Thursday, August 4, 2011

When Feminism Fails Me

Eva Rivera is a proud lesbian Chicana, daughter, sister and sex worker who can walk in 6 inch heels and twirl naked on a pole in front of total strangers but is still viciously afraid of moths. She hails from Fresno, CA and is a poet and aspiring film maker. You can find her more personal writing on her blog

I've called myself a feminist since I've known the meaning of that word.  Yet, the very same feminism which I've worked so hard to align myself with has distanced itself from me. It hurts to hear hateful speech and action directed towards sex workers, especially coming from other feminists. Those who don't work in the adult industry tend to see sex workers as slutty, amoral, disease spreaders,  homewreckers and ultimately upholders of patriarchy. Yes, these stereotypes are tired and offensive, but I can understand where they come from. In this society, pitting women against each other serves patriarchy.

I remember the powerful rush of hatred I felt coming from self declared militant feminist Julie Burchill who said this: "When the sex war is won prostitutes should be shot as collaborators for their terrible betrayal of all women". What she is doing (and what many declared feminists do) is creating a seperate standard for women whom she deems to be immoral thus effectively ailenating us from womanhood. This form of  gatekeeping is a violent mechanism of control and it creates a false dichotomy, where sex workers are constructed to be oppressing "womanhood"

This is not a feminism that I want to be a part of. This is not the way to build community. It's not fair to put the burden of patriarchy on the backs of those who face some of the most extreme violence from it. "Saving" me from sex work won't end patriarchy, but it will deny my agency and my ability to choose what to do with my body, and how to interpret and navigate the different sites of my oppression.
There are some very oppressive tropes women face, and it's easy to get caught up in pointing fingers and casting blame for our collective oppression. Women are expected to perform a balancing act by proving just how chaste and "respectable" they are, while also being sexually appealing and available at all times. If a woman dresses a certain way, sleeps with a certain number of people, talks or walks a certain way, she is deemed a slut and instantly shamed. Aside from "bitch", names like "hooker", "ho", "stripper", etc are considered insults when describing how a woman acts, dresses and talks. At the same time she is expected to be seen as fuckable at all times. This situation is opressive on many levels, and sex workers are an easy target to dump on. A common belief is that we created this standard and are examples of why women are still considered sex objects today. As If we all dissapeared, sexism would just dissipate into thin air. 

We are also often blamed for perpetuating impossible images of what a woman's body should look like. I suppose it doesn't occur to those not involved in the adult industry that sex workers, like everyone else, come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and are all routinely fetishized or valued for our body types.  Sex work directly reflects the culture we live in. Sex workers deal with the same sexist, racist, heteronormative bullshit as women not in sex work. The difference is in the intensity and the fact that it's so upfront and honest.  Every stereotype imaginable is realized here, and it varies from sex worker to sex worker on how to deal with it. Some of us take these stereotypes, act them out and then make you pay for them. Others challenge clients sexual expectations. Others simply play the game and don't give a second thought to it, because a waitress is facing the same sexism as a stripper, but is getting paid less for it. 

Feminism fails me at the point where it denies my agency. Feminism fails me when it forbids me from dealing with these dynamics in the way I see fit. Regardless of my position as a sex worker, I am always going to be seen as a sexual object. And not just by my clients. A feminism that denies my humanity and my agency is objectifying me by ignoring or silencing my voice and my demands -- casting me as simply a sex object to be punished, banished or saved. Feminism objectifies me by denying my complex identity, which encompasses much more than sex worker, as well as my various motivations.