Spoiler alert: It’s not women’s DNA, it’s systemic gender inequality.
Back when I was still married, my spouse and I used to watch TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin together. Having a bit more patience for talking heads than I, she also rage-watched The Michael Coren Show and Fox News. But I’m not really into pundits—I was just in it for a short pseudo-Left debate every now and then and maybe something to think about as the night wore on.
But after a year or so of watching, I started to think to myself damn, that’s a lot of dudes. And once I noticed, I couldn’t un-notice, and as the show went on, dude after dude after dude, I gave up on it.
Earlier tonight, Paikin himself decided to address the dudely problem with The Agenda. That, in itself, is a fine enough thing to do, but he went about it… well, to put it mildly, he went about it all wrong:
No man will ever say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, I’m taking care of my kids.” The man will find someone to take care of his kids so he can appear on a TV show. Women use that excuse on us all the time.
No man will say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, my roots are showing.” I’m serious. We get that as an excuse for not coming on. But only from women.
No man will say, “Sorry can’t do your show tonight, I’m not an expert in that particular aspect of the story.” They’ll get up to speed on the issue and come on. Women beg off. And worse, they often recommend a male colleague in their place.
For those who don’t know, Kim Pate is the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a national association that represents a group of local social service organizations, all named for the Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. Their mission is to reduce women’s incarceration in Canada.
Elizabeth Fry Societies help women access legal aid, run diversion programs that women can be sentenced to complete instead of going to prison, supervise probation and community service, offer assistance meeting basic food and shelter needs, offer counselling and therapy, help women get pardons and do other stuff related to the general idea of making life a little easier for criminalized women. If you can swallow the smug self-righteousness that social workers seem to be trained in, and if you ignore the fact that “reform” and “collaboration with the criminal justice system” are very much one and the same here, you could say they are a force for good in a world where very few people give any fucks at all what happens to criminalized women.
The Supreme Court of Canada Thinks Human Trafficking is AWESOME
Since Pate became executive director, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies has also been an abolitionist organization, supporting “End Demand” laws. Fine. She’s probably not interested in changing her mind about that. But I want to talk about Pate’s response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to strike down Canada’s anti-prostitution laws as unconstitutional. As the CBC reports, Pate said:
It’s a sad day that we’ve now had confirmed that it’s OK to buy and sell women and girls in this country. I think generations to come — our daughters, their granddaughters and on — will look back and say, ‘What were they thinking?’ …
To say that [prostitution] is a choice when you’re talking about the women we work with is to say that in fact it’s OK to just exploit them. …
We’ve never seen men criminalized for buying and selling women and girls. We’ve always seen women criminalized for selling themselves. We absolutely object to the criminalization of women. Our position would not interfere with those women who truly have made their choices.
We’ve seen plenty of “prostitution is bad and everyone who disagrees with me is a lying pimp” rhetoric these last few days (Jacqueline Guillion, determined not to admit that the Bedford applicants are current and former sex workers, called them “hopeful pimps”). That’s to be expected.
But criminalized women are kinda relying on Kim Pate to know what the fuck she’s talking about, considering she’s heading up a national legal advocacy organization on their behalf. And if it’s not the case that Pate doesn’t understand the Bedford decision, well criminalized women (and the general public) are also relying on her to not mislead them. 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
This is another repost of an email I sent to the PAR-L listserv, an email discussion list for feminists in Canada. The post I was responding to denied that the continued criminalization of sex work in Sweden had anything to do with the murder of sex worker Petite Jasmine by her ex-husband, who was awarded custody of their children because the woman, as a sex worker, was considered unfit to parent. The post I was responding to was written by a Quebecois translator and “radical feminist”  Nordic Model advocate named Martin Dufresne:
“It’s so much better for prostitutes in Sweden, where they aren’t criminalized, isn’t it?”
I don’t understand the point of Nicole’s [a previous poster who sent out the Rose Alliance’s statement on the murder with the above as the subject line] sarcasm here? Her barb seems to be putting down Sweden’s decriminalization of prostituted women, the point on which feminist abolitionists and sexual libertarians agree in this realm? Attempting to “spin” a woman’s murder in support of a political agenda is always chancy at best. But in this case, it just doesn’t make sense. Ms. Jasmine was murdered in the name of male entitlement, in this case her ex-husband’s feeling of entitlement to her children. How could even *more* male entitlement, that to paid sex on demand and profiting from the sale of women (the current sex-libertarian agenda), be part of the solution? That *is* the issue on which we differ.
Also, Nicole suggests that Ms. Jasmine was necessarily denied justice by Sweden’s child protection system. There is no way we can determine that sight unseen from afar, but how could *less* care and justice (insisting that her living conditions be completely kept out of the psychosocial assessment?) then be part of the solution?
To which I answered (against my better judgement, as usual — it is one of my life goals to stop arguing about prostitution on this listserv):
This, as far as I can tell, is the logic of the Nordic Model at work. While Petite Jasmine herself was “decriminalized,” her life was still criminal in the eyes of the family court, still regulated by criminal law. Though she was not at risk of being jailed, she was still on the wrong side of the law. What I have read on the case says that the family court explicitly cited her “self harm” by doing sex work and sex work advocacy as evidence that she was an unfit parent. Continue reading
My union is in the middle of bargaining right now, which at the moment looks more like being handed a shit deal by the employer, who thinks they’re in a good position to strongarm us (which in all fairness is probably true). So what that means for the workers is a lot more time than usual spent sitting in bars arguing about which option is shittier, accepting a bad deal or taking the risk of getting locked out (I voted for the bad deal — the devil I know — but I might be in the minority on that). I’m feeling frustrated with where that conversation is at right now, so I thought it might help to write about it a little to figure out where I want it to end up.
I’m not finding it frustrating that we all disagree on what’s best (that’s how democracy works), but I am finding myself increasingly frustrated in conversations about who’s to blame. We do this a lot on the left — in feminism and sex workers’ rights as much as in the union — and when I think about why I dislike it so much, I’ve taken to calling it “Worst-Person Politics.” That’s because it goes like this: “So-and-so says this, but I know otherwise. So-and-so is the WORST PERSON.” Cue the vitriolic, hateful bitching. 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
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