Federici about sexwork, stigma and feminism

(question) ok, the institutionalising of prostitution. something that the European constitution is complying to…We don’t see burning women in Bangladesh but we certainly see bordellos in the border of Austria and the Czech Republic and i think this is a very important struggle with the compliance of institutionalised prostitution…

Silvia Federici: I think there is a continuity here with the 1980s and the globalisation process and, in a way, the early phase – the period that saw the development of capitalist relations. Those of you who have read ‘Caliban & the Witch’ will know that I speak of the massification of prostitution. One of the main first consequences of land expropriation was certainly the massification of prostitution. At the very moment when prostitution had actually been accepted socially throughout the Middle Ages, it became criminalised and nevertheless, of course, this was one of the avenues that women resorted to with the end of, basically, the access to the commons. We see the same processes today. In fact, there’s been a massification of prostitution as sex work across the world.

I think that to some extent, to some extent, but I think to a limited extent, that the increase in the number of women who are turning to sex work has also had to do with the feminist movement. It has given a contribution to undermining that kind of moral stigma attached to sex work. I think the women’s movement has also given power for example, to prostitute -to represent themselves a sex workers.

It’s not an accident that with on the wake of feminist movement you have the beginning of a sex worker’s movement, throughout Europe, for instance. So that the stigma, the feminists, they really attacked that hypocrisy: the holy mother, that vision of women, the whole self-sacrificial and the prostitute, which is the woman who does sexual work but for money.

And she gets paid, so she is in fact in violation of the first rule: that you work for nothing. And you have that separation of the ‘bad woman’ and the ‘good woman’. The women’s movement has really challenged that separation and in that way given power for the sex workers to move.

So part of the increase in the number of sex workers…there are many women -students, also housewives, I know, in the United States – who do sex work on the side, to complement forms of wage labour that don’t pay enough. Or to pay your tuition, to do some sex work on the side. I know many, many cases of women who do that. Particularly now that you can do sex work electronically, you can actually do it from your bedroom, you know; interactive sex for instance. I don’t know if you have this form of sex work. But sex by phone, interactive sex; these are all ways you can integrate sex work into your routine, as you’re cooking your food. But much of the increase in the number of sex workers has to do also with the conditions of living. In the end, sex work pays better than working as a maid. Many women – I’ve done work, research work, on immigrant women who migrate as a maid, as healthcare workers..and after in many cases after one or two years if they can they may opt to do sex work because what they may earn in a much shorter time is much more.

But of course as part of sex work you have all forms of coercion, all forms of brutality, the sex business is one of the most violent businesses. But it is not the most violent business. If you work in a free export zone your life is as much in danger as if you work in a brothel or on the street.

I think there is a major problem – there has been a major major problem in the feminist movement. The feminist movement has been really split on the question of sex work. And I don’t know how it is here in Croatia, how it is in The Balkans, but I know that I have many many discussions with feminist friends, and often they are on the opposite side, because I have some friends, and some feminists, who do not want to hear about sex work. They think to even speak of sex work is to validate a kind of activity that is contrary to women’s rights, that is contrary to basically the transformative image of women.

And on the other hand, there are many other feminists who see sex work as a legitimate type of work among the options that are available to women, and I place myself in that second group. I think that to particularly criticize the women who opt for sex labour is very short sighted, because it really stems from a sort of moralistic position, given that there are many many other forms of work today that have very…..expose women to the same dangerous situation. And perhaps in some cases even more – and expose women to situations that basically put them in a completely subordinate position, and it’s a position that makes them vulnerable to violence so..

OK. I will leave it at that. And i would like to hear, maybe, some comments, coming from you (gestures to audience), on this question.

(silence)

(facilitator): comments please. don’t be afraid of the sex topic.

(another silence!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enpTFJsswWM à partir de 1:10:23

transcription Ellis Suzanna Slack

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