Guest post: Some feminists are more equal than others

// 25 August 2010

Following the UK Feminista conference, Nichi Hodgson reflects on the ‘silent victim’ and inclusion in feminism. Nichi is a 26-year-old lexophilic, omnisexual journalist, who pines for a sausage dog but refuses to entirely invoke Diane Keaton’s character in Manhattan.

From female domestic slaves, and victims of honour killings, to prostitutes, and those identifying as trans, feminism has always had a special responsibility to fight for the rights of some of the most marginalised in society. But ever since the Suffragettes were accused of being ladies of leisure with time on their hands to liberate working women, the movement has run the risk of perpetuating a two-tier system, whereby the ‘privileged’ feminists speak for the so-called ‘silent victims’. As excitement gathers about a potential fourth wave, the recent UK Feminista conference highlighted that the problem lingers on.

On the second day of the conference, at a panel discussion on the future of feminism, Dr Aisha Gill of Roehampton University, criticised the contemporary media for its sensationalist Sadean framing of the ‘good victim’. Whether Albanian au pairs or Pakistani child brides, reporters need better training, she advised, if they are to avoid endlessly replicating the cliché of the exploited female. The discussion then segued into a ‘construct the caricatured victim’ game, with each panel member, in true red top style, helping to mock up the stereotype of an Eastern European sex slave – (‘thrown into a lorry’ – Bidisha; ‘always Natasha’ – Julie Bindel). And yet, the panel, better intentioned or otherwise, was no more ‘voicing’ the view point of the victims than the papers they were criticising. The irony that they may be contributing to the victims’ ‘simultaneous oppression’, as gender theory has it, seemed lost on them.

How often have you been to a feminist event where strippers or women in hijab are afforded the title of feminist, let alone allowed to sit on a discussion panel as a feminist representative? Former strippers, yes. Those who saw the light, despite their swaddling, yes too. But the real minorities are still not being represented, despite the fact there are credible, intelligent defences for both opting to disrobe, and to cover up, and despite the fact too that the mantra of contemporary feminism claims to be choice, choice and choice again.

Prior to the panel debate, Sharon Jacobs, UK Feminista’s Campaigns Officer, led a Feminism and Diversity workshop, aimed at encouraging participants to think about the issue of inclusion when running a feminist group . Along side presentations from male feminist, Matt McCormack-Evans of Object, Michelle Daley of Disability Awareness in Action, and Tonya Boulton, of the Women’s Networking Hub, (all self-presenting minorities), Jacobs made two salient points: 1) Let those who’ve experienced it lead on it; 2) Never forget your privilege.

At the end of the debate, Bidisha offered up what she called a titbit of ‘fortune cookie feminism’, advising delegates to forget their hair splitting differences in ideology, to concentrate on the common cause, and to remember, simply, to ‘be on the girls’ team.’ And yet in calling on participants to ‘unify’, Bidisha drew attention to the fact that some who would identify as ‘feminist’ are barely allowed access to the term in the first place, let alone allowed to join the rally. The real minorities aren’t those visible in diversity discussions, but the subjects of some of the most heated and complicated feminist debates, still resigned to the shadows when it comes to actual in the flesh representation at such events. Until the feminist movement puts them on panels too, ‘inclusion’ will remain anything but.

Comments From You

sianushka // Posted 25 August 2010 at 12:01 pm

i do agree with you, but i have been to feminist events where women in hijab have been on the panel, i shared a panel with a woman in hijab just recently. i know it’s a minor point but often we read articles in non feminist media saying ‘feminist don’t do this’ and ‘feminists don’t do that’ – when we do! and it makes those women invisible too which is just as maddening.

but we need to do more to be inclusive, we do need to not speak on behalf of other women and we do need to have everyone ‘on the panel’ as it were. i totally agree with that.

Jessica // Posted 25 August 2010 at 12:35 pm

Tories too. There are quite a few Tory feminists, yet others would deny them access to the label…

Fem Rocks // Posted 25 August 2010 at 12:38 pm

Thanks for this really interesting post. I think there are two issues here:

1. If we don’t believe that women are the victims of oppression then what is the point of feminism? At the same time feminists want to promote the importance of women’s agency in their own lives. This is a fundamental difficulty within feminism and is not an easy problem to solve.

2. Often on feminist discussion panels you see ‘expert feminists’ rather than the ‘silent victims’ or the truly marginalised who are being discussed without being represented. But these women don’t have access to the networking or the platforms that give people the opportunity to speak at these events. The question is more about reaching out to excluded minorities rather than criticising feminists for not being inclusive. I think the will is there, it’s just finding a way. The problem is a pragmatic one.

earwicga // Posted 25 August 2010 at 12:40 pm

Yes! Great post.

saranga // Posted 25 August 2010 at 1:27 pm

One of my issues with the UK Feminista conference, which contributed to why i didn’t attend, was the stipulation about thsoe who promote sex work not being allowed.

I understand that a lot of sex work is harmful. I understand the patriarchal systems and the exploitation that seems inherent within sex work.

What I don’t agree with is a blanket ban on anyone promoting or supporting sex work because that precludes anyone who identifies as feminist and still choose and enjoys sex work, whether that be lap dancing, burlesque, selling pentrative sex, working in the porn industry, whatever,

Why can’t sex workers be on panels? Why can’t they lead on discussions of sex work? Why do we only include those who have ‘seen the light’ as Nichi so succintly put it?

Jennifer Drew // Posted 25 August 2010 at 1:46 pm

It appears that unless all women who happen to work in what is euphemistically termed ‘the sex industry’ are all equally allowed a chance to voice their views concerning the pros and cons of ‘working in the sex industry’ then feminism can never claim to be advocating on behalf of women.

This argument that only ‘certain’ feminists are speaking on behalf of all women is not new because it has its origins in liberal ideology. The belief system is that everyone, including men are all supposedly able to ‘pick and choose’ how to live their lives, without any hindrance or constraint imposed on them. But then of course we discover there is the male supremacist system wherein it defines that only men are human and men’s interests/rights etc. must always be placed first.

But the reality is that women as a group are all subject to constraints and disadvantages and the reason is because our society operates on a male supremacist system.

Claims that suffragettes ‘had time on their hands’ is another parlour trick enacted by anti-feminists who were determined to maintain the male-centric status quo. Divide and conquer is the rallying call from patriarchy and it has worked very well. Suffragettes were not ‘all ladies of leisure’ but comprised women from all classes and yet the male-centric myths continue.

The issue of women working in the ‘sex industry’ is not about individual choice – it is about how our male supremacist system claims that working as a lap dancer or an ‘erotic dancer’ is supposedly empowering. Such claims conveniently ignore the fact how our male supremacist system continues to promote the lie that only men are human and therefore women supposedly only exist in relation to men and what men need/desire/demand from women. Hence the rise of the ‘sex industry.’

Feminism is not about enabling women to enact ‘choice’ rather it is about challenging and one day dismantling the male supremacist system and male domination. The fact some women in the ‘sex industry’ claim such work is empowering does not mean the deliberate reduction of all women into men’s dehumanised sexual service stations is not relevant. How our male supremacist society promotes the so-called normalisation of women not as autonomous human beings but as men’s adjuncts is the central issue. It is not about whether or not a woman should be allowed to work as a lap dancer – rather it is the impact on all women as a group, because as I said above, male supremacy constantly proclaims that women are not human but just men’s adjuncts.

With regards to claims that feminists are promoting the ‘portrayal of women as victims.’ If we cannot name the problem we cannot challenge it – but the male-centric media deliberately attempts to divide women into ‘good victims’ and ‘bad victims.’

So what is the answer? Have pro-prostitution apologists on the panel in order that they can promote their lies that prostitution is ’empowering to women?’

Missing of course is the fact many women’s organisations are and have been working directly with women who are marginalised from the white heterosexual male-centric society and The Nia Project is one such organisation. Women and Girls Network is another and internationally there is the Coalition Against Trafficking In Women which works directly with women from all ethnicities and backgrounds. Forward is another such organisation which works with women who are not white and middle-class. There are many feminist organisations working with women who are marginalised.

So, in fact these organisations do exist and yes perhaps they were not represented at the UK Feminista conference but that does not mean such organisations do not exist.

Coalition Against Trafficking In Women for example is an international organisation wherein it is predominantly women who have directly experienced prostitution who are leading it. That is why CATW has different branches in differing countries, because the women living in these countries are the ones organising and running the organisation. Likewise Southall Black Sisters is comprised of women who have directly experienced male violence – not women who have no knowledge whatsoever of male domination.

Feminism has never been ‘easy’ and yet we must be careful not to fall into the neo-liberal trap wherein if everyone’s voices are not heard then apparently the dominant male supremacist system does not exist. Certainly mistakes have been made and will continue to be made, but as I said above if we cannot name the innumerable ways our male supremacist system victimises women then we cannot even begin to challenge it . Nor must we forget that ‘gender’ is a social construction and has conveniently been taken over by the male supremacists. ‘Gender’ is not the problem it is male domination and male control over women which is the problem and how this operates in complex ways.

Alicia // Posted 25 August 2010 at 3:46 pm

I’m glad you’ve addressed the ‘invisible’ subject of feminist debates in such events. This is an issue that’s emerged only occasionally, but sadly in the form of reflections and reviews. Before we have a longer future of feminist events dominated by middle-class and able-bodied white women, perhaps we should discuss how to make such events more inclusive.

Laura // Posted 25 August 2010 at 6:50 pm

@ Saranga – I agree. For clarity, this is the exact wording, included in the Terms and Conditions of the UK Feminista website:

…to use this Service you must not be a member or participant of an organisation or group that promotes the sex industry. Explanation: UK Feminista recognises prostitution as a form of violence against women which is both a cause and a consequence of wider systems of sex discrimination and violence against women. We support organisations which address the harm and tackle the demand for commercial sexual exploitation. In accordance with these principles, we reserve the right to refuse this Service to individuals and organisations which, in the view of our strategic partners, support, promote and/or affiliate with the sex industry.

UK Feminista are free to define their organisation as they choose. But I think it’s at the very least unfortunate that an organisation which will inevitably be seen as representative of UK feminism should exclude feminists who may be involved in one of the many activities that could come under the term “sex industry”. (There’s more to the sex industry than exploitive prostitution, but the T&Cs do not recognise this.) This is particularly troubling if these same women are then going to be the subject of discussion at conferences etc., for the reasons NIchi outlines above.

Fran // Posted 25 August 2010 at 6:50 pm

I worry about how included trans women would feel with someone as anti-trans as Julie Bindel on the panel too. This is something which should be kept in mind.

Laura // Posted 25 August 2010 at 6:56 pm

@ Jennifer Drew: You’re the one who’s brought up “choice” and “empowerment”, not Nichi. Irrespective of why women work in the sex industry, speaking on their behalf rather than promoting their voices directly – be they victims of male violence in prostitution or women who enjoy working as dominatrices (for example) – is clearly not best practice. (Though granted it may sometimes be the only option, in which case every effort should be made to research thoroughly and not simply perpetuate stereotypes.)

saranga // Posted 25 August 2010 at 7:55 pm

@Laura: Thank you for posting the exact T and Cs. I did contact UK Feminista asking for clarification on their stance, and I did get a good response expanding on their reasoning.

As you are say they are free to run their organisation as they choose, and I am not bemoaning them for it. I can understand where they are coming from, and I am fully in support of getting rid of exploitative practices, in the sex industry and beyond.

But as you say, there is more to the sex industry than exploitative prostitution (or stripping, or lap dancing etc), and I do not feel the T and Cs recognise this.

Helen // Posted 26 August 2010 at 7:45 am

Fran: I worry about how included trans women would feel with someone as anti-trans as Julie Bindel on the panel too.

I think you’re right to worry. The fact that UK Feminista gives a platform to someone whose anti trans reputation precedes her, without offering trans women any right of reply, makes it obvious that UK Feminista operates exclusionary policies. That it has published T&Cs which not only discriminate against sex workers, but completely erase the existence of trans women, proves that beyond a shadow of doubt.

To be honest, I’m more worried that these outmoded and dangerous attitudes still hold sway amongst so many cis women feminists both inside and outside UK Feminista. It’s a matter of great concern how few self-styled trans allies are still not prepared to speak out on our behalf, no matter what they may tell us to our faces. By their silence, they are complicit in maintaining the cissupremacist mindset that is at the heart of feminisms such as that purveyed by UK Feminista, and they are badly failing many self-identified women in the process.

Nichi Hodgson // Posted 26 August 2010 at 8:21 am

Jennifer:

With regards inclusion of sex workers on feminist panels – it’s actually a myth of most prohibitionist feminism that certain ‘deluded’ sex workers will rave about how great their lives are in the industry. Instead, what they will do is offer a more nuanced, accurate picture of the highs, the lows, the difficulties they face, and how they experience oppression, from society at large, from the other circumstances that led them to such ‘low’ living. As Sharon Jacobs said, let those who know about it talk about. And don’t forget that everybody, academic, prostitute or campaigner has an agenda, whatever they are arguing for.

One of the fundamental questions we need to ask about the sex industry is whether we believe selling sexual services, in and of itself, is necessarily exploitative. As Saranga points out, the real issue is the patriarchy within it that arguably sees women ‘commoditised’ by men. But in a capitalist system, where money denotes status, accomplishment and self-worth, the earning power of some female sex workers, and the very fact that men have to hand over cash for the service, reminds us that exploitation is not as straight-forward an issue of who is being ‘objectified’. You say that patriarchy treats women as men’s adjuncts, but countless men are ‘commoditised’ by women, from the expectation of men to carry out hard physical labour, to the expectation that still exists for men to support their families, or ‘treat’ their wives to jewellery/holidays/kitchens etc. These may not be your expectations of men, (I know they certainly aren’t mine), but they are still very prevalent expectations within our society, and demonstrate how the apparent male supremacy can equally mis-serve its ‘masters’ as well as its ‘slaves’.

With regards to the matter of choice, oppression works on multiple levels, and sometimes something that seems counter-intuitive, such as sex work, may, in the short term, actually help circumvent greater oppression, such as feminised poverty. For example, this may mean that a single mother of two works as a stripper because it allows her to use her family/friends to look after her children in the evenings when she can’t afford childcare. By paying at least double the minimum wage, it may then mean she can spend less time working and more time with her children. Whether you believe sex work is exploitative is arguably less relevant than your belief in economic parity in such an instance. In a post-feminist, capitalist free market, it’s easy to see why some women may decide sex work is preferable to cleaning, for example. As for choice and relativity, there are feminists who rail against male supremacy, who, arguably, oppress themselves in doing so. Political lesbians, for example, who refuse to sleep with men until rape and male violence against women no longer exists. Such an absolutist approach hardly seems like a choice, when there are plenty of men horrified by the thought of violence against women, and when the end result only seems to exacerbate gender conflict, which ultimately benefits neither men nor women.

polly // Posted 26 August 2010 at 8:23 am

Couldn’t your criticisms of UK feminista also be aimed at the F Word who claim to represent ‘contemporary UK feminism’? Unless that is you are indeed saying that you are entirely representative of everyone who calls themselves a feminist in the UK?

Laura // Posted 26 August 2010 at 8:30 am

@ Fran – Agreed. The presence of such an openly transphobic public figure essentially amounts to a big sign saying “Trans people not welcome; we’ve got more important things to focus on than your rights.”

ETA: I’ve emailed Kat Banyard for a response.

Laura // Posted 26 August 2010 at 8:32 am

@ Polly – The F-Word does not claim to be representative of all UK feminists (although all UK feminists are welcome to contribute to the site), but is an example of contemporary UK feminism.

polly // Posted 26 August 2010 at 8:36 am

Also

“Along side presentations from male feminist, Matt McCormack-Evans of Object, Michelle Daley of Disability Awareness in Action, and Tonya Boulton, of the Women’s Networking Hub, (all self-presenting minorities), ”

In what way was Matt McCormack-Evans of Object a ‘self presenting minority’? Because he is male? Well it’s true that women are in fact the majority of the population in the UK but that doesn’t mean that McCormack-Evans as a ‘male feminist’ (which I would maintain is an oxymoron) lacks privilege in comparison to women on the panel.

“minority” isn’t the same as ‘lacking privilege’. People who go to Eton are a minority.

Nichi Hodgson // Posted 26 August 2010 at 11:46 am

@Polly:

My criticism is not meant to be an attack on UK Feminista per se. Rather, UK Feminista is one of many organisations which hold the kind of panel debates I think are exclusionary.

Also, I must reiterate that the workshop I went to on tackling exclusion and feminist diversity was excellent, which only makes the disjuncture between that and the exclusion of, for example, sex workers, more frustrating.

Hannah // Posted 26 August 2010 at 12:20 pm

When I read this kind of argument, I wonder, what do you want feminism for?

If the only salient argument that you can come up with for why sex work is a legitimate feminist activity is that it pays well, then equally we would have to include sex trafficking, arms dealing, child pornography etc as perfectly OK activities for a self-defined feminist. I would have more sympathy for supposedly feminist sex workers (those who work in the industry by choice) if they said “This industry is deeply misogynist, but it’s just what I’ve ended up doing” rather than trying to crowbar sex work into a feminist framework. Selling yourself for sex is not liberating. Why should it be? It’s hard to think of many female-dominated jobs that are truly liberating for women, let alone one that treats the human body as a commodity.

Most committed feminists I know occasionally do things that could be perceived as non-feminist or even damaging to other women. That is the reality of the world. For example I sometimes dress in a super-feminine way, even though in theory I think it’s oppressive drag. A feminist wearing high heels and lipstick doesn’t make high heels and lipstick into feminist gestures. Life is contradictory and ambivalent, and feminism is a constant negotiation against internalised misogyny and failures of nerve, rather than a club that enjoys excluding people.

Rather than trying to join up dots that aren’t meant to be joined, I wish that sex workers would reconcile themselves to the fact that they are in an industry that is perpetrating horrific crimes against women and perpetuating the idea that a woman is a walking sex toy, and see feminism as a tool for thinking this through, rather than some magic legitimation.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 26 August 2010 at 1:48 pm

Well they didn’t say that we all see sex-work as a legitimate feminist activity, more that we include people that engage in it (willingly or not) when talking about it, rather than talking about them without their input. I’m anti sex work, it doesnt mean that I dont want them to have the chance to speak about it. After all, we surely want them to have the right not to be raped or abused or as in other work, be ripped off or discriminated against, some of whom are forced into it? Like others have said, sex-work can include women-run shows like burlesque or the riot girls (yeah i wasnt impressed with the name) which, whilst im not so keen, are a very different thing from regular strip bars or prostitution.

saranga // Posted 26 August 2010 at 1:52 pm

@Hannah:

“I would have more sympathy for supposedly feminist sex workers (those who work in the industry by choice) if they said “This industry is deeply misogynist, but it’s just what I’ve ended up doing”

The sex workers i’ve talked to/read blogs of do say this.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 26 August 2010 at 5:07 pm

I don’t think Nichi was trying to start a discussion about the cons/pros of sex work as such, but the point is about the inclusion of women who are still within the sex industry (for whatever reason) in feminist debates and events. I think!

Kezmoo // Posted 26 August 2010 at 5:48 pm

Hannah, I didn’t realise that she was saying that good pay made it a legitimate feminist activity, I thought the was saying that it was a legitimate reason why such women should not be excluded from discussion.

It’s my belief that many women in these roles would turn round and say “This industry is deeply misogynist, but it’s just what I’ve ended up doing”, and I don’t think that it’s fair for them to be excluded from feminism because of that. Would we prefer that they are excluded from participating because they have to work 20 hour days for a pittance, and can’t afford to participate? Is that any more fair?

At the end of the day, being financially stable IS empowering, at least for the individual. What is unfair is that we’re asking these people to trade one kind of empowerment for another, and when it comes to feeding children etc., I know which kind of empowerment I’d choose.

GBL // Posted 26 August 2010 at 5:49 pm

Unbelievable. I thought this was supposed to be a feminist blog. It looks like you all just blithely step over the mutilated woman in the middle of the room in your rush to validate every other ism possible.

delphyne // Posted 26 August 2010 at 6:32 pm

What does “sensationalist Sadean framing of the “good victim”” mean Nichi? Could you explain your references. I didn’t know de Sade promoted the concept of the “good victim”.

Nichi Hodgson // Posted 26 August 2010 at 6:51 pm

@Hannah:

The real issue here isn’t about justifying sex work – it’s about some contemporary feminism’s unwillingness to accept that working in the sex industry may be preferable to some other options for some women, and recognising that we all have a different sense/scale of what we find ‘oppressive’.

Laura // Posted 26 August 2010 at 6:51 pm

Thank you, Catherine! I will only be publishing comments that engage with the content of the post, not comments on sex work/prostitution more generally – we’ve had that debate numerous times already.

delphyne // Posted 26 August 2010 at 7:18 pm

You know I’m not even understanding what the criticisms are here.

First of all it doesn’t appear that UK Feminista does exclude women working in the sex industry. What it says is that is that they provide services to organisations and groups that *promote* the sex industry. Those are two very different things and it’s perfectly reasonable for a feminist organisation not to want to offer services to people who promote the sex industry given its horrendous exploitation of women and our bodies.

Also it appears Nichi, that the discussion you were talking about was one called “The Future of Feminism”, it wasn’t a discussion about the sex industry or the female victims of it. A panel can only have so many people on it, so why did you feel that it was utterly necessary for a person from the sex industry to be involved? I can’t imagine that many of the pro-sex industry conferences that appear to be happening fairly regularly now take time to include survivors of the sex industry and anti prostitution feminists (often one and the same).

Hannah // Posted 26 August 2010 at 10:14 pm

Sorry sorry did not mean to attempt to derail into anti-sex industry rant! It’s just that I think what the post above is sort of obfuscating is that refusing to define sex work as feminist is an ideological position rather than an elitist omission designed to exclude people. I think there are good reasons to see sex work by choice (I mean rather than by abuse or coercion or drug addiction) as a collusion in patriarchal oppression, and I’m not really interested in a feminism that is so inclusive it ends up celebrating misogynist practices.

Nichi // Posted 26 August 2010 at 10:37 pm

@Polly:

You are quite right – being a minority is not the same as lacking privilege, but I would certainly not call Matt as a male feminist (a term I believe he does not use, but which I do not think is oxymoronic in the slightest) ‘privileged’. As far as I can see, he constantly has to justify his presence amongst feminists, and has to veto all voting/decision-making rights on the basis that he is historically ‘tied’ to the ‘oppressor’, despite the fact he is clearly striving for gender equality.

@Delphyne:

Firstly, with regards to de Sade’s ‘good victim’ – I was refering specifically to the eponymous Justine of de Sade’s novel, the archetypal suffering innocent, who seems to inspire much of the press coverage of victims, not just of sex trafficking and prostitution, but also of honour killings, stonings, gang rapes etc.

Secondly, yes, the debate was indeed called ‘The Future of Feminism’. But when half of the discussion was given up to debate about the sex industry, and given the sheer amount of coverage/debate/attention the matter of sex work is given within contemporary feminism, I think it would be entirely appropriate for a sex worker to be on the panel under the circumstances. You may be entirely right that pro-sex work conferences do not include anti-sex work panel members, but I would not applaud that sort of myopic exclusion either.

polly // Posted 27 August 2010 at 8:44 am

FWIW, the position of many of those in the ‘sex positive’ lobby on the sex industry is as simplistic as the attitudes being criticised above (I agree it can be problematic that the experiences of some women are presented in the third person- however please consider there may be reasons why they don’t want to do this themselves, very few of us would want to describe a traumatic experience in front of a room full of strangers). Just as organisations such as UK feminista are criticised for excluding those who ‘promote’ the sex industry, so many of the sex positive lobby refuse to recognise the economic coercion that many of those who are in the sex industry by ‘choice’ face. There actually are women who are/have been in the sex industry by choice who recognise this. And a lot of people who never have who don’t. If it isn’t ok for those who aren’t in the sex industry to oppose it, it isn’t ok for those who aren’t in the sex industry to support it either.

greetings from the bufferzone // Posted 27 August 2010 at 11:17 am

@saranga

If sex workers do not identify as feminists, then why on earth should they sit on feminist panels? Feminists do not claim to represent “all women”, they claim to represent women who are feminists. No ideological organization can allow any people whatsoever to represented it. If they share the goals and targets yes, sure, then they can, but not automatically just because they are women. There is also a very real chance of some of these women being motivated for profit motives (they do make their money that way) and even being a front for someone else who makes money with their bodies. Socialists don’t let non-Socialist represent them, Tories don’t let non-Tories represent them, Christians don’t let non-Christians represent them and Muslims don’t let non-Muslims represent them. Why, then, should feminists let non-feminists represent them?

Laura // Posted 27 August 2010 at 1:42 pm

@greetings… There’s a difference between having someone on the panel who has direct experience of (some aspect of) the issue being discussed and having someone on the panel to “represent feminism”. I think listening to women who do not define as feminists is just as important as listening to those who do. Feminism is about liberating all women, after all, not just feminists!

Grace // Posted 27 August 2010 at 2:25 pm

Cliches: ‘things I am tired of hearing about’.

The industrial rape and abuse of women and girls on a worldwide scale will not be ended by UK Feminista granting ‘sex work’ apologists space on their panels. These women you so charmingly describe as ‘chiches’ have to deal with enough silencing as it is.

The ‘cliches’ are real. Sorry if it bores you.

polly // Posted 27 August 2010 at 3:02 pm

Nichi, if you don’t believe that males as a group have male privilege comparable to females as a group, I can’t help wondering why you’re a feminist.

Would you also think that a white person involved in an anti racist group lacked privilege in relation to BME members because they didn’t get to dictate the terms of the group and they were challenged on their white privilege and the history of white oppression?

I find your stance particularly strange in view of the topic being addressed. So members of the oppressed group should get to lead in every situation except where males are concerned, when it’s perfectly ok for them to start telling females how they’re oppressed?

Can you not see that you’ve just contradicted yourself?

coldharbour // Posted 27 August 2010 at 4:38 pm

So apparently having a raving transphobic bigot involved in an event supposedly promoting equality is o.k. because we don’t want to get into “hairsplitting”. I’m sorry, thats not a split hair thats a fucking chasm and as far as I am concerned anyone who thinks the issue of transphobia is a non issue is just as guilty. There should be no hierarchy of importance when it comes to prejudice and discrimination, I think Lynne’s last article pointed that out very succinctly. I presume the anti-sex worker community tolerate her because she is a beacon of clarity on their behalf as was clearly displayed at the event itself

:’She went as far as saying that if she had one bullet in the gun, it would not go for the pimp, but for the academic who’s all into the sex industry’. It’s hard to know how one person can posses such humanity.

gbl // Posted 27 August 2010 at 5:05 pm

Feminists do listen to women who do not define as feminist. We just don’t let them speak for us. And as Delphyne has said, many of us who walk our talk are former prostituted women who are now feminists.

Grace // Posted 27 August 2010 at 5:44 pm

coldharbour:

who precisely do you mean by the ‘anti-sex worker community’? Explain please. It’s no good just using (dare I say it…?) cliches like that without clarifying. Who is ‘anti sex worker’? What do these individuals do?

coldharbour // Posted 27 August 2010 at 6:06 pm

“The industrial rape and abuse of women and girls on a worldwide scale will not be ended by UK Feminista granting ‘sex work’ apologists space on their panels.”

So you think it’s going to be ended by a group of people who openly want to invisibilize and silence woman from the sex industry who do not share the same opinion on the legal status sex work as them? The only way workers in a capitalist society have ever gained any social and economic rights is through collective bargaining power (i.e. the trade union movement), history has proved this to be correct. This of coarse has been eternally denied to sex workers by the conservative patriarchal society we live in, so rather than trusting sex-workers with autonomy we hand power over to the patriarchal police state and the patriarchal court system controlled by the patriarchal government in Westminster to solve the problem, a very bizarre and deluded position for a feminist to take. The great anarchist-feminist Emma Goldman was the first to realized the absurdity of demonizing the sex industry while the rest of the female (and male) working class languished another field of capitalist wage slavery, a position some seem to find completely acceptable.

delphyne // Posted 27 August 2010 at 6:12 pm

“Firstly, with regards to de Sade’s ‘good victim’ – I was refering specifically to the eponymous Justine of de Sade’s novel, the archetypal suffering innocent, who seems to inspire much of the press coverage of victims, not just of sex trafficking and prostitution, but also of honour killings, stonings, gang rapes etc.”

Oh right, interesting. Because the rapist and pornographer the Marquis de Sade found the sexual abuse and rape of a woman erotic and turned it into pornography and titillation, we all have to see victims through his framing now do we? You may do, I certainly don’t. I think it’s pretty offensive to describe women who have been sexually victimised and harmed as “Sadean victims” – there’s certainly nothing of de Sade in the reporting of these crimes, unless the its the reader themselves who is unable to read about sexual torture and not get turned on by it, but I don’t read most press reporting of sexual victimisation as being done in the manner of de Sade . Even in the tabloids the currency is mock outrage, not explicit erotic enjoyment from hearing about the sexual torture of women.

I think maybe you’ve confused fantasy and reality there, or was it Aisha Gill you’re quoting who did that, it’s not clear.

I don’t think you’ve got much of an argument really. As Hannah said, the sex industry is an anti-woman industry. It degrades and destroys women. If you’re really interested in the cause of women and of feminism you’ll be asking how to stop this harm to women, not wondering why the sex industry didn’t have a panelist promoting it on a feminist forum.

Grace // Posted 27 August 2010 at 6:13 pm

And of course the comments from survivors of the ‘industry’ that no union would have stopped men raping them mean nothing, eh?

Maybe slavery should have been unionised. Then it would have been just fine.

Grace // Posted 27 August 2010 at 6:19 pm

And let’s not forget the fact that when you unionise an ‘industry’ you make it legitimate- in this case, you make the purchase of women’s bodies for rape legitimate.

How do you have exit services for something that is just a normal job? What about the vast majority of women in the ‘industry’ who do not want to be there? How come their testimonies, the history of violence they have suffered means so little?

coldharbour // Posted 27 August 2010 at 6:48 pm

“Who is ‘anti sex worker’? What do these individuals do?”

Representative groups/individuals who choose to invizibilize and silencing sex-workers who share a different qualified opinion with regards to the legal status of sex-work are anti-sex worker, this objectively includes U.K. Feminista as an event/organization.

“And of course the comments from survivors of the ‘industry’ that no union would have stopped men raping them mean nothing, eh?”

And the opinions of sex-workers with differing views mean nothing to you? I don’t choose to ignore or silence anybody, thats the difference.

On a different note I would add that transphobia is a inevitable corollary of viewing identity as a binary format based on biological sex, it’s pretty obvious Bindel is not alone on this one. I would ask Jennifer Drew to clarify:

“‘Gender’ is not the problem it is male domination and male control over women which is the problem and how this operates in complex ways.”

Other Grace // Posted 27 August 2010 at 6:50 pm

…Yes, because all prostitutes are female. Of course. It’s all very well to claim that the sex-industry is ‘anti-woman’ (which I don’t believe it is – not inherently, anyway), but what about the boys and men? Where do they fit into this framework? Frankly, I think is more of an issue stemming from how the Western society views sex and desire, which then ties into gender roles and thus into feminism.

I hate to turn this into a ‘what about the menz’, but I’d actually like to know the answer. Invisibilising male prostitutes in discussions about sex work/the sex industry (from a feminist standpoint or not) is something that has long irritated me.

@Nichi: I agree with the spirit of the post, if not your exact wording/expression, but your comments are spot-on. Interesting thing about male feminists and the need many of them seem to feel to ‘apologise’ for the various issues with their collective gender – I’ve seen it too, and it always makes me a little sad that they feel that need. Not a pleasant position to be in.

/tuppence

gbl // Posted 27 August 2010 at 6:57 pm

“(…said) if she had one bullet in the gun, it would not go for the pimp, but for the academic who’s all into the sex industry’.”

As a formerly prostituted woman, I’d have to say I’d be hard pressed to make a choice there too. Not being an academic, just a self-educated First Nation’s woman, I’m not conversant with these things. It does seem to me you’re talking in some strange incomprehensible language that only two or three of you may understand. Is this how you plan to talk when you speak to poor, uneducated and traumatized “sex workers” at feminist forums?

coldharbour // Posted 27 August 2010 at 7:16 pm

“Maybe slavery should have been unionised. Then it would have been just fine.”

Also I might add the idea that African-American slaves were socially and economically emancipated by the dismantling of the Pre-Civil War economic apparatus is a very complex question indeed. History is always written by the victors, in the case of the American Civil War the victors happen to be the largest capitalist propaganda machine in the world. Slavery did indeed continued to thrive in the United States merely in a slightly more benign form, this has been widely documented by economic historians such as Howard Zinn.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oztdRo9GLLk

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnslaem10.html

polly // Posted 28 August 2010 at 9:27 am

Coldharbour: You need to understand how collective bargaining power works. IE the people doing the ‘collective bargaining’ need to be able to damage the other side in some way if their demands are not met. This is traditionally done through withdrawal of labour.

When the side doing the collective bargaining does NOT have power, we have a situation like we had in the 1980’s miners strike. Or more recently BA, where numerous legal challenges were put in the strikers way. Thatcher all but destroyed trade union power.

If you withdraw your labour and there are plenty of people willing to step into your shoes how is that going to work exactly? Do you really think the average street sex worker, who more often than not has an addiction problem is going to do that anyway?

And nobody has stopped sex workers forming unions – have you never heard of the IUSW?

You also miss the slightly vital fact that most lap dancers etc are legally SELF EMPLOYED. The club owners prefer that, for obvious reasons. If you’re self employed, you don’t have employment rights (unless you want to take yourself to an employment tribunal).

polly // Posted 28 August 2010 at 10:58 am

“” Political lesbians, for example, who refuse to sleep with men until rape and male violence against women no longer exists. Such an absolutist approach hardly seems like a choice, when there are plenty of men horrified by the thought of violence against women, and when the end result only seems to exacerbate gender conflict, which ultimately benefits neither men nor women.””

So are you saying here, Nichi, that if women decide they don’t want to have sex with men, for whatever reason, that exacerbates gender conflict? That such women should shut up and put out for the good of gender harmony?

If women want to abstain from sex with men surely that’s their business, their choice and their bodies. They don’t have any obligation to do anything they don’t want to.

I’d suggest anyone who says anything different is endorsing rape.

Who’s criticising other women’s choices now?

Siren of Brixton // Posted 29 August 2010 at 7:07 am

The heat of some of the comments in this thread is indicative of the problem. It is incredibly hard to accommodate the many voices in the feminism community and in the wider community of women, who must be heard in feminist debates.

If you are a feminist but you will only listen to women who are also feminist, in my view your position is untenable. Being feminist should equal being supportive and loving towards women who don’t share your views. No one finds it easy, but that should be the aim

thetabbycat // Posted 30 August 2010 at 12:39 am

Re the comments about having one bullet, specifically Julie Bindel was talking about shooting a anthropologist who researches within “the sex industry” rather than a pimp. As a feminist social anthropology student I have sought out research along these lines and found much of it to be extremely valuable in terms of evidence about what the industry is really like.

The discussion generally at that particular panel I found frustrating. The comments about conjuring up the ideal victim and stereotyping of sex workers as Nichi described above left me feeling slightly puzzled. The discussion stemmed from talk about the media representation of women as the victims. Yes I agree that we should not just see women ( non “western” women in this context) as being victims because they are human beings who are made powerless by society not because of their gender. But at the same time…they are victims are they not? The way some of the panel described the “ideal” story for the british media in a slightly contemptuous tone (always natasha shoved in a lorry etc) made me feel uncomfortable. So long as there are women who are subjected to these ordeals it is surely not a joking matter? Of course British sex workers who work in British cities and are raped and abused deserve more attention than they are currently given by the media. Of course there are lots of women whose situations are not as adventure like as these “perfect victim” stories but just as terrible.

I am aware that the members of the panel who engaged in this part of the debate probably did not intend to come across as insulting to any women. But had I been one of those “Natashas” I would certainly have felt insulted and belittled. Feelings that all the women who have been in these situations have probably felt all to often and certainly would not want to here at a summer school whose participants want to overturn the disgusting patriarchal order that is the reason for their distressing situation.

Grace // Posted 30 August 2010 at 6:52 pm

Let’s have a look at what I said:

“And of course the comments from survivors of the ‘industry’ that no union would have stopped men raping them mean nothing, eh?”

And what you said:

‘And the opinions of sex-workers with differing views mean nothing to you? I don’t choose to ignore or silence anybody, thats the difference.’

It seems to me that the women who have been raped on a daily basis, who have survived unimaginable horror have first right to any consideration. This doesn’t seem to worry you. I speak of the testimony of some of the most silence women there are – prostitution survivors.

Rape and torture vs. ‘differing opinions’

Oh and btw – I don’t have the power to ‘silence’ you or anyone else. I’m not the government or a pimp or a john.

Kat // Posted 31 August 2010 at 7:44 am

Just to clarify – the session at the Summer School being discussed was a ‘Feminist Question Time’ – 90 minutes made up entirely of open questioning from audience members on any topic of their choosing. No topic was pre-specified – and anything was open to debate. It was an opportunity for activists to debate issues and challenge ideas with each of the five panel members and other members of the audience.

UK Feminista aims to get as many people active in feminism as possible – because of course gender inequality affects every single one of us in many different, often complex ways. As I’m sure everyone here is acutely aware, equality simply won’t be achieved unless people’s multiple identities are taken into account and that is why we need to build a diverse and inclusive movement. As such, all of the services and events UK Feminista provides – including the recent summer school – are open to all those who share the organisation’s vision and support its goals (see http://www.ukfeminista.org.uk)

The suggestion that the Summer School excluded “feminists who may be involved in one of the many activities that could come under the term ‘sex industry’” is completely false. The policy of UK Feminista not to provide services to organisations (and their representatives) that promote the sex industry relates specifically to those engaged in organised advocacy and lobbying on behalf of the industry to, for example, legalise prostitution and promote it as a legitimate form of ‘work’. The policy does not apply to individuals by default of being involved in the industry, but solely to those who are engaged in organised advocacy and lobbying on behalf of the industry as a whole. Indeed, UK Feminista and its partners work closely with women currently and previously involved in the sex industry and their experiences are at the core of both its policy and campaign work. In line with the organisation’s partners, UK Feminista recognises the prostitution, pornography and lap dancing industries as forms of commercial sexual exploitation which perpetuate inequality between women and men.

Laura // Posted 31 August 2010 at 9:00 am

Thanks for the clarification on the T&Cs, Kat. Personally, my concerns arouse from the use of the terms “support” and “affiliate with”, as I feel these could be interpreted in a variety of ways that extend beyond what you have stated above (“those who are engaged in organised advocacy and lobbying on behalf of the industry as a whole”), and the term “sex industry” could also subject to differing interpretation.

Tyla // Posted 14 September 2010 at 8:02 am

Dear The F-Word,

Why was this woman allowed to post here?

In her recent piece in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/10/kyriarchy-and-patriarchy), she claims that men are oppressed because the ‘desire’ they feel for porn performers ‘forces’ them to consume pornography – basically recycling ancient misogynist rubbish about women really having all the power because they give men erections.

In the comments thread (see the last comment but one) she claims that men are oppressed when women refuse to have sex with them. How is it that a woman who thinks men have a right to be sexually serviced by women has been given a forum on a feminist website?

Laura // Posted 14 September 2010 at 8:20 am

Tyla,

The F-Word accepts contributions from all UK feminists. Not everyone is going to agree with everyone else’s interpretation of feminism or personal opinions, and we would hardly be representative of the diversity of UK feminism if we tried only to publish pieces that fit your, or mine, or or Jess’, or Germaine Greer’s, or any one person’s personal feminist viewpoint.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 14 September 2010 at 11:24 am

Hi,

Just to add to what Laura has said: guest posts are judged on their own merits; we do not read every single thing a person has ever written before approving their contribution.

Also, it doesn’t really make any difference but I’m pretty sure that the Guardian article went up after the guest post here. So we could not have read that anyway as it hadn’t been published yet.

polly // Posted 14 September 2010 at 7:41 pm

What Tyla said. Thank you Tyla. An absolutely bizarre view.

polly // Posted 15 September 2010 at 7:32 am

The point about not reading what people have written elsewhere before approving their piece here is fair enough, but Nichi Hodgson said something extremely similar above – see my response about 8th comment from the bottom.

Her statement that ‘political lesbians’ exacerbate gender conflict is lesbophobic – no way round it. It’s also nonsense, (you can’t blame the oppression of women on political lesbians, since political lesbianism is a response to the oppression of women) AND yes it says women have a duty/ responsibility to sexually service men to avoid exacerbating gender conflict.

There is simply no other way it can be read.

And that WAS published on the F word. So is this a view the F word endorses? it’s a fair question.

Laura // Posted 15 September 2010 at 8:13 am

@ Polly, For the nth time: all posts are the personal opinions of the author and there is no official F-Word seal of approval for anything that is written here. Nichi did not actually state that political lesbians exacerbate gender conflict, nor did she say – in either her post or comments – that women have a duty to sexually service men to avoid exacerbating gender conflict. That’s your interpretation. If we refused to publish every comment or post that someone might interpret as offensive or not up to their standard of feminism then we wouldn’t publish a thing.

Considering we have to spend so much time dealing with people who demand detailed explanations for every little thing they don’t like on here instead of spending that time producing content ourselves, that would effectively shut the blog down. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

angercanbepower // Posted 15 September 2010 at 9:21 am

For the nth time: all posts are the personal opinions of the author and there is no official F-Word seal of approval for anything that is written here.

Stop saying this, please. Like it or not, thefword is a brand in its own right. Choosing to publish guests posts “on their own merits”, as Catherine says, quite explicitly endorses what is published.

Laura // Posted 15 September 2010 at 7:43 pm

OK, so anything published here is “endorsed” insofar as either Jess (as editor) or the collective member who received or solicited the guest blog post believes the feature/post can be recognised as belonging to the broad church of “UK feminism” and that it may be of interest to some feminists. The site couldn’t work otherwise. The post/feature is not “endorsed” in the sense that the editor and blog collective all agree with or wish to promote its contents. Polly was suggesting The F-Word “endorses” two comments made by a guest blogger as she interprets them. This simply is not true.

starsandscars // Posted 16 September 2010 at 4:56 pm

I find it slightly alarming that offensive comments are being dismissed as “interpretations” here.

I don’t see any other way to interpret that lesbophobic comment.

I

Laura // Posted 18 September 2010 at 12:12 pm

@ starsandscars: In contrast to lesbianism as a sexuality, political lesbianism is quite explicitly a political strategy for dealing with patriarchy – a particular form of feminism. I don’t think critiquing a feminist strategy is the same as making discriminatory comments against women because of their sexuality. I interpreted Nichi’s comment as saying she disagreed that political lesbianism was an effective or necessary strategy to deal with patriarchy, not that she has anything against lesbians. Although I am not in agreement with her assessment, I therefore felt it was acceptable to publish.

Nichi Hodgson // Posted 20 September 2010 at 6:32 pm

Tyla and Polly: In my recent piece for the Guardian, I did indeed make reference to the negative impact porn can have on some men. What I meant by this is that a lot of men clearly have a love/hate relationship with porn, and struggle in a culture that frequently reduces masculine desire to phallocentric, dominant and often misogynstic fantasies about women. This was not about sanctifying the sexism in porn. It was merely to point out that many men are oppressed by a system in which some women partake in and, in some cases, do not feel similarly oppressed by because they themselves are comfortable with objectifying themselves in exchange for cash.

My opposition to political lesbianism is actually to what I read as an aggressive exclusivity, a sort of eye for an eye rebuke to those men who do perpetuate violence against women, which impacts on all men, whether they are violent or not. This is not at all about believing that women should ‘sexually service’ men. It’s about questioning how useful it is to reject someone on the basis that less scrupulous members of their gender had perpetuated violence against women. It tars all with the same brush, and I do not see what this strategy achieves for harmony between the genders.

Still, just as I would advocate the right of sex workers to choose to sell sexual services, or for Muslim women to choose to wear the hijab (regardless of whether I agree with either of these from my own feminist perspective), I would defend the right of political lesbians to choose not to sleep with men – all I have done is expressed my opinion/critique of it. I think it is worth bearing in mind that any feminist debate that questions how much ‘choice’ any women who sells sex or wears the hijab has should equally apply that to political lesbianism.

As for the suggestion that my comments are lesbophobic, I am sorry if my comments have been interpreted that way: this was certainly never my intention, particularly in context of the fact I am in a relationship with a woman myself.

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