When it was announced that Julie Bindel had been shortlisted for the Stonewall Journalist of the Year award in 2008, the trans-activists went wild. Julie had written an article four years earlier in which they claimed she’d made some transphobic comments. Even though she’d apologised, they demanded Stonewall drop her from the shortlist.
This post is based on some notes I contributed to a social media discussion about whether class is relevant to a feminist analysis of the sex trade. Someone suggested I make them more widely available, so I’m posting them here. They are a bit rough – but hopefully they might be of some interest.
Traditionally women’s class was determined by her father’s class, unless she was married and then it was determined by her husband’s. Of course it has changed somewhat now but not entirely. There are still those household surveys that more or less assume that if there’s a man in the household, his position determines the entire household’s economic and social class. This has been institutionalised by Universal Credit, which is paid to the highest wage earner – almost always the man in a straight household with children. This represents a profound defeat for women.
Another thing that is often overlooked is the enormous, huge, mountainous, decades-long workstream performed by the vast majority of women that is unrecognised and unpaid: bearing and raising kids.
The UK Home Affairs Parliamentary Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into prostitution. Preparing a written submission to that inquiry led me to look at the existing legislation against punters, pimps, and trafficking. The more I looked into it, the more it seemed to me that the legislation is deeply flawed, ineffective, and does not meet our binding obligations under international treaties. In this article I reflect on the legislation and how it suggests that there never was an intention to make it an effective tool for tackling these appalling crimes. As women who see prostitution as both a cause and consequence of women’s subordination, we need to work much harder.
Note: The legislation varies between the different countries in the UK. This article focuses on the English legislation.
In this essay I argue that male pattern violence, and the patriarchal system it serves to uphold, cause severe pain and suffering to vast numbers of women and children and that this takes place within plain view of the state. And I argue that therefore male pattern violence is a form of state sanctioned torture of women and children. I also critique the analysis of the Persons Against Non-State Torture organisation.
I refer to male violence against women and children as male pattern violence in an attempt to depersonalise it and sidestep all the circular objections that inevitably arise when women attempt to name male violence, such as Not All Men Are Like That and Some Women Are Violent Too.
This was my speech in the closing session at Feminism in London on 23 October 2010.
I am here as the chair of the committee who organised this day to thank all those who have helped to make it happen.
A year ago when we started to plan this event, we faced the choice of booking Conway Hall again in the knowledge that it was too small even last year or of taking a leap and booking this bigger and significantly more expensive venue.
We decided to take that leap and soon realised we needed to build a bigger and stronger committee, which has now grown to about 15 women. And I don’t think you could find 15 more resourceful and generous and passionate women if you tried. We range in age from early 20s to late 50s, we are lesbian and we are straight, we are black and we are white. Some of us are mothers and some of us are not or not yet; one of us gave birth this summer. All of us have fitted this work around day jobs, families and personal crises. Rather than list all their names, I thought I would randomly tell you about a few of us. Continue reading “My Speech at Feminism in London 2010”
At a meeting in Dublin on 11 August 2015, Amnesty International’s International Council adopted a resolution to authorise their International Board to develop and adopt a policy on “sex work”. Here is a quote from their press release:
“Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse.
The resolution recommends that Amnesty International develop a policy that supports the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work. The policy will also call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.
“We recognize that this critical human rights issue is hugely complex and that is why we have addressed this issue from the perspective of international human rights standards. We also consulted with our global movement to take on board different views from around the world,” said Salil Shetty.” [emphasis mine]
The resolution calls not only for the decriminalisation all those involved in prostitution (which all feminist groups call for) but also for the decriminalisation of pimps, punters and brothel owners who are the main perpetrators of the violence and abuse against those in prostitution. This proposal is essentially for the legalisation of prostitution and the entire sex trade. (You can quibble about semantics but when something is not criminal it becomes legal.)
How Amnesty International went about developing this proposal and consulting on it was problematical. In this article I summarise some of the issues. Many others have written eloquently on why the policy itself is misguided (for example, Chris Hedges, Michelle Kelly and Catriona Grant). In this article I focus on the duplicitous nature of Amnesty’s actions. Please use the comments to add additional relevant information.
Again and again I hear people criticise women generally, and feminists in particular, for not accepting transwomen as “real” women and for “excluding” them. Trans people are oppressed, they say, and these so-called exclusionary behaviours and attitudes create the dogma behind this oppression just as racism is the dogma behind the oppression of Black people. It is misguided, they say, and dangerous and is called transphobia, which makes you, me, anyone who doesn’t agree with them, a bigot who deserves to go to hell with all fascists and racists.
But when feminists try to explain that of course they oppose all discrimination and violence against trans people, but there are issues that are complicated that we need to look at, discuss, understand, it seems that our accusers won’t listen. (Not that this is a surprise – not listening to women is, after all, a major characteristic of male supremacy.) In this essay I try to explain some of these issues by drawing on my own personal experiences in the feminist understanding that the personal is political – that patriarchy is a political system and it operates in the personal sphere. And without examining the personal sphere, we cannot fully understand the system. I have changed names and minor details because my points are political and I do not want to identify or mean to criticise any of the other individuals involved.
1. The sleepover
Some time ago a progressive organisation I belong to held a weekend event in London and asked members who live there to offer overnight accommodation to people from out of town. I offered my spare room and shortly afterwards I got an email saying that someone called Frankie would be staying and would contact me to make the arrangements. Sure enough, Frankie phoned and asked if it would be possible to stay on the Friday night as well as the Saturday. I agreed and gave him my address and directions. After I put the phone down, I wondered if it had been a mistake to not specify a woman. Never mind, I thought, my housemates will be there – three of us to one of him. What can go wrong?
Systems of oppression
“Karl Marx was one of the first theorists to explain that ideology is not a free-floating set of ideas, but rather a coherent system of beliefs that are purposely and carefully created by the elite class to promote their interests. Using their ownership of key cultural institutions, the elite then set about distributing these ideas until they become the dominant ways of thinking.” (Huffington Post 2014)
Feminism is not about demonising men – it is about understanding systems of oppression so that we can change them. So what do we mean by a “system of oppression”? A system of oppression is a set of interrelated forces that press down on people who belong to one group (such as women or people of colour) and effect their subordination to another group (such as men or white people).
One of the key characteristics of life as oppressed people experience it is the double bind. This limits the options that are available to a person in such a way that each option exposes the person to penalty, censure, or deprivation. For example, if a young woman is sexually active, she risks being called a “slut” and is considered unworthy of respect. But if she is not sexually active, she is likely to be called “frigid” or “uptight” and to be harassed by men to “loosen up”. If an older woman dyes her hair and wears makeup, she is ridiculed for “trying too hard”, but if she doesn’t, she “has let herself go”. If a woman goes back to work after giving birth, she is plagued by judgement that she is an inadequate, unnatural mother. If she gives up work, she is plagued by suggestions that she “sits around all day doing nothing”, is a gold-digger sponging off her husband (if she has one) or a scrounger on the state (if she doesn’t). And if anything goes wrong, it’s always her fault, no matter who was actually responsible. And so on. On and on.