When the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia (CATWA) announced the release of our new report on the Nordic Model, supporters of the sex industry began targeting our Facebook page.
When I followed up with an opinion piece for The Conversation on the success of the Nordic Model, a handful of men, and one prominent Australian feminist , spent hours trading inaccuracies about the Nordic approach to prostitution policy and disparaging anyone stupid enough to think that a booming industry which trades in women’s bodies is anything but inevitable.
These falsities and fabrications will be familiar to anyone who has written or said anything that publicly criticizes the sex industry. The same claims, usually without reference to relevant evidence, are repeated so frequently in certain spheres that they have practically become mantras. If you say it often enough, it becomes true, right?
In the interests of being able to offer more than 140 character responses to these predictable criticisms, here’s a list of responses to the most common myths I’ve had thrown at me.
1. I’m a sex worker, I choose sex work and I love it
This is one of the most popular retorts de jour and is treated by many who use it as a sort of checkmate argument, as though any one person stating that they enjoy sex work makes all of the other evidence about violence, post-traumatic stress disorder and trafficking in prostitution, magically disappear.
Maud Olivier, the Socialist MP who recently introduced the Bill to prohibit the purchase of sexual services in France, slammed the “hypocrisy” of such criticisms: “So is it enough for one prostitute to say she is free for the enslavement of others to be respectable and acceptable?” she asked her fellow parliamentarians.
But the “I love sex work” refrain is put forward as a powerful argument because it is seen to counter a supposedly all-encompassing claim by radical feminists and others that systems of prostitution are harmful to women.
This relies on misunderstandings of radical politics, the concept of structural oppression and tired old debates about false consciousness. Just because you like something doesn’t mean that it can’t be harmful (just as liking something doesn’t automatically make it feminist). Radical feminists criticize beauty practices as harmful too, and saying you choose to wear high-heels doesn’t make that critique wrong. Nor does it mean these feminists hate you for wearing high heels (I’ve heard that one wheeled out in many an undergraduate tutorial) or being in prostitution.
Similarly, when anyone practicing radical politics points out that free choice is a fairytale, and that all our actions are constrained within certain material conditions, this does not equate to saying we’re all infantilized, little drones unable to make decisions for ourselves. It just means we’re not all floating around in a cultural vacuum making decisions completely unaffected by structural issues like systemic economic inequality, racism and sexism.