Things I don’t know how to deal with:  The abolitionist feminist (“feminist”?) reaction to sex workers.

I bring this up because, recently, the University of Ottawa hosted a (very expensive) Women’s Worlds conference which was rather heavily taken over by a contingent of feminists who want to abolish prostitution[1] rather than make it a safer profession.

I wasn’t at Women’s Worlds.  I don’t have the $400 entry fee, so No.  BUT I’ve come up against abolitionist-feminists before who make the argument that the only reason that a woman would want to decriminalize prostitution is so that she could traffic other women.


So, yeah.  This post may get a little ranty.

Basically…  Once upon a time, I was an anti-porn feminist.  I’ve posted about this already.  What I want to draw attention to here is the idea of “active feminine sexual agency[2]” and how, when I was an anti-porn feminist, I didn’t have a concept of this.  I seriously believed that:

(1) dudes only wanted one thing;

(2) they were all quite willing to take said One Thing by force if I couldn’t talk my way out of their advances by either (i) being enough of an Ice Queen that they wouldn’t even consider asking, or (ii) making it clear that I “belonged to” some other dude already;


(3) that my Sexual Agency consisted entirely of saying No.  Just “No”.  There was no “Yes”.  “Yes” was for those not-clued-into-feminism-yet chickies who didn’t realize that they didn’t have to put out if they didn’t want to.  … And who would want to???

You can see how this line of thinking is a problem.

The thing is, I think it’s a problem for more people than just me.  It’s like—Okay.  Let’s use some old-style language:

It’s like they are letting The Enemy define the rules, the terminology, and even the world for us.  Which is not cool.  Yes, by all means, Know Your Enemy.  Know how it thinks.  Get inside its head.  For sure.  But…

When “sex” is narrowly and oppressively defined by self-identified feminists as “That which results in het-cis-male orgasm, and the (potential) reproduction of het-cis-male DNA, most efficiently”;

When “active” (as opposed to “passive” or “receptive” or whatever) is defined by self-identified feminists as a male/masculine trait[3];

When women are cast by self-identified feminists as sexual gate-keepers who are responsible for men’s sexual actions AND YET simultaneously assumed to be incapable of making decisions about how we manifest out own sexuality;

When sexually active women, particularly bisexual, heterosexual, and feminine sexually active women, are written off by self-identified feminists as stupid sluts who think with their cunts[4] rather than their brains;

When self-identified feminists are, effectively, swallowing the Patriarchal Party Line, hook and all, we have got a problem because we are working at cross-purposes to each other, using two different languages[5] to define the world we’re in, and thus seeing two different sets of problems resulting from living under The Patriarchy.  Which is no use to anybody.  😦

And I don’t know what to do about it.

I don’t know what to do when what feels like half of our contemporary movement, and a significant chunk of our history[6], is working from a sex-negative, fear-mongering perspective that says There Are No Safe Spaces, and that we’ll only be safe from rape if we stop making sex “available” and sexual desire “okay”.  I don’t know what to do when real, actual sex workers are literally shouted down and silenced by people who purport to be working with their best interests at heart[8].

I don’t know how to “engage” with a self-identified feminist who would look at my sex-working friends and phamily-members, would look at me and all my sexworker advocate friends and phamily-members, and dismiss all of us as either brainwashed by, or working in cahoots with, The Patriarchy …  And, frankly, I’m not sure why I should bother.

Except that, every time they get air-play, the cultural assumptions about sex-workers become a little bit more entrenched.

Except that the opinions of other feminists, even ones I can’t stomach agreeing with, matter so much more to me than the opinions of the Stephen Harpers of the world.

Except that I want us to be in this together, shoulder to shoulder in this war for our safety and survival, fighting our common enemy instead of turning and enacting yet another goddamn circular firing squad that does none of us any good.

Anyway.  That’s where I’m at with that one.

Here’s a short article about sex-negative education and the spectre of rape that I think touches on some of this stuff quite nicely.

– Cheers,

– Ms Syren

[1] Impossible.

[2] Thank you, Kathryn Payne, for teaching me that term.

[3] Which runs a whole gamut of wretchedness, including the ignoring of both (a) woman-perpetrated domestic abuse AND (b) women’s ability to make their own choices rather than only being able to react to the choices of others.

[4] Don’t even get me started about self-identified feminists taking the reductionist line that “woman = vagina/uterus, end of story”. 😦

[5] Or one language, but two different sets of definitions:

So one version of Feminist English (for example) defines “sex” as “Consenting Adults doing what feels mutually awesome, but which may or may not result in orgasms for anyone, and which may or may not directly involve anyone’s genitals or secondary sexual body-parts, but which is mutually defined by everyone involved in a given encounter as ‘sex’”; while the other version defines “sex” as “a man using his penis to repeatedly invade a woman’s probably-unaroused vagina/mouth while the woman in question Thinks Of England and the man in question thinks of how awesome it’s going to be to cum all over That Slut’s face, possibly during Round Two”.  At least that seems to be how the definitions run. :-\

[6] And, granted, I’m working from a specific history – the one that traces its line back through white, middle-class, sex-negative, occasionally politically (not sexually) lesbian, Second Wave feminism to the white, upper-middle-class suffragettes who quite happily threw working-class women[7] under the bus in their fight to obtain the vote.

[7] Who, like women of colour, were always hyper-sexualized by their oppressors.

[8] Ahahaha?