…But he just can’t figure out why a bitch ain’t one.
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
(This post details a souped-up truck competition from a couple of years ago at the “Maynooth Days” fair, which takes place annually over the Labour Day long weekend in Maynooth, ON.)
The mud bog was great: women and men raced their dune buggies and monster trucks through a lot of mud. And Mum ran through, too! (Yes, blind, with her glasses off, flailing her arms in the air and squealing the whole way. The other entrants were all 20-something men, and they beat her by a good minute, but a nice older fellow ran beside her, so they tied for last. I cheered from dry land.)
The mud bog is serious business, and folks are out to win and to entertain. One of the more interesting entrants was this truck: flying a “Redneck” Confederate battle flag, and painted with the Tonka logo. It was indeed fast, the fellow driving it looked like he was having a good time, and it was a favourite with the crowd, most of whom definitely qualified as rednecks. But it left me wondering about the strange mashup of cultural icons from the American south (and the flag’s resurgence as statement of racism thinly veiled as conservatism), television, and childhood that make up this slice of self-representation in the Canadian north.
Problematic imagery aside, the weekend wasn’t without its traces of labour celebration. The logging and agricultural events were obviously tied to the participants’ jobs, but the mud bog, too, is a celebration of working life in the north. If you want to get through the bush to get to the logging camp, you need a vehicle that will get you through the muck. It was neat to see some extreme adaptations of technology to the climate and terrain. If your adaptation fails, you get stuck…
And have to be pulled out by the giant skidder, a much larger version of the tractor for pulling logs that the loggers had raced the day before. From what was swinging and flopping around under this truck as they pulled it out, it looked like it had either hit a rock or just gotten so swamped in muck that the drive shaft snapped.
Adapt right, and you get freaky technological beasts, like “The Sasquatch”: a 4 wheel drive tractor, once, now with an engine pulled from an old truck, and the body of a 30s Ford coupe thrown on top. Another, less troubling, mashup from the “Redneck” team.
So that, I suppose, is what you do when you’re way up north and there’s no labour march for labour day. That, and look at the 1st place winning load of logs in the parade, of course.
Best logs ever.
This is a reproduction of a post from September 5th 2011 on my blog at https://landing.athabascau.ca/profile/sarahma108
“Negotiate, don’t legislate” has been the steady chant on CUPW picket lines, where they have been joined by public and private sector trade unions in solidarity over the lockout by Canada Post. But why?
For all Canada Post’s claims that it’s not making enough money, and postal workers need to tighten their belts (postal workers in Toronto, btw, make exactly the median wage in the city — if greedy unions are what’s keeping some small parts of the working class out of the poverty of the minimum wage, I’ll take ’em, thanks), a lot of people have been seriously inconvenienced by having limited, and then no, postal service, businesses big and small are losing money, and everyone seems to agree that a universal postal service is essential to the Canadian economy. So of course we all want the postal workers working, and why not just legislate them back, force an end to the labour dispute, and carry on as normal?
Because the Canadian economy is not carrying on as normal — at least not for workers. And every single one of us has a stake in that.
As Judy Haiven and Larry Haiven from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report, in BC and Newfoundland workers have been forced to end strikes, and to accept deals that included a wage freeze for one group and a 15% wage rollback, longer work week, and agreement to out-source public-sector jobs to private contractors for the other:
Both governments threatened massive punishments for those who defied the edicts, including dismissals and huge fines for the unions and their members.
The governments have sent a powerful message to trade unions, one which will have ominous future repercussions: You can negotiate all you want, but when push comes to shove, unless you agree to what employers want, we will bring the full force of the state against you and impose what employers want. […]
What makes recent cases so different and so dangerous is that governments are bypassing the arbitration route and writing the terms of settlement into the legislation. When it happens again and again, collective Canadian governments are, for all intents and purposes, rendering collective bargaining dead.
Back-to-work legislation has been used in the past, and will, eventually, be used against Canadian postal workers, but its unquestioned use, and the attitude among Canadians that workers should be legislated back to work immediately, whatever their situation, is a worrying one. As Haiven and Haiven point out,collective bargaining was institutionalized to stabilize the process of negotiating labour disputes. When joining a union and striking was illegal and answered when violent force, when workers were told management could make unilateral decisions about their working conditions and there was nothing they could do about it—workers joined unions and went on strike anyway. Personally, I like the idea of illegal strikes. I like the idea of a general illegal strike. Actually, I’d really like to have a revolution. But political will isn’t there (yet) in Canada, and collective bargaining — the often-fraught process of coming to a compromise between workers and employers over employment and labour conditions — is designed to keep our jobs and businesses stable until we get there (or forever, I guess, if you don’t want to have a revolution).
Undermining the collective bargaining process is designed to destabilize the carryings-on Canadians have considered normal for the last couple of generations.
Welcome to the “new reality”
Did you know we have a new reality? It’s one where your job is on contract and temporary, where you work ‘for yourself’ without owning a business or seeing any profit, where your wage (if it’s guaranteed) is at or near minimum and just barely approaches the poverty line, where you don’t know what hours (if any) you’ll work next week or if you’ll have a job next March, you can’t have benefits because you’re not a permanent employee (but you can buy private insurance, right?), and there’s no such thing as seniority or promotions. This is precarious work.
Precarious work reduces workers — entire human beings with families, communities, needs, and futures to worry about — to the essential traits that make them assets to corporations: low cost, short-term and long-term “flexibility,” and the hardcore willingness to do the job and do it well that can only come with desperation. Culturally, many of us are led to support this, thinking of ourselves as branded individuals, who will succeed if we sell ourselves hard enough, and who can benefit from flexibility, if we’re lucky and resourceful (and aren’t we, though?). In practical and cultural terms, business has worked very hard to keep us from thinking of ourselves as a working class.
And that keeps us from realizing that we have a stake in the postal workers’ struggle, beyond whether or not the thingum we just bought on eBay gets delivered, and in migrant workers’, restaurant workers’, sex workers’, domestic workers’, cab drivers’, retail workers’, even academic workers’ struggles. Because while some of us can find some ways to benefit from flexibility, most of the working class just suffers as the bar for decent work is set lower, and lower, and lower, and the government and corporations undermine what few institutionalized processes we have to get together and do something about it.
Trade unions in Canada right now, who are demonized in the media for exactly these class-oriented politics of raising the standard for decent work (you may have heard it as: “being lazy, greedy mo’fuckers who don’t understand that corporations need to make money and go on strike every five minutes because they want the whole year off on vacation”), are fighting their own battles for their own workers as well as a struggle against systemic neoliberalization for the entire working class.
Unions constantly advocate for non union workers, lobbying for improvements in EI so that everyone is treated equally, such as part time seasonal and contract workers. They also led the charge for the fair treatment of workers forced to use temp agencies none of whom are likely to be unionized.
Unions are at the forefront of the battle to protect our pensions and most importantly our precious health care system. Do you honestly think that the corporations and the neoliberals who govern us are going to step up and fight to protect these important institutions. Of course not, in fact they wish to see their destruction,hence the demonetization of Unions, one of the few organizations capable of standing in their way.
There is perhaps one other area where we will need the Unions and it is a very important one. As our governments continue to sell out our interests to the corporations, ratchet up the security state and institute their austerity agenda (that is austerity for me and you, not them), there will come a time when we will have no choice but to fight back. This is when we will require their experience and ability to organize.
CUPW has been very clear about what’s at stake for them as workers: sick days, pensions, benefits, and a wage reduction that would affect new and younger workers, making the “new reality” the standard for my generation (while we pay out our parents’ pensions). But they’ve also been clear about their support for CAW at Air Canada, and their solidarity with Toronto public employees, OPSEU workers in Toronto, and Toronto teachers, whose contracts are coming up soon, as well as with the majority of the working class who struggle in deplorable working conditions, for poverty wages, and with no hope for change under the new reality. Fighting against CUPW, or any union these days, is fighting against workers in general.
Why on earth would it be in any of our best interests (unless we own huge corporations, I guess. Or really, really want to) to support our government in undermining postal workers’ bargaining power and decent work conditions? Yeah, they get a lot more than some of us do… but shouldn’t we get that, too? We are, after all, the resourceful, flexible, willing, and hardworking people of the neoliberal reality — who says we haven’t earned it?
But I really, really, really want my thingum from eBay!
After the revolution, I’m stealing your house.
This is a reproduction of a post from June 23rd 2011 on my blog at https://landing.athabascau.ca/profile/sarahma108