Trim bitches. Grow hos. Potstitutes. If you know what those terms mean, you know that our county's most prominent industry has what politicians call "a woman problem." But it's probably not the problem you think.
There's something that raises our collective hackles about a woman gaining the favor of a rich man by dint of her beauty and youth. Gold diggers, we call them: scorned bearers of an unearned status, threats to the basic building block of social harmony that is marriage, debasers of true affection. Matrimony, after all, is a calling. Prostitution is a profession. The gold digger is one of our cherished societal tropes, and it's little wonder Humboldt County is awash with lurid stories of women in leather boots and tight jeans who prowl the hills during the fall, searching for weed-rich sugar daddies.
When we talk about weed and women we don't talk about the single mothers who trim during the fall so they can buy school clothes for their kids. We don't talk about the pioneers — grandmothers now — who moved here in the '70s and scratched a living out of the hillside, praying that the sun would shine and CAMP helicopters wouldn't darken the skies above their homesteads. We don't talk about the fact that grow culture — for all of its inherent problems — celebrates egalitarian domestic partnerships where couples share the responsibilities of maintaining both a home and a family business. We don't mention that growing weed is one of the few careers that offer parents the economic choice of staying home to raise their children. We don't talk about the women who are proficient in permaculture, homeopathy and botany, or the women who work their asses off to run scenes of their own so they can send their kids to college. No, we talk about potstitutes, grow hos and trim bitches.
Bitches. Really, bitches? Bitches are not humans: They're holes. Bitches are interchangeable. Bitches do not deserve consideration. Bitches can be bought and sold.
And that is the crux of our actual woman problem. The majority of women in this underground industry are the mothers, grandmothers, farmers and college students mentioned above. And a smaller but not inconsiderable number are being pimped, exploited, enslaved and raped. Reducing the role of women in weed to a slur — trim bitches — is really an elaborate system of victim blaming that benefits no one except predators and pathetic stand-up comedians who can't write a set without one hand in their pants.
Because these issues often go unreported and unaddressed, it is impossible to get accurate numbers, but the exploitation of women in weed is so endemic that District Attorney Maggie Fleming made it a cornerstone of her election campaign. Resources appear to be in even shorter supply than sympathy. That, combined with the insular nature of grow culture and the remoteness of many scenes, makes helping victims a challenge.
"We're not going to be able to go out and pick somebody up," says Maryann Hayes Mariani, client services coordinator for the Humboldt Rape Crisis Center. "It wouldn't be safe for them or for us. So when they call we often problem solve with them, and coach them on what to do if they can get to a more populated area."
Seasonal workers are also uniquely vulnerable to financial exploitation. It's not uncommon to hear stories of a summer's worth of work gone unpaid, with no legal recourse for the victim. If our instinct upon hearing these stories is to scoff and say that it was a risk they knew they were taking, do we hold the same standards for victims of sexual exploitation? Mariani says many of her clients feel as though they have nowhere to turn — and no social support. While some victims are seasonal workers who ended up in a bad scene, others are children of grow culture, who were indoctrinated into its code of silence from a young age. It's all well and good to say that a victim of rape, incest or assault should turn his or her assailant in to law enforcement, but what about when the assailant is a family or community member upon whom the victim might be financially reliant, in a culture that functions due to the unspoken agreement that nobody narcs, ever? What then?
"Even after they get them to safety, the terror stays with them for quite a while," Mariani says, adding that victims often live in anticipation of being found and brought back to the scene they escaped. "They might go back because they can't deal with the waiting and the fear. We don't judge. We have to respect their choice."
Human nature dictates that we devote our attention to the visible and convenient, the small handful of anecdotes that reinforce what we already believe about the world. Young men in big trucks, young women in tight jeans. It's a story as old as commerce itself. Victims are often invisible and definitely inconvenient. More often than not, we mistake their silence for consent.
But the hour is growing too late to do that. Legalization is just around the corner. What that really means for our economy and for our culture is a matter of great debate, but one thing is for certain: When the money and the silence and the fear are finally drained from grow culture, a lot of ugly things are going to get dragged out into the sunshine. In time they'll be sanitized and repackaged and sold as quaint reminders of a wilder time. And make no mistake: This wild time, this time of bootstrap entrepreneurs, modern-day homesteaders, young women in big trucks, young men staying home to raise their children, this time of heady economic optimism, is an extraordinary time to experience. We should be grateful we get to live through it. But none of that matters if we're allowing the mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters and workers that comprise our beloved community to be reduced to a slur. None of that matters if we're complicit in the exploitation of the powerless. We say trim bitches, history will say women. We say trimmigrants, history will say migrant workers. We say nothing, and history will say we picked the wrong side.
Linda Stansberry is a freelance journalist from Honeydew.