Archives de Tag: Féminisme de classe

L’injonction d’…

L’injonction d’arrêter la prostitution adressée aux étrangères revient à raviver une vieille distinction que l’on espérait pourtant révolue : celle entre les pauvres (pauvresses) méritants, à qui sont compassionnellement octroyés quelques maigres subsides, et ceux qui, persévérant dans leur mauvaises inclinations, ne recueillent que ce qu’ils méritent – en l’occurrence le centre de rétention et l’expulsion. Qu’un tel mode de pensée puisse aujourd’hui se targuer du féminisme est un incontestable révélateur des régressions qu’a ces dernières années connu la pensée du social.

Lilian Mathieu, « Les pauvresses méritantes et les autres. A propos du renforcement de la lutte contre le système prostitutionnel »


A parallel top-down dynamic coexists with our servicing of the male workforce—that of the enforcement of “caring” upon sex workers (particularly those who perform illicit, undocumented, full-service, or street-based work). The logic of “saving” women (savior rhetoric tends to ignore people who aren’t women) from performing this kind of marginalized labor is a direct legacy of the emerging middle-class social-working women of Victorian England and their contemporaries in the US. Rarely discussed is the classist, coercive, and hypocritical history of women’s entry into the “caring professions”—particularly with regards to the construction of the “prostitute” as a particular subject in need of saving, reforming, and steering into respectable middle-class life by “benevolent” ladies during the “rise of the social” of the late 19th century. During this era, “those doing charitable works entered into a governmental relationship with the objects of their charity, and created themselves as important social actors in the process….‘Helping’ became a profession that relied on identifying subjects and then placing them in closed spaces where they could be worked upon and controlled.”[2] Modern non-sex-working feminists who support abolitionist/savior tactics or engage in these caring-projects themselves presume a more dignified identity than that of the sex worker, and often end up replicating a system of enforced docility based on misogynistic, bourgeois notions of respectability and the proper placement of women within the public sphere. Middle-class academics and writers who make their living off promoting a framework that casts sex workers as an inherently victimized identity “for their own good” do so at the direct expense of the agency and economic livelihood of women of lower socioeconomic status. Statist feminists’ rhetoric of “fighting the sex industry” typically relies on State power in the form of legislative reform that criminalizes at least some aspects of sex work, increases the power of law enforcement, & overregulates the sex industries in ways that further marginalize the least privileged workers by making their participation in these economies prohibitively expensive or difficult (see Britain’s Policing and Crime Act of 2009)

Thus, sex workers are triangulated in a system of caring labor—that which is enacted upon us (sometimes forcibly) by carceral feminists, paternalistic liberals, the prison-industrial complex, the surveillance State,[3] and the superstructure of capitalist-patriarchy, and that which we perform for (primarily white) middle- to upper-class men (to say nothing of the unpaid reproductive labor we are often mandated to perform in our homes and communities). In some ways this system self-replicates harmoniously—“From homemaking to professional housekeeping—not to mention nursing, hospitality, and phone sex—women and people of color are disproportionately responsible for the care that keeps this society functioning, yet have disproportionately little say in what that care fosters. Likewise, a tremendous amount of care goes into oiling the machinery that maintains hierarchy: families help police relax after work, sex workers help businessmen let off steam, secretaries take on the invisible labor that preserves executives’ marriages.” (“Self As Other: Reflections on Self-Care,” CrimethInc. 2013). Other times, the State and the hierarchical institutions that collude with it to oppress sex workers (such as academia and the nonprofit-complex) are positioned in contradiction to the selling of sexualized services, often by way of support for or enactment of various forms of direct or indirect/“backdoor” criminalization;[4] more indirectly, these institutions control the discourse around sex work, feminism, and labor via the creation and maintenance of a professional class of “experts” on these intersections, who have often never engaged in sex work themselves but assume entitlement based on their positioning as members of “the sex class.”[5]

There’s a predictable but rarely-acknowledged irony that the privileges of scholars, authors, non-profit representatives, policymakers, abolitionist activists, professional feminists, and other “experts” on sex work come under less scrutiny than the supposedly “privileged” sex workers who critique non-sex-workers’ skewed analysis of the industry. It’s a fallacy to assume that non-sex-working feminists are more qualified, more entitled to speak on behalf of the “most marginalized,” than actual sex workers who are assumed to be “not representative” of the “average” sex worker, or who don’t fit into our culture’s perception of what the “worst off” looks like. That’s not to say that these experts are always blinded by their economic and social privilege, that none have adopted their views as a result of their experiences working in the sex industry themselves. Identity itself isn’t always the deciding standard for sound analysis. The problem is that (usually relatively privileged) non-sex-working feminists do overwhelmingly take up space at the table where sex workers, especially sex workers who are particularly marginalized & institutionally disenfranchised (street workers, drug users, trans women, single parents, people of color, etc.) should be debating effective strategies for liberation, resistance, and survival, in whatever forms these may materialize. We should be finding ways to help each other avoid exploitation, violence, and desperation, without contributing to a culture of stigma or perpetuating rhetoric that makes criminalization of sex work a winning strategy for politicians and good PR for celebrities and CEOs.

Grin and Bare it All: Against Liberal Conceptions of Sex Work” (via marginalutilite)

Anti-male factions within the feminist movement resented the presence of anti-sexist men because their presence served to counter any insistence that all men are oppressors, or that all men hate women. It promoted the interests of feminist women who were seeking greater class mobility and access to forms of power to polarize men and women by putting us in neat of oppressor/oppressed. They portrayed all men as the enemy in order to represent all women as victims. This focus on men deflected attention from the class privilege of individual feminist activists as well as their desire to increase their class power. Those individual activists who called on all women to reject men refused to look at either the caring bonds women shared with men or the economic and emotional ties (however positive or negative) that bind women to men who are sexist.

bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p.  68-69

While feminists in the United States were right to call attention to the need for global equality for women, problems arose as those individual feminists with class power projected imperialist fantasies onto women globally, the major fantasy being that women in the United States have more rights than any group of women globally, are “free” if they want to be, and therefore have the right to lead feminist movement and set feminist agendas for all the other women in the world, particularly women in third world countries. Such thinking merely mirrors the imperialist racism and sexism of ruling groups of Western men.

bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p. 45

Mainstream patriarchy reinforced the idea that the concerns of women from privileged-class groups were the only ones worthy of receiving attention. Feminist reform aimed to gain social equality for women within the existing structure. Privileged women wanted equality with men of their class. Despite sexism among their class they would not have wanted to have the lot of working class men. Feminist efforts to grant women social equality with men of their
class neatly coincided with white supremacist capitalist patriarchal fears that white power would diminish if nonwhite people gained equal access to economic power and privilege. Supporting what in effect became white power reformist feminism enabled the main- stream white supremacist patriarchy to bolster its power while si- multaneously undermining the radical politics of feminism.

bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p. 40-41

Class difference and the way in which it divides women was an issue women in feminist movement talked about long before race. In the mostly white circles of a newly formed women’s liberation movement the most glaring separation between women was that of class. White working-class women recognized that class hierarchies were present in the movement. Conflict arose between the reformist vision of women’s liberation which basically demanded equal rights for women within the existing class structure, and more radical and/or revolutionary models, which called for fundamental change in the existing structure so that models of mutuality and equality could replace the old paradigms. However, as feminist movement progressed and privileged groups of well-educated white women be-gan to achieve equal access to class power with their male counterparts, feminist class struggle was no longer deemed important.
From the onset of the movement women from privileged classes were able to make their concerns “the” issues that should be focused on in part because they were the group of women who received public attention. They attracted mass media. The issues that were most relevant to working women or masses of women were never highlighted by mainstream mass media. Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique identified “the problem that has no name” as the dissatisfaction females felt about being confined and subordinated in the home as housewives. While this issue was presented as a crisis for women it really was only a crisis for a small group of well-educated white women. While they were complaining about the dangers of confinement in the home a huge majority of women in the nation were in the workforce. And many of these working women, who put in long hours for low wages while still doing all the work in the domes- tic household would have seen the right to stay home as “freedom.”
It was not gender discrimination or sexist oppression that kept privileged women of all races from working outside the home, it was the fact that the jobs that would have been available to them would have been the same low-paying unskilled labor open to all working women. Elite groups of highly educated females stayed at home rather than do the type of work large numbers of lower-middle-class and working-class women were doing. Occasionally, a few of these women defied convention and worked outside the home perform- ing tasks way below their educational skills and facing resistance from husbands and family. It was this resistance that turned the is- sue of their working outside the home into an issue of gender dis- crimination and made opposing patriarchy and seeking equal rights with men of their class the political platform that chose feminism rather than class struggle.
From the outset, reformist white women with class privilege were well aware that the power and freedom they wanted was the freedom they perceived men of their class enjoying. Their resistance to patriarchal male domination in the domestic household provided them with a connection they could use to unite across class with other women who were weary of male domination. But only privileged women had the luxury to imagine working outside the home would actually provide them with an income which would enable them to be economically self-sufficient. Working-class women already knew that the wages they received would not liberate them. Reformist efforts on the part of privileged groups of women to change the workforce so that women workers would be paid more and face less gender-based discrimination and harassment on the job had positive impact on the lives of all women. And these gains are important. Yet the fact that the privileged gained in class power while masses of women still do not receive wage equity with men is an indication of the way in which class interests superceded feminist efforts to change the workforce so that women would receive equal pay for equal work.

bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p. 37-39

Josephine Butler s’offusque de ce qu’il « y [ait] autour de nous des femmes par milliers […] qui sont exclues de leur destination originelle et condamnées à ne jamais goûter ni les douceurs du chez-soi, ni l’état conjugal, ni la paix domestique »1. Elle trouve particulièrement révoltant que ces femmes pauvres voient la maternité comme une malédiction et fassent tout pour y échapper. Les valeurs propres à sa classe l’empêchent de prendre en considération le fait qu’une grossesse peut être une calamité lorsqu’on n’a pas de quoi se nourrir et qu’on passe ses journées à l’extérieur pour gagner quelques sous. Elle se propose donc d’aider ses sœurs malheureuses à la condition que celles-ci modifient leur comportement et refusent leur vie de débauche, comme elle l’explique ici : « comme nous aurions pu devenir ce qu’elles sont, un jour elles pourront […] devenir ce que nous sommes. Il y a pour elles, et plus qu’on le pense, une réhabilitation possible »2. R. Decante met en exergue l’attitude des abolitionnistes qui consiste à se tourner vers les prostituées comme on s’abaisse vers « tous les déshérités de la vie » et que l’on se préoccupe « avant tout, des moyens de relever cette créature déchue »3. L’auteur rapporte à ce sujet les propos de Mme Scheven qui résume parfaitement la perspective moralisatrice et le mépris d’une partie des militant·e·s abolitionnistes pour les femmes pauvres. Selon cette personne, les abolitionnistes ne considèrent pas la disparition de la syphilis comme le but des efforts réalisés par les abolitionnistes mais comme la suppression de « la punition infligée par la nature à l’homme vicieux » dont la conséquence serait une « syphilisation morale pire encore que la syphilis du corps ». Ce en quoi elle conclut que la médecine ne devrait pas chercher de remèdes contre les maladies vénériennes4.

Tiphaine BESNARD, Les prostituées à la Salpêtrière et dans le discours médical : 1850-1914; une folle débauche, L’Harmattan, 2010. p. 80-81