Being anti-rape must not involve being anti sex-work

Glasgow’s upcoming Reclaim The Night march has a slightly baffling message this year. Rather than being simply a march against rape, it also appears to be a march against sex work.

It starts at the very title of the march: “WOMEN ARE NOT FOR SALE”. While this could be construed as, perhaps, a critique of capitalism or an anti slavery message, its intent becomes clear as one delves into their press release:

“…in our call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women – violence that includes rape, sexual assault, prostitution and pornography, trafficking, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation…

This year the theme of the Glasgow event will be “WOMEN ARE NOT FOR SALE IN SCOTLAND”. We want to speak out in support of the importance of promoting equality in Scotland for all women, using a challenging demand approach to prostitution and highlighting potential legislation to support this.”

The emphasis, of course, is mine. One of these things is not like the other. One of these things, is, in fact, a diverse set of roles which fall under the umbrella term of “sex work”. The blanket assertion that sex work is violence against women reflects a somewhat dated mode of thinking in the present.

While not every sex worker is the stereotypical “happy hooker”, it is true that a lot of women choose to do this job. In a capitalist system, it may in fact be rather a good option for work, as one has more free time than under a 9-5 job, but for similar if not better reimbursement for labour. Due to the intersecting oppressions of capitalism and patriarchy, this is of course not a truly free choice, but, likewise, it can hardly be termed “violence against women”.

In fact, what Reclaim the Night are trying to do could also be classed as “violence against women”. They are seeking to bring in legislation which would make it harder for sex workers to work. While they are careful not to target the women themselves with demands for criminalisation, criminalising punters will have effects on sex workers. Let us remember that this is a job for these people, in a climate where there aren’t many jobs. The immiseration of poverty is already apparent in millions of people. People are starving, homeless, dying. Why on earth would Reclaim The Night want to consign more women to this fate?

Ultimately, the view put forward by Reclaim the Night displays a devastating lack of intersectional thinking. They are not showing solidarity with their sisters in the face of oppressions other than patriarchy. And sex workers need solidarity: their occupational hazards are violence against women. It is not what they are doing that is violence against women, but what they experience.

Reclaim the Night don’t seem to be giving any sex workers platform to speak about how we can ally with them to best give the support that they need in ending this oppression.  Instead, Reclaim the Night are focusing their work against sex workers. It’s entirely possible to be anti-rape and not be anti sex work, if you are willing to think intersectionally, have your preconceptions challenged and ally with those who experience intersectional oppression.

I hope Reclaim the Night listen to this criticism and, at the very least, actively seek to engage with sex workers. Sadly, given the history of the movement, I don’t think they will.

Note: I’m going to moderate comments very hard from this point onwards as I’ve had some complaints from sex workers about my laxness in allowing some upsetting opinions to get through.

WHAT THE THUNDERING FUCK IS THIS SHIT?

It’s rare I see something which makes me shut down completely because there’s so many layers of awfulness going on. But here, I present to you, an advertising promo for razors.

You are taken into a bathroom. It’s, presumably, your bathroom, so as a woman it’s all pastel coloured with a big luxurious bath and fucking razors everywhere. It couldn’t look less like my bathroom if it tried. Then you can take tests by opening your bathroom cupboard to find out how close you are to your man and what sort of goddess you are. Because women dig tests.

If you do the test to check how close to your man you are, you have to “use your intuition” to select pictures that respond to the question. My favourite of these questions is “My smooth legs make me feel…” There was no picture which in any way represented “indifference” or “I like my pins fluffy”. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever answer you give, you’ll be told that you’re already close to your man and that to feel closer you should shave your legs with their product.

You can also pick your goddess. Disappointingly, they don’t include Kali as an option, presumably because Kali has too many armpits to bother with shaving, and is too busy destroying everything anyway. Instead, you can be “zen” or “adventurous” or “romantic”, vague shit like that. Anyway, no matter how you’re feeling, the answer is to shave your legs. After shaving your legs, you may then do something really fucking daft, like apply stickers, spray tan, and then take off the stickers for little blobs in the shape of hearts that probably won’t look like a skin infection at all. Or, if you’re feeling natural, why not put blusher on your feet so you’ll look like you came back from the beach? It says that. Also, your man will love it. Don’t forget, YOUR MAN WILL LOVE IT.

So it’s fucking heterosexnormative as hell. It’s got that grim faux-empowerment message which I like to call “good body cop” (as opposed to the more hostile form of body policing). Everyone is thin and white in the pictures, like really thin and really white, and a lot of the “goddess” advice about having spray tans is literally only for white people.

So who the hell is this shit actually for? Who the hell did they think would like this? It must have been made by a bunch of men who have never actually met a woman and can only guess what they’re like from having watched a few rom-coms. It alienates vast swathes of women who would buy this shit–gay women, fat women, women of colour. And that’s presuming some people aren’t put off by the MASSIVE CLANKING SEXISM THAT PERVADES THE WHOLE THING.

Seriously. What the fuck is this shit?

ETA: Read the comments for a few more problems, including VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN BEING SEEN AS A NORMAL PART OF THIS SORT OF TERRIBLE RELATIONSHIP THE RAZOR MERCHANTS ARE ADVOCATING. WHAT? WHAT? AAAAARGH. NORMALISING THIS IS NOT OK IT’S NOT COOL EVER AND I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY SLIPPED IT IN WHERE I DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE IT BECAUSE OF THE SCREAM OF EVERYTHING ELSE TERRIBLE.

ETA 2: The razor merchants are now suggesting the site shouldn’t be live, but it’s still accessible through the direct click. What happened? Did someone hack their site and start advertising their product? Do they not understand what “live” means? At any rate, I’m fully expecting that when it “goes live” it’ll be EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME except without the violence against women.

ETA 3: It’s gone now. Disappeared some time in the late afternoon, apparently. Good riddance, I say. I hope it doesn’t reappear with the same shit but with the domestic violence removed.

Thoughts on Newsnight and the aversion of naming an abuser

Trigger warning: this post discusses rape and rape apologism

I watched Newsnight tonight. Word on Twitter was that it would be about a senior political figure who had raped children.

When I heard this, I admit I was frantically wracking my brains to work out who it was. I thought of several people who I most suspected. I thought of all the politicians I could who had engaged in rape apologism to my knowledge: they were the ones I suspected most, with their passionate defences of rape culture. (I’m really going to try hard not to libel anyone in this post, but I’m quite drunk). I’d heard whispers of names–was it going to be them? Who could it be?

Then I watched the segment. They were clearly going out of their way to avoid naming the abuser. All we learned was that it was a senior Tory politician. As I watched, though, I realised how largely irrelevant it was for me, an uninvolved member of the public, to know this rapist’s name.

We heard about what happened. We heard of abuse of vulnerable young people. We heard of how the police were uninterested in investigating what happened, even as the survivors tried to seek out justice through the channels that society is taught is proper. We heard how the rapist is a powerful man, surrounded by other powerful men to keep it quiet. We saw evidence of the fear of libel, how even as a survivor talked about what had happened to him, Newsnight would not name the rapist for fear of legal threat.

They didn’t have enough to name names, they said, even as a survivor talked openly about how as a culture we needed to move towards believing survivors. He was begging us to be believed. I believed him.

Yet in our culture, this is apparently not enough. Newsnight knew of the threat of libel, and thus opted not to name a man who had abused and raped young people, because the only evidence available was their word.

The word of a survivor is enough. It should be enough. It must be enough.

We live in a society where this word is not enough. It’s not valued. We have a legal system which protects perpetrators of rape and abuse by operating on this principle. It silences survivors by telling them their experience is not enough, by pretending that being accused of rape is the worst thing that can happen to a person, that it’s worse than being raped.

In a way, it doesn’t matter that we, as the uninvolved public, don’t know the name of the man who did these things, although it would be better if we did. It does matter, though, that survivors were brave enough to speak out, and if they wanted their rapist named, they should have been able to do this without the culture of silence surrounding them.

Our response to this must not be a game of “guess the paedo”, making it more about the perpetrator. We should–and must–criticise the system that would not allow a survivor’s wishes to be respected, repeatedly. But in this case, ultimately, what we as the public needed to know was the story presented to us, and to look between the lines at the continuing cultural cover-up which became slightly more visible. And what we need to do with that knowledge is fight to ensure that this cannot continue to happen.