Posted by: mzbitca | January 25, 2009

We are not your tools with which to fight the patriarchy

At this point in time, especially if you are involved in any type of activism, you have heard and internalized the phrase “the person is political.”  I think it is important to know and internalize but I also think, much like the “master’s tools” speech, it is used and abused by those who have decided their interpretation is right and be damned what it actually meant.


I have avoided much of the Radical Feminist blogosphere after seeing all the flak Natalia and Ren deal with just for trying to engage but after witnessing two posts, one by Cara about Natalie Dylan and one by Renee about legalizing prositution I’ve finally been able to put my finger on what bothers me about the anti-porn and radical feminists. 


To me, the statement about the person being political means that who you are and your actions say something about the world you live in and how you navigate it.  When Jessica at Feministing  posted about her engagement she was honest in that she is unsure how she can wade through the tense waters of engaging in an institution that others cannot experience and that has some patriarchal roots.  She is a feminist and she’s also partaking in something that gives her the opportunity to express who she is and her beliefs.  There are reasons that people get married and have a wedding that have nothing to do with patriarchal or religious reasons but there are some that say you can never divorce this involvement from it’s negative and discriminatory ties, no matter how hard you try.


Nowhere else does this mindset show up as with sex work.  Are there ugly sides to Sex work? Of course.  Does the concept of males thinking they can purchase women’s bodies play a role? Definitely. Can this possibly enforce in some people’s minds the belief that women are only good for sex? I’m sure it can.  Do I think any of this gives someone the right to tell sex workers and their supporters that they are a disgrace and causing the rape and murder of “innocents” (aka not sex workers) by their actions. Absolutely not. 


The person is political and there are plenty of women in the sex work industry that are using their actions and beliefs in kink and porn and sex work as a very  empowering and political tool.  It is their body and their right to do so and the area of sex work is better off because of them,for they are the ones marching for acknowledgement of the violence that occurs in their line of work and getting the word out about possible legislation that can hurt them and the other women involved in sex work who may want to get out.  They are doing much better work than those who are just more concerned about how they assume sex work negatively affects them.  The main issue is of course the fact that they are selling a service (not their body, it is still theirs and to suggest otherwise is bullshit) which many believe shouldn’t be for sale because it supports beliefs of sex being something men can buy from women.  These objectors argue that you cannot engage in sex work in a positive, feminist way, if you are operating in a system that is based on the male gaze and objectification of women.  Some even go as far as saying what type of sex you like or porn you watch is selling out to “the man”.  In other words, recognize the person is political and follow our strict rules about how you should interact with the patriarchy. 


My biggest problem with this is the way it discounts sexual agency.  The detractors don’t  want to hear that someone likes engaging in sex work.  That messes with the belief that it’s evil.  So they discredit and call names and ignore good deeds by those who go against their beliefs.  Instead of acknowledging that some women enjoy these actions and using their voices as a way to work from within the movement and make is safer and more equal they silence them and continue the hand wringing about sex trafficking without acknowledging that if legalized (properly) a lot of the problems associated would diminish.  By refusing to allow women the right to say that sex work can be a fun and safe place for women they help keep it in the hands of so many men and help continue the view that women who engage in it are damaged and property. 


To quote Renee “my truth may not be your truth.”   To assume otherwise prevents proper dialogue and working together.  



  1. Yes, this. [bookmarks for future reference]

  2. Interesting post. One of the points I’ve often heard made in this debate is how the category of women who willingly/positively engage in sex work is a fiction, or at least an overestimated minority, that detracts from the “reality” of the industry’s irredeemable harmfulness to women.

    This had been particularly persuasive as I’ve heard it once said by a sex worker, interviewed as part of a documentary on brothels in Nevada (the one whose creator told of having a gun waved in her face by a pimp). Words to the effect of, “Everybody thinks we’re doing this because we want to, that the state takes good care of us since we’re legit…”

  3. Amen. I get that people disagree on certain topics. I get why people on both sides are defensive, and why we feel so passionately about it all. I get that I’m a newcomer to the movement, and that many of the women I disagree with have contributed more than I ever will. I get the reasons why feminists can be point blank against something. I also get why those that oppose them do so.

    I just don’t know how to reconcile the two sides of any of these rifts in feminism. We’re on the same side, y’all. We all want to help women, even if the way in which we see ourselves doing so is different. I agree with individuals on both sides of issues for particular points, but my final decision must be to err on the side of not judging living people, particularly those in an oppressive situation.

    I have a great deal of respect for feminists with whom I disagree on many issues, because I can see the motivations behind their views, and to me they’re nothing like the patriarchical trolls who really are the problem. It’s the discussion that’s important, and as long as we can work together where it matters, I’ll accept that we want the world to be a better place through different means. Within reason, of course. A few will be rather extreme, or be more focused on finding blame than helping or understanding people, and I personally can’t get behind that sort of behaviour, because it’s what the partiarchy does. Tearing other women down, resorting to shaming them for their choices; that’s not the method of feminism to me.

    That’s just it, though. For some feminists, other feminists seem to be as much of a problem as blatant misogynists. Some of us spend so much time and effort telling women that they’re letting the sisterhood down if they get married, take their husband’s name, stay at home, engage in sex work, or are a transperson. Why can’t we respect someone else’s right to try and get by?

    We really need to work together. Accept that no matter what the theory, in practice women are going to find ways to survive or thrive or enjoy themselves that won’t comply with everyone’s definition of ‘feminist behaviour’ and probably won’t even comply to their own definition thereof. Yes, we can discuss the theory of a decision, its feminist pros and cons, but that’s very different to judging and punishing a real live breathing woman for that choice. We need to cut each other some slack, as well as call each other out on actual real hypocrisy (or racism, transphobia, fat shaming, classism, ableism, etc) rather than waste our time demanding other women justify their personal choices for us.

    And we need to try not to play ourselves off against each other: we’ve got the patriarchy to fight.

    *On sex work (something I still have to do a lot of thinking of) I believe that in a theoretically equal world, where sex workers were protected and not coerced into it, and the job respected, there would be absolutely no problem. This is not that world. However, we need to help those in the here and now. Some people are coerced into it, and they need help getting out, and support and understanding. Those that enjoy it and truly choose it also need our support: the job is harsh enough as it is without our ire for ‘letting us down’. We need to help those that want to do sex work by making it a better, safer, more equal job for them, whilst helping those who want to bet out get out.

  4. Well written point.

  5. I’ve always been back-and-forth on the anti-porn issue. I’m not really against porn because I’m not against nudity, sex, photographs or video. I even enjoy a certain amount of softcore, but I can also fully understand how porn feeds into a culture of male ownership. After a good deal of thought on the subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that sex work is just another place on the spectrum of sexuality. A woman can choose to be celibate, to have a monogamous relationship or have one night stands. Why then, should we be so against a woman who wants to take part in the sex industry? The only thing we should be opposed to is the mistreatment of women, no matter their status or profession. If we try to deny sex workers as some kind of “traitors”, then we effectively ignore them, just as the rest of culture does. We leave them to be abused, and if we think that won’t come back to affect us in our own lives, then we’re fooling ourselves.

    Really, I think our culture needs to stop being so afraid of sex. I mean, it’s everywhere in advertising and Hollywood and yet if you want to have open discussions on sex work, the porn industry or anything else, then it becomes this kind of dirty topic for people to giggle about in the back row. We need to really crack open these industries and let some light in.

    I can see, though, how it does mess with the message if women start to say they enjoy sex work. It becomes easy for the other side to say, “See? Women like this. It’s only you angry feminists who are against it.” But the flaw there is not that certain women are “betraying” the cause but that the patriarchy refuses to see women as human beings. They think if one woman is available for sex, we all are or that if one woman enjoys sex work, we all do. Those are the stereotypes we need to fight.

    I think there are certain things that everyone can agree need to be stopped – child prostitution, the virtual enslavement of sex workers (where they are threatened, denied the right to quit), abuse and exploitation by those in charge, etc. Even women who might enjoy sex work could surely agree that those things are bad. We should focus our energies, inside and out, on changing those things.

    We can’t ban sex work any more than we can ban sex itself. Limiting a woman’s sexual existence and declaring images of our sexuality as “bad” won’t get us anywhere except back to the Puritan days. What we need to focus on is the idea that all women – regardless of whether they’re clothed or naked, a nun or businesswoman or prostitute – deserve respect. A woman’s body belongs to her, and if she chooses to make porn or even be a prostitute, that does not negate her rights as a human being. Just like you can date a woman, have sex with her, but that does not mean you OWN her. This should be a simple concept, if only we would extend it to its full conclusion.

    In some ways, I think people view sex workers as “disposable women” because all of society treats them as if they are worth less than “good” women. If women accept this idea, then we’re only hurting ourselves. We’re feeding into the cultural idea that sexual women are bad women and “sluts” deserve no respect. Instead, we need to say that sex work is no different than any other aspect of life. We will not tolerate the abuse of children, the mistreatment or enslavement of women, but if women want to take part in the sex industry (hell, if they even just choose that as their best job option of the moment) they should be able to do so on their own terms, with full protections. THAT, to me, is the feminist ideal in action.

  6. I loved your article, I quoted it and responded here:

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