Tag Archives: Nicole Chenelle

Reacting to the Red Light District

11 Apr

by Nicole Chenelle

When I say that I spent a week in Amsterdam during my semester abroad, most people respond with something along the lines of, “Oh! So did you see the Red Light district?” coupled with wide eyes and giggles. I spent the week in Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class. We met with NGOs, government organizations, and former sex workers to discuss the status of sex work within the Netherlands. I definitely saw the Red Light district.

This week-long trip to Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class was the reason I chose to study abroad at the Danish Institute of Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. As a women’s and gender studies minor at Georgetown, the idea of studying prostitution in countries were it is legal was exciting. I had never engaged with prostitution academically, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to study the issue through a lens of legality. My Prostitution and the Sex Trade course included a three-day intensive study in our home base of Copenhagen, where prostitution is legal, a three-day trip to Sweden, where prostitution is legal but the client is criminalized, and this week-long trip to Amsterdam, where brothels, as well as prostitution, is legal.

The Red Light district of Amsterdam cannot be ignored. Centrally located around the city’s oldest church, the Red Light district demands that you notice the sex work happening all around you. Whether it’s the beckoning of the dolled-up women in the windows, the neon lights advertising sex shows, or rainbow-colored condoms hanging in the windows of the Condomerie, sex permeates the atmosphere of Amsterdam. The Red Light district is both a neighborhood which celebrates sex and pleasure and one who’s glitter and lipstick camouflages exploitation and human trafficking.

The majority of our class discussions and my own personal musings come back to this question – can you separate freely chosen sex work versus the trafficking of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation? Can sex work even be chosen, or do the economic motivators limit the agency of this choice? How can we, or should we even, aid the Eastern European girls in the windows whose boyfriends would legally qualify as pimps? How do we stop the human rights violation of trafficking while allowing individuals to sell sex if that is what they so chose? Is sex work just another form of labor, or is there something about sex which makes it inherently different? These are questions I have spent my semester abroad contemplating, questions that activists and lawmakers have spent their whole careers thinking about, without coming to an obvious conclusion.

Learning about the sex industry in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands has made my ignorance about the sex trade in the United States glaring apparent. I know prostitution is illegal in the majority of the United States, but it still exists. Criminalizing the prostitute herself (or himself, but most often herself) does nothing but create a cycle of criminality. Marring these women with a criminal record does the opposite of helping them exit the sex industry, but instead, makes getting a job in another profession near impossible. Is the Nordic model, or the criminalization of the customer, the solution for the United States? Criminalizing the men who purchase sex rather than the women themselves is a step in the right direction, yet I worry that the Nordic model merely plays lip-service to the ideal of eradicating prostitution rather than enacting real change. I find myself leaning towards supporting the legalization of prostitution, yet fear that legalization would encourage sex traffickers to do their business in that country. The more I study prostitution and the sex trade, the more I come to appreciate the complexity and nuances of this issue, and the more I recognize that anyone who has a simple solution isn’t thinking hard enough.

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My Kind of Feminism

29 Jan

By Nicole Chenelle

The more I learn, the more I become a feminist. The more I engage in the world, the more I see the necessity of feminism. The more I grow, the more I see individuals as either feminists or supporters of the patriarchy, either directly or indirectly – ignorance can no longer be respected as a viable third option. I am a feminist in the same way that I am not racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, ageist, classist, and any other ideology which aims to divide human beings on the basis of irrelevant qualities. I will no longer shy away from the identity of feminism simply because it has a negative connotation. The fact that the term “feminist” has a negative connotation is proof of its necessity! For too long, I have qualified my feminism by saying,“But not the crazy kind!” and I feel ashamed of my former self. Radical feminists were radical because they were angry, justifiably so. When I identify myself as a feminist now, inside, I am itching for someone to taunt me, to provoke me, to give me a reason to defend my choice of identity. I am ready to rant about feminism at any time; I am like a spring that is always loaded. Today, I am tempted to qualify my feminism by adding, “Yes, the crazy kind” because that anger is there. That anger is there every time someone makes a rape joke, comments on a female authority figure’s appearance, uses a derogatory term which has no male equivalent, defends the anti-choice position, or implies the double standard that exists around male and female sexual activity. I live with this rage, burning underneath my fingertips, ready to be deployed at anytime. This is my feminism.

My definition of feminism has evolved as I have evolved. When I was younger, I would defend feminism to my friends and peers by saying, “No, feminism doesn’t mean you hate men, it means you support gender equality!” While I still believe that statement is true, that is not all that feminism is. Today, I see feminism as an intellectual standpoint, as well as a political movement, that seeks to achieve justice for women and eliminate gender inequality. Feminism also accepts the reality of the patriarchy. Recognizing the existence of the patriarchy is crucial to this definition. I have met many people who call themselves feminists, believing in gender equality, yet see this fight as largely finished. When I bring up the patriarchal structure of society, these people ridicule me, laugh at me, dismiss this idea as ridiculous. While these people may call themselves feminists, they do so only because they see it as an anachronistic identity, in the same way one would call themselves “abolitionists” or “suffragists.” Those battles have been fought and won. These individuals support the idea of gender equality, yet see that goal as essentially achieved. Feminists are continuously fighting for gender equality, continuously fighting to dismantle the oppressive nature of the patriarchy. The identity of feminism is an active one.