This is just a short post by way of a debate with my little left-footer chum Red Maria, who has a post here imploring people advocating views which approximate those of many sex workers’ self-advocacy groups and professional workers in the helping services to stop “bullying” commentator and nationally profiled journalist Julie Bindel by disagreeing with her support for Jacqui Smith’s retrograde and counter-productive new rulings on sex work. I’ve made comments on Maria’s blog already about what a betrayal of the liberationist ideals of self-definition and self-representation I believe Bindel’s stances represent. What’s more, I think this reveals a genuine issue with the sort of politics that Bindel and some other feminists (they do not represent, incidentally, all feminist commentary on this question) have revealed by their stances on the question of sex workers.
Since when precisely do “radical” or “progressive” political activists of any kind seek not only to make truth claims about what oppressed groups should do, but also about who they are? I’ve seldom seen such essentialising comments about any oppressed group as there have been from people supporting the Government’s position in the debate about how best to help sex workers. Sex workers are cast into the role of 19th-Century figures – assuming of course that we ignore the Lady Chainmakers’ Strike and countless other incidences of self-emancipation which do not fulfil the victim narrative – oppressed by a brutal male world around them which is the sole root of their problems. If that world could be pushed back or made to realise that it is “bad” and therefore control its animal instincts, then the sex industry would disappear and these women would go on to live happy and full lives, presumably thanking their wise Rad-Fem sisters for having told them what was right along the way. I simplify and exaggerate, but not much.
The reality of the situation is of course much more complex. There are multiple reasons why women and men get involved in the sex industry and no amount of high-handed blame games (which are in any case proxies for other over-arching ideological battles) will resolve it. Indeed in the case of sex workers, the bizarre quasi-Victorian moralising spouted forth by the likes of Bindel will surely only serve to make the situation worse, as I have argued in a previous post.
But what, exactly is with the essentialising statements from Bindel. When she isn’t effectively accusing the GMB’s ground-breaking unionising programmes for sex workers (and de facto genuinely admirable figures such as Ana Lopez the International Union of Sex Workers) of legitimising pimping, Bindel also argues that women who were born as men (ie transgendered people) are not real women. This position is simply shameful, marginalising and belittling as it does one of the most vulnerable groups of people on the planet. Once again as well, she finds herself with some interesting right wing bedfellows; doubtless when he was taking time out from making bigoted statements about feminists and gay people being responsible for 9/11, the Reverend Jerry Falwell would have been more than happy to sign off on that particular stance of this “champion of the oppressed”.
You see, I think it comes down to that world-view again. It’s all about a Manichaean battle between men and women, which overrides questions of class, of race, even of gender and sexuality unless they fall within that convenient dichotomy. It’s an understandable view from some perspectives but it is crude and it is fundamentally false. In short it’s BindelBollocks. Sadly, she’s not the only person making pronunciations about complex issues on the basis of a crudified worldview, but I suspect she is one such.
She’d just be so much more convincing as a voice of the victims if she could manage to sound less like a Rad-Fem Savonarola on questions like these.