San Franciscans are gearing up for this weekend's Girl Fest -- an event with spoken-word poetry, off-color comedy (there are high promises of jokes about genitalia and masturbation) and politically minded bands. But while at first glance the festival, which is not to be confused with Ladyfest, might seem a little light and fluffy, its aim of preventing violence against women through the arts is not.
Most impressive is that its discussion of preventing abuse and violence reaches beyond the expected territory of the domestic sphere to the world of sex work. This isn't another brave go-round in the contentious porn wars, which have consistently divided feminists, but an attack on women's being bought and sold against their will.
An article in today's San Francisco Chronicle deems the event "a powerful gathering for women" and throws out some confounding facts: "Federal authorities estimate that as many as 17,500 people are smuggled into the country each year to work in brothels or sweatshops. The FBI estimates that the average age of an American prostitute is 12. And the $12 billion online porn industry is so pervasive that 4 percent of all online traffic involves adult sites, according to comScore Media Metrix, a company that tracks online surfing." This proves that it doesn't matter how many hours a week you spend scouring news about women's issues -- no level of cynicism can protect you from being completely blindsided by some unpleasant cold, hard facts. (I have to say, however, that the last statistic isn't all that surprising and seems inappropriately grouped with the former figures. Stats on how many porn performers are coerced into performing would be another matter.)
The Chronicle piece also shares the jaw-dropping story of Chong Kim, a GirlFest speaker who suffered repeated abuse before being ensnared in the illegal sex industry as an escort and prostitute. She says that she was blindfolded and confined in a Las Vegas warehouse, sold to men "at events resembling a livestock sale," and used to pull other women into the business.
So in one all-inclusive event you can get everything from masturbation jokes to speeches about violence and rape prevention. Who says feminists don't have a sense of humor?