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.