This was inspired by SCASE (Scottish Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation) outing Glasgow Sex Worker and claiming she is not a real person but an internet campaigns company on Facebook yesterday. (GSW was lucky that Marr outed her by the wrong identity/or deliberately lied what this identity was.)However, this post isn’t about that.
I’m not suggesting that all anti-sex feminists are trying to out sex workers or share exactly the same views as SCASE or can realistically all be lumped into one category of “radical feminists” or “anti-sex/anti sex industry feminists”. That’s ignorant. So let’s be calm about this and stress that SCASE has now deleted Stella Marr’s post and apologised which GSW has accepted. So maybe it would be more appropriate to say that Stella Marr outed GSW, and not SCASE. Regardless, the message – well, threat – was that if you speak out in favour of sex work – i.e. you don’t agree with criminalising it – you risk being publically outed and/or discredited on Facebook by feminists. What Stella Marr was doing was effectively interfering with the excercise of free speech.
Moving swiftly on from this fiasco, feminist sex-negativism – whether that of the 1970’s as exemplified by Andrea Dworkin or that which still exists now, is not of benefit to women. Here’s why:
Feminist sex-negativism – whether it’s anti-pornography, anti-sex work, anti-the entire sex industry (if it’s even possible to lump women working out of flats, call girls, street walkers, Playboy, internet porn, FHM, porn actors, lap dancing clubs, etc all in one ‘industry’) becomes a position virtually indistinguishable from the Christian moral right. Carol Smart said it in 1985, and she was right.
It strips women of agency, labelling them as victims, trafficked, or exploited. This suppresses individual womens’ experiences and narratives. (Briefly glancing at their Facebook page and knowing that they would consider me to be Roland’s victim and this entire blog either a pro-sex work lie or a sad illusion of a meaningful experience was kind of frustrating). R Matthews and Ann Phoenix are two objective academics who describe the bad experiences of sex workers as well as the fallacy of depriving them of agency, why both legalisation and criminaliation are bad for sex workers and how most sex workers aren’t career sex workers. Some “pro-sex work” organisations are COYOTE, PLAN, and the sex workers’ trade union.
It leads to moral panics over sex trafficking which is actually very rare in the UK; trafficking for labour is much more prevalent. But nobody cares, because ‘labour trafficking’ hasn’t got the word ‘sex’ in it so it doesn’t sell papers. The moral panics obscure real non-sex trafficking and stop these victims from recieving the help, justice and awareness they really, really need. Right now. They need it.
All that time and taxpayer’s money going into stopping sex trafficking (which led to only 5 convictions in the second nationwide sex trafficking operation) -read Brooke Magnanti’s book ‘The Sex Myth’ – could be better used to increase awafreness of, the conviction rates of and rates of reporting crimes such as rape, domestic abuse, and child molestation.
Criminalizing prostitution only leads to worse treatment of sex workers by employers and the criminal justice system; it also leads to sex workers’ children being taken away. They may lie that they were trafficked to keep their children, which results in innocent people being imprisoned for sex trafficking. Privacy and human rights are often infringed by the police, who can legally break down doors in hotel rooms or pose as sex workers to trap clients. Clients’ photographs and names are displayed on billboards. (America)
Likewise, legalizing prostitution also has problems (Australia, Netherlands). Decriminalization, or R Matthews’ ‘radical regulationism’ is the best way. (Oviously saying ‘this is the best way’ is not an actual argument. I will elaborate on this view in another post.) Decriminalization is what we currently have here in Britain.
Claiming all women are exploited by sex work or pornography diminishes society’s view of female sexual agency and rewrites women as sexually vulnerable and in need of protection and men as sexual predators. This is insulting and harmful to both genders.
Crusading to stop other women selling their bodies or lap dancing and condemning such activities is merely playing the role of enforcer (a female enforcer of the patriarchal double standard. I discused this in my post ‘SM and the double standard’, in the ‘Feminism’ category). This harms women as it teaches them that they are vulnerable to exploitation and can’t take control of their sexuality by sex work – if they do sex work, they’re automatically victims. It also reinforces the value of chastity and the sexual vulnerability of women in the public imagination, perpetuating the double standard and protectiveness of the female body.
Claiming that all women are exploited is a huge generalisation. You cannot make blanket statements about such a varied industry. It would be more sensible to accept that some women have horrific experiences, some women love it so much they spend all their time writing blogs/books about what a great time they’re having, and most women have mixed experiences, just like every other job where you have good times and bad times. Haven’t we all been there.
Criminalizing all sex work is not necessary to get a better life and better working conditions for sex workers. Sex worker activist groups like COYOTE in the USA and the sex worker trade union in the UK are already campaigning for better working conditions. By supporting them politically and financially, sex workers will be helped. Trying to criminalize sex work actually disparages and discredits these activists’ experiences, narratives and political efforts by claiming they are exploited or brainwashed. If criminalization were achieved, working conditions for sex workers would be much, much worse and there would be more violence, rape and sex trafficking. Why? Because the workers wouldn’t be able to report it to the police without being charged themselves. Sex work would be the province of a criminal underground, not random citizens working out of flats, unemployed women walking the streets when they feel like it, or students signing up with escort agencies – which tend to be small companies. There aren’t big prostitution corporations out there; let’s not make any. Porn companies tend to be small, too; (see my post about Zada Modelling, obviously a very small pornography company) an exception is of course Playboy, which has branched out into the fashion industry too.
All of the above doesn’t benefit women – either non-sex workers or sex workers and every nuance in between. (Yes, there are grey areas.) Four quick examples: me; sex shop assistants; porn film scriptwriters; SeekArrangement.com; escorts who don’t have sex but only provide an escorting service; phone sex chat workers; erotic novel authors; erotic anime/manga artists; people who sell pornography; people who have sex to get that promotion; people who date someone because they’re rich…(Ok that was more than four, but I couldn’t resist. There are an awful lot of grey areas. I really find it difficult to answer the question: Who is a sex worker?
Since the feminist anti-sex crusade is harmful to women, it is (unintentionally, inadvertently) anti-feminist.