When “Going East” Is Code for “CHERRY BLOSSOM RACISM”

A friend posted this article about the recent launch of the “Go East” Victoria’s Secret line on their Facebook page, and a comment exchange ensued between some folks, myself included. I thought some points that were raised deserved a response (and a public one at that, not caught up in the FB privacy settings). I’ve paraphrased and bolded them here + added some responses.

  • How is this racist? A geisha is a sexual figure in East Asia already. 
This line isn’t just sexualizing the geisha—the entire LINE is all about “sexy exotic Asian-ness,” and it’s all predicated on a commodified, simplified, and inauthentic view of “exotic asian culture.” For the purposes of Victoria’s Secret, “going east” means “let’s put some cherry blossoms and red on some lingerie and make our models wear chopsticks in their hair and OH OH don’t forget the kimono!” Of course it brings in the geisha as one of the lingerie styles because that’s one of the easiest things to sexualize here in the U.S., since so many people are familiar with the concept. Speaking of which, most of us have a pretty simplified and misinformed idea about what being a geisha entails anyway, and the level of education and training geishas got/get as well as the diversity of their actions/professions is not something a lot of people know about. Most folks just think “yeah, a geisha, a Japanese prostitute with the white face and stuff, like in Mulan or something.”
  • Sexual fantasy doesn’t indicate personally racist/bigoted beliefs. Wanting to dress like a geisha doesn’t make someone a racist.
Sexual attitudes and desires don’t happen inside of a magic bubble. We all have the responsibility to ask ourselves why we like what we do instead of just saying “AH WELL I JUST LIKE STUFF WHO KNOWS WHY.” Just as we adopt racist, sexist, etc.-ist beliefs in other areas of our lives, we adopt them in our sexual life and sexuality too. It’s our responsibility to interrogate what we want and how that intersects with the world around us. It’s like saying “yeah I only date white people, I dunno, I just find them more attractive.” Beauty is not this magically 100% objective thing–it’s very conditioned by our upbringing and cultural surroundings, and if those have racism embedded into them, you betcha your ideas of beauty will also have racism embedded unless you actively work to fight that and deconstruct it as much as possible.
And even if someone doesn’t want to dress like a geisha due to “explicitly racist” reasons, it involves a degree of subconscious entitlement to do so–that “yes, I can wear this, because I can do whatever I want, I have access to these pieces of this culture and I don’t have to think about the context or the impact of this choice.” It’s that dismissiveness, that disregard, that idea that all things are possible/accessible and OK because “I’m not actually a racist.” Racism isn’t just lynchings and cross-burning and denying people jobs; it’s way more complicated and pervasive than that.
  • Taking this line down and not carrying foreign-oriented lines of lingerie = just as offensive as carrying them.
There’s a difference between carrying a line catered to a particular community and appropriating that community’s culture. There’s also a difference between actually trying to provide positive and accurate representation of a culture for that culture (or even for society) and doing something simplified to purely make profit and create the newest fashion collection. Here, the intent as well as the outcome are important. Furthermore, no, these things are not “equally offensive.”
Of course, product advertising and these sexy lingerie things are never going to fully capture the entire history of whatever they’re symbolizing/hinting at, but when it’s done along already tense axes, where there have been lots of struggles between those who are creating the products and those who they are “depicting,” it’s a problem. Why? Because it’s once again a reiteration of the same power dynamics. In a climate where there are still a lot of anti-Asian feelings (check out this website for example!), it’s just one more way in which U.S. culture, especially non-asian/specifically-white U.S. culture, asserts that it can take whatever it wants from these cultures for its own purposes, demonize the fuck out of those same cultures, and not be held accountable.

When Sex-Positive Icons Fuck Up

On the heels of a discussion I was having during the training for our CSPH interns yesterday (all about radical feminism, sex-positivity, liberal feminism, and the hot mess among all those camps), I thought it’d be appropriate to finally post this. This is a good example of what some folks critique about sex-positive icons, or even just liberal feminist people–that many ignore the intersections, that they advocate for the rights of some but ignore others, that they are so caught up in all the radical possibilities of pleasure, that they ignore when sexuality can be painful and problematic and perpetuating oppression on other axes.

So, the following excerpt comes from the blog of Bianca Laureano (here). Apparently Annie Sprinkle, a big sex-positive icon who’s done a lot around sex-work especially, said the following:

Annie Sprinkle Thanks for reviving this ‘ancient’ image! When I made this image, for me it was about HONORING the art of India. I have always adored everything from India. Especially the music and art. When I began to study and practice Tantra, is when I made this image. I was so enthusiastic! I think i had past life in India, so really, maybe I’m not even appropriating as I might have been Indian. That said, I do agree that this is “appropriation.” In retrospect, I didn’t know a thing about “appropriation.” Now I am educated about it and am more sensitive. Thankfully I had some nice people explain it to me in ways I could hear it, after being attacked and judged on a college campus about 18 years ago! This image was made in 1989 or 90. It is not a new image. I think when we see people being “inappropriate” we need to be nice about it, and educate. Not attack. In most cases. Not all. Still, in the end, I do love the image, and think that when looked at with SEX POSITIVE EYES it is a beautiful image. An honoring image. xxx
I also feel that nothing is really new. That we are all appropriating all the time, and borrowing from many cultures. Especially in the multicultural mix of the new millennium. I like the idea of utilizing all kinds of culture and adding to it. Like collage. Taking things and making them over again in new ways. That appeals to me. When art is good, it provokes responses, and is controversial. At least my favorite art is. That’s why I love Phillip Huang. He gets a rise out of people! Love you Phillip. Love you Counterpulse! Love you everyone! Saturday at 11:42am

Gosh, this conversation is really turning me on! I haven’t been this controversial in a while. I’m really taking pleasure from it. Thanks everyone. Although I do apologize if something I did in 1989 offended anyone. But then… there was 1973, 1974, 1975… Oy vey. Saturday at 9:28pm
Thanks Cx Tiara Transience. Live and learn. You are right that that the anger against racism is totally justified. However, I was saying that I learn better when people explain things nicely to me rather than put me on the defensive. Then I just want to fight or flight and not listen. And Beth Stephens, i LOVE YOU. Yesterday at 1:54pm

(Also, why is appropriation in quotations…? Appropriation is appropriation, no need to air quote it. Anyway.) Of course–a lot of white people appropriate things of other cultures in hopes of “honoring them” or “showing how awesome they are and how much they like it,” but it’s still appropriation and it’s still a big problem (and some are just ignorant or flat-out racist fucks that aren’t trying to honor ANYONE but themselves). It ignores the legacies of inequality and the ways in which white people consumed, regulated, and spat out people of color’s cultures. It perpetuates the idea that white people get to be the arbiters of culture and arbiters of what’s important and valued, and that what POC have to offer is merely for consumption. There’s a difference between appreciation and appropriation.

(This is the picture in question)

Of course, not all people of color will react in the same ways. A lot of us don’t see eye to eye on racism issues, and a lot of folks are actually pretty convinced racism isn’t such a problem anymore (especially in the age of Obama), just like many women think sexism isn’t a thing anymore…y’know, ’cause now we can vote and go work and stuff. This is often due to other identities/privileges people hold (read: it’s easier to think racism’s gone if you’re a POC with a lot of money), and/or due to internalized issues around race and privilege. For an example of this, and how even POC can trivialize POC concerns, check out Philip Huang’s video doing an “interpretive/dramatic reading” of the issues some POC raised around this. Yeeeeeeeeeeah.

But onto the actual Annie Sprinkle comments (which have now been deleted).

I’m glad she sees that her work was appropriative, but the rest of her post kind of messes it up for me. The part about how she might not even be appropriating because she may have been Indian in a past life is a huge copout and pretty perturbing. When she says “Thankfully I had some nice people explain it to me in ways I could hear it, after being attacked and judged on a college campus about 18 years ago!” puts the blame on “those mean people who judged and attacked” 18 years ago. Of course people will generally listen more when folks approach things nicely, but not everyone can and/or should speak nicely about these issues, and the onus is on the folks who have transgressed to listen and see what they are being confronted with. That doesn’t mean being a doormat, for sure, but it means centralizing the issue and the concerns, NOT the feelings about being called out. Too many critical conversations get shut down because the people being called out prioritize their feelings over the issues and the fucked up things they did. 

Furthermore, the part about Still, in the end, I do love the image, and think that when looked at with SEX POSITIVE EYES it is a beautiful image. An honoring image. xxx” really negates a lot of what is said earlier. It’s like saying “yes, this is fucked up, BUT REALLY if you look at it in the end with ~*SEX POSITIVE EYES*~ you can appreciate it.” Well no, we can’t all appreciate it even if we’re sex-positive because we don’t have the luxury or privilege of “taking off” the lenses that look at racism and appropriation…and we shouldn’t, because what we need to be doing is calling people out for doing racist and appropriative things, not just staying silent about it.

The comments about how “nothing is really new” and we are all “appropriating all the time, and borrowing from many cultures,” especially in this climate of multiculturalism, really once again shows a disregard (and/or ignorance) to the histories of appropriation. And no, it’s not like cultures aren’t mixing and should never mix, but that we need to acknowledge the power dynamics that keep getting recycled over and over and how those show up in our society. On the art note, too, art can be avant-garde and controversial and provocative without needing to be racist. Art can depict and critique and discuss racism WITHOUT HAVING TO FALL INTO RACISM AND APPROPRIATION. (Cross-reference the Diana Joy blackface debacle in RI and my creation of the Keep It Checked Tumblr).

So why is this such a big deal?

Because it’s one of those big “sex-poz” icons who a lot of people look up to. Because this stuff happens at all levels, and pretty constantly. Because even the fact that Annie Sprinkle is taking this somewhat in stride and like “wow, this is getting controversial, that’s awesome” when POC are mostly just feeling shitty and upset speaks volumes. Because we need to remind people that just because someone is an amazing activist in one sphere, it doesn’t make them immune to doing other messed up stuff, or marginalizing other communities. Because for those of us who DO identify as sex-positive and feminists *AND* people of color, we need to speak up and elevate the field when we can. We need to hold the icons and each other accountable for our actions, even if they took place years ago, and we need to all keep learning and growing.
For those of us who are comfortable calling people out (even if not all the time), I encourage us to keep doing it. For those of us who get called out, we need to keep listening. And we ALL need to remember that activism and work in social spheres is complex and should be nuanced, not oversimplified. We need many lenses and many voices to make some radical change.

Doing something that gets a call-out doesn’t negate other good work people have done (as in Annie’s case), as if retroactively this entire person’s career were tainted by a problematic image/statement. What it DOES mean, though, is that a critical light must be shed on their past/present/future work, and that we need to understand how their views may have affected (and may continue to affect) their work.  Also, so I can leave y’all with some action items and actual tools, check out this awesome PDF that talks about common racist attitudes and behaviors that indicate a detour or wrong turn into white guilt, denial, or defensiveness. “Each is followed by a statement that is a reality check and consequence for harboring such attitudes.” Super useful. Please share widely! 🙂

Fight Against Fraud (Message from ONA)

**En Español abajo**

¡¡Take action with ONA this Saturday!!

The struggle against theft and fraud at Paraiso Multiservices continues…

José Silverio, the man who presents himself as the owner of a remittance agency on Chalkstone Avenue called Paraiso Multiservices, has been stealing money from his customers for over a year. Most of these customers are Latino immigrants who use his service to send their hard-earned dollars home to support their families in Guatemala, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere. Last month, a small group of Pariso Multiservices customers came forward to denounce this theft. Since then, they have organized over 30 customers, who together have lost over $50,000, to demand justice. They filed a criminal complaint, and last Saturday they staged a successful picket outside of the business attended by dozens of victims and their allies. (Check out the pictures, attached, and thank you to all who came out!)

This week, while the state police continue to investigate this theft,
these customers are taking their fight back to the streets!
Join them this Saturday, July 28th for a picket outside of José Silverio’s house to say ENOUGH is ENOUGH-
stop stealing from our community! 

Picket to Demand Justice!
Saturday, July 28th
5pm
532 Plainfield St, Providence

Have questions? Want more information? Call ONA at 401.228.8996

************

¡¡Toma acción con ONA este sábado!!

La lucha contra robo y fraude en Paraiso Multiservices continua…

José Silverio, el hombre representándose como el dueño de Paraiso Multiservices, una agencia de remesas en la Chalkstone, ha estado robando a sus clientes por más de un año. La mayoría de estos clientes son inmigrantes Latinos que usan el servicio para mandar su dinero ganado con sudor a sus países de origen para sostener a sus familias en Guatemala, Mexico, la República Domincana, entre otros lugares. En junio, un grupo de clientes de Pariso Multiservice se levantaron para denuniciar el robo. Desde entonces, ellos han organizado más de 30 clientes que han perdido más de $50,000 para demandar justicia. Ellos hicieron una denuncia formal, y el sábado pasado ellos organizaron un piquete exitoso con 40 victimas y aliados afuera del negocio. (Mira las fotos anexadas, y gracias a tod@s que vinieron!)

Esta semana, mientras que la policia estatal continua con su investigación,
estos clientes van a llevar su lucha a las calles otra vez!
Venga este sábado, 28 de julio para un piquete afuera de la casa de José Silverio para decir YA BASTA-
¡deja de robar de nuestra comunidad!


¡Piquete para demandar justicia!
sábado, 28 de julio
5pm
532 Plainfield St, Providence

Tienes preguntas? Quieres más información? Llama a ONA: 401.228.8996

NOM’s Tour Mastermind NOW SUPPORTS CIVIL MARRIAGE EQUALITY!

LOUIS MARINELLI NOW SUPPORTS

OUR CIVIL MARRIAGE EQUALITY!

Yes, you read that correctly. While still not in full support of homosexuality on some levels (where he needs our help to correct misinformation), Louis is now [a] repudiating virtually all of the vitriol that he put on the public record; [b] is owning up to the major role that he’s played with NOM, including admitting that he was the impetus behind the whole summer tour; and [c] is coming out in full support of the civil marriage rights that gay people are seeking. And even more important that that: He, the man who gave NOM its official “protect marriage” Facebook page and who has been working as an independent contractor with the org. ever since (and still is, reporting directly to Brian Brown, at least up until the moment this post goes live)quite literally credits exposure to the NOM tour as the very thing that led to his change of heart!!!!!


NOM’S TOUR MASTERMIND,

FACEBOOK FOUNDER,

AND ONLINE STRATEGIST,

LOUIS MARINELLI, NOW SUPPORTS

OUR CIVIL MARRIAGE EQUALITY!

THE MUCH-BALLYHOOED SUMMER

MARRIAGE TOUR 2010

OPENED HIS EYES! 


Source: HERE! Click through for more information, including an interview with Louis!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Sexuality educators set the record straight: “Talking about sexuality does not increase sexually transmitted infections” despite what non-experts report.

For Immediate Release
Sexuality educators set the record straight: “Talking about sexuality does not increase sexually transmitted infections” despite what non-experts report.

Contact: 
Megan Andelloux
HiOhMegan@gmail.com
401-345-8685 


Contact: Aida Manduley
Aida_manduley@brown.edu
787-233-0025

In yet another attempt to shut down access to quality sex education, South-Eastern New England conservative advocates hit the sex panic button in a multi-state, email and phone campaign to colleges all over New England last week.

On February 3rd and 4th , certified sexuality educator and sexologist Megan Andelloux (AASECT, ACS) received word that numerous colleges and university faculty received a document stating that colleges who brought sex educators such as Ms. Andelloux onto their campuses were linked to the increasing rate of transmission of HIV in RI. Furthermore, among other misleading “facts” that were “cited,” the author of this bulletin claimed that Brown University was facing an HIV crisis, which is false.

Citizens Against Trafficking, the face behind the fear-mongering, spammed numerous local institutions from a University of Rhode Island account with its latest malicious missive that targeted specific individuals as well as Brown University. The author of the letter, Margaret Brooks, an Economics Professor at Bridgewater State, suggested that colleges and universities that host sexuality speakers, including those who are professionally accredited, are partly to blame for the four new cases of HIV which have been diagnosed amongst RI college students this year.

Ms. Andelloux states: “My heart goes out to those students who have recently tested positive for HIV. However, there is no evidence of any link between campus presentations on sexual issues and the spike in HIV cases. Rather, I would suggest that this demonstrates a need for more high-quality sex education to college students.“ It is unclear why people at URI or Citizens Against Trafficking, a coalition to combat all forms of human trafficking, is attempting to stop adults from accessing sexual information from qualified, trained educators. What is certain however, is that this Professor of Economics miscalculated her suggestion that a correlation exists between increased HIV rates in Rhode Island and the type of sex education these speakers provided at Brown University: one that emphasized accurate information, risk-reduction, pleasure, and health.

Barrier methods have been shown by the CDC to reduce the transmission of HIV and other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). Research has shown that when individuals have access to medically accurate information, are aware of sexual risk reduction methods, and have access to learn about sexual health, the number of infections and transmission of STIs decreases, pain during sex decreases, and condom use increases. The CAT circulated bulletin is blatantly misleading about many issues, and often omits information that is crucial to understanding the full picture of sex education at Brown and in Rhode Island.

When individuals who do not hold any background in sexuality education speak out in opposition because of their fear or prejudice, society becomes rooted in outdated beliefs and pseudo-science that do injustice to people everywhere. Furthermore, when those individuals personally and publicly attack those devoted to providing sex education with false and misinformed accusations, it not only hurts those who are defamed, but also the community at large.

We ask for an immediate retraction of the vilifying and inaccurate statements made by Ms. Margaret Brooks and Citizens Against Trafficking in their latest newsletter. We also ask that esteemed local universities such as URI and Bridgewater State continue to hold their employees to ethical standards of normal scientific inquiry and require that their faculty hold some modicum of expertise in a field of education before raising the public level of panic over it.

Megan Andelloux is available to answer any questions the press, Margaret Brooks, University of Rhode Island or Citizens Against Trafficking holds. Aida Manduley, the Chair of Brown University’s Sexual Health Education and Empowerment Council and Brown University’s is available to discuss the upcoming Sex Week and sexuality workshops held at Brown University.

Signed,
Megan Andelloux
Shanna Katz
Reid Mihalko
Aida Manduley

##########

Last-Minute Uninvitation: Shame on OSU

For those of you who haven’t heard, Tristan Taormino (of sex-ed, puckerup.com, and feminist porn fame), booked to give the keynote speech at the Oregon State University Modern Sex conference (scheduled for February 15th and 16th), has been UNINVITED from the event. The university representative who uninvited her cited her “résumé and website” as the reason.

What?

You read right folks. A speaker who was booked to give the KEYNOTE talk at a conference was uninvited for the very body of work that made her worthy of being invited in the first place. But it gets messier. Read on for the story:

On October 28, 2010, organizers of the OSU Modern Sex conference booked Taormino to give the keynote talk; they confirmed the date and agreed to fees, and Tristan’s management received a first draft of the contract on November 1. That contract was incomplete and sent back to OSU for revisions. As with many negotiations, the contract was pending as all the paperwork got done, but in late December, OSU again confirmed Tristan’s appearance and conference organizers told her manager to purchase airline tickets, for which OSU would reimburse her.

On Tuesday, January 18, 2011, Steven Leider, Director of the Office of LGBT Outreach and Services contacted Colten Tognazzini, Tristan Taormino’s manager, to say that the conference had come up short on funding. Tognazzini told him that since the travel was booked and the time reserved, they could work with whatever budget they did have. Leider said that would not be possible: “We have to cancel Ms. Taormino’s appearance due to a lack of funding. It has been decided that OSU cannot pay Ms. Taormino with general fee dollars, because of the content of her resume and website.” At OSU, ‘general fee dollars’ include taxpayer dollars given to the University by the Oregon State Legislature to defray various costs. They differ from ‘student activity dollars,’ which are part of every student’s tuition and help fund student groups and activities.

Tognazzini spoke to a source at OSU who speculated that the University feared that when it went before the legislature in regards to future funding, legislators would use OSU’s funding of a “pornographer” on campus as ammunition to further cut budgets. This source, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Tognazzini, “I think they’re uninviting Tristan because they don’t want to have to defend her appearance to conservative legislators.”

Now, I won’t talk about the politics of caving here and why it’s a messed up situation from an ethical or sex-positive standpoint. Instead, I want to talk about this issue from the perspective of a student event-organizer at a university; I want to touch upon the process of organizing events and what that entails. Bringing in speakers isn’t easy, especially if you’re at state-sponsored institutions and trying to book people who are in some way “radical” or just not mainstream. I’m privileged because I attend a private institution that, in many ways, is very pro-student and fiercely + eloquently defends our freedom of expression and education (if the way administrators handled last year’s KinkForAll Providence, Get Your Heart On: Sex Educator Showdown, and Sex Week 2010 issues with cranky conservative critics is representative of this). For those reasons, and because of my passion for quality sexual education & frank discussion about these things, I use that privilege to the best of my ability. I organize dozens of events for my campus and the community at large (I aim to make all the events I coordinate open to the public), but I couldn’t do as much if I didn’t have the support of my peers and University.

Mind you, when I say support, I don’t mean Brown condones or accepts the things my speakers talk about, necessarily, but the University actively supports their RIGHT to say them and the importance of having a dialogue on campus–of showing different, empowering, and educational perspectives (many of which are also fun and very engaging, not just academic). Brown supports my rights as a student to be an activist, to fight for what I believe in, and to shape campus in various ways. For that, I am thankful. At the same time, I’m saddened that not everyone is in such a position. We see a case of this lack of support at OSU. From what I can see (and what I deduce), the organizers for the conference aren’t the ones who decided to last-minute cancel on Tristan; the decision came from higher-ups who feared retaliation from those who control their funds. It is this fear that drives many decisions regarding comprehensive sex-education, and while it’s a shame (and something I endeavor to help change), I can understand it. The job of a university administrator isn’t easy, and we must understand why sometimes they’re put in double-binds that force them to take actions like this one.

HOWEVER, organizers shouldn’t confirm events or speakers for which they do not have funds definitely secured (or means for securing them), especially in cases like this. Furthermore, event-planners should have enough self-awareness and knowledge of their institution’s policies to understand which speakers might be deemed “controversial” or “problematic,” know what the system could do to them (e.g. cancel an event) & why they would have reason to, and have plans to handle situations if they arise. In those cases where one is attempting to bring someone who could be criticized by the opposition and cause problems, it’s important to speak with university administrators and see what their stance is (ideally in writing!), so the ball doesn’t get rolling on something that will have to be canceled at the last minute. Still, shit happens, and sometimes universities cave, stomping all over students’ most carefully laid out plans in the process. In those situations, however, organizations (and universities) should be prepared to do SOME form of damage-control.

Honestly, my first question here would be “well, why were they planning on using the general fee dollars in the first place instead of the student activity dollars?”

While I’m not going to bash OSU for the decision to cancel Tristan’s talk (though I don’t agree with it, of course), I think it’s shameful that they’re not going to reimburse Tristan for the costs she has already incurred. While they hadn’t signed a contract, they had been in negotiations and told her everything was set, and to reserve her plane tickets. If OSU is going to uninvite her, the least the could do is reimburse her. That would at least leave them with some amount of grace and dignity; as it stands, however, OSU’s position is not one I can respect. Honestly, it’s clumsy and unprofessional. I only hope that they rethink this and make the right decision, or at least one that’s better than this one. While they may not be able to use general funds, there are many other ways to raise money, and the bodies responsible for booking Tristan should be responsible for figuring out a way to make this situation right.

Check out Tristan’s full press-release here.

***
Note from Tristan:
Don’t Let the Anti-Sex Conservatives Win!

If you support free speech and my mission of sexual empowerment, please voice your opinion about OSU’s decision to cancel my appearance at the last minute (and not reimburse me for travel expenses) to the following people. I would really appreciate your support —Tristan

Larry Roper
Vice Provost for Student Affairs
632 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2154
541-737-3626 (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)
email: larry.roper@oregonstate.edu

Dr. Mamta Motwani Accapadi
Dean of Student Life
A200 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2133
541-737-8748 (phone)
541-737-9160 (fax)
email: deanofstudents@oregonstate.edu
twitter: @deanmamta

Dr. Edward J. Ray
President
600 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2128
541-737-4133 (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)
email: pres.office@oregonstate.edu

SPC Series Part II: Purpose & The Rules of Engagement

(Before reading this, check out SPC Series Part I: Introduction to Stop Porn Culture! Conference)

So what was I, a porn-positive, pro-sex-worker rights individual, doing at an anti-porn conference? I wanted to:

  • Listen. I wanted to hear about anti-porn thought straight from the horse’s mouth. Or, in this case, horses’ mouths; there were many presenters and their views were not 100% aligned with each other’s. I not only wanted to learn what they thought, but how they presented it, and why they thought that way. What better way to gain insights into all this, and what type of people attended this type of conference than by attending the conference myself? What better way to understand “their” tactics and thought processes than by walking among them and taking notes? What better way to address their concerns than to know exactly what those are, and the nuances of their production and dissemination? SPC promotes something similar from their end (though it obviously sounds less interest in dialogue than just learning about “the enemy,” but still)
    • “This isn’t for everyone, but it can be helpful to surf some porn sites every now and then to stay up on the pornographers’ latest tricks. Reading Adult Video News online (avn.com) and other news sites about the industry (xbiz.com) is helpful in understanding pornography.” 
  • Humanize “my side” and present at least one good face of sex/porn-positive activists and activism. Similarly, I wanted to humanize the anti-porn activists, because too often there is intense mudslinging at faceless enemies and we forget that, at the end of the day, these are all PEOPLE–individuals with lives, ambitions, and pressures. Need I remind people about the hate-mongering and vicious bulletins Donna M. Hughes (one of the presenters), Margaret Brooks, and Melanie Shapiro (both in attendance at the con) put out about Maymay and my/our events? They dehumanized us, and it was also easy to dehumanize them because all we could see was that they were The Bad Ones. I think if we all actively thought about our humanity more often, we would feel more empathy and there would be less douchebaggery out there from BOTH sides. Once someone can connect faces to a movement, faces they might relate to on some level, it makes it harder to easily and blindly spread hate + vitriol (not that it doesn’t happen, OF COURSE). It’s not about respecting other’s hatred; it’s about respecting others as human, and respecting their positive aspects (because no one is 100% bad). And if someone calls me naive for saying this, I will fucking scream; being respectful and realistically optimistic is not naive, so stop being an asshole kthxbai. Also, again, SPC has a “tip” regarding presentation-etiquette that I find relevant regarding this (emphasis mine):
    • “For the discussion after the slide show, come into the audience if possible so that you can stand near the questioner, looking the person in the eye and acknowledging them. Listen attentively to each question, even if you’ve heard it a thousand times.”
  • Ask insightful questions and correct factual inaccuracies if I spotted them & had the info to back it up. I wanted to make people at the conference THINK, and at the very least be slightly jolted if I asked a question they hadn’t thought about before. This purpose wasn’t entirely fulfilled because I only attended the second day, which was less lecture-heavy and apparently less tense, but I did speak my mind a few key times.
  • Give some semblance of a voice to pro-porn ideals in the midst of all the anti-porn people by speaking up. I wanted to show them that there were people who disagreed (& how), but were nonetheless interested in learning, interested in dialogue, interested in fostering some sort of understanding while still having their own agenda, values, and goals. Maybe some would even be inspired to attend OUR events as well! One can only hope.
  • Find the places of convergence and swim through the sludge to get at the ACTUAL concerns being clouded by thoughts of “porn is evil” so we could somehow address those and hopefully effect change regarding them. What concepts did both sides talk about most? What ideas did we share? Where could we build bridges? And at the same time, where did we have seemingly irreconcilable splits (and why)? Between this and listening, I think those were my main goals because they would be the most effective later.

What did I NOT do at the conference?

  • Try to radically change the minds of seasoned, extremely-anti-porn activists. 
  • Be rude! I didn’t name-call, glare at, condescend, or otherwise mistreat anyone.
  • Get into heated arguments.

To elaborate upon these points:

Some folks accused me of wasting my time trying to change the views of “leading anti-sex-worker extremists,” but that wasn’t my point. I wasn’t there to somehow magically & forcefully change their minds, especially when so many of the most “notable” presenters at the Stop Porn Culture! Conference have made careers out of their anti-porn stance. I was there for the MODERATES, for the audience, for those who have little information. (Sure, if you’re already attending this conference, it’s more likely that you’re leaning in the anti-porn direction, but still. There were definitely people there seeking information, who weren’t hardcore anti-porn folks) Y’see, this is another place where the pro/anti-porn people converge as well: we’re all out to get the moderates. It sounds predatory, but it’s true.

I’ve heard it countless times in both camps; we are not going to sway the loudest, most intense people from the opposition, but we can definitely sway those in the middle, or those seeking information. We may not be able to change the views of “leading anti-porn activists,” but the thing is MOST PEOPLE AREN’T LEADING ANTI-PORN ACTIVISTS. Most people are normal folks, who may or may not yet have opinions on “the porn debates,” but haven’t devoted their entire lives to it. These are the people we can inform and “win over” through mature activism instead of blind fury that only serves to alienate others and give credence to the anti-porn extremists who vilify us.

How do we engage with these people, though? The first thing we have to do is NOT BE ASSHOLES. I fucking hate it when people are rude and condescending. Thus, I strive to NOT do that to other people, and call them out if/when I see them doing it to others. If I’m ever condescending, it’s because I’m purposefully trying to be cruel, and I’m not particularly proud of that. Anyway. At the con, I firmly stood my ground, looked at people in the eye, smiled, and engaged. It’s bizarre to be in a room where most people have some views that are radically different from one’s own (esp. when they regard one’s entire LIFE and even personal safety), yes, but it’s not an impossible thing to tackle, especially with a support network. I had the fortune of not being personally disrespected (aside from 2 incidents with Donna M. Hughes, which I will blog about later, but that wasn’t surprising at all), and I found no excuse to be anything but respectful back (not that I was looking for one in the first place).

It’s not about “turning the other cheek” and taking violence with a smile, just begging for more. It’s instead about not resorting to the shady tactics of those we consider our enemies and STILL acting positively to further our goals. It’s about not being rude, about not debasing oneself to the practices we revile in others. It’s about minimizing harm and striving for ideal situations of engagement. Again: it’s not about being NICE or KIND or FRIENDLY; it’s about *NOT* being an asshole. The first demands an action; the other demands that one restrains from an action. 

To those that CAN be friendly with “the enemy,” more power to you. Like Rachel D. said, those who can be kind, should, but not everyone is required to do so. I, personally, am on the fence re: how I deal with “my enemies.” First of all, I don’t draw such neat lines, boxing some people as “enemies” and others as “allies.” I usually just draw big Venn diagrams, where everyone is a circle, and I can find our places of overlap/difference and then act based on those, not the entire circles, y’know? (Sounds kinda like “hate the sin, not the sinner.”) Secondly, I’m torn because I find pleasure in being kind to “mostly enemies” because I feel it’s a slap in the face to them and their ilk, and that it’s embarrassing for them in the eyes of other people. However, at the same time, I don’t want to even engage with them sometimes, because it’s hard to be positive and optimistic when people are threatening your life, livelihood, and entire…well, everything! Still, I usually strive for positive engagement and know that being a hostile little fuck won’t get me anywhere with them.

On the SPC website, I found a particularly pertinent tip. While they’re giving the tip so people can effectively present one of their antiporn slideshows, I think it applies to any person giving a presentation about which they feel passionate (emphasis mine):

It is important not to come across as overly hostile or aggressive, both while narrating the slides and when answering questions. It’s understandable that we feel angry and sad when we see these images, and it’s OK to let the audience see that. But remember that audience members (especially women) are in a very vulnerable place seeing these images for the first time. They need to feel like you have things under control. Also, by keeping your own emotions in check, you allow them more space to experience their own feelings and reactions.

I repeat: it’s understandable to feel angry and sad. Heck, it’s understandable to feel so utterly outraged and upset that you want to smash things/people with a hammer. However, it is my belief that we should strive to channel strong emotions (as they are definitely important catalysts!) into more practical and useful weapons for change. Furthermore, to quote Emma: “We need to be strong, mature advocates of our viewpoint. Disagreement doesn’t mean we can take others lightly.

Once again: I’m not against ANGER or people’s personal feelings, but I *am* against letting that anger result in vicious attacks that don’t do anything but alienate others, both on “our side” and “the other side.” I think it’s useless to go into a conference (or general situation) swinging the battle-axes. We need to listen and engage first so we can properly educate, demystify, and ACTUALLY create some positive change. We need to make our “enemies” respect us as people too, and hopefully get them to engage in the same way with us.

I think it DOES harm our causes of promoting a healthier sexuality, more open communication, sex-workers’ rights, gender-justice, size-positivity, anti-racism, and all other such worthwhile movements when we act with condescension, disrespect, and immaturity. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for humor, but  that we cannot wave away other people’s concerns or comments with sarcasm and jokes. I’d feel insulted if someone dismissed MY points of view and didn’t engage with them, so I strive to avoid making others feel that way as well.

Finally, we must simultaneously remember our insignificance AND our power. Our actions have the potential to ripple off into many individual people’s lives, and that’s definitely not something to be underestimated. Also, that just because we don’t engage with “the enemy” doesn’t mean they magically disappear. Just because we close our eyes or turn our backs, it doesn’t mean their opinions go away. Thus, instead of ignoring them (for whatever reason), I feel we have the imperative to face them head-on.

Stay tuned for Part III!

P.S. More on this later, but I want to highlight early on that we DID find spaces for dialogue. One of the presenters commented–not just to us, but on her Twitter and the Scottish Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation Facebook–that she “also had the chance to sit and speak to the folks from yesterday who were live tweeting. really productive and positive conversations and hope that it helped in keeping options for dialogue open. Understand alot more how they felt as individuals in a room full of people where they were unsure of how they would be treated. nice to see the tweets today taking a different tone.”

SPC Series Part I: Introduction to Stop Porn Culture! Conference

(When you’re done reading this, check out SPC Series Part II: Purpose & Rules of Engagement)

As some of you may already know, this past weekend I attended the Stop Porn Culture! Conference held at Wheelock College. I wonder if any outsiders (or even insiders) made a kerfuffle about semantics like they did to us Brown University students and organizers when we held KinkForAll Providence, Get Your Heart On: Sex Educator Showdown (feat. Reid Mihalko and Megan Andelloux), or Sex Week 2010 (held AT vs. sponsored BY vs. happening on X campus–oh my goodness, you’re affiliating the name of a university with sex-related activism!)…but that’s another matter entirely.

Anyway. Get excited because I’m going to be blogging at LENGTH about this conference and my experiences there as a means to foster dialogue, inform people, state my views, and provide a more elaborate summary of the conference (since I was live-tweeting like crazy *AND* taking notes during the time I was there). I might also be appearing on “the smart sexuality netcast” Kink On Tap next Sunday to discuss these matters, so stay tuned to that as well. Heck, stay tuned to Kink On Tap regardless; it’s a good resource of sexuality-related current events and overall fascinating stuff.

Before I start talking about my impressions, thoughts, and all that good stuff, let’s get some basic information out there. I like my readers (and everyone) to have all the information they need to make educated opinions, so here we go.

For information about Stop Porn Culture!, the organization behind the conference, you should check out their own website AND also check out this article by VioletBlue, where she provides some information about the organization, points out SPC’s awkward religious affiliations, and highlights some of their main anti-porn tenets. As a general rule, never just look at one side of the coin. 🙂 Be critical and analytical in your consumption of information! /PSA

I’m not going to go in-depth regarding the organization’s position just yet, since it is clearly written about already on the websites I’ve linked, but I’d like to quickly debunk some of the things in their FAQ:

  • It’s inaccurate in the EXTREME to talk about “pornography” as if it were an entirely monolithic concept and “the industry” as if it were in the hands of people with just ONE agenda (to degrade and exploit women, of course), who are all solely perpetuating just ONE type of image. We can SORT OF talk in generalizations about the “mainstream porn” that’s available, but even then we have to tread a bit carefully. It’s INACCURATE and MISLEADING to talk about pornography using a definition that tries to imply things that are NOT in the actual definition of pornography, which is “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.”
  • To say that pornography as a whole “offers the same progression of sexual acts, ending in the same sexual act – ejaculation onto a woman’s body or face, over and over again” is to ignore, y’know, the entire existence of gay-male porn. It’s to ignore the existence of SO many different genres of pornography that it’s personally sickening to me how reductionist many anti-porn folks can sometimes be. There are folks who are CONSTANTLY reducing the entire realm of pornography into these specific boxes, specific acts, and almost 100% ignoring anything else that’s out there as if they were wearing blinders. Furthermore, the use of this specific example of male-ejaculating-onto-woman clearly shows us that there is a need for EDUCATION (surprise, surprise). As long as we continue to assume that men ejaculating on women is inherently about power and inherently degrading to women, we’re gonna have fucked up relationships to our sexual expressions. 
  • Their Q: “Don’t feminists focus on the worst kind of pornography, the most brutal images? Isn’t most pornography just people having sex?” and A: “StopPornCulture! focuses on the “mainstream” of the pornography industry. A tour through any pornography shop or internet sites will demonstrate that. If anything, we have avoided the worst of what’s available” = NOT TRUE. They have certainly not avoided the worst of what’s available, and many big names in the anti-porn community often do resort to highlighting some of the most “hardcore” porn over and over to try and drive their anti-porn points home. Want examples? How about Donna M. Hughes citing cases of bestiality, illegal + NON-CONSENSUAL BDSM, and criminal activity as “examples” and “case-studies” of sexual fetishism and BDSM as a whole in widespread bulletins through organizations like CAT? How about the continued talk of humantoiletbowls.com during the 1st day of the SPC conference? That’s like trying to represent an entire country by going to its prisons and picking the maximum security offenders to be the poster-children. It’s inaccurate and just plain stupid. More importantly, it’s DISINGENUOUS and dishonest.
  • “While it’s true that ‘scientific proof’ establishing a direct connection between pornography use and rape doesn’t exist, research has made it clear that the use of pornography is a factor in shaping the attitude and behaviors in some men who use it and that it is a factor in some men’s sexual aggression.” – Okay, fantastic. Now let’s actually investigate what other factors shape their aggression and how we can fix that. Furthermore, let’s talk about HOW it shapes their attitudes and behaviors. Let’s talk about education and empowerment and social change. We can “fix” pornography and “fix” society, but it won’t happen by eradicating pornography.
  • “Q: Can there be feminist pornography? A: No doubt there is a place in the creative arts in the culture’s struggle for gender justice and a healthy sexuality. And, it’s not surprising that there would be interest in countering sexist and racist images with healthier depictions of sexuality. The rush to imagine “good” pornography can be a way to avoid contemplating the nature of the actual pornography we live with. Perhaps a more constructive first step would be to talk honestly about the sex/gender crisis we face.” – Notice how they didn’t even answer the question AND how they avoided endorsing or acknowledging the term/concept “feminist pornography” by couching a yes-like answer under verboseness (“there is a place in the creative arts in the culture’s struggle for gender justice and a healthy sexuality”). Also, it’s silly to imply that a) we should first contemplate the porn we have before we try to imagine “better porn” as if we couldn’t do both simultaneously and b) those who are trying to articulate a sex-positive, feminist, non-oppressive pornography haven’t taken the time to analyze the “current system.” I do agree that we need to first analyze what’s going on before we can TRULY provide good alternatives to what’s currently out there, but I just take issue with the implication that we can’t even start to imagine the possibilities.

Also, please take a look at the conference’s schedule, and if you can, check out the information about the speakers. Don’t just stop at what they’re linking (or even what I’m linking) though. Google some of those names (e.g. Donna M. Hughes). Do your research.

Saturday, June 12

8:00-9:00         Registration
9:00-9:15         Housekeeping  (Lierre Keith)
9:15-9:30         Welcome and introductory remarks  (Dr. Gail Dines)
9:30-10:15       “A Power Paradox: The Online Commercial Pornography Industry Network” (Jennifer Johnson)
10:15-11:15     Making Hate: Porn, Sex and the Destruction of Intimacy (Dr. Gail Dines)
11:15 -11:30    Break
11:30-12:30 Self Exploitation:  The Slippery Slope of Self-Made Porn  (Dr. Sharon Cooper)
12:30-1:30       Lunch: There will be sandwiches for sale on site, and there are plenty of lunch spots close to the college.
1:30-2:30         “Hip Hop Honeys, Nappy Headed Hoes, and Hustlaz: The Pornofication of Hip Hop Music and Videos” (Dr. Carolyn West)
2:30-3:30         “The Personal Hazards of Porn” (Wendy Maltz, LCSW, DST)
3:30-4:00         Break
4:00-5:00         “From Jekyll to Hyde: The Grooming of Male Pornography Consumers”  (Dr. Rebecca Whisnant)
5:00-5:45         Reconvene for discussion
(Break for dinner)
7:30-9:30         Dessert party and (optional) films
The Price of Pleasure” (with director Chyng Sun)

Sunday, June 13

9:30-11:00             Pornography and the Law: New Approaches

Diane Rosenfeld  (Harvard University Law School)
Clare McGlynn (Durham University School of Law)
Donna Hughes  (University of Rhode Island)

11:30-12:45          First Workshop
Anti-Pornography Organizing on the Internet
Samantha Berg (Genderberg) and Jill  (One Angry Girl)
Working with Men
Matthew Ezzell (James Madison University)
Cameron Murphey (Western Washington University)
Robert Jensen (University of Texas)
12:45-2:00       Lunch

2:00-3:15 Second Workshop

International Anti-Pornography Organizing
Linda Thompson  (Women’s Support Project, Glasgow)
Natalie Nenadic (University of Kentucky)
Donna Hughes (Dignity)
College Students, Hook-up Culture and Pornography:  A Discussion
Denise McGoldrick (Director of Health Education, Amherst College)
Gretchen Krull (Assistant Director of Health Education / Sexual Harassment Specialist, Amherst College)

3:15-3:45         Break
3:45-4:30         Final wrap-up and discussion

Edenfantasys Fucks Up

So this post by my dear friend maymay basically speaks for itself.

The short short short summary? Edenfantasys is trying to skew its ranking on the Internet by using shady practices. This is not good, especially from a company with the tag-line “the sex shop you can trust.” You should read up on it and reconsider your support of their business. Personally, I still plan to use their website to learn about toys, since they have THE best website re: toys and specs and user-friendly info, but I’m definitely buying my things elsewhere. A good alternative for purchases? Fascinations! Or Good Vibrations. There are probably more, too, so do your research. It’s also a great idea to reach manufacturers directly, too. 🙂

As one of the people who went over maymay’s post before publication, I highly stress the importance of checking it out. There have been other controversies with Edenfantasys recently (and not-so-recently), so for more information on those, check out the following links:

Now, onto the show:


Edenfantasys’s unethical technology 
is a self-referential black hole


A few nights ago, I received an email from Editor of EdenFantasys’s SexIs Magazine, Judy Cole, asking me to modify this Kink On Tap brief I published that cites Lorna D. Keach’s writing. Judy asked me to “provide attribution and a link back to” SexIs Magazine. An ordinary enough request soon proved extraordinarily unethical when I discovered that EdenFantasys has invested a staggering amount of time and money to develop and implement a technology platform that actively denies others the courtesy of link reciprocity, a courtesy on which the ethical Internet is based.

While what they’re doing may not be illegal, EdenFantasys has proven itself to me to be an unethical and unworthy partner, in business or otherwise. Its actions are blatantly hypocritical, as I intend to show in detail in this post. Taking willful and self-serving advantage of those not technically savvy is a form of inexcusable oppression, and none of us should tolerate it from companies who purport to be well-intentioned resources for a community of sex-positive individuals.

For busy or non-technical readers, see the next section, Executive Summary, to quickly understand what EdenFantasys is doing, why it’s unethical, and how it affects you whether you’re a customer, a contributor, or a syndication partner. For the technical reader, the Technical Details section should provide ample evidence in the form of a walkthrough and sample code describing the unethical Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) techniques EdenFantasys, aka. Web Merchants, Inc., is engaged in. For anyone who wants to read further, I provide an Editorial section in which I share some thoughts about what you can do to help combat these practices and bring transparency and trust—not the sabotage of trust EdenFantasys enacts—to the market.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Internet sex toy retailer Web Merchants, Inc., which bills itself as the “sex shop you can trust” and does business under the name EdenFantasys, has implemented technology on their websites that actively interferes with contributors’ content, intercepts outgoing links, and alters republished content so that links in the original work are redirected to themselves. Using techniques widely acknowledged as unethical by Internet professionals and that are arguably in violation of major search engines’ policies, EdenFantasys’s publishing platform has effectively outsourced the task of “link farming” (a questionable Search Engine Marketing [SEM] technique) to sites with which they have “an ongoing relationship,” such as AlterNet.org, other large news hubs, and individual bloggers’ blogs.

Articles published on EdenFantasys websites, such as the “community” website SexIs Magazine, contain HTML crafted to look like links, but aren’t. When visited by a typical human user, a program written in JavaScript and included as part of the web pages is automatically downloaded and intercepts clicks on these “link-like” elements, fetching their intended destination from the server and redirecting users there. Due to the careful and deliberate implementation, the browser’s status bar is made to appear as though the link is legitimate, and that a destination is provided as expected.

For non-human visitors, including automated search engine indexing programs such as Googlebot, the “link” remains non-functional, making the article a search engine’s dead-end or “orphan” page whose only functional links are those whose destination is EdenFantasys’s own web presence. This makes EdenFantasys’ website(s) a self-referential black hole that provides no reciprocity for contributors who author content, nor for any website ostensibly “linked” to from article content. At the same time, EdenFantasys editors actively solicit inbound links from individuals and organizations through “link exchanges” and incentive programs such as “awards” and “free” sex toys, as well as syndicating SexIs Magazine content such that the content is programmatically altered in order to create multiple (real) inbound links to EdenFantasys’s websites after republication on their partner’s media channels.

How EdenFantasys’s unethical practices have an impact on you

Regardless of who you are, EdenFantasys’s unethical practices have a negative impact on you and, indeed, on the Internet as a whole.

See for yourself: First, log out of any and all EdenFantasys websites or, preferably, use a different browser, or even a proxy service such as the Tor network for greater anonymity. Due to EdenFantasys’s technology, you cannot trust that what you are seeing on your screen is what someone else will see on theirs. Next, temporarily disable JavaScript (read instructions for your browser) and then try clicking on the links in SexIs Magazine articles. If clicking the intended off-site “links” doesn’t work, you know that your article’s links are being hidden from Google and that your content is being used for shady practices. In contrast, with JavaScript still disabled, navigate to another website (such as this blog), try clicking on the links, and note that the links still work as intended.

Here’s another verifiable example from the EdenFantasys site showing that many other parts of Web Merchants, Inc. pages, not merely SexIs Magazine, are affected as well: With JavaScript disabled, visit the EdenFantasys company page on Aslan Leather (note, for the sake of comparison, the link in this sentence will work, even with JavaScript off). Try clicking on the link in the “Contact Information” section in the lower-right hand column of the page (shown in the screenshot, below). This “link” should take you to the Aslan Leather homepage but in fact it does not. So much for that “link exchange.”

  • If you’re an EdenFantasys employee, people will demand answers from you regarding the unethical practices of your (hopefully former) employer. While you are working for EdenFantasys, you’re seriously soiling your reputation in the eyes of ethical Internet professionals. Ignorance is no excuse for the lack of ethics on the programmers’ part, and it’s a shoddy one for everyone else; you should be aware of your company’s business practices because you represent them and they, in turn, represent you.
  • If you’re a partner or contributor (reviewer, affiliate, blogger), while you’re providing EdenFantasys with inbound links or writing articles for them and thereby propping them up higher in search results, EdenFantasys is not returning the favor to you (when they are supposed to be doing so). Moreover, they’re attaching your handle, pseudonym, or real name directly to all of their link farming (i.e., spamming) efforts. They look like they’re linking to you and they look like their content is syndicated fairly, but they’re actually playing dirty. They’re going the extra mile to ensure search engines like Google do not recognize the links in articles you write. They’re trying remarkably hard to make certain that all roads lead to EdenFantasys, but none lead outside of it; no matter what the “link,” search engines see it as stemming from and leading to EdenFantasys. The technically savvy executives of Web Merchants, Inc. are using you without giving you a fair return on your efforts. Moreover, EdenFantasys is doing this in a way that preys upon people’s lack of technical knowledge—potentially your own as well as your readership’s. Do you want to keep doing business with people like that?
  • If you’re a customer, you’re monetarily supporting a company that essentially amounts to a glorified yet subtle spammer. If you hate spam, you should hate the unethical practices that lead to spam’s perpetual reappearance, including the practices of companies like Web Merchants, Inc. EdenFantasys’s unethical practices may not be illegal, but they are unabashedly a hair’s width away from it, just like many spammers’. If you want to keep companies honest and transparent, if you really want a “sex shop you can trust,” this is relevant to you because EdenFantasys is not it. If you want to purchase from a retailer that truly strives to offer a welcoming, trustworthy community for those interested in sex positivity and sexuality, pay close attention and take action. For ideas about what you can do, please see the “What you can do” section, below.
  • If you’ve never heard about EdenFantasys before, but you care about a fair and equal-opportunity Internet, this is relevant to you because what EdenFantasys is doing takes advantage of non-tech-savvy people in order to slant the odds of winning the search engine game in their favor. They could have done this fairly, and I personally believe that they would have succeeded. Their sites are user-friendly, well-designed, and solidly implemented. However, they chose to behave maliciously by not providing credit where credit is due, failing to follow through on agreements with their own community members and contributors, and sneakily utilizing other publishers’ web presences to play a very sad zero-sum game that they need not have entered in the first place. In the Internet I want, nobody takes malicious advantage of those less skilled than they are because their own skill should speak for itself. Isn’t that the Internet and, indeed, the future you want, too?

TECHNICAL DETAILS

What follows is a technical exploration of the way the EdenFantasys technology works. It is my best-effort evaluation of the process in as much detail as I can manage within strict self-imposed time constraints. If any of this information is incorrect, I’d welcome any and all clarifications provided by the EdenFantasys CTO and technical team in an appropriately transparent, public, and ethical manner. (You’re welcome—nay, encouraged—to leave a comment.)

Although I’m unconvinced that EdenFantasys understands this, it is the case that honesty is the best policy—especially on the Internet, where everyone has the power of “View source.”

The “EF Framework” for obfuscating links

Article content written by contributors on SexIs Magazine pages is published after all links are replaced with a <span> element bearing the class of linklike and a unique id attribute value. This apparently happens across any and all content published by Web Merchants, Inc.’s content management system, but I’ll be focusing on Lorna D. Keach’s post entitled SexFeed:Anti-Porn Activists Now Targeting Female Porn Addicts for the sake of example.

These fake links look like this in HTML:

And according to Theresa Flynt, vice president of marketing for Hustler video, <span class="linklike" ID="EFLink_68034_fe64d2">female consumers make up 56% of video sales.</span>

This originally published HTML is what visitors without JavaScript enabled (and what search engine indexers) see when they access the page. Note that the <span> is not a real link, even though it is made to look like one. (See Figure 1; click it to enlarge.)

Figure 1:

In a typical user’s browser, when this page is loaded, a JavaScript program is executed that mutates these “linklike” elements into <a> elements, retaining the “linklike” class and the unique id attribute values. However, no value is provided in the href (link destination) attribute of the <a> element. See Figure 2:

Figure 2:

The JavaScript program is downloaded in two parts from the endpoint at http://cdn3.edenfantasys.com/Scripts/Handler/jsget.ashx. The first part, retrieved in this example by accessing the URI at http://cdn3.edenfantasys.com/Scripts/Handler/jsget.ashx?i=jq132_cnf_jdm12_cks_cm_ujsn_udm_stt_err_jsdm_stul_ael_lls_ganl_jqac_jtv_smg_assf_agrsh&v_14927484.12.0, loads the popular jQuery JavaScript framework as well as custom code called the “EF Framework”.

The EF Framework contains code called the DBLinkHandler, an object that parses the <span> “linklike” elements (called “pseudolinks” in the EF Framework code) and retrieves the real destination. The entirety of the DBLinkHandler object is shown in code listing 1, below. Note the code contains a function called handle that performs the mutation of the <span> “linklike” elements (seen primarily on lines 8 through 16) and, based on the prefix of each elements’ id attribute value, two key functions (BuildUrlForElement and GetUrlByUrlID, whose signatures are on lines 48 and 68, respectively) interact to set up the browser navigation after responding to clicks on the fake links.

var DBLinkHandler = {
pseudoLinkPrefix: "EFLink_",
generatedAHrefPrefix: "ArtLink_",
targetBlankClass: "target_blank",
jsLinksCssLinkLikeClass: "linklike",
handle: function () {
var pseudolinksSpans = $("span[id^='" + DBLinkHandler.pseudoLinkPrefix + "']");
pseudolinksSpans.each(function () {
var psLink = $(this);
var cssClass = $.trim(psLink.attr("class"));
var target = "";
var id = psLink.attr("id").replace(DBLinkHandler.pseudoLinkPrefix, DBLinkHandler.generatedAHrefPrefix);
var href = $("<a></a>").attr({
id: id,
href: ""
}).html(psLink.html());
if (psLink.hasClass(DBLinkHandler.targetBlankClass)) {
href.attr({
target: "_blank"
});
cssClass = $.trim(cssClass.replace(DBLinkHandler.targetBlankClass, ""))
}
if (cssClass != "") {
href.attr({
"class": cssClass
})
}
psLink.before(href).remove()
});
var pseudolinksAHrefs = $("a[id^='" + DBLinkHandler.generatedAHrefPrefix + "']");
pseudolinksAHrefs.live("mouseup", function (event) {
DBLinkHandler.ArtLinkClick(this)
});
pseudolinksSpans = $("span[id^='" + DBLinkHandler.pseudoLinkPrefix + "']");
pseudolinksSpans.live("click", function (event) {
if (event.button != 0) {
return
}
var psLink = $(this);
var url = DBLinkHandler.BuildUrlForElement(psLink, DBLinkHandler.pseudoLinkPrefix);
if (!psLink.hasClass(DBLinkHandler.targetBlankClass)) {
RedirectTo(url)
} else {
OpenNewWindow(url)
}
})
},
BuildUrlForElement: function (psLink, prefix) {
var psLink = $(psLink);
var sufix = psLink.attr("id").toString().substring(prefix.length);
var id = (sufix.indexOf("_") != -1) ? sufix.substring(0, sufix.indexOf("_")) : sufix;
var url = DBLinkHandler.GetUrlByUrlID(id);
if (url == "") {
url = EF.Constants.Links.Url
}
var end = sufix.substring(sufix.indexOf("_") + 1);
var anchor = "";
if (end.indexOf("_") != -1) {
anchor = "#" + end.substring(0, end.lastIndexOf("_"))
}
url += anchor;
return url
},
ArtLinkClick: function (psLink) {
var url = DBLinkHandler.BuildUrlForElement(psLink, DBLinkHandler.generatedAHrefPrefix);
$(psLink).attr("href", url)
},
GetUrlByUrlID: function (UrlID) {
var url = "";
UrlRequest = $.ajax({
type: "POST",
url: "/LinkLanguage/AjaxLinkHandling.aspx",
dataType: "json",
async: false,
data: {
urlid: UrlID
},
cache: false,
success: function (data) {
if (data.status == "Success") {
url = data.url;
return url
}
},
error: function (xhtmlObj, status, error) {}
});
return url
}
};

Once the mutation is performed and all the content “links” are in the state shown in Figure 2, above, an event listener has been bound to the anchors that captures a click event. This is done using prototypal extension, aka. classic prototypal inheritance, in another part of the code, the live function on line 2,280 of the (de-minimized) jsget.ashx program, as shown in code listing 2, here:

        live: function (G, F) {
var E = o.event.proxy(F);
E.guid += this.selector + G;
o(document).bind(i(G, this.selector), this.selector, E);
return this
},

At this point, clicking on one of the “pseudolinks” triggers the EF Framework to call code set up by the GetUrlByUrlID function from within the DBLinkHandler object, initiating an XMLHttpRequest (XHR) connection to the AjaxLinkHandling.aspx server-side application. The request is an HTTP POST containing only one parameter, called urlid, and its value matches a substring from within the id value of the “pseudolinks.” In this example, the id attribute contains a value of EFLink_68034_fe64d2, which means that the unique ID POST’ed to the server is 68034. This is shown in Figure 3, below.

Figure 3:

The response from the server, shown in Figure 4, is also simple. If successful, the intended destination is retrieved by the GetUrlByUrlID object’s success function (on line 79 of Code Listing 1, above) and the user is redirected to that web address, as if the link was a real one all along. The real destination, in this case to CNN.com, is thereby only revealed after the XHR request returns a successful reply.

Figure 4:

All of this obfuscation effectively blinds machines such as the Googlebot who are not JavaScript-capable from seeing and following these links. It deliberately provides no increased Pagerank for the link destination (as a real link would normally do) despite being “linked to” from EdenFantasys’s SexIs Magazine article. While the intended destination in this example link was at CNN.com, it could just as easily have been—and is, in other examples—links to the blogs of EdenFantasys community members and, indeed, everyone else linked to from a SexIs Magazine article or potentially any website operated by Web Merchants, Inc. that makes use of this technology.

The EdenFantasys Outsourced Link-Farm

In addition to creating a self-referential black hole with no gracefully degrading outgoing links, EdenFantasys also actively performs link-stuffing through its syndicated content “relationships,” underhandedly creating an outsourced and distributed link-farm, just like a spammer. The difference is that this spammer (Web Merchants, Inc. aka EdenFantasys) is cleverly crowd-sourcing high-value, high-quality content from its own “community.”

Articles published at SexIs Magazine are syndicated in full to other large hub sites, such as AlterNet.org. Continuing with the above example post by Lorna D. Keach, Anti-Porn Activists Now Targeting Female Porn Addicts, we can see that this content was republished on AlterNet.org shortly after original publication through EdenFantasys’ website on May 3rd at http://www.alternet.org/story/146774/christian_anti-porn_activists_now_targeting_female_. However, a closer look at the HTML code of the republication shows that each and every link contained within the article points to the same destination: the same article published on SexIs Magazine, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5:

Naturally, these syndicated links provided to third-party sites by EdenFantasys are real and function as expected to both human visitors and to search engines indexing the content. The result is “natural,” high-value links to the EdenFantasys website from these third-party sites; EdenFantasys doesn’t merely scrounge pagerank from harvesting the sheer number of incoming links, but as each link’s anchor text is different, they are setting themselves up to match more keywords in search engine results, keywords that the original author likely did not intend to direct to them. Offering search engines the implication that EdenFantasys.com contains the content described in the anchor text, when in fact EdenFantasys merely acts as an intermediary to the information, is very shady, to say the least.

In addition to syndication, EdenFantasys employs human editors to do community outreach. These editors follow up with publishers, including individual bloggers (such as myself), and request that any references to published material provide attribution and a link back to us, to use the words of Judy Cole, Editor of SexIs Magazine in an email she sent to me (see below), and presumably many others. EdenFantasys has also been known to request “link exchanges,” and offer incentive programs that encouraged bloggers to add the EdenFantasys website to their blogroll or sidebar in order to help raise both parties search engine ranking, when in fact EdenFantasys is not actually providing reciprocity.

More information about EdenFantasys’s unethical practices, which are not limited to technical subterfuge, can be obtained via AAGBlog.com.

EDITORIAL

It is unsurprising that the distributed, subtle, and carefully crafted way EdenFantasys has managed to crowd-source links has (presumably) remained unpenalized by search engines like Google. It is similarly unsurprising that nontechnical users such as the contributors to SexIs Magazine would be unaware of these deceptive practices, or that they are complicit in promoting them.

This is no mistake on the part of EdenFantasys, nor is it a one-off occurrence. The amount of work necessary to implement the elaborate system I’ve described is also not even remotely feasible for a rogue programmer to accomplish, far less accomplish covertly. No, this is the result of a calculated and decidedly underhanded strategy that originated from the direction of top executives at Web Merchants, Inc. aka EdenFantasys.

It is unfortunate that technically privileged people would be so willing to take advantage of the technically uneducated, particularly under the guise of providing a trusted place for the community which they claim to serve. These practices are exactly the ones that “the sex shop you can trust” should in no way support, far less be actively engaged in. And yet, here is unmistakable evidence that EdenFantasys is doing literally everything it can not only to bolster its own web presence at the cost of others’, but to hide this fact from its understandably non-tech-savvy contributors.

On a personal note, I am angered that I would be contacted by the Editor of SexIs Magazine, and asked to properly “attribute” and provide a link to them when it is precisely that reciprocity which SexIs Magazine would clearly deny me (and everyone else) in return. It was this request originally received over email from Judy Cole, that sparked my investigation outlined above and enabled me to uncover this hypocrisy. The email I received from Judy Cole is republished, in full, here:

From: Judy Cole <luxuryholmes@gmail.com>
Subject: Repost mis-attributed
Date: May 17, 2010 2:42:00 PM PDT
To: kinkontap+viewermail@gmail.com
Cc: Laurel <laurelb@edenfantasys.com>

Hello Emma and maymay,

I am the Editor of the online adult magazine SexIs (http://www.edenfantasys.com/sexis/). You recently picked up and re-posted a story of ours by Lorna Keach that Alternet had already picked up:

http://kinkontap.com/?s=alternet

We were hoping that you might provide attribution and a link back to us, citing us as the original source (as is done on Alternet, with whom we have an ongoing relationship), should you pick up something of ours to re-post in the future.

If you would be interested in having us send you updates on stories that might be of interest, I would be happy to arrange for a member of our editorial staff to do so. (Like your site, by the way. TBK is one of our regular contributors.)

Thanks and Best Regards,

Judy Cole
Editor, SexIs

Judy’s email probably intended to reference the new Kink On Tap briefs that my co-host Emma and I publish, not a search result page on the Kink On Tap website. Specifically, she was talking about this brief: http://KinkOnTap.com/?p=676. I said as much in my reply to Judy:

Hi Judy,

The URL in your email doesn’t actually link to a post. We pick up many stories from AlterNet, as well as a number from SexIs, because we follow both those sources, among others. So, did you mean this following entry?

http://KinkOnTap.com/?p=676

If so, you should know that we write briefs as we find them and provide links to where we found them. We purposefully do not republish or re-post significant portions of stories and we limit our briefs to short summaries in deference to the source. In regards to the brief in question, we do provide attribution to Lorna Keach, and our publication process provides links automatically to, again, the source where we found the article. 🙂 As I’m sure you understand, this is the nature of the Internet. Its distribution capability is remarkable, isn’t it?

Also, while we’d absolutely be thrilled to have you send us updates on stories that might be of interest, we would prefer that you do so in the same way the rest of our community does: by contributing to the community links feed. You can find detailed instructions for the many ways you can do that on our wiki:

http://wiki.kinkontap.com/wiki/Community_links_feed

Congratulations on the continued success of SexIs.

Cheers,
-maymay

At the time when I wrote the email replying to Judy, I was perturbed but could not put my finger on why. Her email upset me because she seemed to be suggesting that our briefs are wholesale “re-posts,” when in fact Emma and I have thoroughly discussed attribution policies and, as mentioned in my reply, settled on a number of practices including a length limit, automated back linking (yes, with real links, go see some Kink On Tap briefs for yourself), and clearly demarcating quotes from the source article in our editorializing to ensure we play fair. Clearly, my somewhat snarky reply betrays my annoyance.

In any event, this exchange prompted me to take a closer look at the Kink On Tap brief I wrote, at the original article, and at the cross-post on AlterNet.org. I never would have imagined that EdenFantasys’s technical subterfuge would be as pervasive as it has proven to be. It’s so deeply embedded in the EdenFantasys publishing platform that I’m willing to give Judy the benefit of the doubt regarding this hypocrisy because she doesn’t seem to understand the difference between a search query and a permalink (something any laymen blogger would grok). This is apparent from her reply to my response:

From: Judy Cole <luxuryholmes@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: Repost mis-attributed
Date: May 18, 2010 4:57:59 AM PDT
[…redundant email headers clipped…]

Funny, the URL in my email opens the same link as the one you sent me when I click on it.

Maybe if you pick up one of our stories in future, you could just say something like “so and so wrote for SexIs.” ?

As it stands, it looks as if Lorna wrote the piece for Alternet. Thanks.

Judy

That is the end of our email exchange, and will be for good, unless and until EdenFantasys changes its ways. I will from this point forward endeavor never to publish links to any web property that I know to be owned by Web Merchants, Inc., including EdenFantasys.com. I will also do my best to avoid citing any and all SexIs Magazine articles from here on out, and I encourage everyone who has an interest in seeing honesty on the Internet to follow my lead here.

As some of my friends are currently contributors to SexIs Magazine, I would like all of you to know that I sincerely hope you immediately sever all ties with any and all Web Merchants, Inc. properties, suppliers, and business partners, especially because you are friends and I think your work is too important to be sullied by such a disreputable company.

What you can do

  • If you are an EdenFantasys reviewer, a SexIs Magazine contributor, or have any other arrangement with Web Merchants, Inc., write to Judy Cole and demand that content you produce for SexIs Magazine adheres to ethical Internet publication standards. Sever business ties with this company immediately upon receipt of any non-response, or any response that does not adequately address every concern raised in this blog post. (Feel free to leave comments on this post with technical questions, and I’ll do my best to help you sort out any l33t answers.)
  • EdenFantasys wants to stack the deck in Google. They do this by misusing your content and harvesting your links. To combat this effort, immediately remove any and all links to EdenFantasys websites and web presences from your websites. Furthermore, do not—I repeat—do not publish new links to EdenFantasys websites, not even in direct reference to this post. Instead, provide enough information, as I have done, so visitors to your blog posts can find their website themselves. In lieu of links to EdenFantasys, link to other bloggers’ posts about this issue. (Such posts will probably be mentioned in the comments section of this post.)
  • Boycott EdenFantasys: the technical prowess their website displays does provide a useful shopping experience for some people. However, that in no way obligates you to purchase from their website. If you enjoy using their interface, use it to get information about products you’re interested in, but then go buy those products elsewhere, perhaps from the manufacturers directly.

  • Watch for “improved” technical subterfuge from Web Merchants, Inc. As a professional web developer, I can identify several things EdenFantasys could do to make their unethical practices even harder to spot, and harder to stop. If you have any technical knowledge at all, even if you’re “just” a savvy blogger, you can keep a close watch on EdenFantasys and, if you notice anything that doesn’t sit well with you, speak up about it like I did. Get a professional programmer to look into things for you if you need help; yes, you can make a difference just by remaining vigilant as long as you share what you know and act honestly, and transparently.

If you have additional ideas or recommendations regarding how more people can help keep sex toy retailers honest, please suggest them in the comments.