Thursday, February 7, 2013

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

There are a lot of people out there who are really keen to tell women what to do with their bodies. On the whole, the feminist mainstream is pretty against this. A male morning TV host in Victoria decided to announcehow inappropriate breastfeeding in public is, and how this shameful thing should be hidden away – Twitter was on fire for two days, and the blogosphere went crazy with disgust for his arrogance at presuming to tell women how to deal with babies. Rightly so, mind you. The guy was clearly trolling, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve every bit of vitriol he got. Yesterday, a poor radio host got named , shamed, and forced to apologise publicly for daring to make her own decisions as to whether she was going to smoke or not while pregnant, as if her body belongs to the public domain now she’s incubating. Rightfully, feminist commentators were all over this too. The question isn’t whether smoking is harmful to babies, or whether breastfeeding is distasteful – the issue at stake other people’s apparent right to comment on what women choose to do with their bodies. In short, if  it’s not your baby, if it’s not your body, then I firmly believe you should shut up. As the Polish apparently say, Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy – not my circus, not my monkeys. (thanks for the edit, dear readers) If you’re not carrying it, if you don’t live in it, you can be quiet now. It’s disgraceful that these situations even come up anymore – I am constantly baffled by how many legislators and commentators think it’s perfectly okay to cast judgement on people’s choices without consulting the people affected in any way. And mostly, mainstream feminism is on my side. 

Not your monkey
 But sometimes, I get all over-excited and say something like, “Fuck those legislators trying to tell women what to do with their bodies! It’s just like people who’ve never been in the sex industry telling sex workers what they should be doing with their bodies!”

And suddenly, there’s silence.


People start looking at me with this infuriating mixture of pity and bafflement. “But how can you support the dehumanising trade in female flesh?” they ask. “Don’t you know all those women really need is a helping hand out of their terrible lives of sexual slavery? Haven't you read Melissa Farley?” It’s at this point I usually ask, “So, you’ve been a sex worker then? Or involved in the sex industry somehow?” The reply is often “You don’t have to have BEEN a sex worker to know it’s all about patriarchy and oppression.” And that’s about when everything starts going red and I black out from sheer frustration.

You see, this kind of patronising. presumptuous nonsense makes me blind with rage. It DOES take involvement in the sex industry to have an informed opinion of how it works, why it exists, and how best to ensure a minimum of harm comes to the women working in it. If you have never been a sex worker, you don’t get to tell sex workers what it’s like, how they feel about their work, and what will help them, if they even want to be helped. It’s not your circus, it’s not your monkey. Sex workers can and do express their needs perfectly clearly, and have been doing so for some years now. If mainstream feminism would just shut up for five minutes we might have a chance to hear what they have to say. While I am happy to talk about my experience in as a receptionist in the sex industry, I hope it’s been clear so far that in no way do I mean to speak on behalf of sex workers. I can’t do that – I don’t have the experience, and I don’t have the right. I can tell you all what *I* learned from being in one part of the industry, how doing reception in brothels made me feel and the experiences I had. But I can’t say shit about what it’s like to be a sex worker, because I haven’t done it. I’m not going to tell women that they should or should not be sex workers, because I haven’t done it. To my mind, this is exactly the same reasoning that prevents me from preaching to pregnant women should and shouldn’t do. I haven’t done it, and I’ll probably never do it. Therefore my opinion on whether getting your boobs out to feed your baby is necessary or not is totally moot. The most important opinions are the ones attached to the boobs doing the feeding – this seems to be a fairly accepted truth in feminist circles. So why does the same not apply to sex workers? 

What I imagine when people say "feminist utopia"
 The feminists you hear from most often, and loudest when it comes to sex work, are those who claim to be “saving” women from a life of coercion, trafficking, and sexual slavery. The ones who say wildly implausible and totally impractical things like "sex work wouldn’t exist in the feminist utopia," and that we're only holding ourselves back by letting it continue. Don’t get me wrong – trafficking of women for the purposes of sexual slavery is a horrible thing, and I absolutely believe it should be stopped, and there should be serious consequences for those involved. If people who are genuinely being trafficked need help, I am all for that and willing to pitch in.  But I cannot accept the popular assertion that ALL sex work is coerced, ALL sex workers are trafficked, ALL sex workers are in need of rescue. Andrea Dworkin's assertion that "in prostitution, no woman stays whole" renders me speechless - although, as my dear readers pointed out, Dworkin was herself a sex worker, and so while her insistence that her experience of sex work is EVERY woman's experience of sex work drives me crazy, at least she was in fact, a sex worker commenting on sex work. I'm sure for some sex workers, her statements are truthful representations of their experience. But to apply these experiences to ALL sex workers, everywhere, ever? It just doesn't make sense to me. There are two simple reasons I can't accept these assertions. A) Common sense. All people in the same occupation are not the same. Not all accountants are boring, not all lawyers are soulless and money hungry. B) I asked some sex workers. “Hey sex worker,” I said. “Do you feel like you’ve been coerced into your current profession, or did you choose it freely?” Some of them said they felt coerced by various factors, but more of them said they chose it freely. Oh my god, how hard was that? Not very hard at all actually. Even if you don’t know any sex workers to ask, The Scarlet Alliance have done some fascinating studies within the sex work community, on all sorts of things, and if you’re interested in finding out more about what the sex industry in Australia is actually like, I cannot recommend their work highly enough. If you want to know more about what it's like to be a sex worker in an environment like the US where it's largely illegal, I highly recommend Melissa Gira's fantastic piece "The War On Sex Workers." From what I’ve read though, it seems like the idea of actually consulting a variety of sex workers on how their occupation affects them is a somewhat revolutionary one. It would be ludicrous for someone (like me) who’s never had children to tell women they don’t REALLY want babies, they’ve just been coerced by societal forces, and they would really be better off without them. But apparently it’s fine to do this to sex workers.   

It makes me sad how many people don’t even consider the role of sex workers in feminism, or consider what they could do to help support sex workers achieve their aims. I know I have a vested interest in the subject because of my experiences – I’ve got several dear friends who either have been or are currently sex workers, and that makes it all rather personal to me. But I can extend my empathy to women upset about the public judging their pregnant bodies, even though I’ve never been pregnant. I haven’t actually even spent much time around pregnant women, apart from my mother. I understand that some people think sex work is icky, and unpleasant. That’s okay – you don’t have to like it. Honestly, I don’t like pregnancy much either. The idea of something growing in my belly literally turns my stomach. But I would never dream of telling you that you shouldn’t be able to have children because the thought of being pregnant makes me queasy. So why is it okay for feminists to tell women not to be sex workers, to pile abuse on them, to accuse them of being supporters of human trafficking, because the idea of sex work makes them feel queasy?

Short answer? It’s isn’t okay. What sex workers choose to do with their bodies is not your circus, not your monkey. Feminism needs to cut this sanctimonious shit out. 

 P.S I'm aware of the irony of this post in the context of my little tirade about Kitty the other day. I intended that post to be more "I wish there were more assertive femme role models", but unfortunately it came out more as "Look at this insipid little brat, and let me tell you how much she annoys me". That wasn't cool, and I will be endeavoring to avoid attacking of other women for making different choices in the future. 


  1. Bullshit we shouldn't object to pregnant women smoking. We should object to any people smoking near children. A pregnant woman is always near a baby.
    It's not about what you do with your body, it's about harming children.

    1. That said, the question of when a foetus becomes a child is such a thorny one. I'm pro-abortion, but not okay with people harming children, so my feelings are pretty mixed.

    2. Choice!
      I'm pro-choice.

      Then again, we are ridiculously overpopulating, so...

    3. But it is about what you do with your body, because the baby is IN your body. I'm not saying it's great for a woman to smoke while pregnant, I'm saying that it's not your or my place to tell her off if she does. The point I was trying to make is that her baby and/or her body is not public properly - she doesn't owe an explanation to you, me, or anyone but the father of the child.

    4. 1) not a child yet.
      2) not your child.
      3) not your body.
      4) stop telling women what to do
      5) jesus god did you even read the fucking post FFS

  2. one small niggle - Dworkin was a sex worker - she's the only one out of that gang of 2nd wavers who i don't hate on for being whorephobic, because she's commenting from her own life experience, and i value that she, as an individual, felt damaged by sex work. i do not agree with her thoughts on sex work, (as a former worker myself), nor do i feel she has a right to speak on behalf of all workers - but i tend to think her voice does deserve to be heard, and critiqued, in a VERY different way to say, Sheila Jefferies.
    (posted anonymously because my twitter handle is associated with work and i like to keep my past work quiet.)

    1. That is a very fair point. Her extension of her experience over ALL of sex work ever just makes me so angry *grits teeth* But you're right, she at least has more right to say these things that people who've never been in the industry.

  3. i agree, the polish quote however is plural ie "not my circus, not my monkeys" Nice to see an article like this amongst all the beauty/nailpolish stuff. sends the right message i think, well done.

    1. Ahh! Thanks, I looked around but could only find a translation on Tumblr, which in hindsight was probably not the most reliable source. It's a BRILLIANT phrase.

      I'm glad you enjoy the change of pace! I think it's important to keep things fresh and stimulating :)


Thank you for taking the time to comment! I live for comments, good or bad.

Anonymous commenting IS allowed on this blog, but in order to reduce the amount of spam, comments on posts more than 14 days old will be moderated.