I support Amnesty International’s draft policy on sex work

Content warning: this post discusses whorephobia and violence against women.

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that a bunch of Hollywood celebrities who are not sex workers have recently started attacking human rights campaign group Amnesty International. You see, Amnesty have taken the very welcome step of considering sex workers human and prioritising their human rights by supporting decriminalisation of sex work.

In their draft policy, they say that the purpose of this is to “prevent and redress human rights violations against sex workers” as well as pointing out that policies involving criminalisation “make those who sell sex vulnerable to human rights violations”. This succinctly sums up a position which current sex workers have been advocating for.

Despite wilful point-missing by those who wish to attack Amnesty for understanding that sex workers need to be protected from human rights violations, Amnesty are explicitly against trafficking, and make some fairly basic suggestions which are Too Hard for those who’d sooner throw vulnerable women into prison than make structural changes. From Amnesty’s list of underlying principles of their document:

5. Amnesty International’s longstanding position that trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation should be criminalised as a matter of international law; and, further that any child involved in a commercial sex act is a victim of sexual exploitation, entitled to support, reparations, and remedies, in line with international human rights law, and that states must take all appropriate measures to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
6. Evidence that some individuals who engage in sex work do so due to marginalisation and limited choices, and that therefore Amnesty International should urge states to take appropriate measures to realize the economic, social and cultural rights of all people so that no person enters sex work against their will, and those who decide to undertake sex work should be able to leave if and when they choose.
7. The obligation of states to protect every individual in their jurisdiction from discriminatory policies, laws and practices, given that the status and experience of being discriminated against are themselves often key factors in what leads people into sex work.
8. States have a duty to ensure that sex workers from groups at risk of discrimination and marginalisation enjoy full and equal protection under relevant international instruments, including for example, those pertaining to the rights of Indigenous Peoples and ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.

I am quoting this here, because Amnesty’s decriminalisation draft policy has been misrepresented repeatedly in the media.

I support decriminalisation because current sex workers say it would make their work safer, allowing them to self-organise in unions for labour rights, facilitating access to health and safety measures, and allowing involvement of the police in the unfortunate situations where they do face sexual or physical violence.

I have taken two actions to support Amnesty’s draft policy on decriminalisation on request of sex workers.

Firstly, I have signed this petition–this takes two minutes, and you don’t really have an excuse not to!

And secondly, I have sent the email below to Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty:

Subject: I support AI’s draft policy on sex work

Dear Mr Shetty,

I am writing to support Amnesty International’s Draft Policy on sex work. I myself have never worked as a sex worker, but like your organisation, I have taken the time to listen to current sex workers talking about what would make their work safer, and reached the conclusion that decriminalisation is the best route towards accepting their dignity and humanity, as well as increasing safety.

I am aware that your organisation has faced a lot of pressure from high-profile individuals who do not respect these principles, and I am writing to express my support for what you are doing. Struggles for human rights often meet with stubborn resistance with those who would rather things remained the same, with some groups pushed to the margins. I have long respected Amnesty’s stance of pushing against this resistance, and I hope that your organisation will stand firm in the face of this and continue to maintain your evidence-based and human rights-focused approach towards sex worker rights.

Many thanks for what you are doing.


In which I review a book that I read: Trans, by Juliet Jacques

Content warning: this post mentions transmisogyny and misogyny

I was recently sent a copy of a book I’ve been itching to read: Trans, a memoir written by Juliet Jacques, a journalist and all-round interesting person who I’ve had the privilege of meeting a couple of times, and always found myself wishing I knew her better. Now, in a way, I do.

It’s hard to explain what sort of book Trans is, because at face value it’s a memoir of her life before and during transition, in reality it’s far more than that. Trans is a book about art and music and football and journalism. Trans is a political exposition of the prospect of a life of shit jobs and no money, the path that our generation find ourselves treading. Trans is an exploration of the intersections of class and misogyny and transphobia, the political springing from the personal. Trans is a reflective examination of the benefits and pitfall that come with having a platform. Trans is a critique of its own form.

The thing that makes Trans such a brilliant book is that it whets the appetite, leaving the reader with a desire to know more, and gently signposting where you can find it. I have found my reading list for trans and feminist theory grow enormously, as well a whole bunch of films I just need to watch, and a playlist of bands I should probably listen to.

Perhaps because of this constant state of piqued interest, I found myself disappointed when the book ended: it ends abruptly, a pointed choice on the part of the author, for as she says in the epilogue (a conversation with author Sheila Heti), “it really was that anticlimactic” to be discharged from the Gender Identity Clinic to go back to work at an admin job in the same hospital. Yet this is entirely consistent with the style of the book: glimpses of moments, a continuity emerging from a discontinuity. Nothing is sudden, and yet everything is sudden.

I could write loads on this, but Juliet says everything much better than I ever could, so I’ll just say this: read this book. There’s something in it for everyone, and it explains complex political issues accessibly. Juliet writes vibrantly and engagingly, and highly evocatively. I said at the start that she’s an interesting person, and this comes through in her writing. She’s cool, with great taste in music and art–although I’m not so sure about her choice of football club! Everything is presented in bite-sized chunks, making such a deep book nonetheless the kind of thing you can dip into during a short bus journey or on the toilet, or tear through during your commute or on holiday. So, read it. I guarantee you’ll like it.

 


Things I read this fortnight that I found interesting

Good afternoon, it’s time for the link round-up again, isn’t it?

The New Misandry: Man-Hating in 1972 (Joanna Russ)- This article was written over 40 years ago and pretty much every word of it is still relevant.

Beyond The Binary– Signal boost of a new magazine for and by NB folk.

David Cameron’s proposed encryption ban would ‘destroy the internet’ (Rob Price)- Very clear explanation of why the proposal is so fucking dangerous.

Amandla Stenberg Didn’t Attack Kylie, Leave Our Princess Alone! (Jamilah Lemieux)- Addressing the horrifically unfair standards levelled at young Black girls.

When Celebrating Accessible Technology is Just Reinforcing Ableism (crippledscholar)- Great article about how some tech makes abled people think they don’t need to make the world itself more accessible.

“Can’t you just CHOOSE?”: Being bi with a preference (Charlotte Dingle)- Something that isn’t discussed much when it comes to bi people, said well.

The dangers of trans broken arm syndrome (Naith Payton)- Short piece neatly explaining the driver for a lot of healthcare challenges faced by trans people.

Proof: Bill Cosby (Jessica W Luther)- Looking at the standards of “proof” demanded.

The Illusion of “Neutral” (Feminist Aspie)- Demolishing the “neutrality” that privileged people claim to hold.

Serena Williams and the Fear of a Dominant Black Woman (Tomas Rios)- Excellent article on reactions to Serena.

The history of British slave ownership has been buried: now its scale can be revealed (David Olusoga)- Long read, but definitely worth it. Slave ownership was very commonplace in Britain and now its history must be acknowledged.

And finally, why yes, it’s another kitten livestream.

 

 


On Pluto and planethood: or, how science isn’t very good at classification

As I write, New Horizons is within celestial spitting distance of Pluto. When the craft was launched in 2006, Pluto was a planet. It isn’t any more.

Later in 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), decided to finally get their shit together and define what a planet actually was. You see, in the run-up to 2006, improvements in observation methods had led to the discovery of what is scientifically known as a fucking fuckload of objects, at least one of which was more massive than Pluto. This would not do, because with each new discovery, it had been possible to say it wasn’t a planet because it was smaller than Pluto (pleasingly, the object more massive than Pluto was named Eris, after the goddess of fucking shit up and ruining everyone’s day). And so the IAU decided to finally figure out what the hell comprised a planet, and couldn’t manage a definition that left you with My Very Easy Method Just Shows Us Nine Planets.

And so, Pluto was stripped of its planetary status, because it only met two out of the three criteria they’d settled on for planethood: yes, Pluto orbited the Sun and was massive enough to be approximately round, but unfortunately for poor old Pluto, it didn’t meet the third criteria–clearing the neighbourhood of its orbit (i.e. there’s other stuff around where Pluto orbits).

This isn’t the first time a planet has been demoted. A little over 200 years ago, it was hypothesised that there was a small planet between Mars and Jupiter, to account for the relatively large gap between the two planets. They found the hypothesised planet in 1801 (then they lost it, then they found it again, but that’s a different story entirely). They named it after the goddess of agriculture, gave it a symbol and everything. Just a year later, another object in the vicinity was found… and then another, then another, and then basically they had a fucking fuckload of the fucking things. It was eventually decided that we would call these small objects orbiting between Mars and Jupiter the asteroids, and they were a different kettle of fish to the planets.

Funnily enough, with the 2006 definition of planets and dwarf planets, Ceres has been sort-of-promoted, to occupy the same dwarf planet class as Pluto. Good for it, I suppose.

The 2006 definition of planethood has been criticised, because of the “clearing the neighbourhood of its orbit” criteria, and not just because it means Pluto is no longer a planet, which kind of makes everything we learned at school about the nine planets a fiction (or something). The thing is, it also means that Earth isn’t a planet, because we have Cruithne, and Jupiter isn’t because of its trojans, and Neptune isn’t a planet either because of its army of plutinos… turns out that this “clearing the neighbourhood” gig is not particularly well-defined either, so if I fancied, I could demote that oversized shitlord Jupiter, with its more moons than it has any business having and its smug red spot.

It’s worth noting at this juncture that while the science upon which the “clearing the neighbourhood of its orbit” is based doesn’t deplanet Earth, Jupiter and Neptune, the wording of the definition adopted by the IAU doesStern and Levinson wrote a discussion paper, laying out a proposed new scheme which contained size criteria for a planet–small enough to have never ignited a fusion reaction, but big enough to be roundish. As well as this, they suggested dividing “uberplanets” from “unterplanets” by their ability to be gravitationally dominant. This is not simply clearing the neighbourhood of everything: a gravitational interaction is acceptable. The paper is an interesting, and reasonably accessible one, and well worth a read as it outlines a lot of the problems with approaches to defining a planet. It’s assumed that the IAU’s neighbourhood clearance criterion was based on Stern and Levinson’s work, although Alan Stern himself points out that it’s a bit of a shitty criterion and excludes literally half the planets.

So, in short, what happened was we started out with no definition of a planet: it was something we just knew when we saw one. And now, we have a definition of a planet, and it’s pretty much just a manifestation of what feelings we have about planets, which Alan Stern described as “sloppy science and it would never pass peer review”.

That’s a thing with the science of categorisation, though. For the most part, it simply reflects what prejudices and constructions we have about whatever is being categorised, because it’s humans doing the categorising. It is something which needs to be undertaken with a degree of reflexivity. A lot of the time, we can pootle on for years lumping and splitting things into various categories, only for that to be thrown into disarray when new information emerges (take, for example, the advent of DNA analysis, and how that has moved a lot of animals around the tree of life). With new information, we tend to redefine based on what we already think.

Some areas are more behind than others. For example, if we defined planets in the same way we considered biological sex, we’d only count the five or six planets we can see with the naked eye.

I expect that within my lifetime, I will see the definition of “planet” changed once or twice more, to incorporate new discoveries, but, more than that, to maintain a comfortable number of planets that falls within Miller’s Magic Number: I suspect this is the ultimate motivation for creating a reductive approach to categorisation.

So, is Pluto a planet, or is it not a planet? Does it really matter? I consider it so, not due to any scientific criteria–although I am sure I could rustle up a definition. All right, fine, fuck it. A planet should have an atmosphere which isn’t predominatly just particles flying at it from the Sun. This makes Pluto a planet (it has an atmosphere and literally as I write this a spaceship is studying it!), but it makes Mercury not a planet since it doesn’t fit this criterion; which is fine, because fuck Geminis, they don’t need a ruling planet, the two-faced bastards.

This, then, is the challenge in classification, categorisation, and building definitions, and similar problems pop up everywhere. Remember this, when you see definitions presented, and categories built by scientists. Remember it, and question it–what do they stand to gain, or preserve?

__

A couple of years after Pluto got demoted, I was doing my PhD (I never finished). My subject matter involved classification and categorisation, and I turned to the natural sciences to have a look at how they did stuff. I suppose, in its own way, this post is the reinterpretation of the findings of the literature review I published; this is something which lurked in the back of my mind, but I didn’t really have the courage to say at the time, because it would put my work on a pretty shaky footing from the off. I needed to believe that classification systems had some sort of “objectivity” to them. I might have nodded in Borges’s direction then, but now I think I’m basically with him.


It’s 2015. Why the fuck are men still being hired to run women’s publications?

Feminism has already won, say people with no fucking clue whatsoever.

Even the gains made by the cishet white middle class feminists aren’t really that strong, despite what the clueless might have you think.

One would imagine that, in the year 2015, even without the hoverboards and instant food, it might be considered common sense for a new head of a women’s publication to be a woman. That those hiring would think “oh, well, obviously this role is best suited to a woman, since she’ll have the additional qualification of a cursory knowledge of issues that affect women, so won’t need so much training or finding her feet.”

Alas, even such a fucking basic concept still seems to be beyond the grasp of many. Vice have launched their new women’s section, and decided that, of all the people who applied for the job, the best-qualified was some bloke called Mitchell Sunderland. As far as I can tell, this isn’t some elaborate practical joke, the only possible explanation for this which doesn’t lead me to seriously question Vice’s recruitment strategy.

Maybe Mitchell Sunderland was the only person who applied. Maybe not a single woman applied for the role. Maybe… nope, I got nothing.

So, what has Mitchell Sunderland managed to cobble together so far? There’s a strapline, which is based on a catchphrase from a 90s comedy show, and it isn’t exactly particularly funny when Broadly has flat-out shown that it doesn’t think women are qualified to run a section when a man has applied. He also appears to be a bit of a bellend, and not exactly “get” women’s concerns.

There will be the inevitable bleating about “baaaaaw equaaaaality” to try to defend Sunderland’s appointment, but I refuse to believe that of everyone who applied for this role, Sunderland was the most qualified. Indeed, if anything, his appointment looks rather a lot like playing favourites: he seems to have had rather a strong content-producing relationship with Vice so far.

Women know how shit things are when men are telling them what they want. It’s why ads catering to women are so bad. It’s why the government is fucking women over so viciously. It’s why Broadly will probably manage to limbo beneath the rest of Vice as the lowest that journalism can go.

Broadly doesn’t need to be feminist, but a woman’s section should be run by a woman, and I refuse to believe that there are no women qualified to run such a section. I refuse to believe that there are no women who applied for the job who were equally, if not more qualified than Mitchell Sunderland.

It’s still a man’s world, and even the fucking tiniest wins were never won at all.


Things I read this week that I found interesting

I’ve actually managed to do a weekly round-up for once. Somebody get me a cookie.

My name is only real enough to work at Facebook, not to use on the site (Zoë Cat)- Facebook’s real name policy is absurd as well as vicious.

Why, No Matter What, I Still Can’t Marry My Girlfriend (Jordan Gwendolyn Davies)- In the US, marriage equality is not what it seems.

Misogynoiristic Expectancy: Social Media Popularity and the Black Femme (Riley H)- Let’s hear about online abuse from someone who isn’t a rich white cis lady.

This Is What Rihanna’s BBHMM Video Says About Black Women, White Women and Feminism (Mia McKenzie)- If you only read one article about that video, make it this one.

Bitch Better Have My Intersectional Feminism or STFU About My Video (nerdygirlswag)- Actually, you should read two articles on it, and this is the other one, and it’s very short so.

I changed my mind on trigger warnings and here’s why you should too (Girl On The Net)- Very good article on why sex bloggers should use trigger warnings.

Rape Scenes Aren’t Just Awful. They’re Lazy Writing (Laura Hudson)- Pretty thorough takedown of most excuses where men will try to crowbar in a rape scene.

A Linguist Explains How We Write Sarcasm on the Internet (Gretchen McCulloch)- This is a really interesting article about the way means of conveying sarcasm have evolved online.

And finally, Christian Grey’s words coming out of Flashheart’s mouth. Woof!


Rape scenes are usually lazy writing and directing

Content warning: this post discusses rape, sexual violence and media misogyny

Rape scenes are horribly popular in the media, and seldom necessary. With a flicker of hope, I wonder if savvy viewers are finally kicking back against this tedious trope as an opening-night audience booed a completely gratuitous rape scene crowbarred into an opera.

The defences of the scene were the same old tired shit. The director of the Royal Opera House said:

“The production includes a scene which puts the spotlight on the brutal reality of women being abused during war time, and sexual violence being a tragic fact of war,”

while one of the cast said:

“Maybe it went a little longer than it should have, but it happened and I think it’s an element you can use to show just how horrible these people were that were occupying this town,”

while the director of the production said exactly the same thing too:

“If you don’t feel the brutality, the suffering these people have had to face, if you want to hide it, it becomes soft, it becomes for children,”

I often wonder about the existence of this hypothetical audience member who cannot understand that a villain is bad, and conditions are awful for women, without being literally shown a woman being raped. I presume Rossini, who wrote the opera in 1829, didn’t have such a low opinion of those who would appreciate his work, considering he didn’t write that scene in himself–it was added by the director.

I’ve written before about how a competent production doesn’t need to show a rape scene for the audience to grok that this is a bad place full of bad people, comparing the latest Mad Max to Game of Thrones. To me, putting a rape on stage or screen or on the page as a form of scene-setting is the very pinnacle of laziness. A decent writer or director can build up an air of threat, of terror, without having to use salacious violence against women as a shorthand for this. It’s the Michael Bay school of show don’t tell… rather than hinting and using subtlety, they show with a gross insult to the audience’s capacity to think.

Yes, there are times where as rape scene is actually relevant to the plot, but these instances are few: tiny, compared to the number of times such scenes have been smeared in there like shit on a portaloo wall.

People will use the potentially imaginary audience member to excuse what is essentially a failure of men’s skills at writing and directing. I cannot say I have ever met or spoken to–or even had a screeching comment–from somebody who admits that they are incapable of grasping that the situation is dire or the villain is a bad ‘un without having to see somebody being raped.

Perhaps, therefore, audience are smarter than writers and directors think. And this means that they must stop using the same worn-out old excuses to cover for their fatuous productions. In turn, perhaps this means they will finally have to face a challenge of creating something with a little bit of thought behind it.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 21,221 other followers