The ‘red umbrellas’ (an umbrella term for sex industry advocates, as the symbol of a red umbrella has been pretty much universally adopted) were out in force at this year’s bookfair; their current slogan is “my body is my business”, which I’m sure goes down well with young women of the 3rd/4th wave who are so invested in the rhetoric of ‘choice’ and ’empowerment’, but doesn’t match up too well to sex industry advocate claims that prostitution is the selling of a service, rather than of access to a woman’s body.

This presence was good, in a way, as it meant there was the opportunity for discussion to take place in person, and without degenerating into the name-calling and empty rhetoric that characterises too much on-line ‘debate’. It was also good, for both ‘sides’ here, to see that we are dealing with real human beings.

I spoke to two women, one who had worked as an escort and now worked as a telephone sex line operator, and one who had worked as an escort, and now worked in a brothel – I am not going to give any more of there details here, or everything we talked about, as they may not want such information about them to be broadcast on the internet, and, also, I do not want to risk misrepresenting their viewpoints, writing as I am now over a month later. I said at the time that it would be good to have a proper dialog, written down to put on line, and that offer still stands (autonomousradicalfeminists [at] hotmail [dot] co [dot] uk).

The main concern of the first woman was what would happen to the women in prostitution right now if the Nordic Model (the decriminalisation of the prostitute her or him self and the criminalisation of the johns) was put in place. I said that that was a real concern, and that the Nordic Model had to come with a raft of comprehensive and appropriate exit services, and that it would not work otherwise.

I had a similar conversation with the second woman, in a bit more depth, and it was good to get past a lot of the chaff of the Nordic ‘vs’ New Zealand Model [1] arguments. It came down to what was more likely to happen, for real, in the world as it currently exists: could we, given the current climate of cuts to benefits and services, get the Nordic Model in place with workable exit services, or, given how decriminalisation of the sex industry has worked in other parts of the world, could we get the New Zealand model in place without it resulting in a massive increase in the sex industry, including mega-brothels and ‘flat rate’ brothels (Germany is already there, New Zealand is building it’s first mega-brothel).

The rest of the bookfair was fairly ok, most of our flyers were picked up, and there wasn’t much in the way of aggression. I can cope with men turning their noses up at what we are doing, but it was disappointing to see how many young women (and it was all young women), would read the titles of the flyers and run away. A few of them stopped to argue, and it was amusing to see the mental contortions such women go through to explain why their porn was different (everybody thinks their porn is different), and how their capitulation to the status quo (their masochism and their submissiveness), was anything but. The funniest moment perhaps, was a young woman telling me that my saying that being tortured or torturing someone for orgasms wasn’t normal was the “real violence”! With hindsight, saying it wasn’t ‘normal’ was incorrect, as it is ‘normal’, in that it is everyday and common, a better way of putting it would have been to say it wasn’t natural or inevitable.

The worse thing by far was having a middle age man tell me that porn was a vital part of his “gay subculture”. When I asked him how he would feel if he found out the performers in his porn were straight and/or hated what they were doing, he said it wouldn’t matter to him.

He then say that Andrea Dworkin was a “twat” and he was glad she was dead and he hoped Catharine MacKinnon would die soon. When I told him that what he said was hateful, he said he didn’t care.

There were two young women at our table at the same time as this man, I don’t know if they were friends already or if they bonded through attacking us, but they were happy to then air-kiss with this man who had just wished death on any woman who tried to take his porn away.

But, but, the very worst thing about this disgusting, hateful man, is that he told me he worked in prisons with sex offenders! He said that while some men had “a problem” with porn, for others it could be “healing” – which is, quite frankly, terrifying.


[1] New Zealand has decriminalised all aspects of adult prostitution – selling, buying, managing – treating it as any other form of work, with already present health and safety legislation supposed to protect those prostituting. There are a few exceptions built into the law, for example a ‘sex worker’ has the right to refuse any ‘client’ or any sex act for any reason, ie, brothel keepers are not allowed to fine women when they refuse a john, which happens, for example, in some parts of Australia where brothel prostitution is legal – this seems to me to be an admission that ‘sex work’ is not work like any other, as it allows discrimination, which would be illegal in any other profession.