No, I will not stop having ‘feelings’ about women’s lives and human rights

I refuse to believe that sociopathy is a good thing for feminism. Yet this is exactly the position we are being told to take on the sex industry.

A recent article about Melissa Gira Grant’s new book, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, demands, in its headline, that we put “our feelings aside” and look at prostitution as “a labour issue” — a strange demand to make of human beings when thinking about other human beings…

Since when does feminism promote the idea that one should not have “feelings?” My understanding was that to accuse women of being “too emotional” or of letting their feelings get in the way of rational (man) thought was, er, kind of sexist? Beyond that, the reason one would get involved in the feminist movement would be literally because one cares about other women. We cares about women’s lives, rights, well-being, and, more generally, their ability to live their lives free from oppression and violence and with dignity. To demand that we “put our feelings aside” when thinking about feminism and women’s issues is anti-feminist.

The author of the article, Meaghan O’Connell, says that Gira Grant’s book “examines how our ‘feelings talk’ and theoretical debate can be a distraction from the more immediate labor and human rights issues that sex workers are actually dealing with, and dying from, all the time.”

So I’m confused. The debate around prostitution is to neither be “theoretical” nor about “feelings” — what, in that case, is it about?

Well, I’d argue it’s about a number of different things:

1) Women and women’s lives

2) Human rights

3) Gender equality

4) Systems of power

5) Racism

6) Poverty

7) Abuse

8) Violence against women

9) Male power

10) Globalization

11) Colonialism

There are a number of other things I or you could likely add to this list, but I believe the things listed above are pretty key to the conversation. And those are all things I have both feelings and beliefs about. As, you know, a feminist, a socialist, and a human being who cares about other human beings.

The refrain “sex work is work” or “sex work is a job like any other” or efforts to frame prostitution as simply a “labour issue” in order to trick normally ethically inclined leftists into thinking they are joining a progressive fight, reads as: “let’s look at this rationally,” which, to me,  feels kind of sociopathic. (Oops, just can’t keep those damn feelings at bay…)

First of all, prostitution is not simply a labour issue. Prostitution is part of a system that inflicts violence on women worldwide, perpetuates systems of inequality, and targets marginalized women and girls in particular. Prostitution in Canada exists as it does because of intersections between colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism, and racism. Just a “labour issue?” Really? Maybe you should have a few more “feelings”…

Second, though the left is inclined to jump on board with any cause that professes to be about labour rights because we (rightly) want to support workers, the working class, and the labour movement/unions, arguments that pretend to look at sex work as a “labour issue” are actually looking at it through a capitalist lens — in market terms. As Kasja Ekis Ekman, author of Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy, and the Split Self (a book that is actually based in a Marxist and feminist analysis, yet no American progressive/liberal/feminist journalist seems inclined to cover it) points out: “Sex work lobbyists will try to paint prostitution as though it’s not a gender issue but rather just a ‘buyer’ and a ‘seller.'” People are no longer talking about people — they are talking about “services,” “clients,” and “business.” Anybody out there? Leftists? Bueller?

It’s odd because abolitionists are often told not to base their opinions and advocacy on either “ideology” or “feelings.” While I’d argue that both of those things intersect because we tend to develop ideology based on ethics which are often related to our “feelings” (i.e. our ability or inability to relate to other beings on this earth), I wonder, on what basis should we form our opinions and movements and activism? Maybe we should let computers do feminism for us in order to ensure it’s purely “rational” and not all muddled up with stupid humans and their stupid “feelings?”

Here’s the thing: capitalism doesn’t have feelings. Capitalism prioritizes the needs and wants of the market over the well-being of humans, animals, and the earth. If you want a system based on JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM, look no further than corporate capitalism, which has mastered the art of putting any “feeling” at all aside in favour of profit. Capitalism has taught us well, it seems, forcing us to divorce our ethics and laws from our humanity.

Now, I do understand, of course, that when looking at the issue of prostitution, one’s “feelings” are less important than the reality of what is happening to women who are actually in prostitution. But to argue that we keep our “feelings” out of it or avoid thinking about why prostitution exists strikes me as quite nonsensical. Women are in prostitution because of inequality — we absolutely must include that reality in any conversation about laws, services, and advocacy. To ignore the context for the sex industry is to ignore the reality of the sex industry. We can’t help women and girls who are vulnerable or who end up in the sex industry if we don’t understand why they are there or why they might end up there.

If we do indeed want to look at the “reality” of prostitution, we’re going to have “feelings” about it. Those who don’t are, in fact, the problem. Because you know who doesn’t let “feelings” get in the way of their opinions about prostitution? Johns. Also, people who don’t care about women.

Prostitution is labour. Don’t get me wrong. It is very hard “work.” But it isn’t *just* work and it certainly isn’t *just* a labour issue. Most women don’t want to do sex work. Most women who are in prostitution want out. “Helping” them stay there doesn’t help. Decriminalizing prostitution in order to form mythical unions that will provide mythical “rights” and safety is, well, a myth. There is no such thing as a safe, legal prostitution industry. Women who are prostituted under legalized or decriminalized regimes continue to work illegally, continue to feel stigmatized, continue to be subjected to violence, don’t register to pay taxes (because they hope to leave the industry and don’t wish to be on record as prostitutes), and don’t join unions. The “unions” that do exist for prostitutes are, it seems, run by pimps or “managers” and, therefore, are not “unions” at all.

What women need are options, services, and support. Not to be viewed as inhuman cogs (disturbingly, the cover of Gira Grant’s book presents women’s bodies literally as cogs…). To take feelings, morals, ethics, or ideology out of the conversation is to take our humanity and the humanity of women and girls out of the conversation. It makes us inhuman and it forces us to see others as inhuman. And I want no part of any social movement that demands dehumanization. If you want to take feelings and ideology out of social movements — particularly feminism — then perhaps you’re better suited as a CEO.

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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  • Nice rebuttal. Insisting bystanders ignore their consciences is a commonly employed abuser tactic, especially when there are more witnesses to the abuse than victims of it.

    If the bizness of prostitution is “emotionless sex” for men, why do johns in every nation brutalize prostituted women to death so damn often?

    I’ll get over my emotions desiring more for women than prostitution after sexist men stop taking out their rage and revulsion for all women on prostituted women.

    • Meghan Murphy


    • I think that porn has so infilitrated sexism into the boys and girls that most have a revulsion at even examining their conscience over where they stand on human rights for women and children. Just like in Nazi Germany, its so much easier to go with the flow and say that violent attacks on women in the home is more a problem of location (domestic) than attitude of the perpetrator (sexist), that prostituted women are the lowest of the low and therefore crime against them is treated as crime against the untouchables in India – ie beating to death a dog is just not seen as a crime and in male culture, prostitutes are stand in dogs that you can hit, fuck or beat when you can’t do that to your wife without being arrested. Although that status is gradually being diminished with the police now largely colluding with private attacks on women being treated as a non attack as far as they possibly can get away with.

  • “And I noticed that, Wow nobody’s freaking out about the dudes who are doing construction work who stand out on the corner every morning, hoping someone will hire them, hoping they’ll get paid by the end of the day. No one gets as concerned about that the same way they do sex workers.” this erases the labor movement

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yeah seriously. Like, on what planet? What do we think the labour movement DOES care about, in that case?

    • I not only care deeply about the plight of casual workers, I have been involved in a group supporting non-unionised workers. I’m a freelancer myself, the “educated” version of casual work, and often struggle very hard indeed, though of course my health and safety problems (mostly from repetitive strain) are obviously not as dire as those of casual farm or building workers. I helped a guy I knew assist a friend who worked on a farm with him and who had lost an arm ripped off by machinery direct his friend to where and how to seek compensation.

      In the Global South, there are many associations concerned about sex work that are deeply involved in the struggles of workers in the casual or informal job market in general.

    • Ivy

      This kind of stuff makes me want to scream. You know why people don’t worry or look down on construction workers? They are actually contributing to society! They build houses and buildings! Also I have never known a construction worker who lived like that…they work in companies. In fact, I have heard chauvanists argue that important jobs like police officers, construction workers, sewage workers, electricians and firefighters are men, it shows they are more productive then women. Sorry pro prostitution people but being a hooker is not an important job that helps society run, it hurts women and tells them their value is their sex unlike men whose value is in their brain and muscles.

  • I don’t think the pro-prostitution side is even looking at things “rationally”. They seem to think that looking at things “rationally” means looking at them without emotion. It doesn’t. Being “rational” means defending your position with arguments that make sense. Pro – prostitution arguments don’t make sense. They think that buyers kill prostitutes because they are under the impression that they’re oppressed victims of coercion. What sense does that make? Since when do people kill others because they think they are oppressed? I think buyers are way more likely to commit murder if they think that prostituted women are empowered choice makers who have tonnes of money which they got from using their sexy bodies to rob them (the buyers) of their hard earned money. Prostitution defenders aren’t rational, they are just blind endorsers of sexual libertarian ideology, who want everyone else to abandon their non-sexual libertarian ideologies and embrace idealist nonsense about how simply thinking differently about something can change its nature.

  • morag

    Of course if you if you bring this up to the most vocal sex industry supporters online, they’ll most likely respond by saying “So you’re saying I should be ‘nice’ to other women? Well sorry I’m not a proper lady like you. I was born in raised in X and we aren’t fake like you! Check your class privilege classist.”

    It’s a disgusting tactic-making it seem like abolitionists are just rich white ladies with fainting couches who don’t really care about marginalized women.

    • I grew up so far from a “privileged” position in terms of class that I was ashamed to have friends over.

    • Funny you mentioned that. The past several days on the Amnesty Virtual Protest event page on Facebook, the ones with privilege were two women (shills for the commercial rape lobby) and a rich white guy and they were the ones shouting down, harassing, and bullying sex trafficking survivors. There were far more exited women (and all of us are butt-ass poor, mind you) on that thread speaking up for the abolition side than there were “rich white ladies.”

      A couple of dedicated radical feminists (who are white and upper-middle class) came in to back up sex trafficking survivors and used their privileges to stand in solidarity with us. And we ALL got talked over and shouted down and harassed by the commercial rape lobby.

      The commercial rape lobby is a $32 billion dollar/yr ‘industry’, and as such, will stoop to anything to protect it’s wealth and blood money gotten off of the backs of poor, brutalized sex trafficking victims. They aren’t nice people who care about poor women. And they’re not about to concede that we’re right and they’re wrong and pack it in and call it a day and go into the hot dog or ice cream vending business.

      $32 billion/yr can buy an awful lot of highly paid shills and spin doctors to protect traffickers’ and johns’ interests at the expense of poor, marginalized women. Bear that in mind. And use that fact to your advantage in any discourse you find yourself in with these “sex workers’ rights” people. Many of them are johns or pimps/former pimps/aspiring pimps. And pimps and johns manipulate and lie. (Imagine that!)

      The pimps and johns parade also attracts narcissists of every stripe, too. Including other women, unfortunately. And what narcissists do best is appropriate the language of social justice and bend it to fit their own arguments.

      When they start running off with their verbal diarrhea of accusations against you and other abolitionist feminists, accusing you of not caring about poor marginalized women, ask them why their “solution” to poor marginalized women’s poverty never seems to include options OTHER than prostitution. Like the restoration/implementation of an adequate social safety net for poor and economically excluded women, and real aggressive measures to eliminate or at least greatly reduce job discrimination against poor women (i.e. enact some real equal opportunity policies with teeth).

      I guarantee that they will not be able to come back with anything to refute that. They will simply continue to beat their pro “sex work” drum about prostitution as the solution to women’s poverty and liberation—showing their narcissistic arses to the world for who and what they really are.

      To all my fellow abolitionists here (yes, including the “rich white ladies with fainting couches”) who stand with poor sex trafficking survivors fighting for our human rights as we struggle to rebuild our stolen lives, often doing so while in extreme poverty: Thank you for your support and visibility in this battle.

      In solidarity,

      Jacqueline S. Homan—sex trafficking survivor, author, activist and software developer

      • THANK YOU, Jacqueline (and Meghan for having opened those floodgates)!!! I find it hard to type as I am standing on my chair and applauding!… Pointing to the monies millionnaires are pouring into this debate is the ultimate taboo.

      • Can I quote you on FB, Jacqueline?

      • morag

        Thank you so much for your beautiful comment, Jacqueline. I’ve also noticed how the most privileged women who shill for the sex industry love to use marginalized women as props. They think that by simply saying “Well I know a black/Latina/Thai/etc woman who loves being a hooker, so you can;’ claim to speak for WOC!!” that invalidates their opposition’s arguments, who’s usually…a WOC. They also point to Eastern European women who “made it” in the modelling industry as proof that sex trafficking isn’t really a problem. Bloggers like Renegade Evolution get so angry at women like Sam Berg and Meghan, but yet have nothing to say about the men that are quoted in the Invisible Men Tumblr.

        What’s truly heart breaking is the terrible and inhuman things they write about survivors. So apparently because there may be similarities between 2 survivors stories, that must mean they’re making it up? I think we as feminists cannot underestimate the lengths these people will go to to protect their lucrative income. They really have no shame, they don’t think twice about going to Rebecca Mott’s blog and calling her a liar, or outright saying she loved being a whore and if she would just come to their brothel, she would be rich and safe!

        Like I wrote before, they have manipulated the discourse so much that feminists are now the rich privileged ones, and the pimps are the poor sex workers trying to eke out a living. Meanwhile the real vicitms are silenced, and the liberal feminists can pat themselves on the back for “listening to sex workers.” If some women are happy being “sex workers,” that’s fine, but me and many other women have fought all our lives NOT to be whores, since men think that’s our natural state due to our ethnicity, religion, sexuality, etc.

        Thank you for the great work you do Jacqueline, I’ll always stand in solidarity with you.

        • Morag,

          The Commercial Rape lobby is a really vile crew. Every sex trafficking survivor who is an abolition activist has been doxxed, stalked, discredited, harassed, and threatened. Every one of us. It has gotten so bad many survivors are now silent out of very real and justified fear for their lives.

          One survivor whom I am working with was being physically stalked after being doxxed. He called the big, well-heeled Christian anti-trafficking NGO’s (who get the lion’s share of what limited government money there is for trafficking victims) for help with relocation funds only to be told to go to a homeless shelter. Female survivors whose children were also threatened were told the same thing when they tried to get help.

          The pro-prostitution people are very vicious and dangerous. And they have a hell of a lot more resources at their disposal than destitute sex trafficking survivors fighting for basic human rights and some restorative justice and reparations. And they’re far more resourced than the feminist abolitionists, too.

          On that Amnesty Virtual Protest page, this guy (Duane Crawford, a rich white male in Hutto, Texas who has a high paying executive job in oil and gas—the kind of high paying jobs that women are discriminated against and prevented from getting), actually tried to proposition Muhrlei Cote (one of the feminists sticking up for survivors) for a million dollars—all while denying that he was a john or pro-prostitution. (He was so busted!)

          These mouthpieces for the commercial rape lobby said that most “sex workers” were not/are not victims of human trafficking, that it was feminists and Christians in the abolition movement who shame these women into falsely claiming to be crime victims. Well, I shot that outrageous lie down. I can prove I was a victim of child sex trafficking. And I DID name the perps, too.

          I was kidnapped as a homeless orphaned child by adults who sold rape tickets to other adults and I had to risk either death or arrest in order to escape at the age of 17. I took extreme measures to extricate myself from that situation for the exact same reason you fought your entire life to NOT be made to be a whore: I wanted to live. My story is being featured in a documentary that will be produced at the end of this summer.

          If we accept the conservative estimate that only 15% of all men are johns, then that means that it is 15% of all men who are filling the bank accounts of traffickers and pimps with $32 billion each year.

          When I was being trafficked (I was trafficked from ages 13-17 over 30 years ago, and I am now 47), not a single john cared that he was hurting me, and that I was being forced, and that I was only a child—younger than many of their own children. Some of the johns that brutalized me probably killed other victims of prostitution. “Bad date” lists seem to have some common johns on them. This is not a coincidence.

          Johns deliberately target an entire class of people deemed disposable. They target them because they get off on harming and even killing them and as long as society shields them and gives them the green light by discarding the victims and punishing the survivors with life-long stigma and poverty, they can continue to act with impunity.

          Duane (the john) finally conceded that I was not a “sex worker” because I was brutally forced into it by a criminal outfit, but he was adamant that just because I was a crime victim that doesn’t mean adult women who want do “sex work” should have their only meal ticket taken from them. Yet he refused to answer my question about why prostitution should be poor women’s ONLY option.

          If they truly are speaking for the human rights of “sex workers”, why do they go out of their way to trample on the human rights of destitute trafficking victims/survivors by harassing, stalking, and threatening us with the intent to do us real physical harm? They can’t seem to answer that question, either.

          What happened to me was NOT a one-off; three-quarters of the women in prostitution were trafficked as children. And why is that? It’s because the demand-driven sex trade itself is the reason that child sex trafficking exists.

          The commercial rape lobby can come up with all the craptastic mental gymnastics they want, but they can’t polish a turd. And when they shovel this dog shit to the public while calling it chocolate candy, there is ONE thing that threatens to bring down their house of cards: the truth. Survivors who are abolition activists, along with our allies, are a threat to their $32 billion dollar a year rape ticket revenues.

          • Derrington

            Have had the same problem in reporting violent sexist attacks against me and my six year old daughter so this is a male cultural problem across the board. You see evidence of it on internet too in violence of guys language in shouting down gender equality.

  • marv

    The left often views worker rights “through a capitalist lens – in market terms” as well. Most unions are not about ending private enterprise; they promote harm reduction for labourers: higher salaries, health and safety standards, social benefits, job security, the right to strike and so on. It amounts to an attempt to garner a larger piece of the capitalist pie. There are only a minority of the proletariat out there who want to socialize production. It is almost like the labour movement (in general) is portraying work as though it is not a class system to be abolished but simply employees and employers brokering deals within the mutually accepted parameters of the market economy.

    The jobs that capitalism creates are not collectively worker defined or organized, especially by women, people of colour and those with disabilities, (never mind being socially useful, environmentally sustainable and respectful of nonhuman animals). Consequently the work is subjugated and malformed even when the workers enjoy their occupations – rationalizing exploitation. Prostitution is not liberating work under any circumstances but neither is any commercialized employment (or the state variety) under liberalized or regulated conditions.

    • “It is almost like the labour movement (in general) is portraying work as though it is not a class system to be abolished but simply employees and employers brokering deals within the mutually accepted parameters of the market economy.”

      Yes, much of the labour movement today is very reformist. This is why I hate the term “classism”. It suggests that there’s nothing actually wrong with the existence of classes and that the only problem is discrimination against people on the basis of their class (e.g. rich, middle class snobs looking down on poor people.) Yeah, there’s a lot of hatred directed at poor and in particular unemployed people, but that’s not the main problem. The problem is poverty and unemployment and at the root of those problems is the fact that society is divided into economic classes. Modern day liberal so-called feminists / social justice activists want people to see dull, repetitive, low income work as yet another empowering choice which is part of your “identity” (rather than a social role imposed on human beings by the capitalist system.)

      The more we tell people to base their sense of self on the subordinate role they play in society (whether it’s that of a worker or a woman or whatever) the more they’ll feel that they have something invested in oppressive systems (e.g. capitalism, gender,etc.) Of course it’s important for workers to recognise that they are workers and for women to recognise that they are women (and to recognise the oppression that comes with being those things), but they shouldn’t feel that their womanhood or their worker-ness is what makes them who they are and that they would have no identity outside of those roles. To put it another way people should have class and gender consciousness, but they shouldn’t have class or gender “identities”.

      • marv

        “To put it another way people should have class and gender consciousness, but they shouldn’t have class or gender “identities”.”

        So concisely and cogently said!

  • The cover of Melissa Gira Grant’s book is yet more evidence of what men really think of women. Men do view us women as ‘cogs’/dehumanised products’ which men can purchase and then rape with impunity.

    The irrationality and illogical dogma mens’ pimp industry and their female handmaidens promote is always at odds with mens’ constant claims that ‘forced labour is wrong!’ Of course the men never ever openly declare the reason why they oppose ‘forced labour’ is because it is men who are the (supposedly) ones being deceived and entrapped into ‘forced labour.’ Women are never entrapped into ‘forced labour’ because mens’ pimp industry – aka prostitution is supposedly a female choice and opportunity for female (pseudo) empowerment!

    I’ve yet to hear mens’ pimp industry advocates claim that male forced labour is a choice and the men entrapped are enacting ‘their agency and choice!’ Most of the men who become entrapped into ‘forced labour’ have done so willingly but when they accepted they did not know the conditions wherein they were expected to labour for little or no money!

    Men continue to deploy every illiogical/irrational justification for their male pseudo sex right to females any time anywhere and this is the central issue but men continue to deny prostitution is the oldest male oppression of women.

    Methinks the men doth protest too much when they invoke ‘feelings of anger and outrage’ that other men are subjected to ‘forced labour!’ After all work is just work is it not and the conditions of said ‘work’ are irrelevant according to mens’ illogical and irrational thinking!

  • Missfit

    The capitalist ethic encourages sociopathy. This is why rich businessmen can sleep well after having fired thousands of employees,who will find themselves without the necessary means to make a living, for the sake of enriching already rich people. You can just rationalize all this, it was a rational decision, ‘I did what I had to do’ and that’s the end of it. Under capitalism, the rational is profit (for a privileged few). Any other rationalization is left out. Equal redistribution of the ressources is also rational, because this could mean less crimes, misery, diseases, etc. Compassion is rational. An unlimited quest for profit, for power, is also linked to emotions – rationally, nobody needs to individually possess millions of dollars. To claim reason devoid of emotion is usually a tactic to cover a lack of compassion.

    Now, it’s funny that when we ask what, objectively, is empowering in licking a stranger’s genitals we are answered ‘well I just FEEL empowered’.

    • MLM

      “Compassion is rational.”
      “To claim reason devoid of emotion is usually a tactic to cover a lack of compassion.”

      This, absolutely!

      “Maybe we should let computers do feminism for us in order to ensure it’s purely “rational” and not all muddled up with stupid humans and their stupid “feelings?””

      Meghan, I think you might really be overlooking the potential of this idea. Considering some of the callousness and dishonesty that some human beings can seem to bring to discussing these issues, perhaps computers programmed according to feminist principles might have a far greater capacity to prioritise empathy than many human beings.

      Surely, computers would be able to trounce the false and illogical in a nanosecond. And they couldn’t be exhausted by having to make the same repetitive arguments. Ad hominem attacks, slurs, insults, threats, harassment and bullying simply wouldn’t work on them. And because they wouldn’t have “emotions” as such, they couldn’t be simultaneously taxed emotionally by the debate and criticised for having an emotional response to it.

      I don’t know…is it a terrible thing that I’m starting to warm to it?

      • Meghan Murphy

        They could take Twitter for us! What a load off…

        • MLM

          See! 🙂

  • pisaquari

    Ageism alert: Meagan’s article reads like a back-and-forth note being written by clueless middle-schoolers. So much! Like! Confused agreement! And, what else! Yeah! What you just said, totally!

    Interestingly, the bullying tactic of libertarian-fems is so well-put by the author at the end of this article that it’s embarrassing:
    “Basically when I’m reading this book and talking to you all I can think is, “Okay Melissa, just please tell me what to think and how to do it right so I don’t look like an asshole.””

    Yes. Please. Just tell us all how to think so you don’t start name-calling. Because fear of being called an asshole is sound basis for a political position.

    “it makes me sad how unsatisfying it is for some people, not all people, to hear, Listen to sex workers is the call-to-arms. They’re like, that’s it? That doesn’t feel like a thing. And it’s like, no that is a thing.”

    No Melissa. It’s because real life consist of behaviors and beliefs and policies – this thing called Material Reality – where people have to move about their day knowing what action(s) might lead to a better existence for each other. “That is a thing” just isn’t cutting it.

    And as if LISTENING to women’s stories is not the exact reason so many laws, policies, shelters and safe houses, and exit programs have been pushed for (though not well-funded, thank you political-johns) for decades. Those are actually “things.” (I’m reminded of Xtians telling each other to just “let God into your heart.” Ohhhhhhhhh-kay)
    Maybe Grant could find some time in her self-promotion schedule to go listen to the countless prostituted women whose bodies were discovered murdered this past week. Let us know what you come up with!

    Thank you Meghan, for breaking this ridiculous anti-feelings shit down to its necessary guts. As if unapologetic empathy for women isn’t the lifeblood of feminism.

    • Meghan Murphy

      YES! I wish your comment was my blog post. Yes to all of that. Thank you.

  • You know that feeling when you’re walking along New York’s outer barrier island not too far from Gilgo Beach ( with a client and you realize there is no one around, and your blood runs cold?

    You know that feeling when you’re reading articles by a woman who aggressively advocates for carceral ‘solutions’ to sex working women’s oppression that all legitimate research finds exacerbates violence against us and your blood boils?

    No? That’s okay, let’s talk more about *your* feelings.

    • Meghan Murphy

      It isn’t fair, true or logical to characterize the Nordic model or feminist action, laws, services, approaches, and ideology a “carceral solution” to women’s oppression, Lori.

      I also think that to characterize caring about the lives and oppression of other women as being *just* about *my* “feelings” is intellectually manipulative and lazy. That is very clearly not the argument I made in the post.

      It seems, as per your tumblr post:
      “Poor Meghan, still mad that sex working women think our lives are more important than her feelings about them.” — that your mischaracterization or misunderstanding of my points/arguments is intentional — what’s the purpose in that? Looking for reasons to hate me or paint me as someone I’m not? How original.

      Feminism is about caring about women and working to end the oppression or and violence against women. I’m not sure how or why that offends you.

      • Of the hundred plus current sex working women, men + nonbinary people I know, not a single one is in favor of the Nordic model. I haven’t read about any one current sex worker anywhere on the globe who supports it, not in any form of media by any feminist or non-feminist of any ideological strain. Not a single one of the hundreds of global organizations of sex workers supports it. Not. one. OUR feelings based on OUR experiences of being current sex workers at constant risk of violence tell us that the Nordic model is completely nonsensical except as a means of punishing men– *not* of protecting working women. Dozens of scholarly articles confirm this.

        But you know this. I’m not here to argue with you based on facts. Facts don’t work on you. This is, indeed, all about your feelings, and it is completely sociopathic. You believe that your feelings about punishing men are more important than the lives of millions of women at daily risk of violence. Feminism is about caring enough about women to trust those women most effected by an issue to tell you what we need to fix it, about looking at the actual evidence of what is harming us, about valuing our lives over statist punishment of men, about recognizing that *your* feelings are not the most important thing on this planet. We are literally screaming at you to help and you refuse to listen, because you simply do. not. care. You are more interested in continuing the long tradition of carceral White feminist sociopathy. It’s *not* just you and your feelings. It’s you and every major feminist advocacy org at the ear of every major policy org at the ear of every important politician– all concerned with all of your own feelings and not our feelings and not our lives.

        I can’t convince you of anything. I just need to be able to tell you to your face that you are complicit in abuse and murder.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Yet hundreds of exited women, working class women, Indigenous women, academics, feminists, lawyers, transition house workers, and on and on, do support it. The ‘global organizations of sex workers’ you mention don’t support it because they have a vested interest in ensuring the sex industry continue. Most of those organizations are led by managers/pimps/madams. I don’t know that any of them are feminist.

          Sex workers are subjected to and at risk for violence because of violent men. Not because of the Nordic model, not because of feminists who support the Nordic model, and not because of me.

          The Nordic model is the ONLY model that has successfully reduced prostitution and trafficking. The model gives more power to sex workers than decriminalized or legalized models do. It most certainly does not cause violence to increase.

          “[my]feelings about punishing men” are not “more important than the lives of millions of women at daily risk of violence.” I have “feelings” about feminism and prostitution precisely because of the millions of women who experience or are at risk for violence daily.

          I could argue that the fact that you absolutely refuse to listen to anyone but the privileged few ( mainly white women who live in the west) who have Twitter accounts and demand we do the same — insisting that these are the ONLY voices that count and these are the voices who will speak over the rest of the women who live in this world, regardless of the consequences, makes you complicit in the violence inflicted on millions of women and girls in prostitution across the world (who aren’t on Twitter), but I won’t. Because I don’t believe women are responsible for men’s violence.

          You want to talk about “white feminist sociopathy”? Well, to be clear, I don’t know what that means and neither do you. Because it means absolutely nothing. But sure, let’s talk sociopathy. Let’s also talk about the “self-obsessed” (something you accuse me of, which is pretty ironic considering your extremely self-absorbed/narcissistic bevahiour on social media) — keeping in mind that I have not engaged you in your space or in any other, nor have I written or said one single word about you since what, 2011? Yet you haven’t stopped attacking me online for a single day? You consistently claim that I “harass” you and that I am “on your case” despite the fact that I have said nothing to you or about you since blocking you on Twitter three years ago. That, to me, is a sign of narcissism. That one would lie so completely and consistently in order to create an image of self-importance to oneself and to others that simply does not exist. To imagine and pretend that those who ignore you are somehow obsessed with you while you spend so much of your energy maligning them. That you and your friends consistently and obsessively lie about and attack me despite the fact that I say nothing to or about any of you ever? Despite the fact that I blocked all of you years ago? Is it that you wish someone would bother to harass you online? Because trust me, it’s not fun. It is nothing to aspire to. But ok, yeah. Let’s talk about “obsession.” Let’s.

          Look around at those you claim as allies and the callous, hateful, dishonest, and misogynist ways they treat and speak about other women. The way they threaten us with violence, even. Look at the ways they treat exited women. Look at the ways they blindly, manipulatively, and selfishly attack and slander women who don’t toe their party line. Trying desperately and in the most unethical and dishonest ways to silence them, bullying and threatening and slandering them — trying to paint them as bigots or to pretend they have ulterior motives or serve to profit from their feminism. What utter bullshit. What hateful, unconscionable lies. But these are tactics you seem comfortable with as do your friends and allies. Are these the people I should be listening to? I should listen to them at the expense of ALL the rest of the women and girls who don’t have voices? Or tumblr accounts? Who aren’t on sex work twitter? Who don’t spend 24/7 obsessively and narcissistically tweeting about every little thing that pops into their heads, answering questions about themselves on tumblr as though they are celebrities (most people in the world don’t have time for that, by the way, certainly not most prostituted women — certainly not most women who work with feminist organizations and/or who are doing front-line work)? Who don’t serve to profit from the industry? Should I ignore all the exited women and marginalized women and women who have been doing work in the feminist movement, in transition houses, with prostituted women for decades? The women who aren’t in a position to identify themselves publicly as prostitutes or survivors? Who don’t speak english? Who are illegal immigrants locked up in “massage parlours”? The girls raped every day by johns? Should I ignore research? Should I ignore reality? Should I ignore systemic oppression and patriarchy? Should I ignore the violent johns? Because you and your friends on Twitter don’t like that we’ve come to a different conclusion than they? Because we actually WANT to stop the violence and put an end to this violent and oppressive industry rather than support it? No. I won’t do that. We won’t do that. I won’t throw women under the bus no matter what insults or threats you and your allies hurl my way.

          You just need to “tell me to my face” that I’m “complicit in abuse and murder?” Well, for one, this is the internet. Which is likely why you feel so “brave” to come here and spew hatred and lies at me, as seems to be your daily routine online. I doubt that if we actually had a conversation face-to-face it would go like this… Second, the fact that you continue to refuse to blame the men responsible for their own behaviour, choosing to blame me instead — an individual, a writer, a person with very little power and no financial resources (unlike those who profit from sex industry) — shows how deeply in denial you must be. It also shows that you have no interest or investment in feminism, in intellectual honesty, or in effecting real change, in which case I wonder why, exactly, I should engage with you at all?

          (For the record, I’d be more than happy to talk with you one on one. Really. But your preference is to lie and spread hate about me instead so you leave me few other options but to continue ignoring you.)

          I’m honestly sorry you are so angry. I have no idea what you’ve been through in your life and in your work. I’m sure it’s been horrid. I’m sure your anger is righteous. But it’s misdirected. I’m sorry that you’ve decided to direct your anger and hate towards feminists because we don’t hate you. I imagine that once you’re a little older and once you’ve managed a career switch (you’re completing a post-secondary degree, yes? Presumably so you can leave the industry? That education is something many women and girls in prostitution don’t access to, which puts you in a pretty privileged position which you seem to use to speak over the marginalized…), in retrospect, you’ll see things differently, and I do hope you’ll be in touch then.

          Despite all this, I wish you all the best. Really. I think you’re a good writer and I hope you can sort through your pain and anger in whatever way you can. The feminist movement will always be here for you.

          • fluidity

            condescending much?

            and you say, “should i ignore research?”
            try, should you ignore 300 Canadian researchers?

            “A large body of scientific evidence from Canada,[1] Sweden and Norway (where clients and third parties are criminalized), and globally[2] clearly demonstrates that criminal laws targeting the sex industry have overwhelmingly negative social, health, and human rights consequences to sex workers, including increased violence and abuse, stigma, HIV and inability to access critical social, health and legal protections. These harms disproportionately impact marginalized sex workers including female, Indigenous and street-involved sex workers, who face the highest rates of violence and murder in our country. In contrast, in New Zealand, since the passage of a law to decriminalize sex work in 2003, research and the government’s own evaluation have documented marked improvements in sex workers’ safety, health, and human rights.[3]”

          • Meghan Murphy

            There are many researchers and academics who say the opposite. You can choose to listen to these folks if you want to support the continuation of the sex industry/vaw if you like. I choose not.

          • “300 Canadian researchers”? Ha! Just read the list: many of them are NOT from Canada, not academics and especially not researchers on this issue.

          • fluidity

            yes thanks for that correction. although a quick look at the list does look like a majority are researchers and Canadian. not sure that really takes away from what they’re saying though, if you have a rebuttal of the argument and not the arguer

          • I know and care fuck-all about the arguer. I answered his pithy argument by poking an appropriate hole in it.
            The central principle of the issue is that, by survivors’ words, prostitution is, in itself violence against women, sex forced on women in need or restraints. And johns, pimps and traffickers often add to this physical violence to keep women enslaved and misogynists excited.
            The main strategy of supporters of prostitution is to get society to disbelieve that the amount of prostitution – and therefore the amount of VAW – can be wound down.
            They are lying: it can and has in countries where buying has been criminalized, and where pimps are not allowed to do business. Genuine researchers have testified to this reduction in peer-reviewed studies, which still carry more weight than rhetoric-filled open letters where you get abnyone to clamber on.
            End of argument.

          • fluidity

            umm… you mean, ‘their’ argument, seeing as there are 300 of them. who all signed on to a statement that said they “support decriminalization of sex work as a critical evidence-based approach to ensuring the safety, health, and human rights of sex workers.” and provided a number of footnotes to studies to back up that statement. key-word: evidence-based. not rhetoric.

            the principle of the issue, as you state it, is that (some) people who have worked in the sex industry would say it is “in itself violence against women.” key-word: some. problem for your argument is there are others who wouldn’t agree, that would argue not all paid sex work is forced upon people, that not all of it is enslavement. you cherry pick whose opinion you turn into ‘fact’.

            if you take as a belief that paid sex and violence against women is the same thing, then to decrease one decreases the other. but other people (who have experienced it) would say that the conditions of paid sex can be more or less (or even, not at all) violent, and would like to take an approach that reduces various violent aspects around paid sex. they see that using laws to attempt to reduce paid sex makes the conditions around paid sex worse for the people who still do it, and they care about that.

            obviously not the end of the argument.

          • fluidity

            oh, i see, when you say “should i ignore research?” your own answer is yes, unless it tells you what it want it to…

            glad that is clarified

          • fluidity

            oh, i see, when you say “should i ignore research?” your own answer is yes, unless it tells you what you want it to…

            glad that is clarified

            and research that shows what will reduce violence against women, gets labelled by you as supporting the continuation of violence against women … no wonder you don’t make sense

          • Meghan Murphy

            No. Because the research shows that violence HAS BEEN REDUCED under the Nordic model. And that it does not reduce under legalization. Prostitution has ALWAYS involved violence against women. Always. I have no interest in legitmizing or perpetrating an industry that perpetuates violence against women and social inequality.

          • stephen m

            @fluidity: In reality this is a case of 300 people who have read a poorly researched and biased statement, believed it, and signed it. If I didn’t know better I might believe it too.

            This statement relies on research by people like Östergren whose research is biased and has been known for years to be invalid for contributing to research on prostitution and something a good researcher would never use or cite.

            Sorry this is not credible for helping to clarify the situation.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Hey Lori,

            So you’re aware, I am not publishing your last comment because it is in breach of our comment policy here which clearly states: “Please say things that are true.” I’m simply not going to publish comments that include lies or libel. I see you are busily ranting about me online again, though… for those who wish to see Lori’s comment, which I have not approved, it’s here:

            To be clear, these are the statements you make which are not true and the reasons why your comment was not published:

            “There are also hundreds of exited women, former sex workers, Indigenous sex workers (Did you see Naomi Sayers’ piece on Tits & Sass this week?), and even feminists, academics, and lawyers and social workers and on and on who are against backdoor criminalization of women in the sex trade, i.e. the Nordic Model.”

            The Nordic model does not constitute “backdoor criminalization” — we’ve gone over this already. This statement is not accurate/true.

            “I’m not sure what the opinions of women who have never been in the industry matter here, but you’ve constructed this argument so that they only matter when they’re on your side. On this side, we’re either too privileged or we’re pimps. It’s an awfully convenient excuse for not having to listen to us— it’s also proof that your whole theory is bogus, because it’s not falsifiable. I don’t know how it is that the 60,000 women in the DMSC are all privileged or pimps, but I’m sure you have some excuse to waive away having to listen to them.”

            Again, no, I have not said that the only opinions that matter are the ones that support the Nordic model. It is you who claims the only voices that matter and should be listened to are those who support your perspective. It’s not me who makes that argument. Also, I’ve never said that you are all “too privileged” or “pimps.” Though, it’s true that I feel it’s more important to consider marginalized women in terms of created legislation than the women who are very privileged and have made themselves into spokespeople for all prostituted women.

            “Maybe because, despite all the online harassment I’m sure you face (which I cannot possibly imagine is greater than what I face as a self-identified sex worker, but you’re probably counting all of the Women of Color who are ‘mean’ to you on Twitter for being racist, so who knows) you don’t risk going to jail for saying what you say under your own name?”

            Are you and Melissa Gira Grant women of colour now? Ok… I have never complained about “women of colour” attacking me on Twitter. And I have no idea why you would accuse me of racism. What in my work is “racist”? Really. Cut the libelous shit if you want me to engage with you and publish your comments. You can’t just lie about me and then fly into a rage when I don’t publish your lies. Come on.

            “I won’t let you blithely declare that I somehow make more money than you do when I’m working class and living in the city with the second-highest living expenses on the continent.”

            I guarantee that you make more money than I do. Also, Vancouver is the second-most expensive in the world and the most expensive city in North America:

            You grew up middle class. I am working class.

            “God knows why I’m so upset you want to keep making my job difficult in some utopian quest to remove it and leave me with a fat fistful of nice ideas instead of money to pay rent.”

            I haven’t done anything to your job. Also, I live in Canada and advocate for the Nordic model here.

            The problem you have is the same many women here struggle with, but worse. A lack of social services. This is what I advocate for here. Social services. Would social services make your life worse? I also advocate for men to be held accountable for their behaviour and for violence against women. Does that make your life worse? Stop blaming me for things I have not done and am not responsible for. I am not your problem. Capitalism and patriarchy are your problem. Your vitriolic rage towards me and your obsession with me are completely misguided and illogical.

            Comment aside, you continually accuse me of having financial interest in holding these positions. You do realize I don’t get paid to blog, right? That I do this work for free? You have access to the same platform I do (i.e. WordPress). Stop trying to justify your hatred and libel by pretending as though I have some kind of ulterior motive. What I do is NOT PROFITABLE. And you know what? You can yell and shout and attack me all you want, but I have no obligation to engage with, listen to, or publish comments from people who call me horrible names and lie about me

            It’s not ok to demand women accept verbal abuse and allow people to slander them. Ever.

            Got it? Cool.

        • stephen m
        • Donkey Skin

          And as Meghan has pointed out, it’s disingenuous in the extreme to characterise the Nordic Model as ‘carceral’, when it involves the removal of all laws targeting the sellers of sex. It’s not even ‘carceral’ in its approach to johns, given that the penalty in most cases is a fine. The purpose of the law targeting sex buyers is to transform social norms around purchasing sexual access to another human being, not to lock people up en masse.

          Once again, the pro-pimp lobby shows how weak its actual arguments against the Nordic Model are, by having to lie and misrepresent in order to make any sort of argument at all.

        • Regarding the hundreds who are against the Nordic Model… You don’t live in Sweden. You live in the US most likely.
          What do you actually know about the Nordic Model and the work atmosphere for the women here? (I’m in Sweden)
          I know hundreds who support it, including many men. Here and in Norway.

    • Donkey Skin

      ‘carceral ‘solutions’ to sex working women’s oppression that all legitimate research finds exacerbates violence against us’

      There is no evidence that the Nordic Model exacerbates male violence against women in prostitution – if there were, you can bet the sex-industry promoters would be trumpeting it everywhere. In fact, the available data shows that the opposite is the case:

      It’s very telling that the pro-prostitution side continually repeats blatant lies about the Nordic Model, yet NEVER uses research from places where all aspects of the sex industry have been legalised, such as Germany and the Netherlands, to make their case for ‘harm reduction’.

      That’s because they know, as everyone who has looked at the facts knows, that the unregulated growth of the sex industry, which is the single demand of the pro-decrim lobby, has been a disaster for women in prostitution in those countries, as well as women and girls from countries targeted by the trafficking networks that have sprung up to feed the ever-expanding market. They know that prostituted women continue to be raped, beaten and murdered at phenomenal rates at the hands of pimps and johns in those countries, because male violence towards prostituted women is not caused by ‘stigma’ perpetuated by feminists, but by the fact that being in a situation of prostitution by its nature involves being repeatedly exposed to violent, misogynist men who want to rape, hurt and kill women.

  • polarcontrol

    So she talks about the immediate labor and human rights issues sex workers are “dying from”. Has anyone here read the book? I wonder what she means, because what I’ve gathered is that when sex workers die because of their work, it means they are actually killed by their clients. That is, they die, because men, kill and murder them. (Tell me if I’ve missed something here. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt.) This is violence against women.

    It should be the clearest cue that what we’re dealing with here is not simply like any other labour issue, but deeply entwined with gender inequality and male violence against women.

    Discussing the issue of safety of sex workers in terms of labour rights only (and not “distracted” by other perspectives) is in fact making male violence invisible. It turns it into a safety hazard, which labour rights could remove/minimize, and actually naturalizes male violence, making it seem like some inevitable force of nature. Instead of naming the perpetrator, men’s culpability, the role of men in this whole deal is again removed out of the discussion.

    • lizor

      Considering Lori opens with the line “You know that feeling when you’re walking along … with a client and you realize there is no one around, and your blood runs cold?”, it’s ironic (to put it gently) that she accuses Meghan of responsibility for violence and death (well, it’s twisted beyond the pale, actually).

      What other “job” risk is most exacerbated by being alone with a client?

  • ToniBe

    I don’t get (well I really do) why these “sex worker” types aren’t also advocating the Nordic model. Then the 75%-99% of prostituted women would be provided with the resources and services they need to get out. The supposed 1% to 25% who love “sex work” can have a monopoly. If it’s all about capitalism and commodities, wouldn’t it be better to corner the market and minimize the competition? Nordic Model all the way!

    I read two manuals for sex workers a few months ago: one from the UK and from Los Angeles. Let me first say, I used to be human resources and had to write employee manuals for various industries. What was most disturbing where suggestions on safety. All of them ended with some variation of “…in case you need to run…” or “…in case you need to escape quickly…” Any “job” that outlines multiple scenarios where one might have to escape, probably isn’t the best work environment.

    I also hate how the main problem in all of this isn’t addressed: male dominance and violence.

    • And therein lies the core problem. If the prostitute has made a free choice to work in an industry where the bosses and customers call her by names to indicate contempt, where they routinely attack her and sometimes rape or kill her, where there are no contracts, no agreed hours, total disregard to health and safety regulations and equalities legislation and the main form of recruitment is by falsifications of either the pimps intentions towards the employee, the fact that they are underaged, or downright slavery … then that pro prostitution person isn’t really acknowledging the issues as they may concern others, just herself. Which is a bit like driving a car down the road without due care for how her choices effect others.

  • Pingback: Sunday feminist roundup (30th March 2014)()

  • pisaquari

    Also, can I just note the incredible juxtaposition of images upon opening Feminist Current’s homepage: Melissa Grant’s cogs and slim legs (donning those 9-5 heels) placed next to the Japanese Comfort Women with their pained faces and fists (aptly pointing towards Grant’s work). One would never know, looking at Grant’s book, that she was also talking about those ‘comfort women’, about women whose lives were ravaged by male violence. And I have to say, those survivors exhibit so much more agency to me. It takes a great sense of self, of autonomy, of conscience, to stand up to patriarchy–and far less to become a cog in its great machinations.

    • morag

      That was wonderfully stated, pisaquari. Sex industry advocates always throw around the phrase “but I’ve worked with marginalised WOC and they agree with me, not you!” as if “WOC” is just a buzzword for ally points, and not a term used to refer to living, breathing, thinking women.

    • Slim and SHAPELY legs. The street sex workers near where I live have very slim legs, but alas not shapely any more…

  • Wow, Meghan, I just want to tell you that after my day today, I admire you all the more for the work you do here on this blog and how much determination, resilience and patience you must have to continue writing here. I am slain after (quite involuntarily) being involved in a debate with two men who absolutely hated feminism. I felt so attacked and insulted, and when I talked about how sexism affects both men and women in negative ways, how women have to face harassment every day just walking down the street, I was told I was being “a whiny bitch” who cannot bring any rational or even real arguments to the table, that I as a woman have nothing of worth to say and that I am threatening the world just by being a feminist. Oh, did I mention they actually stated that objectification is a normal and good thing? I just, wow… I have more cringeworthy material to tell you, but I think it’s better for the world if I don’t even mention those things anymore. It is depressing. You asked a few comments above why or how feminism is offensive, I have absolutely no f*cking idea. I think this is how the Melissa Grants of the world continue to exist, because apparently it is perfectly good for us to erase all the personhood of a woman and turn her into a hole with breasts and long lengs to be played with by men. Dammit. You go on doing what you’re doing, Meghan, you’re an inspiration to me and I live halfway across the world.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I’m so sorry you had to deal with that (and thank you)>

      • I didn’t mean to come off as whiny and off-topic, but I was so angry when I wrote that I forgot to give a little bit more context. The argument started around the harassment and objectification of women and then continued with “teaching” me that we should remove “feelings” from the conversation and focus solely on logical and rational argumentsv (i.e. according to them, it is sexism only if it in the text of the law and laws alwaaays favor women, you know the usual MRA gibberish), as if people and what they do to each other is always logical and rational. I guess the idea behind my comment was to point out how pervasive this mindset is (the one you described in the article) and how it is used to bring down any “dissidents” and how it is adopted by women trying to fit in a patriarchal mold, kind of trying to escape their “womanness”. I hope that makes sense, I’m kind of self taught about feminism and still have a lot to learn.

        • Meghan Murphy

          You didn’t come off as whiny. It sounds like an extremely maddening experience that many of us here can likely relate to!

    • huha

      anaeli28, it’s really maddening isn’t it?
      If I only counted how many times MEN have told me that objectification = finding women attractive and it’s perfectly okay and it doesn’t harm anyone. THEY CAN’T IMAGINE LIKING A WOMAN WITHOUT OBJECTIFYING HER. This is how far shit has gone.
      I asked them how women can find men attractive without objectifying them but their brains are too small too comprehend.

  • Thank you for reminding readers of the existence of Kajsa Ekis Ekman and her book “Being and Being Bought” (Spinifex Press, 2013),
    I think of this exposé of prostitution and commercial surrogacy as the iceberg that can sink for good the corporate battleship aimed at racialized women’s lives and welfare, as the sex industry gains more and more of a stranglehold on their options.
    Sarah Meghan Mah recently placed the “sex work” discourse in perspective at Concordia University in Montreal, speaking as a representative of the Asian Women’s Coalition to End Prostitution (AWCEP), part of the greater Canadian Women’s Coalition Against Prostitution.

    • Donkey Skin

      Being and Being Bought is the most profound feminist text I have read in a long time. I urge anyone interested in the current state of women’s rights to read it. It is particularly valuable for the way it deconstructs the ideological justifications for placing poor women’s bodies on the market on a mass scale. Kajsa Ekis Ekman brilliantly exposes the way both neoliberal capitalists and post-modern leftists have twisted feminist rhetoric in the service of maintaining patriarchal, racist and capitalist control over female reproduction and sexuality.

  • Edson

    Meghan, your writing about this issue is the best around. I have been in favour of the nordic model since learning about it in nursing school in 2004. It made sense to me then that the approach Sweden took, that prostitution is a problem of male violence against women, was pretty obvious. And I also learned after some reading and research, that simply targeting johns isn’t enough. Sweden did do work to retrain police officers in how to deal with prostitutes, and they did so some work to provide women with opportunities to exit prostitution. Your writing on this issue just makes it even clearer to me that the Nordic model is the way to go here in Canada, but of course, I am not confident that the current government of extreme misogynists will do anything to support sex workers who choose to leave prostitution. That’s the real issue here in Canada; even if the government does adopt criminalisation of the purchase of sex, they will almost certainly do nothing for women in the profession. And that is where you writing and work you do is so important. It puts pressure on lawmakers to see the problem for what it really is – a lack of opportunity for women in a capitalist sexist society. And Capitalism is the key word there. Not to trivialise the issue of prostitution, but almost all working people in this neo-liberalised, capitalist world, are prostituting themselves for basic survival (minus, in most cases, the violence). Thanks for work you do.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks for your words Edson. I share your concern regarding our Conservative government and believe it is of utmost importance we push and push and push to ensure services are put in place that support marginalized women. Without a viable welfare system, access to housing and support services, where will we be?

    • “Not to trivialise the issue of prostitution, but almost all working people in this neo-liberalised, capitalist world, are prostituting themselves for basic survival”
      Trivialize it, you do. I am so sick of this pat response from Lefty males who have obviously never had to turn a trick…

      • Edson

        Wow, I guess i just failed the ally test

      • Edson

        My comment about the fact that prostitution exists in the context of a capitalist economics, where all workers are prostitutes (metaphorically speaking in case you don’t understand that I am not being literal), in relation to those who pay them for their labour. Your response is the pat response of an angry person with nothing constructive to say.

        • Lo

          “all workers are prostitutes”

          This is just a liberal point of view.
          It erases the context of each “job”.

          • Edson

            I think it might actually be more of a marxist point of view…

          • Lo

            WHAT?? o_O

            Not at all.

          • Ivy

            As someone who has a job and knows people with jobs…no, most people would be very insulted at being called prostitutes.

          • Lo

            It’s not about if you or others feel “””insulted””” or not.

            It’s all about liberal point of view here.

          • Ivy

            I could have phrased that a lot better…The phrase everyone prostitutes themselves just really annoys me because it sounds like you are trying to be deep. Yes, having to work is necessary in a capitalistic society…however the sex industry jobs are on a completely different level then say being a construction worker or a teacher. I honestly don’t think people will ever acknowledge that stripping for instance is important and worth while no matter how legal it is….I have know people that have worked in strip clubs and they are extremely shady….

        • NitroGirl

          When you get an STI in your eye for stocking products at Wal-Mart then you can say all workers are prostitutes. This is a Feminist site,you are going to have to come stronger than that. (“metaphorically speaking”)

          • Edson

            It seems to me you get off (“metaphorically speaking”) on writing insulting things to people who don’t write exactly the correct things acceptable on a feminist site about capitalism as the context in which prostitution takes place. I never equated prostitution with other work because I don’t think it is. Maybe read my original comment, all I did was write what a great job Meghan is doing – I agree with her on abolition. I know many people don’t, and it’s clear things can get nasty quickly in discussions of this issue. What isn’t clear to me is if any of the negative respondents to my post are in favour of abolition or not. That would make it easier for me to understand the negativity.

  • stephen m

    @Edson: Ya, you just failed the ally test.

    Equating prostitution with other jobs just shows that you really don’t understand what prostitution really is all about. For reasons that you may understand later, most of the people here find that this a sensitive and important topic. Please do some careful reading of earlier blog entries, topic: prostitution.

    Your saying the following to Abolissimo was disrespectful and really pretty stupid:
    “Your response is the pat response of an angry person with nothing constructive to say.”

  • Anyone stating that sex work is like any other should join a better union. What other ‘industry’ allows the client to kill its workers, allows clients to choose not to use safety equipment like condoms and what other industry actively endorses the verbal abuse of its female workforce. And why the need for forced recruitment if the work and conditions are sooo cool? None of this is logical because its all bullshit – and whether some women buy it or work with it doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. Some Jews worked in the Nazi death camps – we all make our choices within our own situations on how best to survive but surely none of us would wish those death camps on other sisters?

    • Ivy

      I will never in a million years under stand the sex is just sex! Stop making a big deal of it, we are nothing but animals. IT is all because of Christianity that we have become sex hating prudes. White Christianity has a horrible view of sex, doing a complete 180 and saying sex is meaningless is beyond stupid. Sex is how we make babies; and there is a lot of emotional bonding going through sex. If sex is just sex why do people not want their partners have sex with other people? Also during surveys it is reported that yes, women tend to correlate sex with relationships…in other words most women do not think sex is meaningless. Why are these pro prostitution people lying and saying most women are fine with being used for sex, they like the money they get! It is the extreme minority of women that are fine trading sex for money.,…how about listening to the majority of sex workers

      • Missfit

        I find this insistence that sex is the same as everything else, that there is no difference between doing sex work and washing dishes, this insistence into wanting it to be no different, also out of touch. My mother coerced me to do the dishes when I was young, threatening me I wouldn’t eat if I didn’t. I am not traumatized about it, I don’t have flashbacks of this. What about if my father did coerce me into having sex with him? Same thing? Trivializing sex to the extreme trivializes rape, no matter the emphasis we put on consent, if sex is no big deal, the absence of consent, no matter how wrong it is, still can’t be that big a deal; after all, it’s just sex. It has been demonstrated that heavy consumers of pornography trivialize rape. Pimps masquerading as lovers have pushed young girls into prostituting themselves by telling them ‘it’s no big deal’. PTSD mays also be no big a deal then (just a sign of weakness).

        Also, this emphasis on ‘we are animals’, as if sex was the epitome of our animalistic nature. Animals, like humans, also sleep, play, eat. Eating is natural, but I don’t eat shit.

        • “Trivializing sex to the extreme trivializes rape, no matter the emphasis we put on consent, if sex is no big deal, the absence of consent, no matter how wrong it is, still can’t be that big a deal; after all, it’s just sex.”

          This is a very good point. It also demonstrates the problem with “sex-positive” thinking. If sex is so darn “positive” how can be seriously wrong to give it to someone without consent? Wouldn’t it be like shoving a free item into their hands, when they didn’t want it? That might annoy them a little but it’s definitely not traumatic. Rape is a problem because sex isn’t always so darn positive, especially if you’re playing the subordinate role within it.

          The liberal response to this is to make people obsess over consent and demand it for just about everything. According to “safe space” norms (which I feel are designed to impose individualist thinking with ridiculous rules like “use only “I” statements”) you need consent in order to touch people (even in non-aggressive, non-sexual ways) or continue a conversation with them (which is impossible, because how can you get a person to explicitly consent to speaking with you without first speaking with them?) What’s next are we going to need consent in order to breath people’s air? I understand that all kinds of seemingly ordinary behaviour can make people feel uncomfortable, but can we really mandate that people get explicit verbal consent for every tiny little thing they do that might make someone uncomfortable? Keep in mind that these rules are applied to women’s only spaces, where there isn’t much likehood of rape or physical violence occuring to begin with.

          Of course, the anti-feminists will attribute these kinds of rules to “those crazy, ugly, sex-hating feminists” but I think these rules are actually a result of extreme sex positivity. Afterall those sex-positives wouldn’t dare suggest that two women hugging or (heaven-forbid) talking to each other is in any way superior to a man tying a woman up and whipping her until she’s bruised and bleeding. That kind of thinking is so sex-negative! *sarcasm*. So if they’re going to demand explicit verbal consent for violent sex acts, they have to demand explicit verbal consent for hugs and conversations as well, because in Liberal Land those things are totally equivalent.

          “PTSD mays also be no big a deal then (just a sign of weakness).”

          Or a result of “sex negativity”. Hell, maybe if we got rid of the last few sex-negative thoughts that still exist somewhere in society, it would be possible to rape women without traumatising them! *sarcasm*

        • Donkey Skin

          ‘PTSD may also be no big a deal then (just a sign of weakness).’

          The sex pozzies are already pushing this line WRT to prostitution.

          Annie Sprinkle has a creepy guide to dealing with ‘sex worker burn-out’, aka the PTSD that naturally results from having to repeatedly endure sex you don’t want with men who might and often do seriously hurt, rape or kill you. It cruelly concludes with, ‘If your SWBO is chronic, get the hell out of the business. Perhaps you’re simply not cut out for sex work.’

          Sociopathic feminism, indeed.

          • jo

            Sociopathic – yes. Feminist – no.
            Not taking women’s trauma seriously even when you call yourself a femninst definitely seems to be a trend.
            I have PTSD and have noticed this. Sexpos/libfem spaces are not safe.

    • Ivy

      This new sex is just sex! We are nothing but animals and sex is completely meaningless really sets me off! Just because religious patriarchy had horrible views of sex, doesn’t mean you need to do a complete 180 and say sex is meaningless. Sex is how babies are created, humans emotionally bond through sex! IF sex is soooo meaningless then why do most people except their partners to not cheat?

      Survey after survey has concluded that women are not really interested in hooking up, or having casual sex…it is MEN that want women to act that way. This is one of the reasons these pro-prostitution people piss me off…they lie. Most women in prostitution do indeed find it degrading and most women absolutely do not want to be prostitutes.

  • Great article by Katha Pollitt in The NATION, confronting the Left about its slow, sickening slide into what Rebecca Mott calls “pimp-thinking”…

  • Laur

    I have trouble trusting a lot of what Grant says, because she misrepresents feminist writing. For an example of this, listen here (towards the end):

  • in response to ToniBe:
    I don’t get (well I really do) why these “sex worker” types aren’t also advocating the Nordic model. Then the 75%-99% of prostituted women would be provided with the resources and services they need to get out. The supposed 1% to 25% who love “sex work” can have a monopoly. If it’s all about capitalism […]

    Actually, this contradiction is a very clear indication that people who pretend to be “sex workers” when they bash feminism on this forum and others are not prostitutes themselves, bizzarely inviting competition, but shills for the industry — pimps, escort agency owners or madams — trying to bring more and younger women into the saleable goods category, thus reducing how much they need to pay currently prostituted women.

    Indeed, women’s income is by all accounts plummeting. In Germany, the price paid by johns to “managers” for unlimited sexual “services” in all-you-can-f*ck brothels has already fallen to approx. 50 euros. And precious little of that filters down to women, who also have to pay outlandish rent in these establishments.

  • Tigermilk

    There was some kind of promotion for this book at one of the top universities here. Needless to say all of the young women currently representing feminism on university campuses and running for women’s officer positions here are very quick to call you out on being “anti-woman” or even “whorephobic” if you venture any sort of critical input to these discussions. I actually feel put off contributing to their discussion groups anymore because on the occasions that I have, I’ve either been totally ignored as though my viewpoint isn’t even valid or told that I am demeaning women’s agency for framing the issues in the cultural context they rightly deserve.

    I realise that I’m not entirely sticking to the topic here, but I’m just so sick and tired of these callous silencing tactics that prevent me and others from contributing. This year, all the nominees for Women’s Officer for the student’s union are of the same liberal persuasion. It’s as though we’re being told this is the version of feminism you should be endorsing and if not, then you’re worse than the sexist lads on campus.

    I also don’t understand why these young women who are supposed to be representing *all* women so frequently halt discussion where their personal choices end, and all too frequently said choices are available to already privileged white women. I don’t think they are at all invested in women’s collective interests despite the amount of political jargon littering their manifestos and Facebook profiles. One girl in particular wrote that she wanted to rip out the throats of a group of women for being too loud in the library, and on the same page states she does not want to consider that sex work *isn’t* just like any other work. Conscious denial of very real problems seems to be the main thing sustaining that particular form of feminism. I also find that there is an alarming presence of violent speech and a disproportionate emphasis on things like nail varnish and Beyonce among these particular feminist circles in place of critical analysis and actually showing compassion for women. It seemed so peculiar to me that championing sex workers rights coincided with several aggressive outbursts towards women for really minor things.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment. It’s really more of a rant. I just don’t know where else to express my thoughts because the feminism available to me where I live is really just a subscription to the lad’s club posing as feminism and it drives me mad!

  • FedUp

    As a woman of color, I am thoroughly convinced that the pro-prostitution camp blatantly disregards women of color, especially Indigenous women. Whenever I speak out against prostitution, which has been hurting my community for centuries, I am told by white women, but more often by white men that I need to “shut up and listen to sex workers.” Because poor women of color need to shut up, so that white college-educated middle-class women like Melissa Gira Grant can play the white savior and talk for us! Where have I seen this before?

    I read this article by pro-prostitution scholar (and a white colonizer too!) Anne McClintock who argued that prostitution to British colonizer men liberated Kenyan women from Kenyan men and the somehow oppressive family-based property system that had existed in Kenya before British colonialism. These people are so transparent that it hurts. I’m almost starting to think that these people are pro-white supremacy, pro-imperialism, because they don’t care about what happens to an Indigenous woman engaging in survival sex at Minnesota or a trafficked undocumented immigrant. No wonder why they so blatantly disregard the fact that Asian women and Indigenous women are some of the fiercest anti-prostitution activists out there right now.

    • morag

      Great comment, FedUp. It’s amazing the reversals they’re capableof isn’t it? There’s no systematic oppression of women that manifests as the sex industry, just sexy women who love sex having sex for money! And WOC abolitionists are mean bigots oppressing sexy middle class white “sex workers.”

      They have no problem using Woc (and white Eastern European and South American women) as props to further their agenda, which is a blatant example of imperialism like you said. They’ve shown that the only women who matter are English speaking white women with designer heels, cartoonish plastic surgery, and a slavish devotion to male sexuality. One Belle du jour is apparently worth more than thousands of trafficked Thai women.

    • waawaaskesh

      maybe you are disregarding some Indigenous points of view as well?

      here is one segment of a piece by three grassroots Indigenous organizations, Families of Sisters in Spirit (FSIS), No More Silence (NMS) and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN), writing about missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada:

      “5. Supporting people in the sex trade.

      We need to support people in the sex trade, sex industry and street economies in our conversations, writings, activism and any space we organize. We need to address the harmful impacts of “rescuing” and “saving” approaches and not assume that all people in the sex trade need or want to be saved. We encourage positive healthy sexuality conversations (ie. safer sex), consensual allyship and consent in general. For more resources by Indigenous peoples in the sex trade, sex industry and street economies go to


      there is a definite diversity of views within the Indigenous population, it’s important not to try and homogenize that

      • Laur

        No person I like or respect is interested in “saving” or “rescuing” women. What interests me is stopping male sexual violence.

        When 90% of women in the visible sex trade are aboriginal–this in places in Canada with a total aboriginal population of around 10%–there is something amiss.

      • “…We need to address the harmful impacts of “rescuing” and “saving” approaches and not assume that all people in the sex trade need or want to be saved…”
        I need to point out that this is a blatant antifeminist straw man. The few people using romantic notions such as ‘saving” and “rescuing” are not feminist abolitionists. In fact these clichés are generally touted by pro-prostitution libertarians and their facade “one-person organizations”, eager to smear feminist abolitionists by systematically misrepresenting their views,

        Feminists do NOT assume that “all people need or want to be saved”, but want to create substantive resources and rights for women – not “sex workers”, WOMEN – who want out and need to overcome severe systemic restraints – including the “happy hooker there by choice” antifeminist smears.

        Our focus is not on forcing women’s hand but on disempowering the johns, pimps and profiteers who do assume that all women are there to be screwed.

        Please don’t miss Rebecca MOTT’s address as told to a BBC audience this weekend:

      • Donkey Skin

        The voices you have referred us to are certainly worth taking into account if one is trying to decide what position to take on prostitution. All relevant voices should be listened to in this debate, and, as you point out, not all indigenous people support the abolitionist approach.

        However, not all opinions are equal. If you are going to put forth an argument, this argument needs to be grounded in facts if you want it to be taken seriously. So I would ask: is the picture of prostitution painted by pro-prostitution voices backed up by the facts?

        For instance, they refer to the ‘harms’ of ‘saving’ and ‘rescuing’, by which we are to assume they mean that services designed to help people exit the sex trade cause more harm than good. But have they shown that such services are harmful and unwanted by those they are designed to assist? Or do they just expect us to take at face value, from the patronising implications of the words ‘rescue’ and ‘save’, that people in prostitution would prefer such programs did not exist, and in fact are harmed by them?

        Whereas when abolitionists talk of harm, they are not gesturing with words that they hope everyone will associate with bad things (‘rescue’, ‘victims’, ‘moralising’, ‘stigma’), they are talking about the real, undeniable harms suffered by those in prostitution: the overwhelming levels of male violence, the PTSD, the early deaths through suicide and drug addiction.

        And when pro-prostitution groups advocate for the continuation of the industry, they use the same rhetorical sleight-of-hand: point in the direction of things that all good, open-minded people should support – ‘positive healthy sexuality’, ‘safer sex’, ‘consent’ – without ever showing HOW these warm and fuzzy concepts are actually connected to the reality of the sex trade, or whether they can meaningfully exist within it at all. While hoping that no one notices the evidence from places with full legalisation, such as Germany and the Netherlands, which shows that the industry just gets bigger, more exploitative and more brutal when it is legitimised, as pimps and johns become more emboldened to do whatever they like with prostituted women.

        I recommend that people read the links provided by waawaaskesh. Then I recommend they listen to the interview on this site with Cherry Smiley, and see how the platitudes provided by groups like the NYSHN stack up against her analysis of prostitution as an abusive institution generated by male supremacy, capitalism, racism and colonialism. Smiley’s perspective is grounded in a rigorous understanding of those forces and how they corral indigenous women and girls into the sex industry and trap them there. It is not a question of different, but equally valid, views. It is a question of whose analysis is more convincing when measured against the material facts of prostitution, and, ultimately, which approach has the best chance of fundamentally transforming an unjust social order and an oppressive situation.

    • FedUp,

      They most certainly ARE pro-imperialist. Which means that they are, ipso facto, pro-patriarchy. Because imperialism (like capitalism) is applied rich white male supremacy—i.e., applied patriarchy.

      And for the record, as a destitute white woman who was born in Philadelphia, PA who suffered total social and economic exclusion these past 30 years since escaping my traffickers because of being held back all my life by a prostitution record (which meant I could not even get minimum wage fast food jobs), even after getting a college education and building software developer skills. I never had access to medical care or chances for good jobs so I could build credit, prepare for a home and a partner. You know, all the things that middle class people have and take for granted as “normal”—all of which are things I never got to experience or have. I am now 47 yrs old and the past 30 years of my life were spent struggling just to NOT die from abject poverty. Because society does not care about supporting and helping poor women who are victims of prostitution that managed to escape by sheer dumb luck long before there ever was any anti-trafficking movement.

      And the pro-commercial rape lobby dismisses my experiences as a domestic sex trafficking survivor as a one-off, that I was a fluke, and that MOST of the other women in prostitution actually LIKE it and that it must have somehow been my fault for getting terrorized, beaten up, choked, stabbed, etc etc by johns.

      Funny, because after connecting with other survivors on Facebook who are also white but from the poverty class like me, they experienced these things too. And we ALL had sisters of all races that we knew and were friends with when we were in “the life” who died while in “the life” and those deaths were NOT from natural causes! They were from being murdered by johns—men who are nothing more than socially approved/shielded rapists whose money and privileges enabled them to buy rape tickets.

      So it is a complete travesty that some privileged pro-commercial rape mouthpiece like Melissa Gira Grant billing herself as a “feminist” claims to speak for women like me when she does not. And if she does not speak for POOR white women who are survivors of commercial rape, I know right well she sure as hell does NOT speak for WOC who are survivors of commercial rape.

  • Dear Megan,
    Thank you for your beautiful article. It helped me a lot when I had to argue with a man, insisting om me being too emotional and even accusing me to use “emotional typos”, whatever it can mean!
    I wrote about this Amnesty internal policy document (in French) and just translated it in English. Would you mind to read it, if you have the time?
    Thank you very much in advance,