In the streets

Caty and I got into lively conversation last night (well, we were already in it) when these photos from Sunday’s demonstrations in Turkey started flying around Twitter and Facebook. This one’s been shared about 5000 times from this post, and then was tweeted (and translated from a sign with the same slogan) on Twitter:

“We’re whores, and sure these politicians are not our kids!”

Caty put it to a Turkish-speaking friend on Facebook, who offered this translation of the sign, which is a little different:


“We whores are sure that Tayyip is not our son.”

The reference for the shirt and sign’s pushback is the insult “son of a whore,” one of those slurs of contamination (your mother is worthless, ergo…). You see and hear it at these demos sometimes without a thought, particularly the thought that maybe, the woman in the t-shirt with the red umbrella marching side-by-side with you might be a whore. So here she is speaking back.

And, using the same words as sex workers at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol occupation in 2011 to do so, when they had to confront the same:

…we decided that we absolutely had to have a pedagogical, and not just militant, approach. We try to make protesters aware that some of the language and slogans they use are profoundly misogynistic, even if they don’t mean them to be. People tend to call such-and-such politician a “son of a whore”, for example. In response, a group of sex- worker activists began holding posters that read: “Excuse me, but I’m a whore, and I can assure you these politicians are not my sons.”

We try to use humour and dialogue, not so much to change the actual words people use, but to get them to reflect on negative gender stereotypes and their impact on society.

This one says: “Let whores govern, since their sons have failed us”

I remembered a more explicitly nasty variation on the whore-as-capitalist-collaborator meme that popped up at Zuccotti Park, again in the pose of anti-austerity critique:

"MY money's no whore."

Heaping such blame is both anti-worker and misogynist, and props up claims that capitalism and patriarchy are somehow driven by prostitution (which predates one, if not both). If it exists at all as its own special dirty category of money distinct from all that other virtuous money, “whore money” – the actual money made by whores –  is a stop-gap for many struggling in the crisis, not the crisis itself. Never mind the fact that whores are more likely than most other workers to keep money outside of a bank, due to banks’ own discriminatory policies and fears of attracting scrutiny that could in turn attract police attention. (Also, is ball-licking here posited as awesome or exploitative, and can you have it both ways, even rhetorically? Cool story, protestbros.)

(That’s a sticker, by the way, stuck up on “the red thing,” Occupy Wall Street’s iconic homing beacon. To throw more signs, etc. on top of this, it was the day Judith Butler came to speak at Zuccotti, and the park was so packed we couldn’t even find her, just ten feet away.)

But in Zuccotti Park, as in Puerta del Sol, as in Gezi Park:

Sex workers stand w/ all workers

Whores have long been at the barricades, even when they didn’t announce themselves. Forty years ago this Sunday, the prostitutes of Lyon did so under their own banner, and occupied a church in protest of the police, an action now regarded as the birth of the modern sex workers’ right movement:

And also this weekend, French sex workers union STRASS with members of Doctors of the World offered this message in solidarity (h/t, Luca):

STRASSE solidarity with Turkey

(Mega h/t to @kitabet on Twitter, who translated and circulated the original images from Turkey, who pointed out that if the park that inspired these protests was destroyed, trans sex workers would be among those displaced. Many “development” projects in global cities have been nothing but tarted-up “clean streets” campaigns, resulting in, and certainly in the case of Times Square’s re-development, intending to cause the isolation of sex workers from their work, homes, and communities.)


@mexber on Twitter comments, “I don’t have any hard evidence but I am pretty sure that frase was used in the early 00’ protests in Argentina.” He finds this photo from Mexico City in 2004:

The banner reads, by his translation, “Whores to power. Their sons have already failed us.”


Saint Nick Kristof

“…happy hookers, says Kristof, don’t despair, this isn’t about women like you – we don’t really mean to put you out of work. Never mind that shutting down the businesses people in the sex trade depend on for safety and survival only exposes all of them to danger and poverty, no matter how much choice they have. Kristof and the Evangelicals outside the Village Voice succeed only in taking choices away from people who are unlikely to turn up outside the New York Times, demanding that Kristof’s column be taken away from him.

Even if they did, with the platform he’s built for himself as the true expert on sex workers’ lives, men like Kristof can’t be run out of town so easily. There’s always another TED conference, another women’s rights organization eager to hire his expertise. Kristof and those like him, who have made saving women from themselves their pet issue and vocation, are so fixated on the notion that almost no one would ever choose to sell sex that they miss the dull and daily choices that all working people face in the course of making a living. Kristof himself makes good money at this, but to consider sex workers’ equally important economic survival is inconvenient for him.”

That’s from Happy Hookers, my critique, in part, of feminism’s departure into special-white-lady-ism, and a critique made possible by one fundamental text.

Thanks to Bhaskar and Peter over at the Jacobin for working with me on this. And thanks to Sarah Jaffe and Mike Konczal, also, for the late Thursday night thinking-and-drinking that inspired it in the first place.

I reported on this week’s dueling Backpage protests – one led by anti-sex work feminists and evangelical youth, one led by sex workers and allies – for the New York Observer tech site, Betabeat.

An important follow-up to the demonstration that activists organized under the banner of Occupy Oakland Patriarchy held outside an anti-prostitution conference in Oakland last week—Emi Koyama, who writes extensively on anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution campaigns, responds:

…in the statement announcing their protest/disruption, [Occupy Oakland Patriarchy] prominently use a quote from my article in Bitch magazine, identifying me as a “sex worker and activist”…

While I do not make secret of my history in the sex trade, I use discretion as to when and where I refer to myself as a sex worker for my safety–not just safety from violence, but from prejudice, discrimination, and police surveillance.

It’s a distinction that might not make sense to people who haven’t done sex work. It’s one that I’ve fought with, as well: when writing about Backpage and Ashton Kutcher for the Guardian (UK) last year, I didn’t explicitly come out as a sex worker in my piece, which angered some people in response to it, who felt I should have (as if that alone explained away my criticism?).

Posting Emi’s response here gave me pause for a minute, too. I don’t necessarily want to amplify the original posting that Emi is calling out. But I do think it’s important to amplify Emi’s concerns and to ask activists, even those who aim to support sex workers, to understand the risks that can come with being known as a sex worker.

This week Occupy Oakland Patriarchy took the vanguard of protesting outside “anti-trafficking” conferences.*

This is the first I’ve heard of an anti-trafficking conference getting the Occupy treatment. And I do wonder what the cops think: do they really want to take on yet more “vice” work they’re so poorly qualified to do? Local news doesn’t see fit to ask them, but are very pleased to provide some anarchist eye candy.

A perfect complement: Charlotte Shane writes about encountering the 1%, as a sex worker—not just wealthy clients, but also, what it means to accumulate her own wealth.

It’s true that many of my clients are incredibly bright, highly skilled at their jobs, and have labored for years on a minimum of sleep. It’s not that they’ve made no sacrifices or put forth no effort, nor are they unkind or unpleasant people. But its fruitless to debate whether they have “worked hard” enough to justify income disparity. Such personality and work-ethic arguments are red herrings; it’s clear that one can work very hard and not make much money, and that we each have different ideas as to what constitutes “hard” work.

* “anti-trafficking” is in quotes because the aim of this conference is to give the police more money and more power to arrest anyone in the sex trade, which would not only do nothing to reduce violence or coercion in the sex trade, it would also do little to “abolish”—their words!—anything re: forced labor, let alone commercial sex.