I just finished submitting my CV for a research job at a university. Neither the job nor the school is particularly prestigious, but they’re both respectable. We’re not talking University of Phoenix here.
The school in question has adopted, some time over the last year or so, a new application system. Instead of emailing HR your application, you upload it to one of those annoying forms that makes you fill out all your information at least twice. But this one has a bonus feature! It’ll tell you how many “inappropriate” words are on your CV.
I thought I was doing my part by refraining from opening every cover letter with “Dear capitalist motherfuckers,” but apparently no. Here is the list of words–all from titles of papers and presentations I’ve written, research I’ve conducted and positions I’ve held–deemed “inappropriate” for a job application.
I have no idea what happens to filtered applications once they enter the system. One hopes it’s just a friendly warning and not an indication that the application will never even see the light of day.
But it’s a clear statement about what the creeping managerial culture in academe–the one that reinvents workers as data and discipline as preventative–means for critical researchers. Even if “inappropriate” applications aren’t immediately tossed out (for now), the construction of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” language here serves to mark a very particular set of researchers as risks.
The concepts of “agency” and “intersectionality” are ones my students struggle with often. As they learn about these ideas, they tend to cling to what I call the “choosey-choice” and “list” methods. That is, students see agency as an individual’s unfettered ability to make choices and to take full responsibility for the choices they make. Choice is paramount, and a “personal choice” (much like a “personal opinion”) cannot be “wrong” and ought not to be analyzed or critiqued. The suggestion that choices are constrained is taken as in itself constraining choice.
The “list” method for incorporating intersectionality into students’ thinking looks just like its name suggests. As long as a bunch of identities are listed, we need not account for the material manifestations of oppression or exploitation. We simply take as given that identities are whole, coherent, fixed things, inherent to who and what we are, rather than a set of social forces convening in particular ways to shape our circumstances and experiences. Thus, they need only be mentioned, and never critiqued or analyzed either.
I came up with a couple of classroom exercises, using accessible, timely resources from the internet paired with academic readings to help deepen students’ understanding of these concepts. These are, obviously, most useful in seminar-style and “flipped” classrooms, since they take up more time than someone using the traditional lecture model might want to sacrifice. Continue reading
As I sit with about a zillion posts in drafts and no time or energy to finish any of them (sorry, that’s basically the story of my life right now), I thought it might be a good idea to put up links to older stuff I’ve written in other places. Some of the newspaper articles are lost forever on the internet, but I have pdfs of most of the things that aren’t linked. And the rabble.ca and Briarpatch articles are open-access, yay!
I’ve added a page to this blog. It’s an archive of reading lists I sometimes make for funsies on Twitter. The first two links are to lists of open-access scholarly articles on:
- Indigenous sex work, gentrification and violence against Indigenous women in Canada
- Criminalization of HIV in Canada and the US (mostly)
You can find them here: https://autocannibalism.wordpress.com/open-access-reading-lists/
I’ll add other lists, and I’ll take suggestions of topics from sex workers, community members, allies, etc who want a quick primer on recent research literature on a social justice issue. This is fun for me, so I’m not picky about what I look up, as long as I know enough about it to be judicious about which readings to include.
I’d also be open to archiving other people’s lists (with proper credit, of course!) if you are into making them, don’t have a place of your own to keep track of them, and can do topics that I don’t know enough about to do myself.
I will not take suggestions of topics from undergraduate students who have been assigned research essays in their classes. Yes, I will know the difference. And yes, I will google you and rat you out to your professor. If you are a student, use your university library’s webpage to search a database of journals related to your topic — that’s the kind of research skill that lasts a lifetime.
Before I finished my BA, I encountered a social worker who was working on her MA. Her politics were generally pro-decriminalization, but she also liked to trade in horror stories about women whose vaginas fell out from having so much sex. She had secured the cooperation of a rescue organization that collaborated with police to be allowed to study their Very Marginalized Whores. She wanted my help nailing down her research question.
“Don’t do this study,” I said. “Find something else to research.”
“OMG why are you so mean?” was more or less her answer.
I’m finishing one MA and starting another right now. In my first MA, I have studied sex work for a few years. In my second MA, I will not study sex work. I am going to explain why, and I hope others in the same position will also choose not to study sex work. Continue reading
So I did not get a job teaching a sex work class — there is a guy with more seniority who usually teaches it, and happens to be qualified for it, who was maybe gonna leave, but then he didn’t. I get to work as his TA, though, and the course he designed, while very different from what I would do (and therefore ALL WRONG), looks like it’ll be pretty cool.
What struck me about it is that, despite having more or less the same analysis of sex work as work and work as a site of class struggle, and despite even using one of the same books, we produced very different courses. This is a product of our different disciplinary backgrounds. Dan Crow, the author of the syllabus pasted below, comes from a political science background, and my background is in literary and cultural studies. So my course design looks a lot more like a cultural studies course. With Dan’s permission, I’ve posted his syllabus here as demonstration of what a difference discipline makes — it’s not just a matter of who studies sex work or how they do it, but the different kinds of training we’ve had on what constitutes knowledge and how people go about “knowing” makes a big difference in what and how we want to teach about sex work and sex workers.
Another thing Dan’s class shows is an unexpected silence in two otherwise fantastic books on sex work, specifically around pornography and queerness. He’s used readings from other sources to make sure these topics are included in the course, but I was surprised to see that this was the only place he really had to go outside the chapters in the books. Is pornography less interesting to sex work scholars because we still look at it more in terms of the representation issues brought up by the sex wars? Why aren’t we talking more about the successes and failures of feminist and queer porn, as they attempt to address power relations in the workplace?
Listening to Sex Workers
Dan’s course, like mine, includes a requirement for students to use sex workers’ writings in their essay assignments. This is something we concocted with another instructor last year, and Dan has been trying out with his classes. It addresses two problems: first, that students are getting the wrong idea about who the “experts” on sex work are by just reading books by academics about them. It’s a lot harder to ignore everything sex workers’ have to say about their lives that doesn’t fit your preconceived ideas about what should be done about sex work when you have to actually critically integrate their ideas into your arguments.
Second, it addresses the problem of students taking up sex workers’ time with their essay assignments. Requests for personalized sources for research are something most sex worker organizations and advocates deal with regularly. And while it’s great that students are thinking about how to learn from sex workers, their essays don’t go anywhere that serves sex working communities and they often don’t have the skills (and sometimes the desire) to do their research ethically. As noted in both of the links directly above, what sex workers want from researchers are (1) research that is useful to them, (2) a say in the design of studies and reports and (3) critical reflection on the researcher’s relationship to the sex industry. Most undergraduates aren’t at a place where they can offer that. Sending them to talk to sex workers about their essays puts them in a position that is not give-and-take, but all take. Continue reading
Note: This class does not actually exist. I made the syllabus as a sample for a job application (for a job I am not at all qualified for and am unlikely to actually get), and now I’m just showing it off, in “here’s what I would teach” fashion. I cut the boring stuff about assignments and class policies and why you can’t hand your essays in late, so it’s mostly just a reading list. The imaginary class is a third year university labour studies class.
Where the readings are available for free online, I’ve posted links to them. A great many of them are available online, for folks who like to read. I have now found and linked either the original or a very similar replacement for every reading except “The Lone Streetwalker” by Shawna Ferris, which stinks because that’s actually one of my favourite things I’ve read about sex work ever, and “Is Sex Work Queer?” by Corinna McKay. I’ve briefly summarized those two articles.
Of course I am quite open to hearing from other sex workers on what I’ve decided should go into a class like this. One thing I regret — and which I want to think more about how to include — is that there is nothing really practical for sex workers in here. E.g., nothing on how people get into the sex industry, operate various sex businesses, or move on to other jobs.
The textbook for the imaginary class, in which about half of the readings can be found, is Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy and Research on Sex Work in Canada. Continue reading
I mentioned to a couple of folks that I had used their blogs or posts for a paper, and I promised to post a bibliography when I had one ready. For those who are curious, here it is. It’s far from every blog ever written, but if you want to sift through it, you will find the foundations of a very solid critique of sex-positivity and authenticity in political advocacy, from a pro-decriminalization standpoint. I also read and cited the comments on most of these posts, but cut them from the bibliography for brevity, and I read dozens of other online writings that I just ran out of space to write about — so there is a lot of knowledge that gets produced by the fact of having a community, but it’s not readily documented within the conventions of academic citation.
Here’s the short version, in other people’s words, of the argument in my paper about sex workers’ unhappy stories:
I feel like our culture, as a movement, has come to revolve around either the memoir or the closet, after work in the sex trades. — Sabrina Morgan
From early on, speaking for myself meant straining to somehow fit my experiences and my opinions of my own experience—at times, it felt, of my very self—into one of two dichotomous positions: for or against. — Melissa Petro
I remember when I first got involved in sex worker rights and was a naively impressionable young woman.… I mentioned that I didn’t like sex work myself I was chastised by fellow activists. — Wendy Babcock
And there are a lot of us, more than most folks realize. We frequently stay closeted … partly because we may lack the physical energy or emotional stamina to brazenly insert ourselves into the activist communities that dislike us. — Lori Adorable
It is no longer acceptable to maintain a barrier between conversations about the positive potential of the choice to do transactional sex and the injustices many people face when they do sex work because of circumstance or coercion. To do so is to maintain a class divide that is wide and deep. — Audacia Ray
The truth doesn’t have a sound bite. It’s complex. — Hadil Habiba
In a comment on my last post, I made an analogy to abortion advocacy, based on a paper I read about an activist’s decision to talk about all the “things we cannot say.” Here is that paper, authored by Jeannie Ludlow. It’s a bit thick over the first few pages, but the analysis is worth it, in my opinion. Continue reading
Sex positivity isn’t cutting it
Sure, I see myself reflected in feminist writing about sex work. I come right after “although” and right before a list of stereotype-busting truths about those other sex workers, the ones who like their jobs. As in:
Although some sex workers come from backgrounds of poverty, mental illness or drug use, many sex workers come from the middle class, have post-secondary degrees and choose their work because it offers flexible hours and a high rate of pay, a chance to explore their sexual curiosities, and a challenge to mainstream sexual norms.
That’s not any one person’s writing, of course. It’s more of a patchwork, pulled together from the zillions of sex positive writings on the topic that I’ve read in the course of my sex work activism and degree work.
Late last fall, Audacia Ray published a talk she had given as a blog post, challenging sex positive feminism to develop beyond repeating this statement that sex work can be fun:
During the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s and the sex wars of the 1980s and 1990s, the struggle to define sex positivity with respect to sex work served a purpose. To say that not all people have a horrendous experience of the sex industry, and that many sex workers value sexuality and see themselves as complex sexual beings as well as sex educators was an important statement to make, and one that had not been spoken before. However, it is essential to put this statement in historical context. To continue making the statement that many sex workers have a good experience of the sex industry without also including those whose experiences are negative and making space for them to speak up reveals a deep doubt about the validity of the sex positive argument. If we believe in the positive power of sexuality, we must also examine what happens when people’s lives are infused with sex negativity, and we must listen and support people with this experience in sharing their personal truths.
I’ve been working lately on a conference paper that considers my story about doing sex work alongside those of other not-so-happy hookers, using blog posts from Audacia Ray, Lori Adorable, Melissa Petro, Olive Seraphim, Wendy Babcock, Hadil Habiba and others. It’s been harder than I expected to write—in part because there is so much excellent material in these posts that I want to do justice to, and in part because, even with so many brave and groundbreaking writings to pave the way, I feel afraid to write.
What I found was that I didn’t want to write “my story” into a paper and share it with a bunch of feminist academics. That’s actually a really scary idea, and I can’t imagine why I thought it was a good one. Between my fear of appropriation by abolitionists and my fear of rejection and ridicule by sex positive feminists, I’m paralyzed every time I try to write. I thought I might like it better here, shared with other sex worker bloggers. Continue reading
Graduate students, sex workers: let’s talk. How would you like to get paid hundreds of dollars an hour for doing your boring project that nobody but you will ever read? OR how would you, sex workers, like to get a PhD for sucking cock?
According to abolitionist fearmongers, paradise has arrived. You can have all this and more, if you do sex work research.
Well, except that’s bullshit. But I needed a hook, ok? Because I’m about to get serious.
I try, less than successfully, to ignore the prostitution-related posts that come over the Policy Action Research Listserv (or PAR-L), a listserv for feminist activists, academics, professionals and others in Canada. I might have ignored an abolitionist’s post regarding Julie Bindel’s latest article smearing sex work organizations, except for the fact that the poster highlighted students’ participation in sex work as a concern raised by her paper.
I responded on the listserv about the actual article and post topic — the inclusion of managers in sex worker unions (I’m against) — but the post stuck with me for the rest of the day. Sex workers’ access to education is an important issue, and it disturbs me how casual this attack was. Continue reading