Harlots Parlour

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Anti-sex work event "Feminism in London" this weekend

(Crossposted from my blog)

I got quite enthusiastic when I read the initial description at The F-Word Blog of the upcoming Feminism in London, the second year of what is intended to be an annual event being held on Saturday 10 October at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn, WC1R 4RL from 9:30am to 5pm.

What is Feminism in London? Primarily it is what the name implies it to be, though I must mention that the FiL committee will not just be representing the woman-power we’ve got going on in the capital, but will also provide a platform for a range of global, historical and ethical issues, as well as those we have on our doorstep here in Blighty.

The day will centre around a series of workshops and talks, hosted by plenty of prolific feminist icons including Susie Orbach, Beatrix Campbell and Denise Marshall, alongside empowerment- groups such as The Southall Black Sisters.

Then I read on to some of the events listed in the programme, and I decided that maybe this is not about “women power” but rather “the-right-kinds-of-women power”, and we see the same-old, same-old hatred of sex workers rearing its ugly head:

“It’s easy out here for a pimp” anti-porn slideshow

What’s wrong with prostitution?

Raising children in the age of porn

So then I went googling some of those icons, and surprise-surprise, one or two crop up as being strongly anti-sexworkers.

Then I went to the Feminism in London list of speakers.

On the “What’s Wrong with Prostitution?” panel we have:

  • Gunilla Ekberg: a Swedish-Canadian lawyer and international expert on human rights, who was Special Advisor to the Swedish government on trafficking in human beings for five and half years, responsible for developing public and legislative policy.
  • Denise Marshall: the Chief Executive of Eaves Housing for Women and runs the POPPY Project, The Lilith Project, Eaves Women’s Aid, The Amina Scheme.
  • Rebecca Mott
  • Anna Travers (site text tells of her being groomed aged 17 by a pimp, and after exiting prostitution campaigning because, of course, her experience is every woman’s experience)

This panel is described thus: “…aims to inform and educate about the realities of prostitution and the modern globalised “sex industry”. You will be able to submit questions to the panel in advance and during the session.

So, we see two experts on trafficking (one of whom is partly responsible for the infamous Swedish model) and two survivors of abuse-disguised-as-sex-work. Where are the voices of current sex workers? Where are the voices of feminist sex workers, and of sex workers who are still in the trade and just want to be able to do their business safely and without harassment? Because we know there are voices like that out there (IUSW, EPC, Harlots’ Parlour, etc), could they find none willing to speak? Or did they not bother asking?

Then I looked at the events list. In addition to the above one-sided panel, the following can be found:

“It’s easy out here for a pimp” anti-porn slideshow

This workshop will be based on a hard-hitting feminist anti-pornography slide show written and produced by Dr Rebecca Whisnant of the University of Dayton for Stop Porn Culture. The slide show provides a feminist analysis of the nature, impact and harms of the contemporary pornography industry and the pornification of the wider corporate media culture. It shows how, by selling a set of toxic and distorted messages about gender, power and sexuality, this culture is hurting all of us, but especially children and young people. It ends with suggestions for activism and ways to resist porn culture.

Ah, Dr Rebecca Whisnant, that name is very familiar to sex workers’ rights activists and sex-positive feminists. There seems to be a very strong theme developing here, and it is not a sex-positive one…

What else can people expect?

Raising children in the age of porn

This workshop is for all those who interact with children (whether as a parent, an aunt or uncle, a teacher or a play leader). Have you wondered what to do on discovering your 11-year old son watching hard core porn on the Internet? Or how to respond to your 7-year old niece who asks for a Playboy t-shirt for her birthday? Or how to help your own teenager or the young people you work with have a more critical analysis of the porn culture that engulfs them? In this workshop, a collective session, we will be looking for answers to such questions.

This workshop leads on from the anti-pornography slide show (although you are free to go one and not the other).

It would be good to have some sex-positive input on this one, but I imagine the theme may not be so positive, given that it’s going to be led by Laura Colclough (typical google result for her + pornography: “Laura Colclough invites us to examine just how much modern pornography promotes unequal gender relations and increased violence against women and girls“).

Perhaps the best chance to inject some sex-positive message into the proceedings would be on the “Power in Bed” session:

Power in bed

Top, bottom, in bed or out. What does empowering sex look like? How do power and privilege play out in the sex we have and the sex we want to have? Join this fun facilitated discussion to examine how the social forces and power dynamics we challenge publicly also shape our most intimate interactions.

The session is led by someone called Alice Kentridge, about whom even Google seems reticent; the description on the list of speakers says:

Alice Kentridge is an activist and writer who is interested in powerful conversations and challenging one’s own privilege. Growing up in South Africa and then living in New York she has worked with high school and university students on projects addressing body image, homophobia and white privilege.

I don’t know, maybe she is kink-friendly and maybe she’s kink-phobic, or maybe neither but open-minded or closed-minded about it, but it’s the only workshop where there doesn’t seem to be a presumption going in that “deviant” sex or sex work is automatically bad.

I don’t realistically have the resources to go there myself, and in terms of making a potent sex workers’ rights activism stand at the event itself, I am not the sort of face you’d choose as the poster-child. But if there are any sex-positive feminists or sex workers’ rights activists in London who can make it to the event, I think it would be worthwhile not letting these things go unchallenged. It would be great if there could be an organised/coordinated approach because the “bringing up children” session is at the same time as the “what’s wrong with prostitution?” and if both workshops/panels are to have sex-positive input, it would be necessary for people to arrange ahead of time who’s doing what.

So, if anyone is able on the Saturday 10th October to make it to the event (and can afford the £4.50 booking fee) I hope sex workers’ rights advocacy feminism can be represented.

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This entry was posted on 6 October, 2009 by in Uncategorized.
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