Ok, so this phenomenon is something that has been bothering us for quite some time now and given the increasing volume of anti sex-worker sentiment coming from the most unlikely and surprising of sources. So, we thought we’d make an attempt to get to the root of the problem, to address it face-on, and hopefully to help stop the rot.
The ever-present culture of shaming sex workers and their exclusion from the considerations of some feminist groups/mentalities leads us nowhere new, and nowhere positive. Let’s not forget that, at its core, feminism is about supporting women’s choices, and enabling their empowerment. We need to take a step back from critiquing others’ decisions harshly from a place of no compassion or understanding. Sex work does not preclude empowerment, and as such we must underscore the need for this marginalised community to be included under the large umbrella of the women’s movement. Let’s refuse to compete in the race to the bottom.
So, why exactly do some feminists take the anti sex-worker stance?
Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminism (SWERF) ideology seems to be based on a conception wherein all sex-workers are female, and all customers are male. Working from this set of imagined circumstances, they argue that sex work itself, in all its many variants, is a form of violence on women, dealt by the hand of man. OK, so obviously the gender division of the premise is flawed in this argument, right? But there’s also a multitude of other reasons not to exclude sex workers from feminist consideration. What about choice, for example? What of those who are genuinely empowered by and sustained by sex work? Where exactly do these women fit into this exclusionary narrative?
Feminism means supporting the idea that women should have full autonomy over their own bodies. With this, there is also the implication that we should also reserve the right to be able to choose who we have sex with. Whether or not a financial transaction takes place is irrelevant to that fact, and thus should have no bearing on your consideration of the persons involved. By excluding the voices of sex-workers from the conversation, the effect is such that they end up essentially wrongfully denied their right to a seat at the table, their agency, and respect.
On a much darker note, we need to actively be working together to ensure that every sex worker can feel safe. The best moves toward this are acceptance and legalisation. Further stigmatising the situation only serves to push sex work further into the murky waters on the underground where lie such monsters as sex trafficking rings and the exploitation of youths. Remember that sex workers themselves actively work against these elements in their desire to realise a working environment that is both safe and consent based.
So please, before making judgements, don’t assume to know better than those actually living the SW lifestyle. For starters, it’s arrogant – but it also goes against the fundamental aspects of feminism itself. We need to break down the overarching trend of shaming and exclusion, as from what we’ve seen so far – pushing sex work further underground leads it to become a whole lot more dangerous for the women involved. Surely nobody genuinely wants that, right? So, instead of critique, how about we begin to work on inclusion, legalisation, and mutual understanding? We’re in it together, so let’s begin to move forward.