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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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35 Responses

  1. Ismone
    Ismone June 30, 2009 at 6:42 pm |

    Glad you wrote this, and yes, if the salon thread on the takedown of this same book was any sign, I’m sure you’ll see exactly what you’re expecting.

  2. jason
    jason June 30, 2009 at 6:46 pm |

    I’m a man currently teaching English in South Korea with my fiancee (we are both white Americans in our early twenties). We are both actually planning on backpacking through Southeast Asia come this Fall.

    I have to say, I agree with you 100%. We and our friends often say, half jokingly, that South Korea is the place where ugly old white men come to marry young Asians who don’t know any better. I’ve met so many of those couples. I’m not sure if the wife is ever happy or not, but it always disgusts me as a man that these women are now stuck with the dregs of Western society, with no way to get out of it (divorce is very uncommon here, and the men often want to stay in South Korea where they can treat their wives like shit).

  3. amandaw
    amandaw June 30, 2009 at 6:54 pm |

    “They used no force…they did what they were invited to.”

    Way to completely erase the existence of power differentials between two people.
    How convenient for the author, I suppose.

  4. Deedles Smith
    Deedles Smith June 30, 2009 at 6:57 pm |

    I hate to say it, but not enough attention is paid to women’s rights in foreign countries – especially Asia. I almost fell off my chair when I read the following article. This MAN is basically saying that life in China for women is just great. Has he heard of forced abortions?! You’ll see the comment I left for him.

    http://www.examiner.com/x-15615-Asia-Headlines-Examiner~y2009m6d29-Chinas-Call-Girl-Clampdown-a-Great-Wall-to-Climb?cid=exrss-Asia-Headlines-Examiner

  5. Isabel
    Isabel June 30, 2009 at 8:16 pm |

    this was a really great post, thank you for it.

  6. Dale Edmonds
    Dale Edmonds June 30, 2009 at 11:26 pm |

    The big absence here is Asian men – the rule of thumb in child trafficking in Cambodia where I work with a group on prevention, is that white male tourists are 10%, asian tourists 20% and local asians the 70% of underage sex buyers. It is much easier to identify and prosecute a white Canadian pedophile for example vs a local pedophile, because the Canadian embassy will co-operate, you can get media coverage and help. Most of the child trafficking cases we have directly dealt with have been local and asian buyers. Western sex tourists bring in a massive amount of money although which fuels the industry as well.

  7. Natalia
    Natalia July 1, 2009 at 5:21 am |

    Thanks, Jill. I have similar feelings about these men; we see a lot of them in Ukraine as well. I’ve repeatedly had the misfortune of being stuck next to sex-tourists on flights to Kiev, and just thinking about those encounters makes my skin crawl.

    What’s particularly troubling about these dudes is that many of them are buying much more than sex – they’re buying love, or, rather, their twisted idea of love. They want a relationship based solely on a fuzzy fantasy, and can get abusive when they don’t get their way.

    I’m always glad to see one of their tribe get played. They complain loudly about women who “use” them, but the truth is – they set out to use these women in the first place, and then were beaten at their own game. Boo hoo.

  8. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 1, 2009 at 6:32 am |

    I was kind of curious about the book until I read the Salon review. So instead of a breakdown and chronicle of Western sexual weirdness wrt “the Orient,” it’s a paean to it. I think I’ll pass until I can muster the patience to read somebody arguing that it was okay for colonial-period dudes to go on an exploitation vacation because life in Europe was just so fucking hard for dudes who wanted to look at porn, hire a prostitute, or retain a mistress.

  9. Jha
    Jha July 1, 2009 at 8:07 am |

    As someone from SEA myself, I would like to extend a big THANK YOU for this post. The irony never fails to slap me in the face on how men (not just white) will assume Asian girls are soooOOOooOoo adorable and never realize we’re just… normal folks, who happen to be on the shit end of the stick.

  10. Bitch Magazine
    Bitch Magazine July 1, 2009 at 4:02 pm |

    This book was discussed on Bitch’s On The Map blog too. I think what would be an interesting book to write is one that tells this story from the perspective of the sex workers, and one that makes the distinction between women of different nationalities and cultures. “Asian” is a pretty broad category, but you’d never know it to read Bernstein’s book

  11. Claire
    Claire July 1, 2009 at 4:46 pm |

    Bitch had a great post on this with a super creepy quote from the book: “The manager of the place will tell you which woman specializes in which particular service. He will let customers know which of them sucks and among them fucks, and he will urge customers to take two of the girls so that they can have a little of both and be in the middle of a sort of Oriental sandwich, one girl on top, the other on the bottom and both lathered with soap and warm water. Whatever choice the customer makes, he will be given a bath, then massaged a bit, and finally, after some negotiation, given what is marvelously called a happy ending, the different forms of which command different prices.”

    The blog rightly points out that the quote “sounds more like a titillating advertisement in favor of sex tourism rather than a critique of it.”

  12. dhig
    dhig July 2, 2009 at 6:01 pm |

    that is really disturbing…thanks for the post. once on a trip to india my uncle and i walked past the “red light district” in calcutta, which just happens to be near a place i was volunteering at…it was so unsettling to see so many women, young and not so young, dressed up in gaudy saris and excessive makeup just standing around the doors of houses waiting for customers…such a waste of human life. on an aside, the last guy i dated told me he thought i was “exotic” and he is lucky because most indian girls don’t date outside their race….broke up with him soon afterwards.

  13. dhig
    dhig July 2, 2009 at 6:10 pm |

    what i forgot to add was that that guy i dated was taiwanese-canadian (and i’m indian-american) so, the fetishizing is done by more than just white guys (something i didn’t know till then)…

  14. Friday Links — July 3, 2009 « Muslimah Media Watch

    […] Feministe critiques Richard Bernstein’s The East, the West, and Sex. […]

  15. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe July 4, 2009 at 3:20 pm |

    The only time I came close to witnessing what might have been a mail-order-bride situation was once at work. Our publishing company has a Spanish-language magazine whose editorial staff is almost entirely native speakers. A few years ago, one of these was a young woman from Colombia. She was enchanting—utterly lovely, with a dazzling smile and sweet personality. She also had great credentials for her job: a degree in the subject matter she was writing about, which is surprisingly rare in trade journalism.

    She was married (and considerably younger to boot), so I glanced admiringly at her now and then but didn’t think about her otherwise. Then, at a company Christmas party (this was back when we were still having them), I met her husband. The guy was this pear-shaped shlub with pasty, pockmarked skin, who was even older than I. I tried to strike up a conversation with him. Usually I’m good at getting people to talk (it’s my job), but he seemed to have just about nothing to say. About anything.

    My mind instantly flashed on all the horrible things I had read about life in Colombia, which was then, IIRC, in the grip of both murderous drug gangs and a civil war. I remember reading that educated young Colombians were getting out any way they could. Did she get with this guy because she had no other good choice?

    I felt (still feel) a little guilty thinking that way. For all I know, theirs could have been the most passionate love since Romeo and Juliet. But posts like Jill’s make you wonder.

  16. stomper
    stomper July 5, 2009 at 12:27 am |

    i’m half japanese, and i get so fucking sick of people telling me how ‘exotic’ and ‘kinky’ i am. grr.

  17. Richard Bernstein
    Richard Bernstein July 8, 2009 at 11:14 am |

    Dear Jill,

    You say in your blog post of last week that you won’t be reading my book, “The East, the West, and Sex,” and that of course is your prerogative. The sad truth for book writers is that most people don’t read most books. But I’m writing because, though you didn’t read it, you nonetheless saw fit to post what amounts to a negative review of it, and of me. Your review was based almost entirely on a review that appeared in Slate just the day before, which you evidently found accurate and reliable, including its depiction of me as an
    obtuse misogynist.

    So let me try to persuade you to do your own reading and checking before you believe what you read in Slate, which, in the case of “The East, the West, and Sex” has perpetrated not a book review but an ad hominem attack full of malice and falsehood–I know not why, but I suspect it has to do with a certain ideological grandstanding by a reviewer eager to show off his virtuousness. Some examples in the Slate litany of false and malicious characterization: that the book contains “an oblique confession to having had [my] first sexual experience in an Asian brothel,” and that this is “creepy;” that my motivation for writing the book stems “from a guilty conscience about [my] past;” that I have a “fetid attitude toward women,” and that a seedy, repellent brothel in Bangla Desh where the women are prisoners is the kind of brothel over which I myself “turn moist and sweaty.”

    None of these slanderous remarks is substantiated by a single reference to anything actually in “The East, the West, and Sex,” and, of course, since you proudly don’t want to read the book, you had no way of seeing this little fact for yourself. The end result, however, is that, taken in by what seemed to you a morally satisfying summary of the book and the immoral qualities of its author, you ended up propagating untruths about both. Like I say, I can see how this might happen, but it would have been good had you done a little checking of your own.

    Too late for that now, but perhaps at least I can tell you what the book is about, or, first, what it isn’t about. The book is not, as you put it, a “sweaty pseudo-academic justification for [my] ‘Asian babes’ fetish.” This is your own bit of character assassination, building on that of Slate, and, frankly, it is a model of erroneous concision, three false statements in one simple declarative sentence. But I am quite confident that, if you were to give the book a fair and honest hearing, you would be able to find anything in it to justify your righteous indignation. The book is not “sweaty;” it is not “pseudo-academic” and, having had a loving and exclusive relationship with my wife for nearly 20 years, I think I have demonstrated that I do not have an Asian babes fetish (my wife is Chinese but she is not a babe, in your sense of the word, and there is nothing fetishistic about our love for each other.)

    What the book is about: it exposes what might be called the dirty little secret of colonialism and post-colonialism. It shows how, among all the other advantages that accrued to western power for the last several centuries, was an erotic and sexual advantage. Western men could do many things in the East that they would have had trouble doing at home—get rich quick, lord it over the natives, wear indigenous robes and smoke indigenous dope– and enjoy the benefits of what I call the “culture of the harem” by having harems of their own.

    Apparently you find it morally objectionable to talk about this unless there is a moral condemnation of every aspect of it on every page. A nuanced treatment of the moral issue amouns to complicity in the behavior described, the Slate reviewer and you think. You want the entire, rich, complicated story, which stretches over four centuries and half a dozen non-western cultures, to be summed up morally by that one degrading brothel in Bangla Desh, which, as the Slate reviewer certainly knows, is not the kind of place that is patronized by westerners and has only the most tangential, if any, bearing on the story I tell. Does that mean that the western sexual exploitation of Asia was all good, healthy fun? You could find a few phrases here and there and take them out of context and make it appear as though I is was, and is. But read the book, and you’ll see that I don’t.

    Let me pose a hypothetical to try to illustrate why I find it hard to preach on this subject. Imagine that it’s America 50 years ago when lesbians lived oppressed and semi-criminalized lives, but there was a Lesbos Island in Thailand where they could go to find sexual pleasure and fulfillment. They went to cozy little clubs where they could meet local partners, who would sit with them, cuddle up, drink tea, and whisper sweet little nothings in their ear, their very fragrance making the foreign guests kind of moist and sweaty. The local partners seemed so sweet and seductive, and they asked to be taken back to the visitor’s hotel room where they would share the bliss of sex, for an hour or for the night—depending on the price. Of course the local girls would pretend to love these American lesbians, some of whom were kind of pasty, fat, and middle-aged, but what they really wanted as their money, because they were poor. Servicing western lesbians lifted them, as it were, out of the shit; it enabled them to escape their violent partners back in their hardscrabble villages; it gave them to money to buy a new water buffalo for their parents and to send their younger siblings to school. They practically begged the American lesbians to sleep with them. For their part, the Americans engaged in no force; they had sex with consenting adults, but they paid them.
    My question: would you reduce this entire scene, with its mixed aspects of liberation and exploitation, to those degrading tin-roofed shacks in Bangla Desh? Would the American lesbians, especially the middle-aged ones, fill you with righteous indignation? Would you find them absolutely disgusting? Probably you would see something unfortunate, seedy, and dishonest about the whole thing, but you would also have some understanding of human need and human frailty, and you would see the exploitation going both ways. Anyway, that’s how I look at it. It’s a mixed picture. It isn’t that Bangla Desh brothel, but it isn’t entirely not that Bangla Desh brothel either. What do you think?

    Whatever you think, let me close on the main point: which is that you relied on second-hand information to propagate a very misleading and hurtful portrait both of me and my book, whom you don’t know and didn’t read. Again, I understand, I think, what led you to do that. My guess is that you found the Slate review credible because it seemed so ideologically compatible. It had all the feminist applause lines, and created a monster to slay. But, as Audre Lord said, it’s not always what it looks like.

    Sincerely,
    Richard Bernstein

  18. Feministe » The East, the West and Sex: Author Richard Bernstein responds

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  19. La Lubu
    La Lubu July 8, 2009 at 12:51 pm |

    Richard Bernstein, have you encountered the phrase “the stupid, it burns!!”? Well, your comment burns like napalm—all the way to the bone.

    You compare the plight of American men to find heterosexual partners to, of all things, American lesbians of 50 years ago. Setting aside that prejudice, discrimination and violence towards lesbians is alive and in full force today in the United States, think about this comparison a bit.

    Can you give me the name of just one place in these United States where heterosexuality is illegal? Where heterosexual men are asked to leave the premises if accompanied by their female dates? Where heterosexual men are fired from their jobs for violating the standards of compulsory homosexuality? Where heterosexual men are beaten and/or raped for their heterosexuality (“I’mma fuck’im ’till he’s gay! heh heh heh!!”)?

    Just. one.

    Perhaps you were reluctant to compare the sex tourism of heterosexual western men with that of heterosexual western women because it didn’t conform to your ideological assumptions of “those feminists are all dykes”–hm? Or maybe your reluctance stems from an awareness that there has been vocal feminist criticism of western, female-led sex tourism (the “rent-a-dread” phenomenon featured in Utne, for example)?

    Let me offer you a better comparison of what you prefer to think of a “nuanced” or “mutual” exploitation—the particular practice of prison rape that involves a weaker, vulnerable prisoner offering his or her sexual services to a stronger, more dominant prison rapist in exchange for sexual exclusivity—the “protection” of not being raped by the general prison population.

    “Nuanced”, my ass.

  20. Callie
    Callie July 8, 2009 at 1:05 pm |

    What the book is about: it exposes what might be called the dirty little secret of colonialism and post-colonialism. It shows how, among all the other advantages that accrued to western power for the last several centuries, was an erotic and sexual advantage.

    Really, you’re “exposing” this “secret”? Cynthia Enloe might have something to say about that.

  21. Dawn
    Dawn July 8, 2009 at 2:40 pm |

    Whoa – so not reading this book. But the one thing that ticked me off the most was from Bernstein’s own retort.

    “Of course the local girls would pretend to love these American lesbians, some of whom were kind of pasty, fat, and middle-aged, but what they really wanted as their money, because they were poor.”

    What a degrading view of women. So fat, middle-aged women could obviously not be loved. That it is so disgusting that people would want to sleep with them.

    You’re vile, Richard Bernstein.

  22. Meg
    Meg July 8, 2009 at 2:41 pm |

    No, sir, I have not read your book, just your comment, and I think that’s quite enough! These men are not being “exploited”. They’re freely choosing to go off to foreign countries to participate in the abuse of women; if they then get all confoozed when their victims don’t care about them, it’s because they’re fucking morons who don’t understand that WOMEN ARE PEOPLE, EVEN IF YOU HAND THEM $10. Secondly, what do you think all the fat, pasty, middle-aged heterosexual women are doing? Are they all off having sex with 15-year-old Cambodian boys? Or are they just not good enough for fat, pasty, middle-aged heterosexual men? Your comparison completely writes western women out of existence while pretending that being a male heterosexuality is something discriminated against in our society (BULLSHIT). If these guys are having trouble getting middle-aged western women, it’s probably because those women have enough self-respect and autonomy to say NO to misogynist men. And yes, you DO have to be misogynist to think that the abduction/rape/exploitation of women is okay, or even a nuanced issue, as long as men are getting a good sheathing.

    I would far rather read accounts from the women who live(d) this day-in and day-out. There’s nothing fresh, interesting, or thought-provoking about telling stories of colonialism from a western man’s POV, with human empathy reserved for ‘people like him’.

  23. dhig
    dhig July 8, 2009 at 8:32 pm |

    There is no nuance or mutual exploitation. Many of the women in the sex trade have been kidnapped from their families or sold by their parents into the trade…many of them are in that situation not because they want extra money to send their siblings to a good school, but because they are barely trying to exist, from one moment to the next. They don’t have the luxury of travelling to another country to look for (purchased) satisfaction of their sexual desires.
    I think the author just completely exposed himself for his own lack of nuanced thought and reflection. To compare a privileged white western man to the women in the sex trade in Asia is comparing apples to mangoes…there is no mutual exploitation possible.
    And brothels in Bangladesh? I’ve heard of those….my grandparents are from that country….from what I’ve read, many of them are filled with women who were kidnapped during (still ongoing) religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims and forced into this trade. I would hope your little book doesn’t show western men’s frequenting of those brothels as mutual exploitation too.

  24. Ellid
    Ellid July 9, 2009 at 6:21 am |

    I think it ironic that Mr. Bernstein decries being characterized as having a fetish for Asian women in the same line in which he explicitly states that he has been married to a Chinese woman for over twenty years.

  25. Samantha
    Samantha July 9, 2009 at 9:03 am |

    So… let’s get this heterosexual Western men are a discriminated against group, who, as a result of this discrimination, must go abroad and pay for sex with women who consent merely because they are desperately poor… but that’s ok, so long as heterosexual Western men get to have sexual experiences they would be denied at home? And this is comparabale to the discrimination against lesbians 50 years ago (because discrimination against the LGBTQ community no longer exists, right?).

    Why not make a comparison between heterosexual Western women, who 50 years ago were more sexually restricted than men, and continue to be more restricted than men today. Imagine if women could go to an exotic, far off place and pay for… oh wait, this argument I’m heading for doesn’t really hold up, does it?

    Your comparison is ludicrous to even the most uneducated and uncritical of minds. And if you, Mr Bernstein, think that your comment gives a more positive impression of your book than thesalon.com review, then I can only laugh, because you have compounded every word of that review with your inelegant comparison.

    Here’s a staggering idea – just because something is for sale, doesn’t mean you are obligated to purchase it. Especially when it is a human being for sale.

  26. Syl
    Syl July 9, 2009 at 3:06 pm |

    “What a degrading view of women. So fat, middle-aged women could obviously not be loved. That it is so disgusting that people would want to sleep with them.

    You’re vile, Richard Bernstein.’

    Um. Obviously, in that passage you quoted, he was trying to elaborate on the metaphor by comparing the women to the Pasty, Flabby Western Men who are the subject of his book. Do you honestly think an otherwise intelligent person who’s trying to make (and I think does make) a good argument on due diligence in blogging, would also try to insult women in the same sentence? No. YOU made that knee-jerk assumption. Thanks for lowering the tone of the discussion.

  27. Syl
    Syl July 9, 2009 at 3:09 pm |

    And anyway, I think most of you are missing the point that this is a book about a historical phenomenon – and as much as we may all turn up our noses and say oh how terrible, what degrading colonialism, I think not wanting to hear (or read) about what did actually happen and why it did happen, i.e. shutting your ears and screaming LA LA LA LA until it goes away, doesn’t help any of us.

    If anything, this whole discussion makes feminists look unenlightened and overly anxious about the modern agenda to the detriment of complete understanding of the historical nature of the patriarchy we all fight against.

  28. Faith from F.N.
    Faith from F.N. July 9, 2009 at 3:56 pm |

    “and as much as we may all turn up our noses and say oh how terrible, what degrading colonialism, I think not wanting to hear (or read) about what did actually happen and why it did happen, i.e. shutting your ears and screaming LA LA LA LA until it goes away, doesn’t help any of us.”

    ::arches eyebrows::

    Have you been paying any real attention to what has been discussed?

    What has been said here is not that the feminists on this board have a problem acknowledging why colonialism occurrs/ed. What has been said is that no one wants to read this entitled fuckwit’s bullshit misogynistic explanation for colonialism. Reading his one comment was nauseating enough me. No way in hell I’m wading through a book full of that nonsense.

  29. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 9, 2009 at 4:14 pm |

    Richard, I’m so sorry. I forgot my violin to provide the background music for your whiny, overlong rant.

    Poor, white, heterosexual men! Oppressed for wanting to be top dogs! OH THE HUMANITY!

    Here’s a ticket to the clue train, cupcake: White, heterosexual men are not oppressed. Maybe they enjoy lording it over poor brown women, paying for sex and getting it on their terms, and going into a so-called “relationship” with an exploited woman while crowing about how he gets a submissive woman, but I assure you, wanting those things and not getting them is not oppression. Getting them at the expense of an exploited and vulnerable population IS oppression, but the men aren’t the ones who are oppressed.

    To compare this to lesbianism is ridiculous. When White heterosexual men are denied housing, marriage rights, civil rights, and the rights to adopt because of their sexual orientation towards women, you can start trying to call yourself oppressed. When you’re stopped and searched for your race, when the majority of people who represent you in congress and the majority of CEO’s are women of color, you can call yourself oppressed. When you are called a prude for not having sex and a whore for having sex, when you are vulnerable to rape (and blamed for it when it happens), you can call yourself oppressed. Until then, I suggest you STFU about how oppressed the White Menz are.

    Keep digging, dear. For all of your whining about Jill’s charecter assasination (oh, you poor histrionic fool), you’ve just done the most damage yourself in your ridiculous answer to her.

  30. Maria P.
    Maria P. July 10, 2009 at 6:52 am |

    Yep, reading that response made me want to read the book even less. Now it’s circled around and I want to read it just to attack it line by line.

    But… Nah. Got better shit to do.

  31. Ismone
    Ismone July 11, 2009 at 5:38 pm |

    “Let me pose a hypothetical to try to illustrate why I find it hard to preach on this subject. Imagine that it’s America 50 years ago when lesbians lived oppressed and semi-criminalized lives, but there was a Lesbos Island in Thailand where they could go to find sexual pleasure and fulfillment. They went to cozy little clubs where they could meet local partners, who would sit with them, cuddle up, drink tea, and whisper sweet little nothings in their ear, their very fragrance making the foreign guests kind of moist and sweaty. The local partners seemed so sweet and seductive, and they asked to be taken back to the visitor’s hotel room where they would share the bliss of sex, for an hour or for the night—depending on the price. Of course the local girls would pretend to love these American lesbians, some of whom were kind of pasty, fat, and middle-aged, but what they really wanted as their money, because they were poor. Servicing western lesbians lifted them, as it were, out of the shit; it enabled them to escape their violent partners back in their hardscrabble villages; it gave them to money to buy a new water buffalo for their parents and to send their younger siblings to school. They practically begged the American lesbians to sleep with them. For their part, the Americans engaged in no force; they had sex with consenting adults, but they paid them.
    My question: would you reduce this entire scene, with its mixed aspects of liberation and exploitation, to those degrading tin-roofed shacks in Bangla Desh? Would the American lesbians, especially the middle-aged ones, fill you with righteous indignation? Would you find them absolutely disgusting? Probably you would see something unfortunate, seedy, and dishonest about the whole thing, but you would also have some understanding of human need and human frailty, and you would see the exploitation going both ways. Anyway, that’s how I look at it. It’s a mixed picture. It isn’t that Bangla Desh brothel, but it isn’t entirely not that Bangla Desh brothel either. What do you think?”

    A couple of things. First, I cannot top La Lubu’s explanation of why your metaphor doesn’t hold, so I won’t try. Second, if your apocryphal lesbians existed, even in small numbers, my response would be to say, I am very sorry you feel unloved, but purchasing sex/affection from others because they are so poor that it is the lesser of n evils for them is intrinsically fucked. Where are the voices of the women providing the services? How can we take seriously a book with such gloating passages about male sexual pleasure and autonomy if the effects on the ability to have sexual pleasure and autonomy of the female half of those dyads aren’t even considered or discussed?

    And if I am wrong, Mr. Bernstein, please quote some passage of your book that tells the story from the colonized people’s point of view. And no, my daughter got me a water buffalo that makes my life so much better is not what the fuck I am talking about.

  32. Mo
    Mo August 7, 2009 at 10:16 pm |

    I would so like to agree with the Feministe analysis (and the other feminist analyses on the thread), but–really? You published a book review of a book you haven’t read, and bragged that you don’t intend to read it? Really? How worthy of those people who try to ban Harry Potter from libraries, and how unworthy of a feminist blog. For God’s sake, just take the book out of the library or something so that you can write an informed article. It’s not as if it will give you cooties.

  33. Ely
    Ely August 12, 2009 at 11:11 am |

    I have just returned from hearing Richard Bernstein speak at a bookshop in Beijing and was interested to read this review, as he mentioned it in his talk.

    I find it astonishing that anyone would attempt to write a review based solely on another review, without having actually read the book. And worse than that – to attack somebody’s character in such an extreme way as this: “I’ve met and seen men like Richard Bernstein. I’ve seen them walking down the street in places like Cambodia and Thailand, sometimes alone and scoping, sometimes negotiating with another man on the age and price of a woman or girl or boy, sometimes with an Asian woman trailing a few feet behind him.” It calls to mind the ‘there’s a paedophile on every street corner’ witchhunt mentality.

    I also find it interesting that the reviewer and some of the commentators slam Bernstein for not being interested in or including women’s voices. In fact he interviewed dozens of women in his research for the book (of course, you are quite right that their stories will be mediated through his telling).

    I note also that the reviewer herself has spent minimal time in ‘the East’ and has not spoken with any of these women either. I’m not convinced that a Western woman banging on about the lives of non-Western women is that much more credible than a man speaking for those women.

    I find Ellid’s comment – “I think it ironic that Mr. Bernstein decries being characterized as having a fetish for Asian women in the same line in which he explicitly states that he has been married to a Chinese woman for over twenty years” – very strange, as he/she seems to assume that all relationships between Western men and Asian women must be fetishistic. The assumption that this is not a loving, respectful relationship could be interpreted as insulting to the intelligence and agency of Bernstein’s wife (of more than 20 years!).

    I don’t like Bernstein’s comparison with American lesbians 50 years ago (!), but I think that his point that the lives of these women are far more complicated than you acknowledge is important.

    And I agree with Syl’s comments entirely.

    Interestingly, Toni Bentley in her New York Times review quotes this from the book, “wisdom, of course, ­teaches that the greatest sexual pleasure for a man comes in a healthy monogamous and loving relationship with one woman.”

    I’m off to read the book, to find out for myself what it’s all about.

  34. Erb
    Erb August 13, 2009 at 11:25 pm |

    If anything, this whole discussion makes feminists look unenlightened and overly anxious about the modern agenda to the detriment of complete understanding of the historical nature of the patriarchy we all fight against.

    Well said.

  35. Han
    Han October 13, 2009 at 4:31 pm |

    I would be shocked at the supposed content of Bernstein’s book, but the simple fact fact that you didn’t bother to READ something you’re trying to REVIEW pretty much annihilates any credibility you might have had. What a completely irresponsible thing to do. You brand the book as one author’s “pseudo-academic justification”, but I certainly don’t see your own “justification” of your views as any better simply because you are morally opposed to sex tourism. You briefly mention someone’s book before you quickly turned the post into your personal rant. If it’s supposed to be about the book, then MAKE it about the book. Even though I don’t necessarily agree with Bernstein’s comment, at least he took the time to read your entire post and form a related response to it. I’m really just embarrassed for you.

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