Okay. So the debate around these parts about prostitution/pornography/’sex work”/choice/feminism/etc/etc/etc is pretty hot. This outfit calling themselves “First: feminist advocates for sex workers rights” (or something, the name is ‘first’ for sure, am not sure of the subtitle) have recently released a short video about ‘sex workers’. in it, these five or six women are pictured, one at a time, talking about all their achievements. One is a classically trained pianist. Another is a writer. A third designs jewelry. One is pregnant with her third child. Another’s son said in a teen-boy-monotone; “I love my mom”. And so on. One of ’em, she’s the head of some ‘adult entertainment’ agency or something. Which is, as we know, just another euphemism for men buying women’s bodies. uh-huh. There’s some text on the screen about how these women are just like other women, they are diverse and multi-everything, and … they are “sex workers” (I have to put that term in scare quotes because it helps to contain the gag reflex a bit. you KNOW i don’t think of it as work). Then after the text, these same women are shown proclaiming, “I am a sex worker”. One woman said, “I am a former sex worker”. and another muttered, “I am kind of a part-time street worker…” The white women all smiled as they said it. One looked like she was trying for a ‘saucy, sexy’ look. None of the Aboriginal women smiled as they said it. A couple of them looked at the camera as if to say, “what are you gonna do about that? Wanna go?”
I know some of the women who are part of First. I know some of the women in that video, too. Not well. Not as well as I’d like to, some of them. Now, what i’ve noticed about those “First” women, the founders and the main spokespeople, and I don’t i know if there’s a correlation or not, but they tend to drink. A lot.
Now, ya know, I used to drink a lot too. And now i don’t drink at all and i go to these meetings and I have different ways now to deal with the rage and heartache of living in a misogynist capitalist patriarchy that hates me and all the folks who need me and whom i need. pretty much. So, given that, and my previous drug use, and my present understanding that my addiction is just over there in the corner, doing pushups–I am not casting aspersions on my sisters on the wrong side for their heavy use of anesthesia. No indeed. I disagree with them politically, and I think their ideology and tactics are harmful, but I still wish them well. I wish for them freedom from addiction. and I wish for their alliance. I don’t think i can have it, though.
i think what they are doing; promoting prostitution as a ‘career choice ‘ for women, claiming to be ‘sex-positive’ and pro-pornography are –i think these positions are linked with active addiction. Not that all people (especially women) who hold these views are addicted, or ‘using substances problematically’, but i just notice a pattern. i can’t imagine how women can promote or condone the commodification and exploitation of women. some of these women, of course, have sons, and brothers and dads whom they love. some of ’em, these sons and brothers and dads, some of them are dangerous to women. In fact, I’ll wager that they may have raped and bought and sold and incested some of the very women who are agitating for their right to continue such behaviour. Certainly, they have had material benefits from male violence against women, even if they have done none of it themselves.
Anyhow. I’m trying to work it out. Why are these women using alcohol to such an extent? Why are they so strident in their defense of the prostitution/pimping industry? what is the connection? Is there one?
I heard one of these women speak at a book launch a couple of years ago. The floor was open for questions of the featured author and the person holding the microphone GAVE it to the “First” woman. dear me. Sister said, “My mother sold sex; my grandmother sold sex…” and went on to challenge the author about the lack of representation in her book about the real lives of sex workers. I think maybe she was not sober, and she rambled a bit. I don’t remember what the answer was to her comment. But she made me think. She reminded me that women will reject any whiff of being regarded as incapable. And they (we) will interpret the status or label of “victim” as being synonymous with ‘incapable”. so if we say, “no. this was my mothers choice. i love my mom.” then we are saying, “she was not a victim, she was resourceful.” Of course, those of us who understand that women in prostitution are victims of male violence do not perforce consider them incapable. no. but we’re accused of being patronizing and judgmental. It’s not what we are saying, it’s what they are hearing. How can we say it different? How can we find a way to say to these “pro-sex-worker advocates” that they deserve better? We all do. It is possible to say, “I am a victim” or, “You have been victimized” or something like that, without talking down, without laying blame on the victim, without patronizing. Indeed, the POINT of saying the word “VICTIM” is to also say the word “PERPETRATOR” . If a woman has been the victim of rape, fer instance, a MAN has been the perpetrator. Rape does not just happen. it doesn’t float around in the air like a virus waiting for some hapless woman to breathe it in. Prostitution does not happen. Women do not just ‘choose’ to go out and suck dick in exchange for ten bucks. Someone is attached to that dick. And that someone, that man, he has gone out LOOKING for a woman to suck his dick. He’s gone out looking, and he’s found her among the women who are similarly responding to the demands of men for dick-suckers. She would not go out looking to suck some penis for money if THE MAN had not sashayed up with all his entitlement and said, “hey, you. I got this here willy. It needs some hole to go into. you’ll do. here’s ten bucks.” This man, by his demand, his entitlement; he is making unreasonable demands on women and he his victimizing her. he is a perpetrator. she is a victim.
Sure she’s strong and resourceful and has all these other attributes. but he doesn’t want her for that. he wants her for her hole. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass if she’s a concert pianist or a brain surgeon. he’d rather she not be, but just so long as she shuts up about that and wanks him off, she can be anything. who cares. he doesn’t.
Take me, for instance. I drank, smoked dope and cigarettes for many years. Often i’d have a cigarette in one hand and a megaphone in the other. I have been a feminist my whole adult life, and probably my childhood, too. i found feminism after I found alcohol, and for a while they seemed to go together. You know, drink beer, talk politics, foment revolution. There are lots of things to which i can attribute my predilection to addiction, (none of them having the least little bit to do with my mother–fyi)–and one of the significant things I think is that i am perhaps sensitive to suffering. And afraid. And pathologically optimistic. a bit, shall we say, Quixotic.
Had I been exposed to the sex-positives a little earlier in my life, or followed my youthful desire (I thought it was *my* desire, anyhow) to become a stripper (even though I really have no sense of rhythm whatsoever, and can’t even friggin’ two-step, let alone shimmy…), it is possible I would have remained an active alcoholic for much longer. Eventually, I realized that drinking was not so good for me. I had people around me who told me that i was in trouble. That I should maybe get some help. I was ready to hear it those times. and there was feminism, a foundation that was easier to stand on when i was sober and steady on my feet. radical feminism, at that, not the “you can do whatever you want” kind of feminism.
I’m really lucky. I know active, radical, disciplined and loving feminists. I’m an academic now which is kinda lonesome and confusing in some ways. Like, is this really work? am i really going to contribute something? I’m afraid a lot of the time. But I don’t have to go far to find someone who will tell me “no, you’re not crazy, you’ve got something helpful to say here. Just do it.” I think i drank so much before because, well, i became addicted, for one, and i was not sure enough of myself, my place in the bigger thing.
anyhow. I’m still working it out. there are lots of reasons to be addicted. Lots of reasons to keep using. Life is hard. hearts break. horrors abound. there is a war against women. we are women. and sometimes the only way to endure the war is to defend the enemy, try to stay on his good side, and drink up.
I want to be generous to my enemies, to hear their disagreement and criticism with an open heart. but i want them to change their minds, i want them to stop doing these harmful things. how?i can’t change anyone, but how can we find freedom with all these people in the way? littering the road with bottles and needles and used condoms and lies meant to protect the guilty?