When the Women’s March first published its Guiding Principles, we read that tiny, historic statement ‘…and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements.’ I can’t explain how meaningful these words felt in that moment. We were welcome. Finally. It was undeniable now – sex workers belonged in women’s movements. Finally. Finally! I cried from joy, I rambled on enthusiastically on the internet and I started researching how to get involved with WM events in the Netherlands.
Then, the manifesto was edited.
Again, I can’t properly explain how this felt. It was like getting punched in the chest, like a slow nausea spreading and like the floor dissolving under our feet at the same time. It felt like falling while running, face hitting on the ground, with anti’s standing over us and cackling – did you really think this would happen? Did you really think this new wave of women’s movements would welcome you with open arms? Did you really think you could feel safe and confident here? As if we can’t destabilise every allyship, every bit of secure footing you think you’ve found. As if they’ll ever believe you.
For a second, we had the audacity to think we were at a turning point, a meaningful moment of solidarity and inclusion that would have a ripple effect across social movements, that would jumpstart a move away from harmful policy disguised as ‘anti-trafficking measures’ and towards an acknowledgement of the humanity and labour of sex workers. And then we got punished. The anti’s would always outpower us and they wouldn’t allow even the tiniest hint of solidarity within women’s rights spaces.
Then, the text got edited again.
And I was grateful, though my earlier high hopes did not return. Okay, so women’s spaces weren’t ready to unapologetically welcome people who do sex work. So feminism was still a social movement dominated by christian values around sexuality, and feminists still wouldn’t shy away from aligning themselves with the same folks who tortured ‘loose women’ and lgbti+ folks because of their religious beliefs. Okay. Okay.
And yet, something seemed to be moving. This whole back-and-forth debacle, the language used, the people involved, the whole affair was so representative of the dynamics and struggles I’d seen up to that point, from local to global issues. At that point, I just wasn’t sure anymore – were we moving forward at all? Or were we stuck forever in a one step forwards, two steps back situation? Was all apparent progress meaningless lipservice rather than anything else?
Shortly after publication of the manifesto – and its edits – Janet Mock wrote On the Women’s March ‘Guiding Vision’ and its inclusion of Sex Workers. My whole post so far is just an excuse to post her words, ghehe. Because she took that moment and made it meaningful. Because she restored our hope (well, mine at least!) that, yes, the time has come to claim space within women’s rights movements. It is time to demand acknowledgement of our existence and our needs. And, well, I figured that a year later, we might need a reminder of all that. So here. Some very important words, written by Janet Mock:
“I am proud of the work I’ve done as part of the Women’s March policy table – a collection of women and folk engaged in crucial feminist, racial and social justice work across various intersections in our country. I helped draft the vision and I wrote the line “…and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements.” It is not a statement that is controversial to me because as a trans woman of color who grew up in low-income communities and who advocates, resists, dreams and writes alongside these communities, I know that underground economies are essential parts of the lived realities of women and folk. I know sex work to be work. It’s not something I need to tiptoe around. It’s not a radical statement. It’s a fact. My work and my feminism rejects respectability politics, whorephobia, slut-shaming and the misconception that sex workers, or folks engaged in the sex trades by choice or circumstance, need to be saved, that they are colluding with the patriarchy by “selling their bodies.” I reject the continual erasure of sex workers from our feminisms because we continue to conflate sex work with the brutal reality of coercion and trafficking. I reject the policing within and outside women’s movements that shames, scapegoats, rejects, erases and shuns sex workers. I cannot speak to the internal conflicts at the Women’s March that have led to the erasure of the line I wrote for our collective vision but I have been assured that the line will remain in OUR document. The conflicts that may have led to its temporary editing will not leave until we, as feminists, respect THE rights of every woman and person to do what they want with their body and their lives. We will not be free until those most marginalized, most policed, most ridiculed, pushed out and judged are centered. There are no throwaway people, and I hope every sex worker who has felt shamed by this momentarily erasure shows up to their local March and holds the collective accountable to our vast, diverse, complicated realities.”