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.