Why I won’t be supporting Canada’s Next Top Progressive Startup, Ricochet

Ricochet has been making some big waves in Canadian media over the past month since it launched a crowdfunder and began work to raise $75,000 to help build “a new model of digital journalism in the public interest.”

Ricochet, we’re told, will be “a counterweight to corporate media” and is “building a new model of media: independent, progressive and grassroots” that will “transform the Canadian media landscape.” Sounds great, I’m sure we can all agree.

The question I asked myself when I first caught wind of the project, co-founded by Ethan Cox and Derrick O’Keefe was, of course, “what about the women?”

I have a healthy and well-founded mistrust for the male left. History shows that women and the feminist movement have been abandoned over and over again by our progressive brothers. The radical feminist movement quite literally was launched, back in the 60s, in response to women’s disappointment in the New Left, who continually ignored and treated our sisters as second class citizens. Women tried to join the fight for equality and liberation only to learn that their own liberation didn’t count. Women were still expected to take on traditionally feminine roles: cooking, cleaning, secretarial work, reproduction, child care, and the work of caring for men and their sexual desires. Progressive men have long been our rapists and abusers, too.

In 1967 Shulamith Firestone got fed up after, at a demonstration, Marilyn Webb got up to speak, only to be met with shouts of “Take her off the stage and fuck her!” Firestone took the mic and told the men this “was the end.” She followed with a letter to the Guardian:

“We say to the left: in this past decade you have failed to live up to your rhetoric of revolution. You have not reached the people. And we won’t hitch ourselves to your poor donkey. There are millions of women out there desperate enough to rise. Women’s liberation is dynamite. And we have more important things to do than to try to get you to come around. You will come around when you have to, because you need us more than we need you… Fuck off, left. You can examine your navel by yourself from now on. We’re starting our own movement.”

And here we are, 50 years later. Fighting the same battles.

No dis to the feminist movement, we have much to be proud of, despite the fact that many of our hard-earned wins are being hammered away at by both the right and the left. We still have to fight to keep our reproductive rights and our funding for women’s shelters and rape crisis lines. We’re still begging for sexual assault and domestic abuse to be taken seriously. We’re still demanding accountability from the police and the Canadian government in terms of the missing and murdered women. We’re still looking for universal childcare and support for single mothers. And, of course, here in Canada, many of us have been fighting for new prostitution legislation that prioritizes gender equality, addresses the issue of race and class oppression, targets exploiters and violent men, and works towards a world wherein women have real choices, beyond selling sex.

When I asked myself, with regard to Ricochet, “what about the women,” I found the answer just a few days later. They had brought on women as contributors and editors. But the founders and the editorial board appeared to have chosen feminists who were overtly biased in terms of the prostitution debate. I could tell where this was going and my heart sunk. Our brand spanking new lefty media platform that promised to change the landscape of Canadian media with all it’s radicalism and progressive values had already taken a position on women and the sex industry and, disappointingly, it was a neoliberal one. It appeared as though they would be taking a position in favour of legalizing or fully decriminalizing prostitution — a position that leaves women in the hands of the market, their equality, dignity, and survival to be dictated by supply and demand, and is rooted in individualistic notions of “free choice” and personal empowerment instead of social, political, and economic equality.

I contacted one of the founders and editors, someone I respect and consider a friend and colleague. I was frustrated and angry. And tired. I’m just so fucking tired. I’m tired of watching these Marxists, these socialists, these anarchists, these oh-so-revolutionary folks leaving women out in the cold. I’m tired of them taking radical positions on just about everything else but the sex industry. Because, you know, we can change the world, we can build a new society — one that is fair and just and free and egalitarian — but we’re going to keep a class of women on hand for bjs.

I told the co-founder that I was disappointed to see that Ricochet had chosen feminist contributors who are so heavily biased on the prostitution issue. I told him that he was welcome to his own opinion, even if it differs from mine, but asked why that meant promoting manipulative or dishonest articles, why that meant “launching yet another progressive media platform that only promotes one particular neoliberal/liberal version of feminism and erases the views and arguments and work of the rest of us.” I told him that he needed to be accountable, on some level, for how he dealt with and approached women’s issues and feminism when launching a lefty site. I said I thought it was “lazy and cliched when men fall back on this ‘cool girl feminism’ where we’re, like, so fucking open minded about ‘sex work.'” I said “It doesn’t have to be your opinion but I would hope that you’d give the women’s movement a fair shake on this one.” And I told him I felt betrayed.

So why I felt so angry to see that one of the very first articles published on Ricochet promoted the decriminalization of pimps and johns and called for the death of Bill C-36, a bill that explicitly targets pimps and johns, names prostitution as exploitative and gendered, and states that “the objectification of the human body and the commodification of sexual activity” causes “social harm,” I don’t know. I know I shouldn’t be surprised. But I was livid. My hands shook. I tried to compose myself. I hope I’ve managed to write this with some composure.

As I wrote for VICE recently, Bill C-36 is not perfect. But, if passed, it brings us far closer to a model that works towards an end to prostitution, a goal that should be a priority for anyone who cares about women’s lives and social equality. It is my opinion that you cannot call yourself a feminist or a progressive if you don’t also wish to create a world wherein women are not bought and sold, where there is no such thing as paid rape, where men don’t believe they have (or legally have) the right to sexual access to women, where women aren’t forced to sell themselves on the streets or in brothels in order to survive.

Women deserve better than that. And I will not be supporting yet another progressive media platform that is so overtly and unabashedly biased on this issue. Because it isn’t simply about this issue. The faction of feminism that advocates for the full decriminalization or legalization of the sex industry is also the faction that argues that “sex work” is simply an individual choice, an empowered choice, a “job like any other.” It is a faction that has adopted the language of “sex work” — a term invented and promoted by the prostitution lobby (which is, let me remind you, a patriarchal, capitalist industry) — and turned it into some kind of deluded, politically correct, empty, manipulative, faux-labour rights term.

If you can’t imagine a world without prostitution, then you can’t imagine a world without colonialism, poverty, misogyny, and racism. And what the fuck kind of socialist utopia is that?

I am not asking that the founders of Ricochet or their editorial board agree with me on the best way forward with regard to prostitution law. I am not asking them even to prioritize this issue as I and my sisters and some of my brothers have. I would ask (again) for some fucking solidarity, but I don’t think we’ll get it. What I am asking for is a fair shake. I am asking that they be accountable to our movement. The one we built. The one we have fought and suffered for. I am asking that our lives and interests and struggles be a part of their revolution. Is that too much to ask? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking. And I’ll wait for an answer.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.