Slutwalks, sex work, and the future of feminism

If this is the future of feminism I am afraid. This is not intended to slight Jessica Valenti’s recent article in The Washington Post and this is not to say that  Valenti isn’t right about the power of grassroots organizing and the way in which it can be incredibly inspiring to watch young women get together and fight for their lives. Protest is good. Conversations are good. And MAN has all this Slutwalk stuff started a conversation.

So it’s not so much that I think the protest is bad, or that all these conversations have been bad. This many people talking about feminism? Pretty neat. What scares me is where that conversation has headed. What scares me is this image, taken from Slutwalk Las Vegas’ Facebook page:

"Slut isn't a look, it's an attitude. And whether you enjoy sex for pleasure or work, it's never an invitation to violence."
"Slut isn't a look, it's an attitude. And whether you enjoy sex for pleasure or work, it's never an invitation to violence."

While, as far as I can tell, most Slutwalks claim to not have not taken any position on ‘sex work’ or on pornography, other than to stand in solidarity with sex workers (which, I believe, most feminists do) – I do see a very clear position in this language. Let’s first be clear that we are all in agreement that there is no such thing as an invitation to violence and that there is not a single person who deserves to be raped, regardless of the position they occupy in society, or the clothes they wear. Let’s also be clear about the position that has been taken here, and that there is, in fact, a position being taken, that is: sex work is something that is enjoyed by women.

So the discourse has been narrowed, the conversation has been ended. This one little sentence is huge. By framing ‘sex work’* as something enjoyed by women, we change the direction of the conversation entirely. We remove the context of gendered oppression that is inherent to ‘sex work’; we erase survival sex workers who do not ‘choose’ this work in any way that resembles a free and autonomous choice, but rather must do it in order to survive, (so no, these women are not doing this ‘work’ because they ‘enjoy’ it); we perpetuate a male fantasy that says: women enjoy being dominated (because if you think men buying sex from women has nothing to do with power, you are living a fantasy), they enjoy being penetrated (some women do, many women do not, certainly all women do not enjoy being penetrated by strangers), they enjoy servicing men and catering to their every desire; we perpetuate the idea that prostitution is something that is ‘natural’; and we remove financial need and a context of capitalism from the discourse. Women do not exist to service men. ‘Sex work’ is about male pleasure via female bodies. This is not to say there there are not exceptions to this argument, but those exceptions are not the rule. The purpose of prostitution is male pleasure. The mere fact (and this is no mere fact) that women are paid by men removes autonomy and negates an argument for female pleasure as the primary purpose of sex work.

In this one sentence, an opportunity for conversation has been removed, thousands of women’s lives have been erased, and misogynist discourse has been made front and center. It doesn’t feel like feminist activism to me. It doesn’t even feel like feminism.

I want to be clear that this one image, this one sentence, is not representative of all Slutwalk satellites, nor is it representative of all those involved in organizing or marching. It is, though, representative of Slutwalk Las Vegas. And it is representative of where this conversation has headed under the umbrella of Slutwalk. It is something we must pay close attention to. This is one small sentence that says a lot.

This is not the future of feminism. This is the status quo. This is the past and the future of patriarchy if we allow it.

*I have used quotations around ‘sex work’ because I do not wish to label prostitution as ‘sex work’, though many others do. I use the term ‘sex work’ in places here as a reference to the discourse I am referring to.

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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  • One way feminists could ally themselves with women and girls inside the sex trade is to stop calling it “sex work” for that is a propaganda term used by the sex trade to make the violence and degradation invisible.

    For the vast majority of women and girls the term sex work is a nonsense statement for their realities

    It is not sex, if you believe that sex is about communication even on short-term and limited basis.
    There is little or no consent in most of the sex trade. For most prostituted women and girls are in the position of being goods, the punters are consumers – there means that the prostitute has no say or power to say no to whatever she is sold as. In that environment, the buyer is always right, and the seller that is the profiteers of the sex trade, not the prostitute, can sell her into any profitable sadistic sexual practices. The prostitute in most aspects of the sex trade has no say what sexual practices are placed into her.
    That is not sex for the average woman and girl. If it was non-prostituted women and girls it would named what it is – rape, sexual torture, battery, terror and life-threatening. But when it is the prostituted class it is re-branded as chosen sex, fun sex, and always sex that must empowered the prostitute.

    This is mainly claim to be empowering by women and men who never been in the position of having been raped so often they lost the language of rape. They do be a room with men queuing to whatever sadistic porn fantasies into their living bodies – hard to feel empowered when trying to remember how to stay alive.
    It is highly privileged and utterly selfish to view what women and girls have to endure as empowered sex.

    As for being viewed as work – that is some sick joke.
    That imagine a world where the vast majority of women and girls are allowed human rights by the profiteers of the sex trade – like the right to basic safety, rights to freedom of movement, rights to freedom of thoughts and rights to life. Those basic rights are denied – so how on earth can being inside the sex trade being classed as work.

    Prostitution, for instance, will never be work whilst the punter are in the position of owning the prostitution – it is sexual slavery. For the most majority of the prostitution – they are in the position of being paid to be treated as trash, or to be placed inside porn and viewed as trash. In that position there no rights as a “worker” – rather the prostituted are viewed as non-humans so any violence and hate can and will be done to them, for they just disposable goods.
    I refuse to named that as work.

    I am so sick of Slutwalks – for they even consciously or with ignorance exclude the prostituted class – and are too arrogant to listen to our voices.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Rebecca. I agree 100%,

  • The entire slut walk reeks of patriarchy. The LA SlutWalk in particular is disguising and counter productive. Did you know the LA walk is run by a man who publicly admits that as a collage professor he had sex with his students? I called him out on it, called him a sexual predator and he threatened to sue me over Twitter.

  • I guess that means the focus of feminism should be more on helping these women out of these situations (if they want) whilst simultaneously removing the stigma that they suffer from because of the situation they are cornered into due to economic difficulties … it’s not a choice if it’s something you have to do to survive (or to aid survival) …

  • jenny heineman

    Thankfully the SlutWalk last night in Vegas did not share your sentiments, Meghan. As a sex worker and co-director of the Sex Worker Outreach Project in Las Vegas, I can assure you that the conversation about feminism, activism, and sex work is more complicated than you’ve painted it here. To assume that you cannot enjoy sex, whether you’re paid for it or not, does us all a disservice. This is not to say that sex work is immune to the oppressiveness of patriarchy and capitalism, but it is to say that NO institutions is immune, including academia and feminism. That is, nothing exists outside of patriarchy and capitalism, yet your argument seems to say that only sex workers–and not others trapped in this oppressive system–suffer from some kind of false consciousness. Let us speak for ourselves. And most of all, do not deny our voices at feminist events like the SlutWalk. That kind of elitism and anti-inclusiveness is antithetical to the feminist movement.

    • Meghan Murphy

      “To assume that you cannot enjoy sex, whether you’re paid for it or not,” ? Who is assuming that ‘you can’t enjoy sex’? Of course I completely agree that no person or institution is ‘immune’ to the systems of capitalism and patriarchy; so what? We just go with it? Speak for yourselves, but feminists have a right and an obligation to critique these oppressive industries.

      • jenny heineman

        “Speak for yourselves, but feminists have a right and an obligation to critique these oppressive industries.” Right. That’s exactly what we want. To speak for ourselves. In our speaking for ourselves we in fact add to the conversation about oppressive industries.

        • Meghan Murphy

          That’s great. You speak for yourselves and feminists will also speak. About female oppression. It’s a deal.

    • What a dishonest response!

      “To assume that you cannot enjoy sex, whether you’re paid for it or not, does us all a disservice.”

      “your argument seems to say that only sex workers–and not others trapped in this oppressive system–suffer from some kind of false consciousness.”

      Both of those interpretations of this blog post are patently, obviously, demonstrably, false. No one is silencing you, nor do you get to silence this critique by wilfully misrepresenting it.

      If “the conversation about feminism, activism, and sex work is more complicated than [Meghan has] painted it ” then PLEASE demonstrate how, starting with what was actually written rather than inventing a straw position to rail against.

  • I’m a sex worker who partcipated in Slut Walk. Whether we enjoy our work or not has nothing to do with the inclusion of sex workers in Slut Walk. Rather, our inclusion is based on the fact that we don’t deserve to be raped our sexually assaulted no matter how much we like or don’t like our work.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I don’t care whether or not you enjoy sex work. That is not the argument. And I certainly don’t think that sex workers deserve to be assaulted. I’m not quite sure what it is you are responding to here.

  • The flier isn’t saying that all sex workers enjoy our work. Saying that we don’t deserve to be sexually assaulted regardless of whether we enjoy sex for work or pleasure isn’t the same as saying we all enjoy being sex workers. The use of the term “whether” could include people who do and don’t enjoy sex for work or pleasure.

    Also, my work is real work. How would you feel if I put your work in quotation marks to imply it isn’t real work? I’m a real person making a real living with real bills and living expenses to pay. Being a sex worker has taught that it is a skill and talent that deserves respect. Thus, I find it very insensitive when people deny that what I do is real work. It reminds me of people who tell me to “get a real job” when I already have one. I’m not saying everybody has to like sex work, but please just respect us as human beings making a living and don’t trivialize what we do.

    • Meghan Murphy

      The purpose of saying ‘prostituted women’ instead of ‘sex worker’ is not to deny that this is, in fact, work – but rather to point to the ways in which prostitution is not ‘simply a job like any other’ but rather exists directly because of male power and a culture that views women as bodies which exist for male pleasure and as things which can be bought and sold. My comment around Slutwalk Las Vegas flyer argues that, by saying ‘whether you enjoy sex for pleasure or work’ implies that prostitution is simply a choice – ‘either you have sex for fun or because you are paid by a man’. Having sex for pleasure is not the same thing as being paid by a man to have sex. It is coercive, it is degrading, it positions women as objects and as perpetually accessible to men. If you enjoy doing sex work it doesn’t mean that context is removed and that statement, on the Slutwalk Las Vegas flyer, erases all context. ‘Real’ pleasurable sex would be free of coercion and free of humiliation. Of course it is difficult to imagine such a thing within a culture that views power and inequality as ‘sexy’.

      • jenny heineman

        “…to point to the ways in which prostitution is not ‘simply a job like any other’ but rather exists directly because of male power and a culture that views women as bodies which exist for male pleasure and as things which can be bought and sold.” By denying that our work is actually work, it is you, Meghan, who turns us into mere bodies that are bought and sold. My work entails much more than you claim, which you would know if you actually spoke to people (of ALL genders!) in the sex industry. In fact, if you were to simply read some feminist writings…IE, Pat Califia, Arlie Hochschild, Anne Allison, Kate Frank, Elizabeth Pisani, Carol Queen, Annie Sprinkle, Barb Brents, Crystal Jackson, Carol Leigh, etc, you may have a different perspective.

        I do appreciate you allowing our comments to be displayed. That truly does show a willingness to dialogue. However, I think your perspective comes from a place consistent with understanding the world in gender binaries and, perhaps, a place of feminist privilege.

        “It is coercive, it is degrading, it positions women as objects and as perpetually accessible to men.” Dearest Meghan. Has feminism taught you nothing? Please do not speak for me. I venture to guess you’ve never had sex for money. I have. I have felt degraded at times, much like I’ve felt degraded after a sleazy one-night stand. I’ve also felt terribly emotionally connected to my customers. I’ve met amazing people of all genders in this line of work. I don’t claim to speak to the experiences of other workers and neither should you.

        Given the theme of your blog, I imagine this debate will not be solved by going back and forth with comments. However, suffice it to say that when you assume all sex work is about traditional gender ideologies, and when you assume a hegemonic experience of all sex workers, and when you assume we’re all too duped to see the light, you really simplify an extremely complicated argument.

        Finally, my comment above about all of us being immersed in capitalism and patriarchy was obviously not a justification for oppressive institutions. I was simply encouraging you to be a little self-reflexive and see yourself and your convictions as ALSO affects of capitalism and patriarchy. Essentially, I wanted to make the point that in an egalitarian society, sex work may NOT exist. Neither would other service industry, often blue-collar jobs. Neither would feminism. My point is simply this: you’ve chosen to pick on sex work because you’ve allotted some kind of spiritual importance to sex when in fact we all have sexual experiences that are less than spiritual, whether commercial or not. In your attempt to eradicate what you see as harmful to women, you are in fact further perpetuating sexual hierarchies.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Hi Jenny,

          Well I have to admit that, though these days it is so very common, I am still shocked at the accusations and justifications coming from the mouths of those who claim to be feminist. Or even progressive for that matter. It is not feminists who have turned women’s bodies into things. It is the men who buy and sell them. I have spoken to many women who have exited the sex industry and I do believe that if you spoke or listened to any of them you would have a different perspective. Perhaps if you weren’t currently enmeshed in the industry you would feel differently as well. I do realize that it is difficult to see things clearly from within. It is comparable to the ways in which I tried to justify many of my past actions as empowering, or even as healthy when, in retrospect, I can see so clearly that they aren’t. I have never had to have sex for money, thank god, and I am very sorry for your experiences. Please do not assume that your experience is universally applicable or that, simply because you have had this specific experience you are the only one who may speak to it. The fact is that sexism and sexist industries and systems, such as prostitution and pornography, affect more than simply the women who work within the industries (though they do, of course, affect those women very deeply as well); rather they impact all women negatively, in various ways. Women view themselves as only valuable because of their bodies, as only powerful because of their sexualities, they aim to please, they feel empowered when they are gazed at. Men view women as perpetually accessible, as perpetually fuckable because of, in large part, the sex industries.

          I wonder what ‘spiritual importance’ you believe I have assigned to sex work? From my perspective this has absolutely nothing to do with spirituality. Perhaps you would like to read up on my arguments before making uninformed comments? Perhaps not. If you do, I have written extensively about them. Here are some resources: http://www.feminisms.org/category/pornography/ http://www.feminisms.org/category/prostitution-2/

          Though I do publish most comments left here, so long as they are relevant, I actually have no real interest in dialoguing with people with your worldview, as the arguments are all the same and there is, generally, a refusal to hear or understand the arguments coming from the other side so no real dialogue can actually happen. I certainly have no interest in dialoguing with people who, like yourself, go around calling feminists ‘uptight’ and ‘boring’ because they are critical of sex work. This is an extremely misogynist argument, usually put forth by pornographers, pimps and johns. Though you’ve done your best to condescend to me here, questioning whether or not I really understand feminism (believe me, I do), it is you who appears to know very little about feminism, feminists, and feminist arguments around prostitution and pornography and, based on your words, you have little interest in ever really understanding the arguments or the movement.

          Best of luck with your endeavours,
          Meghan

        • “By denying that our work is actually work, it is you, Meghan, who turns us into mere bodies that are bought and sold.”

          Ummm… since you don’t seem to have read Meghan’s actual words, here’s the first sentence of her reply:

          “The purpose of saying ‘prostituted women’ instead of ‘sex worker’ is not to deny that this is, in fact, work ”

          Your complete inability to engage with what is actually being said speaks volumns about the relevance of your position. Surely a perspective worth its salt can, at the very least, acknowledge what is actually being said instead of galloping off into some solipsistic fantasy of victimization by a movement that actually seeks to improve women’s lives through the abolishment of gendered power and sexualized violence.

  • jenny heineman

    As for a final comment, I notice that you use the term “disempowering gaze” throughout your blog. Why is a gaze necessarily disempowering?

    • Meghan Murphy
      • jenny heineman

        Perhaps links that are academic rather than links to your own work or Wikipedia would be appropriate…

        • Meghan Murphy

          Jenny,

          I had assumed that you were not interested in reading academic work seeing as you had never heard of these concepts. I think it would be a little pompous to recommend you go out and read Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. It’s not an easy read. I have no trouble referencing academic work, as I’m sure you would assume based on my education, but generally people don’t necessarily come to blogs looking for academic writing or publications. If you are truly interested in understanding the theory, take a feminist film theory course.

          The reason I link to my own work is to avoid having to make the same arguments over and over again when I have already done so, in much more detail, elsewhere. The purpose of blogs such as finallyfeminism101 is so that bloggers need not waste time explaining the same concepts over and over again. If you want academia, I would highly recommend you take a Women’s Studies course. Or, let me know what it is, specifically, you are interested in (aside from Mulvey and the male gaze), and I would be happy to link you to some academic articles. If you’d like a reading list, here are some of my own recommendations (focus on feminist critiques of the sex industry):
          Intercourse Andrea Dworkin
          Pornography: Men Possessing Women Andrea Dworkin
          Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity Robert Jensen
          Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry Abigail Bray, Melinda Tankard Reist (eds.) (this book just came out and is amazing, though it may not be available in the US as of yet….)
          The Industrial Vagina : The political economy of the sex trade Sheila Jeffreys
          The Idea of Prostitution Sheila Jeffreys
          Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality Gail Dines
          Sexual Politics Kate Millet

          • jenny heineman

            “It’s not an easy read.” Thanks for the heads-up. I usually prefer books like “Goodnight Moon.”

            Meghan, all due respect, I am a PhD student in sociology and feminist theory. I was attempting to be Socratic when I requested you explain these concepts because, unfortunately, the way you explain them throughout the blog is pretty narrow minded. I understand this blog comes from a very particular feminist viewpoint, namely a second wave anti-sex work viewpoint, but I think it’s only fair to introduce some of the controversies in your perspectives to your readers. A true feminist explores all feminism. I can see from your reading list that you stick pretty vehemently to feminists who share your convictions. All of whom I’ve read, by the way, with the exception of Melinda Tankard Reist. I would encourage you and your followers to check out some of the authors I listed below.

            Good luck to you and thank you for inspiring such exciting conversation!

          • jenny heineman

            *above, rather. The authors I listed above.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Ok so let me get this straight – you want me to explain the concept of the male gaze to you, which I, and many others have done before (follow the links! Oh but wait! Do you also need for me to explain to you how to use the Internet? Using academic references?), but you don’t actually want to read anything unless it’s an academic publication. But you want it now. Succinctly. Here in the comments section. OR, is it that all you really want is to have a pissing contest.

            ‘With all due respect,’ Jenny, you have no clue what I’ve read or who I am. Because you refuse to actually read anything I’ve written. I did my undergraduate and graduate work in Women’s Studies and not once was I ever asked to read any of the books I mentioned here. My understanding of feminism is far from narrow. You, on the other hand, you who trolls the Internet calling feminists ‘boring’, ‘prudish’, and ‘anti-sex’ because they *gasp* dare to challenge dominant patriarchal ideology and systems of power (correct me if I’m wrong, using academic publications please, but I was under the impression that this was the whole idea behind feminism), seem to have received an education in maintaining the status quo. Feminists are a bunch of man- hating, sex-hating, nazi- shrews too, right? Because they don’t agree with you? If you were willing to actually read anything at all beyond that which reinforces the narrow limits of your worldview (and the worldview of all other haters of feminists) you would realize that my readers are extremely knowledgeable about the controversies in my perspectives. Feminist perspectives are, by nature, extremely controversial. Being a feminist is am exercise in controversy. Your arguments are simply regurgitated misogyny, though, hardly controversial, highly predictable.

            I’m happy to hear that you found this conversation to be ‘exciting’ – having had the very same conversation, myself, over and over with people who, like yourself, resort to the same old tired arguments and childish name calling, the ‘excitement’ for me has worn off. Good luck with your PhD – I’m sure it will provide you with many more opportunities to…uh….talk about your PhD?

          • jenny heineman

            I’m terribly sorry if I offended your credentials. I’m sure you are very well read, as you write very well and although we disagree, you are quite articulate and convincing.

            On the topic of credentials, I can only say that I hope my PhD will afford me the opportunity to be a better feminist and activist. I would assume that if we agree on nothing more than this, we agree that naval gazing is never productive.

            By all means, please have the last word–this is your blog after all–but if I have “no clue what [you’ve] read or who [you] are,” may I humbly suggest that the same goes for you? That you may not have a clue about the experiences of all sex workers? Or know what they read? Or how they feel about their work? Or how they identify, sexually or otherwise? Or why they do what they do?

            And you’re absolutely right. This is not exciting. It’s tiring and frustrating and while we go back and forth, people die because of social stigma, lack of resources, and lack of recourse.

          • Meghan Murphy

            The difference, Jenny, is that I don’t assume to know the experiences of all sex workers or how they feel about their work. My point is that, regardless of some individual women’s reported ‘positive’ experiences in this work, it does not change the gendered and oppressive nature of the industry. The sex industry exists because of patriarchy (and capitalism). Period. So I don’t need to know or guess or assume what your individual experience is/was to know at least that much. The reason women are prostituted or work in the sex industry IS BECAUSE OF PATRIARCHY. This doesn’t change simply because some women claim to feel empowered or claim to enjoy themselves.

          • Sing it, Meghan! This, exactly.

  • Bushfire

    A true feminist explores all feminism.

    I’ve been given this line before. I don’t see it this way. I think a true feminist examines patriarchal oppression in an honest way and finds ways to fight it. I don’t think a true feminist needs to explore the ideas of people who are calling themselves feminists yet cheering on patriarchy.

    Those of us who do not think that men using women’s bodies as objects is “empowering” are not necessarily “second-wave”. If this is now the “third wave” or “postfeminism”, then are we young feminists not part of that group, regardless of what we believe? Why would certain third-wave feminists be referred to as “second-wave” when we weren’t even born yet in that era? It sounds a lot like dismissing our views as outdated, actually.

    • jenny heineman

      Third wave feminism and post-feminism are entirely different. I would never claim to be post-feminist, nor would I dismiss any feminist’s views. I agree that separating feminism into “waves” is not necessarily helpful, though if anyone is going to claim a hegemonic experience in the sex industry and offend my intellect by saying I suffer from false consciousness or degrade my efforts at supporting a rally against sexual violence, I’m going to defend myself. Furthermore, how could encouraging a broad approach to feminism EVER be dismissive?

      There is much postmodern literature on how sex work transgresses traditional gender ideologies. I don’t claim that this literature makes sounds arguments ALL of the time, but I think adequate knowledge of this literature is imperative before we start speaking for others. Shit, even Dorothy Smith and Pat Hill Collins argued that.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Yes, Jenny, Third wave feminism and post-feminism are different. Though they are also, often, used interchangeably. Arguments that turn oppression and exploitation in empowerment and arguments that frame this illusive ‘agency’ (what does it mean?) as something that exists whenever any woman anywhere makes any ‘choice’ regardless of what the choice is or the context of the choice are often associated with post-feminist discourse. Often this kind of discourse crosses over into Third wave debates as well.

        You supported a rally against sexual assault that used a poster of an image of an objectified woman on it. A woman presented as a (sexualized) thing, available for consumption. Do you not see how the objectification of women is tied to violence against women and to inequity? That woman as consumable object is tied to rape and sexual assault?

        I realize that some academics argue that sex work is empowering and ‘transgressive’, that seems to be popular these days, particularly as an argument coming from very privileged women. Your actions, your ‘choice’ does not only impact you as an individual. In fact, if women had real ‘choice’ they would not have to ‘choose’ to sell their bodies to men. This particular kind of ‘choice’ rhetoric is about framing inequality as empowering. Most women who are prostituted do not get to choose. That you have turned this purely into an academic argument, when this is, in fact, about real women’s lives, is telling. Let’s not fool ourselves into believing American neoliberal ideology, it is the ideology of the privileged, of the most powerful. Individualism never helps the most marginalized. And yes, these arguments are about the individual – MY choice MY experience – YOUR individual choice, the privilege YOU have to ‘choose’ is not a choice for most women. At what point does YOUR CHOICE impact anyone but you? At what point are YOUR choices connected to a larger context? At what point does a sex industry, in which men buy women, become anything other then the same old patriarchy? The same old power dynamics that have existed for centuries?

  • The argument of “Dontcha know, i like it!” isn’t a call for political action or even critique. This doesn’t need to be an academic critique or some middle class theorizing – we can see the exploitation clearly. However, the whole personal, individual choice argument doesn’t fly when we are talking about an industry as pervasive as the sex industry.

    If I personally like something, how it is established and sustained within patriarchy is irrelevant because I like it. Me, as an individuation, does not change the dynamics at play. My personal feelings towards something is irrelevant to how it impacts women as a class. Personal taste is not relevant to having a conversation about larger systems of oppression and societal power dynamics at large; such a conversation isvital to feminism. Sticking to “Well, I like it and so it is good” does not address women as a class and their oppression that is perpetuated within the sex industry. No industry is beyond critique, particularly not this industry.

    As far as I knew, Slutwalk was originally intended to take a stand stating that women should NOT be raped by dudes who feel entitled to do so for whatever reason they can conjure up, like “She wore a short skirt and made me horny, she was asking for it.” Slutwalk was intended, I thought, before it was infiltrated by men and male-interest groups, to express the basic sentiment that women should not be raped for any reason, ever. The fact that they need to take a “sexy” spin into the march further proves that the so-called “third wave” is attempting to appropriate feminism; make it more status-quo and inviting for men. This is why the whole “reclamation” of slut has been so vital in later marches – it has got men thinking Slutwalk is cool. I have seen images of men marching alongside women with signs reading “I love sluts!” I don’t know about you, but my idea of a feminist activist march doesn’t include me wearing a mini dress with some brah giggling and telling me i’m a slut and how much he likes sluts.

    That does not sound like activism to me.

    Now, instead of working with other women to end the violence against us , we have men laughing at us and viewing us the same way as they always have: as sex objects. Women are constantly informed that they are for sex; that is our function by nature. This has been shown to be the case in almost all “modern” societies. Women = Property, Women = Sex Bots. This approach to Slutwalk is clearly informing women of the same thing, except now it’s our “empowering” “choice.” Why can’t we take a stand against rape without having to induce boners on the way there? Why can’t we stand up against the violence against us without apologizing for it? This ain’t gonna fly with me, and many others who want a society with real egalitarian values and an absence of woman-hating and human exploitation.

  • ”a place of feminist privilege.”

    Wait, what?
    …my brain lobes exploded simultaneously

    • jenny heineman

      Sorry Bone Killer. I realize that was framed wrong. “Privileged feminist” is what I meant.

    • Andrea Dassopoulos

      I’m really sad to see that people are claiming ownership of feminism, rigidly defending its boundaries and creating criteria for membership. Exclusion and hierarchy are the gifts of patriarchy. Every feminist in this discussion is capable of recognizing and moving beyond this patriarchal framework that only serves to divide women.

      • Andrea Dassopoulos

        **oops** that comment was meant to go at the bottom, as a response to the entire discussion.

  • “I’ve been given this line before. I don’t see it this way. I think a true feminist examines patriarchal oppression in an honest way and finds ways to fight it. I don’t think a true feminist needs to explore the ideas of people who are calling themselves feminists yet cheering on patriarchy.”

    Bingo. Thank you for having a stand. No one wants to take a stand because of our intense fear in the West particularly, to have any strong views or opposition to anything. This is why nothing is changing, we are too worried about not being ‘relative’ enough in our views…such bs. It all goes back into keeping the status quo in line.

  • martin dufresne

    Jenny wrote: “people die because of social stigma, lack of resources, and lack of recourse.”

    Actually women in prostitution die because they are killed by men, men who know patriarchy serves up women to them for sexual and physical violence purposes. This happens wherever their money entitles them to access women for sex. We can and must deprive them of this option.

    Sex work is neither.

  • I am sick of this taking away of responsibility of people who make choices to use violence against others – we need to look at the realities. The reason women are being beat, murdered and raped in the sex industry are because of the choices men make to commit such violent acts. Bottom line. Increasing the presence of cops or security guards (most of the time these security guards are dudes) in the industry will not decrease violence – it will protect the other men who commit the violence. Why? Because the whole industry sees women as less-than-human.

    • Thanks Boner Killer – that is the point for the majority of prostituted women and girls – when the focus is on the prostituted’s choices and whether or not it should call sex work or not – the violence that profiteers and punters make the choice to do is made invisible.
      I am sick of the pro-sex work lobby ignoring and speaking over the voices of exited women who now are abolitionists. They completely by-pass our voices – like they they by-pass the banal violence inside all aspects of the sex trade. I say banal – coz what else can you call violence that becomes so normal that words for – rape, sexual torture, threat of murder – become inexpressible.

      I find it interesting that there is a plea for a more “academic” approach – but then a dismissive of any academic who speak towards focusing on the male demand and male violence.
      But, more important this demand for academia is a smoke-screen in order to utterly dismiss the multiple voices of exited women who speak of the male violence and the male choices to create the prostituted class in order to have sub-human to make their porn-toys.

  • jenny heineman

    Unfortunately, this discussion has become quite silly and fruitless. It has, however, had its stimulating moments. I don’t say that to be pejorative; I say that as a queer, Taoist, feminist, sex worker who has learned over the years not to take myself too seriously.

    I will end with this: there are two glaring institutions that I perceive as perpetuating patriarchy and capitalism—education (or lack thereof) and information saturation. More specifically, as a global society we lack the critical and logical reasoning skills needed to understand the infinite information available in this age of technology. This is why radical right wing sentiments are so successful. They feed off emotionally charged reactions to issues that actually require much deeper analyses. I see these detrimental tactics used in some feminism. They are more than apparent here, on this blog, among the writers of this blog and its flowers (with the exception, perhaps, of the lovely lady who makes it very clear that she does not speak for all women, just people with hyphenated names).

    Another saddening theme I see here are two contradicting arguments: the argument that I suffer from false consciousness and must be rescued from my oppressive job and the argument that I am somehow a bad feminist because of my job. Now, if I suffer from false consciousness, I cannot possibly be responsible for being a bad feminist. If I am a bad feminist, on the other hand, it must follow that I do not in fact suffer from false consciousness and furthermore understand sex work to be a viable financial opportunity.

    That’s how logic and critical reasoning work.

    All this is not to say that choice is not constrained by something. Of course it is. Sex work would likely not exist in an egalitarian society. Sex work would probably look different in a society not plagued by patriarchy. This is true about absolutely everything in society. To assume that sex work is somehow a better fight, a better metaphor for all the ills of patriarchy, or a better example of women’s false consciousness is to assume a fundamental importance of sex and sexuality—a fundamental importance that patriarchy itself created.

    So when you make definitive statements like, “I KNOW this to be true,” followed by statements reeking of sexual hierarchies and anti-inclusiveness, I invite you to take a step back. Don’t believe everything you think.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Ooooh I know! We are all so silly! Violence against women is the silliest thing I can think of! Racism, violence, poverty, and abuse must seem silly to someone whose m.o. is to pretend that these are not primary factors in the lives of prostituted women and are inextricably linked to the existence of prostitution. Is your head so far up your ass that you can’t possibly imagine that anyone’s experience might be different than your own? That you can’t see what is right in front of you? These systems are not just fodder for discussions around post modernism. I KNOW I KNOW. Everything is FLUID. Gender constructs ONLY EXIST BECAUSE I INVENTED THEM INSIDE MY HEAD. I also went to university! But please. Tell us more of this POST MODERNISM! Tell us more. Please. Oh but no. Why on earth would you waste your precious brain power on something as silly and fruitless on fighting misogyny and patriarchy? In case you are interested in what other women might have to say about prostitution (which, clearly you aren’t, because it might make you uncomfortable and it would appear that your entire argument is just about making you feel comfortable with prostitution, make you comfortable imagining that these oppressive and violent industries are actually empowering), you could start here. This is a speech by one of our sisters, Cherry Smiley:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VGk7U8X0qQ&feature=player_embedded

      And who was it that said you were a bad feminist? Or did you just deduct this using ‘logic and critical reasoning’? Anyhoo, not to worry! I think you can be both anti-feminist and deluded at the same time. You are clearly so logical and reasonable that you’ve failed to realize that sex work is not about female sexuality (though it certainly does impact our interpretations of female sexuality). It is about male entitlement and it is about the degradation, objectification, and humiliation of women. SOOO SILLY! I know, I know, it’s REALLY the feminists who hate women, and those men out there jacking off to women, represented as half-human, those men who call women sluts and cunts and whores, those men who view and treat women as simply orifices which exist for their pleasure – they REALLY love us, women. They are the REAL supporters of women. Right? Yeah. Maybe you’re on the right track with the whole false consciousness thing after all. Feminism isn’t just an excuse. It isn’t just a word we tag on to things in order to rationalize them. The eyeliner I wear is on my feminist face but that doesn’t make it feminist.

      Believe me, I understand how much deeply many of us want to find something positive in all of this horror, but the reality is dark. What happens to real women in real life is dark. It isn’t just a fun! naughty! wild! trip around the stripper pole. It isn’t about marching down the street in a bra and stilettos. This isn’t a joke.

  • jenny heineman

    *followers, not flowers! Ha! I’m funny.

  • Crystal Jackson

    I definitely think that one of the awesome things about Slut Walk is the inclusion, in many cities, of sex workers. Slut Walk, in this way, is like an updated Take Back the Night (considering that TBTN was founded on anti-porn, anti-sex worker feminist principles). Sex workers are so diverse by class, age, gender identity, sexual identity, etc., and sex work itself is so varied– so many different industries or types of labor that people take part in at various points in time, for various lengths of time (whether once in a while or full time, whether legal work like stripping, adult film, to engaging in labor that is illegal and dealing with being criminalized and stigmatized). Sex workers, sex worker activists and allies–including family, academics, social service providers, clients, and friends–should not be silenced, as the “Slutwalks, sex work, and the future of feminism” piece attempts to do. There is a vibrant branch of sex-positive feminism that situates sexual labor in social/political/economic context, and listens to the voices of sex workers. Those are the feminists I was proud to march next to in Las Vegas’ Slut Walk.

    • Meghan Murphy

      There is no such thing as ‘sex-positive feminism’ fyi. Unless you are referring to feminists who wish to be able to have sex free from the patriarchal, misogynist images portrayed in pornography? Those feminists are, yes, sex-positive. But that’s ok. You can just call us plain old ‘feminists’.

  • kathy

    It seems to me that dialogue here is fruitless. Meghan and other critics of the sex industry are making well argued points and also respond directly to the points raised by Jenny H. Jenny, however, completely ignores the actual arguments made by her critics and broadly dismisses them as silly and other names. I don’t see evidence of critical thinking or the ability to argue here. Just a lot of dodging.

    A point that really strikes me that was raised by Meghan the most sharply is this- It is possible to critique an institution, hell, a system, even if some or even many of those affected by the institution or system claim to enjoy it. Look at the United States– I reject both the Democrats and the Republicans–but as Chomsky recently said in an interview on Democracy Now, the republicans are truly in “outer space” –they have so little relation to the real world. Yet it is really possible if not likely that people will elect them. There are many supporters of crazy things in this world–is their experience of “liking” horrific institutions –even ones that will rob them of everything they have, including social security–the decisive criteria for evaluating whether these institutions are bad or not? Or is there some independent criteria–independent of individuals’ experiences/feelings- to use –to examine/debate whether an institution is exploitative, dominating, stupid, etc? As M and others said –it is possible to say that prostitution exists because of the social class of men and patriarchy, and capitalism–without taking women’s experiences into account at all! I’m not saying we shouldn’t take women’s experiences into account, but critical thinkers don’t take experience as a plain given. Otherwise we could say, the majority of U.S Americans believe that the American Dream is possible-therefore they are right. We could say, People like the TEa Party, therefore the Tea Party is a ok. you know what i mean? Feminists, we must expose the the flimsiness and hollowness of “arguments” from “experience.” especially when the experience is of some kind of individual feeling-state like “I like it”, “it empowers me” etc.

  • Bushfire

    I would argue that there is such a thing as “sex-positive” feminism, but its name is misleading, because those who call themselves “sex-positive” are no more positive about sex than anyone else, and the only thing distinguishing their group is that they like to think that pornography and prostitution are fine and dandy. A more accurate name, I think, would be something like “patriarchy enthusiasts who happen to have one or two feminist beliefs as well”.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I hear you. And pretty much agree. My point is that a) it’s not like anyone is really ‘for’ or ‘against’ sex – that is waaay too simplistic to describe the way any person or feminist views ‘sex’ and b) those who call themselves ‘pro-sex’ are generally the kinds of folks who simply make pro-sex-as-we-understand-it-under-patriarchy arguments. Not only that but, to paraphrase Robert Jensen, movements are lost over language. And the pro-porn/pro-prostitution folks have co-opted this, now, very manipulative and, yes, misleading, label to mean something that is not only not feminist, but not at all ‘pro-sex’ (whatever the f**k that means)! So I say kill it. Kill the term, it’s redundant; and when it is used, it is used in way that represents sexism and inequity as ‘sex’.

  • jenny heineman, thank you for the confirmation, that makes much more sense

  • regarding the “privileged feminists” statement, btw.

  • sara

    What i’d like is for those who don’t want to be called ‘sluts’ (i’m guessing that’s all of us here) and for those who choose and support industries that perpetuate the use of the word in a derogatory way, to stop using it. Stop contributing to a multi million dollor industry that gets off encouraging women to be seen as sluts and men as pimps, selling this to the next generation and then wondering why women are still not equal! Of course it’s different if you are working the trade for survival, because there’s no other way, but when women choose to exploit themselves and in turn other women for money, call each other hateful things and do hateful acts to each other for money, then we have a problem. And NO ONE is saying that anyone should be harmed of degraded by something we keep trying really hard to promote as a valid career choice. Slut walks have great intentions but the paradox here is that those industries and conscious/unconscious attitudes derived from those industries, keep these very inequalities at large in society. You have to see that sex work is part of the problem and the increased encouragment and pseudo “feminist” pro porn propoganda is not feminism. Women and the way women treat each other is a huge part of the cause of inequality within the world. There are feminist at the moment going around calling hate porn empowering. Now to me that is irresponsible and dangerous. That word slut that she uses whilst forcing another womans head down on a man, actually effects you and me, the way we’re treated in everyday life, in society, in sex, in relationships. We need to take ownership of the problem in all areas.

  • sara

    P.S. I’m well aware not all sex ‘work’ is hateful, but even the stuff that can be seen as more female friendly is women exploiting themselves, other women and men. Manipulation, lies, narcissism….all for money was never a claim of the feminist movement. The sex trade turned around the desire for ‘strong, empowered’ confident, sexually liberated’ women and sold us glamorised prostitution as a feminist reason for selling your body. Next way to become famous: exploit yourself, other people, feed a male driven fantasy land that women can’t and shouldn’t have to live up to, sell and encourage lies that continue to keep a woman’s vagina the most powerful earning tool she has. Now i’m not saying there isn’t a feminist argument for porn or the fact that women enjoy porn, it’s just not the one we’re currently touting. It’s not feminist in the slightest.

  • Has it never occurred to Jenny that we might be familiar with the work of sex-positives, postmodernists, etc.?

    • Yeah, really. I’ve read a ton of their stuff and watched their YouTube videos. I have found academic WMST departments are almost universally anti-radical feminism. They don’t even like to admit that “women” as a group exists. So the younger generation of women has had to discover radical feminist writing on their own, even if they/we had radfem vibes all along.

      I always planned to be a WMST major but am so disappointed but what it is. I find I enjoy soc. classes much better, and the professors seem more radical as well.

  • coming to this very late… I think meanings have changed along the way. I always thought Take Back the Night was all about women being able to walk outside at night without assault. It had nothing to do with porn and prostitution.

    And you were called a slut when you perceived to have sex indiscriminately; it had nothing to do with appearance or prostitution.

  • should’ve added, being called a slut also had nothing to do with violence; it was a just a moral put-down.