So much for the class analysis

Is access to the bodies of women a right, or is it not? Can access to women’s bodies be treated as a right without making women into commodities?

Cherry Smiley at Feminist Current tells us about a change in views and policies at a Vancouver rape crisis center:

In 2008, Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW), a rape crisis centre in Vancouver BC, published a position paper documenting a two-year collaborative process between their staff, board, volunteers, and practicum students exploring the issue of prostitution. It states:

“The argument of supporting individual women’s choices pales when one considers the way in which prostitution plays out in the global arena. As a global phenomenon, it must be analyzed in its capacity to enhance women’s lives and in its capacity to end violence against women. Viewed in the broad social context, and not in the context of individual choice and unique experiences, prostitution operates as a function of capitalism, colonization, and slavery. It destroys cultures, communities and women through objectification, sexual violence and exploitation.”

Ten years later, on July 18, 2018, WAVAW published a new statement, explaining that their previous position — which criticized the actions of men as sex buyers, pimps, and profiteers of the sex industry — had harmed sex workers, that they take accountability for causing that harm, and that they now support “sex work.” The organization also apologized for articulating their (previously) critical position through written text, as they claimed publishing and sharing this position had caused harm to “the sex worker community and their allies.”

So has it now become the case that viewed in the broad social context, and not in the context of individual choice and unique experiences, prostitution does not operate as a function of capitalism, colonization, and slavery? Is it now a function of glorious freedom, opportunity, and profit?

As feminists, we should all be concerned with the depoliticization of what was once called the “women’s liberation movement.” Today, we are more likely to hear about “gender-based violence” than “male violence against women,” which wouldn’t be such an issue if “gender-based violence” weren’t replacing “male violence against women” as a central component of the feminist movement. As feminist women, our ability to unapologetically voice our realities, name the problem, and set boundaries is being undermined.

What happens when women and our interests are pushed out of the core of our own liberation movement? One consequence is the transformation of rape crisis centres from expressly politicized organizations — where women who have been assaulted by men can receive support from other women and where women come together to develop feminist theory and take action — into apolitical “service-providers” that are open to all.

The feminist movement — like other political movements — is expressly political, and has focused political goals. This means that the feminist movement, like other political movements, is inherently exclusive. For example, a group of hotel workers who are organizing for better working conditions would not include hotel management or the hotel owners in their political movement. Yet, women’s rape crisis centres are pressured to include services for everyone.

What does that sound like? It sounds like the way feminism is pressured – aka bullied, threatened, ostracized, ejected, disinvited – to include everyone. Isn’t it interesting that it’s women who are under constant relentless bullying pressure now to move over and “include” everyone else in their feminism? Isn’t it interesting the way that expectation and that bullying neatly aligns with the way women have always been expected to move over and shut up?

There is an unresolvable contradiction when a rape crisis centre supports “sex work.” One might assume that a rape crisis centre would challenge male entitlement to the bodies of women and girls — whether that entitlement takes the form of sexual harassment on the street; fathers who molest their daughters; or men who beat, rape, and kill the women they claim to love. Male entitlement to sexual access to women and girls is a pillar of misogyny and patriarchy — what has now been termed “rape culture.” Without male entitlement to the bodies of women and girls, prostitution would not exist.

While rape crisis centres that support the system of prostitution may believe the message they are sending is progressive and inclusive, the message actually being sent is: male entitlement to sexually access the bodies of women and girls is not ok unless you pay for it.

Supporting “sex work” as an occupation means supporting and affirming male entitlement. Supporting “sex work” means supporting the ideologies and corresponding behaviours of men who buy sex, pimp, and profit off of women.

In a different, perfect world that wouldn’t be the case, but then that world wouldn’t need feminism.

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