Feminists letting the side down

[CONTENT NOTE: mention of rape and violence against women and girls]

Some feminists are in denial.

They need to understand that even in this modern age where so many feminist gains have been made, many girls and women are still living in a kind of hell. The system of sexual bondage and oppression they are subject to is global.

While some affluent women in Western societies claim they enter this bondage by choice, and some countries even have laws protecting their rights, many, many girls and women have been coerced or sold into sexual servitude.

To this day, even in Europe and North America, some underage girls and young women are taken either against their will, or with promises that are lies, across internal and national borders. They are then shocked to find they are required to have unwanted sex; to be raped, by men that they did not choose, are not attracted to, and cannot escape.

Even the so-called “choice” practitioners of this system often do not know what they are getting themselves into. The situation is so bad that many women die every year, often when trying to exit; killed by the men who abuse and rape them. The police cannot always help them, and if they are stigmatised by other factors, such as being poor, or drug users, they are so much less likely to be deemed worthy of help.

Often they have children to their abusers, and are then further trapped as they need to try to protect and support their children, compromising their ability to escape. Although, conversely, it is often the welfare of their children that gives them the final bit of courage to do so. There is some help for these women provided by the state, but it is never enough; services are always under pressure and indeed are being cut.

Some of these women, of course, always feel that they made the right choice, but even they may wake up one day and think “this isn’t for me” for any number of reasons. But due to the patriarchal, capitalist set-up of our society, even these privileged, empowered “choice feminists” still come up against various barriers to leaving. And life afterwards is often very hard, financially and emotionally. Sometimes they go back or try a different configuration of the same set-up. Sometimes they just stay and numb themselves with alcohol, drugs, or other addictions.

What I find difficult to believe is that there are actually feminists, real self-proclaimed feminists out there who willingly enter this servitude, proclaiming that because they feel they have their full rights under law, it is safe for them to do so. They even seem happy and proud. And they want more people to have the right to do what they do, despite the inherent risks!

Surely, so many of them will awaken one day realising that they made the wrong choice; that they have let all women down by supporting an institution that historically is not and cannot be beneficial to women, no matter how you try to dress it up with “rights”. In the meantime they are letting all women down by propagating a myth. They are the pathetic mouthpieces (witting or unwitting) of the individual men, and the patriarchal capitalist system, that this form of bondage supports.

Don’t get married.

Abolish marriage.

For more on the topic of sex work and feminism, see http://www.sexworkeropenuniversity.com/ and http://glasgowsexworker.wordpress.com/ plus the recent Storify laying out what happened when some sex worker led organisations tried to add their voices to a discussion on sex work at a feminist conference: http://storify.com/fornicatrix/left-out-in-the-cold-sex-workers-at-notts-women-s. And if you want an intro to how one feminist decided to throw her weight 100% behind sex workers rights, see our very own post on that topic here – it contains many more links to good resources to help you understand and think through the issues for yourself.

Only rights can stop the wrongs: sex workers organise in Scotland

We’re in the middle of Glasgow’s Sex Worker Open University event (5-10 April 2013). Unfortunately I was only able to attend yesterday’s panel sessions, much as I would have liked to attend other things. So, with yesterday fresh in my mind I’m going to write up a few thoughts right now. Follow the link above to find out more about upcoming events, or follow them on Twitter at hashtag #SWOU13 or the event’s Twitter feed @SexWorkerOU.

International Union of Sex Workers logo

If you are a feminist who is swithering about what the issues are and where you stand, maybe this post will help you. If you want women to be safe, sane, respected and valued, please fight with me for decriminalising sex work in Scotland.

Supporting Sex Workers in Scotland: Kill the Bill

We were fortunate to hear about some solid and grounded research into the effects of criminalisation, and conversely, of de-criminalisation of sex work at the event yesterday. It was pretty clear that the Private Member’s Bill ‘ The Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex’, soon to be brought before the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, is ill-conceived at best, and callously indifferent to its likely consequences at worst.

Let me just note here: the evidence against any benefits to this type of legislation, as presented at the event yesterday, is extensive and convincing, and the evidence for the benefits of de-criminalisation likewise. I cannot do it justice here so please use links and references to do your own research.

Rhoda Don't Erode Our Rights banner from SWOU13 protest at STUC office, Glasgow.

SWOU13 protest at STUC office, Glasgow, 6 April 2013

When I first heard about this Bill, it was framed for me as ‘end demand’. I was pretty naive at that point about the current rhetoric and framing of sex work at the nexus of radical feminism and the religious right. I had fluffy thoughts about the concept of ‘end demand’ like “yes, it would be nice to live in a world where sex work wasn’t necessary”. I didn’t think it through. I genuinely believed that this ‘end demand’ thing was about bringing about an ideal society where noone wanted to buy access to sexual services, because everyone would be perfectly happy and fulfilled with the intimacy and sex in their lives. This is not what ‘end demand’ means.

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Riding the waves

Feminism is in flux these days.

As the waves lap at the shore, generational differences are crashing into one another and creating a lot of white water. I’m not old enough to remember the start of the second wave, but I am almost certain that there would have been conflict between first wavers who concentrated on the political and legal situation of women, and the next generation who explored the social and sexual. Not, of course, that these are necessarily in conflict: the legal framework of any group defines its social position, and indeed it was only at the start of the second wave that the Equal Pay act was introduced, and well into it before women got the right of independent taxation.

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One sure way to reduce prostitution: heroin prescription

In late 2006, the whole of Britain watched in horror as five vulnerable female prostitutes were, one by one, over the course of one and half months, picked up off the streets of Ipswich and taken to their deaths. The last victim, Paula Clennell, was even seen on television stating that, despite news of the murders and despite being alerted to the fact a killer was on the loose, she would continue working the streets as she ‘‘needed the money’’ to fund her drug habit. The killer was eventually identified as a Mr Steve Wright, who, in February 2008, was found guilty of all five counts of murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. But the truth is that all five deaths were preventable. Preventable, that is, for want of some political courage on the part of our leaders.

In response to the murders, there was, of course, a wide and varied national debate about policy on prostitution, and how to make these vulnerable women safer. Criminalization of demand, legalization, brothels, tolerance zones – all were considered and discussed. But one simple way to keep vulnerable women away from ‘‘the oldest oppression’’ as some feminists prefer to call it, was ignored: heroin prescription.

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