So I just participated in the #slutriot tweetchat.
It was… interesting. Speaking 140 characters is a bit like speaking to a news reporter in that you sort of have to cut your thoughts down to a sound-bite.
It felt a bit like I wast getting my Activist Buzz Word on a little too heavily, at times.
Anway. Things that came up while I was tweet-chatting:
Is “slut” a white-people word (yes, by the sounds of things) and does that effect who participates in discussions around “slut” (the word, the potential re-claiming of that word, the concepts woven into that word, etc)?
Agency & autonomy being critical concepts when dealing with, and overcoming, ideas around illusions of control within the context of a rape culture that sets women up as sexual gatekeepers and says it’s our duty to prevent rape (from being done to us)
Sexwork (I’m going to exapand on this one, below. Sit tight).
The power of reclaiming (or, alternatively, refusing to claim) words used by one’s oppressors
Whose bodies do and do not get treated like (a) public property and/or (b) controlled substances (see sexwork, but also a whole hell of a lot more)
How “slut” works as a term of oppression (i.e.: It’s a threat, as much as it’s a label)
How does “slut” (which – 600 years ago – originally meant “messy” or “untidy”) relate to “home-maker” (“home-wrecker”?) in terms of how “real/proper woman” is defined? On how many different levels?
NOTE: If you want to talk about any of those in the comments, do go ahead. 🙂
As for sexwork.
Being a sexworker’s rights activist means that one regularly comes up against opponents who look as sexwork, at the laws around sexwork, at sexworkers themselves, as theory. This is maybe not all that surprising when many people – like many people you might run into in a given day who are not directly involved in sexwork or sexworkers’ rights activism – don’t actually think that they know anyone who does sexwork[1]. But it means that we – or at leas I – have to deal with a bit of a mental split.
Mental split. What does that mean.
What I mean is that, when I think about, say, the word “whore”, I am both thinking of it as (a) a job title held by numerous real, actual people, of various genders, with-whom I’m acquainted, AND (b) a concept that, like “slut”, is used in an extremely specific way within my culture.
And that makes things tricky.
Because I *want* to talk about the real, actual people[2] who do this work. I *want* to talk about agency and options; about how the people who choose body-work, stripping, massage, car-dates, go-go-dancing, street hustling, escorting, pro-fetish work, erotic modeling, and all those other jobs, are choosing to do that work, even when they are choosing from a very limited number of options; how the current legal and social climate can make leaving at least some of those really difficult. I want to talk about how talking about sexwork using fictional/theoretical “straw-hookers” as examples means actively choosing to render real, actual people invisible and to silence the people who most need to be part of these discussions for them to be real ones; and how shaving down the whole discussion around sexwork until you have an overly simplistic annalysis that goes “All women are victims, all men are preditors[2]” not only does a massive disservice to 100% of the people you *are* talking about, but also does a massive disservice to all those inconvenient men and non-binarily-gendered people who do sexwork and who, by their very existence, flip that simplistic theory on its head.
I want to talk about those things.
But I also want to talk about the “theory” side of it. About how, if Emily White is right (in her book, Fast Girls), and “fag” is to boys what “slut” is to girls – a tool used to police sexuality – then the people who make anti-sexwork laws, the people who go on anti-“trafficking” campaigns, none of them give a shit about the men and non-binarily-gendered people who do sexwork becuase “whore”, like “slut”, exists “purely” as a term (a tool) to police women’s sexuality[3].
And I want to be able to talk about that, too. About how anti-sexwork laws & attitudes (like anti-abortion laws and attitudes) are, at their roots, about sexism & mysogyny and the tacitly approved cultural belief that women’s bodies can and should be under the control of men (or at least man) at all times, by whatever means necessary… even though those laws and attitudes also effect people who aren’t women[4].
I’m serious. It feel like that, in order to serve real, actual people who do sexwork, in order to combat that overly-simplistic worldview that posits “all women are victims, all men are preditors”, in order to do the work that needs doing, I also have to throw most of those real, actual people under the goddamn bus when it comes to recognizing (and combatting) the motivation at the roots of those laws and attitudes.
I don’t even know what to do.
I’m serious. If you have a suggestion for how to merge these two things so that I can talk about all of them at once? Throw it up here, because I need the help.
Thank you.
Ms Syren.
[1] The combination of whorestigma and anti-sexwork laws means that a LOT of sexworkers aren’t out about their jobs. Which means that a LOT of people who are friends or relatives of sexworkers don’t know that their buddy, team-mate, sister, brother, daughter, uncle, mother, TA, co-worker, coach, you-name-it, is a sexworker. Which means that they don’t think that anti-sexwork laws (or Dead Hooker Jokes, or slut-shaming along the specific lines of “So and So is *such* a ho“, or whatever) are going to effect anyone they know, one way or the other. Which means that it’s a LOT harder to sway Public Opinion toward decriminalizing sexwork… which means that we basically have a bit of a vicious cycle on our hands. 😦
[2] An annalysis that is strangely in line with the dominant cultural paradigm that posits women as sexual gate-keeprs and men as (dangerously) sexually insatiable. Funny, that…
[3] I’m pretty sure this is why all those (same) people who want to ban gay marriage and bum-sex are so focused on “Adamn and Steve” (rather than “Lilith and Eve” which, seriously, was at least an option). Because “fag” is how you police male sexuality and, if “fag” becomes okay, then the tool doesn’t work anymore, does it?
[4] Although, disproportionately, they do effect women, and I’d rather not lose sight of that.