In support of Meghan Murphy, in support of feminism

On May 1st, a number of Canadian pro-sex work groups released an open letter to rabble.ca. The letter demanded that rabble, “end [its] association with [Meghan Murphy] as editor and columnist” on the basis of her views concerning the sex industry, her long-standing criticisms of popular culture and the objectification/pornification of women and girls, and her supposed racism.

Meghan Murphy is not the problem. Patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, and racism are the problem, and Meghan is being vilified for simply stating this truth. The open letter stated that Meghan’s material dehumanizes and disrespects women with different experiences and perspectives than hers. In reality, it is the men who engage in the sex industry as pimps, johns, pornography users, and sex industry supporters who dehumanize and disrespect all women and girls, and Meghan’s writing has revealed this truth. When we really begin to rattle cages and challenge the status quo, the patriarchy comes out swinging, both figuratively and literally. Make no mistake — the backlash against feminists can, does, and has killed women and girls who dare to speak up and truly challenge the systems that oppress all women and girls.

My Grandmother and Grandfather have always taught me to treat others with respect, to be brave, and to speak up for what’s right. Being respectful does not mean agreeing with everyone all the time. Being respectful can mean stating a difference of opinion. Being respectful can mean opening a dialogue with others on tough issues. Being respectful means speaking up when we see an injustice. Being respectful means being critical of patriarchal systems and billion dollar industries that cause so much damage to all women and girls, and to Aboriginal women and girls in particular.

Critical thinking and critical writing about systems that oppress women and girls is absolutely essential to feminism. Everyone may not agree (especially those concerned with maintaining the patriarchal, racist, colonial, capitalist status quo), but this doesn’t mean that we take away the ability of women to express critiques of harmful systems. And this especially doesn’t mean that we take away the ability of women to express critiques of harmful systems in the name of “feminism.”

There is a very important distinction between the systems that harm women and girls and the women and girls who are harmed. As an example, we can be critical of the residential school system without blaming the residential school survivors or their communities for the violence endured in those institutions. We can be critical of rape culture without blaming rape victims for the violence committed against them. And in the same way, we can and should be critical of the system of prostitution, and we do that without criticizing women and girls harmed by that system. The sex industry has no interest in challenging patriarchy, racism, colonialism, or capitalism. We need to remember that men, both as individuals and collectively, control and benefit from a billion dollar sex industry that negatively impacts all women and girls.

Meghan Murphy has been a long-time ally to myself and to the group I am a part of, Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI). We are a group of Aboriginal women, some formerly prostituted, that advocate for the abolition of prostitution. Meghan has listened to our analysis, asked questions, and done her research. Our criticism of prostitution as a system of colonialism and male violence against Aboriginal women and girls has helped to inform Meghan’s thinking and writing on the issue. Meghan doesn’t agree with everything I say simply because I am an Aboriginal woman; rather, she thinks critically about my arguments and engages with me respectfully and honestly, and I do the same. We arrive at the same or similar analysis of many issues because we are sharing, teaching, listening, and challenging each other. This is how the movement grows and analyses sharpen. This is the behaviour I expect from women who consider me to be their equal.

Meghan uses her white privilege to share her writing publicly and has received vicious and disgusting woman-hating backlash as a result. I can honestly say that I’m nervous even writing this piece after witnessing the verbal abuse and threats Meghan has received on Twitter and elsewhere, simply for sharing a feminist critique. Feminism has never advocated for violence or abuse — feminism has always advocated for the end of these behaviours so often aimed at women and girls for “stepping out of line.” Perhaps it’s time for more of us to think critically and step bravely out of line.

Meghan, in her thoughtful analysis of popular culture, accepts the responsibility to speak out in the interest of all women and girls. She is one voice that represents the voices of many individual feminists and feminist groups that share and inform her analysis. Prostitution and pornography influences men and boys, and negatively impacts women and girls; the sex industry reflects and shapes how men and boys see women and girls, and affects how we, as women and girls, view ourselves, whether we are in the sex industry or not. We are all directly or indirectly affected by this billion dollar industry, and we all have a responsibility to think critically about the impacts of this industry on popular culture and in our daily lives.

Feminists have long critiqued the patriarchal focus on the bodies of women and girls and the limited and unrealistic expectations “beauty” has placed on us. To say that women and girls are expected to buy and use a range of products to make ourselves visually appealing to men and are pressured to engage in dangerous surgeries to meet male-defined beauty standards is not criticizing women and girls; it is naming and rightfully critiquing the harmful focus and pressure and we all feel as women and girls to become the “ideal” thin, white body. This focus on our bodies as existing for male pleasure ignores all other aspects of ourselves (what we think, feel, and do) and goes hand-in-hand with the pornification of popular culture. The effect this is having on our young girls is undeniable. In fact, we are now beginning to see organizations speak about “youth sex workers” as, “…making a consensual decision [to sell sex] based on the socio-political and economic climate combined with personal life circumstances.” Instead of taking a stance that adult men should not desire to or be allowed to sexually abuse or rape girls, the message is being sent to boys, men, and to our society that this behaviour is acceptable. Whether it is girls or women in prostitution, we have a collective responsibility to speak up against this injustice.

Being a warrior woman means standing up when those with power are telling you to sit down and shut up. Meghan Murphy is a warrior woman in a long line of warrior women who have insisted on standing tall and speaking up. We need her, and we need to defend space for feminism that is fearless and unafraid to critique and confront the systems that are so viciously harming all women and girls.

Thank you to Meghan Murphy, to all those who came before her, and to all those who stand with her.

Cherry Smiley is a Nlaka’pamux/Thompson and Dine’/Navajo feminist activist, artist, and founding member of Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI).

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  • Magdalene

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Emily

    A brave and admirable post. Thank you.

  • C.K. Egbert

    Thank you, Cherry Smiley. This was a beautiful and eloquently written piece.

  • Susan Smyth

    Thank you Meghan & Cherry. Your words give us all the strength to stand with you both.

  • Jean

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for this outsatanding article. Do not be discouraged,by the few peoplewho write in support. Now, I am not a famous person, nor am I an expert in the knowledge of this topic. Bit I do know that I feel about as strongly about this topic as the next supporter of the rights and respect of females. I have been speaking out in some informal, social settings and in the Internet, for a couple of years. I have met with much resistance, from what I say is a dark. deep, sickness, from some, who strive to hurt and keep females at a low level of existence.

    Thank you again and keep it up’

    • Jean

      Excuse the typos.

      • Mar Iguana

        “I have met with much resistance, from what I say is a dark. deep, sickness, from some, who strive to hurt and keep females at a low level of existence.”

        With a sentence like that, typos can be overlooked.

  • Michelle

    Thank you Cherry. You explained so simply and succinctly what I try to express to other people who don’t get this.

  • Southwest88

    Rabble’s decision to not cave in to the pro-censorship crowd was great news. This article was a wonderful thing to read today. Thank goodness for all the strong feminists and believers in free speech who came out to fight the good fight.

  • Meghan Murphy

    And yet they continue to ignore voices of WOC in this movement… https://twitter.com/AndrayDomise/status/599190100828889089

    • river

      It’s important that Cherry speak out so courageously and clearly on this topic, so that the Twitter-verse can know what her position is, clearly and without being altered by someone with an agenda. When I posted a link to Cherry’s words about aboriginal women and the sex industry on a Walking With Our Sisters FB page some weeks ago, the link was immediately removed by a mod, and I was told Cherry’s words were not welcome there because she “tells people what to do with their bodies.”

      I don’t know if this kind of reading of our stance is deliberate, or true misunderstanding. It’s actually cruel in the context of our missing and murdered sisters. I am so grateful to women like Cherry and Meghan. The world that I know looks up to you both. We look to you to illuminate the way.

      • Morag

        “I don’t know if this kind of reading of our stance is deliberate, or true misunderstanding. It’s actually cruel in the context of our missing and murdered sisters. I am so grateful to women like Cherry and Meghan. The world that I know looks up to you both. We look to you to illuminate the way.”

        I don’t know the answer to that, either, river. But, yes, it is very cruel (and unforgivable) regardless.

        And WHO is telling women what to do with their bodies? The men who buy, use, humiliate, beat, rape and murder women and girls. That’s who. Taking away a woman’s right to bodily safety and integrity and to life itself is the most extreme form of control imaginable and possible. Yet, the men who literally take away the LIVES of girls and women are given a pass, while the women who want to put an end to this — to this female-hating, racist, violent, murdering nightmare — are demonized as misogynists and racists.

        IT MAKES NO SENSE. Patriarchy and white supremacy make no sense. Corrupt and evil systems, they are. Always shape-shifting — and powerful.

        Thank you to Meghan and Cherry, and to all the other women who activate and lead, for staying the course in the face of such a terrifying irrationality.

        • derrington

          Nazi Germany made no sense if you respect all humanity as equal. Bosnian Muslims being slaughtered made no sense. Rwanda made no sense. Refugees from war being forced back out to sea to drown makes no sense. The world today has fallen so far away from having any moral stance on anything in favour of money and power that its leaders will go down in history in the same way that Neville Chamberlain did in the UK’s history. You cannot appease bullying and murder on economic grounds and think that bullying and murder will run out of steam, they dont, they pick up steam unopposed. History has taught us this time after time and still our current leaders try to pull the wool over our eyes and theirs by telling us to look to the economics. There is no economic argument that justifies evil.

      • Meghan Murphy

        That is very disappointing to hear, re: Walking With Our Sisters — any chance you got a screen shot of the convo?

        • river

          I did a click and copy. Email me.

    • Derrington

      I believe the pro sex lobby is pro sexism. They have to be and the women and children that get mangled are collateral damage. The sex industry runs on deeply sexist, deeply racist and deeply fascist principles. You cannot be feminist and turn a blind eye to the many heads of this hydra.

    • Zhang He

      I’ve seen a lot of his Tweets, and it looks like Andray is far more interested in Andray than anything else.

    • Jane (the first)

      It’s short-sighted liberal opportunism based on the fact that the majority of women in the west are white. If a white women questions male orgasm privilege, they’ll say it’s because she’s racist. If a woman of color does so, they’ll simply ignore her or pretend she’s been co-opted by “white feminism”. Domise and the rest of them are just that selfish, unprincipled, and indifferent to women’s rights and dignity. In the meantime they’re turning not only feminism but antiracism into a joke. They know not what they do.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Exactly.

      • corvid

        Catharine Mackinnon wrote about the “white feminist” smear decades ago in “Women’s Lives, Men’s Laws.” She had some excellent rebuttals. The sex industry has been pulling this same transparent bullshit for decades.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Yes! Thank you for reminding me about that essay! Am looking it up again now.

        • sisters before misters

          Kimberle Crenshaw discusses Catharine MacKinnon and the “white woman” trope in an essay about the anti-racism movement’s negative view of radical feminism. She argues that intersectionality and radical feminism are complementary, not antithetical.

          From the introduction:

          “Listeners often register surprise that MacKinnon would occupy any constructive space in the conceptual universe of intersectionality. I sometimes push the envelope even further by suggesting that her controversial essay From Practice to Theory, or What Is a White Woman Anyway? is among my favorite MacKinnon essays to teach”.
          (Kimberle W. Crenshaw, Close Encounters of Three Kinds: On Teaching Dominance Feminism and Intersectionality)

          available as a PDF at:

          http://digitalcommons.law.utulsa.edu/tlr/vol46/iss1/13

          • Wow. Thanks for this link. Essential reading (no pun intended). Deserves a wide audience.

  • Dolkar

    An intelligent, articulate and deeply moving article. Thank you Cherry. Your example of a warrior woman inspires all of us.

  • Danielle Cormier

    Don’t forget. YOU ARE ALSO A WORRIOR WOMAN! Don’t let the bastards grind you down!

  • Disillisioned

    I thought I’d become desensitized to these reversals by now,but it infuriates me to see someone vilified by so-called “feminists” because of what a man wrote in PLAYBOY, with no sense of irony.

    I support Meghan Murphy and all the writers here so much, because what you’re all doing is so important. Reading this website keeps me sane.

  • Cherry is such a white feminist. She doesn’t understand that sexual servicing men is part of the genetic code of non-white women even if it isn’t part of the genetic code of the prudish whites who run sex-negative feminism. *Sarcasm*.

    And “youth sex workers”, let me guess they are talking about CHILDREN right? As in people understand 12 (as opposed to “minors” which could refer to any one under 18)? I tried the link to find out what they were talking about, but it links to a (not very informative) poster. In any case, when she see the decision to work in prostitution for the sake of economic survival as “empowering”, your views regarding female empowerment have officially become unfalsifiable (for people who have no idea what I am talking about because they think science is a “white, male thing”, that’s not good.)

    I challenge pro-prostitution liberals to give me an example of a situation or action which is not “empowering” for women. It can be hypothetical if you want, but if there is no possible situation in which you would admit that you are wrong to label a particular women as “empowered”, then the term is meaningless and your worldview is dogma disguised as open-mindedness.

    • Dana

      CNN once, in a headline, referred to someone who had been *kidnapped* and who was *underage in prostitution* as a “sex worker”. I gave them crap about it on Twitter, too.

  • Caroza

    Thank you for an excellent and inspiring article – I hope it will help more of us find our words. I know I don’t say enough.

  • Ellesar

    Mud slinging does not alter the need for feminism. People invested in the exploitation of women (however indirectly) do not hold the moral high ground. Let’s not forget what they ‘offer’ – faux liberation based on using our sexualised bodies for profit (and even then mostly profit for others), ‘choice’ feminism, as if many women have such a great array of ‘choices’, basically upholding the patriarchal status quo by ensuring that feminism is diluted to some toothless individualistic movement.

    NO, feminism cannot mean all things to all women – its fundamental premise is to destroy patriarchy, at the very least to destroy the hold that patriarchy has on our thinking that dupes some women into believing that choice/ liberal feminism will truly change ANYTHING.

  • Anne

    So well spoken Cherry. It is pure disgusting censorship what the sexlobby is trying to do.

  • Lotus

    Awesome article!

    Apparently, Rabble just lost some writers/bloggers because they refused to fire Meghan. They should hire Cherry Smiley to replace them!

    • ArgleBargle

      That is a seriously good idea.

  • Zhang He

    Thank you so much for this article Cherry!

    So glad Rabble had sense.

  • Thank you warrior woman Cherry Smiley for your brave post on feminism, patriarchy and the billion dollar pornography industry, prostitution and violence against women! We must not censor and stifle voices like Meghan Murphy’s.

  • I suppose the easier thing would be for pro porn and pro prostitution people to drop off this earth like flies but that is just wishful thinking unfortunately. It angers me and also makes me very bitter to see people not grasp the simple truth about what porn and prostitution really is. In fact they see the truth but they are so virulently misogynistic that they choose to uphold and support this industry even as they see the women inside it get ground up like so much meat in a grinder. It’s like lying in a garden and pulling the weeds out trying not to let them strangle your voice and make you lose what strength and hope you have left. But my fellow sisters give me the hope that maybe we can shatter the walls closing in on us and other women that somehow we can crack the stone. I suppose only our white hot anger will melt the stone hopefully.

  • Excellent article!

    There’s one really easy way to see who has the better argument, Meghan or the no-platformers:

    Is she making her argument or trying to shut them up? That would be “A”.

    Are they making their argument or trying to shut her up? That would be “B”.

    New vocabulary. Same old bullying. Case closed.

    I hope rabble stays clear-eyed.

  • RadForward

    #IStandWithMegan Participants in the sex industry fraternity need a severe wakeup call, as women fight for the persecution and marginalisation of other women, and are no different to the women who fought the suffragettes or the women who fought the ERA. Shutting down debate like this is a classic patriarchal tactic.

  • Reader

    Thanks Cherry. And thank you Meghan. The prostitution indu$try is for men that hate women. Of course they will attack a woman that speaks the truth about the exploitation and objectification of women.

  • Ro

    Greatly written, thank you.

    solidarity&flowers from berlin!

    • Ro, it would be great to hear more from abolitionists in Germany, and in the Netherlands. I’ve spent far more time in the Netherlands, where I think some people honestly thought legalisation would be a “lesser evil” for people in the trade, but alas it has basically become an extremely exploitative trap for people (mostly women) from the poorest parts of Eastern Europe and from the Global South.

  • Magdalene

    I thought you guys might like this article. It was posted on Babble:

    http://www.troubleandstrife.org/new-articles/you-are-killing-me/

    • Meghan Murphy

      Just finished reading. Very good.

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