Friday 20 November 2009

Pre-protest faff-laden filk-off-athon of doom (or: why the London feminist scene is quite depressing at the moment)

The only people we hate more than the patriarchy are the London Feminist Network!!!

No, really. This week, in between typing until my posh pansy fingers bleed for fun and profit, I have been watching in awe as one of the most serious feminist issues of our time has unfolded online. I speak, of course, of the great London Protest Chant Row of 2009.

It's the annual Reclaim The Night march tomorrow, which means that up and down the country, earnest sisters are getting ready to have a massive shout at each other. What'll it be this year, ladies? Trans people insulted in the street? Screaming matches outside Spearmint Rhino? Punches thrown over podium space (no, really) ?

Apparently, this year, it's protest songs. We're not content anymore with trusty old numbers like the women! -united! - will never be defeated! - direct, idiot-proof, and easily slurrable for those discerning gentlewomen who like to take a hipflask or two to such events, naming no names. This year the various feminist factions who've come to (literal) blows in the past over issues like prostitution, lapdancing clubs and transmisogyny are actually literally writing actual protest chants to piss one another off. Bad ones. Here's this, from Object, to the tune, and I'm deadly serious, of John Brown's Body:

The women who’ve been bought and sold

They need to have a voice,

If you’ve been pimped or trafficked

Then you haven’t had a choice.

It’s time to tackle punters,

And to show them what we mean,

Begin with Clause 14!

Women’s bodies not for sale (x 3)

And we won’t be for sale no more!

Look, I'm a fan of Clause 14, and I'm glad it wasn't thrown out when it went through the Lords last week. With proper sanctions it sends the right message - that people who use prostitutes have a responsibility not to fucking rape them. Right. Good. But whatever you think about the scansion of this verse, written after the event, it is no more or less than a massive, throbbing screw-you-in-the-eyes to the sex workers' rights groups that fought long and hard to make their voices heard over this Bill.

Yes, these shitty lyrics are right: sex workers need a voice. Unfortunately, both factions in this debate are prone to make the claim that the other faction denies sex workers a voice. What actually happens is that both groups, in the events they organise and the propaganda they put out, select a few speakers that they deem to be the 'authentic' voices of prostitution, wind them up and point them at each other rather than at the forces of patriarchy. On hearing about the proposed - for want of a better word - song, one member of the socio-feminist workers' forum Feminist Fightback said:

"Looks like we need to get on it with our own chants. Does anyone have a megaphone we can take?"

One of the proposed retort-songs is:

I sell sex/ Get over it.
I have a Brain/Get over it
I will win/ Get over it

And this time Feminist Fightback are actually looking like the mature ones. I'd join in, but, yknow, I don't ....actually sell

Not to sound crass, but come on, sisters. We can do better than this. We need to do much better than this. We're meant to be symbolically reclaiming the night from enforced fear of sexual and physical violence, not taking cheap shots at each other. There is goddamn work to do. Right now, today, we live in a goddamn rape culture (hat-tip to Shakesville; trigger warning). Women and girls are abused, beaten, raped and murdered every day by violent partners. Women all over the world are still second-class citizens. Another generation of women in this country is growing up cowed, objectified, pressured to perfect themselves, to erase themselves, to starve themselves. We should be worrying about the pay gap, not the megaphone gap.

There is work to do. And if there are things we can't agree on, then we need to bloody well sort out what we can agree on and learn ways to work with each other, otherwise we're going to get laughed off the ideological playing field, and we stand to seriously let down those thousands of women in this country alone who really don't have a voice. I'm laughing right now, but not in fun. Come on, guys. Get it together.


  1. Hear hear. Feel inspired to start coming to London feminist events again - I basically gave up a couple of years ago because of this kind of madness, but that's not the answer either.

  2. Amen to that. Every time there's something else.

  3. So even feminism is contributing to patriarchal equilibirum, but maybe a lot of this is down to the way that patriarchal power structures and ideologies put feminists in a no-win situation. The terms of the debate over prostitution legislation have been dictated by patriarchy. Parliament has offered a very narrow range of options which are almost guaranteed to set different feminisms against each other. Clause 14 can be seen as a step in the right direction, but it can also be seen as a very nasty trick to undermine feminism: prosecute men for paying to use unwilling women for sex (good) but don't prosecute them for rape but for a new, less serious, offence (bad). Supporting it benefits patriarchy and opposing it benefits patriarchy. Patriarchy fixes the rules of the game so that feminism alsways loses.

  4. Well said Gavin.

    This is so depressing. I find it hard to disagree with the lyrics you posted, Penny, but then I haven't heard the sex workers' side of things. I'd be very grateful for any links (or search terms) anyone has re where to find such information. Currently, the only such group I'm aware of is the ECP, and I'm a bit wary of them due to what I've seen and heard of their aggressive tendencies.

  5. "We mustn't fight each other! Surely we should be united against the common enemy!"


    "No no... the Romans!"

    "Oh, right..."

  6. This perhaps won't sound like a very original point, but it's worth making it anyway, I think.

    Could it not be that the differences between these two strands of feminism are the result of two different political orientations (i.e. with respect to the left/right-wing distinction), which are in fact equally fundamental as the distinction between feminist/misogynist, albeit along a different axis...? I'm afraid it's simply not possible to say that feminism is left-wing by default anymore, since a lot of the rhetoric has been co-opted by the right.

    If that's the case, then wouldn't a slogan which is vague enough to embrace an alliance between these two positions represent a forced/false unity which simply couldn't hold up in practice?

    The fact that people have come to blows over this sounds to me like a sign that there is a genuine difference of orientation which it would be mistaken to attempt to gloss over, even for tactical purposes. Of course it goes back a long way, historically too, and the fact that a unity has not been achieved perhaps just proves that it's not possible - sorry if that sounds pessimistic, but I think it's realistic.

    Maybe I've been taking too much notice of Badiou lately. But I can't help agreeing with him to the extent that sometimes schism is a good thing, and not a failing (contra that Monty Python sketch, which is getting very tiresome).

  7. @ Finisterre:

    A really good resource is at Harlot's Parlour, which is a blog run by a group of sex workers or sex worker rights advocates, with contributions from several more (check out the "Writers" page for links to their own blogs and websites for more information). It has links for Bound Not Gagged (more US-centric sex workers' issues blog), the International Union of Sex Workers, and several other voices.

  8. For the record, an excellent statement of the arguments made by sex worker advocates against Clause 14 can be found at Harlot's Poarlour, here: Open letter to the House of Lords.

  9. "The fact that people have come to blows over this sounds to me like a sign that there is a genuine difference of orientation which it would be mistaken to attempt to gloss over, even for tactical purposes. Of course it goes back a long way, historically too, and the fact that a unity has not been achieved perhaps just proves that it's not possible - sorry if that sounds pessimistic, but I think it's realistic."

    This is exactly right. There are some issues which feminists are divided over, and can't just paper over - in fact, to do so would be to abandon our politics in favour of some ridiculous 'we're all girls together' position.

    I'm on the pro-sex worker rights side, and it's abundantly obvious we can't come to some middle-ground fudge on the issue with the anti side; we think decriminalisation is the first step towards dignity at work, fighting for rights as workers and getting the industry into the open where these, and greater safety, can be achieved. The other side want to eradicate prostitution and have supported a new law that gives us the worst of the Swedish model without removing the sanctions on the sex workers themselves (as in Sweden, sort of). There is no compromise, nor should there be.

    What's needed is a more democratic, political response to disagreement. It's not wrong to argue and debate, it's the sign of a healthy political movement; the problem comes when the screaming, denouncing and excluding starts. It's not OK for groups aligned with a sex worker rights position to be denied stall space, called pimps and anti-feminists, screamed at and physically handled. All this happened last night, and it's far from the first time.

    It would be easy to make the argument that violence against women is an issue we can all agree on, taken at face value, and therefore that we should leave our disagreements aside for this march. But while Reclaim the Night marches through Soho (imagine being a worker in a walkup watching us go past...), chants about it's Clause 14 'victory', and specifically tries to exclude sex worker women who don't toe the line, we'll be there arguing for our position as part of ending violence against ALL women.

  10. I'm sorry you feel that way, Sofie, and for a long time I was of exactly the same opinion. But what's ironic to me is that the *other* side also wants to decriminalise the sale of sex as its first priority. If we all worked together, we might have some hope of actually achieving that.

    What baffles me is this: if you truly believe that there are two immoveable sides to this debate that won't ever change, then why are you investing your energies in attacking the other side rather than pushing for your own reforms?

    Surely the only reason for attacking feminist groups before and beyond patriachal groups would be if you envision some kind of eventual unity to the feminist movement that can then go on and achieve the wider victories we're all working for. If you truly believe that we can't come to an agreement about this, and I'm inclined to concur there - then why is your response to that to carry on attacking other feminists, rather than trying to come to some sort of workable arrangement, or just agreeing to ignore each other and work independently?

    I don't believe that either the LFN or FF are bigoted, hate-mongering sects, much as both groups try to slnder the other in this way. By adopting this sort of stance feminist groups polarise the issue, when actually the vast range of experiences of sex workers in the UK alone is bigger than either your worldview or that of the LFN. In the past I've found both FF and LFN massively hostile places to be, and I'm an old hand at this sort of thing now. How do you think it all looks to young men and women considering whether or not to become feminist activists?

  11. With reference to Ben's comment: the only thing that both groups could agree on is that sex workers should not be subject to coercion, abuse or violence. But that is about as far as it goes, because there is a far greater disagreement over sexual behaviour: non-monogamy cannot 'fit' inside a politics of gender oppression, and sexual/religious/political conservatives would be quite happy to see sex work (and sex workers) disappear because they don't like the idea of anybody (especially women) having sex outside marriage and babies. Thus one side would want to stop men being abusive towards women (and behave themselves if they pay for sex) while the other wants men to keep it in their pants and/or not pay for it or face prosecution regardless of their behaviour. This is the same split the last time 'Reclaim the Night' was active in the 1980s in relation to pornography, and at its heart is a debate on how best to advance women's sexual freedom. The reason the sides keep fighting each other is because at stake is the overall direction of the women's movement as a whole. (Put it another way: what if Julie Bindel's 'faction ' - for want of a better term - 'won' on the matter of transgender and transsexual women?)


  12. A few things on Laurie's comment.

    Laurie, you say that the 'other side wants to decriminalise the sale of sex as its first priority' This simply isn't true. Whilst they were cheerleading for Clause 14, I didn't hear a single squeak from any abolitionist feminist on the fact Clause 15 'strengthens' the definition of soliciting which will lead to more prosecutions of sex workers, let alone Clause 16 which introduces compulsory 'rehabilitation' under threat of imprisonment.

    The Clause 14 debate might have been surrounded by references to the 'Swedish model', but it isn't even as good as that (poor) law; the government has cherry picked the headline-making criminalisation of clients without removing any of the sanctions on sex workers, in fact strengthening them.

    I don't believe Feminist Fightback and others focus our energies on attacking anyone. We've done tonnes of work on this, as you'll know, which hasn't brought us into conflict with other feminists. However, participating in a public political arena inevitably means you'll sometimes come in contact with people you don't agree with, and have to make your point which conflicts with theirs. That's politics. It's not a problem, if we deal with it openly and democratically.

    I also simply don't accept that FF has been a hostile place to be, unless you find it intimidating to be disagreed with in a comradely fashion. It's interesting that you juxtapose this comment with mine about the physical intimidation we faced last night, and in previous years. You've never faced this from us - how can you draw an equivalence between the two?

    I'm not here to argue LFN are uniquely badly behaved or uniquely wrong (although I don't think there's anything wrong with saying they are wrong), but I think your comment about 'patriarchal' institutions probably cuts to the heart of our difference. I don't see the world as being divided into patriarchal and non-patriarchal groups/people/institutions; my feminism, and I believe the feminism of FF, recognises that race, class and other politics cut across the gender divides, and that just because someone is a woman, or even a feminist, doesn't mean we'll agree enough to work together, or even that we'll find ourselves on the same side of, for example, labour issues.

    I want young women and men coming into the feminist movement to agree with my politics, because I think they're right (otherwise they wouldn't be my politics). My argument with LFN an others isn't about having a barney for the sake of it, it's about fighting within the movement for what I think are the right politics

  13. oh, and footnote - my worldview doesn't encompass a prescribed set of experiences that sex workers have faced. We know there's a huge class divide in conditions, experiences, pay etc. in the industry; supporting decriminalisation isn't about the Belle du Jours, it's about ALL sex workers.

  14. Sofie,

    One of the reasons the bill went through as it did is that everyone - FF included - focused on trashing the opposition over Clause 14. If we'd concentrated even some of our energies on, eg, combatting the odious Clause 15, much more might have been achieved for women. I call that shameful behaviour all round, but at least LFN and Object had something they were actually fighting for.

    Like LFN, FF has done good work that doesn't involve mud-slinging matches with other feminist groups, and I don't mean to belittle that. In fact, FF's politics match closely with my own, which is why I joined the group in the first place: I believe that class, race and background affect feminism at every level, and I believe that fighting for feminism cannot be achieved without also fighting for the rights of workers, immigrants, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities and disabled people within a patriarchal capitalist system. What has dismayed me to the extent that I'm now looking for another feminist base is that FF refuses to entertain any politics which differ from its own narrow ideological base - even if that means letting down women in the process.

    The final straw for me was when I attended a meeting with the new abortion support network in which FF angrily refused to offer their help to vulnerable Irish women seeking terminations in London - because Mara had sought funding from the FPA, which we disapproved of, I can't quite remember why. It was at that point that I realised that this was no longer 'my' feminist space.

    I am a socialist, but I am not prepared to ask women to wait for the revolution to demand their personhood and liberty. I believe it's more important to win victories for women of all classes, races and ages than to have everyone acknowledge that I'm right, which is why I don't feel I fit in with FF or, in fact, with LFN, at the moment. I know that you 'want young men and women coming into the feminist movement to agree with you' - but until you let go of this narrow-minded, vituperative way of doing politics then fewer and fewer of those young men and women will be won to your cause. Just a quick scan of the comments above might remind you how many women, even confirmed feminist women, are put off activism altogether by this attitude from FF and other groups.

    You can't 'fight within the movement for what you think are the right politics' - and I agree with the bulk of your politics - if you also declare, as you have above, that 'feminists will never agree'. What you are saying is that *only* your particular feminist politics are workable, and you will only accept a feminist movement wherein everyone first acknowledges the rightness of your ideology. Well, I'd like a solid gold strap-on, but that ain't gonna happen either.

    I believe that fighting patriarchy and fighting capitalism are one and the same, and that to do so we need to be smart, we need to be strong, we need to plan a long game and we need to identify common enemies.

  15. Hmm, not really much point in replying, given we have entirely differenty conceptions of what FF is and does (for example, it's far from 'narrow' or 'vituperative', points which you had ample opportunity to raise with us incidentally). But there's two points where you've totally misread (I would hope not purposefully) what I've written.

    Firstly, on the Policing and Crime Bill, it's ridiculous to reply to my rebuttal of your point that LFN et al have made decriminalising sex workers their first goal by saying, basically "yeah but you didn't do anything about those clauses either". It's not only factually inaccurate (read about John McDonnell's amendments, or any of our literature on the topic), but it lets LFN off the hook for supporting a Bill that *makes life worse for sex workers*. I don't want to be overly cynical here, but I suggest this is because any other response would mean having to stop drawing a level distinction between FF and LFN with yourself as a sensible arbiter inbetween, and thus destroy the point of your post.

    Secondly, on this idea that I think 'feminists will never agree' - I've never said this, not in this form at least. I think it's utopian to believe we'll always agree on everything, and it's politically naive to think it's 'mudslinging' to criticise each other's points of view, particularly when they're diametrically opposed in terms of tactics, policy and outcome. You may think groups have "narrow ideological bases" but isn't a group essentially just a set of people who come together over common ideas (that 'narrow' base) to fight for the tactics they think are correct?

    You seem to believe there's a binary opposition between winning victories and getting people to believe you're right, which fundamentally separates tactics and politics. They're the same thing. I want people to think my ideas are the right ones because I think they're right, in the sense that they are the ones that will liberate women. I'm not saying these will never change or grow in the course of debate, but there'd be little point in politics at all if you weren't trying to convince people about something you yourself are convinced of.

    I appreciate that this back and forth in the comments may come off as hostile, but I'm genuinely surprised at the apolitical nature of what you're suggesting; down-playing fundamentally opposed viewpoints in order to have some uberfeminist group who work together on some stuff but just don't talk about the rest. Like the rest of the left, the problem in feminism isn't that we discuss and debate and disagree, but the manner in which we do it, and in which it is received (see SWP, ad nauseum). I think I can understand your frustration, but seriously, some things demand you get off the fence.

  16. To quote an actual sex worker: "giving us the right to say yes automatically gives us the right to say no".

    The biggest trouble with the pro-clause 14 feminists is that they don't help women. Sorry to put it so very, annoyingly bluntly, but criminalising prostitution has been tried. All the various ways of legislating it out of existence have been tried. Protecting women by making what they do illegal has been tried. It does not work. It does not help.

    Lying about the difference between a migrant sex worker and a trafficked woman does not help: it robs the migrant of this elusive thing called "agency". Remember when it used to be important to point out that women were full human beings with agency? This, I find, is still true even if they're selling sex.

    Talking about sex work as if the only kinds of sex work are "Belle du Jour" or murdered crack-addicted hookers on the street does not help. It ignores and marginalises the majority of sex workers - most of whom happen to be women. Remember when it was a bad thing that women's voices were marginalised? I'm not sure it's astoundingly feminist to ignore the voices of women in order to "save" them - that sounds pretty damned paternalistic to me.

    You can argue that people shouldn't get angry with the objectively wrong side of the movement if you want, but you know? They should. Sex workers were arguing that the new law would hurt them. The other side argued that it didn't matter, there was their own keen sense of moral outrage to consider. The actual, real lives of actual, real women were considered expendable in order to fight another already-lost battle about whether the patriarchy or the matriarchy should get to tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. They worked with the patriarchy to win a pyrrhic victory over some crude symbols to send messages a particular subset of the liberal establishment wishes to send to those who do things with their genitals they morally disapprove of, and in doing so they harmed women.

    You get to do your job just as safely today as you did before the law was passed. Thanks to the new laws, many women do not. I think there's a right to be pretty damn angry at the so-called "feminists" here. I think there's a right to point out that they can label themselves whatever they like, but they failed to speak for the women most affected by this law, and they failed to help them, and they failed to protect them, and in general their approach was a massive, paternalist sack of fail.

    And if you think that's divisive, who cares? Why *would* sex workers seek unity and common ground with people who demonstrably don't care about them? What benefit would that bring?

    If you're on the wrong side of the "harming women" argument - that would be the "pro clause 14" side, the one that harms women - you're just on the wrong side. Calling people out for being rude to you is pointless, because you deserve to have people be rude to you. You're on the wrong side.

    The wrong side, to reiterate, being the one that harms women in order to send a message about how you shouldn't harm women.

  17. WRT Irish women seeking abortions in the UK, Feminist Fightback was upset because the organiser was seeking private sponsorship. However, we're still organising the network, as I've been involved in setting up the network in Manchester.

  18. That's good to know, Gwen. I was still shocked that FF would - even initially - put opposing private sponsorship before helping women need. It struck me that the abortion aid question is one where it is really, really, NOT about us and our politics.

    I'm not trying to have a specific go at FF here - just responding to questions that come up. I actually think that LFN are behaving worse in this situation, particularly given what I've found out since writing this post about how people in the red umbrella contingent were treated (spat at by other feminists? FFS.)

  19. Well yes, but what about all the other nights of the week? What about all the feminists attacking other feminists that happens every other night of the year (even sometimes on this blog)? It's a good point, Penny R, but you should take your own medicine first, I reckon.

    And actually, if we do respect eachother as women and as people, then we do need to address our disagreements.

    As for the prostitution thing, I think if you go around hurting other women (by perpetuating the myth that women's bodies are a commodity), then you can't *really* complain if you yourself get hurt in the doing of it. And if you behave as if your body is a commodity for men's pleasure, then you can't *really* complain if men treat you like that.

    It's not anti-feminist to object to the views of women who want to fight for the right to participate in and perpetuate a culture where women are commodity for men's pleasure.

    There really is no such thing as a sex-worker, because sex is not work. A feminist who thinks it is, is no kind of feminist at all. This is a really important point of disagreement that really does need to be resolved before feminism's going to get anywhere at all. Shouting at people to agree, or to ignore the points of disagreement is not the way forward, I don't think. Women are passionate about this point, on both sides of the debate, for a reason.

  20. Yeah, that is good to hear Gwen. I'm a bit surprised that this issue is a point for debate though...

    I'm sure i was at the meeting you mention Laurie, and I don't remember FF 'angrily refusing' to do anything. The very idea for the network was in it's initial stages and at the time it WAS about us and our politics. Of course it was - this is where the idea emerged from. As far as i remember there was concern about the effects of private funding, and people saw this as limiting in many ways as opposed to helpful, because straight up service provision was not really what we had in mind for our role - but reasons aside, I don't remember this as an 'angry refusal' at all. I don't even remember FF going as far as 'opposing' it. In fact what i clearly remember was FF members saying that private funding and the kind of service that Mara wanted to run was useful in it's own way, but it wasn't the kind of activity we had imagined for ourselves.

    I understand Laurie, that you feel put off by FF's tactics and ideas. And i appreciate that the issue of sex wok is particularly hostile ground for debating on. I could spend time arguing for the position, action and vision of FF (which i support) but seems like it might be pointless - it seems you interpret even our smallest critical consideration as 'angry refusal'. I feel quite sad about that. Maybe I was at a different meeting. ???

    Best, R

  21. 'The very idea for the network was in it's initial stages and at the time it WAS about us and our politics. Of course it was - this is where the idea emerged from.'

    No Rachel darling - the idea didn't emerge from Feminist Fightback. Mara, who organised the group, had already run a similar network in New York based on the original networks in London run in the 1980s, and by the time the meeting was held most of the plans were in place and good to go with or without Feminist Fightback. Mara simply wanted to know if she could count on your help or not. I know this because I stayed behind afterwards to apologise to her for the really extremely rude and hostile manner in which some of the attendees talked about what they didn't want to see in the group.

    I don't know how many times I can say 'it's not about you' before you'll understand - but guys, it's not all "about you and your politics". Really, it's not. If you believe it's about you rather than about winning justice for women and building solidarity across borders, then I really do despair for the future of the movement.

  22. I think two separate issues are getting confused here. From what I can see on feminist fightback's website it is 'anti-capitalist' (going by the 'about us' page). Therefore it seems perfectly legitimate to me that they should debate whether or not to collaborate with another group/organisation that takes private funding.

    What seems to have offended Mara and Penny is that this debate was had in Mara's presence, after inviting her to a meeting, whereas she might legitimately have expected that FF had already resolved such a debate before meeting her.

    For Penny to say "it's not about you and your politics" seems both wrong and right, to me:

    FF are a political organisation, so everything they do *should* be determined by their politics. But this dispute seems like it was not determined by political differences, but an *organisational* mistake, i.e. bringing somebody from another group in before they were agreed amongst themselves whether to help her or not.

    Feel free to tell me to butt out if I have completely misunderstood or if you don't feel this kind of 'clarification' is helpful from somebody who wasn't there at the time!

  23. Just a misunderstanding Ben - actually it was representatives from FF who were invited to meet with Mara to see how they could help her project, rather than Mara being summonsed to a group meeting!

  24. In your original post, you use a direct quote from the Feminist Fightback Steering Committee email list. (You also use a quote "The only people we hate more than the patriarchy are the London Feminist Network!!!" which was NOT said by anyone in Feminist Fightback, though it may appear from the context as if it was).

    There was recently an email sent around the list reminding people that the list is a safe space. This means that whatever is said in the list is confidential and should remain so unless permission to publish is given by everyone involved.

    It is crucial that the list remain a safe space. In order to foster genuine debate and internal democracy, members have to feel they can be completely honest; if they believe their comments may be published, this honesty will be inhibted. Furthermore, members should not have to worry that a stray comment, perhaps said in jest or in the heat of the moment, will be held up as representative of the whole group.

    The confidentiality of email lists is common etiquette within all activist movements. Please do not reproduce anything written on the email list again unless you have the permission of everyone on the list.

    Thank you,
    The members of Feminist Fightback

  25. Speaking of feminists attacking other feminists... Dandelion, you say we need to address our disagreements (true), but then go on to say anyone with a non-abolitionist position on sex work isn't a feminist in the first place!

    Arguing your point is one thing, declaring for yourself the right to decide who is and isn't a feminist, based on your own positions, is an example of the bad behaviour around disagreements, not of open debate.

  26. As for the prostitution thing, I think if you go around hurting other women (by perpetuating the myth that women's bodies are a commodity), then you can't *really* complain if you yourself get hurt in the doing of it. And if you behave as if your body is a commodity for men's pleasure, then you can't *really* complain if men treat you like that.
    Respecfully: cry me a river, you victim-blaming, arrogant prick.

    Sex workers neither want nor need any "feminists" like this. There are actual women's lives at stake here, and you dare - you DARE - to put your high-minded, middle class bollocks political position of who hurts whatever noble interpretation of how decent women should behave you thought up above their lives?

    Who the holy loving FUCK are you to decide which women are entitled to the basic protections of the law and who aren't? Who are you? Other than someone who believes that if sluts get raped it's their own damn fault?

    It's not anti-feminist to object to the views of women who want to fight for the right to participate in and perpetuate a culture where women are commodity for men's pleasure.

    Maybe not. However, a) that's hardly the be-all and end-all of the sex industry, b) to the extent that it is the majority of the sex industry it remains so mostly because of prudish, patriarchal buffoons legislating the rights of women who dare to be sexual agents away, and c) the "views" of such women are not what is being affected by this legislation; the "rights" and "safety" of such women is. Ergo, you and your brand of so-called "feminism" can fuck right off. QED.

    I prefer the kind of feminism where I fight for the right of women to be treated as equal human beings under the law, regardless of whether they behave in a way I approve of. You don't see me arguing that you should have to be an insufferable, prudish, supercilious cock in hiding and out of the watchful eye of the law lest you get raped by a policeman, do you? Well then.

    What beggars belief is not only that you think things like Clause 14 are worth it no matter how many sex workers dislike it or suffer as a result. You actually think it's a blow against the patriarchy too, don't you? Making more women's lives miserable because you disapprove of what they do with their sexual agency. *golf clap* Yeah. Well done. That's a stunning blow against the forces of patriarchy there. Keep it up and you'll make all the sex workers in the UK miserable, and then it magically won't exist any more! Is that how this is supposed to work?

    This is why we won't ever be on the same side of the issue. I don't want a middle ground with asinine, high-falootin, victim blaming bullshit like this. There isn't any compromise with such insufferable, privileged blathering.

    You might not think sex workers are workers (THEY ARE, IDIOT! THEY FILE TAX RETURNS AND EVERYTHING!!) but your position treats them as if they're not people. And then you dare claim it is US who are not feminist? You rampaging jackass!

    Oh, and if you're upset by this: you won anyway. Sex workers - actual women - have to live with the consequences of your victory. Maybe it's all our fault for supporting things you don't agree with, maybe suffering is deserved, Old Testament style. If that's the case, I think you can cope with having people tell you what they think of you, with much, much less invective than I could possibly muster, don't you? After all, it's not as if I'd change your mind by being reasonable, since I've accepted payment for sex with a man, and am therefore destroying the world and don't qualify as a full human being with the right to an opinion on such things. So I might as well make myself feel better in your brave new world by calling you a bastard.

  27. Dandelion - A few points.

    I believe that the feminists that support the criminalisation of the sex industry endanger and therefore 'hurt' women. I do not however, hiss, push, scream at or otherwise bully those feminists when I come into contact with them.

    In arguing that women cannot complain about abuse or exploitation if they work in the sex industry you deny sex workers the right for justice if they are raped or otherwise physically or verbally assaulted. In doing so, you do women a violent disservice and 'hurt' women. It also disproportionately discriminates against working class women - who tend to be the women who work in the sex industry - as they are not, you argue, deserving of protection and justice as other women are.

    A couple of theoretical points which you confuse:

    1) Any activity in which you exchange labour for money is work. Even some activities in which people labour, but money is not exchanged, are work. These are pretty well established feminist arguments. It is not clear why the sale of sexual services would not be work in the context of the commodification of knowledge, creativity and other forms of intimacy.

    2) Apart from under conditions of slavery, women cannot be a commodity. Only women's (and men and children's) labour power can be a commodity. There are multiple ways in which labour power is sold which involve the commodification of sex and sexuality. These include paralegals, airline stewards and a vast array of other service sector jobs, if not most forms of women's work. The sex industry is not a separate phenomenon divorced from all else, it is just a particular crystallisation of structures and processes at work across other labour sectors and social spheres.

  28. As someone who was there at the meeting about the abortion support network Laurie cites above (and the person responsible for keeping a paper copy of all FF minutes, which helps immensely with recollections!)I feel the need to correct some of the most glaring factual inaccuracies.

    The idea of providing practical solidarity to Irish women coming to the UK for an abortion was an idea that was raised at a FF meeting in late 2008. As a group, we were thinking about ways in which we could move forward with our work on reproductive freedoms following the failure of the relevant amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to be heard. People in the group were aware of the abortion support networks that operated in the 1980s, and it was therefore exciting to us when a member of the group discovered that there was a woman who has been involved in a similar network in New York who was thinking about organising something in London.

    We first emailed then met Mara in January 2009 and talked about the way that the network had worked in New York, and about the research we needed to do to look at the viability of a similar UK-based network. We met on an equal basis, with both Mara and Fightback members contributing ideas and energy into the process. Discussion and meetings continued in early 2009 prior to the meeting in April which Laurie cites.

    Yes, our discussions prior to the April meeting meant we were all aware of differences in approach to the network. These were around sponsorship (and the issue of corporate involvement); means testing; different models of support for women (a 'welfarist' conception as opposed to a network based on solidarity amongst womeen - an important political question for FF); and the structure of the organisation. This was coupled with the fact that Mara had by this point decided to work full-time on the network (not something any FF members were in a position to do) and consequently was in a much more influential position in terms of key decisions given the large amounts of time and energy she was putting into the network. The relationship had certainly shifted from our initial meeting as equal partners back in January. I won't go into these issues (which were, without apology, political questions for Fightback members) here, for reasons of time and space. But what was clear to me is that the discussions on them were held in a mutually respectful way, and whilst it was increasingly clear that Mara's ideas for the network were different enough from ours for us to feel this could not be a major Fightback project, we did not 'angrily refuse to offer'. On the contrary, we have advertised the network on the FF list, and Fightback members are involved in setting something up in Manchester.

    For me, FF feels like a space very different from the one described by Laurie above. I am impressed both by the supportive atmosphere and the level and quality of debate at meetings, and by the open approach to collaborative working (as seen by this year's Gender, Race and Class conference and our work in opposing the Welfare Reform bill).

  29. Dandelion:

    "There really is no such thing as a sex-worker, because sex is not work. A feminist who thinks it is, is no kind of feminist at all. This is a really important point of disagreement that really does need to be resolved before feminism's going to get anywhere at all." [emphasis added]

    Er, did I miss something, or isn't this kind of 'my way or the highway' argument where Penny's post started? What happens once the disagreement is 'resolved' (presumably by excommunicating all the women who argue that sex work is work - along with any actual sex-workers - from any claim to the term 'feminist')?


  30. McDuff - Thank you for your comment, and I'm glad you took down Dandelion so forcefully along with others. I was hovering over deleting it, but I thought I ought to let it stand so we can see some of the views we're up against.

    I don't believe that accepting payment for sex with a man is any sort of betrayal of sisterhood, and I don't believe that prostitution is abuse by its very nature. I think the situation is hugely more problematic than that - I was having a very interesting debate with Belinda Brooks-Gordon about this tonight, and she agrees with me.

    The problem as far as sex work goes is that we live in a culture that shames women sexually - all women, not just sex workers, but sex work has become the symbol of that shame and that abuse. I think for many feminists there's a real dilemma in how to tackle that shame and still support sex workers. Feminists need sex workers and sex workers need feminists, that's true - but I think it's natural to question whether we can automatically support all sex work as a service like any other when, at the moment, it so clearly isn't. It should be - but in a culture which has so much shame and misogyny associated with sex, it still isn't. My ideal isn't a culture where no sex work occurs, but one in which prostitutes - along with all other female workers - are respected, honoured, offered police protection, defended from rape, well-paid and unionised. But I'm not sure this ideal world can be achieved through decriminalisation alone - the root of our sexual shaming of women and prostitutes needs to be tackled, and feminists can and should work together to do this.

    I believe in total decriminalisation of sex work - noone should EVER be punished for selling sex. But I do believe that, within a culture that condones abuse of prostitutes and frames prostitutes as less than human, men who use the services of prostitutes deserve questioning at the very least. Even if that questioning makes some sex workers' lives harder - and had Clause 14 been combined, as it should have been, with a lessening of the sanctions against women who sell sex, this might actually have happened.

  31. Alice - I'll happily claim that your work on the Welfare Reform Bill has been a stellar example of how this sort of organisation can and should work.

    I remember that meeting very differently. I'm aware that I'm very sensitive to raised voices and angry words. The key difference almost certainly remains the prioritising of individual ideology on the part of Feminist Fightback - and maybe that's a difference we can't work around. I was deeply unimpressed by the results on that particular occasion and others, but my agenda is different from yours.

  32. Penny

    I think you would have been OK to delete it - it was an emotional, gut response and could have stood a pass through for moderation. I'm working on a post for my blog about that kind of attitude where I can more reasonably expect to get away with copious amounts of profanity.

    That said, the emotional response still stands.

    The problem as far as sex work goes is that we live in a culture that shames women sexually - all women, not just sex workers, but sex work has become the symbol of that shame and that abuse. I think for many feminists there's a real dilemma in how to tackle that shame and still support sex workers.

    They're two different issues, though. The problem you're going to have in applying a Zeroth Law of feminism - as people like Dandelion do - where the rights of some women to be free sexual agents can be curtailed as long as it pushes forward some social agenda, is that the society that is expected to emerge is not the society that will emerge.

    Fun fact: people gonna fuck.

    Fun fact two: people fuck weird.

    In the universe where women, transfolk and queers are not only legally equal but socially equal too, it's not a world without sex work at all. Unless you think that women, transfolk and queers are incapable of being consensual perverts just like the rest of us, that should be self evident. Rather, it's a world where sex work is rather more populated with outfits like No Fauxxx and people like Buck Angel and Audicia Ray.

    Rather than dismissing such people as exceptions and "the myth of the happy hooker", we should be realising that actually it's possible for sex work to be a force for good, and at the very least is just another aspect of society that reflects what we put into it, not just for women but also for other marginalised groups.

    I don't know what you think can possibly be gained from grilling people who use hookers about their motives. You might find out some weird shit, but so fucking what? So some guy's got mommy issues and he's struggling to work it out in the arms of a woman who's perfectly happy to do so for him in exchange for £400 a pop. It doesn't benefit the hooker, the punter, or you to pry into the dark seedy underside of people's sexuality, especially if you're going to put an accusatory tone on it, any more than it would to dive into people who watch consensually made porn, people who dress in diapers and get their wives to spank them, or people who exclusively have missionary position vanilla sex with the lights off because the idea of putting someone's genitals in their mouth is weird and freaky to them. Yes, there are aggressive misogynist fuckers who use hookers, but there are a lot more who are just a bit outside the norm.

    What will benefit everyone is not lining up with the child-rapists in the catholic church to sign up for a government mandated "EW YOUR SEX IS DIRTY AND WEIRD!!" campaign. It only drives the "freaks and weirdos" into the dark along with the hookers who profit from them and the guys who want to get their rape on.

    So, I am afraid if you think Clause 14 was even close to promoting a more equitable and just world for the vagina-havers out there, I'm sorry to tell you that once again you have been sold a bill of goods.

  33. Will respond to the rest when I've slept - but I wasn't thinking about deleting your comment! It was Dandelion's I hesitated over...

  34. Oh, OK then. Thanks!

    (longer response post is up on my blog, which is an edited version of comments here. I don't feel the need to fracture the conversation over to there though - I don't update that thing often enough for hits and comments to make any difference to me)

  35. @Dandelion:

    As for the prostitution thing, I think if you go around hurting other women (by perpetuating the myth that women's bodies are a commodity), then you can't *really* complain if you yourself get hurt in the doing of it. And if you behave as if your body is a commodity for men's pleasure, then you can't *really* complain if men treat you like that.

    Well, that's all very well, and mainstream Hollywood actresses be warned accordingly, I guess, but it's not relevant to the issue of prostitution, since women's bodies are not for sale in prostitution (sex-trafficking notwithstanding): what is for sale is a service, just as an accountant or plumber offers a service.

    Saying "if you behave as if your body is a commodity for men's pleasure, then you can't *really* complain if men treat you like that. " is in no way feminist: it's just another version of Patriarchal slut-shaming, and harmful to all women (because in the Patriarchy, EVERY woman is expected to put a price on her sex, just it's usually charged in terms of roses, meals, a home to live in etc). If you won't stick up for prostitutes' ability to do what they do without fear of harassment or violence (and you stated implicitly that you won't, because you said "you can't *really* complain if you yourself get hurt in the doing of it") then you are also implicitly saying that violence against all women is fine unless they all live up to some impossible feminist ideal.

    There really is no such thing as a sex-worker, because sex is not work.

    This statement is purely a matter of opinion, but the fact is that when male or female persons exchange their labour hours for financial recompense, that is "work" in the commonly accepted sense. In prostitution, those labour hours are used to provide sexual services (which does not involve "bodies as commodities", does not involve "selling their bodies", any more than any other physical labour does).

  36. Infighting? Shocking! Who would have thunk it?

  37. Building on what Snowdrop just wrote -

    I was trying to think of examples where women or women's bodies are sold, as opposed to their labour power. I don't think even slavery covers this, because what is being sold there is potential labour power.

    But surely the paradigmatic case of the exchange of women-as-such is marriage as an exchange between fathers? Either when this is associated with literal dowry/bride-price, or when it results in more intangible, less immediate benefits, such as creating a sense of obligation and cementing ties between family groups.

    This is obviously an anthropological commonplace, much analysed by Levi-Strauss (RIP), but I don't want to make the point that this is an archaic practice. It seems to me that in capitalist society, it should logically happen more among the bourgeoisie (and indeed the monarchy and residual landed aristocracy), since they actually have property to transfer between the generations, whereas the proletariat, which only has its labour power, does not.

    Does this mean that marriage is inherently a bourgeois institution, and the cross-class embrace of it is a case of false consciousness...? The franticness with which the tabloid press and gossip magazines are obsessed with celebrity 'dynastic' marriages, would seem to suggest that it requires a massive industry to try and make this system seem desirable to the mass of the working class population. This is what Deleuze and Guattari mean when they talk about the reterritorialization of desire onto the family, I think.

    The point I am driving at is that we should still take seriously the commodification of women, but realise that it is a process distinct from, and even diametrically opposed to, the commodification of sex as specific kind of work.

    The idea that 'sex is not work' and 'prostitution commodifies women' actually obscures the real relations by which women are commodified. And furthermore these latter relations are necessary for maintaining class structure, which is reproduced through patriarchy.

    Of course, I can conceive of class structures which are reproduced other ways, e.g. a clerisy of celibate priests with initiation rituals, or a bureaucracy, for example. Presumably the theory of 'state capitalism', which I have never really studied, relies on the latter. So the link between patriarchy and capitalism is contingent, but very deeply entrenched in 'the west'.

    I am sure I am only poorly regurgitating an argument that has been made more cogently by various feminist authors in the past, though I think I have picked this up piecemeal rather than from any one source I could name.

  38. (Oh, apparently I'm not actually linking to my blog properly. It's a Livejournal one. Should be fixed now.)


Comments are open on this blog, but I reserve the right to delete any abusive or off-topic threads.