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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’.

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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…