Centering Sex Worker Voices

Unsurprisingly, the two recent threads on sex work are… active. There’s a lot of push-back (especially to mine) in the comments, so I want to address a few things. First, I stand by what I wrote in the post. But second, I did an inadequate job of focusing on the more important issue: Making life safer, here and now, for sex workers.

I said in the earlier post that I think most of the feminist divides on this issue come down to differences in philosophy vs. practicality — there are many of us who have a particular feminist view of how we would like the world to work but still understand that we live in the real world and need to take practical steps now to make sure that sex workers aren’t jailed, abused and killed. And I think there’s a place for discussion about how feminist views could fit with sex work in the theoretical feminist utopia; I think (I hope) there’s a place for discussion about the feminist ethics of buying sex, of what sex even is (a service, a commodity, a mutually pleasurable act). Those discussions are valuable and we should be having them.

But we have them too often, at the expense of getting shit done. So with this post, I want to highlight the voices of current and former sex workers who are actually out there getting shit done, even though they don’t have a place at the table when it comes to crafting the policies that most impact their communities. Talking about these issues in theory is fine. But we need to spend more time and exert more effort in supporting the women and men who are putting their own lives and liberties on the line by advocating for their rights.

The first post I want to link is by Melissa Gira Grant; it was linked in the initial Feministe post by Laurie and Debbie, the comments to which were the inspiration to my post, but I should have linked it as well; it was disrespectful that I didn’t, and I apologize. Grant’s piece details the many way sex workers are targeted by law enforcement, and how some feminists, in the name of “ending trafficking,” have made their day to day lives much more difficult. It’s a must-read, and an excellent piece of journalism.

This piece, at Jadehawk’s blog, is a direct response to mine (she obviously is not a fan of what I wrote!). I disagree with some of it, of course, but I think it’s an important contribution and adds quite a bit to the discussion.

FeministIre writes about the idea of a “representative sex worker.”

And this video, posted by Melissa Gira Grant, is produced by members of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers.

Finally, I want to link again to Audacia Ray, who I linked in my initial piece but whose work is great and should be highlighted — and it’s worth putting out there that I doubt Audacia would agree with all (or even most) of what my post said, so I didn’t intend to use her words as implying that she would be on board. I just thought they added an important element. So read them without the context of what I wrote. She also runs the Red Umbrella Project, which amplifies the voices of sex workers.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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120 Responses to Centering Sex Worker Voices

  1. sabrina says:

    I have to say Jill this is coming across as too little too late. You once again sat by and allowed two groups of marginalized women be attacked by bigots and did nothing about it. You allowed openly transphobic people to attack Becca and Donna on the first thread, and people to dehumanize sex workers on both. Once again these issues didn’t get addressed until Caperton stepped in to do something. Feministe has a track record of doing this. It happens time and time again and every time marginalized women tell you how to make this community a safer place for us it gets ignored.

    • A4 says:

      mmmmm… crusts of bread from above.

    • I wasn’t pleased by seeing a woman talked down to on here with cutesy condescending terms like “honey” or “sweetie cheeks” or whatever it was people were using.

      And no, I’m not sticking up for the transphobe; I’m sticking up for all the people like myself who had to see that shit and feel physically ill at seeing a woman talked to like that on a feminist website.

      If calling women c**ts is misogynistic, how is using terms like “sweetie pie” or “honey” any less, when they’ve been used and are often used to talk condescendingly to women, in a way that usually implies they’re less intelligent than dogs?

      inb4 blah blah tone argument. I don’t care; it made me feel sick, so I’m bringing it up. So did the way Donna was treated. The whole thing was a clusterfuck.

      • As the (only) person who did that, Barnacle, I should point out that I a) started doing that only after Murphy started being openly transphobic, and b) my intent was to either piss her off into being transphobic enough to ban, or at least pissed off enough to actually engage instead of being preachy. At that point I wasn’t engaging her as a woman (and do note I do exactly the same thing to male trolls), I was engaging her as a loathsome bigot.

        If calling women c**ts is misogynistic, how is using terms like “sweetie pie” or “honey” any less

        Have you been called both? I have. There’s a difference. That said, I’ll avoid it in the future, if only because it makes random innocent people like you sick. I’m sorry I did that. I was pissed off, but that’s not an excuse.

      • I can understand why you were doing it. I swear, people like her piss me me more than the ones who are outrightly blatant in their transphobia; they at least seem to think they are in the right. But she is never going to do more than sneak around and be transphobic in a cowardly way where she thinks she can avoid being called out on it, which makes me think she (and people like her) recognize more that what they are doing is all kinds of wrong.

        I have been called both (and all kinds of other things besides) but that one is particularly bad to me, moreso than almost anything else (I suppose it’s based on personal experiences, what is most hurtful).

        Apology accepted; and as much as I’d love to go into ideas for some of the many, many non-misogynistic descriptors I’d like to use for that person, I don’t want to turn this into a bashing thread :) (I’ll save them in case she pops up again)

  2. Pingback: Prostitution vs sex trafficking | The Consensual Feminist

  3. John says:

    I support Jill in this. We need to talk about it and then do something about it. Make it legal, get it out of the dark and into the light. It is not going away! By making it legal you give the sex workers one of the best tools out there, and it is one that they can use and use well. No longer will it be ok for them to be victims there in the dark. Used and abused by all sides. If it is legal then they can use the courts and the law to protect themselves and fight trafficing! Also by making it legal it will allow those who have been forced into it a chance to get the heck out of it! But, by just keeping it illegal it allows more abuse and therefor more victims. We need to bring it out in the open. Let us end the abuse and let in the light of day and help those who are in it!

  4. saurus says:

    Maybe a nice policy for Feministe would be to center and promote voices from vulnerable groups, always and from the start, instead of having someone from outside that group pontificate on their situation like they’re a goddamn zoo exhibit. Maybe that would save Feministe some trouble and bother.

    Obviously, for Feministe and mainstream feminist communities, this continues to be a concept that is beyond comprehension. Partially because it’s incompatible with the Feminist Pundit career model that Jill, Jessica, Amanda and other A-list white feminists benefit from. But mostly because mainstream feminism is so messed up that it literally fails to see how autonomy over the expression and framing of one’s personal experiences is a “feminist issue”.

    I left here for some time and nothing has changed.

    It never changes.

  5. A4 says:

    There’s a lot of push-back (especially to mine) in the comments, so I want to address a few things. First, I stand by what I wrote in the post. But second, I did an inadequate job of focusing on the more important issue: Making life safer, here and now, for sex workers.

    This is a breathtaking amount of understatement and euphemism.

    I said in the earlier post that I think most of the feminist divides on this issue come down to differences in philosophy vs. practicality — there are many of us who have a particular feminist view of how we would like the world to work but still understand that we live in the real world and need to take practical steps now to make sure that sex workers aren’t jailed, abused and killed.

    This seems to cast you as a lofty thinker pontificating on high who has consented to descend to the sordid depths of the real world. Sex workers are just too wrapped up in the practicalities of their lives to engage with your deep thoughtz.

    I think many people, sex-workers included, attempted to engage “philosophically” on that thread, and that the divide had nothing to do with this imaginary binary between theory and practice.

    I want to highlight the voices of current and former sex workers who are actually out there getting shit done

    So you have descended from the tower to give medals to the practical people out there doing good work, but yet…

    I disagree with some of it, of course, but I think it’s an important contribution and adds quite a bit to the discussion.

    You’re still not going to engage with them philosophically.

    • PM says:

      “This seems to cast you as a lofty thinker pontificating on high who has consented to descend to the sordid depths of the real world. Sex workers are just too wrapped up in the practicalities of their lives to engage with your deep thoughtz.”

      I got that vibe from Jill’s earlier post, too. The line that stuck out to me was the one about the “bird’s eye view.” The view and voices from the ground are much more important to pay attention to.

      • A4 says:

        Oh man that line you’re talking about from “Supporting Sex Workers’ Rights, Opposing the Buying of Sex”:

        But from a birdseye feminist view — from a sex-positive view — sex work is different because it’s commodifying something that should ideally be a basic pleasure, entered into entirely freely and at will.

        is exactly what I’m talking about. Where can I get me a pair of angel wings?

    • James says:

      Frankly, I think a lot if people here are being too hard on Jill.

      She believes she knows what’s best for sex workers, and isn’t shy about stating her views. But she acknowledges that ‘what’s best’ isn’t practical right now and trying to implement it would cause more harm than good.

      Of course she comes off as paternalistic and slightly condescending. But so are most progressives. It kinda comes with the territory. Its just that in this issue it hits a little closer to home. Atrack smoking because its bad for you and society? Sure thing – hardly anyone in my enlightened circle of friends smokes tobacco anyways. Attack guns because they’re dangerous and cause more harm than good on a national level? A no-brainer… who cares if we piss off a few rednecks that cherish the semiautomatic rifle their dads taught them to hunt with. But when it comes to criticizing sex work… well… my guess is most sex workers would identify as progressives (if anything). So you’re going to be offending a few in your own flock.

      • sabrina says:

        first off most sex workers don’t identify as feminists specifically because of Jill’s attitude. It’s an attitude that is shared by a lot of feminists, and it’s not only unhelpful but it’s also downright dehumanizing and condescending to boot.

      • Bagelsan says:

        People are allowed to not like your line of work without it being “dehumanizing” yanno.

  6. Random Observer says:

    OK, but lets get this out on the table – your previous post seemed to advocate for the Nordic model (“decriminalize”* sex work, criminalize sex purchase), or at least can be read that way, something that sex worker advocates (with the exception of a small number of radfem aligned ones) have said is an entirely wrongful approach, and actually has very real negative consequences for sex workers. So, in your statement that buying sex is “immoral”, do you also think it should be illegal? Because, if so, it seems like you’ve heard nothing from the very SW advocates you say should get more of a hearing.

    *Yes, “decriminalize” is in quotes, because if one part of the transaction is still criminalized, that’s no real decriminalization at all. The act is still a crime, it’s just that the seller has been cast in the role of “victim”.

    • Jill says:

      No, I don’t think buying sex should be illegal. I apologize if that was unclear. I don’t think that my personal morality or ideals should dictate the law. I do think that sex workers who have a vested interest in the laws that apply to them should be the leaders in dictating the laws. I actually used to think the Nordic model sounded good in theory, until I read a bunch of sex workers’ reactions to it, and realized that in practice it’s no good. Which led me to not support it.

      • (BFing)Sarah says:

        Okay, fine. But I think what James said above is important to think about here. If its sex workers alone that should be the leaders “dictating” (hate this word in this context) the laws, then why shouldn’t it be gun owners/hunters/target shooters that dictate the laws when it comes to gun control? Or smokers that dictate laws on whether smoking is allowed in restaurants, bars, etc.? People who are engaging in sex work should absolutely be at the table when determining policies that will shape their lives and livelihoods, but they should not be “dictating” the laws. We all live in society and we all should be a part of the discussion and process of law-making. Sex work does impact the rest of us, even those of us that aren’t sex workers. For example, I work with several women who are the children of sex workers (I also work with some women who were sex workers). Their mothers jobs did impact them…and now it is impacting the rest of society (I work with women on parole and in recovery from drug addiction). Its not just the sex workers that “choose” their profession that count, but also the sex workers that feel like it is their best option given their financial situation. We can’t pretend that that is not the majority of sex work and we can’t pretend it doesn’t affect anyone but the sex worker and the client.

      • Jill says:

        That’s right, Sarah, I phrased that poorly. What I mean is that sex workers should have leading voices at the table when it comes to making laws about sex work. I don’t think sex workers should be the only people at the table, but right now, they’re largely in jail or silenced or ignored. And that’s what’s different about sex workers vs. gun owners or smokers: We’re talking about a group that has been historically marginalized and faces ongoing harassment, jail, abuse and murder (often at the hands of the state). Right now, most of the laws regarding sex work are being made and maintained without any input from sex workers at all. That’s a big problem. Sex workers shouldn’t be the only people making and influencing the laws, but they should be leaders in making and reforming the laws.

      • (BFing)Sarah says:

        I can agree with that, absolutely. Gun owners have political sway and they have a (very loud) voice in determining gun regulations. I think that James was kind of trolling with that comment and I thought he could kind of latch on the “dictate” language and run with it. I think its a little more similar to allowing people in recovery to be at the table when determining drug policies. Not the SAME, mind you, but similar in that people who engage in sex work are not generally even allowed to be part of the discussion. Men and women who are sex workers are not given a say in the laws that govern their livelihoods and that is not right; they should be a part of the discussion. Agreed. It always makes me feel so angry when I hear from one of the women I work with that their criminal histories are mostly due to sex work. I think sex work should be de-criminalized, absolutely, and that the policies put in place should be created by the people most influenced by those policies.

      • james says:

        I definitely agree that sex workers should have a prominent seat at the table in discussions like these, but that really wasn’t the point I was trying to make in my earlier post. And since I apparently did such a poor job phrasing what I meant that it could be misconstrued as ‘trolling’, I feel I should clarify.

        My point was just that I was seeing a lot of unfair anger at Jill, with much of it focusing on her coming off as paternalistic with her “lofty thinker pontificating” and all.

        And I agree some of her statements are rather paternalistic. But criticizing her for that rings rather hollow on a site in which I would guess upwards of 90% of the readers/posters/commenters would identify as progressives.

        I hope I was able to eliminate any confusion about what I was saying. I realized my post might not be popular since it was pointing out a few of the ways in which progressivism is inherently paternalistic, but I certainly didn’t mean to imply I thought gun owners or smokers sex workets should ‘dictate’ the laws that concern their activities.

      • Jessica says:

        I’m glad you don’t think buying sex should be illegal (I was starting to think that when I read your post). Although, it wouldn’t really affect me (since the men who know about me learn through word-of-mouth). But I think it’s very important to refrain from simply making something illegal (without considering how many people it will negatively affect). BTW, do you know anyone personally who’s sold or bought sex?

      • (BFing)Sarah says:

        Are you asking me or Jill? If you read my post, you’d know that I do know women (not men) who have engaged in sex work. At least one of them is second generation and was introduced into sex work by her mother. Why did you want to know?

      • Jessica says:

        @(BFing)Sarah:
        I was asking Jill (I’ll just make it clear who I’m replying to from now on). But now I’m curious about the sex workers you know… Do you know any sex workers who love their job (like I do)? I know I’m in the minority (since I specifically chose it and was not forced into it in any way)… But even if sex workers like me are in the minority, I still think it’s important that our voices are heard.

  7. curiouscliche says:

    Jill, Audacia Ray has already stated that you misrepresented what she wrote, so there’s no need to present it as speculation. http://blog.audaciaray.com/post/42583478967/better-than-you-incidentally-i-do-know-how-to-cry

    Every person who actively advocates against legalization has blood on their hands.

  8. Drahill says:

    Doesn’t this mostly boil down to a question of separating the legal and the ethical? I mean, if one is for legalization, then in theory, the question of whether selling sex is morally bad or morally neutral wouldn’t even enter into the equation. I mean, I get that its difficult to talk about a morally/ethically charged topic without expressing one’s personal morality, but it seems like there’s not really a need to do so if the article was focused on legal and policy-based reactions to sex work. I won’t say a word, personally, about my own moral or ethical opinions of sex work unless an article or thread really asks, because I don’t feel like sharing them is really adding to the conversation. So I liked the piece Jill wrote overall, but I’m just not sure why the caveat of “I’m opposed to selling sex” was even there.

    • moviemaedchen says:

      Yeah, I’m kind of with you on this. If someone thinks that sex is XYZ and therefore no money should be involved, the only reason I can see to bring up that opinion in such a discussion (especially in the face of sex workers says it’s NOT like that FOR THEM) is as part of an argument that that’s how it ought to be regarded on a policy level. I’m not sure one way or the other personally, but I get that for some people they’re absolutely fine working with a sex-as-service model and therefore, so long as the circumstances allow for genuine consent, it’s really none of my business what they do with their bodies and why. Because I’m not being forced into anything and it’s not my job to make sure they obey my vision of What Sex Is.

      Now, if the discussion had been oriented around the question of what sex is/can be and whether or not it’s ever ok for money to be involved, then personal opinion could come into it. But in a discussion of the current situation of sex workers and how to work to fix that? No.

    • Jill says:

      So the reason I included that is because I think there are a lot of feminists and feminist-minded people who are uncomfortable with sex work in theory and/or also think that in the feminist utopia people wouldn’t buy sex. And I see a lot of those people feeling very sympathetic to anti-sex-work arguments. So I was trying to create a space for discussion that said yes, we can have different views on whether or not sex work in theory is a good or bad thing but in practice — when it comes to the law, when it comes to policy — we need to do what’s practical and necessary in the here and now. That we can all have our morality and our ethics and our philosophies and those may vary, but we can be on the same team when it comes to advocating for sex worker rights.

      • Drahill says:

        I can appreciate that, Jill, and thank you for addressing it. I’m personally from a viewpoint that is probably different from yours in general. I was going by what I saw happen in the comments, which sort of took that statement and ran with it, while the bigger policy and law issues I think you raised got smushed underfoot.

      • Jessica says:

        I agree with you about it being useful to distinguish theory from practice… But which sex-positive feminists do you know who are uncomfortable with sex work in theory? I’ve never heard of one… But I recognize that there are those who have different opinions than I do. As a sex worker (who loves her job and finds it extremely empowering), I definitely think that sex work should be legal (but I won’t pretend I know what’s best for those sex workers who didn’t give their full consent).

      • robotile says:

        maybe this is an aside, but it seems to me that legalization won’t do much to further the safety of sex workers without changes in culture. It’s a first step,yes, but rape laws on the books aren’t that bad, and yet the status of sexual assault survivors in our society is horrific — victim blaming and re-traumatizing from the moment that you report.
        Change the stigma associated with it, like the gay rights movement did, and then maybe legalization could be effective.

      • Jessica says:

        @robotile:
        I definitely agree with you about first changing the stigma associated with sex work. That will actually affect me a lot more than legalization would (since I only use word-of-mouth for my work). But how exactly do you think we can change the stigma associated with sex work?

      • Adrena says:

        I know a sex positive feminist who is extremely uncomfortable with empowering the sexuality of the Madonnas – all the non-prostitutes.

      • robotile says:

        I think a lot of it is about framing sex workers as people, as in, “my sister/brother/befri/etc. is a sex worker and s/he’s also a great friend, tennis player, mother, blah blah blah” Many people dehumanize sex workers the same way that LGBTQ were when being in the closet was the norm. So I think, in some way, coming out of the closet for sex workers — to their families and friends — would help. Those who know people who are sex workers need to be very aggressive about challenging statements that are dehumanizing when they hear them, and framing it as oppressive and discriminatory to someone they love. Beyond that, honestly, I’m not sure.

  9. I’m….still confused, honestly, on two counts. The first is that I made it very clear, in multiple comments, that someone whose choices are “sex work or death” isn’t “choosing” any more than I would “choose” to lop off an arm to save my wife from starving. Oh, I’d do it, but I wouldn’t want to, or have meaningfully chosen to. I didn’t see anyone arguing that all, or even most, sex workers are doing sex work completely uncoerced. Why was that strawman being repeatedly propped up?

    The other one is the “well, I’M icked out” argument that I saw from a lot of people. Look, to take a totally non-sex-work example… if I were a prizefighter, because I liked it, that’s my business, and nobody would turn up to throw me in jail for likign being beat up, no matter how fierce an anti-assault activist they were. Someone who gets a visceral thrill out of sadism, and likes nothing more than to whip their sub bloody on Sunday mornings, in carefully negotiated and consensual scenes, is engaging in their and their sub’s business. That same person going home after that party to slap their kid even once is engaging in abuse, because that kid has not signed up for it and is not capable of meaningfully consenting (I know that if, as a child, someone told me “take this slap or I’ll break all your possessions/kick your puppy” I would have taken that slap). Everyone attaches different significances to things. Just because the idea of whipping someone squicks YOU out is no reason for you to barge into MY bedroom and tell me and my wife what to do with our own adult consenting bodies.

    • I guess what I’m talking about is a next step in the consent model: fearless consent, further following from enthusiastic and simple consent. So, to use examples provided by others in the thread….

      1) Consent – as rox pointed out (and I agreed vociferously), someone consenting to sex because the option is to die/starve/watch your children get sick is “TECHNICALLY” consenting, but it’s a survival consent. Doesn’t really count. Is sick.

      2) Enthusiastic consent – someone having sex consensually, but not necessarily all about the pantsfeelings. (Naturally, there’s gaps and weirdnesses in this model – sex as bonding, sex as a kinky act even if someone could take/leave the physical sexings, sex in order to make babies and damn it this is the most fertile time so even though we’re both sick/tired/sleepy we should fuck, etc, etc.)

      3) Would be fearless consent. There are no ill consequences to refusign to have this sex/do this sex act/have sex with this person. There will be no fear of abuse, murder, starvation, destitution, imprisonment, rape. Nothing. Just someone choosing to have sex with a person they chose to have sex with, in ways with which they are comfortable, willing and content, without fear of reprisals or the stripping of bodily autonomy. The existence of a money transaction (or love transaction or dinner transaction or Doctor Who DVD transaction) is irrelevant to the state of mind of all participants.

      I think 3) sounds like the ideal situation for sex work, though 2) isn’t necessarily wrong either. But 1), which I imagine is the issue for a LOT of sex workers, is wrong and horrible and needs to stop.

      • (BFing)Sarah says:

        I am a person that is generally prudie when it comes to sex (not that I don’t have it, but I do have some barriers put up by experiences I have had and also by my brainwashing religious upbringing), but I still support decriminalization. My opinions on sex work being different from many other jobs are just that: my opinions. I think lots of people in the U.S. share that opinion, for good or for bad, but that doesn’t mean that women and men that engage in sex work should be arrested and marginalized. I like the prizefighter analogy and I think football is another thing we allow (and celebrate) that I find dangerous and the kind of work that I wouldn’t want to engage in. I think 2 and 3 are ideal situations for sex work as well. I think that, unfortunately, the women I know that have been sex workers fell closer into the first category…slightly modified in that it was either have sex for money or be sick from severe withdraw, and for many addicts that is pretty close to death and starvation. I know there are many people who engage in sex work that don’t fall into that category, and their voices obviously count, too.

      • Yeah, Sarah, as much as I think that drugs/alcohol aren’t really a necessity of life (or I’d be a very deprived soul lol), they can definitely create as coercive a circumstance as lack of food or shelter, for addicts, and so should be treated similarly.

        And hey, I’m pretty damn prudish when it comes to my own sex life, in most ways! I rock my inner prude! So I totally hear you, there. I couldn’t imagine doing sex work myself (or even any kind of non-transactional extended sex life really, I’m not that sexual a person); I’d be freaked out and fucked up by it. I just don’t generalise my own reaction to sex to the rest of the world and then tsk at people for Doing Things Rong. I don’t really see any points of disagreement between us here.

      • Uh, also, I just wanted to say a big thank you to you for calling out the racism here on the last couple of threads and ones before it. Every time people say something like “well if you were talking about BLACK PEOPLE/GAY PEOPLE everyone would be mad!” I always look at the screen like ?_? do you guys read the same site I do?

        I didn’t want to mention it there because you were calling out someone who was being plenty piled on elsewhere for no fault of her own, but just…thank you. And it means a lot to me that there’s other WO(assorted)C here. And I don’t think the white commenters get how fucking exhausting it is, either; honestly, that disgusting “boycott India” comment on the sex worker thread (that went unremarked upon by mods naturally) had me nearly in tears of fury until I read Li and Peggy’s comments on it, and later Donna’s. And India’s relatively ignored compared to AA people or NA people on this site. So yeah. Thank you.

      • (BFing)Sarah says:

        [smiles] Glad that I wasn’t “shouting” into the dark. Yeah, I do love this site but sometimes I find myself driven to angry tirades that my poor husband has to bear the brunt of, despite not having a clue what I’m talking about because he doesn’t read the site (and because by the time I start discussing things with him I’m generally not as clear as I’d like to be). It does give me heart that fairly often people do comment back and give the person making offensive comments the internet “talking to” that they deserve. Then again, just even having to respond to some things is tiresome…

      • It does give me heart that fairly often people do comment back and give the person making offensive comments the internet “talking to” that they deserve.

        Yeah, it just happens less often than I’d like. And usually it’s the same few usual suspects of white people who bother to do anything about it. I’m very glad you’re here, though!

      • LC says:

        macavitykitsune, I’m not sure I understand the line you’re drawing between “enthusiastic” and “fearless” consent.

        Since you aren’t making “enthusiastic” about the pants feelings, as you say, I’m not sure how it and 3 are all that different.

        Personally, I’ve been shying away from “enthusiastic” and using “active consent” (sometimes “positive consent” or “engaged consent”) to cover all those caveats you put in your #2.

        Could you say more?

      • Sorry, I guess I wasn’t clear.

        My point was that enthusiastic consent fails precisely in those non-immediate-pantsfeelings situations, hence the need for fearless consent.

        Honestly, given how rah-rah some people are about enthusiastic consent, I wind up breaking that several times just because my motor takes a while to get going, metaphorically. I mean…you know your model phails when “I need some making out first” can be warped into “this is rapey rape rape because you’re not enthusiastic enough” by someone with an agenda and sufficient sneering skills.

      • LC says:

        I mean…you know your model phails when “I need some making out first” can be warped into “this is rapey rape rape because you’re not enthusiastic enough” by someone with an agenda and sufficient sneering skills.

        Right, this is why ultimately I’ve drifted away from using “enthusiastic” – because of that “rah rah” factor connotation.

        So is “fearless” then just an aim to cover the non-rah-rah failings of enthusiastic consent? Or is there some other distinction.

        I like “fearless” as a word, but it seems a bit fraught in connotation, which is why I’ve tended to go with “active” or “positive”. (Both of which feel to me like they hearken back to the original idea of “yes means yes”, that ethically, an affirmation/free choice from the person is far more obviously consent than a “they didn’t say no”.)

      • So is “fearless” then just an aim to cover the non-rah-rah failings of enthusiastic consent? Or is there some other distinction.

        Yeah, pretty much, though as I said in my original comment, it carries connotations of lack of reprisal, coercion etc as well.

        Can I ask why you’re saying it’s fraught in connotation? I’m intrigued.

      • EG says:

        I’m not LC (obviously!), but to me “fearless” is a hard feeling to have regarding sex for any number of reasons–previous ill treatment, cultural messages, general anxiety about vulnerability. I don’t think I go into any sexual interaction fearlessly, even when I’m going in enthusiastically. I like “free” for consent, personally, but I’m not married to it or anything.

      • I don’t think I go into any sexual interaction fearlessly, even when I’m going in enthusiastically.

        Fair enough, and I can see where you’re coming from; hell, I don’t think most people can (and certainly most survivors etc can’t always). Hmm. On the other hand, “active” doesn’t carry that connotation of lack of pressure, really; I’d consent very actively to sex with someone holding a gun to my head, I guess, but…

        Free sounds good, positive sounds good… I’m tempted to add “independent” as a term now…

      • Caperton says:

        I think I like “positive consent” more than “affirmative consent,” because even holding out for a yes rather than a lack of no still leaves some room for “… Sure, I guess” or “Yes, if you really think I should.” To me, “positive” includes more of an element of yes, this is something I’m okay with. It can encompass everything from “Yes, yes, sweet Jesus, yes” down to “Yes, because I trust you” and “Yes, but don’t mind if I just lie here, because I’ve had an exhausting day.”

      • amblingalong says:

        Sorry if I missed it, but is there are argument against “freely given consent?” That’s what I usually use, and at the moment I can’t think of any bad things it includes or OK things it excludes.

      • LC says:

        @amblingalong, I think the only argument against “freely given consent” is that it has three words, instead of two. :-)
        There is something about it sounding like it describes the state of the consent rather than the state of the consenter, that kind of irks me, though, but at this point we’re getting into the weeds of le mot juste. I don’t think anyone would misunderstand what “freely given consent” is getting at.

        @Caperton, I prefer “positive” to “affirmative” for that slight connotation, as well.

        @EG, you hit on most of my issues with “fearless”. It also seems to me that it implies that sex should be/is fearful most of the time, which doesn’t seem right to me.

  10. Tara says:

    Of course sex workers’ voices need to be heard – but even when that happens, it tends to only be certain ones. The media loves the glamorous-sounding, “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” voices reassuring everyone that sex work is Teh Awesome, and that trafficking is a rare aberration that we needn’t bother about.

    We don’t get the voices of the girls and young women that I’ve worked with (I’m a CPS worker). I’ve seen so many girls who were recruited as teens or even preteens, by a pimp that they think of as their “boyfriend” and will defend even when the violence is obvious. It’s not the gun-to-the-head coercion you see on “Special Victims Unit;” it’s the more mundane love-and-fear combination that goes with domestic violence. When the girls turn 18, they’re with the same pimp or a similar one, but it’s deemed consensual. And as with any other domestic violence situation, they’ll break away, then go back and act like nothing was wrong, sometimes many times.

    Legalization would have the advantage of giving sex workers some protection from violence without getting arrested. But it’s important to note that in places that have legalized, trafficking went up because demand went up, so there has to be aggressive enforcement against trafficking and coercion. The demand from customers far exceeds the supply of women who are willing to sell sex consensually (even if you expand “consensually” to mean “financially desperate,”) which is why pimping and trafficking exist. So I think Jill’s point is well taken about not normalizing it for the customers. There was a survey done by CAASE of 113 men who had purchased sex, in which 40% said they’d paid for sex with a woman who had a pimp, and 20% said they had “probably” bought sex from someone who was being trafficked against her will. Coercion not a rare aberration, and part of supporting sex worker rights is being willing to address that honestly.

    • thinksnake says:

      Legalization would have the advantage of giving sex workers some protection from violence without getting arrested. But it’s important to note that in places that have legalized, trafficking went up because demand went up, so there has to be aggressive enforcement against trafficking and coercion.

      This has been said so many times, in three threads now. Where is the fucking citation.

      • Tara says:

        Here’s some recent research:

        The researchers used a global sample of 116 countries. They found that countries where prostitution is legal tend to experience a higher reported inflow of human trafficking than countries in which prostitution is prohibited.

        Germany showed a sharp increase in reports of human trafficking upon fully legalising prostitution in 2002. The number of human trafficking victims in 2004 in Denmark, where it is decriminalised, was more than four times that of Sweden, where it is illegal, although the population size of Sweden is about 40 per cent larger.

      • Wendy Lyon says:

        And here is a critique of that research (there are some useful points in the comments, too). Comparative studies like this are useless because of the huge variations in how the data they draw from were compiled. Different countries have significantly different definitions of “trafficking”, significantly different reporting criteria, and attach significantly different levels of priority to finding trafficked persons (and identifying them as such). It would be difficult to measure trafficking reliably anyway, given its clandestine/criminal nature, but it’s absolutely impossible when the measurements in use are as far as they are from standardised.

    • james says:

      Tara on 2.8.2013 at 6:01 pmOf course sex workers’ voices need to be heard – but even when that happens, it tends to only be certain ones. The media loves the glamorous-sounding, “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” voices reassuring everyone that sex work is Teh Awesome, and that trafficking is a rare aberration that we needn’t bother about.

      You and I must read very different media, then. I would have said most of the articles on prostitution I read virtually assume that nearly all sex workers are traffiked women, or women who have suffered sexual abuse at a young age, etc..
      The expose piece featuring a young south asian girl’s horrible life in the sex trade is so commonplace it feels almost cliche in my opinion.
      The rare exceptions I see are mainly sex workers blogging independently – often times indignant at how the profession is viewed/poryrayed.

    • Henry says:

      Exactly Tara, the workers posting here sound like the banking industry demanding that there be no regulation, no interference from the evil gov’t. We saw how well deregulation there worked.

      We can self regulate our industry!
      Regulation will raise our costs!
      Violence and slavery do not occur on a regular basis in our industry!

      Bullshit. Welcome to the light people. Every other industry in the USA and many other countries faces regulation because abuses did occur and still occur. The alphabet soup of gov’t agencies was not invented to bother business people, it was invented because prior to its existence Coca-Cola contained cocaine, your meat arrived at the supermarket covered in feces, workers were chained to machines in buildings without fire escapes… etc. What you see with currently illegal sex work is the same level of abuse that occurred in other industries prior to our representative government stepping in on behalf of victims.

      If you support complete decriminalization, you must also support regulation. Making it non criminal by itself will not get rid of pimps, the recruiting of teenagers and the use of drug addiction, captivity and other violence to provide the “product” these businesses sell.

      And if people here are being paternalistic because we do not work in the industry, too fricking bad. We have eyes. We can see that women are being enslaved daily by this industry. It’s the anti-regulation crowd that irks me the most – because they should know better – they are as damaging to sex workers as the criminalization crowd.

    • Athenia says:

      It’s not the gun-to-the-head coercion you see on “Special Victims Unit;” it’s the more mundane love-and-fear combination that goes with domestic violence.

      Thank you for adding to this conversation. :)

  11. Safiya Outlines says:

    I hear you on this. The women I’ve met via my work who have sex to get money to fund their drug addictions, would not necessarily consider themselves to be sex workers, let alone take part in any kind of sex-worker activism, so where are their voices in this?

    Also, I know certain people seem to be enjoying playing “Kick the blogger”, but there were some very dubious opinions being voiced on that last thread by some in the pro-sex work group.

    Finally, I cannot be the only one uncomfortable with any discussions of men in the role of sex industry consumer having to be “pro-client”. I think a lot of people stayed away from those threads, but not for the reasons people in the comments here are claiming.

    • Bagelsan says:

      Yes. “Pro-client” is the new feminist? Gross, gross, gross. Haven’t we already done the men-as-consumer-class-women-as-sex-class-is-bad Feminism 101? Why does sex work suddenly negate that?

      • Safiya Outlines says:

        Because only prudes and uptight people have any issues with sex work!

        Although, I thought that calling women prudes as an insult was covered as A Not Good Thing in Feminism 101 too, but maybe I’m not empowered enough to know proper feminism.

      • thinksnake says:

        Where did people do this? Please provide links. I have come close to having several panic attacks over the last few threads, so I may have missed that, but I really don’t remember that happening.

        What I do remember was a lot of people posting about their feelings of ‘ick’ regarding sex work, and it being pointed out that that is totally okay for them to not want to do it, but that doesn’t mean everyone shares the same outlook on sex.

      • What I do remember was a lot of people posting about their feelings of ‘ick’ regarding sex work, and it being pointed out that that is totally okay for them to not want to do it, but that doesn’t mean everyone shares the same outlook on sex.

        Damn it, thinksnake, don’t you know? Telling somebody “not everybody is like you in all ways, you know” is exactly the same as telling them “go fuck all the people whether you like it or not!” Jeez, it’s like you don’t even know the radfem internets.

      • For the record: use of “prude” in the previous thread:

        1) BFing Sarah uses it to refer to herself when saying “I guess this is me being a prude, but [sex work could] lead to STDs and unwanted pregnancies. To me, that makes it different.”

        2) ….zip. Crickets. Tumbleweed.

        Use of “prudish”:

        1) Bfing Sarah again referring to herself

        2) Amanda, saying “What about sex work makes it different from other work? It is simply a sexual act. I honestly think the only reason people feel this way is because of the prudishness that is part of our culture. ” No shaming of any given person for not wanting sex/having sex/liking clients. Just a statement that the culture is prudish about sex in general. Which, erhm, to anyone who might disagree, have you looked around you? Maybe gone outside this millennium?

        3) Banned transphobe martine, saying “I find it very problematic when people in favor of legalization try to write off objections to “selling sex” as prudish or moralistic in the sense: “You just don’t understand that some people are very casual about sex.”

        4) ….zip. Tumbleweed. Crickets. No actual pro-sex-worker person insulting any other person for being a prude.

        Thanks for playing! ^__^ Have a lovely day.

    • Miriam says:

      No one demanded people be pro-client. There is a huge difference between asking people not to overgeneralize and pointing out that just as there are multiple ways to be a sex worker, there are multiple ways to be a client that don’t share the same characteristics. It’s asking for language that’s open to discussion rather than language that closes it off. Also, pointing out that not all providers are women nor all clients straight men is not demanding people be pro-client but rather that people acknowledge the reality that sex work does have a variety of forms.

  12. sielwolf says:

    Patriarchy and extreme misogyny has pushed stripping and pornography into the mainstream in the US and every other country. Legalized prostitution in the Netherlands has been a terrible disaster with gangs of human traffickers, pimps and sex tourists roaming the streets of Amsterdam. Regulation by the Dutch government of the “sex” industry has not worked and has made conditions far worse for prostituted women. Legalizing prostitution normalizes harm to women. Do we really want to go down this path in the US?

    • thinksnake says:

      Isn’t it worth noting that the vast majority of sex worker organisations – around the world, not just white middle-class organisations – support decriminalisation, not legalisation? If you’re going to rage against a model that sex worker organisations don’t support, you can do so.

    • Past my expiration date says:

      gangs of human traffickers, pimps and sex tourists roaming the streets of Amsterdam

      Citation please?

      • tigtog says:

        Seconding calls for citations for such claims. This should be a general standard in known-contentious topic discussions – if you make an assertion, link to some evidence for that assertion.

        If there are repeat offenders in making assertions without citations, please do issue a Giraffe Alert to flag the moderators. Repeated inflammatory assertions without citations breaches our unacceptable content guidelines.

    • Fat Steve says:

      Patriarchy and extreme misogyny has pushed stripping and pornography into the mainstream in the US and every other country. Legalized prostitution in the Netherlands has been a terrible disaster with gangs of human traffickers, pimps and sex tourists roaming the streets of Amsterdam. Regulation by the Dutch government of the “sex” industry has not worked and has made conditions far worse for prostituted women. Legalizing prostitution normalizes harm to women. Do we really want to go down this path in the US?

      That is wholly inaccurate. The Netherlands leads the world in enforcement of anti-trafficking laws which is why you hear about so many arrests for trafficking coming out of the Netherlands, not because there are pimps roaming the streets of Amsterdam.

      I was told this not by some representative of a pro-sex worker group but by the feminist leader of the leftwing GroenLinks party in the European parliament.

      • Henry says:

        yep because actually enforcing anti-slavery laws, and safe working environment laws hurts workers.

        You know why the sex workers oppose regulation? – for the same reason every other industry opposes regulation – money. Compliance costs.

  13. Joedj says:

    I can’t find any research finding that conditions are “far worse” for prostituted women because of regulation in the Netherlands. Can you please direct me? I haven’t been to the Netherlands in a long long time.

    • amblingalong says:

      prostituted women

      You really need to drop this term from your vocabulary.

      • Fat Steve says:

        You really need to drop this term from your vocabulary.

        It’s just a nesting fail…look at the comment above…

        siel wolf says “Regulation by the Dutch government of the “sex” industry has not worked and has made conditions far worse for prostituted women.

      • amblingalong says:

        Good catch. Amended: everyone needs to drop that term from their vocabularies.

    • Meghan says:

      ‘Prostituted woman’ is not derogatory. It is a term that was taught to me by women who exited the industry and by First Nations women (who have been notably left out of this conversation/post) and it is used to describe the fact that women often prostitute because they have no other alternative – it is used to acknowledge the fact that racism/colonialism, gender/sexism, and poverty/classism play a huge part in the funneling of women into prostitution. Acknowledging inequity does not, in and of itself, create inequity.

    • Adrena says:

      Here is all the evidence you need.

      Amsterdam: an end to the red light district?

  14. ElizabethP says:

    There’s a problem with “centering sex worker voices”: prostituted womens’ experiences are diverse – which ones do we centre and how do we decide? That’s the point at which you need an analysis. Our experience tells us absolutely nada until we interpret it. This requires something more than just hearing stories. Yes, absolutely, we need to centre the voices of the women affected by the sex trade – but that includes many abolitionists and, in fact, all of us. Women in the sex trades don’t exist in a bubble. What they do affects a collective and the collective voice must also be heard.
    The “idealistic v. practical” thing is a statement rather than an argument and reflects a complete failure to understand revolutionary, liberatory politics.

  15. Yvonne says:

    It is a shame that English speaking people really cannot access much information in Dutch, whether it is about prostitution, drugs or voluntary euthanasia. Whenever I try to find links in English my experience has been that the translators had a particular barrow to push, more often than not to demonstrate ‘failure’.

    There were changes in the law in 2000 and a couple of years ago there was detailed research into the results of that change: http://www.wodc.nl/onderzoeksdatabase/overkoepelend-rapport-evaluatie-opheffing-bordeelverbod.aspx

    There is also a pretty vocal and proud prostitute who has a blog, but that is in Dutch as well: http://zondares.blogspot.com.au/. She divides voices against prostitution into 2 camps; the rescuers and the prohibitionists and in her opinion, neither is really interested in the voice of sex-workers.

    Things have NOT got worse in the Netherlands, but there are of course always facets or issues that arguably need to be ‘fixed’. Is everyone happy with prostitution being a legitimate business in the Netherlands? Of course not. Are there problems and concerns within the industry? Of course. Does this mean changing the law was a mistake? No. There is now openess and awareness and more importantly: rights. A prostitute has the same access to the law as does any other worker.

    • Wendy Lyon says:

      There were changes in the law in 2005, too, which greatly expanded the Dutch definition of “trafficking”. That’s the point at which the number of reported cases really shot up. Prior to that there had been dips and a much more moderate overall increase in reported cases since legalisation.

    • Fat Steve says:

      It is a shame that English speaking people really cannot access much information in Dutch, whether it is about prostitution, drugs or voluntary euthanasia. Whenever I try to find links in English my experience has been that the translators had a particular barrow to push, more often than not to demonstrate ‘failure’.

      There were changes in the law in 2000 and a couple of years ago there was detailed research into the results of that change: http://www.wodc.nl/onderzoeksdatabase/overkoepelend-rapport-evaluatie-opheffing-bordeelverbod.aspx

      There is also a pretty vocal and proud prostitute who has a blog, but that is in Dutch as well: http://zondares.blogspot.com.au/. She divides voices against prostitution into 2 camps; the rescuers and the prohibitionists and in her opinion, neither is really interested in the voice of sex-workers.

      I thought the google translate did a better job than I expected on ‘De ervaringen van een prostituee’ blog. I only read the first article, but the biggest problem with the translation of that one- is she mentions a lot of television show names which don’t directly translate…

  16. tigtog says:

    Because it’s well past bedtime for the northern-hemisphere mods, I’m freezing this thread for now. It will be opened up to comments again when one of the others logs in tomorrow morning.

  17. Lisa says:

    I’m wondering about the assertion that sex should never be commodified. I don’t find sex enjoyable, at all. As a result, my fiance and I rarely even attempt it. I tend to think that it would be better if he could access that side of his life with a sex worker, rather than either us not be together or be unsatisfied for years and years and years. And I could be wrong, but isn’t sex therapy used to help with some emotional disorders?

    Wouldn’t it be better for certain situations, including the ones above, if it was considered okay to pay for sex work, given that the industry was…better? Or is it just that it as an industry can never be acceptable?

    • Jessica says:

      One of my clients is in the same situation (his wife was the one who told him about me and arranged everything between us). Now, they visit me every week and I satisfy him while she watches (she has an extremely low sex drive but she says it gives her pleasure watching her husband get pleasure). BTW, have you had any luck finding a sex worker who works for you and your fiance?

      Anyways, as a sex worker, I know I’m biased on this issue but I think sex work in theory is definitely acceptable (but women who didn’t give their full consent are a different matter).

      • Lisa says:

        No, we haven’t even really discussed it very much. I’ve mentioned it once or twice, in passing. He doesn’t seem to be very interested, at least right now.

        It seems like the consent part is the sticking point. How can we say that women are consenting when there are a lot of circumstances that make it a non-choice? Of course, this obviously doesn’t apply to all sex workers, but it seems like it’d be hard to make the distinction when you get to a certain level.

        It’s a topic that I’m interested to learn more about.

    • Miriam says:

      Lisa, I don’t know about emotional therapy specifically, but there are people called surrogates (I think always female, but could be wrong about that… I think there certainly should be male surrogates to work with a woman in your position who wished to change her experience of sex) who use sex in sex therapy. There are some facets that distinguish surrogacy from other types of sex work, but I think it would be splitting hairs to say it’s not sex work at all. That’s all part of why I think it’s ridiculous for people to assert that all clients are bad and sex work has no place in a feminist utopia.

  18. Ashley says:

    I don’t think sex workers voices should be centered. Not because they shouldn’t be heard–of course they should. But because sex workers are not the only people affected by the law regarding sex work. Just as the explosion of porn has had some important effects on the experience of people who are not porn actors (for example, an increase in voluntary mutilation of the genitals by women who feel their labia are “too big”), laws regarding sex work will have important effects on views of women, gender roles, and sexual practices generally. The law should be set up in the way that protects the majority of people, including but not limited to sex workers. Centering sex workers voices before those of everyone else is a very individualistic way to look at sex work, and feminism. For me, the collective is sometimes more important than the individual, and feminism is not necessarily about each woman getting to choose her choice. I don’t think we should ignore sex workers voices, and I do think those voices (especially the most marginalized) are too often ignored in discussions about sex work, but I also think people who have no personal connection to sex work at all are impacted by it, and have a stake in laws surrounding its practice.

    I’m not making any particular argument about what the law should be. I think that is something that can be determined using evidence rather than theory. But I do think that evidence should include measures of the impacts of various laws regarding sex work on gender roles, violence, quality of life, etc. for the whole community, not only sex workers.

    • EG says:

      the collective is sometimes more important than the individual

      I cannot think of a political situation from the past 100 years where this principle has meant anything good.

      feminism is not necessarily about each woman getting to choose her choice

      Feminism is about analyzing those choices and the power dynamics that inform them, but I’m not going to run around curtailing women’s personal choices in the name of feminism.

      • Ashley says:

        I cannot think of a political situation from the past 100 years where this principle has meant anything good.

        Unions. Gun control. Limits on the amount of lead allowed in gasoline. Taxation of people without children to pay for schools. Social security. Representative democracy itself. I could go on.

      • EG says:

        Unions? Unions were put together by their members. They certainly did involve “centering” workers’ voices.

        Representative democracy? You’re correct that it began by subordinating some people’s needs, such as the needs of women, poor people, black people, to the “good” of the collective, but that’s not exactly what I would call a great example to follow.

        Limits on lead? Whose personal choices about their own lives were being trampled on then? Same with taxation for schools. You are confusing decisions about private property with decisions about one’s own body and actions. They’re not comparable.

      • Ashley says:

        Unions do not help all workers. They hurt some workers. But they help MOST workers.

        Examples that involve your personal actions include: laws against playing your music so loud it keeps your neighbors awake at night. The minimum wage. Laws against punching someone in the face because it will make you feel better, etc. etc.

      • the_leanover says:

        EG: That’s a bit of a facile way of understanding ‘the collective is sometimes more important than the individual’. That slogan has obviously been twisted to some pretty horrific ends, but I think Ashley’s point was that many, many, many laws and campaigns – including or even especially ‘progressive’ ones – prioritise public good over individual liberty. The idea behind representative democracy is that the will of the majority overrules, to some extent, the desires of the individual. An obvious uncontroversial example of restricting ‘decisions about one’s own body and actions’ is the smoking ban in enclosed public spaces – restricting the freedom of individual smokers for the collective good of public health. By all means argue with the principle as applied in this particular context; I would ague with it too – the ‘collective harm’ of sex work is an awful lot more intangible and subjective than the harm of passive smoking, which doesn’t mean the harm isn’t real but does mean it probably shouldn’t be a basis for legislation (maybe similar to how harmful/objectifying media should be analysed and critiqued but not banned). But the actual principle that individual liberties are not the be all and end all is hardly a radical idea in social justice circles, surely?

    • So, women can make choices, but some choices are more equal than others. Well done.

      Also, why is it that whenever feminists say things like “choice feminism is intellectually lazy” I hear “well, MY choices are generally approved of by society so who cares about others lol I shall be judgy person it is fun lol”?

      Oh right. Because 99% of the time that’s their deal.

    • Wendy Lyon says:

      Just as the explosion of porn has had some important effects on the experience of people who are not porn actors (for example, an increase in voluntary mutilation of the genitals by women who feel their labia are “too big”)

      I’ve yet to see any real evidence that porn does have such effects, but if it does, then why not see it as an opportunity? If women are so easily influenced by the bodies in porn, then why not get more diverse bodies in there, so women can see that labia come in all shapes and sizes?

      • Ashley says:

        Here’s what I’m referring to.

        As for your idea of changing representations–great idea. But also a lot of work. I’m not taking the stance that because porn gives some women body image issues it should be illegal. I’m just saying it has consequences beyond the effects on the actors. I also think Cosmo gives women body image issues. I do think Cosmo should face some regulation, such as requiring that models represented are not dangerously underweight. I don’t think Cosmo should be illegal. I also don’t think that when we talk about Cosmo, we should only talk about how it affects the models who pose in it.

      • Wendy Lyon says:

        I know what type of surgery you mean. That page doesn’t provide any evidence for a link between labiaplasty and porn.

      • Ashley says:

        Unless you’d also argue that media isn’t at least partially responsible for eating disorders, I don’t think it makes sense to argue that there isn’t a connection. The 1995 study of increased eating disorders in Fiji within a generation of the introduction of Western media is evidence that media impacts women’s perceptions of their bodies, and their behavior toward their bodies. I don’t see another plausible explanation for the increase in this surgery and the increase in injuries caused by hair removal, all suspiciously close to the time when the internet exploded.

      • Wendy Lyon says:

        I’m not disputing that the media has had an influence (though I’d still like to see it confirmed by research and not just assumption), but “media” doesn’t necessarily mean “porn”. I’d argue that women’s magazines have a far more significant impact on women’s bodily image – and women’s magazines don’t merely follow porn’s lead. Look at the Size 0 trend, for example, you certainly can’t blame that on porn.

        Pubic hair removal has been practiced in antiquity and throughout the world – there are many routes by which it could have come to modern western culture. I’m not convinced that porn actually started the trend. As you said, changing representations is a lot of work – porn (at least, mainstream porn) tends to reflect what is already considered desirable to its target audience (i.e. men), for the obvious reason that it can’t make a profit by turning its audience off. And when shaved pubes were unusual, they were a turn-off to a lot of men. I’m old enough to remember those days. It seems very likely to me that when mainstream porn did start to feature shaved women, it was just reflecting a trend that was already happening in real life.

      • the_leanover says:

        I’ve heard suggested – and I have absolutely no source for this and recognise it’s essentially baseless speculation! – that the whole no-pubes thing is (to an extent) an effect of porn not because some evil porn mogul decided it was sexy, but because less pubes = less mess and more explicit penetration shots. So then no-pubes became associated with porn, which over time in the public imagination became associated with sexy, and since we live in a culture where women are under far more pressure to conform to the public image of sexy, that led to the whole no-pubes-on-women trend.

        Who knows what basis this has in reality, but it does kinda feel like there has to be some cultural springboard (or spingboards) for that particular aesthetic since it’s become so ubiquitous and (unlike shaved legs, makeup and plucked eyebrows) doesn’t tend to feature in much mainstream media. Either way, it’s obviously still telling that people get so much more indignant about shaved pubes – because it’s all the fault of PORN! – than about shaved legs and armpits, even though the latter (in my experience) are much more subject to intense, normalised everyday pressure to conform.

  19. Ashley says:

    I’m not going to run around curtailing women’s personal choices in the name of feminism.

    Let’s take that to its extreme. Does that mean a woman may sexually assault another woman without consequences, if that is her personal choice and doing so brings her personal gain? Of course not. Feminism is about what creates the most freedom for women, not necessarily a particular woman. Of course there is a point at which you are willing to curtail the freedom of an individual woman in the name of another woman or group of women. It’s just a matter of where you draw the line. I think we all recognize that there are dangers of drawing the line too far in either direction.

    • Let’s take that to its extreme. Does that mean a woman may sexually assault another woman without consequences, if that is her personal choice and doing so brings her personal gain?

      There’s taking something to its extreme and then there’s taking it to its stupid. …because consensually engaging in sex work is the beginning of the slippery slope to women going around raping people, y’all. Christ.

      Of course there is a point at which you are willing to curtail the freedom of an individual woman in the name of another woman or group of women.

      ITA. We should have laws that abolish sex work! They have always worked. Sadly, no country in the world currently criminalises sex work. If they did, we would see the end of all sex work! Curse humanity for not thinking of this obvious solution.

      • Ashley says:

        because consensually engaging in sex work is the beginning of the slippery slope to women going around raping people, y’all. Christ.

        That is a total strawman. My point was that as feminists we DO believe in limiting what individual women can do. I never said sex work will make women rape people.

        ITA. We should have laws that abolish sex work! They have always worked. Sadly, no country in the world currently criminalises sex work. If they did, we would see the end of all sex work! Curse humanity for not thinking of this obvious solution.

        I didn’t say I think sex work should be illegal. I said we should look at the evidence and decide what is best for everyone. That’s all. And I don’t think laws are necessarily able to solve every problem, nor do I think that laws are completely useless. Unless you are a total anarchist, you also believe that laws can be useful. Unless you’re a totalitarian, you think laws shouldn’t dictate everything. Like any legislation, this is a complex issue. I don’t think it serves anyone–sex worker or otherwise–to pretend that it is black and white.

      • My point was that as feminists we DO believe in limiting what individual women can do.

        Yes, but you can’t compare a choice to a crime. That’s like saying you want to outlaw sparring because people murder people and we’re fine with outlawing THAT. I was mocking your argument, not actually trying to set up a logical rebuttal.

        I said we should look at the evidence and decide what is best for everyone. That’s all.

        I thought you were saying the individual was less important than the collective? Then you are by definition arriving at a conclusion that isn’t best for everyone. You’re just redefining “everyone” to mean “the people I decide are making the right choices”.

      • the_leanover says:

        Yes, but you can’t compare a choice to a crime.

        Er, maybe this is excessively pedantic but surely the entire point of this entire argument is that this particular choice (prostitution/visiting a prostitute) is a crime. The entire point of this line of discussion is that ‘crime’ is not a fixed category, but a category that we construct based on things that we think are harmful to society. It feels like what you’re saying here is that the only real ‘crimes’ are direct attacks on another person’s body, and to an extent I actually agree that our construction of crime would benefit from being much more dependent on the concept of harming a person rather than harming ‘society’ (see, for instance, drug laws). But that’s not exactly a self-evident position; in terms of what the word ‘crime’ actually means at present, lots of choices are, indeed, crimes.

    • EG says:

      That’s not taking that statement to its extreme at all, unless you refuse to see the difference between “assaulting somebody” and “doing something that affects the general culture.” And if you can’t see that difference, I see no point in engaging with you.

      Personally, I find romantic comedies and fashion magazines to be far more pernicious influences on our culture and on women uninvolved with their making than sex work. Shall we limit the career choices of women involved in those industries as well?

      • Those horrible women and their romance novels and pretty face having!

        Basically I love you and Valoniel says “YESSSSSSS” to you. (Seriously, I should start charging her for typing her comments :P )

      • Ashley says:

        I do like the laws in Europe that regulate against using underweight models, so yes, I do.

    • Andie says:

      How do you actually compare a consensual (financial and social coercion notwithstanding) transaction of sex for money to an assault by one person against another?

      You might as well have said “let’s take this example to an extreme by using this example that has nothing to do with what we’re talking about…”

      Talk about your straw men…

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  21. the_leanover says:

    If anyone’s around who knows about this, I’d be interested to hear more about the decriminalization vs regulation debate. A few people have said that the general preference among sex workers is for decrim. I think I can get why government regulation in some contexts has been bad for sex workers, but I’m curious if regulation is seen as inherently a bad thing for the industry; if so, I find that kinda hard to reconcile with the argument for framing sex work as a job like any other – unless you’re a hardcore libertarian, I assume you’d agree that other industries should not be unregulated (and obv right now I’m talking about the world in which we live as opposed to our anarchist utopia…) Is it just the idea that general discrimination against sex work tends to translate into bad/unhelpful regulations? What about if sex workers were at the table in drawing up and enforcing the regulations?

  22. tigtog says:

    There’s quite a few comments in moderation on this thread right now, which I figure means Jill isn’t around at the moment, so I’m freezing the thread for a while so that the queue doesn’t get out of hand.

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