Towards full abortion on demand

I am going to take a guess and assume that, as a reader of this feminist blog, you probably consider yourself pro-choice. But how far do you go in the fight for bodily autonomy?

I believe in full abortion on demand. I believe that a pregnant person must be able to end a pregnancy at any time they choose, for any reason whatsoever–or no reason at all. I don’t believe a pregnant person should need a reason, that they should be able to end a pregnancy safely if they choose not to be pregnant any more. I believe that a pregnant person should have a right to end a pregnancy when they want to, right up to term. No time limits, no particular reasons given. This is what abortion on demand looks like: the bogeyman raised by anti-choicers as an apocalyptic consequence of abortion laws. I embrace it. I believe that this is what we as pro-choicers should be pushing for.

The thing that happens when we talk about time limits on abortion is that it de-centres the pregnant person, who is ultimately the only person who matters when discussing abortion rights. Suddenly, it becomes all about the foetus. This is a clever and stealthy way of getting anti-choice legislation in through the back door, often without even mentioning abortion at all. Take, for example, this recent example, where the Court of Appeal is expected to rule on whether a pregnant woman is guilty of poisoning for drinking during pregnancy. Jem points out the implications if the ruling goes the wrong way, that it would give a foetus the same rights as a person. That could have devastating ramifications for abortion rights, as well as giving the state further control over women. I say “women” here because the state is a deeply misogynistic institution, and that’s what this sort attitude is rooted in. It doesn’t matter a jot that a lot of women cannot get pregnant: this is a stick to beat anyone read as a reproductively-capable woman. 

We need to de-centre talk of harm to a foetus when discussing things pregnant people are doing. And we also need to realise that any time limit on abortion in strictly arbitrary: the only point in a pregnancy that is not arbitrary is term.

When we talk about reasons for abortion, we inevitably fall into a “good abortions” and “bad abortions” rhetoric. Good abortions are those that happen after rape, or when the foetus stands no chance of surviving after birth, for example (usually, in both of these cases, it’s a nice white woman having the abortion). Bad abortions happen to bad people: that slut who uses it for birth control, and so on. A lot of anti-choicers tend to focus on the stereotypes activated by the bad abortions, while a lot of the arguments we as pro-choicers put forward tend to focus on good abortions: we’ll say things like “surely you don’t want to deny abortions to rape victims?” in a bid to make our interlocutors feel empathy.

And we shouldn’t do that, because there is no such thing as a good abortion or a bad abortion. Reasons for having abortions are only one person’s business: the person having an abortion. It is up to them, and them alone, and it seems unhelpful to contribute to public discourse by dissecting reasons that one may choose to end a pregnancy.

Reproductive rights are under attack. As pro-choicers, we know this. We are permanently on the defensive, holding the fragile ground that we have. But what if we rode out to meet the anti-choicers? What if, rather than defending what we have, we fight for something more, something better, robustly pro-choice and thoroughly unreasonable under today’s terms of debate? By loudly and unabashedly centring the rights of the pregnant person, we could potentially gain ground, without compromises.

I don’t doubt that the idea of full abortion on demand is causing niggling little “but…” feelings in you. I felt it too, when I first thought about the concept. The thing is, so many of those doubts are internalised concessions that we have made to the anti-choice camp, little bits of their propaganda that we, too, have absorbed. When we are constantly told that women are just meatsock incubators, over and over, it starts to seep in and we start to believe all sorts of awful things, including high levels of pseudoscientific biological essentialism.

So I demand full abortion on demand. I don’t want compromises, I want something which centres the rights of pregnant people.

In which I review a book that I read: Playing The Whore

Since I heard that Melissa Gira Grant wrote a book about sex work, I’ve been desperate to get my grubby mitts on it. Having now read Playing The Whore: The Work Of Sex Work, I want to recommend that every single one of you reads this fucking book.

Weighing in at just 132 pages, I’m astounded Gira Grant managed to pack in so much vital–and radical–analysis in such an accessible format. Central to her thesis is the concept of a “prostitute imaginary”, a cobbled-together bundle of myths which occupies our minds. These myths are systematically examined and dismantled through a feminist lens. Everything you thought you knew about sex work is a lie, it seems. Did you know, for example, that among a sample of over 21, 000 women who do sex work in West Bengal, there were 48, 000 reports of violence perpetrated by police, but only 4000 perpetrated by customers?

Gira Grant has a theory as to why this may be the case. The forces of public imagination surrounding sex work run strong. Misogynists, law enforcement and feminists alike view a sex worker as always working, as nothing but a sex worker. She (as Gira Grant points out, this stereotype is always of a cis woman) is somehow deviant and subjected to stigma for her deviance. Simultaneously, focus is on representations of sex, rather than the concrete. We only see sex workers being arrested, or peek through a peephole to see what we want to see. With all of this going on, the voices of sex workers can easily be ignored, creating this situation:

These demands on their speech [in testimony in court and the media], to both convey their guilt and prove their innocence, are why, at the same time that sex work has made strides toward recognition and popular representations that defy stereotypes, prostitutes, both real and imaginary, still remain the object of social control. This is how sex workers are still understood: as curiosities, maybe, but as the legitimate target of law enforcement crackdowns and charitable concerns–at times simultaneously. And so this is where the prostitute is still most likely to be found today, where those who seek to “rescue” her locate her: at the moment of her arrest.

The book travels in a spiral, revisiting the same points over and over again to the joint problems of violence and coercion from law enforcement, and how other women, especially feminists, aren’t helping–and in fact, attempts to rescue can often make things worse, such as demonstrated in a case study in Cambodia, where attempts to “rescue” sex workers have led to many women being dragged away to “rehabilitation camps”, repurposed prisons where women have died or set to work long shifts behind a sewing machine.

A lot of what we as feminists have been doing wrong is related to “whore stigma”, which Gira Grant explains goes beyond simple misogyny:

The fear of the whore, or of being the whore, is the engine that drives the whole thing [a culture which is dangerous for sex workers]. That engine could be called “misogyny”, but even that word misses something: the cheapness of the whore, how easily she might be discarded not only due to her gender, but to her race, her class. Whore is maybe the original intersectional insult.

It is a desire to reverse away from “whore stigma”, which predominantly affects sex workers, but can also hit women who are not sex workers, which links with a lot of problems within mainstream feminism: Gira Grant theorises that it is no coincidence that feminists who are anti-sex work are also often transphobic. And, likewise, anti-sex work laws are often used against trans women and women of colour, from unfair targeting for stop and search, to disproportionate incarceration.

It makes for uncomfortable reading at times, this litany of our own mistakes as feminists, and perhaps nowhere is it clearer than in an analysis of objectification, and the feminist line that sex workers increase objectification of women. The evidence upon which these assumptions rest is dealt with in short order, and Gira Grant highlights the dehumanisation and objectification of sex workers at the hands of women, as silent props, and, often depicted in a frighteningly demeaning fashion.

In dismantling the myths, Playing The Whore offers glimpses of the reality of sex work, the diversity of all that this umbrella covers. The book explains neatly how sex work fits in among other forms of work, of how once upon a time, sex workers and housewives were sisters in arms. At times, I wish the book were far longer, as I feel as though there are tantalising hints of analysis to come which never quite develops but is merely teased. Although this book is neither explicitly anti-capitalist nor explicitly ACAB, conclusions of this nature bubble under the surface, never spelled out, for this is not quite within its scope in its current form.

This book is a must-read feminist book. I would go so far as to place it as a crucial Feminism 101 text. The first feminist book I ever read way Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, whose ideas I am still struggling to unlearn, as it gave me a shameful attitude towards sex workers and femmes for years I will never get back. Playing The Whore casts a critical eye on patriarchy while actively dismantling the stigma many women face, and teaches the central feminist values of listening, and solidarity. For readers more versed in feminist theory and praxis, it allows us to evaluate our past mistakes and encourages us to rebuild on more solid ground. By rights, this book could and should shake up feminism for the better.

But sadly, I fear it will not, for I fear the forces Gira Grant outlines are too powerful to be brought down by this smart little book. We have had centuries of clinging to a prostitute imaginary while coming up with numerous excuses to silence the voices of sex workers. I believe that this book will largely be ignored by the mainstream with their stake in speaking for and over sex workers. A recent review of Playing The Whore by a liberal cis white feminist took umbrage to Gira Grant’s centring of sex workers in a book about sex work, and decided that she would rather read about “demand”. Mainstream feminism wants sex workers decentred from discussions directly pertinent to their livelihood, it wants to keep sex workers on the margins. It will not listen.

Gira Grant knows this, which is why she concludes with a rousing cry for decriminalisation, in the hope that the rest will follow. This conclusion, and the solidarity Gira Grant asks for are concrete things which we as feminists who do not do sex work can support.

Biological essentialism: can we not?

Last week, I wrote about why I’m pro trans and pro choice. Given the sheer quantity of comments, I’m not sure I made myself clear enough.

I think that broad judgments based on perceived biology have historically had some bearing on the oppression of women. I also think that biological essentialism is meaningless and can only be deployed oppressively in the present day, as scientific and sociological understanding of gender and sex has progressed. Some time ago, I wrote about evolutionary psychology, and very charitably decided to pretend that perhaps all of the just-so stories explaining differences in behaviour of the sexes were true. And I concluded that even then, that does not mean it is in any way relevant now:

Wisdom teeth, though, were highly useful to humans when we first evolved. Humans were still a long way off inventing dental hygiene, and, so, tended to die once all of their teeth had rotted away and they could no longer eat. Wisdom teeth, emerging in the mid-twenties, gave an extra few years of life: four more teeth meant more time being able to eat. With the advent of dental hygiene, we no longer lose all of our teeth to decay, and wisdom teeth have become an annoyance. When a wisdom tooth grows into a mouth full of healthy teeth, there is often not enough room, and the new tooth impacts. I had a wisdom tooth that solved the lack-of-space problem by growing horizonally. Each time I bit down, it would take a chunk out of the inside of my cheek. I had it removed.

Wisdom teeth, then, are a solution to a problem that no longer exists, and when the tooth becomes a problem we have it yanked out.

If one were to assume that claims regarding gender made by evolutionary psychology were true, these gender roles are as irrelevant to modern life as wisdom teeth. They are a solution to a problem that no longer exists: we shop in supermarkets now; we have modern health care; our children are sent off to school; we have DNA testing for identification of fathers; we can have sex for pleasure with a very low risk of reproduction. The adaptations we developed to childrearing and mating problems no longer exist.

Why, then, would we cling on to the notion that it’s perfectly natural to rape, to cheat, to subscribe to the idea that male and female minds are inherently different, and so such things are inevitable?

We can overcome wisdom teeth, and, if any of the shaky claims of evolutionary psychology regarding gender turn out to be true, we can yank that out of our society, too.

The same is true for biological essentialist arguments. Maybe once upon a time, “woman” was defined only by capacity for childbirth, or only by presence of a vagina, or only by whether she had periods or not–although, you can see by the quantities of “ors” in that sentence that even if we try to trace back through history, what defines a woman is pretty complicated if we’re going on biology alone. And yes, this nonsense has persisted through time, from the bizarre belief that uteruses could roam throughout the body causing all sorts of negative effects to the belief that everything a menstruating woman touched became unclean. It becomes a chicken and egg scenario: society was built upon misogyny, along with its science. Science, after all, is not objective: the questions it asks and answers are rooted in the society asking those questions.

It’s only relatively recently that we have even begun to ask the right questions, and noticed that actually the whole thing is a house of cards, and should rightly come crashing down. We realised that biological sex is far more complicated than the somewhat-complicated way it had originally seemed. Hormones and chromosomes, internal and external biological characteristics–none of it necessarily matched up. Some still cling to essentialism, despite its utter meaninglessness, to produce bad science to suggest that rape is inevitable, or that men and women have different brains and only men can do the logical stuff. But the science is not on their side, and there is an increasing level of criticism levelled at such work because, at its heart, it is terrible science and tells us very little beyond what misogynists believe to be true.

Most feminists are rightly deeply critical of biological essentialism, knowing, as we do, how it keeps us down. And many of us embrace the advances that have brought us closer and closer to liberating ourselves from it. It is fucking lovely not having to be defined by our reproductive status, freeing ourselves from the idea that this is what our bodies are for. Many of us use synthetic hormones to regulate our bodies, and sometimes to eradicate menstruation. Surgery has advanced so that women without cunts can have cunts if they want. Science is looking into the possibility of uterus transplants, so women who cannot bear children will be able to. We are making a hell of a lot of progress, and the hold of biologically essentialist misogyny is slipping.

Unfortunately, some feminists are holding us back. Some feminists have embraced biological essentialism. The motive for this is an attempt to somehow “prove” that trans women are not women, cloaking their transmisogyny in pseudoscientific language by pretending that “female” and “woman” are two different things, and that “female” is somehow a scientifically valid category. Often, this is presented in a way that is even more dehumanising than the way MRAs talk about women, like this gem from Gia Milinovich where she bangs on about “female mammalians” and claims that our understanding of biology is in no way related to culture.

Taking this argument to its logical conclusion leads to some deeply unpleasant thought, like this:


Twitter   Glosswitch  @boodleoops Bleeding is okay ...

Here, we see an attempt to define purpose of vaginas, deeply rooted in biologically essentialist misogyny*. Now, I have made the choice to not give birth, and I don’t need to go into why, because it’s my body and my choice, and the world has progressed to a position where I am able to make that choice. My vagina, if I get my way, will never be used for a role in babymaking. As for the bleeding, I find it quite fun**, but I don’t really feel like it’s an essential characteristic of my womanhood, nor would I feel that if my period ever stopped, my vagina would become purposeless. But my vagina is hardly a useless hole: far from it. It’s for shuddering orgasms. This part of my body is a delight to me. A finger or a dildo in there feels like heaven as I feel it brush my G-spot, and I feel my clit grow hard around it. And yes, I tend to prefer dildos, and I am aware of just how horrifying homophobic patriarchy finds that. I don’t use it for reproduction, and I don’t have to because we have moved on enough to no longer be defined and confined by our reproductive organs.***

I am a woman. I am still a woman, despite not even knowing what hormones my body produces due to years of taking synthetic hormones. I am still a woman, despite the fact that I have never given birth and do not plan to. I will still be a woman if, like my mother, severe fibroids necessitate a radical hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy at some point in my future.

Once upon a time, biological essentialism was all there was. We grew up. And we are slowly slinging off this burden, leading to the liberation of all women. We must fight biological essentialism wherever we see it, and liberate ourselves fully from these archaic constraints.

Further reading:

Un-gendering sex: a feminist project? (I am because you are)

Writing the Body: Stories of sex and gender (Alice Nuttall)

“The day an extremely popular white feminist advocated eugenics and mass abortion of trans people”  (Red Light Politics)

How Cissexist Partiarchy Works (Alien She)

Duplicitous or £9 notes…? (UnCommon Sense)


*I am 95% certain that the “ten pound note” reference refers to wanknotegate, which suggests that this Twitter conversation is basically barbs targeted at me, which has been expanded into misogyny.

**It is worth noting at this point that a common trope among transmisogynists is to claim that trans women will not let cis women talk about menstruation. I think it is abundantly clear here that such policing of discussion of menstruation can come just as much from cis women.

***DISCLAIMER: This, of course, refers only to my own relationship with my own cunt.


Note on comments: I’m not approving TERfy/MRAish comments (I find it impossible to distinguish which is which, because they all just use the word “female” a lot and cast women as walking wombs), as this blog is a safe space for marginalised women. Go and whine about me on your own blogs.

Why I’m pro trans and pro choice

I’ll start by owning a mistake I’ve made more than once in the past, and am trying not to make again: I once thought the pro-choice position only applied to cis women. In fact, at the peak of my making this silly mistake over and over, I didn’t even know the word “cis”, so I kept thinking it was all about “women”–for a certain, cissexist construction of woman. Then I opened my eyes.

Curating the Dear Nadine Dorries project* helped a fair bit, as letters came in from people who were not cis women. Sitting the fuck down and listening helped a hell of a lot more. My understanding developed a lot, and began to coalesce into a more coherent, and more inclusive pro-choice stance.

At its core, pro-choice is all about bodily autonomy. It’s about the freedom to do what you want with your body, and to ensure access to, and safety within medical procedures to achieve these goals. These aims dovetail incredibly neatly with the struggle against cissexism. For example, access to necessary healthcare for trans people is often impeded: sadly, feminism has a lot to do with that, which is why it’s our mess to clean up. This trend of denying access to healthcare translates into some very real consequences for reproductive freedom: there are still 24 countries in Europe which require trans people to be sterilised. Even if one adopts the position that pro-choice is only about reproductive rights, compulsory sterilisation of trans people is definitely a pro-choice issue.

And if we narrow our focus further, and decide that being pro-choice is only about abortion rights, then it’s still necessary to care about trans people. It’s not just (some) cis women who have uteruses, and the sooner we recognise that, the better. Intrinsically linking the capacity to get pregnant with womanhood is not just cissexist, but it’s actually quite misogynistic. Biological essentialism is the rhetoric which has been keeping a hell of a lot of people down for millennia. Biological essentialism is the root of misogynistic bullshit from the concept of “hysteria”, for the enforcement of social roles, for the way preventative healthcare often treats cis women of a certain age as “pre-pregnant”, for every time a sexist asks if you’re cross because you’re on the rag. Biological essentialism is the fuel that feeds cissexism and the fuel that feeds misogyny, and drives the two to interact and smack down some people. Truly, it would be liberating for those of us who get fucked over by cissexist patriarchy if we freed ourselves from the notion that woman and womb are anything to do with each other.**

The more inclusive we are as a movement, the more of us there are. And the more of us there are, the stronger we are as a force to be able to achieve our intrinsically-related goals, and ultimately overthrow the system that has been keeping us down. However, all of this hinges on inclusivity as a movement.

Trans and genderqueer activists have presented a very simple request, asking to improve the language we use when advocating on pro-choice issues. What needs to happen is to avoid equating uteruses with women. The fiddly bit here is the aforementioned millennia of social conditioning under capitalist patriarchy, which has unfortunately shaped the way we talk about such things. But this is nothing that cannot be cured without a bit of thoughtfulness. For example, instead of saying “woman”, think about to whom you’re referring. Are you talking about an issue that affects pregnant people? Why not go with “pregnant people”? That level of specificity is important both for challenging cissexism (it’s not only women who can get pregnant) and also misogyny (because fucking hell, we’re not always pregnant). Think about what you mean–what you actually mean. And get creative. Challenge it where you see it, and advocate for providers to use more inclusive language (there’s a petition you can sign). Oh, and if you ever see me slip up, call me the fuck out. Please.

Being pro choice and pro trans is a win-win situation. In developing solidarity between related struggles, we only become stronger, and better able to fight the constant stream of assaults on bodily autonomy.

Further reading:

Commit to being #ProTransProChoice

The fight for bodily autonomy is on multiple fronts! (trans is not a noun)


*This is still open, and will be open forever, and please submit if you feel like it!

**Apart from sharing a few letters, and the latter being  a character shorter than the former. This is literally why my email address has “womb” rather than “woman” in it, and I now look at it with the faint embarrassment as I do with all of the Hotmail addresses containing Nirvana lyrics I had when I was 14.

Feminism and control of other women

This week’s issue which is calling some premium-grade nonsense to fly forth from the mouths of feminists is the topic of banning face coverings, specifically the niqab. It is something which appeals to politicians, satisfying both their desire for racist policy and managing to get a bonus bit of giving themselves further reason to mass arrest protesters as a shitty little cherry on top. As always, there are hordes of feminists who are perfectly happy to deal with this as it manages to sate their appetite for controlling other women.

I don’t think I need to go into why getting the state to dictate what women may and may not wear is hardly a feminist position, and is simply a manifestation of a white saviour complex. Go and look at what Muslim feminists are saying about this; this is not my argument to make.

Among certain strains of feminism, we see a lot of attempts at controlling what other women do, wear and exist as.

We see it in Nadine Dorries, who calls herself a feminist while simultaneously craning her neck for the best viewing angle of our uteruses. She literally wants to control our reproductive freedom, and believes this stance to be a feminist stance.

We see it in the TERfs, the bigoted feminists who bully and harass trans women for existing, who spread lies and misinformation, who exclude and who try to deny access to treatment. They call themselves feminists, yet they are trying to control women’s bodies, to set themselves up as gatekeepers to womanhood through establishing a firm grasp on what a woman must be like.

We see it in a lot of high-profile campaigns calling for bans on this or that manifestation of sex work. Behind all of this is a desire to control what work is acceptable for women to do. We see it in the entire prohibitionist angle towards sex workers.

Am I saying these people are not feminists? No.

They are feminists. They are simply feminists who will ultimately do more harm than good.

See here’s the thing. It’s a little bit Captain Obvious to suggest that patriarchy places controls on women’s bodies and women’s behaviour. We know that this is terrible and bad and we rightly kick up a fuss about it. And yet to many women, the control imposed by certain strains of feminism is just as bad as these manifestations of patriarchal dominance. It is no different, aside from the perpetrators. And this is why we see so many marginalised women turning away from feminism: feminism just appears as rebranded patriarchy, rebranded control and coercion.

The feminists who want to control other women will defend their stance by saying that the women they are attempting to control need rescuing somehow, that this control is salvation. You will note that they are never trying to save themselves, only others who are somehow letting the side down by letting themselves be oppressed.

And yet this defence is much the same as the patronisingly sexist attitudes we face from men. We don’t know what’s good for us. We need someone to sort it out for us, someone who knows best. We are literally incapable of knowing what it is we need.

We reject it from men, and we must also reject these impositions of control from women.

If we want to help marginalised women to be liberated, our task is not to lead or to legislate, but to listen. We need to ask what help is required, rather than barging in like a carceral Leeroy Jenkins and making everything worse. It is support, not control, that will lead to freedom.

Westminster Council’s proposals for obesity: awful, awful, awful

So, Westminster Council have announced something thoroughly, offensively awful: they want obese people to be monitored to check if they’re using a gym, and if they aren’t, they should have their benefits cut. Seriously. That’s actually a thing they think should be done.

I took the liberty of reading their full report, “A Dose of Localism: the Role of Councils in Public Health“. It’s a very shiny-looking report, with a picture of an apple on the front. The existence of apples, illustrated by a photograph of one, is literally the only thing which is in any way evidence-based within the entire report. There is not even a reference section. The report is entirely what a few wonks think might be a good idea.

My background in psychology is in behaviour change, so a little part of me wondered if maybe there was some sort of evidence base for this level of negative reinforcement. Then my brain woke up, and I realised that of course there isn’t an evidence base for this. When conducting research, one needs to put everything past an ethics board, and there is no ethics board on earth that would approve forcing people to take up exercise by threatening them with losing their homes. In general, it’s sort of frowned upon. In fact, the only place I could find anything positive said about negative reinforcement–of a level which was not as bad as the threat of immiseration and poverty–was on “pro-ana” websites, where people share tips for maintaining eating disorders. I’m not going to link to those, for obvious reasons.

So, it’s utter nonsense, and I am confident that fairly soon we will be seeing anyone who knows jack shit about behaviour change saying “No, don’t do that, it’s awful.” However, this particular little piece of policy kite flying could see itself being implemented despite its distinct lack of evidence base nonetheless.

There is a peculiar mindset among some individuals that they are The Taxpayer, and therefore they get to decide what people they believe they are paying for get to do. They get sulky about helping others, and a part of their minds wishes to see other human beings suffer as they are blinded by resentment. They are already honking at me on Twitter about how there is nothing wrong with threats and a denial of bodily autonomy for others. Evidence means nothing to these people, they just want to punish others for an accident of circumstances meaning they require a little help to survive. It’s illogical, it’s irrational, but it is powerful.

And this is to whom councils and governments pander, these squawking sociopaths. Many of them probably hold the same beliefs themselves. They believe that somehow they have more right to exist freely than others, more right to bodily autonomy, more right to a roof over their head than others. They’re wrong. They got lucky.

I hope that this nonsense from Westminster stays in a drawer somewhere and it does not impact the discourse too heavily, but I fear it will have serious effects. For something that was pulled out of some wonk’s arse, that’s a terrifying thought.

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.