On 24 October 1975, 75,000 women in Iceland left their jobs, children and homes and took to the streets for a general strike that was billed “Women’s Day Off”. In Reykjavik, 30,000 women marched up the Laugavegur (wash road), as a women’s brass band played the marching tune from Shoulder to Shoulder, a British TV series about the suffragettes which had recently aired in this small Nordic nation. Flyers fluttered against clear autumn skies: “We march because it is commonly said about a housewife: ‘She is not working, she is just keeping house’,” they read. “We march because the work experience of a housewife is not considered of any value in the labour market.”
For Icelandic men, this day became known as the “Long Friday”. With no women to staff desks and tills, banks, factories and many shops were forced to close, as were schools and nurseries – leaving many fathers with no choice but to take their children to work. There were reports of men arming themselves with sweets and colouring crayons to entertain the swarms of children in their workplaces, or bribing older children to look after their siblings. Sausages (easy to cook, of course, and a hit with children the world over) were in such demand that shops sold out; children could be heard giggling in the background while male newsreaders reported the day’s events on the radio.
Many of the greatest successes of feminism have come in moments when boots were on the ground; and our bodies elsewhere to the posts ascribed to women by patriarchal capitalism. In the UK, public reaction to the sexual violence meted out against the 300 women who marched to parliament demanding women’s suffrage on 18 November 1910, Black Friday, was instrumental in gaining the vote for women. The 1968 strike by Ford’s women sewing machinists at Dagenham, which was followed by 1970 strikes by women clothing workers in Leeds, were landmark labour-relations dispute that triggered the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970.
Yet domestic labour has always been a tricky injustice to protest against. It takes place in the privacy of the home, making it difficult for women to see each other doing this work and to collectively acknowledge that men do not share equally in its burden (and they don’t: the average British woman still contributes 60% more washing, wiping and childcare a week than the average British man, even as the pandemic has increased this work to around nine hours per day). And there can also be dire consequences if we withdraw this labour: children uncared for and vulnerable relatives unfed.
“A women’s strike is impossible; that is why it is necessary,” claims Women’s Strike Assembly (WSA), an activist alliance that, to mark last week’s International Women’s Day, called for a series of banner memorials to be erected around the UK to declare why #westrike as women (or, just as importantly, why we can’t). In a manifesto published in November, WSA wrote: “We strike because we are tired of our labour being taken for granted. We strike because we now have to do a triple shift: our paid work, our unpaid domestic labour and educating our children during the pandemic.”
In Liverpool, Bristol and Edinburgh women gathered, last Monday, in socially distanced clusters toting their banner memorials. “#westrike because we are tired. Very, very tired,” a banner in Liverpool read and a memorial painted by Bristol Sisterhood stated, simply: “Fuck macho bullshit, women on fire.” Many of the social media protests, however, indicated why last Monday saw no wholesale abandonment of women’s posts. “I am a freelancer and I would not get paid (or lose my client!). But I’m striking with my compañeras in mind and spirit,” one IWD banner read, and another: “I cannot strike but I lit a candle in solidarity.”
Recent years have seen a flowering of strikes against gendered labour in Spain and South America. In 2018, six million women joined Spain’s 2018 “Dia Sin Mujeres’ (day without women), including Madrid’s Manuela Carmena and actress Penelope Cruz, as “feminist men in solidarity” staffed a network of collective nurseries. Old-fashioned mother’s aprons, the symbol of the strikes, were stitched in solidarity workshops and strung from balconies. But, in Britain, women’s general labour strikes have been conspicuously absent.
Selma James, the cofounder of 70s marxist activist project Wages for Housework, has a theory to account for this lack. She points out that as the power of unions dwindles, the climate in Anglo-Saxon countries is less hospitable to gestures of withdrawn labour, even as feminist identity marches gain broader support. Without union protection, British and north American women who strike from paid work risk losing their jobs; to the single mum on the breadline in a pandemic, strikes, in this context, seem the preserve of privileged white feminists.
For all this, calling political attention to the pandemic’s third shift is an urgent project. Only 36% of British women have been able to continue working full time alongside their caring responsibilities during the pandemic, compared to 66% of men, and mothers are more likely to have quit or lost their job. As the pandemic recedes over a nation of shattered women, there will be opportunities for direct action. Women’s March, Pregnant Then Screwed and Women’s Strike Assembly, among others, are calling for protests and marches to highlight the structural sexism that’s left women bearing the brunt of reproductive labour during this year of crisis.
James, in the meantime, advocates a daily constellation of “small resistances”: banging pots and pans at your window; stringing up a banner and apron; radically lowering domestic standards.
Forty-five years after the Women’s Day Off, Iceland has ranked top in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report – an index that examines educational opportunities, life expectancy, pay equity and the average time spent on housework – in 13 of the past 16 years. Yes, it’s impossible for many women to strike; but can we afford not to?
The first loyalty of sex industry advocates is to the sex industry itself. This loyalty is showing itself again in how the ECP is exploiting COVID19 lock-down to push for the total decriminalisation of the sex industry.
The BBC has published an article today that reads very much like a regurgitated press release from the ECP, with no alternative points of view offered, and, in the name of ‘balance’ only a brief statement from the government at the end, which only addressed the legal status of the sex industry, and not poverty under lock-down.
Poverty pushes women into prostitution. The recent switch to Universal Credit in the UK has pushed more women into poverty. If the ECP’s real concern was for the welfare of women in poverty, they would be lobbying for a better social safety net, so that no woman was forced into prostitution just to make ends meet.
Instead, the ECP is calling for the complete decriminalisation of the sex industry, because recognising ‘sex work as work’ is, somehow, the only way women trapped in prostitution can get benefits under lock-down when they can’t ‘work’.
In the UK, the act of selling sex itself is legal, but the acts around it like soliciting, kerb-crawling, pimping, and brothel keeping are illegal, so really what the ECP is calling for is the decriminalisation of pimps and brothel-keepers, all so that prostituted women can be recognised as ‘workers’ in order to get extra benefits under lock-down!
The implication is that if the sex industry were decriminalised, it wouldn’t matter how many women were pushed into it through poverty, because ‘sex work is work’. What about all the women in poverty who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t turn to ‘sex work’? What about the women who are not lifted out of poverty by ‘sex work’? It is obvious that the ECP only cares about women in poverty as a means to an end, the end being the decriminalisation, expansion, and normalisation of the sex industry.
I have sent a complaint to the BBC, please feel free to copy or adapt the below:
Why is the BBC unquestioningly reporting the claim, from sex industry lobbyists, that the best thing for women forced into prostitution through poverty, is the complete decriminalisation of the sex industry?
Why was the false claim from the ECP that ‘sex work’ is criminalised (since the act of selling sex itself is legal in the UK) allowed to stand unquestioned?
Why was there no alternative point of view given by campaigners for a better benefits system? Why was no one from Nordic Model Now asked for a comment? Why was there no interview with a woman who has exited the sex industry, and, because of her experiences, supports the abolitionist legal approach?
The BBC must realise by now that the political debate over the legal status of the sex industry is highly polarised and partisan; the article read like a regurgitated press release from the ECP, it is lazy, biased journalism.
Curiously, the article also, briefly, quotes someone from an organisation in Bristol called One25, which is dedicated to helping women exit prostitution. I have sent them a short email asking them if they are happy with the way they have been portrayed in the article, as completely aligned with the ECP.
You have probably never heard of MindGeek, the huge tech company that owns Pornhub: the world’s most popular porn site. Pornhub, which has 42 billion visits per year, is currently under fire for its apparent lack of safeguarding checks. Six million videos a year are posted on the site; some, according to anti-porn campaigners, depicting rape and sexual abuse. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has found more than 100 cases of child abuse on the site between 2017 and 2019.
Inspired by the Traffickinghub petition which recently hit two million signatures, campaigners are taking the fight against pornography directly to MindGeek’s doorstep. Today, a demonstration, with facemasks and social distancing, of course, is taking place outside its UK HQ in Uxbridge, Greater London, in the hope that this public display will put pressure on the Government to expedite the Online Harms Regulation and hold porn sites accountable for their complicity in sexual exploitation.
MindGeek is the parent company to almost 100 websites that collectively consume more bandwidth than Facebook, Twitter and Amazon combined. It has become the largest multinational porn conglomerate in the world, controlling most of the major free porn sites. Pornhub entices traffic by offering free access but then users get bombarded with advertisements for pay-sites.
According to Gail Dines, a leading authority on the porn industry, ‘rather than take responsibility for content uploaded to their sites, MindGeek pushes the line that they are not the creators but merely the hosts, and that the performers are all engaging in porn consensually’.
I have spent many hours combing through the content on Pornhub and can confirm that it is vile in the extreme. Pornhub hosts videos including ‘sleep forced abuse drunk passed out’. There is also overt racism, such as ‘Ebony slave girl porn’ and ‘the most racist porn video ever created.’
Pornhub has been accused of turning a blind eye to the exploitation of women featured in the videos on the site. Now, mainly because of survivors speaking out, the feminist anti-porn movement has gathered pace in recent years. But the battle against the commercial sex trade should not be left only to feminists. Any human rights campaigner should be challenging Pornhub, because of the horrific videos appearing on the site.
This is another example where ‘sex work is work’, but at the same time ‘sex work’ needs to be treated completely differently to any other kind of ‘work’.
If undercover filming had revealed breaches to food hygiene and safety regulations in a restaurant, would the chefs try to argue that their human rights had been violated by revealing the breach?
Also, co-opting the term ‘revenge porn’ is pretty low, particularly when, as Not Buying It points out, the lap dancers were regularly filmed on CCTV at ‘work’ anyway.
If Sheffield council had investigated Spearmint Rhino, Not Buying It wouldn’t have had to do so. This is DARVO (deny, attack, reverse victim and offender) by Spearmint Rhino, who, as Not Buying It reveals, but the BBC failed to report, had fired half of the lap dancers they claimed to be acting on behalf of, and has a long history of abusive ‘working’ conditions.
The legal challenge by the club was ‘fronted’ by 9 of its lap dancers (half of whom, it was later revealed, the strip chain had fired) with most prior media coverage not mentioning Rhino’s involvement at all, even though two Spearmint Rhino companies were claimants in the action.
Ostensibly, Spearmint Rhino and its lap dancers had taken Not Buying It and it’s CEO to court because of video evidence the pressure group had had to gather as proof of breaches and exploitation at the chain. It was asserted that it was a breach of privacy for gathering such evidence (even though lap dancers are filmed at their place of work by club CCTV all the time) and that the pressure group would distribute such footage-some even declaring this ‘an act of revenge porn’.
“We made it clear long before they thought of taking us to court that we are about exposing the industry, not the dancers. We also made it clear that we were taking proper steps to protect the women’s privacy. We have never, and will never, identify them and we certainly were never going to distribute any video footage! What Rhino was really trying to quash was the serious breaches and exploitation at their clubs –typical of how the entire strip industry operates” says Dr Rakoff.
Not Buying It believes this is yet more evidence of how the strip industry uses and ‘hides behind’ its lap dancers for its own ends.
“By discontinuing the claim Spearmint Rhino has now basically told us ‘do what you like with the videos’. It clearly shows the real motivation for this case – threatening anyone who dares whistle blow on the strip trade with hugely stressful and potentially ruinous legal proceedings.”
It also shows the huge conflict of interests at play.
“This is a strip chain that has previously gone to court to stop lap dancers from having employment rights. It had fired half the women it then used to take this case against us. It has a documented 20 year history of exploitation (including prostitution, harassment and assault of its lap dancers). Yet we are supposed to now believe that it cares so very much about its lap dancers that it took this legal action, at a cost to itself of £10,000s if not £100,000s,‘on their behalf’? No. There was only ever one interest being served here and that was Spearmint Rhino’s” says Rakoff.
The BBC is cool with pimps, thinks ‘sex work’ is a neutral term, and its report on OnlyFans sounds like a recruitment drive
In reply to my complaint about the BBC’s invitation to ‘pimp your video calls’, I was told this:
“However your complaint acknowledges one of the central points at issue, which is that the word is also widely understood as contemporary slang, which for many people has outgrown the associations of its origin.”
So that’s all ok then! It’s not like the British Broadcasting Corporation is seen as setting any standards for the nation or anything is it?
In reply to this complaint I was told that:
“As a point of style we do tend to use the more neutral term sex workers in our articles, rather than prostitutes. Our Editorial Style Guide states that to label someone as a prostitute tends to be derogatory and demeaning. So therefore we would not see anything wrong in using the term sex work instead of prostitution.”
Who decided this? Those lobbying for the complete decriminalisation of the sex industry (including the johns, pimps, and brothel keepers) of course!
I have replied again:
In response to your reply to my previous complaint, ‘sex work’ is not a neutral term, it is highly partisan. It is still open to debate whether commercial sex is ‘work like any other’ or sexual exploitation, and using the term ‘sex work’ is begging the question on the issue (‘is sex work work?’ ‘is this bad thing bad?’). Calling the term ‘sex work’ neutral does a disservice to all the women and children who have been subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, and is a boon to the pimps and traffickers who want to rebrand themselves as ‘business men’ and ‘entrepreneurs’. It is no small thing that I have seen the term ‘sex work’ used repeatedly in BBC articles about the commercial sexual exploitation of children, a raped child is never a ‘worker’. The BBC is helping to normalise the sex industry, and the use of the term ‘sex work’ reduces a sex abuse issue to a mere labour issue. How did the BBC decide that ‘sex work’ is a neutral term? Did you talk to any women who had exited the sex industry? Did you ask anyone who had escaped sex trafficking if they were happy with their abuse being called ‘sex work’? If just the word ‘prostitute’ is demeaning, isn’t the term ‘sex work’ just covering up something harmful with a cooler-sounding rebrand? Words matter, words have meanings, and the BBC is failing to be politically neutral on this issue.
And now the BBC is at it again, with a report (in the Business section!) about how great OnlyFans is for young people who have lost their jobs under the COVID-19 lock-down! Sure, there are a few caveats about how much hard work it is, but who’s going to worry about ‘emotional labour’ when they’re told they can make £1000 a month? Don’t worry about leaks, the BBC can reassure you that OnlyFans protects its users’ privacy, and anyway everyone is at it!
I have sent a complaint to the BBC, please feel free to copy and paste or adapt:
I am writing to complain about the article: OnlyFans: ‘I started selling sexy photos online after losing my job’, it reads like a regurgitated press-release from OnlyFans, or a recruitment drive. It is not the BBC’s role to promote the sex industry to teenagers and young people, and it is not the BBC’s role to help normalise and mainstream the sex industry.
The text accompanying this BBC report (which itself does not use the term ‘sex work’), refers to commercially sexually exploited children as ‘workers’.
You can complain to the BBC here, please feel free to copy or adapt the below text:
I am writing to complain about a report on missing/trafficked children in India using the term ‘sex work’ to describe the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Words and the meanings of words matter, a raped child is not a ‘worker’; ‘sex work’ is a partisan term, and using it in the context of child exploitation reduces a sexual exploitation issue to a mere labour issue.
The BBC has been celebrating pimps again with a link on the front page of their website yesterday inviting people to ‘pimp their video calls’.
I have written to the BBC to complain, you can make a complaint to the BBC here:
Please feel free to copy or adapt the wording below:
I am writing to complain about a link on the front page of the BBC’s website yesterday morning (13/05/20), inviting me to ‘pimp my video call’ (the link was to this webpage: https://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/empty_sets_collection/zfvy382). A pimp is someone who uses physical violence and/or psychological manipulation to control another human being in prostitution, if that person is moved around, the pimp is also a human trafficker. I know that ‘to pimp’ is slang for ‘to improve’ but that is not a good enough excuse; there is plenty of other slang that the BBC would never dream of putting in a headline, so why make an exception for sex traffickers? This use of ‘pimp’ was particularly egregious when at the same time, the main page of the BBC news website linked to the story ‘My pimp branded me with a ‘Love is Loyalty’ tattoo’. Words, and the meaning of words, matters; the BBC is setting the standards for the nation, particularly under the present circumstances, and it failed on this occasion.
The government of Bangladesh has started sending emergency food and aid to the tens of thousands of women working in the country’s commercial sex industry as brothels across the country close.
To try to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the authorities have ordered the lockdown of the sex industry, closing the country’s biggest brothel in Goalanda in the Rajbari District of Dhaka until 5 April along with many others across the country.
The closures will leave many of the estimated 100,000 women working in brothels in Bangladesh with no way of supporting themselves or their children.
“We don’t earn much here, I make enough to survive day to day and most of us are in debt,” said one 26-year-old woman who has worked in a brothel in Goalanda for more than seven years. “What will happen if things don’t get better? Yesterday I needed to get some food but all my money is stuck in online banking apps and all the cashpoints are closed. I managed to borrow some from a friend, otherwise I would have been in big trouble.”
Local government official Rubayet Hayat, of the sub-district of Goalanda, said food and financial aid from the disaster management and relief ministry would start to be distributed by the end of this week.
“There are some 1,800 [prostituted women] in the brothels under our jurisdiction. We have asked for 30kgs of rice and 2,000 taka (£20) [for each of these women],” he said. “We have got the initial approval and are hoping the funds will be sanctioned by the end of this week.”
Healthcare workers at a charity hospital near to the brothel in Goalanda said more help would be needed to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19 in brothels and red light districts.
“The brothel area is very dirty and unhygienic. The rooms are inhumanly tiny. The house owners built the rooms strategically for more profit so that they can fit more rooms in a small area,” said Zulfekar Ali, the in-charge doctor at the Gonoshasthaya Kendra charity hospital. “In that same tiny room, the [prostituted women] live, work and often cook. Many share common toilets.”
He added that many women working in the brothels are often reluctant to access healthcare services because they fear being shamed and stigmatised. “We are using loud hailers to spread awareness in the brothels, telling the women who are there to wash their hands properly,” he said.
Prostitution is legal in Bangladesh and the government estimates that around 100,000 women are working in the sex industry. One study reports that less than 10% of those working in prostitution entered the sex trade voluntarily.
So many truths hidden in plain sight (I have ‘edited’ the use of the term ‘sex worker’ to more accurately reflect the reality of the situation), and waiting till the end of the article to mention that over 90% of the women in the sex industry are coerced, and not even bothering to mention that many of these ‘sex workers’ will actually be girls as young as 12! I have sent a complaint email to The Guardian, although they have never once replied, please feel free to copy or adapt the below:
I am writing to complain about the article “Bangladesh sends food aid to sex workers as industry goes into lockdown” (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/06/bangladesh-sends-food-aid-to-sex-workers-as-industry-goes-into-lockdown).
There is something incredibly dishonest about writing an article on ‘sex workers’ in Bangladesh, and only admitting in the final paragraph that over 90% of the women you are writing about are coerced, while the side-bar links to an article that reveals that many of these ‘workers’ will be girls as young as 12.
Under any other circumstances, coerced sex is called rape, but, somehow, if the rapist hands over money afterwards, this rape is relabelled ‘work’. ‘Sex work’ is a partisan, obfuscating term, it turns a sexual abuse issue into a mere labour issue, and disappears the abusers.
The Guardian is still asking for financial support, I will not give you a penny while you are still calling commercially raped women and children ‘workers’.
Amazingy, The Guardian has responded, and changed the article!
Thank you for your email.
We put your points to the relevant editor who replied:
Yes, in this instance I do agree that the headline was not what it should have been and the reader makes a fair point. We have changed the headline and moved the last paragraph up to near the top of the piece.
We take great care to distinguish between the terms prostitution, sex trafficking and sex work, and the only place that the term ‘sex workers’ was used in the body of this piece was in a direct quote from the Bangladeshi politician. At all other times we used “women working in brothels” as we have no way of knowing how many of the women receiving these aid packages are coerced or working in the brothels of their own free will.
Prostitute and sex worker are very politically charged terms and we usually use the words “women working in prostitution” when not referring to sex trafficking.
I hope this goes some way to addressing your concerns.
The current article is here (same url, changed headline):
An archived version of the original article can be found here: