Note: I want to preface this piece with an acknowledgement that women with disabilities were, unfortunately, left out of the extended PDF principles of the Women’s March — read more on that here.
The Women’s March on Washington holds, in many ways, possibility for an exciting precedent for solidarity. Their Guiding Vision document manages to recognize and honor women from many walks of life that are often forgotten by white feminism — women of color, trans women, queer women, immigrants, women in prison and in a move that surprised and excited many activists, sex workers.
Historically, sex worker rights movements have been left out of a lot of feminist spaces. Sometimes, like in the case of Feminist Current, sex worker voices are ignored because those running the website are focused on an abolitionist stance — that is, the belief that all sex work is exploitative and should be banned. Sometimes, like with the Women’s Equality Party, sex worker voices are talked over because sex workers are not seen as capable of advocating for themselves. Sometimes, like at the Reclaim the Night rally in London, sex workers don’t feel safe because other feminists are telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodily autonomy. And sometimes, sex workers are just forgotten entirely.
The illegal status of sex work here, alongside the stigma against those in the adult industry, increases the dangers sex workers experience in their daily lives — police brutality, loss of day jobs, custody of their children or housing, patriarchal violence from clients or family, deaths being underreported and often not making the news at all. Therefore, the Women’s March making a point specifically to include solidarity with sex worker movements is an incredibly meaningful step toward listening to sex workers themselves and respecting their voices as integral to feminism. It’s been a long time coming and is especially poignant now, when a loud and proud sexual assailant is sliding into the presidential suite to the terror of women across the United States.
While I was writing this piece, however, the Guiding Vision was altered without any statement or even acknowledgement from the organizers. The wording shifted from “undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our labor protections, and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements” to the polar opposite stance of “we stand in solidarity with all those exploited for sex and labor,” a bold move and one that felt all too familiar. The seemingly sneaky way the Women’s March changed one of their more radical stances to one that actively denies the agency and humanity of a group of already marginalized workers feels antagonistic… and alienating.
Janet Mock, who wrote sex worker solidarity into the Guiding Vision initially and then defended putting it back in, addressed this on her Tumblr, saying:
“My work and my feminism rejects respectability politics, whore-phobia, slut-shaming and the misconception that sex workers, or folks engaged in the sex trades by choice or circumstance, need to be saved, that they are colluding with the patriarchy by 'selling their bodies'...
"...We will not be free until those most marginalized, most policed, most ridiculed, pushed out and judged are centered. There are no throwaway people, and I hope every sex worker who has felt shamed by this momentarily [sic] erasure shows up to their local March and holds the collective accountable to our vast, diverse, complicated realities.”
Currently, the Guiding Vision has attempted to please everyone by combining both statements into one that stands in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements while also noting that exploitation for sex and labor in all forms is a violation of human rights. This stance is not made on the website proper — rather, you have to download the PDF of the full statement to find it at all. It is a step toward equality for all women, but there are still many steps to go, especially for those who carry the weight of multiple oppressions. We cannot leave the marginalized behind — that is not solidarity, but the very exploitation anti-sex work feminists are so concerned with.
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