Cate is something of a renaissance sex worker and has held numerous interesting jobs in the adult industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.
I have a confession to make, guys: I’m not a feminist. Most people seem to assume I am, after all I’m a very, very proud sex worker who firmly believes that a woman’s body is hers to do with what she likes. To quote the immortal words of Salt ‘N’ Pepa, “If she wanna be a freak and sell it on the weekend, it’s none of your business.” I also firmly believe that the construct of femininity is ridiculous and everybody should have the same rights, and all that good stuff. However, I cannot in good conscience call myself a feminist.
This wasn’t always true. Back when I started working, I had firmly parked myself in the third wave of feminists. I hunted down a copy of Whores and Other Feminists. Not long after that, my bookshelf was full of books by sex- and sex work-positive lady writers. This was real feminism! This was what it’s all about!
And then I got a little bit older and I started to notice that while there were plenty of little pockets of feminism that accepted me and my ability to freely choose sex work, the movement as a whole was deeply, deeply unfriendly toward me, a woman, doing what seemed on the surface to be a very feminist thing: using my body to provide a livelihood for myself, and to hell with anyone who judged me for it.
I don’t want to be part of a club that’s full of people who support a system that endangers me by criminalizing my clients or think that ending demand for the services I provide is a positive thing. And I definitely don’t want to be part of a club that’s full of people who don’t think I deserve to choose what I do with my body–especially when one of the club’s supposed goals is giving me that exact freedom.
When I first started to realize that feminism wasn’t one big happy sisterhood, I picked a totally different path. Sad to say, I did actually identify as an antifeminist for quite a while.
I was so angry that a group which was supposed to have my back wound up doing no such thing in an overwhelming number of instances, often using my job as an excuse to attack myself and my colleagues. In turn, I lashed back in the most extreme manner I could think of, going in the exact opposite direction. I’m sure it didn’t help that I was in the middle of an abusive relationship where I was gaslit left and right and generally made to feel like a substandard human, but I can’t say my reaction would have been significantly different had I been in a better place emotionally.
I eventually came to my senses, but I still don’t identify as a feminist, and my reasons for not doing so are the same as the ones that originally pushed me from feminism to antifeminism.
It isn’t that I fundamentally disagree with most of the basic principles of feminism. I don’t! I’m pretty into equal rights for everyone and stopping rape and pulling apart gender essentialism and all that good stuff. What I’m not into, though, is the peripheral stuff–the stuff that not every feminist believes, but that is common enough to make me uncomfortable.
I’m not into the idea that I’m somehow a traitor to all women, just because of the form of labor I choose to do. I’m incredibly uncomfortable with the concept that I, an adult woman, am not competent to choose my own work and need to have my clients driven away in order to show me the destructiveness of my actions. I really don’t like the frankly ridiculous notion that I’m responsible for rape, by virtue of the fact that I supposedly make men believe they are entitled to sex.
Sex worker exclusionary feminists are unfortunately not really a minority. Sure most of them aren’t terribly militant about it, but it seems like a pretty large majority of self-identified feminists, even younger women, seem to be under the impression that sex work is bad news bears. The women who don’t think sex work is The Worst Thing generally don’t have a very useful view on my profession either, often assuming that I’m making some political statement with my work rather than just trying to pay my damn bills and live my life.
I don’t want to have to constantly prove myself to be a good feminist and explain to people that no, I haven’t internalized any oppression, quite the opposite, but I’m also not trying to make any statements with what I do for money, and could you please stop turning me into a zoo creature?
My choice to reject feminism makes perfect sense to me, but I worry sometimes what people are really hearing when I say, “I’m not a feminist.” I suspect that a lot of the time they don’t even hear the second, highly important, part where I say, “I’m an egalitarian. It’s like feminism, but it isn’t specifically woman-focused,” all they hear is yet another young woman rejecting a system of beliefs in order to seem less threatening. I rejected feminism because feminism, especially white feminism, has consistently rejected and othered ME, and that rejection had nothing to do with any desire to be more palatable.
It warms my heart when I see more non-sex working feminists accepting the idea that sex work is just work, not a political statement, and certainly not a symptom of internalized oppression, but until that’s the standard rather than the exception, I don’t want to be allied with a group of people who often see me as more of a curiosity of some sort than a regular person living a pretty regular life.