The right to be respected is won by respecting others. – Vasily Sukhomlynsky
I never fail to be amazed by the cluelessness of some people. In this increasingly pluralistic world, increasing numbers understand that it is reprehensible for any group to spread lies about a minority, to dehumanize its members, to represent them as imbeciles and to advocate their legal persecution. Most hate groups recognize that they themselves constitute a minority, and look upon their own persecution as the inevitable result of their struggle to defend the Holy Truth revealed to them by their anointed leaders. But one such hate group, once very powerful but now slowly but steadily shrinking in size and influence in most civilized parts of the world, recently demanded the right to insult and attack others without being insulted and attacked itself; it “demand[ed] the right to exist, think and work from [the] perspective” of trying to deny another minority group the same “right to exist, think and work,” and furthermore declared it “unacceptable” that its hostile, violent rhetoric and political lobbying should be recognized as hostile and violent. I am not making this up; take a gander at this June 23rd “Letter to the Feminist Movement” called to my attention by the ever-vigilant Brandy Devereaux:
In the wake of a series of targeted attacks–sometimes subtle, other times blatant–aimed at abolitionist feminists, we call on you, as members of the feminist movement in Québec, to react. Abolitionist feminists address the fundamentally patriarchal but also racist, capitalist and colonialist nature of the institution of prostitution. The purpose of their…work is to equip feminists with information and tools to enable them to argue that the sex industry is illegitimate and must be eradicated. They also seek to ensure that women have the right to extricate themselves from the exploitative conditions inherent to this industry…They know that all feminists do not agree with their analysis. But they demand the right to exist, think and work from this perspective.
Abolitionist feminists are publicly denigrated, and, in diverse settings such as universities (including professors) and the social media (individuals’ and group Facebook pages, blogs, websites), are characterized as: “moralizing Christians; old, fat and ugly women who have nothing to do; crazies; sluts and Nazis”…Abolitionist feminists are explicitly combatting male violence, yet they are told they are “endangering women in prostitution,” and – the ultimate insult–that they are “committing violence against women in prostitution!” Feminists who take the risk of naming and denouncing men’s violence…are accused of committing violence against other women. Regardless of our past or our experience as feminists, we believe that it is always, and has always been, unacceptable to tolerate feminists’ use of tactics designed to silence other feminists, even when we are in disagreement…It is unacceptable to say that abolitionist feminists are committing violence against women in prostitution…
Did you catch that? They want to silence people who insult them on the grounds that it is unacceptable to silence other feminists, and it’s OK for them to denounce what they perceive as violence, but not OK for sex worker rights supporters to denounce them for what we perceive as violence. The trip down the rabbit hole continues:
In fact, for the last 20 years in Québec, it has been very difficult to find space in which to present abolitionist feminist analysis…abolitionist feminists…hope, through their actions, to enable increasing numbers of women to understand that abolitionist feminist analysis is most consistent with their principles of liberty, equality and solidarity, they respect the right of individual women and groups to arrive at their own position…we would nevertheless like feminists to exhibit feminist solidarity by opposing the tactics of denigration and boycotting. We reiterate our respect for the fact that some feminists do not share the analysis of feminist abolitionists. But to call abolitionist feminists names, to “study” them as a phenomenon of violence against women, and to call for a boycott of groups like the Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle on the pretext that abolitionist feminists are a danger to women far exceeds the threshold of fair and reasoned debate.
In other words, it’s acceptable for prohibitionists to seek to eradicate what they believe is a danger to women, but unacceptable for other feminists to seek to eradicate what they see as a danger to women. And it’s “fair and reasonable” for prohibitionists to “study” prostitutes, but not for sex worker rights advocates to study prohibitionists. Just making sure you’re following this watertight logic.
…This is why we are calling on you today to help put an end to these tactics so that we can debate freely…We are asking you to refuse to tolerate or endorse this denigration or to participate in any way in silencing feminist abolitionist discourse. Whatever the analysis of certain feminist groups or the issues at stake, we are asking you to act when these groups are treated as “crazy” or “violent”…
Even when they’re, like, crazy or violent. But wait; you don’t know the half of it yet. This letter claims that poor widdle neofeminists can’t find any soapbox from which to peddle their hate; they claim they’re being wrongfully ganged up on, insulted and marginalized and that all they want is “fair and reasoned debate.” They don’t have any actual evidence to back up these claims, such as reports of specific incidents at feminist convocations or anything, so we’ll have to seek it elsewhere; how about a report from Xtra! on the recent “Women’s World 2011” conference, which began in Ottawa (not so very far from Montreal on a global scale) just ten days after the date of the letter:
At the recent Women’s World 2011 Conference held in Ottawa, sex workers and their allies found themselves silenced and outnumbered by anti-sex-work groups and a controversial art exhibit entitled Flesh Mapping: Prostitution in a Globalized World…Designed to bring together researchers and activists on women’s issues, this year’s event unexpectedly highlighted a deep and painful fissure in the feminist movement, with hostile clashes at the sex-worker advocacy panels and in the common spaces over the course of the five days.
The week’s schedule included numerous panels arguing, from various angles, to end global prostitution. This movement, more commonly associated with an earlier generation of anti-pornography, anti-sex-work feminism, argues that sex work is inherently exploitative of women…In comparison, pro-sex-work groups at Women’s World were small in number…and…[argued] for safer working conditions, harm-reduction strategies and the option to choose their occupation. Together they support groups like Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), which has made significant grounds in arguing for decriminalization in Canada. The chasm between the two groups became obvious at the…Flesh Mapping [exhibit]…which… included 70 used bed sheets as canvases [to express] sentiments…“that denied our existence and our choice, that denied the existence of choice in the sex industry at all,” [one attendee said].
…Oral presenters at the two sex-worker advocacy panels were also harassed…After the presentations…one audience member suggested that the presenters were perpetuating not only patriarchy but also the “oppression of capitalism” with their choices [and] a group of anti-sex-work supporters stood up and cheered…then “stood congratulating each other…They were there to humiliate us, to silence us, to laugh at us, to yell at us,” [escort attendees said]…A representative for Women’s World shared her disappointment at the events: “We now recognize that pro-sex-worker activists felt unsafe at the congress. We take this very seriously and have plans to dialogue with representatives of that community about how to ensure the situation is not repeated at future Women’s Worlds and similar gatherings”…
Given the current state of Canadian law, the neofeminist rhetoric spouted at the recent prostitution law hearings in Ottawa and the omnipresence of the prohibitionist dogma in mainstream American media, which of these contradictory views do you feel more closely reflects the present situation in Canadian feminism? I know who I believe, though I certainly wish it were the other way around. Still, it’s inevitable that it will become so as third-wave feminists become the majority, and the “Letter” is a preview of the sort of delusional whining we can expect to hear a lot more of once the shoe really is on the other foot.
One Year Ago Today
“Q & A (Part One)” was the very first column in which I answered questions sent in by readers.