Interview: Meghan Murphy on the liberal backlash against feminism

Meghan head shot IMG_5436 March 2016

This interview was conducted and translated into French by Francine Sporenda for the website, Révolution Féministe. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Francine Sporenda: What are your thoughts on French Parliament’s recent vote to criminalize the purchase of sex in France?

Meghan Murphy: The recent vote in French parliament to adopt the Nordic model is not only an important and historic win for France, but for all of the EU (and, more broadly, for the world), as it sets a precedent for other countries. That parliamentarians have acknowledged prostitution as a form of violence against women and as inherently coercive is enormously impactful — this is exactly the kind of feminist analysis that industry lobbyists and sexist, entitled men have worked so hard to silence (for obvious reasons).

The continued existence and social acceptance of prostitution relies on the ability to erase the reality of the industry — to erase the real women and girls impacted and to erase the actual idea of prostitution, in and of itself. The sex industry depends on our ability, as humans, to say, “It’s fine, it’s safe, it’s a choice, it’s harmless — just a neutral ‘job’ like any other ‘job,'” and to ignore what is happening to real women in the industry. That erasure lets men off the hook — allowing them to continue operating in these incredibly misogynist ways… And it’s not even that it just lets them off the hook! It’s that their behaviour is, in fact, being supported and endorsed by liberal feminists and progressives who refuse to even DISCUSS johns’ behaviour or the fact that paying women for sexual access is very much connected to rape culture.

That a progressive country like France has taken this step shows show other countries that there are options and that they can’t simply play dumb anymore, ignoring this problem or sweeping it under the carpet.

FS: Recently, there was a campaign initiated, demanding that you be dismissed from your job as an editor at rabble.ca, because (according to them) you were harsh in a post you wrote related to Laverne Cox, who is transgender. You argued that these “sex-positive feminists” were allying themselves with Hugh Hefner, “promoting the pornification of women and lining his pockets”. Can you elaborate on these “sex-positive feminists” and their collusion with the sex industry?

MM: Well, to be fair, the petition to have me fired and no-platformed at rabble had little to do with my commentary surrounding Laverne Cox. Those people had been demanding I be fired and banned from writing at rabble for a long time — privately trying to bully my employers into censoring me — before they created the public petition,  due to my work advocating for the Nordic model and fighting the sex industry. They saw my criticisms of the commentary surrounding Cox’s nude photoshoot in Allure as an opportunity to attempt to paint me as “transphobic,” despite the fact that my points, with regard to the claims by mainstream feminists and fashion magazines that the ability to be objectified and desired by men is somehow “radical” and “empowering,” were consistent with the analysis I have with regard to the objectification of all women.

But it wasn’t about Laverne Cox. It was about a very small group of liberals who didn’t like the impact I was having on discourse surrounding prostitution and prostitution law in Canada because, previous to that, they’d kind of had dominion over the topic (at rabble, but also in other progressive circles/media platforms throughout North America, too), and now their monopoly was being threatened.

They’d been happy to marginalize and ignore all the feminists who didn’t agree with them because those women didn’t have easy access to media platforms, but they can no longer pretend we don’t exist and we’ve gained so much ground in terms of our fight. They felt if they targeted me in this way, they could pretend that, 1) It was only white women saying that the system of prostitution is wrong (which is bullshit), and 2) That if they shut me up, the abolitionist media presence in Canada would be notably diminished, and they could go back to promoting sex industry propaganda without anyone challenging it.

They lied on their petition, calling me “racist” and “transphobic” because they knew it would be unconvincing to tell the truth, which is that they simply disagree with the feminist position/fight against the sex industry.

These people, in short, have no politics. Their “analysis” consists of Twitter mantras and is based in individualism and neoliberalism. They are also cowardly. They are aware that if they dare speak out against the sex industry or challenge the notion that objectification is simply an empowered “choice” women make, they too will be targeted and ostracized. It’s much easier to attack me and paint me as the problem than it is, for example, to go up against the porn industry, or the fashion industry, or mainstream media, or the prostitution lobby. They’ll keep their jobs, their social and political privilege, and their popularity with men that way.

In any case, these men and women are not “pro-sex,” they are pro-patriarchy. They support a male-centered view of sex and are, whether they admit to it or not, supporting the racist sexualization of women of colour. Their argument that, somehow, marginalized women will be liberated by being objectified and sexualized in the same way more privileged women are is ridiculous. Marginalized women have always been sexualized and fetishized under patriarchy, and, in any case, if the objectification of women liberated women, we would have been liberated a long time ago. But we aren’t.

Whether or not men want to fuck us has no bearing on our liberation from oppressive structures like white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy. And to attack and attempt to silence feminists who dare to say as much is as pathetically sad as it is dangerous.

FS: Some of the women who petitioned against you claimed to be “intersectional feminists” and called you “racist” and “whorephobic.” What do you think of this kind of intersectional feminism and how do you explain that part of this movement is now supporting prostitution, porn and religious fundamentalists?

MM: They most certainly were not intersectional feminists. Intersectionality means that you consider the way in which various systems of oppression intersect to impact poor women and women of colour in particular and acute ways. Feminism simply cannot be non-intersectional. I mean, you can’t liberate women without looking at the ways poor and working class women and women of colour are impacted particularly by patriarchy or without looking at the ways in which imperialism, colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy work together to keep us marginalized and divided. It makes no sense to ignore this reality. It is the most marginalized women who are targeted by the sex industry — the most vulnerable women. And if you don’t want to look at how these systems function to oppress women, then you aren’t much of a feminist, really.

If these people were truly incorporating an intersectional lens into their “analysis,” they wouldn’t put forth such individualistic approaches to liberation. They wouldn’t pretend as though prostitution is a “choice” for women, and they wouldn’t ignore the men who profit by exploiting marginalized women in the sex industry. Both prostitution and pornography are extremely racist and I find it appalling and insane that anyone who claims to be “progressive” or “feminist” wouldn’t acknowledge that and fight those industries.

Beyond that, these people have consistently ignored the work and analysis of organizations like Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution (AWCEP), Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI), Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN), Af3irm, Apne Aap, the work of women like Fay Blaney and Cherry Smiley… I could go on. They ignore and erase the voices of Indigenous feminists and of women of colour who have been fighting the sex industry for years, instead focusing on women like me or, you know, Gloria Steinem and Lena Dunham, as though they are the only ones who’ve ever challenged the legitimacy of the sex industry. It’s fully and completely racist and ignorant.

FS: Spokespeople for the sex industry are now invited to speak on all sorts of panels and platforms, including progressive and academic ones (last year, an American pimp was even invited to speak at a conference at the Sorbonne, France). Discourse normalizing the sex industry has become quite common on the Left and in academic circles. What do you think of this endorsement of the sex industry by the Left and academia?

MM: I think it’s cowardly and pathetic. It’s about making yourself feel better and ignoring reality and it’s about seeking power and popularity instead of fighting for the most marginalized. Plain and simple.

Men have power and so naturally they want to keep that power — even on the Left. They still want to be able to objectify and abuse women and they want to feel ok about it.

It was a real gift to those men that pro-sex industry women offered them allyship that they could frame as “feminism.” Now men feel they have the right to attack actual feminists with slurs and name-calling, and actively work to silence women who push back against male power, because those behaviours and slurs are supported by liberal feminists. I mean, it’s the greatest betrayal, is it not? That these privileged middle class women have chosen to side with men’s rights instead of fighting for women’s liberation? And that they are offering up legitimate means for men to attack feminists who dare to challenge their right to access women’s bodies? It’s really an incredible time we’re living in. Bizarro World feminism.

Francine Sporenda is French-American, has taught at a school of International Affairs in Washington DC, and is now an independent journalist based in France.

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  • Lucia Lola

    Great interview! (bookmarked)

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Lucia!

  • fragglerock

    “It’s much easier to attack me and paint me as the problem than it is, for example, to go up against the porn industry, or the fashion industry, or mainstream media, or the prostitution lobby. They’ll keep their jobs, their social and political privilege, and their popularity with men that way.

    In any case, these men and women are not “pro-sex,” they are pro-patriarchy.”

    Woohoo! Go, Megan! With you all the way!

  • marv

    Stirring splendor!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks marv!

  • MermaidJayne

    I’m so happy to find these views on this site. For so long I thought I was the only one who felt so so extremely uncomfortable with what seems to the social acceptance of prostitution, porn, strip clubs etc. I thought I was the only one who felt in my heart that its all just so harmful to women on all levels. I hope more and more women can realise this. Because these things wouldnt need to exist if men didn’t feel sex was so more important than the safety and wellbeing of millions basically.

    • Cassandra

      Well expressed, MermaidJayne. I would only add that I don’t think it’s really about “sex” for men, thought that’s the blanket term. It’s about domination.

    • Nixie

      “… the social acceptance of prostitution, porn, strip clubs etc.”
      Those things were rare or non-existent in 1950s Canada, but it was a socially-conservative patriarchy.

      • Meghan Murphy

        I’m not sure what you are arguing? Prostitution was most certainly around and acceptable in the 50s in Canada…

        • Nixie

          Prostitution occurred, but it was underground. You didn’t have prostitutes openly plying their trade on the streets, as they were after the late Seventies court ruling on public solicitation.

          In 1959, the Vancouver Sun came unglued when they conducted an “exposé” that resulted in a woman returning their reporter’s call, several days later. That puts things in perspective.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Ok. So is your point that it is more socially accepted now than it once was, despite the fact that was most certainly around in the 50s?

  • Cassandra

    This is fantastic. The entire interview is one long quotable goldmine, but this is magnificent:

    “In any case, these men and women are not “pro-sex,” they are pro-patriarchy…Their argument that, somehow, marginalized women will be liberated by being objectified and sexualized in the same way more privileged women are is ridiculous. Marginalized women have always been sexualized and fetishized under patriarchy, and, in any case, if the objectification of women liberated women, we would have been liberated a long time ago. But we aren’t.

    Whether or not men want to fuck us has no bearing on our liberation from oppressive structures like white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy. And to attack and attempt to silence feminists who dare to say as much is as pathetically sad as it is dangerous.”

    Yup. Making more room for more types of women to be included in the fuckable category does not solve anything, does not get to the root of the problem. Again, capitalism and patriarchy are inseparable and they simply must be dismantled.

  • Meghan Murphy

    You’re asking me to respond to some extremely vague questions that would likely require much longer responses than you seem to imagine in the comment section as though my job is to be interviewed by random commenters on the internet… Really?

  • epiong

    When a person’s arguments are coherent, logical, sensible, articulate and clear, it is really hard to argue with that person. So it is much easier to just attack them for things that are usually made up and not based in anything like reality. It is really interesting to me to watch how your attackers are just so obviously floundering to discredit you but just can’t do it because they have no counter arguments that actually make any sense. You will be vindicated, whether in the near future or later, but you are most definitely on the right side of history and more importantly, on the side of all women to be free of exploitation and just plain old free.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Thanks calabasa! It’s funny, I often feel I’m too casual and less articulate than so many women I hear interviewed… I will say that practice helps a LOT, though…

    • genny

      Meghan, you are extremely articulate, never doubt that. Me, I’m more angry than articulate, which is why I’ve been (proudly) banned from commenting on so many liberal sites.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Thanks sister!

  • Meghan Murphy

    I know right? And, like, I’ve written about gender and socialization 80 billion times. He could at least ask an intelligent question if he wants an answer. I don’t have a ‘stance’ on trans — I have a ‘stance’ on sex and gender and on how and why women are oppressed under patriarchy.

    • Refael Fishzon

      I agree that my comment was a bit weird (I hurriedly wrote it late night), and I’m sorry. But, I was just interested in information from Meghan because I agree with her opinions and wanted to find out more, just like any scholar or academic you’re into. I found this site only this week, and no, even though I have read a quite lot of articles on this website, I haven’t seen the specific articles on that subject, which I’m sure exist and would appreciate links to. Also, I don’t see why me “supporting” Meghan on certain issues disaccords with stupid formulation of a comment, or asking an unintelligent question (okay, a LOT of unintelligent questions) about an issue I don’t know a lot about. No disrespect.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Ok. Could you ask a more specific question, then? What is it about transgenderism/discourse surrounding trans/trans activism you are wondering about?

  • Meghan Murphy

    Thanks Melissa!

  • Prank Fembleton

    To be pro-sex work is to be pro-human trafficking. Admittedly that may be a reductionist Twitter mantra in its own right, but it’s what I’ve been going with in discussions on this issue. The sex work industry could not thrive without an endless stream of trafficked and powerless women, children, and men.

    • Meghan Murphy

      It’s true.

    • Nixie

      In the early ’80s, before globalization and mass immigration, the sex industry thrived in Vancouver with mostly-local talent.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Are you making a joke about Indigenous women? Because it’s not funny.

        • Nixie

          Vancouver’s sex workers (ecdysiasts as well as prostitutes) were predominantly Caucasian. (Back in the day, you rarely, if ever, saw aboriginal women performing as ‘exotic dancers.’)

          Like today, Vancouver wages were low relative to the cost of living, and many young women were willing and eager to capitalize on their youth and beauty to escape the grind.

          • northernTNT

            Way to go on condoning social strife ! Prostitution is a symptom of social strife.

      • northernTNT

        powerless and destitute local talent

  • Meghan Murphy

    I don’t think anyone can say how Dworkin would respond to what’s happening today, w/r/t to trans/discourse around transgenderism.

    My position on gender is that it is socialized and functions as part of a hierarchy, which places men at the top and women at the bottom. Both women and men learn how to behave and function as “women” and “men” within this hierarchy, that is to say that ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ are social constructs, not innate. My understanding of transgenderism is that some people suffer from what’s called ‘sex dysphoria’ and so believe they were born ‘in the wrong body.’ I think these people suffer enormously in society. One of the biggest problems with trans discourse is that people confuse ‘sex’ with ‘gender’. A person who is born male cannot become female and a person who is born female cannot become male, no matter how many operations they have. My wish is that people could simply dress and behave however they wished without feeling pressured to ‘switch genders,’ as it were. This idea that many seem to have accepted is dangerous as it reinforces the idea that, for example, being a woman means wearing makeup, heels, having long hair, or behaving passively. This idea reinforces the gender hierarchy and naturalizes what are very sexist ideas. Just because a woman doesn’t identify with femininity, it doesn’t make her a man and vice versa.

    Does this make any sense to you? As I said, it’s an awfully big topic to cover just in the comment section and, as you’ve probably (hopefully) gathered, you’re kind of asking the wrong question. I just can’t answer these “what is your position on transgender” questions because I have no answer. I have a feminist analysis w/r/t patriarchy, gender, and gendered oppression, rather. This analysis relates to trans discourse, you’ll see, when people start talking about, like, “I knew I was a woman because I never felt comfortable performing masculinity” stuff, but you need to start your questions/analysis from a different place in order to understand that, imo.

    I hope that helps.

    • Refael Fishzon

      Yes, it makes sense to me. Thank you for taking the time.

    • Lou

      I partially agree with you Meghan, definitely you can be gender non-conforming and not be trans. That being said there is a lot of nuances & discussions inside the trans community too. I’m not trans but for example I have seen some trans woman get pissed when people say “you are a trans woman only if yoy wear heels/pink etc” , and they rightly pointed that this is bullshit. Also I’ve seen some trans people make a distinction between perfoming gender steretotypes and gender identity.
      now i do believe that gender is in itself about steretotypes, but I don’t think trans folks reinforce them more than the general population.

      also good interview! Personally I consider sex positive feminism to be a right-wing movement. (“left on the surface but right in essence” as Marxists say!)

      • Meghan Murphy

        “I don’t think trans folks reinforce them more than the general population.” Totally agree.

  • BauernMafia

    This whole thing is so ridiculously funny.
    Not long ago the “enlightened” people fought to legalize prostitution and the “horrible” conservatives tried to stop it.
    Todays fight either shows that that the self-righteous, self declared, “liberals” were and are absolute idiots or it shows that feminists are very conservative in their nature. I know they are very authoritative, almost totalitarian, but I had no idea they are so conservative.
    Or maybe this whole thing shows what feminism is all about. BS! They just have to find “important” things to talk about so they get funded by governments all over the world. I mean, its not like you can find a real job with a gender-studies degree out there.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Ya murder, rape, and abuse are totally unimportant. Ur right. What do you want to talk about, boss?

      • atheist

        He want to talk about manfeelz as usual because everything should be always about men.

    • justanotherpseudonym

      Just another rapist, looking for a way to not only rape women, but be supported in it.

    • Cassandra

      You sound like a bit of a dolt.

      Being anti exploitation and male violence against women does not equal “conservative.” Male sexual violence against/exploitation of poor women and girls = same old same old.

    • Andrew Cole

      “This whole thing is so ridiculously funny.”

      I don’t see anyone laughing.

      ” I know they are very authoritative, almost totalitarian”

      Hmmm… and how do you ‘know’ that? Perhaps you’d like to drop some wisdom on things you ‘know’ about colored people and orientals too.

      “Or maybe this whole thing shows what feminism is all about. BS!”

      You don’t know a damn thing about feminism. It’s a lot like Christianity; lots of varieties, self-identifying, and absolutely bigger than any one person or trite characterization. Meghan’s Feminism isn’t Feminism with a capital F, neither is liberal Feminism, or the ideas and thoughts of any person or group. To pretend to comprehend it all and then to make a hasty judgement is arrogant, rude, pompous, and obnoxious, just like you.

      Meghan’s voice, and the contributions of others who write for and produce for this site, are an important part of the whole landscape. They make good points that frankly aren’t giving enough credit. If you had an open mind and were capable of considering the viewpoint of others it would make you a better human being.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Well, I think you’re right. While prostitution has been around for ever, sexualization and objectification is MUCH more prevalent and accepted now than ever before.

  • Jem Leav

    So freaking glad to read this article- particularly the discussion of certain women offering up doorways thru which men can attack, disregard, belittle or dismiss feminists and still be seen publicly as decent, progressive or misogyny-free- despite the reality of their choices. “Cool girl feminism” – I can’t begin to list the zillion little and large ways it predatorily undermines women on every level.

  • lagattamontral

    brava! wonderful interview (I read both the French and English versions, of course).

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thank you!

  • Meghan Murphy

    Thanks lagatta! I’m glad you enjoyed the interview 🙂

  • marv

    Full employment and livable wages are not possible in a capitalist system. With increasing competition and technologization more and more jobs will become obsolete or paid inadequately. Adopting a guaranteed livable income provided by the government through progressive taxation on capital is the best way forward for now until capitalism can be substituted with economic democracy.

    We don’t have to wait until income security is in place “before” taking legal action against pimps and johns. Believe it or not two things can be fought for at the same time. Would you vote to not have laws in place to criminalize spousal battering until women have the financial freedom to leave their abusive partners?

    You have a patriarchal left perspective.

  • marv
  • marv

    “the better economists” is a relative term when it comes to proposing solutions to unemployment and poverty. A well designed guaranteed livable income allows for a broader perspective to traditional left full employment schemes and has more potential to move away from capitalism. It is conducive to creative job creation as well.

    https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/01/universal-basic-income-switzerland-finland-milton-friedman-kathi-weeks/

  • Tom Bergbusch

    @Jeanne Deaux Please slow down and read what I wrote again. In your white heat of passionate comment, you seem to have missed my argument, which was to underscore the importance of a job guarantee to the fulfillment of the wishes of either the opponents or supporters of the Nordic model. I understand very well that those who support the Nordic model do not want to legitimize the porn industry, but my points were twofold: first, the Nordic model is ineffectual without the economic supports required to free women from taking part in the industry; second, “liberal feminists” who “support” porn, should support a job guarantee, to make sure that all participants are voluntary participants, which would leave a residual group not forced to participate by economic need but doing so voluntarily. In each case, under each discourse and approach, it is certainly true that women are being sexually oppressed WITHOUT a job guarantee in place.

    • marv

      “….which would leave a residual group not forced to participate by economic need but doing so voluntarily”.

      The economies of male supremacy in conjunction with its other power structures (gender, the state, media…) frame the choices of “voluntary participants”. As long as patriarchy exists the expression of freedom is suspect and severely restricted. Women would be sexually oppressed even with “a job guarantee in place”. The sexual dominance of prostituted women by men must be declared illegal even if the exit options are not fully available. Heinous crime should be outlawed before, during and after exit plans are constructed. Male rule is preventing just law and social policy from happening together. You are a hindrance.

  • marv

    “We don’t allow the price of corn to drop to zero, or coffee, yet proponents of the basic income would have us allow the price of wages and labour to drop to zero?”

    I am an activist in the Livable Income movement with connections across Canada. I have never met one person or group in these circles who are opposed to higher wages for workers and employment opportunities. You are deliberating misrepresenting the campaign to justify your own ideological rigidity.

    “And a huge amount of surveys have shown that the vast majority of people prefer a job over a straight financial transfer. This does not reflect some putative “false consciousness” but rather people’s sense that they are part of a joint project called “society.””

    False dichotomy again due to narrow framing. Countless jobs are repressive of worker creativity, collective ownership and ecological sustainability. Workers settle for subjugation because they have no realistic options. Guaranteed livable income throws them a lifeline to escape part time or full time to devise alternatives. Workers are not the uncritical conformists to the project of society you dumb them down to be. People have inner longings to break free of their bondage but don’t have progressive leadership and mobilization to stir them into effective action.

    The cult of full employment under existing conditions is yesterday’s solution to a changed economic and technological world. Clinging to past white patriarchal ideas is a dead end.

    Watching some informed presentations on GLI might calm some of the hysteria against it, especially the video pertaining to violence against women.

    https://nabig2016.wordpress.com/