I did a talk for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers last December, and I gave an edited version to Tits and Sass as a personal essay. It’s published under my fakey-fake name because sometimes I use Tits and Sass as a teaching tool, so I didn’t want my name front and centre on there.
This piece is adapted from a December 17th speech the author gave this year.
“You’re so lazy, you’ll never be anything but a whore. And you won’t even be a good whore because nobody wants to fuck a girl with a book in front of her face.” Continue reading
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
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.
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
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 have to come out about something: I love action movies. The skimpier the plot, and the more the explosions, the better. There are few things I’d rather do than sit down with the Die Hard franchise and have an all-day movie marathon (and my librarian friend, Alan, and I already have a date to see the new one on Valentine’s Day). I’ve never been crazy about Bond movies because his hyper-heterosexual “sexiness” just isn’t sexy to me. I like a little more parody with my fucking, thanks. But as the kung-fu movie I wanted to see was suffering technical difficulties, I ended up watching the latest Bond flick, Skyfall.
Skyfall has its good points. LOTS OF STUFF blows up. Many people get shot, and there is at least one good stabbing. It doesn’t pass the “Bechdel Test,” but it does have two at least somewhat rounded women characters (though one, the only woman of colour in the film, is pretty much just there to screw things up, sleep with Bond, and put Moneypenny back to work as a secretary — FYI: Hollywood has not gotten any less racist or sexist). I had a lovely time watching it with my friend Dan. And it has absolutely the best take on the “queer villain” I’ve yet seen in an action movie.
Queer Villain, Handled Remarkably Well
In many stories, the villain is vaguely queer: a little too feminine, a little too fixated on the handsome hero, not physically strong, conniving, petty, jealous — in short, all the worst stereotypes of faggy. (Of course femmey queens of all genders are way cooler than that in real life.) Skyfall‘s villain, Silva, is no exception. Except when he has Bond tied to a chair, he doesn’t approach Bond’s testicles with a highly symbolic laser, he straight up hits on him, with ample nuzzling, stroking and groping. I’m no expert on the Bond franchise, but I’d hazard a guess that men in general, and Bond himself, haven’t often been portrayed as vulnerable to sexual violence.
Being a hairy, angry dyke in the middle of an audience of mostly teenage boys during that scene, however, was a bit uncomfortable. For every advance from Silva, the audience’s laughter got a little more uncomfortable, and a little meaner. Straight people say they’re liberal and tolerant now that we can get gay married just like them, but I don’t really buy it. The torches and pitchforks are hidden, not gone (just ask trans women of colour how “tolerance” is going). But the scene was handled in a truly interesting way.
As he runs his hands up Bond’s thighs, Silva murmurs: “There’s a first time for everything, Bond.”
And with his trademark cool, Bond replies: “What makes you think it’s my first time?”
For decades, Bond’s sexuality has been misogynistic, heteronormative, hyper-masculine, upper-class, and, well, repugnant. The new Bond isn’t just blonde and a little less clean cut. He’s vulnerable to pain and doubt (he is injured in the movie and exhibits dependence on painkillers), vulnerable to sexual violence, and maybe even queer. With one line, the scene suggests that there are other ways for men — and not just any men, but the shining example of a manly man — to be masculine. Kudos, Bond.
So why did I hate it? Because of the pointless, degrading, rapey, stigmatizing, misogynistic-beyond-misogyny inclusion of a sex worker character.
Three Steps to Degrading Sex Workers
Normally, I love seeing whores everywhere I go: whores are smart, with great people skills, even better self-preservation skills, and on the whole, sexy as all hell. Whores make excellent femme fatales because we all know they’re smarter than Bond and can probably kick his ass, too. But this is corporate capitalist culture, not a street that I’m afraid to walk down by myself at night, where I am happy to know there are women out who have my back. And stories about whores, in corporate media, only ever get told one way.
Here’s how to make sure, if you include a sex worker in your movie, you let everyone know her life is essentially worthless:
STEP ONE: Bond meets the femme fatale, Severine, in a casino, where there is some risk that he will be shot and/or eaten by lizards. They talk about an assassination he participated in, and, noticing a tattoo on her wrist, he figures she’s not a femme fatale after all, but in actuality a helpless victim of sex trafficking. I don’t know enough about the sector of the sex industry she’s supposed to work in, but it’s worth noting that she’s depicted as white — while anti-trafficking and other criminalization schemes disproportionately target women of colour, as Shawna Ferris points out in her essay “The Lone Streetwalker,” visual images of sex workers almost always show white women. (Because they want the women to look vulnerable, and in a racist culture, only white women pull on the right heartstrings.)
Surmising that she works for Silva because she was desperate to get out of the sex industry and couldn’t tell an abuser when he tried to buy her, Bond tells her what he’s figured out and adds “how old were you? 12?”
Because hey, who doesn’t like to have their sexual trauma narrated to them, based on a set of well-trafficked assumptions, without getting so much as a word in edgewise.
In cultural representations of sex workers, whores, even fictional ones, are not permitted to narrate their own experiences.
STEP TWO: Bond agrees to meet Severine later on a boat, provided he doesn’t get shot and/or eaten by lizards on his way out. If she leads him to her boss, he’ll save her from the bad guy. He survives a decent fight scene (in which someone gets eaten by lizards, at least), and catches the boat as it is casting off. Severine, thinking he is dead, is in the shower when he arrives. So, natch, he strips down and joins her, and they fuck, without a word.
Because hey, he’s saving her from the sex industry. She owes him. And we already know she can’t tell the difference between exploitation and love, so what’s one more cock?
Even when they’re not doing sex work, sex workers are under their “saviours'” power, and still — and always — available for exploitation. There is an entire “helping” industry built around this idea.
STEP THREE: Bond and Severine are promptly captured. Bond and Silva flirt a bit, and when Silva’s advances don’t scare Bond the way he’d like, they go outside to find Severine beaten and tied in a courtyard. Silva places a shot glass of whiskey on her head and tells Bond that the first of them to knock it off her head wins. Bond shoots and misses. Silva shoots Severine in the head, knocking the shot glass to the ground. What do you think of that, he asks Bond.
“Waste of a drink.”
Because hey, her life was pretty much already a waste, so why, after she fulfilled her end of the bargain, and — bonus — fucked him, should Bond give even half a crap if he didn’t do what he said he would and help her out?
The reason for including a sex worker character, in the end, was so that a woman could be killed on screen without the inconvenient problem of anyone in the film or in the audience giving a damn. The contrast between this scene, and the one in which six unnamed, unseen military personnel are mourned, their coffins draped in the British flag, speaks volumes (not only about how worthless sex workers’ lives are to the filmmakers, but also about American militarism, projected onto England).
But Can’t you Just Enjoy the Movie?
Thing is, contrary to the media image of being women who never do anything but flaunt their safety on the streets and fuck for money, women and men sex workers can and do go to movies. If you thought being a queer in the middle of a homophobic audience trying to grapple with the queer scene sounds scary, imagine being a sex worker, in the middle of an audience who’s just had it confirmed — and has had it confirmed almost every time they’ve seen any film or teevee with a sex worker in it — that your autonomy, sexual safety, and, ultimately, life are worth less than a shot of whiskey.
In a movie that does a good job with a parodic re-presentation of the tropic queer villian, I think it’s obvious that we do have a choice about how to represent sex workers as well. There is certainly nothing new or creative about Severine’s characterization; it’s high time we see this trope skewered, too.
This is a reproduction of a post from November 16th 2012 on my blog at https://landing.athabascau.ca/profile/sarahma108