My response to the Simone de Beauvoir Institute’s statement on the Bedford decision & on prostitution law in Canada

The Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University  is “a college of Concordia University dedicated to studying feminisms and questions of social justice.” It is, essentially, the Women’s Studies Department at Concordia University. Following the Bedford v. Canada decision, they released a statementapplauding” the ruling. Here is the response I sent earlier today:

I am beyond appalled that a university Women’s Studies department would take a public position on this issue, never mind such an anti-feminist one. The purpose of academia is to learn, to critique, to further discourse. You are in a position to influence many young women who are perhaps only beginning their foray into feminist theory and it is your job to support them in developing the skills and foundations to come to their own conclusions about issues such as these. It is not your job to tell them what position to take. As academics I would assume you realize this. Releasing a statement such as this is beyond inappropriate and is entirely unethical.Not only that but you are perpetuating misconceptions about how these laws will actually impact women. Moving prostituted women indoors does not make prostitution any safer. This argument has been refuted over and over again.

You are right that this is not a question of morality. It is a question of equality and of human rights. Prostitution exists as a result of patriarchy not despite of it. The notion that, somehow, it is “moral norms” that are responsible for violence that happens against prostituted women is confused, to say the least. It is because of individual men and because of patriarchy that this violence happens. It is because of the objectification and dehumanization of women. It is because men think they will get away with it. How you would come to the conclusion that a solution to this is to further entrench male access to female bodies is beyond me. You have framed prostitution as though it is somehow the route to women’s liberation, just like “pants” and the freedom to have children outside of marriage. What a twisted, manipulated vision of women’s liberation you have presented.

Opposition to full decriminalization comes from feminists and from progressive men who believe in true equality, liberation, and respect for women. We are not moralists, we are not the church, we are not the religious right.

This case is not about morality. This is about women’s equality.You state that “The decision protects the Charter rights of individuals marginalized and stigmatized through their work in the sex trade.”This decision has, in effect, thrown the most marginalized women to the wolves. Nothing has been done to protect or support women working the streets. NOTHING has been done to address the violence or the perpetrators of the violence.It is not the responsibility of women to protect themselves from rape, murder, and abuse. This is victim blaming at its best.You state: “The decision means that women working in the sex trade will be able to protect themselves against violence in their work. The ruling means that women can work together to increase their safety. As such, this decision encourages women’s collective efforts and their solidarity. We celebrate legal rulings that remove juridical barriers to women’s collective organizing.”

The way that women will be protected from violence is by putting systems into place that ensure men are not able, encouraged, and protected when they commit violence against women. Where in your statement do you address the perpetrators? The idea that, perhaps, what we might do in order to address violence against women is to criminalize those who commit violence?

If you truly support “legal rulings that remove juridical barriers to women’s collective organizing,” then why have you so readily abandoned women and abandoned the founding principles and goals of the feminist movement? Feminism is about ending patriarchy. Not normalizing misogyny. Not perpetuating the idea that women exist to provide sexual fulfillment for men.

Beyond the extremely problematic statement you have made here, it is your responsibility, as academics and as a Women’s Studies department to open, not close the debate.

Sincerely,

Meghan Murphy
MA Candidate, Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Simon Fraser University

You can find some other responses to the Bedford decision from some Canadian women’s/feminist organizations here:

From The Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution: http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/learn/news/equality-seeking-women%E2%80%99s-groups-will-continue-demand-change-laws-prostitution

From Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW): http://tinyurl.com/ctcrgjn

From the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC): http://www.nwac.ca/media/release/29-03-12

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Chamade

    “The decision means that women working in the sex trade will be able to protect themselves against violence in their work. The ruling means that women can work together to increase their safety.”

    Does this actually work for any group of women? I can’t think of a group of women who, by working together, were able to prevent men from being violent to them individually.

    Would unionized wives be able to stop men’s domestic violence? How would that work?

    Umoja Village in Kenya, where hundreds of women physically removed themselves from men to form a women’s community, is constantly attacked by men. They come with guns when the sons are at school to intimidate, beat, and rape women.

    Nafissatou Diallo was a member of the New York Hotel Worker’s Union. Maids are at high risk for sexual abuse but the worker’s collective didn’t prevent a man from raping her or help her secure justice afterwards. Labor unions aren’t designed to handle criminally violent acts against their members, that’s the job of the police.

    I want to learn what the feminists of Concordia know about why other groups of women laborers keep failing to prevent male violence and how they can 100% sure legal brothel laborers will be able to prevent male violence when other groups of women haven’t had much success.

  • Thanks Megan. It’s absurd that even departments of women’s studies need to be informed of basic feminist ideas such as patriarchy as the cause of men’s violence toward women. It’s so hard these days to find people who are actually feminist.

  • Great response, Meghan!

  • Yellowmarigold

    Great response. And it’s sickening that such an anti-feminist group can co-opt Simone de Beauvoir’s name.

  • Hari

    Some extremely clever Mansplainers and Fun Fems have clearly helped co-opt this institute utterly. Thanks for your sharp response, Meghan–I’m so glad that you noticed their idiotic, anti-womyn, male-identified response to the Bedford ruling, and have immediately spoken against it so cogently.

  • Hecuba

    Exactly Meghan – Feminism is about ending patriarchy. Not normalizing misogyny. Not perpetuating the idea that women exist to provide sexual fulfillment for men.’ As regards fact men continue to commit violence against women despite women working together as a group – yes that is the reality. However, does this mean we should say ‘well let’s cease having laws criminalising murder; theft; burglary; fraud etc. because all these crimes continue to be committed and society hasn’t successfully eliminated them. Of course not – however prosecuting men who commit violence against women is the way forward because it does send a very strong message to all men their violence against women will not be tolerated/condoned/justified or ignored. It also sends a message to men – you will be held accountable not excused.

    But and this is what usually happens – whenever legislation concerning women’s fundamental rights – such as male violence against women, all too often governments and/or other state institutions refuse to implement these laws and they do not evaluate these laws to ascertain if the police and/or other officers of legal system are implementing and enforcing these laws.

    Male Supremacist Systems does its utmost to ensure the male dominant status quo remains unchallenged and that is the problem – not feminists who work ceaselessly to curb/eliminate male violence against women. The issue of prostitution is one wherein criminalising men sends shudders down the backs of all men because it tells them they are not the default humans and women are not mens’ disposable sexual service stations.

    The Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University capitulated because they are terrified of men’s reprisals if they were to stand up and denounce the Bedford V Canada decision. Such actions are not uncommon but they must be denounced. If feminists refuse to stand up and speak out en masse then feminists might as well declare male supremacy has won and male domination/male oppression of women can never be eliminated. Fortunately that will never happen because there will always be women speaking out and holding men and their male supremacist system accountable. Meghan Murphy is one such woman and herstory provides innumerable numbers of other brave women who dare to challenge men and their Male Supremacist System.

    Bedford V Canada might have won this round but they have not won men’s war on women.

  • Joujou

    I agree with your position regarding prostitution and Simone De Beauvoir Institute.

    However, I disagree when you say that it’s not a moral question. It is a moral question since you are fighting for equality and women’s autonomy. Your are fighting for these values and these values are moral values (you think equality is right and prostitution wrong). If you are an ecologist, you are also fighting for moral values : you think that a world with less pollution is better than a world with more pollution. Pro-sex-work advocates also have a moral position : they think that prostitution is o.k, etc.

    I understand that you want to say that we are not MORALISTIC towards women who happen to be in the sex trade, meaning that we are not saying they are “bad girls” and so on. But for me it’s not the same thing as MORAL : without moral, there would be no justification of human rights…

    By the way, did you know that Simone de Beauvoir Institute’s director, who is taking publicly this position on legalizing prostitution, is Viviane Namaste, a trans sexual woman…So we have the head of a feminist institute, who have been raised as a boy and who choose to be a “woman”, who is publicly telling us that prostitution is good for women…Simone must be turning in her grave.

    • Re: morality. I’ve been saying this for ages.

      I’ve completely lost respect for the Simone de Beauvoir institute because of their statement and because of who their director is. They’re dirtying Dimone de Beauvoir’s name and memory.

      Also: ‘namaste’? Thanks for the cultural appropriation white lady.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Indeed, Simone de Beauvoir must be turning in her grave – I cannot believe they are making a statement such as this under her name, how horribly sad. You are correct, Joujou, I am referencing the way in which the decrim lobby uses the term “moral” (as in sin, good vs bad, right vs wrong), rather than the way that you and and Komal are using it (which I agree with). My purpose is not to argue that abolition isn’t an ethical/moral position to take but rather to correct the misrepresentative remarks made in the statement (and in many other places) around the only opposition to full decriminalization coming from the church or from “patriarchal moral norms” (???). Susie Bright was on the CBC yesterday saying just that – that the only ones who weren’t celebrating the Bedford decision were, essentially, the religious right. They are very invested in perpetuating this kind of propaganda for their own means and I figure I need to challenge it in a way that they understand.

  • Karine

    You know what I found funny, a feminist insulting the feminism of other feminists. I actually agree with their position and not with yours, but I’m able to read different people and see that there is no consensus on sex work in feminist circles. I have taken classes at the Institute and at the time, one of my instructors was also the president of the board of Stella, a by and for sex workers orgs, and some students agree with her, some didn’t. This institution allows people to engage critically with various discourses.

    • Meghan Murphy

      You are right that there is much debate over this issue among feminists. In taking a position such as this, the institute silences those voices who do not agree with their position. I have had private conversations with women who feel they cannot speak up in their Women’s Studies departments on this matter because there is an assumption that everyone is in agreement on this issue. It is wholly inappropriate to take a position on this as it is representative of the institute, the faculty, and the students, whether or not they all agree.

      • Joujou

        Karine, you said “This institution allows people to engage critically with various discourses”.

        Not sure of that. Otherwise the Institute would not publicly take a position on that subject. (Since when universities take a “public position” on a public debate, BTW?). It might be true that undergrad students can disagree with this position, but how about graduate students? If you applied for a graduate program and you propose a project that shows your abolitionist position, what are your chances to be admitted in this institution? I’m an abolitionist and I have personally applied for a Ph.D. program at Concordia. They refused me, even if I’m an A student. At least, I have been accepted in an other university, but I think we have reasons to worry about this problem…

  • MissFit

    Not surprised. I did take some classes at Simone de Beauvoir’s Institute years ago. The courses I took there were all about sex work as empowerment mixed with postmodernism charabia… Never did I hear that it was empowerful for a woman to become a doctor or a farmer or an entrepreneur (unless it has to do with sex work). Never was I presented with a counter view or a critique of the sex industry. After that incursion, I decided that I was not a feminist after all (I changed my mind later, after having been reconnected with the roots of feminism). I can see that nothing changed there…

  • marv wheale

    It can’t be overstated that male ideas and institutions rule the world. They have produced genders, races, ecoomic classes, nation states and many other manufactured divisions. School in general serves the existing patriarchal social order of civilization. Universities promulgate freedom of thought and expression within this extremist and restrictive framework. Just as there is a counterfeit science of climate change denial in civil society, there is a phoney science of male dominance denial in universities and elsewhere. In my experience social equality movements advocating alternatives to malestream values and structures are the future hope of the world but only the ones that have feminist moorings. The Beauvoir Institute is definitely adrift in masculine seas.

  • Ninja

    LOL. True Liberation, Equality, and freedom comes when people can do what they want in their personal lives and not be prosecuted. Prostitution should be decriminalized, but regulated to give the sex workers the power, not the people they work for.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Do you truly believe that the definitely of freedom is “when people can do whatever they want in their personal lives”? That if people are completely selfish and focused solely on their individual lives and choices, regardless of how said choice impacts other people, that is when we will be most free? What are your thoughts on healthcare? Welfare? Public education? The kind of ideology / society you advocate for is very dangerous, BUT is exactly where the U.S. is headed right now. Every ‘man’ for themselves is not, in my opinion, a good way to build a healthy, happy, and safe society. It is this kind of thinking that leaves women, the poor, and the racialized behind.

    • Hari

      Wow, Ninja–such a sad commentary on the state of our culture, and what too many believe is best in the face of so much evidence that it is this very individualism that is harming so many people and driving us faster toward collapse of civilization all the time.

    • “True Liberation, Equality, and freedom comes when people can do what they want in their personal lives and not be prosecuted.”

      I beg to differ. True freedom is not mere negative liberty, it is human flourishing, which is not always aided by people’s personal choices.

  • Simone de Beauvior also argued that true freedom was not, as Komal says, negative liberty, without restraints — on the contrary, she argued that freedom can only be achieved in collaboration, by working for the liberty of others, positive freedom–in that allies seek it together, sharing guiding principles and agreements. Also, Beauvior had a critique of prostitution and marriage as similarly oppressive institutions designed by men/patriarchy to benefit men and reinforce male domination over women. I think the school should consider changing the name to better reflect its’ ideological frame — perhaps “The Stepford Institute of Mansplaining” or something.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Some people who identify as feminist are not against “sex work,” it’s true. But also, some people who identify as feminist think all that means is “supporting women’s choices” or “being a strong woman” or “believing people are equal.” The feminist movement is about ending the system of oppression that is patriarchy and liberating women from male violence. We cannot achieve this without pushing back against the sex industry. So these people can call themselves whatever they like, but their values and approach to the sex trade is not a feminist one, no matter what they claim.