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.