When feminism and sex activism collide: Should you drop the “feminist” label?

Sex positive feminists -ironically enough- often find that their worst critics and internet arguments are other feminists (radical feminists or ‘radfems’). Feminists who are glamour models or who work in the sex industry or adult entertainment industry expect to be looked down on by conservatives, yet find that they’re mostly despised by radfems as “traitors” or pitied as “victims”. How do you negotiate a verbal terrain in which hatred is thrown with one hand and unwanted ‘help’ offered by the other? No wonder many feminists think about dropping the label (and no wonder more women never identify as feminist in the first place.)

Recently I’ve begun to have doubts myself, especially after talking to other bloggers and tweeters who rejected feminism for these reasons. One of my newer Twitter followers (who is doing a PhD thesis on stigmatisation against sex workers) even wondered if it was time for a change of label in a tweet. Ironically, just as I was having these doubts, one of my favourite bloggers who had always held that feminism is too wrecked and cannot be saved said she’d changed her mind and had decided to try to save feminism! And I think she’s right; I will continue to identify as a feminist. However, I want to set out the pros and cons of using the feminist label.

PROS

It takes away power from the radfems to define what feminism is

By breaking their monopoly over the movement, radical feminism itself might slowly diminish

By making others aware that you don’t have to be anti porn and anti sexwork to be a feminist, we will get more people identifying as feminists and supporting feminist causes

In the same way, popular stereotypes of feminists as militant radfems will die off

CONS/PROS OF NOT IDENTIFYING AS A FEMINIST OR SEX-POSITIVE FEMINIST

I never thought there were any pros to this, so it confused me why sex positive people wouldn’t identify as feminist; I felt that they were only submitting to the radfems by agreeing with them that being sex positive isn’t feminist. I always thought it would be great to have a high profile feminist who is sex positive, because that would change the image of feminism forever and stop the radfem monopoly over feminism that we have with high profile feminists like Caitlin Moran and Kat Banyard being so anti. (And others excluding trans women etc which makes it very difficult for tolerant and LGBTQ people to embrace feminism).

But there are pros to this, as I found out on Twitter one day (I actually learn a lot of stuff on Twitter that I didn’t learn at university). Anyways, weeks ago there was a conversation about feminism and labels – as there often is on my Twitter feed – and I said about breaking the monopoly etc. Someone replied that when you’re debating radical feminists, it’s better not to say you’re a feminist by giving an example of when she was debating two feminists and before the filming of the debate started, they were stunned she wasn’t a feminist anymore because that meant they couldn’t say she wasn’t doing feminism right. It’s basically a game changer. Which is an angle I hadn’t thought of.

So perhaps if you are really passionate about sex workers’ rights, it might be wiser not to identify as feminist (at least in certain situations) and it might be clearer arguing on the basis of those rights v feminism instead of putting those rights in sex-positive feminism so you’re basically arguing your feminism vs their feminism. Especially if you’re debating in front of an audience. Because if you’re arguing your feminism v their feminism, your feminism has to come out on top for people to support sex workers’ rights. But if you’re arguing for those rights against feminism, it might be easier to argue and people might support you more.

So refusing to identify as feminist isn’t just letting the radfems win. It’s a tactic.

It might also get things done quicker, instead of feminists continuing to fight amongst ourselves over sexwork and pornography, as we have been doing since the schism of the 1970s.

Arguably,sex workers’ rights do not fall under feminism as many men are sexworkers (though there are counter arguments against this statement too, such as the fact that most if not all feminist issues affect men too – for example, abortion).

CONCLUSION

In short, it all depends. It’s a choice. For the moment, I choose to work at saving feminism and not letting the radfems speak for all feminists and all women. I think that the more people (male, female or genderqueer) identify as sex positive feminists, the less sway the radfems will hold over feminism.

PS. Some of you may know who the three people mentioned in this blog are. I don’t identify them by their Twitter names because I have a very good memory which sometimes creeps people out in real life, and I don’t want to make a habit of reporting stuff that people have forgotten they ever said. People should be able to tweet without worrying that tweets will be reported and analysed days or weeks later. I will of course give credit to any substantial ideas or theories that people tweet if I use them on this blog.

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