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translucent maxi-skirt that’s split to the thigh (always think the ‘short skirt’ shorthand here is so unconvincing and outdated, like one of those crappy line-drawing illustrations in French GCSE textbooks.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.