Make a date with Feminists!!

GENDER/ RACE/ CLASS: AN ANTI-CAPITALIST FEMINIST EVENT

Sat 14th Feb, 10.30am -6.30 pm, Tindle Manor, 52-4 Featherstone St EC1 (nearest tube Old St.) Fully accessible venue. This event is free!

 

for more info see www.anticapitalistfeminists.co.uk

to register email anticapitalistfeminists@gmail.com

Discussing and organising our fight for women’s liberation – open to all those who want to learn, think and plan for grassroots feminist activism… Join us for workshops which identify the interconnections between oppressions and our struggles against them. Work together with other feminists to find ways to actually change the material conditions of women’s lives.

Workshops include: learning from feminist history/ sex workers’ rights/ challenging domestic violence/ international solidarity/ a woman’s place is in her union?/ reproductive freedoms/ rape and asylum/ community organising/ queer and trans politics/ prison abolition/ self-defence workshop/ feminists and the capitalist crisis/ films, stalls and campaign planning

Free creche – please register by email by Friday 6th February

Stalls available – email laurarogers53@gmail.com to book

Organised by a coalition of groups and individuals. Groups involved so far include: Anarcha-Fem Kollective, All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, English Collective of Prostitutes, Education Not for Sale Women, Feminist Activist Forum, Feminist Fightback, Left Women’s Network, London Coalition Against Poverty, Permanent Revolution, RMT Women’s Committee, Women Asylum Seekers Together, Women Against Rape, Workers’ Liberty.

PLEASE FORWARD FAR AND WIDE AND ADVERTISE ON YOUR BLOG.

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via Bird of Paradox

“Please spare a few moments quiet contemplation for all those of my sisters and brothers who can’t be here today.

  • Teisha Cannon
  • Dilek Ince
  • Duanna Johnson
  • Aimee Wilcoxson
  • Ruby Molina
  • Nakhia (Nikki) Williams
  • Samantha Rangel Brandau
  • Jaylynn L. Namauu
  • Angie Zapata
  • Juan Carlos Aucalle Coronel
  • Rosa Pazos
  • Ebony (Rodney) Whitaker
  • Silvana Berisha
  • Felicia Melton-Smyth
  • Lloyd Nixon
  • Luna (no last name reported)
  • Simmie Williams Jr.
  • Lawrence King
  • Sanesha (Talib) Stewart
  • Ashley Sweeney
  • Fedra (no last name reported)
  • Adolphus Simmons
  • Stacy Brown
  • Patrick Murphy
  • Gabriela Alejandra Albornoz
  • Brian McGlothin
  • Kellie Telesford
  • Ali (no last name reported) and two other Iraqi trans women

 

The violence people suffer because of their gender, particularly when it’s because they defy normative gender roles,  is ALWAYS a feminist issue.

There’s actually a fairly interesting piece in The Guardian today by Zoe Williams on the subject of prostitution.  I say fairly interesting, because I think she’s right about how prostitution is viewed by the general public.

Basically, Williams argues that the current discussion around sex work tends to divide sex workers into three areas – “high class” prostitutes like Belle De Jour; street workers feeding drug habits, and “proper low life sex industry hookers” with no “personal agency” and who are so disadvantaged they can be considered as “kidnapped.”  Therefore, the issue becomes less that people go to prostitutes full-stop but that they exploit vulnerable people (and Williams gets serious bonus points from me for including European women who travel overseas for sex from local men as exploiters; shockingly, I find exploitation based on racial and class privilege as appalling as exploitation based on gender privilege).  This is especially true if you take the stigma out of sex – then it does seem like for “high class” prostitutes, sex work is just a job like any other.

Williams argues, though, that ultimately no feminist can align herself as “pro-prostitution” because so much of it involves violence against women.

First of all, I think it’s very perceptive of Williams to recognise that “ordinary” sex workers, the ones working in brothels, flats, etc. are often constructed as having no personal agency, and I think that the feminist movement actually has a lot to answer for here.  I remember having a surreal conversation once with some radical feminists where they argued that it was OK to chant outside a strip-club because the strippers were colluding with the patriarchy.  About 5 minutes later, the same women were arguing that all sex workers are effectively slaves since no one can be said to “choose” sex work.  Obviously, both of these statements can’t be true.

Any discussion of sex work has to involve a discussion of what we mean by personal agency and “choice.”  No one makes completely free choices; are options are limited not only by material factors (ie I’d like to do a full-time PhD but I can’t afford it) and also by ideological, discursive factors (I don’t like showing my bare legs when they are hairy, which is clearly internalised sexism).  I do believe that within these confines, however, free will is possible.  I can’t afford to do a full-time PhD, so I’ll do a part-time one; but I’ve still made a decision regarding whether I want to do a PhD.   I don’t feel comfortable in bare legs if my legs are hairy, but I can choose whether to shave my legs or whether to wear trousers.  This is the arena of personal agency.

Most of the writing I’ve read by sex workers, and many of the sex workers I’ve met, are people trying to make the best of some fairly appalling situations.  There was a well-known case in Thailand a few years ago where some American missionaries attempted to “rescue” a whole bunch of sex workers, who then ran away from the American mission at the earliest available opportunity.  The missionaries weren’t going to feed their families.

This doesn’t mean that sex work is a “good job” – and I’d really appreciate it if certain radical feminists could stop caricaturing everyone else’s beliefs in this way.  I agree wholeheartedly with Williams that it usually involves appalling violence and exploitation.  What it means is that we should be focusing on the structures that put people into situations where sex work seems like the best of a lot of bad options –  not only sexism, but capitalism, racism (First Nations women are disproportionately represented among sex workers in Canada), imperialism, homophobia, migration controls, transphobia (trans*people are disproportionately represented among sex workers), the lack of routes out of sex work, a justice system that treats an illness (drug addiction) as a crime, etc.  And clearly, neither side of the criminalise/decriminalise debate addresses these issues.  I believe in the decriminalisation of sex work myself, but only because I think it would make addressing a lot of the above issues a lot easier.

I also do think it’s fair to say that not only are some people properly forced into sex work (kidnapped and held against their will), but that for some people the constraining factors are such it’s hard to see whether they are actually exercising agency.  I’m thinking particularly of people who get into sex work to feed a drug habit, and also people who were subjected to such appalling sexual abuse as children, and have so many mental health issues because of it, that it’s hard to see what they are doing as a choice.  I know at least one person who falls into the latter category, and she does not see herself as having “chosen” sex work, but does see herself as having been “forced”.

But what of “high class” sex workers?  Victims?  Or are they colluding with violence against women by suggesting that sex work is a job like any other?  I certainly feel Williams’ discomfort on this issue.  As a friend of mine once said “I don’t judge sex workers, but I feel perfectly comfortable judging their clientele.”  No matter how “high class” the sex worker in question is, no matter how able to choose his/her clients, I still have this gut feeling that buying sex from someone is somehow inherently exploitative.  And I can’t tell you exactly why – as sex workers have pointed out, there are a lot of people whose jobs are just as intimate and are “affective”, ie. designed to make other people feel something.  Is the care worker being paid minimum wage to give people sponge baths really less exploited than the “high class” sex worker?

I think part of it is that we live in a society where sexuality is considered key to our identity in a way that washing other people is not.  And I do think it’s significant that most sex workers are women in a society where women are often reduced to sex; in that light buying sex  from a woman seems almost equivalent to buying the woman (though I know many sex workers find this idea objectionable).

I do think the existence of people like Belle de Jour serves as a sop to the patriarchal conscience.  She’s not a victim, so it’s perfectly OK to buy sex, even from women in more dire straits!!  However, that seems to hold the sex workers accountable for the actions of their clients, which is clearly unfair.  Sex work as an industry exists because people are willing to buy sex; is it fair to blame the people who take advantage of this to make ends meet?  If all the Belle de Jours of the world gave up the sex industry, that might put a dent in the idea that buying sex is OK, but it wouldn’t end the industry in and of itself.  So while “high class” sex workers might be reinforcing the sex industry, that reinforcement is dependent upon a complete abdication of moral responsibility on the part of the clients.  Guess who I think is really responsible in this case?

Additionally, I’ve met a couple of “high class” sex workers and they’ve always said that they felt less exploited as a stripper/dominatrix/porn star, etc. than they did in their regular jobs.  That’s pretty significant and suggests, once again, that the overarching issue of capitalism has to be addressed when discussing the sex industry.

With regard to the aforementioned care giver – I think we have to stop seeing it as a competition.  Certainly, this is also something the feminist movement is responsible for; the notion that no other job is as exploitative as sex work and consequently that no other workers are as exploited.  It’s not a competition.  The care giver is alsoexploited, and you know what – that’s a feminist issue.  Please see BFP’s fantastic post on migrant farm workers in the US and then ask yourself if you still believe that sex workers are automatically the most victimised people in the world.

 As in so many other areas, I think often feminists are looking for a “magic bullet” or a quick fix – and I definitely think that’s what Harriet Harman is looking for.  There is no quick fix; prostitution is the consequence of multiple systems of oppression, not the cause, and it will not be solved by a simple legal change.  The best statement I’ve ever read on the issue of  sex work was from UBUNTU! a sex worker’s collective from North Carolina (h/t BFP).  They argue that activism around sex work should move away from criminalisation v decriminalisation and reconceptualised as being responsible to the communities involved?  What would this look like?

No really, it’s you

November 10, 2008

Dear Julie Bindel,

Some people are trans*lesbians.

Yours sincerely

Gwen

P.S  I’ve never read the 2004 article you reference.  Rather, I’ve read a later article you wrote arguing that transpeople are really cisgendered gay people who have been brainwashed by systemic homophobia into undergoing a sex-change operation so they can be “straight.”  And your evidence for this was your contention that such a thing was happening in Iran.  Not only does this whole line of argument rest on the assumption that all trans*people are heterosexual (which they aren’t), but it also rests on the assumption that homophobia has the exact same effect in a country where being gay carries the death penalty as it does in a country where civil unions are legal.  And also that you know what you’re talking about vis a vis trans*people in Iran, which I have my doubts about.

So rest assured, I’m not judging you to be transphobic based on your 2004 article.  I’m judging you to be so based on everything I’ve ever read or heard by you on the subject of trans*people.

And now some actual concrete points…

1)  Campaigns that address oppression intersectionally; that tackle sexism, racism, capitalism, homophobia, etc. as they exist, which is to say, interconnected and interdependent.

 2) Clear-cut campaigns, with defined goals, as part of a larger plan to change society.  Too often these days, it seems like we go on a protest here, or an action there, but it’s all rather incoherent.  There’s no sense that we’re positively working towards anything.

 3) An “in it to win it” mentality.  I think activists in general are often far too quick to decided that we’ve “fought the good fight”, and that’s good enough.  It’s not good enough – smug self-righteousness will not actually get people out of immigration detention centres.

 4) Accountability.  Brownfemipower’s post on the subject is fantastic, but I also found it really disturbing, because in a lot of my activism I have no idea who I’m accountable too.  I want to write a longer post on this, but suffice to say that I agree with her wholeheartedly regarding the pitfalls into which Oprah fell, despite the latter’s best intentions.  How do we avoid this?

 5) A commitment to self-education and a rejection of anti-intellectualism.  There are many good reasons to be critical of academia (and I say this as someone who’s desperate to get back).  But I find that this often spills over into a rejection of any theory whatsoever (or at least any not anti-porn theory).  Whenever I’ve defended trans people, or advocated for anti-racist feminism, I’ve been told that I’m “too academic.”  What’s really elitist, I think, is deciding that some information is “not necessary” to working-class people, and therefore, can be dismissed as the purview of middle-class academics.  How can our activism be effective if we don’t understand how the systems against which we’re fighting work?  If we don’t have the analytical tools to figure out what aspects of our activism are successful and which are not?  There’s a long and proud tradition of self-education in radical movements in the UK, and this tradition needs to live on.

 6) A recognition that theory and practice should be linked.  Like I said in an earlier post, it’s not enough to read Audre Lorde.  You actually have to integrate what you’ve learned into what you do. 

 7) Flexibility.  Maybe your new activist group does not do everything the same way your old activist group does.  If there are issues of internal democracy, or you feel excluded, you should definitely speak out.  But I’ve seen at least one person quit an activist group (not a feminist group, actually, in this case) because the group was not run exactly the way she felt it should be. 

8) Listen to each other.

Just in case anyone in Toronto reads this blog…

Residents of the Maitland and Homewood area in Toronto (Sherbourne and College) have formed a “safety association” to force sex workers, in particular trans* sex workers, out of “their” neighbourhood (h/t Questioning Transphobia).  More here

First of all, there’s the obvious issue of “who’s safety?”  Because these tactics are rather obviously endangering sex workers, forcing them into more secluded areas.

This is also part of a general pattern in Toronto, relating to the gentrification of certain areas and the utter contempt with which the new residents view the old residents.  Maitland and Homewood was an unofficial “red light district” when I was a kid.  I remember taking the streetcar home from university late at night and seeing sex workers at Jarvis and College.  For all these residents’ talk of “their neighbourhood”, the fact is the sex workers were there first.  It’s just as much their neighbourhood.

The area in which I grew up has experienced something similar.  For most of my life, it was a mixed working-class/middle-class area.  There had been a lot of factories at one point, but they closed a few years before my family arrived, and the impact on the neighbourhood was obvious.  It had the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the city, at the time.  There was a lot of public housing, but there were also families like mine, middle-class families who couldn’t afford to live in a nicer area, but figured that the area would become more affluent eventually.

Well, it did become more affluent – a few years ago.  When I left to do my MA it was still greasy spoons on every other corner; when I came back 14 months later, I could no longer afford to eat breakfast anywhere.  Several steps in the gentrification process have been skipped, and it’s now yuppie central.

And, during the last election I was there, the liberal candidate for Parliament ran on a platform of trying to get the remaining public housing closed.

The yuppies would rather not be bothered by the people who actually grew up in the area.

Something similar is happening in the Maitland area – it’s also an area that’s been gentrifying rapidly.

I urge everyone in Toronto to fight this transphobia, classism and sex worker oppression.

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