We would like to thank Vivian Valentine for this post, feminists are often seen as the enemy by sex workers, this is an important contribution to a more nuanced debate.
As a woman, social science/media studies academic (with some gender studies courses under my belt) and feminist, I have long pondered the idea of sex work and I must admit that I have only recently changed my standing on the topic. I come from a Nordic country (I have lived in the UK for a while now though), which a few years ago took up the Swedish model. Back then I felt it was a great idea and that it would help save countless lives etc. One thing always bothered me, and that was the admittance of the committee who over saw the public consultation that no sex workers were actually consulted on the issue. The local women’s shelter organisation was seen to have the legitimacy of speaking for sex workers, as it had helped a number of foreign sex workers getting away from pimps and strip club bosses.
For the past few months, however, doubts started creeping in and I think these were mostly driven by observing debates about the issue on my Twitter feed between academics at first, and these conversations were mostly about pornography. As I ‘followed’ more and more voices in the debate, some vocal sex workers’ comments started bleeding into the conversation, and I found them to give a hugely interesting insight into a topic that I had once merely written off as ‘sorted’ in my mind, and it went something like “sex work is bad because it harms women, lets ban it. The end.”
Following last night screening of Channel4’s Love for Sale with Rupert Everett my Twitter feed has mostly consisted of discussions about this programme and suddenly I felt the urge to cast in my two pennies, but at the same time felt like I was intruding, as I am not a sex worker and have little clue what that entails in principle. I am always acutely aware of public debates being hijacked by voices of those who have no first experience of the issue but feel they need to be heard. I don’t want to be one of those people as I realise that me constantly harping on about an experience that I have never had may drown out other more relevant voices.
I am therefore not commenting on sex work as such, but more society’s reaction to sex work which seems to now have taken a turn to considering the Swedish model for countries in Europe. As a woman I feel the urge to comment here as this seems to stink of old fashioned views on women* and regulation of them, their bodies, minds and work. It also seems to draw on Victorian viewpoints on women’s sexuality as dangerous and corrupting. There are also discourses about victimhood and rescuing, which seem in some ways to derive from ideas of women as the weaker sex, which needs protecting. For the last point, I have no doubt that these ideas do stem from good intentions, but what bothers me about these is that they tend to speak over the heads of sex workers and are dominated by voices of those like myself. (I will stop soon, I promise)
Sex workers have raised their concerns about how criminalisation makes their work more difficult and dangerous, and for that reason I feel I need to raise my voice. As a woman and a feminist, I feel we need to stop silencing specific groups of people, stigmatising their work, and drive top-down legislation that poses a threat to them and makes the day to day running of their lives more difficult. We do not need further stigmatisation of sex work (as Rachel Moran called for in Love for Sale) – but none.
*I am aware that sex workers are a more diverse group, but I am here referring to women as many of the viewpoints I have come across seem to stem from old-fashioned ideas about women, womanhood and femininity”