Objections to the Sex Trade

This article by Niki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes has been circulating on social media this week, following the failure in parliament of the proposed amendment to the modern slavery bill, which would have criminalised the clients of the sex trade:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/06/sex-workers-decriminalisation-amendment-modern-slavery-bill

There is so much in it that I disagree with that I thought I would jot down my objections. So here’s my response, paragraph by paragraph:

Para 1:  ‘…attempts to attack sex workers by criminalising their clients.’                              The tone is set in this first sentence: I think it is acting in bad faith to use emotive and incendiary language such as ‘attack’ in an attempt to discredit those with opposing views. No one I know who supports criminalisation of clients wishes to ‘attack sex workers’, in fact the opposite is true. The debate is around removing the historical stigma attached to the women in prostitution and placing it firmly on the client (as the people with more real choices in the transaction), thereby reducing demand. At the same time there must be put in place exit strategies for those who wish to leave prostitution (estimates vary from 85-95%). Damage limitation is an important part of the argument: nobody wants to throw any other woman under the bus for the sake of ideology. For my part I take the view I do because I believe that in the long term more women will suffer if prostitution is completely decriminalised than will suffer if buying sex is criminalised. That is not an ‘attack’ on anyone. Furthermore, the link in this paragraph to an article about Swedish prostitution law is almost wholly in support of the Nordic model, with a few reservations, and points out that the liberal approach is not working. It does not support the view of the English Collective of Prostitutes regarding the safety issues. I’m not sure why it was used in this article.

Para 2: ‘…plea from sex workers that mobilised hundreds of individuals and organisations…to oppose legislation.’                                                                                               In response : hundreds more support it:     http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/2014/10/end-demand-fawcett-supports-new-sexual-exploitation-campaign/

Paras 3 and 4: Prostitution is already underground, but see point 1 above and read the article about Swedish prostitution law. You can be against prostitution and for the safety of the prostituted at the same time.

Para 5: ‘LBGTQ groups called for an end to this “last vestige of Victorian moralism”, asking why some feminists had allied themselves with evangelical Christians who oppose gay marriage, sex outside marriage and abortion.’                                                                           This is my least favourite paragraph in the whole article. Firstly, as a seasoned supporter of the NoMorePage3 Campaign, I am used to being name-called, and the accusation of ‘Victorian moralism’ is a favourite, as though it is simply a matter of old-fashioned prudery to want equality for women. It’s a straw man, but I can see why it’s popular: nobody wants to identify with a description that neatly combines the idea of  prudishness with an out-of-touch, old-fashioned right-wing moral panic, and in using it the accusers place themselves firmly in the camp that is hip, young, cool, exciting and chilled about such things. Win-win. Except that it’s a misrepresentation. The same is true of the list of ‘allies’ we are supposed to have joined with – this is a particularly bad argument because nobody can police who does or does not support the same issues as them, and having one belief in common does not mean you agree on everything else. Again: see the NMP3 Campaign, with its fantastically diverse set of supporters who are opposed on many other issues but all come together to support the one issue they agree on. (But, if you insist on using that argument as if it is meaningful, I am quite happy to point out that the groups you have aligned yourself with include pimps, johns, traffickers, pornographers, misogynists and MRAs…)

My other problem with this paragraph is that it is the voice of LGBTQ groups that is cited. I think this group has a meaningful voice on other issues, and of course something to say on this one, but I question the prominence given to a minority group when the overwhelming majority of prostituted people are women and girls who do not identify as LGBTQ. When you demand we listen to ‘sex workers’ should they not be more representative?

Para 6: ‘…exploitation is rife…Why this double-standard with sex workers?’                 Exactly for the reason that ‘sex work’ is not like other work, however often you call it that. The sex trade, apart from the damage it does to people trapped within it, reinforces the patriarchal status quo, whereby women are the ‘sex class’ so it’s only natural to exploit them. It is both a symbol of, and a contributor to, inequality. It is very highly gendered, and more demand leads to more trafficking. A society that endorses that view of women is not a safe society for women to live in. Decriminalising prostitution and earning taxes from it makes the government a pimp. It is definitely not like any other ‘work’. So there are no ‘double standards’ there, just different standards, as there should be.

Para 7: ‘…claim that 80% of women in prostitution are controlled by their drug dealer, their pimp or their trafficker…discredited’.                                                                                 This is not quite true. The 80% figure has not actually been discredited, but questioned. There is agreement that the figure is hard to calculate, but no consensus on whether or not it still might be true. As for the fact that the BBC is one of the discreditors, that’s nothing to boast about: since when were the BBC experts on the sex trade? They have something of a record themselves, on ignoring sexual exploitation in their midst…

Para 8: ‘Scores of women, trans and male sex workers wrote to MPs…’                                     I have to point out again here that although trans and male ‘sex workers’ have their own experiences, particular to them, within the sex trade, and need to be heard, they are still a tiny minority of the prostituted class, and cannot be representative of the majority, and especially not of trafficked women and girls who do not have a voice at all. As for the Swedish stories, this is anecdotal evidence, not born out by the statistics, and anecdotal evidence is plentiful on the other side too.

Para 9: The ‘conflation of prostitution and violence’ does not assume that ‘sex workers’ don’t know the difference: that would certainly be insulting to the women concerned. However the fact can’t be ignored that for vast numbers of (mostly) women, violence is exactly what prostitution is.

Para 10: Two MPs quoted – both men: ‘We must listen to sex workers’.                                   In my view we should also listen to survivors. Globally it is overwhelmingly women and girls who are exploited sexually, many of whom don’t have a voice. I would be happy to listen to them, given the chance, and listening to survivors is the closest we will get to hearing the voices of all the women trapped in prostitution who don’t want to be there. The term ‘sex worker’ is self-selected: people who identify as ‘sex workers’ have to a greater or lesser extent, chosen, accepted or resigned themselves to a way of surviving that many others cannot freely choose. If we have to take into account the views of self-identified ‘sex workers’ (which we should) we need also to have represented, in every discussion, a survivor, a trafficked woman and a groomed and pimped teenager, to ensure a balance. I would like to know of the English Collective of Prostitutes: have you listened to survivors? If you have, did you believe them? Their voices are more representative of the prostituted experience than trans or male ‘sex workers’ but are often absent from the debate.

So here they are on the terminology around ‘sex work’:

http://www.catwinternational.org/Home/Article/587-over-300-human-rights-groups-and-antitrafficking-advocates-worldwide-weigh-in-on-sex-work-terminology-in-media

I will let survivors have the last word.

Disclaimer:  Although I have mentioned the NoMorePage3 Campaign here, and my blog is called Not The News In Briefs as a reference to it, I would like to point out that all views on this blog are my own. I am not a spokesperson for the campaign, just an enthusiastic supporter. The campaign and its supporters hold many different views on other issues apart from Page3. If you started following my blog on the strength of your support for NMP3 and now feel disgruntled with the direction it is taking, please feel free to unfollow.

Everybody else: if you haven’t already done so, please sign the campaign and download the Christmas single…

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The Boy in the Newsagents

A few days ago I had what I like to call ‘a Page 3 experience’, and I posted an account of it on the NoMorePage3 Facebook page. This is it:

‘I was in London the other day and popped in to a local newsagents, which was one of those that has the newspapers displayed on the counter in front of you, next to the till. I was waiting to pay and in front of me were two children, seemingly brother and sister: the boy was about ten and the girl about thirteen. They were paying for some sweets, and as the woman put their money in the till I noticed the boy stealing a sideways glance at his sister. He then quickly turned over the front page of the Sun on the counter right in front of him, and displayed the Page 3 picture. His sister scolded him and the woman behind the till looked very disapproving, and the page was hastily closed again. The girl dragged the boy out of the shop, obviously angry with him. That incident sort of summed up why I support NMP3. The boy knew what he was doing was ‘naughty’ and also in some sense he knew he had power: he could annoy three women at once – myself, the shopkeeper and his sister, by doing what he did. Boys will always be naughty but the Sun provides them with the means and the permission to be naughty in a sexist way.’

The post generated so many negative comments along the lines of ‘You’re sexist for saying boys will always be naughty…’ that I thought I’d better explain my comments more fully.

In writing what I did I was very aware of the argument used against NMP3, that P3 does not ’cause’ bad behaviour, that people (men) would treat women the way they (some of them) do, with or without P3. In other words, P3 does not have a provable, causative, harmful effect, so we’re all wasting our time. My response to this is that images like P3 in the public space provide a background of acceptance for seeing women in a particular way, and therefore help to give (some) men permission to behave badly. It’s a ‘normalising’ image which makes it more difficult for women to feel like respected members of society. In telling my story I did not want to imply that P3 ’caused’ this boy’s behaviour, which is why I used the caveat ‘boys will always be naughty…’ to preface the particular ‘naughty’ that the boy was able to be that day. In retrospect I should have said ‘The Sun didn’t make this boy naughty but it provided him with the means to be naughty in a sexist way’. Which is what I meant.

The word ‘naughty’ by the way, was not supposed to be seen as a perjorative term: I use it as I would use ‘lively’, ‘mischievous’ ‘a scamp’ – in other words like most children are, or should be, as they go through childhood testing what’s acceptable amongst the adults around them. The boy’s behaviour was ‘normal’ – just the same as if he had hidden his sister’s sweets under the newspapers for example. The fault lies entirely with the Sun for giving him ‘permission’ to annoy his sister in that particular way. I was certainly not suggesting that only boys are naughty: of course girls are too, and a little girl in the same circumstances may well have hidden her big sister’s sweets as a joke. She is much more UNlikely to goad her sister with P3 though, and this is where the difference lies, and where it is relevant to single out boys for attention.

We debate all the time the subject of men’s treatment of women and why some men objectify or disrespect women and girls, and how that can lead to a greater acceptance of violence against them. So in my view, even though I did not want to come across as sexist against boys, the gender in this story is relevant. It is boys that grow up into men. Some attitudes start early and are conditioned by what is seen to be around and acceptable. Some people on the Facebook thread took exception to my suggestion that the boy knew he had power, and maybe in a short comment I didn’t explain this adequately. I said *in some sense* he knew he had power, because I don’t think he was necessarily conscious of it himself, but on a deeper level he was. In other words, something had already sunk in. He wasn’t deliberately being sexist but he knew what would upset his sister. He didn’t look so much at the image itself, but at his sister’s face to see her reaction to it.

For those people who have commented that this is all making a mountain out of a molehill, I might agree with you but for the fact that an innocuous little story about P3 in a  public space generated more adverse comments than I had expected, and even a little bit of hate. I had merely wanted to illustrate that (much like having P3 opened up in front of you on a train) a P3 experience is potentially always around the next corner, and can pop up when you’re least expecting it, or when you are not prepared for it. Just to recap – a 10 year old boy exposed a soft porn image in front of three females – an adolescent girl, a woman (me) old enough to be his mum and a woman (the shopkeeper) old enough to be his grandmother. I repeat, I am not blaming the boy or saying it was intentional, but that, simply, THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED. It would not have happened if there was not a soft porn image in the newspaper. The symbolic meaning of this is striking (to me), in a world where the visual plays a more and more important role in our lives, and symbolic meanings have impact. An undressed person amongst dressed people is a symbol of vulnerability, even without the sexual subtext, and will have more adverse impact on some people than others.

For myself, I am no longer personally affected by seeing P3 in a public place – followers of the campaign will know I like to get my camera out these days if someone dares to sit next to me on the train with a copy of the Sun. But I used to be; so I am doing this for my younger self, the one who did not dare to speak up, the one who felt bad, and humiliated, and sometimes even in danger. Without going into my own earlier experiences, I know that the woman behind the young boy, opening up the Sun to P3 as a joke, might be suffering from body dysmorphia or eating disorders, might have been left by her husband for a younger woman, might be taunted with P3 at home by her boyfriend, might be experiencing bullying on account of the size of her breasts, might be suffering from depression, might be a victim of sexual violence, might be a rape victim.

There was a time when that innocuous P3 experience would have caught me off guard and ruined the whole day for me. In today’s parlance it would have ‘triggered’ me. I would not have been able to write about it or risk sharing it with anybody else, let alone a group of strangers on Facebook. I am so thankful that I am stronger now, but on behalf of all those people out there who struggle with what P3- style sexist media triggers for them, I will continue to fight, and write, on behalf of this very wonderful campaign.

Please sign it here if you haven’t already done so:

 www.change.org/nomorepage3

Dear Mr Cameron

Dear Mr Cameron

I note your views about the difference between soft porn in newspapers and the more hard core variety to be found on the internet :http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/nov/22/david-cameron-page-3?CMP=twt_fd. I agree with you that children need to be protected from the more extreme and upsetting subject matter that they can ‘stumble across’ whilst searching for other things, because they are children and some of these images can be traumatising, even to adults. Children are not equipped to deal with such subject matter and it is right to attempt to limit their accidental exposure to it.

However, I disagree with your views about pornographic images of women in newspapers, such as the Sun’s Page 3. Your assertion that parents can control their children’s access to these images has been proved wrong time and time again by all the testimonies from contributors to the NoMorePage3 campaign, the Child Eyes campaign, Page 3 Stories and the Everyday Sexism project. Women, and men, keep telling you that they cannot control their children’s access to Page 3 porn, because it is found everywhere that you would expect to find a newspaper – cafes, takeaways, hotels, public transport…I’m sure you’ve heard all this before. It cannot be emphasised enough that it is BECAUSE IT IS IN A NEWSPAPER that we have no control over it. We cannot demand that someone stops reading a NEWSPAPER! You yourself used the NEWSPAPER defence when replying to Caroline Lucas’s request that the Sun should not be available on the parliamentary estate while it continues to display naked women. OF COURSE you have a right to read all the NEWSPAPERS, anyone suggesting differently must be anti-democratic. So, just as a woman at work (even an MP) has no control over whether or not she views porn in her working day, so it is with parents sitting with their children next to a Sun reader on the bus, or in the cafe. The newspapers, and freedom of the press in a free society, are sacrosanct, and we as women and children are powerless against it.

As I said, I think you’ve heard all these arguments before, so let me try a different tack. If, as you yourself has said, parents should just ‘turn the page’ when children are around, there is some agreement here that the images are unsuitable for children, and potentially damaging. This is, after all, why we have the watershed on television, to protect children from subject matter they are not equipped to deal with. Parents who ignore the protection put in place by society, and let their children stay up all night watching inappropriate material, are widely seen as not doing their job properly. I would say that parents who buy the Sun, and leave it lying around the family home, are equally failing in their duty, but they can do this with impunity BECAUSE IT IS A NEWSPAPER. I know I keep emphasising this, but it really is the main point….

So, as I’m sure you can see, the problem becomes not just one of what your own children are growing up to find normal, but what other people’s children are internalising and learning from. You are aware I know of many recent reports charting the relationship between the sexualisation and objectification of women in the media and the legitimising and normalising of discrimination and violence against women. (See the UK CEDAW report on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women of April 2013, the Bailey Sexualisation of Young People Review of 2010 and the Leveson report and recommendations of 2012 if you’d forgotten about these).

My argument against Page 3 then is not so much to do with the harm caused to children by accidental viewing of pornographic material. Page 3 is tame compared to what is available on the internet, and most children are not going to be severely traumatised by glancing at a pair of breasts in their neighbour’s newspaper on the bus. They are, however, likely to grow up with some strongly reinforced messages about what it means to be a woman, and what is valued about women, in the society they have been born into. This is damaging for all of us, but particularly women. The policeman who deals with your rape allegation, the jurors at your trial and the journalists who report on it are all to some extent conditioned by the norms of the society they grew up in, and if this includes a daily dose of scantily-clad, always up for it, tits-out-for-the-lads view of women, then this does not  promote equality for women within the law. The earlier in life this becomes your blueprint, the more danger there is of you being brainwashed, and that is what, for me, is the main problem with our Page 3 culture.

Here’s a little anecdote to end with …

During the NoMorePage3 43rd birthday peaceful protest in Brighton last weekend I was approached by two 10-year old boys. They asked me why I wanted rid of Page 3, and seemed genuinely interested in my reply. I told them about the inequality fostered by the oversexualised portrayal of women in the press, and a little about how that makes girls feel, and about the context of it being freely available in a newspaper. I spoke to them respectfully and they listened intently. Then, when I’d finished, they looked at eachother and smirked a bit. One of them then explained to me, carefully, as though to an idiot, that the Sun was CHEAPER than buying a magazine, and they were only schoolboys so they couldn’t afford to spend any more money on pictures like that…DUH! They departed, giggling, and I was left feeling like the idiot they’d taken me for. I think these boys’ sense of entitlement to a woman’s body at such a young age is deeply troubling, but it is the attitude engendered by Page 3 and its ilk, and in that sense is hardly surprising.

What do you think, Mr Cameron? Do you still think that parents can control their children’s access to newspaper porn? Do you still think it’s a problem primarily for children?  And at what age does it become ‘appropriate’ to objectify women?

I look forward to your considered response.

Yours respectfully etc etc.

http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-dinsmore-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3

https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/edward-timpson-mp-make-it-illegal-to-display-porn-around-children www.childeyes.org @ChildEyesUK

Happy Birthday No More Page 3 !

I wrote this blog a whole year ago, to celebrate the first birthday of the NoMorepage3 Campaign and the diversity of its supporters. Whilst I would rather there not be the need for a second birthday, this year there is even more to celebrate. Signatures stand at over 200,000, the campaign has attracted support from many more politicians, including Ed Milliband, more and more groups and associations, such as the Girls Brigade and Mumsnet have added their voices, and the media coverage has grown and grown. On top of that, the Sun’s Irish edition has dropped the Page3 feature, and, despite increasingly desperate efforts at promotion such as the misguided CheckemTuesday feature and the failed World Cup giveaway, sales of the Sun have been decreasing all year.The NoMorePage3 Campaign has sponsored some fantastic women sports stars: Cheltenham Town Ladies FC, Nottingham Forest Ladies FC and Scottish mountain biking champion Lee Craigie all now wear NMP3 kit. Over the year lots of regional NMP3 groups have sprung up to capitalise on local support and bring fresh energy and ideas to the campaign. More than all that though is the raising of consciousness which has been achieved by this campaign: media sexism is a talking point again and is part of a bigger picture where women’s lives and voices are being listened to and debated. It’s a very exciting time and the NMP3 campaign has added hugely to it. Here’s what I wrote a year ago, with thanks to all you diverse and wonderful supporters out there, and to the team at HQ that work so tirelessly for all of us:

I have been following the No More Page 3 campaign for a year now, ever since its inception in August 2012. I have watched it grow from a few signatures and Lucy Anne Holmes all on her own, to over 115,000 signatures and a whole team of dedicated campaigners. I have followed the website, the blog, Twitter and Facebook, I have joined in many discussion threads and I have read many articles and blogs that the campaign has linked to or recommended. I have been to a flash mob, to an NUJ event on media sexism and a fantastic Stand up for Women comedy gig, and I’ve met lots of lovely people (that’s YOU, the nmp3 team…!)

It has been a fantastic year, to witness the growth of a movement, and to hear women’s voices, from all backgrounds and walks of life, all coming together to denounce the outmoded sexism of Page 3, and to do something about it. In the process this brilliant campaign has garnered the support of celebrities, charities, unions and the Girl Guides, amongst others, and has had increasing media attention. This subject is now well and truly on the agenda : thanks to the hard work of all involved, it will not go away!

So it AMAZES me that there are still people out there who characterise the campaigners as a group of hairy, ugly, jealous, humourless feminists… The one thing the group ISN’T is one-dimensional, consisting as it does of a huge range of people with different experiences and reasons for signing. So I thought it would be nice to celebrate the campaign’s birthday by making a list of all the different reasons for support that I have noticed throughout the year, and in that way celebrate the diversity of the people who have become involved in the campaign and contributed to it.

So – here’s my list. It is by no means a comprehensive survey, I’ve probably left some people out, and I apologise in advance for any lazy, inaccurate cultural stereotyping…  But here goes :

  • Teachers : ‘Images like this can be brought into school and they are partly responsible for an increase in sexual bullying’
  • Politicians : ‘Exploitation and early sexualisation of girls creates a problem for society’
  • Men : ‘We want the women in our lives to be treated with respect’
  • Women of colour : ‘It’s another expression of the white beauty ideal – it’s racist as well as sexist’
  • Breast-feeding mums : ‘The over-sexualisation of breasts makes it more difficult to breast-feed in public’
  • *even some* Sun readers : ‘Not bothered about the boobs to be honest, I mainly buy it for the football’
  • Feminists : ‘Unequal representation of women – men are usually pictured fully-dressed but women have to be half-naked’
  • Psychologists : ‘Sexual objectification leads to negative stereotyping and the risk of stereotype threat’
  • People of faith : ‘Sex is a private matter between consenting adults within a loving relationship’
  • Parents : ‘We don’t want our kids to come across these images in cafes, trains and other public places where people leave them’
  • The body-concious : ‘I don’t want to be reminded of my imperfections every day’
  • Women’s groups : ‘ Over-sexual representation of women can provide a context in which rape culture can flourish’
  • Social historians : ‘The Sun’s decision to provide soft porn in a newspaper paved the way for the re-branding of porn in lads mags’
  • *even some* Glamour models : ‘It’s not glamorous, it’s demeaning’
  • The working class : ‘Don’t patronise us with boobs in the paper!’
  • Prudes : ‘Disgusting!’
  • Guardian readers : ‘The whole paper is scum, get rid of all the other pages while you’re at it’
  • Artists : ‘Beauty is the human body as nature intended it, not the airbrushed, photoshopped version’
  • Health professionals : ‘Seeing over-idealised body shapes all the time can lead to problems such as depression and eating disorders’
  • Lesbian/gay/bi/trans people : ‘Heteronormative!’
  • Philosophers : ‘In an arena set aside for ‘news’ this is essentially a lie being told every day’
  • Young people : ‘Is that what we have to aspire to…?’
  • Older people : ‘It was bad enough when it was just the Sun, but now it’s the Star and the Sport as well’
  • Even older people : ‘Put them away love, you’ll catch your death…’
  • People who love sex : ‘It pushes the idea of a narrow male fantasy rather than celebrating female sexuality’
  • Family members : ‘I wouldn’t want it to be my mother/sister/daughter’
  • Foreign visitors: ‘You still have naked ladies in the NEWSpaper?? WE stopped doing that YEARS ago…!’
  • And then there’s me – I’m one of those humourless strident feminists. Well, somebody’s got to be…

PS If you haven’t signed the NoMorePage3 campaign yet here’s the link https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-dinsmore-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3