Feministe is apparently never going to learn this lesson

In February, there was that atrocious “in my feminist utopia, there wouldn’t be any sex work” piece which I took apart here. I noticed today that there was a new pingback to that post. It turned out to be this piece that talked about feministe’s problem with anti-sex-work narratives, which includes discussion of another shittastic piece posted at feministe 10 days ago, which in its original version indulged in fantasies of violence* against those who propose decriminalization**, even though given the choice between decriminalization and illegality, decriminalization leads to more reduction of harm towards sex workers***.

Unlike with the last piece, I won’t bother taking it apart line by line, if only because there’s really not that much content to be picked about. I do want to point out some of the most problematic bits, though. For one, what the article amounts to is a description of the strong reaction of a young privileged woman for the first time seeing deprivation and misery. As the article at Literate Perversions points out, the feministe article is not actually about the poor, drug-addicted women she describes:

Not a single word of her post is actually about the people in the city; it is entirely about how seeing them makes her feel. The people themselves are exotic others, with as much substance as if they had been green-screened into the background.

The othering is in fact entirely literal, when Pahman writes that what she sees “is ‘the other’ America, third world living conditions, the neighborhoods blighted.” There’s plenty of non-literal othering as well, for example in the fact that the piece manages not to include a word about their conditions or their own positions on the legality of prostitution from the people the article is supposedly about. Instead, we get indirect relation of what “every sexual abuse counselor, advocate and outreach team” she’s met told her when she asked them about legalization of prostitution, namely that none of them advocate for legalization**** of “this dire circumstance [she] was witness to” (which, as described below, was not just prostitution, or in any way wholly caused by prostitution). It’s entirely about her experience of going to the inner city for the first time ever and feeling shocked and overwhelmed at the deprivation and misery she saw from her van, and then unloading her feelz on an easy target.
And doing so indirectly, to boot, by pretending that it’s white privileged feminists who’ve never been within hearing distance of grinding poverty who are pro-decriminalization, while those people who live “in reality” as she claims of herself are those who are against it; when actually most prohibitionist rhetoric comes from the well established middle-class white feminists, while the voices for decriminalization are generally from those who are part of the communities in which sex work occurs in one way or another (example: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rmct2k ). Because screaming at sex workers themselves that they should stop advocating for themselves would be kinda awkward; much better to pretend one is screaming at clueless suburbanites instead.

The second major problem is the extreme simplification of the problems of American inner cities. She describes scenes that are caused by the complex interaction of American sociolopolitical structures, such as a history of sexism; a history of racial discrimination, for example in housing (redlining, white flight, etc.); decades of economic policies that increase inequality and erode the social safety net; the War on Drugs; and, yes, the policies regarding prostitution. But her reaction to this complex image focuses solely on how angry what she saw makes her at people who promote decriminalization of prostitution. At no point during that entire triade did any of the other contributing causes get even a token mention; at no point did it apparently occur to the author that prostitution isn’t going to be any more illegal than it already is, and yet there it is, apparently causing all the misery she desribes, all by itself, such as in this unreflective bit:

As I take brown bags of food into boarded up and blighted out crack houses where 20 women live, pregnant, addicted, and sought after by the police. When raids are done it is the women who are arrested and jailed, not the Johns.

Well, guess what wouldn’t happen to prostitutes if prostitution were legal; and not a word about the harm caused by the War on Drugs, either, no matter how self-evident its contribution to the quoted scenario#.

Then, of course, there’s the strawmanning. Most advocacy for decriminalization is as part of harm reduction, which pretty blatantly states that there’s harm that needs reducing. It’s about letting sex-workers speak for themselves and their needs at AIDS/HIV-related conferences, about providing resources such as Ugly Mugs, about forming labor movements of sex workers so that they can take power and thus defend and strike back against their oppressors. Yet Pahman claims that people who call prostitution sex-work and are against prostitution being illegal are pretending there’s no harm being done to sex workers, and that discussions of the agency of sex workers are actually claims about sex workers voluntarily or freely choosing## to be prostitutes.

And lastly, there’s the problem of feministe having published that; and published it with the line on wanting to do violence against people who support decriminalization (who are often sex workers themselves) intact, to boot. This is not “centering sex worker voices”; despite that being the title of her response to the last fuckup (not a retraction, mind you), Jill Filipovic of feministe has clearly no desire to actually do that. Much better to publish a ranty prohibitionist bit that erases sex worker voices and even fantasizes about violence against them.

– – – – – – – – – – – –
*the removed bit went like this:

Some may say “well that is why we must legalize it” and I want to spit in their face. I want to grasp my fingers around their neck and choke the ignorance from them.. I guess violence begets violence because my eyes go red when feminists lecture about “sex work.”

**the author called it legalization, because the author doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t actually know anyone on the pro-sex-worker side who calls for legalization; it’s always about decriminalization.

***some links to various articles/studies about effects of different laws on the harms related to sex work:
-> discussions of two reports on the effects of the “Swedish Model” in Norway; includes links to the report, but they’re in Norwegian: https://feministire.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/the-oslo-report-on-violence-against-sex-workers/ , https://feministire.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-latest-on-norways-sex-purchase-ban/
-> the actual report discussed in the first of the above articles, in English: http://humboldt1982.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/dangerous-liaisons.pdf
-> a NZ report on the effects of their decriminalization law: http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/commercial-property-and-regulatory/prostitution/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/documents/report.pdf
-> the new WHO guidelines for STI prevention and treatment among sex workers: http://www.who.int/hiv/pub/guidelines/sex_worker/en/index.html
-> South African position paper citing the reasons for supporting decriminalization: http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/Policy%20Brief%20Position%20Paper%20on%20Sex.pdf
-> a paper describing how possession of condoms is used as evidence for prostitution in places where any part of sex work is criminalized, with predictable consequences for health (it’s not just a NYC thing) http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/criminalizing-condoms-20120717%5B1%5D.pdf

****well, neither do sex-work advocates. But since we don’t get direct quotes from those people she’s asked about this, we can’t know whether they want it to stay illegal, or whether they’re pro-decriminalization. It’s a bit like those polls that said people were unhappy with Obamacare being used to support Republican opposition to it, when many people were unhappy with it cuz it didn’t go far enough.

#OTOH, who knows; maybe her opinion on drug policy is just as ass-backwards as her opinion on sex-work policy, and she would love to get violent against people who think the War on Drugs should end.

##This is pretty much why I’m opposed to the compatibilist conflation of free will and agency. Failing to clearly delineate the difference between those concepts leads to this kind of bullshit, or at least allow it to continue unchallenged.

15 comments on “Feministe is apparently never going to learn this lesson

  1. Steersman says:

    Testing, testing, testing

  2. I find it depressing, the number of people who refuse to see that the illegal nature of prostitution makes it EASIER to victimize prostitutes. Because they cannot go to the police.

    Decriminalization gives every sex worker more options for avoiding abuse. It would help them escape abusive pimps at the very least.

    Sex workers for the most part cannot afford to risk going to the cops as things stand, as they are a probably higher risk of being jailed than people preying on them.

  3. Dirty Nerdy says:

    Omg! I didn’t know Jadehawk had a blog! Excuse me while I spend ALL NIGHT reading everything!

    Also, this post was great. :-)

  4. David Marjanović says:

    Why actually not legalization? It’s legal in plenty of countries…

    Omg! I didn’t know Jadehawk had a blog! Excuse me while I spend ALL NIGHT reading everything!

    Have fun :-)

  5. Jadehawk says:

    Why actually not legalization? It’s legal in plenty of countries…

    consider the difference between the US, where abortion is legal, and Canada, where it has been decriminalized.

  6. Chris H says:

    I’m afraid that you’re right, that they’re never going to learn their lesson, and that’s depressing. It seems to me, at least, that this is something really basic not only to feminism, but to any social justice movement that isn’t bullshit.

    One thing that amazed me about this woman’s post, and which I didn’t get to cover in my own dissection of it (thanks for the link, BTW), is the sheer, undiluted chutzpah in her condemnation of the term “sex work.” That’s a term that was coined by a sex worker and has been adopted *by* sex workers to describe themselves. It’s basic courtesy to expect the writer as well as the editors and the commenters to acknowledge that, just as they wouldn’t misgender a trans person. Instead, they use the victim-porn term “prostituted woman.”

    This was excellent, as was your first post on this topic. Very direct and clear analysis of the savior complex stuff going on here, and I especially appreciate all the links leading to the cold, hard facts.

  7. Wendy Lyon says:

    An interesting note: last year my co-blogger, Nine, wrote this incredibly affecting piece about her own experiences doing outreach to sex workers and the impact on them of the laws Sarah Elizabeth advocates. Sarah Elizabeth read the piece, and you can see her response in the comments: “Hmm.” That’s it.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    consider the difference between the US, where abortion is legal, and Canada, where it has been decriminalized.

    I don’t understand.

    The only reason I can so far imagine for why people would push for decriminalization instead of outright legalization is that decriminalization is easier to accomplish politically. In Austria, abortion is merely decriminalized – it technically remains illegal in most cases, but can’t be prosecuted or punished – because Austria was simply too conservative for legalization in the 1970s (and possibly still is).

  9. Wendy Lyon says:

    “Legalisation” means legal only when it takes place under strictly prescribed conditions. This creates a two-tier system, where those who are unable or unwilling to operate under those conditions – often the majority – remain outside the law’s protections. Additionally, the conditions themselves often prioritise public order concerns over human rights concerns, and may themselves create dangers for those operating within them. The (mostly) decriminalised industries in New Zealand and New South Wales are recognised internationally as offering the best outcomes for sex workers in terms of health, safety and employment rights.

  10. Jadehawk says:

    In Austria, abortion is merely decriminalized – it technically remains illegal in most cases, but can’t be prosecuted or punished

    that’s only one way of understanding “decriminalization”. The other is when something is when the bits that make it illegal are removed from the legal framework. That’s what happened in Canada with abortion, and thusly it simply became another, non-remarkable medical procedure, regulated the same way all the other ones are. In the US, abortion became legal instead; meaning, a legal framework was created for when it was ok to have one. That framework wasn’t very good to begin with, and it’s been nibbled away at the edges by anti-choicers even more since then.

    Simply ending the criminalization of something that doesn’t inherently produce much harm is much better than creating a complicated (and inevitably conservative and manipulable) legal framework for when something is ok and when it isn’t.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    Oh. That makes sense. I’m used to understanding “legal” as “not forbidden by law” instead.

  12. […] Jadehawk: Feministe is Apparently Never Going to Learn This Lesson […]

  13. Prostitution should be completely legalised

  14. Prostitution should be completely legalised and there are three very powerful arguments as to why it should be

    The first is that it would remove it from the control of organised crime. The second is that it would guarantee the safety of prostitutes [ both physical and mental ] The third is that the revenue raised would be astronomical and would contribute directly to the respective economies of the countries in question

    Not all of these are equal in consideration though together they provide an overwhelming argument for legalisation. The apparent sole reason for not legalising it is moral but this is a false premise because it pre supposes that something immoral should stay immoral. Or that prostitution is immoral anyway. The problem with this is that it is entirely subjective. Prostitution in and of itself is not immoral where one is a completely free agent and has no non sexual motivation to engage in it but that scenario is not unfortunately the norm. Anyone who objects to the legalisation of prostitution on the grounds that it is immoral would have to explain how the supporting of organised crime is not immoral. Because as long as prostitution remains illegal then it will be controlled by it

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