Text by Morgane Merteuil, general secretary of STRASS.
Translated from French by Luca Darkholme.
We are whores, and what are you?
Discussions about sex work often are an excuse for a surge of violence from those who have understood that to make part of the population disappear you need to find ways to silence it, to discredit its speech. Indeed, as soon as we, whores, are claiming the right to be so, to practice our work legally, in security, we are accused of being a « minority », as if this fact alone should compromise our demands.
Yes, persons who are fighting for their rights always have been minority groups. More exactly, it is because we belong to a minority, because of our status that “no one would want for their children” that we have to fight against ongoing discriminations, not only unofficial, but also official: not content with stigmatizing us because of how we use our sexuality, the legislative arsenal that you promote deprive us of our most fundamental rights (right of association, right of housing, right of having a private life…).
So we are whores, and as such, minorities. Fine… This should not make our voices illegitimate. In that case, lots of struggles should be regarded as illegitimate: 343 women asking for abortion rights, wasn’t it a minority? Do LGBT represent more than 50% of population? If people of color only represented a tiny part of the French population, would it be reason enough to not recognize racism? We are whores who demand rights, we are minorities, just like any Union is a minority in their sector of activity. And as any self-managed organization, we criticize the concept of “representativeness”, and we’ll never talk in the name of others than ourselves.
We are whores which for you automatically means we are victims of an economic system that merchandises all of us, of an ill-intentioned pimp or even of our own alienation. Nevertheless, we are women (but not only) aware of the abuse that exists in the industry we work in. To fight against that abuse, against infringement against our rights, we organize ourselves. Without you, certainly, dear women saviors, we are self-organized. You immediately accuse us, self-organized whores defending their rights and interests, of only being concerned about our own good, of being an accomplice of patriarchy, of neo-liberalism and of being exploited by these systems. Between “supreme victim of exploitation” and “accomplice of the system who choose easy money”, you refuse the diversity of our situations, and only give us the choice between these two labels: a very clever way to make our situation unsolvable, and to make our struggle a theoretical impossibility.
We are whores, and you, what are you?
You claim to be on the left of the political spectrum, and for this (honorable) reason, you participate in the struggle against exploitation of the most oppressed, of the most exploited, confronting a neo- liberal system based on competition, on the contempt of the life of those who make it work for the benefit of those who make profits out of it. With this in mind, you show solidarity with trade-unionist struggles: you are conscious that it is only through the organization of the oppressed that we’ll be able to, if not effectively eliminate this economic system, at least limit our own exploitation.
You claim to be left-wing, and on this ground you know how to show solidarity INSIDE the workers movement, without making distinctions between the exploited who work in a respectable sector (health, education) or in a harmful one (polluting industries, nuclear). You don’t judge them according to the industry they belong to, you don’t require them to change their job to join an industry you value more honorable, you don’t ask for their “reinsertion”, only maybe for their “redeployment”. In other words, you do not pretend to know better than them what is best for them: you support their demands. You try to speak WITH them, and not FOR them.
So you rightly claim to be “left-wing”: nevertheless, when dealing with sex workers, all your good resolutions as activists disappear: the solidarity you show with other workers becomes condescension and pity when it comes to us. Because we are poor girls who don’t know what they’re doing and that your pride filled with humanism would like to save, you despise our self-organization. As if we confused fighting for our rights INSIDE an industry where abuse is indeed present with fighting for this industry to carry on the same way. Willingly recognizing your own exploitation, you reckon that yours however stays preferable to ours. And when we dare say to you that, when independent, we are much less exploited than when employed then you proudly mention how hard you had to fight in this working world, to make us understand that we could, that we SHOULD, have done differently: you blame us for being less exploited than you, for choosing the “easy money”. You see us as a small business on the wrong side of the class-struggle when we have actually chosen to exploit ourselves rather than to exploit somebody else.
And this is what you have a problem with, what explains the discrepancies in your politics I guess: we choose to exploit ourselves, to only use our OWN body to work. Because it is our own body that we exploit, its exploitation is not necessarily worse but more visible than in other industries where a whole decor is there to make us forget that in the end it is always our body that is exploited. From then on you will see the exploitation of the body of all women in our own exploitation of our own body: you will now fight sex work not only in the name of economic exploitation but also in the name of feminism.
You are feminists, and you rightly fight so that we women won’t be reduced to what patriarchy would want us to be: reduced do satisfy men’s desires, sexual desires, desires of a well-kept house and of good meals to give strength to courageous workers, desires of children with a good education that sticks to the patriarchal family image. You fight as women so we can make real our choices of life, so we can be independent, so that our value as human beings is recognized, independently of the value we are granted by men according to the favors we do for them (sexual, domestic, reproductive).
You are feminists, and as such you fight for stigmatization of women to stop, in particular of those who dare to step out of their “social role”, because they choose to not have children, to not get married, to not wear sexy clothes, to love a woman, to have sex with whoever they want, to complain when their “no” has not be taken into account… You fight for women to be able to make use of their own life, their feelings, their bodies…
You speak as feminists, as women who do not need anyone to speak “for” them, who are responsible, who do not need any caretaker, because they now better than anyone what is best for them. Faced with those who pretend that we are lesbians because we haven’t found the right man, that we should feel remorse for aborting, you strongly claim that this is only proof of the machismo of those who speak those words, that those words discriminate us, that we are not accountable to the guardians of patriarchy: “we are fine, thank you”, “do not free us, we are taking care of it”.
So you speak as feminists; nevertheless, when it comes to sex workers who claim that nobody forces them to do their job, that they chose it with full knowledge of the facts, conscious that their choice is evidently guided by economic requirements, by the current situation of the job market that gives them too little opportunities, you refuse to admit that we know better than anyone what is best for us. While we keep saying that “we are fine, thank you” (or that if we are not fine it is not so much because of what we do but because of your discourse), you want to see the symptoms of a trauma in the choices we make, you want to “understand” why we are acting like that, you dissect us, expose our lives, our past; they become the tools you use to make it fit with your ideology. And so, often, our choices become the consequence of a raped childhood, as if the traumas we went through (or not) would justify to turn us today into irresponsible women to save from themselves.
As feminists, you fight for an end to the stigmatization of women because of the way they use their sexuality: nevertheless you want to ban selling sex because supposedly “sexuality has to be about shared desire and pleasure”. You confuse paid intercourse with rape, unaware of the violence you impose on those who, despite their “no”, were obliged to have sex, when you compare them to those who have the possibility to say “if you’re not happy with my conditions, you can fuck off!” You redefine what an “acceptable” sexuality should be, and by not listening to many women, you impose your own views: “sexuality must be about shared desire and pleasure”. According to you, sexuality is easy; for a lot of people sexuality is something complex and its exploration is part of the construction of our identity.” We don’t automatically recognize ourselves in your “shared desires and pleasure”; more exactly lots of our experiences can’t boil down to those two terms; is that to say that our sexualities are pathological? Will you propose to add (if it hasn’t yet been done) “prostitution” as a pathology to the DSM? If we follow your arguments, this would be beautiful feminist progress, wouldn’t it? So in the name of feminism, you are taking a position which stigmatizes many women, an authoritarian and paternalist position.
Your feminism is as incoherent as your left politics: you pretend to save us, and that’s why your main measures are repressive: you use means always used by the privileged class to protect their order each time it feels threatened. You send us the State forces: not the ones of the Welfare-State but the ones of the Pimp-State, the same one that makes money from our work, of the Racist-State which uses your discourse to reinforce its migration politicies, of the Raping-State which, because it considers like you that “being raped is our job”, refuses our complains and grants itself free sex in police stations. This State which always refused to consider us as equal citizens, you only reinforce his legitimacy to exclude us.
You are neither truly for the respect of ALL women nor truly in a process of class struggle. Your feminism is bourgeois: it aims to enable women to access class privileges. Our feminism is revolutionary: it aims to abolish these classes. You are talking to us from your small island of privileges (or so you like to imagine it), convincing yourself that we would be happy to join you there, but the truth is: we have chosen to become whores rather than to become you.