Why doesn’t feminism extend to sex workers?

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      I consider myself a feminist, as I’m sure many of you do. This sits well with most people—that is, until they find out that I am also a sex worker. 

      These two facets of my personality coexist unremarkably, yet to many they seem opposing. I’m not writing this with the intent of dramatically altering your views on feminism and/or sex workers, but rather with the hopes that I can help you ask questions within yourself, and perhaps spark an important conversation that may be difficult to have.

      I wasn’t always “out” as a sex worker, but now that I am, it’s not rare for me to be met with offensive comments.

      Some are louder than others: “How can you consider yourself a feminist while selling your body?” Or: “Don’t you feel exploited?” But the danger can be in the subtleties, too—in the unnoticed inherent biases that provoke statements such as: “No offense, but I could never be a stripper,” or, “You’re dating a sex worker? How can you trust her?” These thoughts are characteristics of a SWERF mentality.

      SWERF is an acronym for Sex Work(er) Exclusionary Radical Feminist: a title assigned to feminists who uphold the ideology that some or all forms of sex work are degrading, oppressive, and/or offensive. The main argument that supports this branch of feminism is that sex work is exploitative and objectifying, while often assigning all workers the role of being a victim of the trade.

      For context, I have been in the sex work industry for over a decade. Currently I am a stripper, but my sex work resume is about as broad as it can get. I acknowledge that my current position is one of privilege, but it hasn’t always been that way.

      “Sex work” is an umbrella term that was coined by activist, artist, and sex worker Carol Leigh in the late 1970s and early ‘80s in order to legitimize the trade, while also helping to undo the imposed class system, or “whorearchy,” between sex workers. Whether you’re a full-service worker, stripper, cammer, sugar baby, or porn star—none is more or less dignified. To call ourselves sex workers invites a shared solidarity between us all.

      Historically, there has been a binary divide between feminists in regards to sex work. Many are outspoken about the empowerment of sex work, whereas many label it as exploitative. The reality of the situation is that some days I feel exploited, and some days I feel empowered. Having worked as a journalist, a photographer, and a social worker, I can confidently conclude that the exploited/empowered whiplash that comes from working in a capitalistic society is not solely owned by sex workers. My friends, my partner, my family members—we all share this struggle unanimously. Yet rarely are civilian workers shamed or told how they should feel about what they do.

      Do I feel empowered when I tell people what I do for a living? I do, but there are still certain people I choose not to share this information with because their perceptions and treatments of me would change. People can get to know me as someone’s partner, a dog mom, a too-loud-laugher, a student, or a lover of bread, but when being a sex worker is introduced into the mix, a suffocation of all my other attributes can occur. I am no longer anything else—I am a stripper.

      SWERF ideologies can be personally hurtful, yes, but these rhetorics lead to real-life repercussions as well. Shaming and dehumanizing sex workers gives others the permission to do the same, which can have dangerous consequences. Your thoughts and words contribute to mindsets that shape our laws and govern our society, which chooses who to protect and who to criminalize. 

      As a feminist, I firmly believe that bodily autonomy is a fundamental right. If you think differently, I encourage you to ask yourself the tough questions as to why. I once had to do the same.