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Understanding "Sex Positivism" as Retrograde Ideology

I first realized that the "sex positive" turn in feminism––with its treatment of pornography, "sex work", and sexual practice in general as emancipatory––represented a rightward drift in mainstream left activism in 2005.  Before then I found it disagreeable but could, at the very least, countenance some of its arguments: I might have been uncomfortable, for example, with its pro-pornography position but I understood that there were indeed problems with the way in which some anti-pornography radical feminists agitated within the bourgeois legal system; I might have been annoyed with how it framed all radical feminists as "sex negative" due to misreadings of Dworkin's Intercourse but I also recognized that Dworkin's analysis––as masterful as it was––was not without its problems.  But it was in 2005, when the film Sin City was released, when I decided this "sex positive" brand of feminism was intrinsically liberal if not implicitly reactionary.

Because it was in 2005, having been a comic book geek since elementary school, I saw Sin City in the theatres on opening night.  Indeed, it was in elementary school that I first read and enjoyed Miller's comic books (I recall that I was in grade five or six when The Dark Knight Returns was released, and I still own some original issues of the Sin City comics collected close to the same time) which doesn't mean much beyond nostalgia.  I mean, I also liked Dragon Lance books in elementary school––and yes, if the Dragon Lance Chronicles were made into movies I would go to see them despite knowing how shitty they were.  (Oh wait, I did see that horrible cartoon adaptation of the first Dragon Lance book in the second or third year of my PhD––I almost deleted it from my memory!)  Which is to say: I knew that Sin City was going to be problematic, especially since I was aware of Miller's politics by that time, and yet I still went to see it.

In any case, after watching Sin City and realizing that one of my adolescent comic book favourites was (among other things) anti-feminist, I ended up in a discussion about the film with someone who, at the time, was an activist superstar.  When I complained about the depiction of women in the film he argued, and with complete confidence, that the film was in fact feminist because of its depictions of "sex workers" as a "militantly organized union."  Leaving aside Miller's over-sexualization of female subjects––always in line with the male gaze––this counter-argument left me flabbergasted.  I recall saying something like "don't you think that if they could organize with guns in a militant manner than they would also stop being prostitutes and, you know, shoot the johns and the pimps?"  To which he replied that I was being "sexist" by assuming that women would not want to be "sex workers" if they were in control of their own bodies.  It was then that I realized that the discourse of "sex positive feminism" had gained a certain level of unquestioned hegemony amongst the mainstream activist left to the degree that some people were incapable of thinking critically.

So now we have an ascendant discourse that permits leftists to legitimately call themselves feminist, and incorporate supposed feminist values into their activist framework, without having to give up all of the values and desires that feminism initially called into question.  My past complaints about the "sex worker" discourse, the privileged engagement with the sex industry that is deemed "feminist", and the whole polyamory-is-essentially-progressive ideology, should be seen in light of my disgust with this rightward drift that I cannot help but feel is intrinsic to contemporary "sex positive feminism"––which isn't even a very good petty-bourgeois feminism but, rather, is just petty-bourgeois… if not bourgeois, if not semi-feudal.

As an historical materialist I do not believe that our interpersonal interactions, sexual or otherwise, are free from the taint of the ruling ideas of the ruling class.  What the feminists of the past use to critique under the slogan of "the personal is political" is what communists have treated as ideological socialization where one's social consciousness is partially determined by one's social being.  If you are born into a society still affected by the vestiges of patriarchy (if not, in a semi-feudal/semi-colonial context, a more total form of patriarchy) then the values to which you will be the most drawn––the "common sense" ideological universe––will be infected by this problematic.  Our desire is not pure and it is completely ignorant to imagine otherwise.

And yet I find that the "sex positive" discourse would like us to pretend that an uncritical endorsement of personal desire is somehow emancipatory.  There are, of course, compelling reasons to fall into this way of thinking: conservative puritanism and its moralistic hatred of sex, for example, should be rejected.  To substitute a resentful hatred of the body with an uncritical endorsement of all desires regardless of their origin is to ignore the fact that an obsession with sexual taboo and fetish doesn't escape the trap from which this puritanism emerged––as I noted in one of the aforelinked posts, Foucault drew our attention to this problem in the concluding paragraph of the first volume of his History of Sexuality.

From a thoughtful article on the blog A Radical Transfeminist

Still we are faced with leftists who label all forms of fetish and "free" sexuality, simply because they are supposedly not conservative, progressive and liberatory.  But as an historical materialist I refuse to accept that sexual desire exists beyond socialization: rape fetishes are not emancipatory, for example, and people should be made to feel bad about such fantasies even if some "progressive" advice columnists (i.e. Dan Savage) would have us to believe that no sexual fantasies are problematic simply because they are fantasies.  While it is correct to assert that the realm of fantasy is far less harmful than the real, we also have to realize that concrete actions in the latter are often linked to desires that ferment in the former… and, simultaneously, the fact of concrete actions in the real world produce norms that code our desire.  Rape is still globally normative and, since our desires are infected by social norms, it makes sense that rape fantasies are a common fetish––this does not make such fantasies unproblematic, even if it explains their origin, but should instead force us to realize that our desires are fucked up because the world is fucked up and that this needs to change.  And it won't change if we just keep thinking that our desires are a-okay, and just unconditioned desires, and don't perform the simultaneous duty of doubling-back to reinforce the social relations from which they originate.

(I mean, good lord, shouldn't all of you "sex positive" leftists take some time to step back, look at yourselves, and wonder why your understanding of sex and women's bodies is eerily similar to what the average MRA thinks is normative?  Also, and this is merely a tangental point, this "sex positive" discourse has already been around in some strange species of marxist thinking for a long time; the Spartacist League is still ahead of the game in backwards "sex positive" thinking in its defense of pedophilia and troubling assumption that laws against pedophilia are "bourgeois"… Of course, feminism is also "bourgeois" according to the Sparts.)

Look, I like sex and, contrary to some "sex positivists" who wander upon my blog and read some of my posts, I am not some anti-sex puritan (nor are the majority of leftists who question this discourse) invested in defending conservative monogamy.  That aside, I am not so uncritical to assume that my sex life is somehow free from socialization, just as I don't believe that my behaviour as a whole is unencumbered by normative social relations.  I am a communist but I am not a communist subject, just as no one who exists now is a communist subject in virtue of the fact that such a way of being will not truly exist until classes are abolished.  This does not mean that the answer to this problem is solved by chastity or some other conservative gambit; it simply means that we need to think through the ways in which our desire is articulated and attempt to imagine ways beyond the horizon of this desire.

In this sordid realm of a desire chained by the ruling values of the ruling class we encounter innumerable "fetishes" that we should not treat as positive or emancipatory, irregardless of how some people who express these desires claim they are "feminist" or "respectful".  Take, for example, the sexual phenomenon of "wife-sharing" that occupies a small province of polyamory: so many of those men who get off on being cuckolded locate their desire, consciously or unconsciously, in the fact that they are trading women as commodities.  Or take the BDSM community and then try to imagine how such desire would ever be produced (if social consciousness follows social being) in a mode of production where oppression and exploitation are unknown.  Take the sexual fetish community as a whole and investigate the class origin of the values they espouse… Some people have performed such an investigation and discovered that rape was not only normalized but treated as desirable.  But hell, let's be sex positive about this and not accuse someone of thought crimes even if they would like to perform such acts if bourgeois law hadn't been forced, after decades of agitation, to make them nominally illegal.

Now let us return to the problematic of prostitution with which I began this post––the problematic that caused me to realize, nearly a decade ago, that the left hegemony of "sex positive" feminism was essentially rightist.  Here we have a discourse that, under the brand "sex work", attempts to nullify the brutal material fact of prostitution––especially if we understand it in its global sense––by entreating us to believe that the average "sex worker" wants to work in this industry and finds such work emancipatory.  The timeliness of this discourse is represented in the recent Bedford Supreme Court ruling in Canada that will overturn various prostitution laws, an overturning that will not only decriminalize prostitutes (which should happen since the women working in this profession need legal rights) but also decriminalize johns and pimps.  In fact, as a recent Partisan article insightfully and acerbically pointed out, the ruling was made in favour of the latter at the expense of the former––it was also made in favour of those "sex workers" who, unlike the vast majority of prostitutes, possess a level of autonomy and privilege and aren't trafficked.

We are meant to believe that, since a minority of women involved in this industry think that "sex work" is the key to their agency, the entire system with its pimps and johns should be legitimated.  Well, some workers in other industries imagine that capitalism is emancipatory and, based on this imaginary, have adopted the ruling ideas of the ruling class––they too want to throw the majority of workers under the bus of capitalist industry… We recognize them as class traitors, scabs, pinkertons.  Why shouldn't we treat the sex industry with the same critical standard as capitalist industry in general?  Oh yeah, because it concerns sex and the "sex positive" discourse would have us to believe that sexual practice is always GOOD even if it is being sold as a commodity!  Here, it is worth quoting the aforelinked Partisan article in some detail that, after defending those aspects of the law that will protect proletarian women forced into prostitution, boldly claims:
"Obviously, it is only a comparatively privileged fringe minority of prostitutes for whom freedom of contract, or the right to be recognized as “businesswomen” is a real priority! The Supreme Court members are not hiding the fact that, for them, it is not the effectiveness of the law that matters—that is, a law which would result in the total protection of women against violence, rape, sexual abuse, etc.—but the ability to access this security legally for those who can afford it. The principles on which the Supreme Court relies “do not look to how well the law achieves its object, or to how much of the population the law benefits or is negatively impacted.” Those who can afford private security must be able to do so… And fuck the others, even if they are the exploited majority—that is capitalism. […] However, the vast majority of those exploited by the capitalist “sex industry” are proletarian women. For us, prostitution is not freedom. Among our priorities are our daily survival, our emancipation from our exploiters, and our struggle to take power over our lives. Those who are perceived as “bad” prostitutes and associated with “public nuisance” do not have much control over their lives, nor they possess the means to hire a staff to protect themselves. Indeed, this notion of “public nuisance” is the only “negative” argument against prostitution that the Supreme Court members found to guide their thinking.[6] Not women’s dignity, not our right to have a radiant sex life, not our right not to live in crap conditions… But the right of local landowners not to be disturbed by street prostitution."
Clearly, the above claims are sure to raise some eyebrows amongst the "sex positive" population that has begun to treat the very practice of sex work like lifestyle anarchists have treated dumpster diving.  These are not practices that are liberating but, for the vast majority who are forced to engage in them, the result of capitalist exploitation and oppression; in this sense it is an insult to those who are forced into these practices by necessity for privileged individuals to fetishize them.

As leftists, however, especially leftists who want to develop a practice that will concretely lead to the destruction of capitalism, we need to begin drawing these lines of demarcation between ourselves and various "left" ideological tendencies that may in fact be promoting exploitation.  By drawing these lines of demarcation we will be able to discover who is actually invested in overthrowing the current system, nor should we be afraid to draw them through practices and/or ideas that may, at first glance, appear as if they have nothing to do with making revolution such as the practices and ideas regarding sex.  Even here we will discover our allies and enemies and force, in this demarcating, the emergence of revolutionary positions.


  1. why are so many ML parties, historically anyway, and in the 3rd world definitely, including Maoist parties, puritanical regarding sexuality?

    1. How is this rhetorical question connected, in any way, with the arguments made in this article? If anything it's a read herring that uses sweeping generalizations, wrenched from history, to question arguments that have nothing to do with "puritanism". My opposition to sex positive ideology is not from a puritanical position but from a position that sex is not an unqualified good unhampered by bourgeois ideology… And that sex work in particular is not about sex but about the control of womens' bodies and that the majority of people involved in it do so by necessity, not because it is fun and liberating.

      If you are actually suggesting that sex is an unqualified good, and have no problem apologizing for rape fetishists, then it makes sense that you would parachute in here with a rhetorical question that attempts to side-step any of the arguments being made. Your position, in actual fact, reinforces the ideology that is behind conservative puritanism (a point I eluded to, if you had bothered to read this article, when I cited Foucaut).

    2. I fail to see how it's "puritanical" to point out that sex under patriarchy is always political. What's called "sex poz" has gotten women nowhere in terms of destroying misogynistic structures and culture.

  2. The productive forces of humanity in general are fettered by the rotten imperialist superstructure. The anarchic exploitation of the earth's bounty has reached a level of chaos that begins to threaten the very biosphere, a material base falsely regarded as infinite. By the perverse profit/loss calculations of the bourgeoisie, whole populations are now surplus. Human ingenuity has found reliable, relatively safe methods of birth control, but how shall these be used in a humane way to the benefit of humanity? Or, to put it another way, what are the laws of population under imperialism? What should they be under socialism or communism? The reproduction of labor power under capitalism is a way of life, engendering a particular consciousness in people according by and large to their circumstances. How would a humane society raise children, both female and male?

    I've never quite understood the notion of "hegemony" in historical materialist terms, so I can't really comment directly on the linked article.

    Steven Johnson

    1. I'm not sure what your statements here have to do with this article in particular; they 're general truisms with which all communists should agree. As for hegemony: it was initially an historical materialist concept designed to explain the function of ruling class ideology where the proletariat consents to the rule of the bourgeoisie. I wrote an entire article on Gramsci's concept and its connection to marxist theory a while back––feel free to check it out.

    2. Going back a little: "'the 'spontaneous' consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental social group, a consent that arises 'historically' from the prestige (and hence the confidence) which the dominant group derives from its position and function in the mode of production.' [Gramsci, Quaderni 4]

      In other words, the ruling ideas of the ruling class become a mirror for the values desired by ruled class. The values of the dominant class are treated as more valuable, because we are socialized to believe that these ideas predominate because they are more valuable, and so are treated as standard of value....

      We need to ask this important question: how did the bourgeoisie successfully become hegemonic? It's not as if one day it usurped the aristocracy and suddenly its ideas were essentially hegemonic––that is, common sense. People did not consent to its rule, for example, in that sudden and violent moment in one place in the world when a bunch of nobles lost their heads. Nor did this moment of crystallizing bourgeois power happen without the organization of a class force to counter the hegemony of the nobility...

      So this is what a Gramscian notion of "counter-hegemony" actually means. Not some mundane concept of anti-hegemony, but the process of a class to establish the power of its class rule..."

      I'm very much at a loss as to how the article's notion of a "compulsory sexuality" hegemony developing in the Sixties relates to this understanding of hegemony.

      Perhaps what I wrote are truisms, even if I personally have somehow missed the many, many times they've been cited. It's all the more the case if they are commonplaces that the article should somehow connect to these issues. The article does not seem to aim to be a political manifesto or program but I cannot figure out what policies it is arguing for.

      Steven Johnson

    3. The article is arguing that the ruling ideas of the ruling class will be reflected, to some degree, in our individual behaviour and what we treat as valuable, particularly in sexual behaviour. It is claiming that the ideology of sex positivism doesn't understand this point, just as it is also arguing that prostitution on the whole is an industry that is not liberatory and is driven by the same logic that drives people to live on the streets and eat out of dumpsters. An overall position? The end of this anti-person ideology around sex practice that works very well with the vestiges of patriarchal ideology. I'm not sure what position you are arguing for, or what you are attributing to a reflective article.

      Your claims about forces of production are truisms because they are just general points that in no way connected to any of the points made in this article. What I was complaining about was the ideology of sex positivism, which does condition behaviour and ekes out a specific position, and why this ideology runs counter to a historical materialism position that would argue that our sexual behaviour will indeed reflect concrete social relations, i.e. social being determines social consciousness.

      So how does the way in which I've used hegemony here relate to the broader concept established by Gramsci? Well the concept in general is an attempt to explain how certain values/ideas/etc. (which of course are the result of class struggle in the final instance) become "common sense" so that they are consented to rather than implemented through direct methods of coercion. When an ideology becomes hegemonic it is an ideology that gains this "common sense" resonance. The sex positive discourse has become "common sense" amongst certain leftist circles to the level that it is considered "anti-feminist" (by some) to even question this common-sense. So hegemonic in this context as a verb to describe a tendency becoming common sense.

  3. Hi there.

    I am an anarchist, and I must thank you for making this post.

    I have yet to understand how most of this "sex poz" blather actually helps women overcome patriarchal dominance. Certainly, women's sexualities are the property of men, but I fail to see how this is destroyed through most of what "sex positive" feminism has to offer.

    You are correct in pointing out that during any discussion of the sex industry, the phenomenology of the happy hooker is always prioritized over those of the millions of women in prostitution against their desire. Why? Because the happy hooker is usually in a position of privilege where she doesn't go into the sex industry either out of desperation or trafficking.

    We need to open up the dialogue about this more.

    1. Thanks for the kind comments and intervention. Unfortunately, as some of the comments on this string (and other) prove, there are some people who balk at even having this discussion.

  4. I don't understand the swipe at Dan Savage. From what you paraphrase him as saying, it sounds like you agree with him yet you imply disagreement. Perhaps "unproblematic" should be "problematic" in that sentence.

    1. Yes, obviously it was a typo: I wrote "unproblematic" without realizing I had the "no" in the same sentence, thus resulting in the double-negative. Thanks for the copy-edit… I have corrected the problem.

  5. You write, "[Prostitution and dumpster diving] are not practices that are liberating but, for the vast majority who are forced to engage in them, the result of capitalist exploitation and oppression; in this sense it is an insult to those who are forced into these practices by necessity for privileged individuals to fetishize them."

    Yes! THANK YOU

  6. You ABSOLUTELY need to read kajsa Ekis Ekman's book Being and being bought! It analyses the sex work discourse from a marxist and feminist perspective and also goes into surrogcay.

    1. Yes, this has been on my reading list for a little while now. In fact, it was a recent interview with Ekman on rabble, coinciding with the Partisan article on the Bedford decision, that was the impetus behind this post/rant.

    2. You mean the book that calls harm reduction, the single most important public health intervention of the late 20th century "pro-prostitution" because it has the radical notion that the sex worker is a human being being who deserves health.

      I worked in harm reduction in Hunts Point NYC for many years. Hunts Point has the highest density child sex slavery in the USA, and most sex workers are actually sex slaves. We were more often than not the only people who treated these women and girls are people, and more often than not the only ones who could get them out of the trade. But between heroin addiction, abusive cops, and slave master pimps, the agency of these women was severely compromised. And Johns walked free cause the cops are corrupt fucks.

      Yes, no wonder anti-people and anti-worker positions emerge among "Maoists". Reading such petty bourgeois academic moralistic opinion pieces for the TERF echo chamber - reminds me of the postmodernist "Maoists" of the early 2000s that led to Kasama and the New Synthesis.

    3. Is that what she's really arguing? Seems like she's arguing that decriminalizing prostitution and providing prostitutes with legal services, but targeting the people who harm the prostitutes is the way to achieve "harm reduction". Seems like your example is arguing precisely what she does (at least from what I can tell from the interview), though since I haven't read the book perhaps you are correct.

    4. I'm unsure what the definition of Harm Reduction is here, but I believe Ekmans stance is somewhere along the lines of the swedish model of decriminalizing prostitutes and criminalizing the act of buying.
      And yeah, great book.

    5. @sks: You cannot have read the book, it doesn't even mention harm reduction, the book is about how prostitution commodifies the self and a critical discussion of the term sex work.

  7. -- rape fetishes are not emancipatory, for example, and people should be made to feel bad about such fantasies even if some "progressive" advice columnists ---

    I think your attempt to derive prescriptive positions does in fact fall into conservative moralism despite your attempt to raise the correct position of a problematic against what is seen as ideological "sex positivism." A significant number of rape survivors have such fantasies, by what means are you make them "feel bad" about such trauma and by what means do you wish to implement a program of rectification of such fantasies?

    In the end all that comes down, in no less serious way, a fucked up account of the problem.

    1. Hello Neftali: due to the quickness with which I wrote this post, I wasn't precise on what I meant about "rape fetishes" in this context. I wasn't speaking of rape survivors who have fantasies of being raped, but of men who indulge in fantasies of being rapists. Moreover, this sentence was not meant as some prescriptive examination of how to treat people who have those fantasies and it is a little strange that you would take "made to feel bad" as some sort of moralistic prescription––you are reading a lot into four words that are (I admit) vague and imprecise. This sentence's intention was simply as the negative of people who draw a line between the realm of fantasy and the the concrete world and tell people that it is okay to have such fantasies, in fact it is "good", because it has nothing to do with reality. My argument was simply that people should not be made to feel good for harbouring fantasies that are about raping someone else. There is nothing in those four words that imply a systemic attempt to shame others, a program of rectification, etc. Again, it is very strange that you would take a single sentence to mean the endorsement of some sort of moralistic rectification campaign, or reeducation camps built around policing people's "thought crimes" or some other such nonsense that this sentence, vague and imprecise as it is, does not claim, those troublesome and inaccurate four words aside.

    2. Then what is to be done?

      If Neftali is not correct, then what is the purpose of the unpacking? Academic?

      Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is about practice, so what is the rectification needed regarding desire?

      If "people should not be made to feel good for harbouring fantasies that are about raping someone else", then how do we not make them feel good?

      You leave the question open and protest when this is pointed out - ironic in someone so preoccupied in unpacking other people's desire yet offended his own words are unpacked. Sweet, sweet irony...

    3. "To quoque?" The problem was not that he unpacked something, but that he made it seem as if I committed to a position that I was not due sloppy syntax; stop making category mistakes. The statement is that we should endorse a position that is all "it's okay to want to do problematic thing x", which is a position a lot of people take, as long as it is "just fantasy".

      As for what we should do I think that is up to a party that is making socialism and not something, due to my social position, I can solve. I think PFFs can figure this kind of thing out and are figuring them out; I understand my limitations and know that I'm not commanding some sort of liberation movement for proletarian women. So the real irony is that on the one hand you accuse me of wanting to speak for all the proletarian women in the world, then you want to lambast me for not speaking for all the proletarian women in the world––which is it?

  8. Radical feminism, FOR PROLES! Is how I read this and many of your articles on feminism. Also you seem to disregard queers entirely as you only seek to critique petty bourgeois white feminist nonsense, like sex positivity, instead of synthesizing third world and international feminism to develop proletarian feminism. Stop shaming sex workers and accept that material conditions create sexual service as work, kink, etc. "Vestigial patriarchy" is also nonsense, patriarchy remains within the mode of production as a contradictory part of the property system. I'm coauthoring a criticism anyway so I will stop now.

    1. Well considering how this "critique" makes no valid points, I'll be surprised if there is anything substantial in your other criticism. First of all, just where am I "shaming" sex workers of just where do I claim that material conditions do not create sexual service as work? This is a red herring. As is your complaint about how I haven't synthesized third world and international feminism… Maybe not here, but elsewhere on this blog I have talked about Hisila Yami, Anuradha Gandhy, etc. It is also funny that you claim "vestigial patriarchy" is nonsense when your counter-argument is its precise definition.

    2. Annnddd... the other red herring is how you claim I was ignoring queer issues entirely. Considering how one of my links was to a critique of the sex positivist discourse on a queer blog, and considering how simply complaining about the problematic aspects of a discourse in general makes heterosexuality and queer sexuality *besides the point* (except maybe, in line with my critique, that heterosexuality is a default sexuality under capitalist social relations), you really: a) have no interest in honestly engaging with what I've written; b) will probably write a response that is equally as off-base. I'm also really interested in knowing how you've synthesized third world and international feminism when militant movements world wide find the entire "sex worker" discourse a first world joke. Indeed, I can recall a conference where filipino militant women called out some first world woman who was claiming sex work was liberating and then were told that they were "shaming" sex workers.

    3. Including one queer blog you agree with as a queer shield is not addressing queerness, or if you want it in another way, non-hetereonormativity.

      For example, "wife-sharing" or "wife-swapping" is not part of "polyamory", it is in fact a monogamous sexual practice.

      Polyamory, a queer practice, is based fundamentally in the rejection of the property relation that marriage establishes.

      And this is just one example of your own basic ignorance of queerness, and thus, the ignorance of queer issues.

      As the anon above said, she is working on a criticism, but this needed reply before people reflexively accept your paternalistic contention that you do not ignore queer issues because you link to a queer blog/argument.

      Misrepresenting queer practice is part of ignorance. Of which there is much here - regardless of what else we can unite with here (not much besides the general necessity to abolish patriarchy, but lets save that for a more serious criticism.

    4. "I'm also really interested in knowing how you've synthesized third world and international feminism when militant movements world wide find the entire "sex worker" discourse a first world joke."

      Is this why there is a sex worker organization with over 70,000 that collaborates with the CPI(Maoist) in the proletarian feminist struggle.

      I am sorry, but as someone from the third world who is connected to these struggles I can tell you with assurance:

      1) That the filipino militant in question was probably slut shaming - even if the first world woman was way out of line in doing what she did (but only as out of line as you a first world man is).

      You might not be aware, but in fact there is line struggle inside of GABRIELA Women's Party - since you mention the Philippines - with some of their leadership Curiously, the dividing line there is very familiar, LGBT, queer, and proletarian activists being more in touch with sex workers, whereas petty bourgeois, academic, and older activists generally taking the same position you do. And this is not a minority struggle - of the two elected lower house members by Gabriela, one is for legalization of sex work and the other is not.

      This is not to say the position for legalization is correct because of this, but your claim it is a first world thing is simply one of crude empiricism and lack of investigation.

      2) That the largest self-determined, militant, and feminist sex worker organizations in the world are in the third world, and the concept of sex worker unions was born in the third world, not the first, in part because prostitution is generally legal or para-legal in ways it is not in the first world, including different perspectives on sexual morality. For example, there are number of castes in the Hindu ordering that are historically devoted to sex work, including male and transgender sex work - and not all of them of the lowest caste strata, although of course not of the highest.

      So we see a queer shield and now a third world shield. And both fail equally upon even slight examination. Again, these do not necessarily make your general views correct or not, but we need to unpack your incorrect deployment of these shields and confront your own patriarchial and first worldist assumptions that make invisible the diversity of queer and third world voices in order to establish your first world straight voice as the authoritative one. Solidarity, it seems, only applies to those whose opinions are white straight men approved.

      So even on this particular claim you are showing a complete lack of investigation on the topic.

      What I do find completely first world centric is this preoccupation with desire, which is indeed absent in most of third world. Its not that we do not think desire to be unproblematic, it is that we recognize it exists, and might or might not be problematic, but shit like housework and actual rape matter a bit more.

    5. For someone who has often demanded that I extend the principle of charity to them when they make some arguments that sound way out of line (i.e. like the argument that the PCP are all raving murderers), you really do not apply your same principles.

      1) I am very aware that there are struggles within GABRIELA just as I am aware that people broke from the CPP for a lot of reasons on the queer issue and others. And actually I feel you've dishonestly reversed the line. The petty-bourgeois position has always been an endorsement of a discourse that "sex work" is liberating, which I am attacking. The thing is, we could go back and forth siting the people we know and claiming they represent this line or not, but the proof is in the pudding as they say. The academic petty-bourgeois position on sex work is precisely the one I am attacking: every single overblown academic work written on this issue recently has taken the "sex work is inherently liberating" position. My claim about third world proletarian feminists rejecting this position shouldn't be controversial: Avanti and Parvati both reject it in their seminal work on the issue––they are unequivocally opposed to prostitution, and attack what they call "petty bourgeois" positions that are not––and the work they produced in this area, like it or not, was due to serious social investigation in the course of a people's war.

      2) I am not denying there is a diversity of voices but I am denying that the Proletarian Feminist view from an international third world position is pro sex work. Perhaps my response to anon was an over-generalization, but it was a response to a complaint that in itself was an over-generalization. As for claiming that I am trying to establish my "first world straight voice as the authoritative one" etc., that is just a clear violation of the principle of charity and you are attributing a lot more to my position than what I actually claim. Do you find me responding to your bald claims, especially ones made in the past, by trying to locate your intentions in some devious plot or making assumptions about your social position?

      3) Here I am talking about desire simply because it is raised in the discourse of sex positivism in the first world. In fact, since this discourse in itself (and the way it looks at sex work) is one that is somewhat a first world discourse, then by dealing with it you usually deal with it with the same terminology. I agree that "shit like housework and actual rape matter a bit more" but that was not what I was addressing specifically here. So... by addressing a discourse common to where I work and live I am guilty of being "first world centric"? I am not claiming it is a discourse that applies everywhere in the world (in fact I am claiming the opposite), so this is quite a bizarre claim on your part.

      4) I am not opposed to polyamory. I am opposed to a position taken where I live, in the mainstream left, that argues that it is the only radical positionality and that it is inherently anti-capitalist. End of story. I have been clear about this before, and I get annoyed when I have to continuously repeat myself.

    6. All in all, I find the arrogance of your intervention highly annoying. It is also highly unprincipled that you would use a typical identity politics attack, which relies merely on mudslinging then actually making a principled point, in order to obscure your arguments in a rhetorical smokescreen. In the past I've tried to deal with your interventions, even when I felt they were ludicrous (i.e. your position on the PCP), going so far as to delete my own unprincipled responses and apologize publicly. Your shot-gunning of semi-arguments, your insults and underhanded assumptions (do you see me making assumptions about you?), and your potential sock-puppeting (if you were anon) is highly annoying.

      The thing is, you can say you are some oppressed person with all the identities, and you know all these people and third world struggles, but I only know you as someone who writes comments on my blog and blogs somewhere else. I know and organize with others who can make the same claims, and I organize with groups connected to third world struggles as well, and my position comes from this organizational experience. I do not claim to be an authority, but I do get annoyed when commenters claim that my position did not take third world positions into account, or use the red herring of "this has nothing to do with queer issues so it's wrong", and may respond in a highly annoyed manner on the comment string––especially if it's just against someone who has parachuted unto the blog, broken the comment guidelines and written an asinine and insulting comment.

      In fact the only reason I didn't delete your way off-base and insulting comments, and took my time to respond to all of them, is because of your past history on here. Otherwise I would simply delete them as trolling since I don't think they provide a single argument beyond fallacies and rhetoric that deals with my position. Indeed, I would be willing to argue in a principled manner with you if I knew what your position was precisely (right now it seems like it is just "there is a whole bunch of different positions in the world so yours is wrong") and you weren't being so dismissive and arrogant.

      One more irony: I didn't think this piece was very good because it was all over the place anyhow and more just a rant than a proper treatment of certain issues (it kind of was just a rant about the sex positive discourse that was unfocused and then ended up shifting because I had just read the Partisan article of the Bedford ruling), but a rant focused on a common way of dealing with issues surrounding sex amongst the mainstream left in my context.

    7. "All in all, I find the arrogance of your intervention highly annoying."

      I am sorry you find this as such, it is of course not my intent - which is to challenge your presumptions and fact check inaccuracies.

  9. I am from the Philippines and I am directly connected to the militant women's movement in our country.

    This is simply absurd, this claiming that sex work is "liberating" ...and then going on to accusing those who point out that sex work is exploitative is "slut-shaming." Sex work is exploitative. Prostituted women are victims of class and gender oppression. And organizing sex workers does not have anything to do with making them feel "liberated" while engaging in sex work but is about protecting them from further abuse in the course of an extremely oppressive work. Organizing them is ultimately geared towards the elimination of the commodification of women's bodies as such.

    The opposite position is typical of many first world bourgeois feminists. In contrast, Gabriela as a national women's alliance and its party organization, the Gabriela Women's Party which currently have 2 seats in the Philippine Congress, is firmly against the legalization of sex work. I wonder which grapevine this supposed "two-line struggle" about the issue came from? The militant women's movement in the Philippines has always been clear on its stand against prostitution. Poor women in our country (or the rest of the world, be it in the first, second, or third) are driven to sex work due to desperation. They are forced to become prostitutes because of extreme poverty, not to mention human trafficking by big business.

    Prostitution is basically a symptom of the imperialist commodification of women as mere sex objects and the feudal-patriarchal treatment of women as inferior to men. Gabriela recently took on the issue of the legalization of sex work in response to a report released by the UN ("Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific") which called for the legalization of prostitution. Gabriela's 2 representatives opposed this. If there are subjective forces in the country that support this, it is foreign-funded NGOs, state-sponsored gender offices, and their friends in the corporate media and the academic establishment. Not the militant women's movement.

    1. Thank's for the intervention and clarification. Hopefully sks will read this.

  10. "Still we are faced with leftists who label all forms of fetish and "free" sexuality, simply because they are supposedly not conservative, progressive and liberatory. But as an historical materialist I refuse to accept that sexual desire exists beyond socialization" = fantastic Josh! I really enjoy your blog. (Jessica Joy Cameron here btw) :)


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