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Imagine opposing big business in ALL its forms. Challenging industry lobbyists. Following the money. Fighting for alternatives. Freeing the world’s poor from having to service the world’s rich. Choosing solidarity with women, children and the world’s poorest.

The deregulated banking industry started the 2008 financial crisis, which paved the way for austerity. Volkswagen fitted cars with devices to cheat emission tests. Food, pharma and agricultural industries lobby governments to minimise controls and accountability, to the detriment of human health and the environment. The licence for the drug Daraprim (vital for people with HIV infection) was purchased by Martin Shkrelrim, who increased its price from $13.50 to $750 a tablet, this was entirely legal.

Does industry deregulation benefit workers? Can industry be trusted to regulate itself for the benefit of people, society or the environment? Sex industry advocates insist that it can.

We are told that prostitution is a free and empowering choice, which (at the same time) poor women ‘need’. We are told this by organisations actively hostile towards the establishment of exit services for prostitutes or support for trafficked women [1]. Opportunities have dwindled as the sex industry has grown, rendering ‘sex work’ compulsory for poor women. Coercion into sex is normally defined as rape: we are told that economic coercion is just ‘work.’

On the premise that ‘sex is a basic human right’ [2], Amnesty International decided in August 2015 to work towards complete decriminalisation of brothels and ‘third party operatives’ (eg pimps). It accepted that women resort to prostitution “due to marginalisation and limited choices” but, dedicated to the cleansing power of money, claimed: “By definition, sex work means that sex workers who are engaging in commercial sex have consented to do so.” [3]

Their circular reasoning magicked away the realities of global female poverty, starvation and suppression of economic alternatives. Their ‘consultation process’ was a sham, as their support for decriminalisation had been decided in advance. They lied about consulting sex industry survivor groups, did not conduct research in any country that had decriminalised the sex industry, and chose to study Norway, which has only had the Nordic Model (the abolitionist model, which involves decriminalising the prostitute her or him self, while criminalising the buyers, pimps and brothel keepers) in place for a year, rather than Sweden, which has had it in place for over a decade. [4]

As survivors, exited women, and women’s liberationists, we are used to the hearing that ‘all work under capitalism is coerced’, and being told that there is no difference, emotionally, physically or psychologically between flipping burgers, and submitting to unwanted sex.

Our experience has been different and we will continue to speak truth to power.

We will tell the truth about our lives. We will tell the truth about the effects of decriminalising the sex industry. In Germany, where there are more restrictions on running a food stall than on running a brothel, prostituted women often live in brothels [5], suffering trauma from their experiences, and developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. [6]

The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women’s Taina Bien-Aime describes the normalisation of prostitution as gender apartheid [7]:

“What would happen if every country decriminalized prostitution? […] What marketing slogans would ensue? Might public agencies launch poverty alleviation campaigns? “First Nations, Indigenous, Aboriginal, African-Americans and Global South Populations: Are you Poor, Young, Incested, Transgendered, Homeless? With our help, the Sex Trade will provide you with shelter, food, free condoms and the opportunity to contribute to your (or a foreign) country’s Gross National Product. No experience or education required.”

“By encouraging governments to enshrine the sex trade as just another potential employer, Amnesty is promoting gender apartheid, the segregation of women between those who deserve access to economic and educational opportunities and those who are condemned to prostitution. Make no mistake: as long as women are for sale, no woman will be viewed as equal in corporate boardrooms, in the halls of legislature, or in the home.”

Meanwhile, the definition of ‘sex worker’ remains deliberately vague, so as to include managers (pimps). ‘Sex worker’ groups focus on their need to free the market from constraint, while remaining silent on exploitation, customer violence, murder, stress induced substance abuse, the right to strike, arbitration, withdrawal of labour. The drive to maintain supply to service demand, by any means necessary, is at the core of their activism. UK pimp Douglas Fox was involved in Amnesty’s decision [4]; Mexican pimp Alejandra Gil, who was vice president of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, was, in March this year, found guilty of sex trafficking and sentenced to 15 years in prison [8]; a German brothel operator Felicitas Weigmann, was instrumental in bringing about Germany’s liberalisation/decriminalisation of the sex industry [9]; American Maxine Doogan, of the ‘Erotic Service Providers Union’ is a convicted pimp. [10]

Today you will hear the New Zealand model held up as ‘proof’ that industry decriminalisation works. But in 2012, the Prime Minister of New Zealand admitted that decriminalisation had not reduced the commercial sexual exploitation of children, or street-based prostitution [11]. New Zealand is portrayed as almost a ‘cottage industry’ of independent ‘sex workers’ but the country has its own chain mega-brothels (fully supported by the groups claiming to represent ‘sex workers’) [12], and for homeless, street-based prostitutes with drug and alcohol dependency problems, their experiences are as grim as in any other country [13]. The New Zealand model, like the German one, hasn’t worked.

Fight capitalism. Oppose big business in all its forms. Challenge the lobbyists and the libertarian ‘left’. Free the world’s poor from having to service the world’s rich. Choose solidarity with women and children.

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(Flyer for the Anarchist Bookfair 2015)

This flyer was written for ‘afem2014’

One of the workshops today will challenge so-called ‘sex positive’ thinking, the idea that all sex that isn’t obviously coerced is good, that ‘sexual liberation’ can only mean saying yes to any and all sexual activity. I ask you to take that critical thinking and apply it to the sex industry.

To be truly positive about sex is to say that sex actually matters, that being forced, directly or indirectly, into sexual activity you don’t want is wrong and is abuse, that the right to be able to say no to sex is just as important as the right to be able to say yes.

Prostitution is, fundamentally, submitting to unwanted sex in exchange for money or some other material return. There is a physical and psychological reality to submitting to unwanted sex, this is something sex industry advocates refuse to acknowledge. This is the classic bait-and-switch of sex industry advocates; ‘sex work is work’ so we can’t talk about what it is like to submit to unwanted sex ten times a day, but, at the same time, ‘sex work’ is sex, and to say anything critical about it makes you an anti-sex prude.

There is a tiny global minority of women and men in the sex industry who get to pick and choose, have a great time, and make a load of money, and that’s absolutely great for them, as individuals, in isolation. But, for the vast majority of women and children and men engaging in transactional sex, it represents a lack of choice.

I also ask you to challenge the liberal idea that any choice made without a gun to your head is a free choice. The ‘choice’ of prostitution is to give up the right to say no to unwanted sex. Those who aren’t coerced directly into prostitution and pornography through violence are coerced through poverty; to say that all work under capitalism is coercive is a cop-out; yes, there is harassment and abuse in all kinds of work, but prostitution and pornography are the only ‘jobs’ where the harassment and abuse are the ‘work’.

To say that poor women ‘need’ prostitution for economic reasons is the same as saying that poor women aren’t good for anything other than prostitution. The girls as young as 11 who were groomed, abused, and pimped in Rochdale, Rotherham and elsewhere were dismissed by police and social workers as having made a ‘lifestyle choice’ to be ‘child prostitutes’, because those working class girls were seen as having no other possible value [1].

Sex industry advocates used to argue that decriminalising the sex industry would decrease child prostitution, in 2012 the New Zealand PM admitted that child prostitution had not decreased after decriminalisation [2]. Now, academic sex industry advocates write about the ‘agency’ of ‘juvenile sex workers’ and call the ‘sex’ of a homeless child engaging in survival prostitution a part of that child’s ‘sexuality’ and ‘sex life’ [3].

The reality of decriminalising the sex industry is Germany’s entirely legal, flat-rate brothels, where groups of men can purchase ‘gang bang’ packages; German women do not work in these brothels, women from Eastern Europe do. There has been an increase in trafficking, no significant improvements in the working conditions of prostitutes, and little use of new labour laws [4]. Why else would sex industry advocates try to distance themselves from the German reality by dishonestly calling it “state-run legalised prostitution”? [5]

Of course, getting the police off prostitutes’ backs is important, but the abolitionist model (also called the Swedish or Nordic model), which criminalises the john while decriminalising the prostitute her or himself, achieves that as well. This is something sex industry advocates deliberately and cynically ignore, or outright lie about, by claiming that abolitionists want to criminalise prostitutes.

If you want to find out about the reality of prostitution, you can hear about it from the johns themselves, through the ‘Invisible Men’ project [6]. Sex industry advocates tried to get an exhibition of this work censored, what are they trying to hide? [7]


[1] “Rochdale Council was criticised for missing opportunities to help victims of a child sex ring after nine of the ringleaders were jailed in May. An independent review found staff who failed to act had said the girls were making “lifestyle choices”.”

“One father called Children’s Social Care (CSC) up to 50 times, reporting his daughter’s “uncontrollable drinking, running away and difficult behaviour”. Social workers told him she was “a child prostitute”, and he accepted this “because he did not know that it was wrong”, the review said.”


[3] Laura Agustin wrote on her blog: “The issue of young people on the street who have a home somewhere they don’t want to live in – runaways – is always charged because of a widespread refusal to accept that everyone has a sexuality – babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, old people.” Later in the comments thread she denied that she had called prostitution a sexuality, but there is no other way to interpret that paragraph.

An LSE blog post talks about the commercial sexual exploitation of children like this: “We argue that the precondition for such research is setting aside ideological positions about sex work and seeking a deeper, broader, and more dynamic understanding of the experiences of young people in commercial sex markets, rather than focusing obsessively on their sex lives.”


[5] On 25th April ’14, the Guardian published a letter from Niki Adams of the ‘English Collective of Prostitutes’, in which she described Germany’s decriminalised sex industry as “state-run legalised prostitution”. The Spiegel article listed above disproves this: “In 2007, then-Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), wanted to make brothels subject to government approval, and fellow CDU member Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was interior minister of the state of Saarland at the time (and who is now governor of the state), supported her. But the two politicians failed to secure a majority within their party and nothing happened.”



The invisible men projects reproduce the ‘reviews’ written by johns, and reveal a reality of prostitution that sex industry advocates would rather we did not see. The blog post describes the project as ‘hate speech’, but this is what johns say about prostitutes on ‘review’ forums, this is what johns really think about the prostitutes they use.

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.

Autonomous Radical Feminists are coming out of hibernation again to run a stall at the Anarchist Bookfair 2013, held at Queen Mary’s university on the Mile End Road.

This leaflet was written for the “Sex Work from an Anarchist Perspective” discussion at the Anarchist Bookfair 09.

Question Authority

Question anyone who claims to represent workers. You may hear (today or whenever discussing this issue) confident claims that “sex workers think x” or “sex workers want y.” You may hear that the thing they want is for men to have more freedom and less restrictions to buy them. That the main thing they want (because they all speak with one voice and the experts, like the ones today, speak for them all) is to defeat Clause 13 of the Policing and Crime bill currently being read (which makes punters responsible for asking whether a woman or child or man they want sex off has been coerced). You might hear that the main thing children and women who sell sex want, is a bigger, free-er, less regulated industry. That there is no problem with managers. That, unlike all other workers, they are happy to not get paid, just work for tips (like they have to in lap dancing clubs around here) That there is no exploitation in the sex industry. That harm is minimal. There is no pressure. No coercion. No grooming. No history of abuse. No poverty. That sex work is intentional. Chosen. Better paid than other crappy jobs, even when just working for tips. That millions of children all around the world grow up aspiring to ‘be sex workers’ and that the ‘sex workers’ on the panel today can tell you, with authority, what they want.

Challenge the Bosses AND Challenge the Union

Challenge claims that unlike people trafficking for agricultural, domestic and sweatshop purposes (which even the Guardian accepts exists!), that unlike other forms of pressured migration, trafficking for sexual purposes doesn’t exist. That it is a myth, a moral panic, ‘victim feminist’ bleating on the part of women who just don’t seem to get how that the neoliberal sex industry has empowered children and women. Query claims that ‘sex workers’ are mostly or 50% male; that the global sex industry is not driven by men wanting to buy women and girls. Challenge claims that the industry is not as murderously exploitative as other big business. Challenge any union that uses the underground nature of the industry to hide figures, hide the ratio of managers to ground-level workers in its membership. Challenge any union or ‘prostitutes group’ which doesn’t fight managers. Which doesn’t campaign against exploitation or fight for proper wages. Which doesn’t challenge workplace structure. Which never ever threatens to withdraw labour. Which never mentions industrial action because (unlike everywhere else) there’s no problem with bosses, only with regulation. Which informs you about the internal injuries you’re going to get, but doesn’t suggest getting out.

Dig deep

Dig deep into yourself and ask yourself why you don’t work in a brothel. If ‘sex work’ is so ok, and those millions of women and children and men choose it, why don’t you? Jobcentres have started advertising for female phone sex line operators, web-cam performers and lap dancers. Should young women be made to take those jobs? No? What if demand outstrips supply? Should there ever be restriction on global male sexual entitlement or should men just be able to get what they want, how they want, when they want it?

Talk to the People, Let the People talk to you

Don’t believe me. Don’t believe the IUSW. Don’t believe the ECP. Even, don’t believe the Poppy project! Don’t just believe educated, relatively privileged people talking shit at bookfairs. Before you slope off to the pub tonight, why not do your own research? Why not chat to the women working the Mile End Road – about their lives, the conditions of their work, whether they chose it, whether they like it. How they define sex. Whether they have orgasms. What THEY identify as the real issues which affect their work. Get a translator — Lithuanian, Bantu, Bengali, Uzbek — talk to them!

Imagine A World Not Based on Male Sexual Entitlement

Think about sex. Be honest about your experience, whether you’re male or female. Some people define sex as experience/s and processes pleasurable to any/all concerned. Some people query whether men paying to get serviced is, actually, ‘sex’ and therefore whether the term ‘sex work’ might be bullshit. Some people query whether women and children actually get off on servicing men as much as popularly portrayed on tv or porn. Try to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Question whether internet porn (which increasingly drives what men demand) really serves women and children (and also men) sexually. And FINALLY If you are going to speculate about a libertarian utopia where all transactional sex is fine, why not imagine a reversal of power relations. Like, art, architecture, popular culture, based on genuine self-defined female sexualities. Imagine cunt shaped cavernous buildings with indoor waterfalls and sheelagh na gigs everywhere. Imagine everything based on representations of clitorises and wombs and contractions and aspects of women’s real bodies. Imagine everyone was based around females being served and serviced. I’m not even saying this is a good thing! But it is a thought. Have fun speculating, But try to remember real power relations in the real world, here and now.

Panel Talk given to The London Anarchist Forum ‘Sex Work From an Anarchist Perspective’ meeting at the London Anarchist Book Fair 2009 on Saturday 24 October 2009

I began by challenging the final point of the previous speaker who said that until we lived in a utopian society “transactional sex will be necessary”. I said,

We have to challenge the notion that men are entitled to sex. That it’s their right and women should just ‘do their duty’ and supply it. Sex isn’t a human ‘need’—you don’t die without it. If you see it as necessary; see male sexual demand as paramount, then what happens when demand exceeds supply? Do you encourage women into the industry? Force them? What happens when men want under 16s? Under 13s? Are men sexually entitled to anything they want? Should young women or men have their benefits withdrawn if they don’t want to do the lap dance jobs that are beginning to be advertised in jobcentres?

You can’t look at either sex work or the sex industry outside the context of extreme global inequality based on gender, class, race and capitalism. That the facts around who services who, are connected to the WHO gender demographics (which they have been compiling since 1975) indicating that males own/control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, land, water, food, access to health care, means of production and means of reproduction in the world. Which means that females suffer huge inequality. In other words, globally, women do the work and men get the profit. It is in this context that people, women and children end up servicing sometimes violent, not very nice, ill-smelling strangers.

‘Sex workers rights’ professionals tend to claim to speak for ‘sex workers’. Their literature categories everyone—from a shop assistant in a sex shop, to owners of chains of escort agencies, to African woman working off debt bondage in a European brothel—equally as a ‘sex worker’. Recently ‘sex workers rights’ professionals have focused almost solely on defeating Clause 14 of the Policing and Crime Bill now being read by the Lords, a clause which seeks to regulate demand by requiring punters to ascertain that the person they are buying sex off has not been coerced. ‘Sex workers rights’ professionals tell us that ‘sex workers’ main aim is to defeat this and other regulatory legislation; that worldwide, ‘sex workers’ want only total legalisation so as to be free to ply their trade in a deregulated industry

Problems with this approach include:

1. People throughout the global sex industry (which is massive and up there with Big Oil, Big Construction, Big Pharma and Agriculture/Biotech) have different agendas. Managers and bosses have different agendas than on the ground workers.

2. ‘Sex work’ is not a consciously chosen profession that young people aspire to enter and want to remain in and want to promote as a profession. Even when not actively forced it is for many women an incidental default occupation

3. ‘Sex work’ is not gender neutral, with equal numbers of men doing it or women demanding. It is driven by male demand for women and girls and boys.

4. ‘Experts’ speaking for workers is particularly dangerous in such a profitable industry as this. It is imperative for people to do their own research, talk to people (and not just white men) ON THE GROUND who sell sex and find out what the conditions of their lives and work are.

4. If you are not a ‘sex worker’, why not? Imagine (whatever age or gender you are) having young children and no assets/savings/support, needing money immediately. Which would you rather do, be a cleaner or service the middle aged men who are the demographic purchasers. Obvious — ‘Sex work’ is so much more glamorous and better paid, right? And you only need to see a few punters a week, right? Ok, do it for six months. Then evaluate.

5. The physical realities for women selling sex are frequently ignored by libertarians and ‘sex work’ experts. Physical violence aside, they include: the constant pressure to not use condoms, the demand for more extreme sex like DP TP DA etc. driven by porn. STDs. Chronic internal injury. Anorgasmia (the chronic inability to come) from the combination of numbness and over stimulation of the pelvic area. Compromised immunity. And the psychological waste. Which there is no point in denying exists until you have actually done your own, grassroots research with people (again, including people who aren’t white middle class college students doing it for a few months). Why not get out there and get the full picture?

The desire to protect ‘sex work’ (‘sex’ in quotes because it isn’t real sex for the person doing the servicing) stems from a desire on the part of the white middle class imperialist elite to continue to have an underclass of workers, some but not all migrants, servicing their lives and deflating the cost of their commodities. (Workers who want nothing but to service this the elite for slave or no wages). Cheap veg, cheap clothes, cheap domestic labour, cheap sex. ( For example, workers in east London lap dancing clubs work for no wages, just tips, but don’t seem to get a mention in any of the ‘sex worker’ rights organisations’ literature.)

Hence unionising; eg a union for ‘sex workers’. Indeed maybe such a union would be viable IF it tackled (lack of) wages, just working for tips, an end to rip off £300/day walk up flats, violent punters, organising to limit numbers of clients, industrial relations, problem managers, organising to withdraw labour when necessary, and provide exit strategies.

The intensity of the desire to be cheaply serviced means that even people who claim to have an anti capitalist analysis, and support other health and safely legislation and precautionary regulations in other industries, totally roll over re. the sex industry when it demands more freedom, normalisation and expansion. Ultimately for all the discourse about ‘rights’ and authoritative claims about ‘what sex workers want’ the ‘rights’ lobby’s hostility to regulation is based on an extreme neoliberal freemarket ideology.

I’d say, bring it back to the women, the children on the street. Talk to them. Listen. Then decide.

Panel Talk given by Joy to The London Anarchist Forum ‘Sex Work From An Anarchist Perspective’ meeting at the London Anarchist Book Fair 2009 on Saturday 24 October 2009

You know, I hope Noam Chomsky [1] is wrong when he says that if you want to marginalise a view you put it on right at the end of the day, when everyone is tired, no-one wants to listen any more, and people are getting up to get cups of tea [2]. I’m going to read three quotes. One’s going to be quite long, so please bear with me; the second will be just one paragraph; and the third will be a one-liner. All quotes are from the same book, which is about gender justice.

When you ask the question ‘What is good sex?’ you are also asking, I suggest, [‘I’ in this case being John Stoltenberg [3]] a question that is profoundly political, because its answer requires an inquiry into structures of power disparity between people – political structures based primarily on gender and also on race, money, and age. Is sex perceived to be good ultimately with reference to those categories? – for instance, does a man perceive sex to be good because he experiences it as enhancing his hold on the status of his gender; through the act of fucking, for instance, does he feel politically empowered, sensorially attached to his membership in a superior sex caste; does he therefore perceive fucking per se as good sex? Or is sex good to the extent that it transcends power inequities – to the extent that sex between two individuals mitigates the power disparity that they bring with them from the social context? In theory, two people might approach a particular sexual encounter either as a ritual celebration of the social power differences between people in general and between them in particular or as a personal act of repudiating all such power inequities. Someone whose sexuality has become committed to celebrating the political status quo would consider sex good to the extent that its scenario achieves actual and lasting physical sensations of power inequity – through dominance, coercion, force…and so forth. But someone who chose actively to resist the political status quo would consider sex good to the extent that it empowers both partners equally – and to the extent that they succeed together in keeping their intimacy untainted by the cultural context of sexualized inequality. The political question is tough, but it’s important to remember that it is a political question, and that ‘What is good sex?’ is a question about the relationship between the social structure and the particular sex act.

So-called sexual liberation has not provided a conceptual vocabulary that is very useful for discerning whatever is good about good sex either philosophically or politically. There is a lot of mindless jargon in the air (‘”sex positive” is good; “sex negative” is bad.’ ‘Prosex – any kind of sex – is good; antisex is very bad’) combined with a kind of sexual-orientation chauvinism (‘All gay sex is good; no gay sex is bad’ or, as the case may be, ‘All straight sex is good; no straight sex is bad’) that results in a near-total obfuscation of the actual values in particular sexual encounters. In the so-called sexual-liberationist frame of reference, the question ‘What is good sex?’ gets answered pretty quantitatively – in terms of erections, orifices, ejaculations, orgasms, horniness, hotness – and in terms of how far the anatomical experience can be removed from any context of social meaning. In the sexual-liberationist frame of reference, any other notion of good sex is caricatured as ‘goody-goody,’ ‘correct,’ ‘puritan,’ ‘vanilla.’ This frame of reference is derived from the belief that laws, parents, the church and the state, and women in general were all forces of repression keeping men from having as many outlets as they pleased for their so-called sexual tension. But today there is no way to ask the question ‘What is good sex?’ merely in terms of sexual-liberationist rhetoric. Today the question must be asked looking at a social structure that is essentially male supremacist and looking at the function of sexual behaviour in that structure – at how sexual action in private can reflect and keep intact larger social structures of dominance and submission, at how hatred of ‘the other’ can be sexualized until it no longer feels like hate because it feels so much like sex. And there is no way anymore that anyone can answer the question ‘What is good sex?’ without in some sense expressing either a reactionary or a revolutionary political position – an opinion, a point of view, about the male supremacy of the social order: whether it should stay the same . . . or whether it should not.

That was the first quote and, as I said, the longest. The next is just one paragraph. It begins the section headed, What Is The Relationship Between Good Sex and Commercial Representations of Sex?

Explicit representations of sex in commercial films and videos reflect and influence what many men imagine and perceive to be ‘good sex.’ Seen on the screen, the sex in sex films epitomizes the kind of sex, and the values in that sex, that men as a class (or at least as a consumer market) aspire to. To view sex acts through the medium and technology of film or video is therefore like looking through a window at what millions and millions of men believe is the best sex there is: sex that purports to be good – or ‘great,’ as the case may be.

The third and final extract about gender justice is, as promised, a one-liner:

The core of one’s being must love justice more than manhood.

Stoltenberg uses the word “manhood” here because these are all quotes from his book, Refusing to Be a Man. By that, Stoltenberg was not refusing to be male – because he is male, so that would be absurd. No, what he was refusing to be was a Man with a capital M, as in the case of “being the Man there,” always having to be in control and on top in our dominator society; and Stoltenberg is repudiating that.

Well, that’s my three quotes from Stoltenberg. Now I just want to comment on Steve Ash’s keynote speech where he said that sex work is “necessary” and will still be “necessary” in an anarchist society. Now, when I heard the talk was about sex I thought, oh good that’s sounds great, we can discuss the works of Shere Hite [4] – excellent! But then I realised it was about sex WORK. Well, I’m disappointed in that – I thought anarchists wanted to get RID of work. And money? I thought anarchists wanted to get rid of MONEY, too. Furthermore, if prostitution were to continue in an anarchist society, then women would also become entitled to sexual servicing, which would make the anarchism proposed by Steve some kind of ‘equal rights’ anarchism where, after the revolution, women become empowered to abuse and oppress others in the way we are abused and oppressed now. That’s not what I thought anarchism was. What I want is gender justice anarchism, not equal rights anarchism. The radical feminist Andrea Dworkin wisely said there are as many sexualities as there are people [5], but are there as many anarchisms as there are anarchists? Thank you. I’ll end there and turn it over to questions from the floor.


[1] Noam Chomsky is a philosopher and anarchist.

[2] The book fair had begun at 10am that day. Joy was the sixth and final speaker in the panel at the last meeting (which had begun late and was held in a stuffy and crowded room). By now, it was almost 6pm.

[3] John Stoltenberg is a long-time radical feminist activist against sexual violence and philosopher of gender. He is the author of Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice (rev. ed. UCL Press, 2000), The End of Manhood: Parables on Sex and Selfhood (rev. ed. UCL Press, 2000), and What Makes Pornography Sexy? (Milkweed Editions, 1994), as well as numerous articles and essays in anthologies. In addition to speaking and writing, John works professionally in publishing in New York City, where he has been Managing Editor of five national magazines and served as editorial and creative consultant to many other publications. For Men Can Stop Rape [6], he conceived and creative directs the ‘My strength is not for hurting’ media campaign [7].

[4] See, for example, Hite, Shere The New Hite Report. The Revolutionary Report on Female Sexuality Updated (2000)

[5] As quoted in Stoltenberg, John Living With Andrea (1994) “I especially remember where Andrea writes that “‘man’ and ‘woman’ are fictions, caricatures, cultural constructs” and that “we are . . . a multisexed species.” As I described it 15 years later in my own first book, “that liberating recognition saved my life.””


[7] This paragraph about John Stoltenberg is taken from the Contributors section of Stark, Christine and Whisnant, Rebecca (eds) Not For Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography (2004)

This leaflet was written for the “Sex Work from an Anarchist Perspective” discussion at the Anarchist Bookfair last weekend.

As radical feminists we feel that there are fundamental flaws and dishonesties to today’s workshop on prostitution*. The organisers of this meeting will tell us that this is not a gendered issue, because in theory women have the right to be sexually serviced too. We will be told that the sex industry doesn’t exist because of male demand, and that there is equivalent demand for/industrial scale of, adult men servicing women. We will be told that, unlike other industries, in the sex industry, demand is rarely met through the coercion of extreme poverty, deception, or more direct violent control.

We will be told that we should not look at women as a class, that instead we have to concentrate on ‘individual women’ in their ‘unique situation’, but the ‘free’ prostitute we will be asked to consider does not exist. She really really wants to be a prostitute (in spite of how dangerous it currently is) and she came to this choice free of poverty, addiction, a history of abuse, violent coercion, manipulation or social pressure. Who is she? Where is she? What remote island was she raised on free from patriarchal pressure (because we would dearly love to move there)? Also, how is she, and the handful of her elite sisters and brothers engaging in ‘free’ prostitution, going to be able to meet demand when men feel entitled to order up a prostitute the same way they order up a takeaway pizza?

It will be denied that the normalisation and expansion of the sex industry affects the social status of all women and girls, and reinforces male dominance and male entitlement; apparently this is an “empty generalisation” compared to our putative ‘free’ prostitute. Saying this is not a gendered issue because women have the right to be sexually serviced too is like claiming anti-vagrancy laws don’t discriminate against the poor because millionaires aren’t allowed to sleep under bridges either.

We maintain that there is a physical and psychological reality to sex, that women’s bodies are not insensate lumps of meat and the vagina/anus is not a passive open hole. There is a physical and psychological reality to being penetrated multiple times a day when you are not aroused; without poverty, without more direct coercion, what would motivate any woman or man to do this?

Some sex industry apologists feel that ‘sex work’ will be necessary in an anarchist society, that if “some men can’t get laid” they have the right to be sexually serviced – so much for women’s ‘sexual freedom’, this is in essence about ensuring men get sexually serviced. Sexual pleasure is an inalienable human right, unless you are the person doing the sexual servicing, at which point it becomes just ‘work’, and having to service all the men who ‘can’t get laid’ is no big deal, physically or psychologically.

If all men have a right to be sexually serviced, and serviced the way they want, when they want, by who they want, someone somewhere will then have to lose the right to say no. What will happen, in our future anarchist society, when not enough women freely choose to be ‘free’ prostitutes? Will some new way be found to manipulate women into it? Will it become an obligation all women have to fulfil, like taking your turn cleaning the toilets? How will this ‘obligation’ be enforced?

The tired old argument about ‘needing’ prostitution to protect (other) women from rape is a gross insult to all the men who manage not to be rapists, even when they ‘can’t get laid’, and is a fundamental misunderstanding of what rape is. Men do not commit rape because they can’t control themselves, it is not a crime of sexual excess, it is a crime of power, of domination and control. Even if rape did occur because men just couldn’t hold it in any longer, how is it going to work in a system of ‘free’ prostitution, with its inevitable long waiting lists given the inevitable scarcity of those wishing to be ‘free’ prostitutes?

Arguments about prostitution being driven underground are just more tacit acknowledgement that this is about men’s right to be sexually serviced, if the men using prostitutes really cared about their welfare, there wouldn’t be any coerced prostitution in the first place. This is also tacit acknowledgement that ‘free’ prostitution will never meet demand as it currently stands.

Saying that the best we can offer poor women is a ‘safe’ way to be sexually assaulted for money is saying that female poverty and male sexual violence is inevitable, and that the world will never change in any significant way. It is also a veiled threat against all women: give us (men) what we want, or we’ll take it anyway and worse.

The ‘anarchism’ on display here is nothing more than a desire to give male supremacism free reign, from men who are not prepared to give up any power.

* We are using the term prostitution rather than ‘sex work’, because the term ‘sex work’ is a deliberate obfuscation which covers up the exploitation inherent in the sex industry (consider the term ‘juvenile sex worker’ used to describe child victims of commercial sexual exploitation). It obscures the lived experience of those directly engaged in transactional sex, it obscures power relations between workers and bosses. Pimps, pornographers, brothel keepers, escort agency managers, telephone sex line operators, those working behind the till in sex shops and sperm donors all call them selves ‘sex workers’.