final Paper

CJ Trowbridge

2018-12-04

SOC 110: Social Justice

Social Justice: Final Paper

I have talked to many people who feel that their vote doesn’t count. In the words of Rules For Radicals author Saul Alinsky, these people are “copping out” and refusing to participate. A self-fulfilling prophecy of nihilism is their response to troubling social conditions. Well I didn’t want to be that kind of person. I wanted to try as hard as possible to have an impact, and to see what happened, and it worked! I can only hope that my experience and writings such as this essay will help to inspire people to do what I did, rather than copping out and becoming the nothing that happens in response to the real problems we face today. Things truly won’t change unless we change them.

I work at a very political, though ostensibly apolitical nonprofit in San Francisco. A colleague there invited me to come with him on the weekend before the election to canvas in a nearby red district. We would be put up in a nice hotel in Reno with all our expenses paid by the Culinary Workers’ Union. I accepted. We arrived in Reno that Friday night. The next morning, we arrived at the Union’s local headquarters for breakfast and training before receiving our turf and heading out. Reno, we learned was expected to be a close election, just like all of Nevada. Furthermore, the Union had signed up over a hundred-thousand new Democratic voters in the lead-up to this election. (Jamieson) This was critical because this historically red state had a large Republican registration lead. We would need to make sure that every possible Democratic voter showed up to the polls, and hope that many Republicans did not. We also had several other factors on our side. In Nevada, marginalized non-white groups have historically voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, by as much as a 70 point difference. (CNN) These groups are growing, and their influence grows with their population. They were a major deciding factor in this election, and the Union’s efforts to empower them to vote by providing free transportation and information and canvassers in their languages was a major factor in making sure their voices were heard.

I went to Reno with several coworkers from San Francisco. Many rich liberal tech people in SF Venmoed us lots of cash to help with things like gas and drinking money. This turned out to be very helpful, as the gay bars were an area which was largely overlooked by many canvassing groups until we showed up. Together with my SF coworkers, we knocked on hundreds of doors. And not just that, but we knocked many times. We had daily lists from the secretary of state which showed who had already voted. All the likely Democratic voters who had not yet voted were subject to as many as a dozen knocks per day until they agreed to a specific time they were going to go and vote. Then, they would continue to receive a dozen or more knocks per day until they confirmed that they had voted. We even offered free transportation and translation services to anyone who needed them. In addition to this work with the Union, my group extended the conversation to the bars where we went every night encouraging queer people to vote.

This extremely aggressive strategy paid off. I saw many other organizations
canvassing the same houses we were, and almost without exception, all of those other canvassers were canvassing for Democrats. I saw only one person canvassing for a Republican, and that was for the sheriff’s race. Not a single person that I saw was canvassing for the senate or governorship for a Republican. There was an army on the ground, and it was a blue army. I mentioned before that the Union signed up 100,000 new Democratic voters. Well the Democrats won by just half that amount. (Politico) the Union’s efforts directly made all the difference in these races. the Union and the Democrats were the only ones that showed up, and the Democrats took both important open positions in the election, despite the Republicans having far more voters registered. (Apparently nobody reminded them to vote?) Democrats also took the vast majority of the smaller positions; (NYT) Democrats won Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, 3 house seats, 6 state senate seats, and 27 state assembly seats. Democrats are now very much in control of Nevada. This has not been true for decades. And it was directly due to the efforts of people like me who decided to do something about it; who decided to get up and go out and work to create change in the world.

The only way the Democrats won in Nevada this year is because people
volunteered to do this kind of important justice work. Working to break the cycle of oppression by empowering marginalized groups in Nevada is intrinsically linked to the liberation of groups elsewhere. As my research has showed, it was only through empowering marginalized groups and breaking the cycle of oppression which Republicans have used for decades to silence those groups that Democrats were able to win in Nevada. The group that I went with included people of color, trans people, Jewish people, queer people and people in other marginalized groups. Our liberation is intrinsically tied to the liberation of marginalized people in Nevada. Empowering them to take control of their state and be represented means our voices will carry with theirs in the new Democratic majority.

Works Cited

CNN. Charles Posner and Lizet Ocampo. “Key Facts About Nevada Voting
Demographics.” Dec 9, 2015. Accessed Nov 13, 2018. https://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/immigration/reports/
2015/12/09/126857/key-facts-about-nevada-voting-demographics/

Jamieson, Dave. Huffington Post. “Las Vegas Union Registered More Than 10,000 Voters For The Midterm Elections.” Nov 5, 2018. Accessed Nov 13, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/las-vegas-union-voter-registration-midtermelections_us_5be0b487e4b09d43e321e7a8

Politico. “Nevada Election Results 2018.” Accessed Nov 13, 2018.
https://www.politico.com/election-results/2018/nevada/

NYT. New York Times. Nevada Election Results. Nov 13, 2018. Accessed Nov 13, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/06/us/elections /results-nevada-elections.html