So, you want to cite Farley.

Melissa Farley (best known for her “work” on post traumatic stress disorder, though you can also detect her malign influence wherever you encounter the number 89%)  is everywhere in feminist critiques of the sex industry; from Newsweek to Facebook arguments, in campaigning groups, and in practically any interview Kat Banyard has ever given to the Guardian (1. “astronomical rates of post-traumatic stress disorder“, 2. “68% of women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder“) – with more in Kat’s best-selling yawnfest book The Equality Illusion (out of the fifty-five references in the ‘booty myth’ chapter, seven are Farley) – and feminist blogs galore (one, two, three, four, five). That’s great! It’s great that you’ve done some reading and want to give us a source for your opinions. I just have a couple of questions.

(1) Do you generally cite researchers who use the n-word? (“… call girls, escorts and massage parlor workers are the house ni****s of this system.” That’s from midway through the second paragraph, if you want to check it out.) As a subset of that, do you generally cite researchers who use this particular racial slur (or any other) about the population that they’re studying? Do you think that using the n-word improves their academic credibility with regards to their population of interest?

(1a) Directed specifically towards Glasgow’s Women’s Support Project: clearly you’re proud of the research that Farley conducted with you. Is this kind of language acceptable for your staff in their day-to-day work, or do you reserve its acceptability for special circumstances? Opening this question out to all Farley-fans (still including the WSP), could we see a list of when exactly the circumstances are special enough to justify using the n-word – either at all, or specifically about the women that you’re supposed to be supporting?

(2) Do you generally cite researchers who mock those who have experienced sexual violence? (Difficult to pick just one example here, but let’s start with: “I realized that gang rape could be a transcendental experience.” Hilarious, see! It’s a short piece, but there’s plenty more like that if you click through.) Do you generally cite researchers who specialise in the study of gendered violence as it pertains to the sex industry, and yet treat the subject of the rape of sex workers as an opportunity for a nasty ‘joke’? Do you think that treating rape and child sexual abuse as a hilarious way to insult women in the sex industry (“I saw Pretty Baby and it reminded me of my stepfather and I thought I could get paid for it”) improves their academic credibility with regards to their research on gendered violence?

(2a) As before, WSP – since you keep citing your joint research with Farley, could you clarify whether this confluence of topic and tone is acceptable for you staff in their day-to-day work, or do you reserve joking about the rape of sex workers for special occasions? And to everyone who uses Farley’s research – I presume that as self-identified feminists, you generally avoid endorsing the thoughts of those who think rape and child abuse is an opportunity to laugh at and undermine survivors. Could you tell me on what grounds you made an exception for Farley?

Now that we’ve had a look at some of Farley’s thoughts, let’s pause to remind ourselves of the ubiquity of Farley’s work in the prohibitionist movement. Have another look at my first paragraph. Those were merely the first and most obvious fruits that tumbled from the tree. Nice, huh?

Serious, substantial critiques of Farley’s methodology and conclusions are almost too innumerable to catalogue – off the actual top of my head, there’s the complaint pending against her to the APA, Teela Saunders’ (and others’) commentary on her WSP co-authored research (I love the brusque tone of this commentary), another methodology-based commentary on that Scottish research, Wendy Lyon’s peek at the “89%”, Charlotte Shane’s great overview of the Newsweek debacle (the comments on this are also excellent), Weitzer’s Flawed Theory and Method in Studies of Prostitution, and that time a Canadian judge threw Farley’s evidence out on the grounds of its unreliability (hard to pick a favourite, but this comes in near the top).

Those are important if you’re interested in good research methods, which everybody should be as that’s the main thing separating us from blundering blindly around in the snake-filled pit of our own ignorance. However, from the perspective of doing ‘progressive’ (feminist, lefty, whatever the hell you call your Farley-quoting blog-presences, I don’t care) activism, I actually think that answering the questions that I’ve set out is kinda really fucking important too, and I don’t think I have to apologise for thinking that the use of That Racial Slur, and a “joke” based on “har har, sex workers get raped and were all abused as children, which is funny because they’re stupid” is something that you should have to be ready to defend – or stop doing.

Oh, you didn’t know? Diddums. This might constitute what we could call privilege, because as a non-sex worker you were able to not-notice some things that are really kinda obvious to actual sex workers (however much we might like to be oblivious), such as the fact that Melissa Farley hates us – which she takes no pains to conceal if you’re on the receiving end. Anyway, brushing aside the temptation to emphatically note that this moment of learning should perhaps serve in the future to indicate to you that you might have other things to learn from listening to sex workers (we tend to know things) – since you didn’t know, could you perhaps undertake to educate others who don’t know in your “progressive” prohibitionist communities (maybe show them this?).

I assume you’re going to ignore this, because ignoring hookers is what you do all the time anyway, so why change the habit of a lifetime, but other people in the progressive blogosphere – not just sex workers and our allies – will in that case probably think you’re pretty racist, and into laughing at rape jokes. Just a thought.


14 thoughts on “So, you want to cite Farley.

    • It seems that you have misunderstood Farley’s intent, which was to point out female oppression by pointing to another widespread and perhaps more obvious oppression, using the language of the oppressor to send the point home. It is a well known quote (also think about John Lennon’s “Woman is the Nigger of the World”)

      • I understood the analogy Farley was trying to make, and I’m aware of the John Lennon song that makes a (sort of) similar point. With regards to defending Farley by reference to Lennon, I’m not sure that’s a hugely effective strategy for two reasons: 1), Lennon was writing the the 1960s. What is considered acceptable has hugely changed (see also: his domestic violence songs). In loads of the song notes across the internet, you’ll find provisos explaining that “this song/phrase wasn’t considered racist at the time” – which isn’t a qualification that has to come with, for instance, Eleanor Rigby; as that song just isn’t considered racist. 2), A (white) woman carried a sign reading ‘woman is the nigger of the world’ at the NYC slutwalk in 2011, and it sparked a huge debate in the feminist community about racism in feminism. So in the 21st century, that phrase – when used by a white woman – *is* pretty widely considered racist.

        The other thing is, the community that Farley was writing about (Rhode Island sex workers) does definitely, undeniably, absolutely contain WoC (indeed, PoC) who are sex workers. So what we have is a white woman calling black women/PoC the n-word. Like, there’s using the language of the oppressor to drive a point home, and then there’s crossing a line that’s pretty clearly demarcated and going into territory that really does not require a particularly nuanced, subtle understanding of race relations to understand that this is Not Okay. I kinda think the general consensus is that it is not okay for a white person to use the n-word about a person or people of colour, for any reason. I don’t see that making an analogy gets Farley off the hook. How d’you think it would feel to be a black woman working as an escort in Rhode Island, reading Farley’s research? I assure you that that scenario has occurred.

        As a final thing, if making an analogy was a completely legitimate defence, its interesting that the New York Times (so stringent!) felt the need to sanitise Farley’s words by mis-quoting her (“house slaves”).(

      • I find the use of the N word extremely offensive and hurtful and no one should use it. I am going to make an assumption here that you are white and you just don’t get it. Many black feminists were horrified when they saw white feminists using that Lennon slogan at an anti slut walk. The N word has been used to put black people their place, demonise us and strip us of our humanity. The N word is never acceptable to use and certainly not for a white person. I suggest that you look up that word before you use it so causally. While you are at it google black feminist and the slut walk.

      • Yah. She’s trying to explain to people that certain sorts of sex workers are making other sex workers suffer. Like house slaves made the field slaves suffer. Sounds like those house slaves were selfish and probably didn’t understand tactics and shit.

  1. I shared this post on my facebook yesterday (because it’s awesome, thank you!)

    This question is tangential, I apologize: One of the responses I got to the post was a question about whether sex workers and sex worker advocates consider there to be an “ethical consumer” and how someone could be an ethical client. (The question resulted from my bringing up the distinction between sex work and sex trafficking, and how conflating the two is really problematic because it makes it harder to recognize coercion when you can’t conceptualize a situation that is consensual.)

    Anyway, I’ve done some googling and searching through my favourite sex worker blogs, but I can’t find much about clients. This is probably my google-fu failing, but I thought I’d just pose the question and see if you can send me any good links!

    • Oooh, interesting! My immediate reaction is that to me there’s definitely a way to be an ethical client, but mostly it just aligns with being an ethical human being and so I don’t think about it *that* much – I imagine there’s more thinking to be done on the subject than my first response.

      One thing that seems relevant is that I think some clients would like to assume the *identity* of Ethical Client, and I’d be quite wary of that slippage between it being something you *do* and something you *are*. I guess analogously to, say, men who want to be feminist allies or some such? Its not a thing whereby you get the badge and thus everything you do from thereon in is fine. Its more about choosing to act ethically in small ways all the time, and never assuming that your past aggregate of Ethical Points means that you get to push on boundary ‘this one time’ or whatever. Cashing in those points. Y’know? This seems obvious, but a glance any kind of attempt to be an ally to any group will tell you that people slip up here all the time (I include myself!), and clients are no exception. (Also, a client who particularly pushed my boundaries did so because he felt our long-standing prior interactions meant it would be somehow alright, so this is a topic that I feel strongly about. You do not get to have the Ethical Client badge & keep it forever! [/rant])

      In terms of client blogs, there are a couple around – these two are both quite well known though I think dormant now –, – I think my favourite in terms of writing etc is this one – – also dormant, though he’s active on twitter. The other place to go, if you want insight into the client experience/mindset, is one of the forums – punternet or punterlink are the biggest, and most of what you’ll see immediately will be kind of, um, crude/focussed on the physical aspects of buying sex, but a bit of digging might turn up some interesting patches – indeed, you could potentially register and ask them about what *they* think would constitute ethical client-ery … good luck, if you do do that 😉

      • Thank you! I have copied your response and sent it to my friend. I totally agree about the difference between behaviour and identity. “I’m an ally! (therefore everything I do is awesome)” is really problematic. I see that in my own communities (and my own behaviour sometimes. Sadly.). I can definitely see how that would be an area that’s tricky to navigate. Do we talk about ethical clients, or do we talk about ethical consumption? I think ethical buying practices (as a language) maybe makes it more clear that we’re talking about something that you *do* rather than something that you *are*.

        Would you ever write a post about what kind of behaviour you prefer to see from clients? Or do you know of anyone writing about it from that perspective?

        I think what I’m seeing in people’s responses to my own posting as a sex worker ally is that even when they are willing to accept that maybe some sex workers are not coerced and they should be able to continue their work, there is still no way that you can be a client without being evil. (I see the same thing with my porn research – even if ethical and/or feminist porn exists, you still can’t watch it ethically. I think that’s a big problem in building understanding and communication, because in my mind if you don’t believe that there can be an ethical way to purchase a product then how can you actually believe that there can be an ethical way to produce the product?)

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