2007-11-18 11:24
[personal profile] flexibeast
Reading through this thread on the Perth Indymedia site, a couple of things moved me to rant here.

The slogan "Don't be a feminist sell out - Don't support the sex industry!" is problematic, for a start. But i'll come back to that.

It's this response to this this comment that has me outraged. Specifically, the sentence which defends the above slogan by stating that: "Your 'feminist' analysis silences Women who are harmed and abused by being prostituted, trafficked or sexually abused by men who purchase sex and pimps whp [sic] profit from it."

Perhaps someone, in the comments to this post, can enlighten me as to exactly how Natasha's perspective, as written in her post, silences women who have been harmed by the sex industry? The three possibilities i see in this regard are:
  • Natasha's statement that [t]here were many unsubstantiated lies including that 70% of women in prostitution are abused and the other 30% have experienced psychologically [sic] stress.

    It wouldn't at all surprise me if those figures were in fact accurate. However, although it may be reasonable for Natasha to ask for the figures to be substantiated, i can understand how the fact that she herself doesn't produce any data countering them, but simply calls them "lies", may indeed come across as implying that she feels that claims of harm and abuse are overstated. Nonetheless, i can't see how that can be considered to be the entirety of her analysis, particularly in light of the fact that elsewhere in her post she implicitly acknowledges that women who do sex work face at least some problems when she notes that she has engaged in collective action to improve the working conditions of such women. And i can't see any comments from Natasha which could help us to determine the areas in such improvements were sought; which thus means we can't draw any conclusions as to whether she has or has not sought to help harmed / abused women.

  • Supporting decriminalisation = silencing of women who have been harmed / abused by the sex industry.

    The experience of decriminalisation here in Victoria has shown that it's not necessarily as beneficial to women who do sex work as it's often made out to be. As pointed out in the Indymedia thread, it seems that it has helped to normalise the notion that men have a right to use women's bodies for sex. The impression that i've got is that many, if not most, men don't think that they're paying for services, but instead think that they're paying to lease the 'property rights' to a woman's body for a particular period of time. So when the state decriminalises sex work, those men don't necessarily see it as anything else other than as a validation that their behaviours and attitudes are okay. (As an aside, i feel that people have a right to seek sexual pleasure with others, but not a blanket right to receive it from others; if the latter were a right, it implies that one person's desires trump other people's right to control their own bodies.)

    Nonetheless, to claim that proponents of decriminalisation are seeking to silence and/or ignore women who have been harmed / abused through sex work is disingenuous at best. Many, if not most, of the pro-decriminalisation positions i've read have included the argument that decriminalising sex work will allow women to speak up about the physical and/or psychological harm inflicted upon them without fear of facing criminal proceedings, and will also thus allow health services better opportunities to help such women. Perhaps some proponents of decriminalisation are indeed seeking to silence the negative experiences of women who do sex work, but i feel it's unreasonable to tar all such proponents with such a brush.

  • Women who have positive experiences of sex work and who talk in public about that fact, are thereby silencing women who have experienced harm / abuse as a result of sex work.

    There are people, such as brothel owner / operators, who have a significant financial interest in talking up positive experiences of sex work and playing down negative experiences, in order to allay people's concerns. So positive experiences, which might represent a minority of all experiences, might well end up getting more publicity than negative experiences, and thus, those negative experiences will effectively be silenced.

    The problem for me is that, whilst the above might be true, it implies that some women shouldn't talk about their experiences for political reasons, i.e. that certain experiences don't fit certain political agendas. i strongly disagree with this. i want to hear as much of the diversity of women's experiences as possible, regardless of whether or not some of those experiences don't fit with my personal political agendas, because i feel that political positions that can't or won't deal with such experiences are (a) disrespectful, and (b) inadequate, given that they're apparently unable to deal with the diversity of reality.

Which leads me back to the slogan "Don't be a feminist sell out - Don't support the sex industry!" i fail to see how ad hominem attacks, such as publicly labelling feminists who support decriminalisation as "sell outs", is productive. The fact is, there are many different feminisms, and i can't agree with anyone who claims that their feminism, even one that i may substantially agree with, is The One True Feminism. i'm not a fan of liberal feminism, or individualist feminism; yet i can understand how they regard themselves as forms of feminism, and would rather publicly engage in critiques of their politics than ad hom attacks on their proponents (whatever i may privately think of those proponents). i realise that there's a special place reserved in the human psyche for people perceived to be traitors to one's group, which assigns such people a lower circle of Hell than the open enemies of one's group. Nonetheless, i think it's really important to avoid assimilationist-like positions where the victims of institutionalised inequalities blame other such victims for the problems they face, instead of concentrating their ire where it belongs - on the societal structures which perpetuate inequality, and their apologists.


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