The sex industry is highjacking the left. Lobbyists for the sex industry have been given a platform at the anti-capitalist, pro-development events taking place around the G20 Summit in London, this is our response:

Fellow Workers: Do we accept the control of others’ sexuality as ‘work like any other’? Do we want to embrace escort agency owners, brothel managers and lap dancing entrepreneurs as comrades?

The IUSW (‘International Union of Sex Workers’) along with other sex industry advocate groups is working with the Lap Dancing Association, Escort Agency owners and punters to deregulate the sex industry. Claiming to speak for all sex workers, they are fighting for more Lap Dancing Venues, continued ‘café style’ licensing for sex establishments, and more widespread sex work ads in Jobcentres.

The IUSW does not distinguish between workers and managers. It identifies owners, controllers and punters equally as sex workers and encourages their membership. It does not promote collective or worker-owned brothels, simply denying any conflict of interest or inequality, between those who ‘sell sex’ and those who ultimately profit from its sale. They deny all research on the incidence of trafficking, maintaining it is rare and that forced prostitution is a myth.

Their recent campaign is focused on stopping the Policing and Crime Bill currently in session. In relation to the sex industry, it aims to: create a new offence of paying for sex with someone who is controlled for gain and introduce new powers to close brothels, modify the law on soliciting, and tighten up the regulation of lap-dancing clubs by reclassifying them as ‘sex encounter establishments’ rather than ‘entertainment’ venues. Although minimal, symbolic and largely unenforceable, it is at least a notional recognition of the harm of pimping and trafficking.

The claim that prostitution is ‘work like any other’ ignores the physical and psychological harm involved. Accepting it as ‘work like any other’ eradicates women’s sexual agency, and reduces sex, for women, to just another piece of drudgework women (or the underclass of prostituted women necessary to fulfil the imperatives of male demand) must undertake to survive, no different to scrubbing a toilet. If sex, for women, is no different to scrubbing a toilet, then rape can’t be that big a deal either. Our culture already sees rape as trivial, the normalisation of prostitution as ‘work like any other’ is gradually helping to cement that attitude.

There is nothing radical about the sex industry. There is nothing transgressive. It is fundamentally a part of the status quo. The sex industry is capitalism in its purest essence, reducing whole people to commodities. The sex industry is also patriarchy in its purest essence, the hierarchy between men and women reified. Patriarchy has always required a class of prostituted women, and has tacitly condoned the sexual abuse of girl children to create this class.

We are feminists and trade unionists. We call for our brothers in the union movement to fight for a fundamental gender equality, which includes fighting the presumption of unlimited access to female bodies through the sex industry. People are NOT FOR SALE.

Increasingly, the media promotes the myth that prostitution is a free, empowering choice. We don’t hear about the boredom, the pelvic inflammatory disease, the sexual dysfunction occasioned by numbing repetitive penetration, the STDs, the pressure to not wear a condom, the 12-hour shifts and the exhaustion, the reality of not being particularly liked or respected by punters. The voices of women harmed in the sex industry are ignored, dismissed as one-offs who made ‘bad choices.’

Prostitution itself is not illegal. But the argument to legalise brothels and further expand all areas of the industry lest it be ‘driven underground into the hands of criminals’ applies equally to child prostitution. Should we legalise child prostitution to keep it ‘out of the hands of criminals’ and to allow frequent health checks and free condoms for prostituted children?

Accepting prostitution as inevitable is to accept that women’s poverty is inevitable, that men’s sexual violence is inevitable. The sex industry is an institution, it creates a demand for women and children that can only be met through poverty and coercion, poor women deserve better choices than between prostitution and poverty.

If prostitution is the ‘only’ available way out of poverty for large numbers of women and children, as claimed by sex industry advocates, should western aid workers, businessmen and soldiers working in the developing world be encouraged to ‘help’ women and children survive by buying them? Should we turn the developing world into one giant brothel to service the west? Or should we fight for real change, and real routes out of poverty?

Should we change society to suit the globally tiny minority of people who claim to actively want to engage in prostitution? Should we accept any industry just because some people want to work in it? How about the arms industry, or the oil industry? What other industries have benefited from deregulation?

Far from promoting freedom and empowerment, the IUSW and other sex industry advocates are exploiting the economic crisis to try to push through their laissez-faire agenda. They are trying to apply the same kind of ‘shock tactics’ used in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Iraq after the US invasion, and Sri Lanka after the Tsunami, to push through what is ultimately a neo-liberal, ultra-capitalist agenda.

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We are glad ‘the feminist anti prostitution argument’ will be discussed here today. The workshop looks good and we hope it will be productive.

As anti-prostitution feminist activists we may be ‘on the other side’ but there are things we share: we want everyone, sexworker or not, to be safe, to have autonomy in their lives and control over their sexuality.

But. As you celebrate sexwork this weekend, bear in mind the bigger picture. This event may be ‘alternative’ with a more politicised, and LGBTQ sensibility, but consider the following points about the sex industry within the larger society we live in.

  • We all live under patriarchy (or, as bell hooks puts it, white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy), and in the context of an Earth where men, as men, own and control most of the money, land, food and resources, men buying sexual access to woman is not a neutral process.
  • The demand to buy sex, globally, is overwhelmingly male (C4 docs about rich ladies buying Gambian men notwithstanding). It’s about men buying women and children.
  • The rise of internet porn, and the mainstreaming of the sex industry, is pushing an agenda of disinhibited, unrestrained, male entitlement.
  • It is changing sexual and social relations, especially amongst teens.
  • Not for the better.
  • As social/sexual inhibitions are lost, so are economic ones, accelerating the pace of commodification, pushing the agenda that everything has a market value, and we are all expected to accept this uncritically.
  • We’re accused, as radical feminists, of being anti-sex, but the opposite is true. The idea that sex is essentially labour is profoundly anti-sex. We are pro-female sexuality, and think that a liberated, fully expressed female sexuality is incompatible with just servicing men—which is, out there on the streets, what sexwork consists of.
  • The everyday reality for most women workers is not the same as it is for politicised LGBTQ sex workers. Contrary to the claim made by organisers in the Guardian on the 3rd April, we do not believe that only a minority of people want to leave the sex industry (just as exact figures on trafficking are notoriously difficult to prove, this statement is unverifiable). If you don’t believe us, just hang around any of the dozens of lap dance clubs and sex establishments around here and talk to the workers as they come off shift, and a different picture will emerge.
  • As radical feminists we want always to keep consciousness of coercion and trafficking to the fore: London is a major hub of agricultural, construction, domestic, sex and textile work trafficking, with latest research showing the links between these industries (both in terms of interlinked gangs and workers between the industries. As relatively privileged people we don’t see this underclass. But our lives are subsidised, serviced, eased by their labour.
  • Industrial sex happens in a context of a sexually abusive society in which, for many women and children and men, being sexually acted upon has been oppressive not transgressive.
  • The expansion of the mainstream sex industry (more porn, more sexwork ads in job centres, more ‘adult entertainment’ venues) is basically counter to the equality between women and men we fight for.
  • For these reason, we question the value of recruiting into this industry.

This is the finished essay of the talk given by Joy as part of the workshop at the Anarchist Bookfair.

Cross-posted at Anti-Porn Feminists

Porn and Sexual Liberation

I’m told that porn is all about choice; the choice to make porn and the choice to use it. I can understand that – we’d all love to have plenty of choice in our sex lives. And I can see there’s plenty of choice involved in porn: business choice for the pornographers, economic choice for the multi-national porn industry, consumer choice for porn users. Pornographers, the porn industry, the johns, all exercise their choice to profit from the sale and use of women’s, children’s and men’s bodies. The former three have the greater choices (if what the latter are left with can be said to even constitute a choice at all).

I’m told that porn is just fantasy, not to be taken seriously. But porn is not fantasy, the pictures and recordings are of real live human beings just like you and me but, instead of being portrayed as individuals, as human beings, they are treated as fragmented body parts; women, men and children are depicted and used as holes, cunts, living sex aids, receptacles for the depositing of waste fluids, just so you and I can have our sexual freedom, and the porn industry can count its profits.

The porn industry: A multi-national multi-billion currency industry. ‘Industry’ sounds respectable – it’s only work – but we know from other multi-national industrialists that work isn’t necessarily respectable. Tears fall, quite rightly, when we hear of the exploitation of sweat-shop workers, but when it’s the blood, sweat, tears and other bodily fluids of people in porn at issue, we get told that it’s not exploitation it’s sexual freedom. Whose sexual freedom? Economic freedom for the porn industry, sexual and economic exploitation for the workers.

I’ve been told that people in the porn industry love it. It’s their sexual freedom. If only. If only. If it were true, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this paper, I’d be off doing something else. This blog, and others like it, wouldn’t be necessary. If people were having a great time, and the porn represented sexual liberation, this blog would hold links and podcasts and whatever else our boffins could come up with, accessing nothing but porn. If people were being filmed having sex, or trainspotting, or collecting badges, or reading, or doing whatever else turns them on, I wouldn’t be protesting, I’d be cheering! But they’re not. The vast majority of porn is a documentary of survival, of what people have to do to get by, to pay the rent, to get the bank manager or other heavy off their back. Porn is not sexual liberation, it’s not freedom. But it looks like it. We view the photos and films, we masturbate to them, we have an orgasm. That’s sex, isn’t it? By definition, yes. But it’s not sexual freedom, it’s not sexual liberation, it’s not freedom of choice. Not for the people in the films. They are acting. When they smile, they act. When they scream, they may be doing it for real.

I’m told that some people who appear in porn do enjoy it; they do it because for them it is sexual freedom. I say, as I say about when we use the porn ourselves, does that make it OK? Just because I get off on porn, just because some porn stars say they get off on porn, does that justify the existence of the multi-billion currency international porn industry? In fact, never mind the industry, the industry is just a concept, an abstraction, an entity, and I’m not concerned about that. I’m concerned about human beings. Am I justified to expect a whole class of human beings to be set aside as sub-humans to perform for the camera, so that I can exercise my sexual freedom? And the same goes for performers – if I enjoy performing in the industry, or if I make a lot of money (don’t worry, it won’t be for long, once I’ve been in the industry a while they’ll dump me unless I can perform things I’ve not previously performed in public, ie they’ll expect me to ‘progress’ towards things I don’t want to do) am I justified in accepting that a whole section of human beings will be exploited to facilitate my career? Can I profit from the trade in the purchase, sale and use of human beings? I say that sets up a hierarchy, a power differential which puts my needs above someone else’s. Sexual liberation cannot come from the continuation of adherence to hierarchies, attention to status, abuse of power.

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Objectification, Exploitation, Capitalism and the Destruction of the Planet (or, You Can’t Eliminate One Hierarchy without Eliminating them All)

This workshop aims to achieve a greater understanding of feminism, and how feminist struggles are not a ‘minority’ interest, but a vital part of the ecological and anti-capitalist movements.

We live in a patriarchy, a hierarchy of men over women. We live in a capitalist society that places man over nature. It is impossible to eliminate one hierarchy while leaving another intact.

We live in a commodified society. Capitalist big business has encroached on almost every aspect of our lives; you can go anywhere in the world and eat the same food, buy same clothes and watch the same TV.

Industrialised sex is encroaching into our personal lives and changing us, altering our sexuality to make us the perfect consumers; never satisfied, never happy.

Pornography eradicates female sexual autonomy and dictates a narrow and limited idea of male sexuality predicated on cruelty coercion and degradation.

There is a libertarian strand to the current leftist movement that says that all sex is good, no matter how cruel, how degrading, how damaging; as long as someone (a man) achieves orgasm, it is unequivocally good. We need to challenge this male supremacism and male entitlement.

Harm done to women and children is being re-pathologised as individual problems resulting from individual ‘bad-choices.’ The systematic oppression of women and children is being ignored.

If we cannot create a society where all human beings are free, then the planet, and all living things on it, are doomed.

Feminism and Climate Change workshop

SMILE! It may never happen. Only in this case, unfortunately, it already has. Capitalist patriarchy has trashed the earth. Ecosystems are breaking down, the melting polar ice is headed our way for a (projected) 4 years of ice age before the heat sets in, there’s massive famine, half of London might be under water and we’re doomed (at least those of us not the rich white men who control the means of production).

UNLESS.

Many are beginning the process of radically rethinking the way we will live, structure our society, defend ourselves, grow our food, etc. Survive the changes. And how global climate change is likely to affect us as women. Come join the discussion…

We will have a table and a meeting at the Anarchist Bookfair 2008

Objectification, Exploitation, Capitalism and the Destruction of the Planet (or, You Can’t Eliminate One Hierarchy without Eliminating them All)

Aim of Meeting: To make clear the connections between the objectification and exploitation of women through the capitalist sex industry, including the trafficking of women and children into pornography and prostitution, and how the sex industry is invading and altering our personal lives, and the objectification and exploitation of the environment, and the creation of artificial material needs by the capitalist system.

Who it’s aimed at: This talk is aimed at both women and men, those who consider themselves already to be feminists, and those who have not considered how the aims of feminism connect with ecological and anti-capitalist concerns.

What the meeting should achieve: This meeting should achieve a greater understanding of feminism, and how feminist struggles are not a ‘minority’ interest, but a vital part of the ecological and anti-capitalist movements.

We have the ‘graveyard shift’ of 11am (room EB4)