Some nice things.

… Because my life is one long holiday, because of that, I’m currently on holiday. Duh. So I can’t update as expansively as I’d like (very expansively), but as I’m feeling generous, here are some nice things.

First, here are some images that I’ve swiped from APNSW – hopefully they won’t mind; go forth and like their Facebook page! – of press dealing with the Sex Workers Freedom Festival that was held recently in Kolkata.

Aaand, here’s some other stuff: from the New Statesman, ‘Why do we let the prudocracy rule our fantasies?‘; from the New Inquiry, ‘Queer, Interrupted‘. Finally, ‘What anti-trafficking advocates can learn from sex workers‘, by Dana Boyd, and and particularly hilarious piece by Laura Augustin: ‘Wannabe secret agents act out fantasies about sex slaves‘. Back soon with a final post on Object!


Object #2: ‘don’t let CEDAW hit you on the way out’.

I’ve already looked at the ways in which Object’s house style inadvertently reveals a certain dishonesty in their analysis – for instance, by using the word “female” in an attempt to disguise the fact that they’re asking us to treat seven year olds and twenty-seven year olds the same. Obviously, I have a borderline-unhealthy interest in the way seemingly-minor stylistic tics highlight wider problems within an argument (no detail too insignificant! no premise too axiomatic! That would be my battle-cry), but today I’m going to look at the more traditional, meaty kind of dishonesty: Object’s “facts“. This is going to be fun.

In the course of approximately two hundred and twenty words (so great that they can express themselves so well on such a complex issue in such few words. Oh, wait), they mention the United Nations Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) six times (including once as ‘the Committee’. ‘No, Object, slow down! I’m still not sure which committee you mean! Won’t you tell me again?!’). You’d be forgiven for imagining that CEDAW must be really unambiguous on the issue of “objectification”, given it’s apparent centrality to Object’s “facts” – “imagine” being the key word here, since their shoddy referencing makes it very difficult to quickly or easily check up on their sources. Indeed, the only hyperlink provided goes straight to …  the homepage of the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. Not a specific area, report or policy they want to highlight. Oh no. Just the department itself. Um, thanks?

In fact, despite an attempt to make it appear otherwise (Object: “[CEDAW] … calls on States to take decisive action to tackle objectification – which it links to stereotypes and prejudices based on gender …”), CEDAW barely deals with the media’s portrayal of women (and never uses the word “objectification”). I had to repeatedly cross-check article five of the treaty with Object’s footnotes, because I honestly couldn’t believe that this constituted the meat of their argument – I thought I must have gotten confused and looked at the wrong bit. Here’s what article five looks like:

“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures: (a) To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women”. (It also has subsection (b) of course, but that’s even less relevant. Though you’re welcome to click on the link I’ve provided and see for yourselves.)

I mean, yeah. Stereotypes. Social and cultural patterns. Sure. I hardly think it’s such a ringing endorsement of the Object world-view that it deserves citing in ‘the facts’ every thirty six words, y’know? It just isn’t a call for “decisive action to tackle objectification”; it’s more like, “stop portraying girls as housewives only”, though really the terms are so vague as to be essentially meaningless. Object are also keen to tell us that in 2008, CEDAW assessed the UK government’s progress and the report card came back with a big sad face for lady-pictures. They don’t provide a link – or a very comprehensive reference – to this, so the best I could find was this thing (pdf), which certainly appears to document some interaction between CEDAW and the UK in 2008.

Under the heading, ‘Stereotypes and Negative Cultural Practices’ (p.7), the 2008 report tells us, “The Committee notes with concern the stereotyped media portrayals of women and of women’s roles in the family and in society, which contribute to women’s disadvantaged position in a number of areas, including in the labour market and in access to decision-making positions, and affect women’s choices in their studies and professions. The Committee also notes the lack of positive media portrayals of ethnic and minority women, elderly women and women with disabilities.” No mention here of “sex object culture”, “sexualisation”, “objectification” or “strippers are bad, you guyz”. Observing that the media portrays women in stereotyped ways is hardly an argument for top-shelfing FHM; CEDAW might just as well be concerned about the lack of women on Have I Got News For You. (And rightly so. I think the UN should intervene.)

Argument by authority is hardly the strongest argument around, even if (as is not the case here) the authority unambiguously agrees with you. (“Sex work is work”, as Jesus said.) But from the number of citations CEDAW gets, you’d think it was some profound ur-text of feminism, possibly offered as a secular alternative to the Bible for women giving evidence in court. In fact, CEDAW is controversially vague: despite its claims to be working towards the eradication of discrimination against women, it makes no clear statement on reproductive justice, allowing countries such as Ireland, Burkina Faso, and Rwanda (pdf), where abortion is illegal, to nonetheless be full signatories. Yay, the rights of women!

There is one afterthought other piece of evidence – I hesitate to say “cited”, because the only hyperlink given is for the government department – but, y’know, impressionistically offered. We’re told that, “The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) has also repeatedly highlighted the sexualisation of women in the media and popular culture as a ‘conducive context’ for violence against women and has called for action to tackle this, in particular via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport”.

I dug up the report they mean (although, given that this has been “repeatedly highlighted”, you’d think they could find more than one. I’m not sure one thing counts as evidence that something has occurred “repeatedly”), and was amused to see Jan Mcleod of the Women’s Support Project thanked in the acknowledgements. (The report in fact notes, “… women in prostitution are poorly served by specialised support services” (p.27). A pity the authors didn’t ask Ms Mcleod a bit more about that.)

Anyway, though, the EVAW report barely mentions “the sexualisation of women in the media”. There’s one bullet-point pertaining to the effect of pornography on teenage relationships, a couple of throw-away remarks indicating that the authors consider “prostitution” to be synonymous with “violence”, and the line “How […] can the public sexualisation of girls and women, including in pornography and its role in legitimising sexual violence and exploitation, be addressed?” (p.31.) Which is fine: the report isn’t really about sexualisation (it’s primarily about service provision), so you’d hardly expect much on “sex object culture”. What I like about this citation is the way it demonstrates the circularity of Object’s mode of argument. The EVAW report authors obviously buy into the Object world-view, but they don’t, y’know, prove it, they just state it as some obvious, already-accepted fact, and move on. Object then cite this report in their ‘facts’ as if “people who agree with me, agree with me” is some kind of meaningful measure of truth – though, um, they don’t think the citation is perhaps so watertight-persuasive as to provide an easy hyperlink. For people so supposedly interested in the quality of the media, their own media is remarkably untransparent in quite sneaky, problematic ways.

Just to remind you, Object is serious beans – or, as they’d put it, “an award-winning human rights organisation”, sponsored by lots of people and organisations who really should know better. (Dear trade unions, the strippers you’re helping to try put out of work? Are your unionised colleagues. Thanks for the solidarity, sex workers won’t forget!) They get a lot of press coverage, from The Guardian newspapers that apparently forget to ask them why the key kernel of their website – and raison d’être – either doesn’t exist, or fails to make much sense.

Y’know, there’s more to come on this. I still haven’t yet looked properly at the FAQs. We sex workers will no doubt stop telling the truth about Object once they stop telling lies about us, is that a deal?

[Edited to add: my previous post on Object gives credit to Moronwatch for doing the research that brought their ‘facts’ down to the pitiable remnant that I’ve looked at, but if you’re coming to this blog newly, you won’t have seen that credit. So. Go look at Moronwatch’s original research, too! There’s a great blogger over there who works as a stripper in London, i.e in the direct line of Object-fire. Read her! In my next (last!) Object post, I’m going to link to a couple of other directly affected sex workers.]

2am links. I can’t sleep, goddamnit!

Pole Dancing and The Olympics, by Edie LaMort. “Who ‘objectifies’ and fetishizes us? It’s not the majority of the customers in the strip pubs. What does that ridiculous word ‘objectification’ even mean?  Some of the bizarre questions and obsessional sanction we get from the prohibitionists verges on a weird kind of voyeurism.”

In Search of Stripper Solidarity, by Rachel Aimee. “But while independent contractor status has delivered a major setback to the strippers’ rights movement, dancers have not given up – they have merely shifted the battle site to courts. Ever since club owners figured out they could make more money by classifying dancers as independent contractors and charging them house fees, dancers across the country have been challenging the legality of this practice by filing lawsuits against individual clubs, claiming that they are employees, not independent contractors, and as such should not be paying to work. Results of these lawsuits vary, but in the majority of cases, courts rule in favor of dancers, who are awarded compensation for the house fees they’ve paid out over the years, as well as the back wages to which they are entitled as employees.”

The Five Hallmarks of Feminist Porn, by Queerlygendered. “The article points out that feminist porn has shifted the focus onto “authentic” sexual pleasure. I find the idea of the “real” somewhat problematic. Like Julie Levin Russo, I believe that, “[t]he idea that porn has a special capacity to transparently reflect the real… is necessarily problematic in its erasure of mediation” (Russo, 240). However, despite my significant side-eye at the idea of “authenticity,” I do think that there’s something here.”

And two non-sex work links: Jacqueline Rose on ‘honour killings’, and reasons to be glad or sad that Louise Mensch is going, from Liberal Conspiracy.

So. That was weird. [UPDATED]

I am extremely tired.

I was awake, freaking out, for much of the night, because Stella Marr did some research on me and attempted to out me on SCASE.

Given that SCASE were just the other day complaining about how the “pro-sex worker lobby” will try to out (anti-sex work) former sex workers, it seems a little hypocritical of them to be celebrating this development. Or, if they’re not sure why I might have been up half the night, they could of course ask the woman they know who has exited prostitution. She might be able to clear up any confusions about why, when people go looking for information about you, that’s a threat, and your hands shake.

Self-evidently, Stella’s slur is the perfect catch-22. I can hardly prove that I’m not an internet campaigns company without outing myself, can I? I can hardly invite any interested SCASErs to replicate Stella’s research to see if they get the same results. I would certainly be interested to see where she got that information from, because I’ve just googled the email address that I signed up with  – it’s an old email associated with a zine I briefly wrote, about eighteen months ago – and nothing at all comes up. Luckily for me.

I say luckily for me not because I’m hiding the fact that I’m an internet campaign generator, or something. If I was, I wouldn’t be very good value for money – I’ve probably written thousands and thousands of words here (sorry, y’all) over the last few months, and my stat counter sits stubbornly at approximately sixty hits a day. Which is great! I’m not complaining. I don’t want to be a star, I just want a place to write about the stuff that I’m reading and thinking. If the substance of what I’m thinking disturbs Stella – or any other prohibitionist – they’re welcome to argue back. After all, the post literally underneath this one is a serious request to SCASE on how to make the conversation safer for former sex workers who share their analysis.

The other thing is, if I was an internet campaigns generator, what would happen if someone messaged me looking to – as my page rather bluntly puts it – buy sex? Sending an intern would, I believe, be against the law. Anyway, I suppose I should be flattered that anyone could think that writing this thing is someone’s job. It’s great that you think I’m so professional, I … guess.

I really am exactly who I say I am, and it says a lot about the prohibitionist worldview that they can’t accept that. My feminism is about believing women – about listening, and not erasing. I’ve never questioned the authenticity or the experiences of anyone who disagrees with me – because I believe women, and because I can question their politics without attempting to discredit their identities.

SCASE have, in fairness, now deleted Stella’s post. But to me the damage is done – there’s still the idea hanging over me that I’m a fake, there’s still the implicit threat of “I did some research and I could do some more”; there’s still my night of lost sleep and my shaking hands, and my zomboid demeanour today. I’d like a public apology from SCASE, on their Facebook page, since that’s where this ridiculous fandango went down. Obviously that won’t happen – who’s easier to ignore than a hooker, eh? But it would be great if one of you people reading could maybe click through and leave a link to this post on their wall, just because I’m so frustrated that as it stands, I don’t get any right of reply. (Normally I wouldn’t invade their space like this, but since this blog was smeared there last night, I think one instance of replyness seems fair.)

NOTE: obviously I don’t mean harass them. If just one person posts this once that would be great; I don’t even suggest you stay and argue; since it is a prohibitionist space, that would kind of be trolling. Don’t troll!

UPDATE: I was wrong! They did apologise. Thanks SCASE! I kind of didn’t expect the link to be allowed to stay up, but it has, so that’s great. I accept your apology gratefully. Now let us return to our respective barricades and mutually endeavour to always keep it political, not personal.