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women’s worlds

whoa. it’s all happening at once. An abstract for a panel that i submitted to the Women’s Worlds was accepted!


I thought of an idea for a paper. Then my advisor gave me a title:

“What you’re proposing”, she said, “with your argument for abolishing prostitution, is a front door and a back door.” I knew what she meant, I thought. We had just been talking about some of the things I had been learning about from women i was interviewing. They were all of them front-line workers, and most of them were also feminist activists. That is, they provided both services to women escaping violence, or women living in poverty, and tried to run interference around the state (welfare, legal stuff, divorce, childcare and custody issues) and provided organizing opportunities and worked on systemic advocacy in their groups. Everyone has expressed great care for the women they work with, some are hopeful, some are angry, some are very sad, and not doing the work anymore–and others still are just marking time. The women who are part of a feminist group, or in feminist organizing, they seem to be women who are more hopeful and angry–still working toward a broad horizon of, a shared vision, of freedom.

“Harm Reduction offers a front door, a way in from the immediate dangers of the streets–but the building’s falling down, and they still have to go back out that same door sometime again.  On the other hand, the back door that you are talking about leads into a garden of opportunities…”

Ah-hah moment. She’s good with the metaphors, my advisor is. So, I had a title, then.

I’d been tossing around ideas for an abstract. I wanted to go to Ottawa to the women’s worlds, and I know i want to talk about harm reduction and prostitution–I also wanted to talk about how front-line, feminist anti-violence workers and activists have been shut out of the discourse, especially in the recent round of policy development that the city of Vancouver has taken on. The level of vitriol directed against feminists around here is fierce. You know how it goes, we want to abolish prostitutes–not just prostitution–there’s this misconception that we’re after criminalizing everyone connected to prostitution, rather than the profiteers–there’s the accusation that we don’t respect women’s choices (that’s my fucking favourite), and that we’re moralistic and anti-sex. Anyhow, whatever. Women i’ve been talking to are expressing a lot of frustration about this faux debate.  Really, women are pitted against each other in this, and we take sides–the labour side or the liberation side, and the men just keep wading in and picking off the vulnerable among us, buying the women off the streets, out of the sweatshops, the brothels, the escort services, scooping them up into the ships in the harbour. Not her choice, no. Only his.

so anyhow, then I was talking to my friend and ally, a woman who has been a leader in Canadian feminism for nearly forty years. She has been grinding me for YEARS to write, to get my stuff out there, to take myself seriously, to work alongside and through my fears, to stand beside her and other women. She’s a force, that one. Sometimes I rise to the occasion, sometimes i give into my fears. Like we all do, I guess.

It’s easier to rise now that I’m not drinking, I’m finding.

Anyhow, so she said that I’d be more likely to have my proposal accepted if I turned the paper into a panel and got some other women from across the country to join in. she suggested a few names, and I sent them all an e-mail. Lo and behold, some of the women I asked said, “sure” and some said, “ask so and so” and we met online, if not in real life and so I sent in the form and bobsyeruncle, we got in.

This conference happens every four years, and it’s international. so it’s, you know, a pretty big deal. Of course i’m totally freaked out as well. the name of the panel is: ” A front Door and  A Back Door: Feminist Alternatives to Harm Reduction Approaches to Prostitution”.  the four of us are all some mix of all/or — front-line workers, anti-violence activists, academics, and women formerly engaged in prostitution. We are all feminists. We don’t all hold the same views about the topic, or anything else. We promise to challenge each other and the people who attend, and we are aiming to ‘raise the bar’ in regard to alliances with women presently or formerly prostituted. We aim to improve our practice and our analysis of a feminist analysis of all the ways that men maintain and protect their power over women–how the state funds that patriarchal protection and interferes with women organizing toward our shared liberation.

Note the title of the conference is “Women’s Worlds” Not “Women’s Movement” or “Feminist World” (wouldn’t that be nice–a feminist world–what the heck would THAT look like?)–so i figure there’s bound to be some anti-feminists kicking around. Queer theorists, post-moderns, burlesque queens–

Some post-moderns are not entirely anti-feminist, though the post-modern idea in general seems pretty antithetical to a women’s liberation movement. it’s typically European, for one thing, the whole post thing, and individualistic, and liberal–“i can’t speak for anyone but for no-neck, knuckle-draggin’ asthmatic flat-footed dykes from the Canadian Prairies”. C’mon. I’m part of a world of women, and the working-class, born in north America of ancestors of European settlers, and university educated–there’s masses of people with whom i share a world-view, a bunch of experiences, a context–

what is it to be a history-less people? I watched this short video recently One of the young women talked about the danger of not knowing the history of her people, “We’re from Africa, but where?” and without knowing much, or anything, of her people–what land, climate, culture, language–from which her people were stolen, “we take what’s imposed on us”.

And often the people doing the imposing had fled from, denied or forgotten their history, too.

whoa. messy. No wonder post-modernism gained so much traction in north america. A bunch of history-less people, some with all the stuff and power, and makin’ shit up about themselves and about the people with way less stuff and power.

The thing i really like about the rape crisis centre that i’m allied with (it’s a collective, of which i was part, twice, but am no longer–so I can’t say they are MY beloved collective–however, we are in a complicated relationship–as feminists often are–and I do love them fiercely)–is that, at nearly forty years of age, it has an institutional memory. You can’t swing a cat in this town but you’d hit someone who was a member, or trainee, or called the lines or stayed in the house.  Or worked with them on some project or demonstration or event or case. Forty years worth. There are women working there, as paid staff and as volunteers who have worked there for five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years. They know some things. They are active now and they are also archival, these women. And there are feminist and other political magazines and books in  their library room, and they tell about more things.  This place, it is not like the dusty archives of the town museum that only the odd grad student goes to, no. Their archives that are accessed every week. The history of that place, those women (all forty years of them), is alive. It informs the day to day work, and provides a context. “What happened when we tried that in 1985? what’s different now? how shall we shift to account for the contemporary moment?” It’ s not reinventing the wheel–it’s adding a chassis.

they are part of a Women’s Movement toward Liberation. Me too. Even if i’m not part of that collective–I am part of something big. A worldwide uprising of women. I wish that conference could be called the World-Wide Uprising of Women Conference. But it kind of is. It will be. I know there are radicals from everywhere planning to attend and raise a ruckus. RADICALS.  way more fun than the “fun feminists”. yep.We take up a lot of space because we have a past and a vision and hope for the future; and a plan of action for each day. In lots of ways we’re making it up as we go along, of course we are, but we’re basing it on something real, vital and necessary. Women’s resistance. Centuries of it. Together. with all the things we have in common, and all the differences fitting together like a puzzle (we’ve lost the box–metaphor for diaspora and settlers–but we’re figuring out what the picture looks like).

the other night in the transition house, we were all sitting around talking about stuff. Our lives, you know. women from this city and that city, from that country over there, and that one on the other side of the world–a lesbian and a bunch of straight women, a couple women in their early twenties, one in her thirties, a couple in our forties, one in her sixties–and through different languages and class backgrounds, and racializations and sexuality and ages and experiences==we found so much in common.  We challenged each other about racism. “They have to wear veils” well–but it’s still blaming the victim, isn’t it? And when western countries make laws about that, it’s never in the interests of women, it’s two patriarchal forces butting heads, and women are harmed–and pitted against one another. the talk swirled about the table. The Muslim women nodded, and the Catholic woman asked about the similarities she saw in their religions of origin. We nudged each other to look at sexuality as something that’s constructed by patriarchy, and that we can re-construct as we learn from each other how to be autonomous. One woman said, “this is a moment in all of our lives when we are changing really fast, we’re so important to each other.” I hope I always remember that. How important we are to each other. This. share the stories. Offer what you have. Ask for what you need. Which may be different from what you want.

A Worldwide Uprising of Women. That’s what we need. And here it is. Get those damned posts outta the way, here we come!

About easilyriled

My mom was Edith, my dad was John. I have a brother, who is Shawn. I have many friends and allies and mentors in my life. I'm white, over-educated, working in a field for which I am not yet trained, messy, funny, smart, lesbian, feminist "Not the fun kind", as Andrea Dworkin said. But I, like the feminists I hang with, ARE fun. Radical feminism will be the roots of our shared liberation. Rejection of sex-stereotypes (gender) and male domination will give us wings.

8 responses »

  1. “A Front Door and A Back Door”

    Its a kinda porny title, but maybe you’re going for light hearted?

  2. I’d love to read your paper when it’s finished!

  3. I find it difficult to consider anyone who wants to abolish prostitution a feminist, considering my experiences with prohibitionists at Women’s Worlds today. I saw first hand prohibitionists verbally abuse, attack and belittle pro sex work presenters during their own panel, hijacking their time and silencing their voice. They shouted that we (pro-sex work speakers) were racist, and not feminists. I’m sorry, but if you are verbally abusing women you claim so much to care about, you are not a feminist, nor do you care about women. I would believe you more if you actually tried to create a dialogue with pro-sex work activists, but time and again, you (prohibitionists, not you specifically) have resorted to verbal abuse and personal attacks. You may not engage in such behaviour, but I certainly wouldn’t associate or align myself with those who do.

    • Well, Lindsay, your perception of the events is very different from mine. There were a few pro prostitution industry people who ‘protested’ the Global Flesh Mapping conversations. They could not answer Aboriginal women who asked them if they knew whose land they were on; the women they were protesting against are respected leaders of Aboriginal women, and your friends had no idea who they were. Also in the pro prostitution-industry panels and the presenters could not describe what the Swedish model of law actually was, or what it has achieved. Also, unless you are working toward ending patriarchy and achieving women’s liberation, then no, you are not a feminist. That’s not an insult, it’s just a statement of fact. I align myself with the voices and expertise of women who have been in prostitution and other aspects of the prostitution and pornography industry; Indigenous women whose lands, languages, political structures and cultures have been decimated by colonizers (but the women are rising, make no mistake); and women who are on the front lines of resisting male violence against women. You’re of course welcome to join us. Or get out of the way.
      Oh, and that’s “Abolition” not “Prohibition”
      thanks for your comment.

  4. Pingback: A Word or Two on Abolition. | Feminist Current

  5. Pingback: A word or two on abolition. | Feminist Current

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