The Paisley Amnesty submission, and everything that’s wrong with everything.

CN: this post quotes stigma against people who have visible evidence of self-harm. 

I’m just writing this super quickly, because I am tired.

Yesterday, Rhoda Grant published the responses to her consultation on the issue of whether to criminalise the clients of sex workers. The response from the Paisley branch of Amnesty international was a real stunner. (Thanks to Nine for drawing my – and everyone elses’, I think – attention to it. Jem blogged about this here. Jewel wrote about this – super-hilariously – here.)

Here’s what they’ve written on the first page:

“SCOT PEP have handed out a leaflet to women involved in prostitution to encourage them to write to Rhoda Grant against the Bill. One of the things they say is; ’If you enjoy your job, do not feel exploited or that it is dehumanising, harmful or degrading, SAY SO.’”

The clear implication is that SCOT-PEP are some kind of shady cabal of maybe-pimps, looking to push “women involved in prostitution” into parroting some line. Calling the sex workers – literally, the people who wrote this leaflet, and who went round the saunas with it, were current and former sex workers – who fight the criminalisation agenda that harms us, “pimps”, or at least making that insinuation very heavily, is hardly new, and in itself therefore would probably not have vexed me quite so much. (As I was writing this sentence, a person who really cares about sex workers was writing, “SCOT-PEP only speak for pimps“. Cool.)

But here’s the thing.

SCOT-PEP went round the saunas to talk and to give out information, because the sex workers who work there deserve to be allowed to participate in the democratic process – in a consultation that is literally about them. Participation in the democratic process is pretty fucking low in the UK (how many people vote in local elections?), because the whole process is shit for variety of structural reasons.

Participating in a consultation is not as easy as voting, and most people don’t vote. You might not be aware that the consultation was happening, or of the full implications of the rather dense parliamentary language. You might not be aware that you can participate anonymously, or you might think responding to a consultation isn’t for people like you.

All of those things are potentially amplified in the context of sex work: many of the women who work in the saunas are migrants, so English isn’t their first language and they’re not super-familiar with the intricacies of our specific so-called democracy. Many of them are working class women, who have been repeatedly ignored and failed by the ‘democratic process’, and who thus have ceased to engage with this kind of formal bullshit politics at Holyrood. Many of them are lone parents, who don’t have much time or energy for writing in to consultations.

SCOT-PEP went round the saunas for a chat and with leaflets because SCOT-PEP believes that the voices of sex workers should be the first to be listened to in debates that are about sex work, and thus we wanted to try to overcome some of those accessibility issues in terms of responding to Rhoda. Some people – for instance, the authors of the Paisley response, or indeed, myself – were raised by society with the belief that our voices should have a certain weight; that we’re perfectly empowered to read up on an issue and then write to a politician about it, because our views matter. For women who are working class, and migrant, and tired all the time from looking after kids on their own, they might not have the same fucking belief that they can just write in to a politician and expect to be heard. SCOT-PEP wrote that leaflet – and that line – “if you enjoy your job, do not feel exploited or that it is dehumanising, harmful or degrading, SAY SO” – precisely to highlight to women who might think they’ve not got anything “important enough” to say to Rhoda, that their personal life experiences are really fucking important and deserve to be heard.

(As an aside: lol that, if you’re like me, and you’re like “oh la-di-dah, I actually find that whole discourse of whether or not we enjoy our work to be a problematic paradigm, la”, then obviously you’re not representative and … don’t need to be listened to, and if you’re just like “actually, I find my job kind of enjoyable. That’s all” then you’re just parroting a line from a shady cabal, and … don’t need to be listened to. Surprise!)

So yeah. Fucking SCOT-PEP, and their belief that sex working women who are marginalised along a variety of different axis should get to participate in the democratic process of a debate that pertains directly to the lives of those sex working women, eh? Where do SCOT-PEP get off which that kind of unreasonable chat?

No but it gets worse. The Paisley submission goes on to say:

One of our members works in a prison with women offenders and she relates to a conversation she had with a young woman who had experienced prostitution of her own volition. The young woman was adamant that she was not a victim and that it had been her choice. Without wishing to patronise her in any way, her forearms were covered in so many scars it was impossible to see any unmarked flesh.”

… I’ve just sat here for the last ten minutes with my head in my hands, wondering where to start. Bear in mind that on the same page, this organisation were criticising SCOT-PEP for working to supersede some of the issues that stop marginalised women from having their voices heard. I guess we should have just skipped that whole deal, right, because it turns out: marginalised women don’t need to have their voices heard! Some twerp at Paisley Amnesty can “interpret” their experiences for them, admittedly directly contrary to their stated wishes about the meaning of their own experiences, yes, but look at her! She’s got self-harm scars! That means we don’t need to listen, right? Using a woman’s appearance to discredit what she’s telling you about her own life is totally a feminist act, because reasons. The Paisley submission obviously – obviously – goes on to talk about gender inequality, and how sex work turns women into objects.

Without wishing to patronise her in any way …” 

My god, feminism. My god.


International Sex Workers’ Rights Day, and Confide.

We’re holding a film night at the Centre For Contemporary Arts on Sauchiehall Street to celebrate/mark International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. Which is on the 2nd of June, and yes, our event is on the 7th because reasons. ANYWAY.

Suggested donation for a ticket is £5; doors at 7pm; films start at 7.30pm. We’re showing ‘We Are Foot Soliders’, about the children of sex workers in Sonagachi, and their self-organising; ‘A Kiss For Gabriela’, about the election campaign of Gabriela Leite, a former sex worker and sex worker rights activist, as she tries to get into the Brazilian parliament, and ‘live eXXXpressions’, a short and inspiring documentary about the 2005 ‘Forum Triple X’ gathering of sex workers in Montreal, Canada.

We’re also unveiling CONFIDE, a new sex worker-led community support project. You can read more about Confide on our website, which is HERE, but suffice to say this is very very exciting to be part of. We’d love your support, whether that’s telling us we’re doing okay (or suggestions as to how to do better), spreading the word about us, offering to help in some concrete way, or turning up at the fundraiser on the 7th of June at the CCA and having a lovely time with us. Or ALL OF THE ABOVE.

The venue is accessible.

Gender inequality and sex work.

I very much liked this piece by Sarah Woolley (killer aside: “I find that garden-variety ‘objectification’ is a herd word used by women who can rarely recall the name of their last waitress”) on objectification and Cambridge jelly wrestling.

She makes a point – “If a person sees a woman arse-deep in jelly and regards her as subhuman because of it, then that shit is on them” – which is similar to something that I’ve been chewing over for a while, and I’m going to expand on what she’s said, because I think we need to hammer this point fully fucking home.

Something I hear ridiculously often is that sex work is problematic because it entrenches gender inequality, specifically because if men live in a society where women sell sex, that means they can’t possibly respect women.

If a lady is wearing a translucent maxi-skirt that’s split to the thigh (always think the ‘short skirt’ shorthand here is so unconvincing and outdated, like one of those crappy line-drawing illustrations in French GCSE textbooks. Who just wears a “short skirt”? Surely you have more to say about it than that?), and some man looks at her, and in his head is like, oh yeah, stupid woman, stupid visible body giving me weird feelings, bleurgh I am a raging inadequate and I hate this stupid woman-shape in front of me for making have those weird feelings and I hate all the stupid woman-shapes, ugh, then, um, the problem here is maybe not the lady, who is just wearing whatever the fuck she wanted because it was a sunny day and there was an ASOS sale last week.

If you’ve ever made the mistake of googling “abortion, objectification” (what I can I say, I’m here to lead you to mistakes. Mistake better, if you will), you’ll find a large number of raging inadequates arguing that “abortion culture leads to a culture of expediency that urges an objectification of women” (not all people who have or need abortions are women, of course. But that is the frame of this whole bullshit discourse), and asking “how do pro-abortion women not see that abortion objectifies them?” (how indeed?). Oh noes! How can the men possibly respect a woman who has had an abortion, or, in fact, women in general, since women can have abortionz!!! Also objectification!! Is a thing!11!

All of these people should be thrown in a river. Let’s move on.

I think we’ve discovered that men who hate women or female-bodied female-assigned at at birth (edited, see comments) people will tend to use any premise to engage in their hating-of-women activities. This may not be news to you. And that if some guy looks at a girl in a mega translucent maxi-dress, or at a person who has had an abortion, and either a) does not respect that specific female-bodied human, because he thinks that that behaviour is not respectable, or, b) does not respect women in general, because women in general might engage in those un-respectable activities, then the answer to this is not that women (or anyone) should stop wearing fashion-forward summer styles, nor that they should stop availing themselves of the necessary medical care appropriate to their needs. The answer is that this guy should stop being a fucking misogynist. Duh.

So when you’re like, “in a society where sex work happens, men can’t respect women, and sex work thus entrenches gender inequality, and therefore we should strive for a society with no sex work” (ha ha I’ve just noticed how this line of thought perfectly encapsulates the adage ‘be the change you want to see in the world’: *wants no more sex work* *ignores all the sex workers*), you are saying that this one form of misogyny (not respecting sex workers because we sell sex; not respecting women in general because some women are sex workers), is inevitable, understandable, and unavoidable, and thus the way we should tackle this form of misogyny is by changing womens’ behaviour (both individually, and as a society), in order to ‘avoid‘ it.

That’s super fucked up.

Women shouldn’t have to “avoid” misogyny, because that is impossible; the way to eradicate misogyny is to kill educate kill misogynists. Don’t come at me with “pragmatism” unless you’re also willing to argue that “ideally, yes, men should respect women who have had abortions. But pragmatically, we don’t live in an ideal world, so maybe we should tackle misogyny right now, as it is, by heavily restricting abortion access”. Maybe you’ve never seen a man know that a woman is a sex worker and nonetheless respect both her, and women in general, in which case you need to consider getting different friends. I’m pretty sure that this can be done (the respecting thing I mean. Got no opinion on your capacity to find new pals), because generally my male friends say things to me like, “hey, I’m making a fucktonne of dhal, would you like to come over and help me eat it?” or “can I borrow that book when you’ve finished it?” or “Christ, ‘the left’ has such a problem with misogyny. How d’you think we can fight that? Maybe by setting fire to the whole idea of ‘the left’?”.

They do not say to me, “hey girl, I thought I was alright at feminism, but now I’ve fully grasped that you sell everything that truly defines your value, and what makes you who you are, I guess I’ve returned to the idea that women are rubbish”.

I agree that sex work, and sex workers, provoke expressions of misogyny that might otherwise be hidden. Well done, people who make this argument! You’ve correctly identified a definitely-existing strand of visible misogyny. As we’ve established, many things ‘provoke’ (read: provide a premise for) misogyny, because we live in a misogynist culture, constantly swarming with dickheads. If you think sex work is unique in that we should “tackle misogyny” by getting rid of the behaviour that ‘provokes’ it, rather than say by getting rid of misogyny itself, you are endorsing and firming up the worldview of people who hate sex working women – and by extension, women in general. You’re saying that misogyny against sex workers is unavoidable, and by implication therefore a little bit understandable.

Once again: that’s super fucked up.