There’s no such thing as free choice, so why single out sex workers?

There is no such thing as a free choice.

Everything is informed by our environments. Everything is manipulated and shaped and squeezed by what is happening around us. It is easy to think that we made a completely free choice. Economics completely depends on this notion.  Yet, even with perfect information, we are moulded like clay by the society that made us.

To work is not a free choice. No work is. Work is a product of capitalist patriarchy. You may like your job. You may hate your job. You may feel that your job changes the world. You may feel as though your job is pointless. You may work at home as a parent, or you may work in an investment bank. Maybe you think you chose your work, or maybe you feel as though you’re just trying to make ends meet and wish you could be a doctor rather than an accountant.

For most of us, work is a necessity to survive. It is doing something we would not normally do–no matter how much you like your job, would you do it for eight hours a day without any pay?–in exchange for the means to live. Ultimately, we are all being coerced into work: sometimes gently, and sometimes forcibly, as is seen in workfare programmes. To work is not a free choice, and it is a travesty that after centuries of capitalism, many simply cannot imagine a future without work so invent fairy stories about the glory and honour in work.

Sexual consent is not a free choice. Not completely, not 100%. We have all absorbed some of capitalist patriarchy, and may feel obliged, or feel pity, or feel horny or drunk or any of the other emotions that may lead to sex which under other circumstances we would not have had sex. There are power differentials under patriarchy: in heterosexual sex, the man will have more power. Sex which rejects this power differential–for example, political lesbianism–is still shaped by patriarchy. It is not a free choice, it is a rejection of another norm. Even celibacy falls prey to this. We are mired in social relations and power relations when it comes to sex, yet we are able to make choices which are adequately consensual.

Sex and work are full of problems which require addressing, which require criticism and discussion with an eye to radical, revolutionary solutions. Yet at present, we must know that these things are full of compromise, and we are not making completely free choices, but merely the freest choice possible. Many are not thinking this broadly, which is precisely why there is so much nonsense levelled at sex workers.

The fact is, the work we do and the sex we have (or do not have) is a compromise under capitalist patriarchy. Every single one of us makes a compromise. It is not a truly free choice, but it is as free as possible. Some people choose sex work.

Likewise, there are many of us who definitely do not choose the work we do or the sex we have. Human trafficking extends far beyond forcing people into sex work: there are people forced to work for long hours in sweatshops or to fight in wars. Rape affects a frighteningly large number of people, and the majority of people affected are not sex workers.

To attack sex work without any broader critique of capitalist patriarchy is both nonsensical and harmful. Yet this is precisely what is being done. We are seeing a shift from criminalising the sex workers themselves towards criminalising clients of sex workers (the “Nordic” model), a move which solves precisely nothing as it is failing to address any of the root problems with work and fucking under patriarchy.

From a revolutionary perspective, merely turning our focus on sex work and treating it as having exceptional inherent problems which makes it somehow distinct from the rest of capitalist patriarchy means that we can never make any progress. Perhaps it feels easier to attack a kind of work we do not do or a kind of sex we are not having: it is easier. It’s a Herculean task clearing up the mess of capitalist patriarchy, and it sucks to have to be critical of everything. Yet if there is a genuine interest in liberating humans from exploitation, we must think big.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is that the blinkered analysis of sex work is harmful to sex workers themselves. It is not pleasant to be told repeatedly that the work you do should be illegal, or that you are a victim of false consciousness, or that the work you do is devastatingly immoral and is harming everyone else.Yet this is something sex workers put up with from people who are claiming to be saving them. Even the precious Nordic model, held up to be something which is definitely not attacking sex workers has actually been found to increase violence against sex workers, to the point that Norway are considering doing away with it.

Sex workers survive and negotiate life under capitalist patriarchy, yet get an extra heap of bullshit from both the side which chooses to maintain capitalist patriarchy and those who think they are doing something to overthrow it.

If we want to get anything done, we must show solidarity with sex workers: just as we should with any other workers. We must accept that it is entirely possible to choose to work in sex work as much as it is possible to choose to work in a sandwich shop or have a heterosexual marriage. We should ally ourselves with any battles to ensure that workers–all workers–have good working conditions as capitalist patriarchy continues to exist. We must not single out sex workers, but resolve to dismantle the entire repulsive system. We must stop harming sex workers with deeds and words born from paternalism, which ultimately serve to maintain capitalist patriarchy rather than destroy it.

It is a big task, unimaginably vast. With solidarity, perhaps it is possible.


The Nadinenomicon

So here’s a thing. Regular followers of this blog will no doubt be aware that I rather passionately hate Nadine Dorries for her concerted efforts to peer into my uterus.

However, there’s some hate she’s getting that just isn’t cool. There’s a lot of misogyny thrown in her direction–calling her a bitch and so on. There’s also the “Mad Nad” moniker, which is hugely fucking offensive to people with mental health problems. There’s a lot to attack Dorries for, but the fact she’s a woman isn’t one of them.

I mean for fuck’s sake. Her politics are just dire. She’s frighteningly right-wing, and she’s fucked up the job she was elected to do by swanning off to munch on ostrich anuses in a jungle half a world away. And let’s not forget her curious obsession with uteruses. She really wants to try to control what we do for them.

Now, a nickname is a useful thing, but let’s stick with nicknames that aren’t oppressive, eh? Here’s a few putative suggestions, but feel free to add more!

  • The Womb Botherer Of Bedfordshire
  • Disappointingly unraptured
  • Tory scum
  • Nadir Dorries (from Jonnie Marbles)

What it means to be pro-life: Remember Savita Halappanavar

Last month, a woman was killed by a medical system steeped in archaic religious superstitions.

In truth, this probably happened to countless women across the globe.

But there’s one where we know her name, and we know her story.

Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when her lower back began to ache. She went to hospital, and learned that she was having a miscarriage. It was progressing slowly, so Savita asked for a medical abortion.

Savita had the misfortune of living in the Republic of Ireland, an anti-choice stronghold.

The hospital told her, “this is a Catholic country”. They refused to do anything because the foetus still had a heartbeat. Savita was forced to wait. She grew sicker and sicker for three days as the thing died inside her, poisoning her body. She was in agony.

The hospital made her wait. The thing still had a heartbeat.

When it finally ended, and they operated, it was too late. It had released too much poison into Savita’s body, and she became sicker still. She died a week after first going into hospital. She died from blood poisoning.

Her death could have been averted. She wanted the foetus that could never have lived removed from her body, but the doctors refused.

They killed her. The lawmakers who make abortion illegal in Ireland killed her. The church with its undue power killed her. It was the so-called pro-life stance that killed her.

When someone says that they are pro-life, remember Savita Halappanavar. Remember how they ignored a sick woman in favour of something with a heartbeat that was inside her and that was killing her. Remember that pro-life will always think of that thing with the heartbeat rather than the woman who will die unless it is removed.

That is what it means to be pro-life.

I support Marie Stopes Belfast

Today, something amazing happened. A tiny, incremental step that will change lives for the better. An abortion clinic opened up. Not just any abortion clinic, though. This one is in Belfast, in the heart of a country where reproductive choice and bodily autonomy is a right which has been historically denied to women.

Women in Northern Ireland (and the Republic, where the law is similar), have to travel to mainland Britain to access abortion. The opening of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast has changed this.

It’s offering contraception advice, help for women, and medical abortions up to nine weeks. It’s not enough, of course it’s not enough, it’s hamstrung by its attempts to comply with existing regulations, but in the context it’s a giant leap. They’re there, in the open, saying “women have abortions and that’s OK. We’re here to help.” And of course it’s drawn the usual attempts to shut down and silence from the usual suspects.

Today, on its opening day, the clinic is plagued by religious fundamentalists and fascists harrassing people. The clinic has asked for there not to be a counter-demo, which is fair enough as a confrontation is the last thing women trying to access abortion in such a hostile environment need.

However, there’s some things that can be done. I hope that in Belfast, a network of abortion escorts is being drawn up; people who can meet women accessing the clinic and guide them through the rabble of fascists safely. I hope there’s other measures for safety to counter these affronts on bodily freedom.

And for those of us who are not physically in Northern Ireland, we need to be loud and vocal in our support, and drown out the clamour of those who seek to control our bodies. Speak out about your support for what Marie Stopes are doing in Belfast.

Attempts to increase access to abortion are important, and I applaud the bravery of Marie Stopes International.

Dear @mehdirhasan

Dear Mehdi Hasan,

I literally don’t know where to begin with the torrent of how wrong you were in your piece about being anti-choice and left-wing. I say anti-choice, because I noticed you said you didn’t like the labels pro-choice and pro-life, and anti-choice reflects better what you really are.

I guess we’ll start with the piece. Now, I really think the first thing you should do is read this from Vagina Dentata who explains eloquently why you’re completely and utterly wrong about how it’s possible to be a lefty and anti-choice. Make sure you read the whole thing, but this is the crux of the matter:

So no, you cannot be left-wing and pro-life. You cannot be left wing and “progressive” if you think half of the world’s population can hang-on or sacrifice or just stop being so bourgeois for demanding that they are treated as equals. To fight for equality is at the very least, to acknowledge the biological difference that keeps women oppressed and fight to overcome that. Women’s sexual and reproductive rights are part of our struggle for survival and will not be trivialised or ignored by men who claim to fight for equality.

A few more points on your piece. I’m very disappointed in you, seeing you repeating the anti-choice porky pie that France and Germany have a 12-week limit, so the UK should too. What these countries actually have is a law which allows abortion on demand up to 12 weeks, i.e. you go up to a doctor, say “I’d like an abortion”, then you have your abortion. After the 12 weeks, the legal situation resembles that of the UK: you have to jump through hoops, provide reasons, see more than one doctor.

The rest of your argument, I’m afraid to say, is a hot mess of appeals to authority. You’ve just listed the few people who agree with you who aren’t thoroughly objectionable, many of whom died centuries ago. I’m also rather baffled by the fact that you’re not ashamed to agree with Jeremy Hunt, a man who has what I like to call the Copro-Midas Touch. Literally everything that man touches turns to shit. Are you genuinely comfortable with agreeing with a man who hides in trees to avoid being seen by journalists?

You’re also repeating the tiresome “it’s a baby” myth. Again, I’m going to refer you to one of my sisters, because pretty much everyone’s already said what I want to say, but please read this heartbreaking post from Fearlessknits about life at 25 weeks gestation.

I’m also rather concerned about you believing bodily autonomy to be “selfish and individualistic”. Mehdi, I hate to say it, but you’re really edging into fascist rhetoric here, constructing reproduction as some sort of common good. There’s good arguments in favour of the anti-choice position itself being inherently fascist, and I find your appeal to collectivism as an excuse to invade women’s bodies rather a good example of this.

Now let’s talk about your reaction to the whole thing, Mehdi. Now, I’ve noticed you’ve been whinging rather a lot about being called sexist for your views. The short answer is, that’s because you are being very sexist, Mehdi. Appallingly so. Once again, I’m going to refer you to a sister for this, as Reni Eddo-Lodge has explained beautifully why you’re a sexist.

Here’s why Hasan’s piece is anti-woman. He attempts to reframe the debate on his terms, snatching it out of the hands of people who can get pregnant, insisting on the premise of ‘ethics’ rather than women’s rights, and consequentially betraying his male privilege and over inflated sense of entitlement.

When he ponders which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb, he takes women out of the equation, completely; women’s thoughts, our hopes, our dreams, our aims and our goals—which may or may not include children.

You see, Mehdi, you’re silencing women. You’re telling us our rights don’t matter, our views don’t matter. Don’t think we haven’t noticed that the vast majority of supportive tweets you retweeted were from men. Don’t think we haven’t noticed you playing the time-honoured dog-whistle “reverse sexism” card. Your views are sexist, no matter how much you love your wife and daughters.

I will give you a bit of praise, for coming up with one of the most risible defences of sexist views I have ever seen. I’ll admit I laughed long and hard, because I’ve never seen anything quite so silly. You said:

This is indeed a “women’s issue”, yes, but is it ONLY a women’s issue? No wider ethical implications? (Oh, and no male foetuses??)

Mehdi, what about that meatsock incubator that’s holding the male foetus? That meatsock incubator is almost always a woman (sometimes it is a man, and these men can get a say about abortion too, as they’re affected by it). Ultimately, people with uteruses don’t like to be thought of as meatsock incubators, but your view constructs us as such.

Of course, you might dismiss my views as I’m a woman, and therefore, in your book, a selfish and individualistic babykiller. So just in case, here’s a really good piece by a man, Jonnie Marbles. Make sure you digest every word of this.

Anyway, I’ve spent rather a long time engaging with your arguments, and this is because what you’re saying is fucking dangerous and terrifying, an attempt to shift the Overton window further into our uteruses. However, a part of me thinks you were given the platform to espouse those worrying views, poorly argued, because the New Statesman are trolling for links. It works so well for the Daily Mail, and I can thoroughly understand why the NS might want a slice of the linkbait pie. That’s why I never linked your article, Mehdi. I don’t want to encourage anyone to continue publishing articles like yours.

Hope you’ve learned something from this, and will keep your opinions out of our wombs in future.

Stavvers xoxo

The war on choice and how they’ll win if we aren’t ready

I’ve written rather a lot about abortion in the last few days, from highlighting that women’s minister Maria Miller is no friend to women, to a demand for a complete removal of the abortion time limit, to a polite suggestion that Jeremy Hunt eats one of his own testicles. The reason it’s been on my mind so much is because I’m scared. It feels like it’s coming to a head, and I can see the grim future screaming towards me. I see what will happen with terrifying clarity.

Of course none of the rest of them will back Jeremy Hunt and his 12 week limit, next to it, Maria Miller’s 20 weeks looks fucking reasonable, and the Prime Minister himself backs it. Already, the conversation is about how much the limit should be scaled back, not whether it should be scaled back at all. And they’ll sit and they’ll vote; perhaps a private member’s bill, perhaps an amendment to another bill, and they’ll say “oh, isn’t Hunt a bit extreme, but let’s compromise and take it back to 20 weeks”. And nobody will be particularly outraged, because it could be a lot worse, and we’ll turn a blind eye to the women who have suddenly found themselves without an option, while the anti-choice lobby rally around what is certainly a victory, and shout for more cutting. One of them will suggest banning it altogether–maybe Dorries, or one of her ilk. And they’ll vote again and cut it back some more. All the while, the religious extremists will rise–remember, they have already been acquitted of harassing women by a legal system that does not support us. And people will start dying, going to prison, getting desperate.

It is entirely possible. The anti-choice lobby now control the discourse, and every conversation about this is entirely on their terms. It shouldn’t be a matter for debate, but they’ve made it that way. We need to be aware of this and take back the power.

It is not enough to be reactive and hold the line. We need to be proactive.

We need to demand better access to abortion: abortion on request, rather than having to fulfil various criteria. The UK is one of the few EU countries that does not allow for this. At present, women have to jump through hoops to prove they cannot afford a child, or their health will be aversely affected, to not just one, but two doctors. They then face waiting time on the NHS. These barriers must be removed. “I want an abortion” should be enough.

Sometimes the anti-choicers point to EU countries that have 12 week limits as proof that we should cut the abortion time limit. They’re being disingenuous. What actually happens in most of these countries is the 12 week limit is for abortion on request. After this, in many cases, the law shifts to being like UK law.

The time limit argument itself is something of a trap. It centres around viability, which automatically forces us to talk on anti-choice terms. The focus is on the foetus, not on the woman. It allows them to frame this thing inside a woman’s body as a person. We shouldn’t engage on this level at all. At the very least, we must hold firm on the current limit: a simple, dismissive “the legal limit is based on scientific evidence”, and then refuse to rise to non-scientific stories of foetuses punching their way out of the uterus or something they heard somewhere about a baby that was born at five weeks of gestation and grew up to win the Nobel Prize.

Better still, demand the complete removal of the abortion time limit. As long as it’s inside a woman’s body, it can be aborted. Point out it’s unlikely to result in a rise in abortions, because the vast majority are conducted fairly early on anyway, but that the benefits to women would far outweigh any harms.

And when the religious extremists our out on the streets, we need to be prepared to help escort women safely into clinics to access abortion, to physically stand in front of the extremists so they cannot be seen or heard. We need to go to their churches and express our disgust at what they are doing and hope this spurs the rest of their community into disowning these views.

They have controlled the debate for far too long already, and we cannot let them gain any ground. Instead, let us take ground for ourselves. Let us fight for women and for bodily autonomy. It’s a battle we can win, as long as we have the will to fight it.

Dear Jeremy Hunt

Trigger warning: frighteningly real risk of a return to back-alley abortions, coathangers and violence against women, and demi-castration fantasy.

Dear Jeremy Hunt,

I was really interested to read your opinions about lowering the abortion time limit to 12 weeks, based on scientific evidence that you didn’t bother citing, and I’d like to offer you a little bit of advice. This will help you a lot in the long run.

Basically, I feel like you should remove one of your testicles. Now, there’s a trick to this. What you need to do is take a bottle of your favourite alcohol–I’d recommend Buckfast, but that’s a personal preference–and smash the bottle. It needs to be a glass bottle, obviously. Now, take a shard. Take a shard that looks particularly pointy, and apply it to your scrotum. Feel the coldness of it. Do you feel that, Jeremy? Do you feel it?

I bet your penis is shrinking slightly at that vague chill. Don’t worry, that’s only natural. But I promise what I’m telling you will help you.

Now, this bit is going to be tricky, and I imagine it’ll probably hurt rather a lot. So to help with the pain, maybe drink the Buckfast before you break the bottle. Sorry, I should have told you that before. I forgot. I hope you’ve not been following my suggestions in real time. If you have, go to the shop, buy another bottle of Buckfast, chug that shit, then break the bottle and see if you can get hold of anything a bit pointier. Pointy is good.

It’ll probably also help if you can bite down on something.

Now, Jeremy, I don’t know what your dominant hand is, so I’m going to assume you’re right-handed like most people. Take your right testicle in your left hand. Hold the glass in your right. With your left hand, really feel where the ball is, feel that strange, squishy sensation. Hold your thumb just above the top of it, towards where it meets your cock. Now, holding the glass, cut just above where your thumb is.

It’s likely there’ll be a bit of blood at this point, but hold firm. This is for your own good, and there’s scientific evidence on my side. Loads and loads of medical evidence. I don’t need to cite it, just like you don’t need to cite yours when you’re telling me what to do with my body.

You’ll feel a pop as the skin breaks, a gentle pop as it gives. It’s a surprisingly thin layer of skin, really. If you’ve got the stomach, take a look. You might see something stringy inside. That’s your epididymis, Jeremy, and I’d like you to cut through it too. I have absolutely no idea how that’d feel. From diagrams, it looks like the glass could take it, but if it doesn’t, a pair of scissors will suffice. On the other side of the epididymis, there’ll be a bit more skin. Cut through that. You’ll be a pro at withstanding pain by this point, and that makes you strong.

Now, at this point, you’ll have two things: a disembodied testicle in your hand, and a bleeding wound between your legs. The priority, I suppose, is disposing of the disembodied testicle. Pop it into your mouth. Scientific evidence suggests Paul Burrell did very well at eating a kangaroo testicle, so I’m sure you’ll do well noshing down your own. Be careful for the bit where it bursts, and white fluid dribbles down your chin. I hope you’re not doing this in company.

As for the bleeding wound, try a chef’s blowtorch. It’ll hurt like bejesus, but it’ll cauterise the wound. Be careful not to singe your knob. That’d be a disaster.

So ultimately, thanks for your evidence-based concern about my uterus, Jeremy. I hope you appreciate mine, too. I only have your best interests at heart you understand.


Stavvers xoxoxo

P.S. If you get someone pregnant following this usually-f0olproof procedure, I recommend repeating it for the right ball.

Related: Let’s scrap the abortion time limit altogether, me on abortion time limits in the NS.

For anyone who wants to send Jeremy Hunt a picture of their reproductive system, here’s how to photograph your cervix. Remember to CC in Maria Miller, as she’s also really interested!