To the would-be sex work abolitionist, or, 'ain't I a woman'?

The red umbrella has become synonymous with sex workers' rights.

In the following article, Sarah M, a sex worker in Canada who would like to “exit” the industry, replies to several articles written by the abolitionist Meghan Murphy. Sarah does not recognise herself in Murphy’s discourse, arguing that she constructs a false debate between feminists and the “sex work lobby”, prioritises ideology over the immediate demands of sex workers and proposes a patronising, ineffective and unrealistic alternative model in the “Nordic Model”.

Below is a passage from Sarah’s article. Please consider going to the rabble.ca website (where her article was originally published) and reading it in its entirety.

Quote:
...When someone tells me she has feminist concerns with sex work, knowing that sex work is my only solution to the problem of poverty, I have a lot of trouble taking her feminism seriously because she is not taking the reality of my life seriously. Acknowledging that "there has to be a better way" isn't good enough. I need to not live in poverty. Not after the revolution. Right now. Knowing how I feel about some feminists' disregard for my experiences of intersecting oppression, if someone offers me a version of feminism that doesn't confront its own colonizing or transphobic practices, I'm not going to take that very seriously either.

In a nutshell: feminism isn't a strong, successful, or effective movement. If, as Murphy wrote in August and October, the enemy is neoliberalism, then feminists are losing spectacularly. Ask Status of Women Canada, the folks on Ontario Works whose Special Diet allowances were cut off, advocates for a national housing strategy, or Indigenous communities fighting for local housing. Or ask librarians, educators, CUPE, OPSEU, Air Canada employees, postal workers -- or better yet, ask Stephen Harper -- about "austerity." We are losing, not because the "sex work lobby" is preventing feminists from dismantling patriarchy, but because some feminists are still being cast as divisive while the forces that implement neoliberal policy, patriarchy, racism and colonization, are obscured and given a free pass (e.g., the anti-prostitution group REAL Women of Canada, who actually are anti-feminist lobbyists). If "real" feminists recognized sex worker advocates as feminists, even if we still disagreed about decriminalization, we would be a stronger movement...

To the would-be sex work abolitionist, or, 'ain't I a woman'?

Posted By

wojtek
Feb 17 2012 01:49

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Juan Conatz
Feb 17 2012 09:46

Pretty good article. I don't know the complete context of the discussion or the situation in Canada, but pretty much agree with the perspective laid out here. Particularly, the neoliberal "revanchism". I think that's a common ailment among sections of the oppressed, although not sure its unique to the rise of neoliberalism.

What I mean by that last part is that, for instance, within the black community, and to a certain extent the Latino (and lesser extent the poor white)community, you have non-right wing personas that demonize the poor. Putting the responsibility and "fault" on individual choices rather than systematic inequalities. Like, "we fought so hard for rights and all you want to do is have out of wedlock children and buy expensive stuff (jewelry, TVs, whatever). It's reactionary politics dressed up in leftist "we're all in this together" language.

Steven.
Feb 17 2012 10:16

This is a good article, especially these points:

Quote:
to call sex work degrading, as if that's news, is to deny that all jobs are degrading, including Murphy's job and whatever jobs my clients hold. Conversely, that these jobs are degrading doesn't automatically make sex work empowering. It just makes it unexceptional. "Jobs" are degrading because capitalism is degrading, because waged work is degrading. Whether we think women should do sex work or not, many women are sex workers, and many of our working conditions are bad (male sex workers also experience whore stigma, in addition to complex manifestations of homophobia, racism, and classism, but Murphy's question is about why we don't engage on the topic of women sex workers, and, as usual, I have a complicated answer and little space to speak). Sex workers don't want to make prostitution "a job like any other." It's already our job. As long as welfare and minimum wage work, which are neither consistent nor sustainable, are the only other options, we will continue to do sex work -- legally or illegally, in the open or hidden, safely or in dangerous places, depending on the other factors that determine how we do our work. Because work is about money.
Quote:
The demand for abolition, in its present form, is simply a demand for the state to exercise direct, coercive control over women's bodies and choices.
Ernestine
Feb 18 2012 03:39

.

Ernestine
Feb 18 2012 03:40

Sex work is like other work. It can be empowering in some circumstances - a dominatrix is the obvious example, and respectful sexual exchange is possible for money. Some famous people, and I'm sure some not so famous, with disabilities pay for sex without exploitation. The circumstances surrounding sex work are what usually makes it more exploitative, and the so-called feminists who can't see the distinction here are prejudiced and narrow-minded. I would advise anyone that phone sex is a more honest way to earn a living than working in some call centres where lying for your wages is the norm.

wojtek
Feb 18 2012 06:25

From what I've read of the sex work debate so far, I definitely think abolitionists need to humble themselves, dispense with the (at best) empty platitudes and listen without any moral judgment to what simply is. As a way of going forward, I wonder if the Christian Nids who were active during the 1975 Lyon occupation could offer something:

Quote:
Lilian Mathieu wrote on page 123, 4:

...By affecting to adopt a non-directive attitude, one respectful of the prostitutes' autonomy, while toning down the most dissuasive aspects of their own organization's identity (since a majority of the prostitutes in fact did not wish to cease their activity), the Lyon activists were able to make themselves acceptable as allies to women a priori reluctant to become involved with an association that had a reputation for moralizing and being sanctimonious, for whom the preestablished imperative was an end to all prostitution, and with whom they had had only distant relations before: "The people in the Nid [...] understood that in any case they weren't going to get anywhere by saying, 'Stop, don't do that any more'; moralizing wasn't going to get them anywhere. So I think that was why everyone -most [of the prostitutes]-decided to spend a bit of time with them over there." (21)...

...The relations between the prostitutes and Nid activists thus seem to have become those of "collusion" (Dobry, 1986, pp. 1 10-1 13). Each of the partner groups showed itself capable of respecting the implicit principle of mutual non-interference: the abolitionists accepted never to raise the question of pro curers and didn't show the least curiosity in this matter, tacitly agreeing to "close their eyes" to the logic and stakes internal to the prostitution world, while the prostitutes, working side by side with the Nid activists, abandoned all demands for official recognition of their activity as an "occupation in its own right", thus enabling the Nid activists to support them without seeming to work toward goals that went directly counter to their organization's official positions. Thanks to this mutual precluding of potential sources of conflict, it seemed to each of the two partner groups that the alliance did not imperil their respective internal logics, and this in turn strengthened the perception on both sides that a common action was feasible.

Ed
Feb 18 2012 11:54
Ernestine wrote:
Sex work is like other work. It can be empowering in some circumstances - a dominatrix is the obvious example, and respectful sexual exchange is possible for money.

Hmm, I dunno about this.. I mean, as you say, its still a job and I don't see how being forced to do stuff by economic circumstance can ever be empowering.. even with a dominatrix, I bet they'd rather be spending that time with their mates or family rather than spanking a businessman (who is still always in control of the dominatrix, even if they're playing at it being the other way round, as he's the one who's paying, expects a certain standard of service etc).. or just some days they can't be arsed going to work or whatever.. but they have to coz that's what work is.. so I don't think it can ever be empowering (though yeah, I agree with you that all that moralistic anti-sex work stuff is shite)..

Steven.
Feb 18 2012 12:25

I agree with what Ed says here, work is never empowering, even if the job you have have some level of power in it, like being a shift supervisor in a shop, or a line manager in an office. Superficially it might appear empowering on some level, but it's not as you are doing it out of economic necessity.

RedEd
Feb 19 2012 03:57
Steven. wrote:
I agree with what Ed says here, work is never empowering, even if the job you have have some level of power in it, like being a shift supervisor in a shop, or a line manager in an office. Superficially it might appear empowering on some level, but it's not as you are doing it out of economic necessity.

I disagree with this, but only in a few instances. I went to Cambridge university (biggest mistake of my life wink ) and quite a few people I know did go on to do jobs that genuinely empowered them and that they felt motivated and powerful because of. These are people involved in fairly high level management with a lot of intellectually challenging labour thrown in and they really do feel important and powerful. And they are wage labourers as much as you or me (well, not me, I'm dole scum), at least till they make enough money of it. I think these 'functionaries of capital', as they as sometimes called, are an important group. I ought to actually keep up with a couple of them so I can study them...for communism!

wojtek
Oct 5 2012 11:45

A Global Dialogue between the 'Sex Workers’ Rights movement' and the 'Stop Violence Against Women movement'
Bangkok, Thailand, 12-14 March 2009
http://web.creaworld.org/files/f3.pdf