Category Archives: feminisms

there is no single body of beliefs to be called feminism. rather, feminism comes in different schools and tones

I am not Michael O’Leary, and other meditations on public performance

Photo of Laura Agustín by Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland)

Doing public gigs exposes one to all sorts of comment, some nice and some not so nice. At University College Dublin I sketched out the ideas in Sex at the Margins – a book that began in the early 90s with me listening to Dominican villagers, ten years later became a doctorate on the Rescue Industry and three years after a published book. At the Anarchist Bookfair I talked about Sex Work as Work (a video of the talk will be online soon).

This talk was only 30 minutes long so I had warned I didn’t intend to get bogged down in arguments about the meaning of prostitution. Nevertheless, the first person called on after my talk began to lay out an argument that prostitution is oppression of women and so on, so after not long I interrupted her from the stage to ask Do you have a question? No, she said, she wanted to debate. I said, This time is for questions about my talk. She quickly framed one, which was

Will you condemn the sex industry as patriarchy?

I said no, because that question is too broad and general to have meaning for me. It’s a bottom-line question, and by saying no without explaining all the ins and outs of my thinking I will have sounded like an anti-feminist to some. But if I travel so far to speak without pay I really do want to hear audience reaction to what I do say, not to what I don’t say.

All other questions asked were interesting, but at the end there was

How can we move toward a society in which sex is not commodified?

Photo by Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland)

Anarchism takes in a wide variety of ways of thinking. I accept that talking about revolution and how things would be afterwards is really interesting and important to many, but my talk had been about feet-on-the-ground ways to better the lives of people who sell sex through employment policy and organising. So I replied

I don’t know. Everything else is commodified, why should sex be different?

This provoked a tweeter to say

Michael O’Leary, the million or billionaire owner of Ryanair, is widely hated in Ireland. I can’t find a single significant thing he and I have in common. When I have more time to talk about commodification I discuss the odd point that even mother love is accepted by most of the same objectors as being ok to buy and sell in the form of nannying and caring for children and older and sick people. The same tweeter said

Although an interest in revolution and utopia are only one of many possible topics subsumed by feminism or anarchism or any other ism, those wanting to discuss them always assume the moral high ground. Practical, pragmatic arguments about the here and now would seem to occupy a lower place in the hierarchy according to some. But not according to me, and I also dislike being challenged to show I am a good or righteous person publicly, merely as an exercise to label me – really to show I’ve failed some ethical test.

People ask me how I deal with being disliked or vilified. I accept that appearing in public exposes me, and I don’t always express myself perfectly. I don’t read prepared papers and I avoid standing behind protective podiums. I’m not a trained performer. But beyond those reasons, in order to talk about the formal-informal sector divide in government accounting and how it affects employment policy, the ILO’s conclusions in its report The Sex Sector and what the term ‘sex industry’ comprises, in 30 minutes, one has to omit the disclaimers. I could begin every point by condemning inequality, sexism, racism, imperialism, the oppression of women and poor people, but then I would lose a big chunk of the time I’ve got for the talk, and I’m not willing to do that. So I regret when I am misinterpreted badly, but I accept that it comes with the territory.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


Sex on Sunday: Beware of the Anarchist Bookfair & its devilish talk on sex work

The Anarchist Bookfair is next Saturday 6 April, and I am looking forward to talking specifically about ideas related to sex work as a job or occupation or livelihood or profession – without giving centre-stage to feminist arguments, or any other -isms for that matter. That does not mean I think feminisms are irrelevant, but the focus on them has impeded dealing with labour policy on commercial sex for donkey’s years. All my ideas are infused with concepts of social justice whether they come from anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anarchist, socialist or feminist traditions. I’ve been a second-wave and third-wave feminist in my own way and plan to belong to future waves, as well – but consider arguing about which specific ideas are ideologically correct a waste of my time.

At University College Dublin on the 4th I’ll talk about Sex at the Margins, the full monty.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Talking about sex work without isms: Dublin Anarchist Bookfair

As everyone knows, I don’t play around with isms. I thought in the 60s that feminism might work but by the early 70s had already realised there were multiple versions – feminisms – which perhaps negates the whole point of an ism, which is a doctrine, theory or philosophy that Explains Things. It turned out that feminism(s), while useful and fascinating, could not provide a whole thought-system to explain how all women feel – or What Women Want, as Freud complained.

I didn’t even think about feminism and prostitution as a ‘problem’ until decades later, when I went back to school. And after reading dozens of books and hundreds of articles and essays on the subject, I realised that this ‘problem’ would never be solved. Many people find it endlessly interesting to hammer at each other about the meaning of prostitution and/or sex work, with the goal of winning, but I don’t. So I began trying to avoid talking about feminisms just to keep things interesting for me, but it is very hard, as some kind of tidal force relentlessly pulls conversations back to that argument. None of which means I don’t think of myself as a feminist – I obviously am one.

I did write Sex as Work and Sex Work in a marxian way for The Commoner, whose editors requested I depart from a post-argument position – as though we’d already accepted that sex can be work, paid or unpaid. It’s been republished several times, by Jacobin and, which both can encompass both marxist and anarchist ideas, at least sometimes (and also by Arts & Opinion). I used the term marxian rather than marxist for my own contribution precisely because it doesn’t address all the key factors in marxism.  There’s no such thing as marxianism.

Now, I’m doing two talks in Dublin a few days apart in April. At the first, at University College Dublin I’ll take an hour and describe how migration, trafficking, sex work and the Rescue Industry are related. This is the time needed to join these ideas up so that people aren’t confused and frustrated when I stop talking. Then we’ll have a half hour for questions – not for statements of protest and ideology. Then we’ll have respondents – abolitionists and sex workers among them.

At the Anarchist Bookfair I’ve got 30 minutes to talk, followed by 30 minutes of discussion, so I won’t be talking about all that. I was asked to talk about Feminism and Sex Work, so I’m going to talk about how feminism(s) are interesting but perhaps not essential to a discussion of sex work, or at least don’t have to be granted determining status of outcomes. I’ll expect questions afterwards not  to try to pull the topic back to the classic, closed-circle debate. I know – Good luck with that. I also won’t be modelling a perfectly coherent view according to marxism, anarchism or any other ism. Ha! someone on the facebook page for the Bookfair has accused me of liberalism, after reading approximately 25 words of my work.

All I ask for is a moderator – and if there isn’t one, I’ll get tough.

6 April 2013, 1220-1320

Thinking about Sex Work as Work with Laura Agustín

at the 8th Anarchist Dublin Bookfair

Doors open at 10am and first meetings start at 1130. The venue is Liberty Hall, Eden Quay, next to the River Liffey, shown here on a map. Enter on the ground floor and go up one flight for the talk. The bookfair itself – the books – are underground!

Other events in the Bookfair include an evening in The Pint pub, Eden Quay, on Saturday and a walking tour on Sunday at 1400 focussing on the Irish Banking industry (catalysers of economic collapse). These events are organised by Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland).

For those who cannot conceive of a sex-work conversation without nattering endlessly about feminisms, try Sex as Work and Sex Work. It can be done.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Satanic Sex on Sunday: Gunilla Ekberg, Sex War and Extremist Feminism

Note: This post was first published in May 2011.

Feminist Satanism. No, that’s not right. Satanic Feminists. To be fair, no, it should be Feminists Who Believe Men are Pedophilic Satanists (or Satanist Pedophiles). No matter how you look at it, these words don’t immediately make sense together. This is the Rescue Industry with a vengeance – and Extremist Feminism indeed.*

Gunilla Ekberg has not appeared in public in Sweden in quite a while, I believe, but she has been giving anti-prostitution talks in Canada in support of a campaign to defeat Judge Himel’s decision to decriminalise many aspects of sex work in Ontario (Ekberg is apparently a citizen of Canada now). Admirers in Canada are billing her as a famous international lawyer, but she was publicly criticised in Sweden for calling herself a lawyer – does anyone know about Canada?  Her notoriety derives from her unyielding attitude as a campaigner, so authoritarian even some Swedes with similar ideas stopped wanting to be associated with her.

In 2005 she worked for Sweden’s Ministry of Industry as an expert on prostitution and was closely allied with ROKS, an organisation that runs shelters for women in trouble. At the time, ROKS’s management claimed Swedish patriarchy could usefully be compared to Afghanistan’s and advocated separatism: women living apart from men. As if this were not enough, ROKS management came to believe that pedophilic satanism was a real threat to girls and women in Sweden. Phew.

Other European countries have suffered mad bouts of belief in satanic cults in history, and the US is famous for its Satanic Panic all through the 1980s, but the oddity with Sweden is how such extremism can dwell so very close to mainstream government: get funding, have prestige, function as if ordinary and unremarkable.

The story of Ekberg’s embarrassing moment and public disgrace occurred in 2005, when journalist Evin Rubar (a woman) was making a programme about ROKS for Swedish Television, Könskriget (Sex War – link to first part),  in which the story of the satanic pedophiles is told, including the testimony of a young woman supposedly saved by ROKS who complains about her treatment by the rescuers. You will see in the clip below that Rubar, assuming Ekberg to have been closely involved, asks questions Ekberg refuses to answer. Leaving the room, Ekberg, assuming the microphone is off, threatens Rubar: Don’t count on any help from the shelters. The whole Sex War programme is two hours long; this is the clip in which Ekberg threatens Rubar:

Ekberg did not lose her job over this, but she did eventually leave it. The affair generated much criticism of her behaviour and that of the ROKS people, who come across as maniacs (at least one writer calling their thought patterns feminist fundamentalism, with which I concur, here on the blog and in Sex at the Margins). Numerous Swedish bloggers followed the disgraceful affair, reported here in the newspaper Aftonbladet. The ROKS manager was replaced.

Here is Part One of Sex War in Swedish, and here is a website that does a summary in English. After which, you will need a laugh.

Today, 25 June 2012, numerous people wrote to me to say, about another blogger’s post: Didn’t you write about this already? The answer is yes, in May 2011. Oh blogs, so easy to ‘absorb’. Sometimes the absorber says ‘but I only used the links you gave!’ Not good enough, say I, as defence against parasitism.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

European Women’s Lobby lies about sex trafficking, prostitution and sporting events

The European Women’s Lobby – which should not be allowed to call themselves that – continue to use public money to further a campaign that contradicts the laws of several European states that allow people to sell and buy sexual services. This red-card nonsense is part of Together for a Europe Free From Prostitution, which overtly spreads what they themselves call abolition: true missionary endeavour, even if these missionaries look like so-called liberated western women. How do they get away with this? Is there no oversight for funding to such groups? I suppose the Germans, Dutch, Czechs et al just ignore it all, but in times of purse-tightening it is annoying that zealots are allowed to throw public money around like this. I wonder what happened to the question that was put in the European Parliament about this?

Money is the key: It has become easy to get funding nowadays to campaign against trafficking; no thinking is required; just flash your ideology like a red card. Funders then get to tick the box showing they care about trafficking, which in turn makes them look good. Never mind that the message is a lie, since there is no evidence that sex trafficking increases when big sporting events take place. Evidence is irrelevant to ideological fanatics, of course, but it shouldn’t be to Brussels technocrats. Two mega-events are cited, the London Olympics, which begin in late July, and the UEFA European Football Championship, which begins any minute now.

The text accompanying this message deliberately misinterprets that evidence, provided by relatively sound investigation and staid sources.

This year, thousands of young girls and women are at risk of trafficking and sexual exploitation to satisfy the demand for prostitution on the sidelines of the Olympic Games in London and the UEFA Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.

The number of human trafficking victims in Greece increased by 95% during the 2004 Olympic Games. Ahead of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, predictions were for more than 40,000 women and children to be trafficked into the country to meet the prostitution demands of millions of football fans. During the 2011 World Cup, South African authorities noted a ‘huge’ increase in the sex trade, with the number of women and girls involved in prostitution, as well as the number of brothels, doubling.

The European Women’s Lobby has called on Members of the European Parliament to take a stand against prostitution at sporting events. Nineteen MEPs supporting the EWL campaign have been invited to gather for a group photo with the EWL red card ‘Be a sport. Keep it fair… Say NO to prostitution’.

On the sidelines of this visual event, the EWL will present an awareness-raising video clip ‘Sport, sex and fun’, as well as issue a press release and briefing about prostitution at sporting events.

The evidence, once again, is:

Germany: 2006 World Cup

  • SIDA/IOM report: The first significant attempt to assess whether women were trafficked (forced) to sell sex at a major sporting event was financed by the Swedish Development Agency (SIDA) and published by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Despite predictions that 40 000 women would be trafficked, only 5 cases of trafficking were found to be linked to the World Cup. Report published in 2006.
  • German government report: Subsequently, the German Federal Government produced a report for the Council of the European Union, finding no increase in cases of trafficking related to the World Cup. Report published in 2007.

South Africa: 2010 World Cup

Research was carried out by the Sex Work Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and the African Centre for for Migration & Society, commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This investigation included a survey of local sex workers; no cases of trafficking were found associated with the World Cup. Report published in 2010.

Note at the end of the EWL disinformation: More infotainment on the way! Forget the facts, show a naff video! The EWL can scarcely surpass their video of a male made miserable by licking the pussies of his clients, though: surely that ought to win some award.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist