A word or two on abolition.

If you don’t look hard enough, it’s easy to feel like the abolition argument has become ‘passe’. As though arguments against sex slavery and violence against women can go out of style. What I mean, I suppose, is that it has become somewhat  unpopular, let’s say, these days, to talk about abolition. The divides between women and feminists which come up around the argument are, often, vitriolic. The ‘radicals’ are often painted as desiring to “abolish prostitutes–not just prostitution…that we’re after criminalizing everyone connected to prostitution, rather than the profiteers–there’s the accusation that we don’t respect women’s choices (that’s my fucking favourite), and that we’re moralistic and anti-sex.” (I highly recommend reading this whole post I’ve just linked to here, it is very good); those doing the painting thereby discrediting radical feminists and abolitionists in one fell swoop by accusing them of being judgmental and ‘unrealistic’.

I wrote a little bit about this divide back in November and, as I continue to listen and learn and explore the abolitionist argument I become all the more frustrated by the misrepresentations of those who support it and all the more disheartened by those who seem to think we must settle. That we must settle for a world where men feel entitled to buy women’s bodies and lives, and for laws and a culture that desires to protect male buyers more than female prostitutes.

I’d like to point out that, while this argument is often marginalized within more mainstream conversations about ‘sex work’, and even within feminist discourse, the work is still happening and the fight is going strong. A couple of events coming up in Vancouver point to this.

On March 10, 2011, REED and EVE will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day with an event called Prostitution and Women’s Equality – Imagining More for Women. A panel discussion at the Vancouver Public Library (350 West Georgia Street in the Alice MacKay Room) will feature Gunilla Ekberg – International Human Rights Consultant, who will present on the Nordic Model of law and policy- “an alternative to complete decriminalization that enshrines the dignity of women and addresses the male demand for paid sex” and Trisha Baptie, of EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating). This event argues that prostitution cannot be made safe through decriminalization and regulation, that prostitution is far from harmless and is, no hold barred, violence against women. It imagines more for women than normalized prostitution.

And on Wednesday, February 23, 2011, there will be a screening of the film Our Lives to Fight For at SFU Vancouver (515 West Hastings Street Vancouver, BC) from 7-9pm. Here is a link to the invite, it is better quality than the one I’ve uploaded below.

In case you aren’t able to make it to the screening, I’ve posted the documentary below, with permission, made by 9 fourth year Communications students from Simon Fraser University.

Inspired by the recent attempts to strike down 3 key criminal code provisions around prostitution in Canada, the film argues that while “Decriminalizing prostitutes is a step forward…johns and pimps rather than prostitutes should be the targets of prostitution laws” and, that, while many argue that there is safety in legalized brothels, what plays out in ‘real life’ does not in fact, protect women, but rather protects pimps and johns and perpetuates the idea that men should be able to have access to women’s bodies, that their needs surpass the lives and safety of women and that masculinity and male sexuality, within this context, is uncontrollable, unemotional, and unpolitical. And further, that we should not stop there, at decriminalization. Rather we must work towards abolition via a Canadianized version of the Nordic model, which decriminalizes the women who sell sex acts, offers support to those who wish to exit, and criminalizes the buyers. Within a framework that promotes simple decriminalization and legalization, the assumption is that prostitution is natural and inevitable, and male sexuality is represented as being unrelated to the larger context of misogyny and of violence against women. The discourse that founds these assumptions is often that ‘it’s here to stay so we may as well just accept it and make the best of it’; leading us to accept the idea men can and should be able to own women’s bodies, for a price. What does prostitution really tell us about how much we value women in our society?

So based on the concern that “There is a very real possibility that this judgment could spread and influence the rest of Canada”, this film was made, arguing for the “abolitionist perspective [which] views prostitution as a modern form of slavery, which must be stopped.”

This film does not assume that prostitution is inevitable, but rather that it can and must be stopped. That marginalized women are not the sacrificial lambs of privileged women who desire ‘choice’ (for themselves or for other privileged women) or of the sexist and one-dimensional discourse that surrounds male sexuality.

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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