Julie Bindel sells her mind (not body)

Bindel, apparently being plied with drinks

Bindel, apparently being plied with drinks by a white slaver

Julie Bindel is a British journalist, a fierce opponent of trans people’s human rights (they’re imitation women), and an abolitionist who wants to see sex work eradicated from the earth. Bindel is now raising money for a book she’s writing, to expose the “global ‘sex workers’ rights’ movement.” She “will outline the emergence of a powerful lobby — the sex workers’ rights movement — that works in favour of a total decriminalisation of the sex industry.” She is “planning to visit around thirty countries in order to conduct my research, taking me to the UK, the Netherlands, the Nordic region, Germany, South Africa, East Africa, North America, South America, France, New Zealand and Australia, South Korea, Turkey and India”: an itinerary curiously resembling that of the mythical white slavers of old. To fund this self-trafficking, she’s crowdfunding the project, and she’s already raised £6,773.00. She’d only asked for £6,500. All systems are go.

Bindel’s project is predictable: part of anti-sex-work eradicationists’ ongoing drive to paint all sex workers speaking out for their rights as pimps and punters in disguise. (A reporter who attended one of Bindel’s talks at a Stop Porn Culture conference last year wrote that her “presentation on ‘the politics of the sex industry’” was “a succession of tabloid-style personal attacks on pro-sex industry activists, academics, escorts, and performers, complete with photos seemingly lifted without permission from their social-media profiles.”) Or, as Bindel herself exclaims — an old ally of my old friend Peter Tatchell, she shares his oracular way of dealing with opponents: Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 2.51.25 AM Bindel has the same strategy as rich and puissant abolitionist groups like Equality Now, who have urged “investigating” the paltry funding of sex worker advocacy with the zeal of prurient Mississippi congressmen ogling the Comintern. Those girls only seem to be ragtag sex dissidents; in fact they’re Stalin’s seed, a dark coven of subversives, “a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man”! This myth of a monied, mighty plot by “sex workers” who are really pimps in drag is central to how the abolitionists think. They preen themselves on the heroic deeds of tiny Davids slinging at a sinister Goliath. All Bindel’s research and rhetoric, her travel and “tabloid-style personal attacks” and trolling, will be convenient tools to hide the basic fact: that sex workers’ rights groups are the least powerful part of the human rights movement, persecuted everywhere, unrecognized and underfunded, dissed and mistreated by governments and NGOs alike, even by LGBT activists who should share their goals of bodily liberty but sell their easy principles for the ignis fatuus of respectability. I don’t know a single sex worker’s rights movement in the global South that could easily muster the £6,773 Bindel ginned up in a few weeks. “Powerful lobby,” my white ass.

A tragic but typical story of crowdfunding

A tragic but typical story of crowdfunding

But here’s my question. Bindel offers benefits to people who give her money. Or as she puts it, “Those who pay will also have access to special rewards such as signed books, invites to a Q&A, and extra material.”

For £5 you get to “Access activity feed” (here’s my webcam); plus “early access to articles and” — lascivious, the ring of this — “extra content.” For £15 you get “right to ask questions individually.” (Talk dirty.) For £250 and more you get “All the below, plus coffee/lunch and a chat with Julie in London. You may also bring a friend.” Does Nick Kristof need to raid the premises and batter down the door, to rescue Julie from indentured slavery and a repulsive threesome? Should he bring Somaly Mam?

No, of course not. Back off, Nick. This enticement is fine, in Bindel’s book. She’s not selling sexual services, just mental ones. It’s only her mind that’s on the auction block.

You’ve got to get the value system straight. It’s not OK for women to sell sex, because sex is immensely precious, the essence of a woman, the cold gemstone set in her golden loins that establishes her value as a human being. (No wonder Bindel hates trans women; they lack the sex parts that make real women worthwhile.) It is OK when a woman sells her intellectual labors, as Julie Bindel does: because that’s just cheap, mass-market stuff you can find in any flea market in Brixton.

I’m glad I understand Bindel’s peculiar feminism now. Kapish. Let’s move along.

Flash-mob demo on International Women's Day, March 8, 2014, organized by English Collective of Prostitutes and Sex Worker Open University. Photo by Guy Corbishley

Flash-mob demo on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2014, organized by English Collective of Prostitutes and Sex Worker Open University. Photo by Guy Corbishley

Amazing sex workouts for students!

Indian sex workers protest state repression

I just noticed that when you type “sex work” into Google, the first thing it tries to steer you to is “Amazing Sex Workouts for Men.” What is going on here? Come on, screw the algorithm, this can’t really be the number one thing inquiring minds are looking for. Surely Google is just terrified of becoming the new Craigslist.

Which at least leads me to what I wanted to talk about. Here’s a sex worker commenting, a year ago, on who was affected by Craigslist’s decision (not very well enforced) to drop sex ads:

Now that Craigslist has removed their Adult Services, we can assume that all the “exploited” women of the world can breathe safely. But what about all the women who happily and voluntarily advertised their erotic services on Craiglist? …

Really, the women most affected by the shuttering of Adult Services are all the “non-pros” — college students and young women freelancing in the sex trade for extra money. “It was the safest, easiest way for an independent woman to earn a little extra cash doing something she already enjoyed — without the risks or rigmarole that can go along with being a ‘pro,'” explained Vita, a 30-something, Ivy-leaguer who used CL between, and sometimes during, the low-paying “real jobs” her MFA afforded her.

Despite the fact that the Attorneys General claim the site was a source of “misery” for “women and children victimized by these ads,” I couldn’t find anyone who actually used CL’s Adult Services and agreed. The greatest threat to sex workers is when they don’t have the ability to screen or have a say in the clients they see. …

Of all the sex workers — professionals and freelancers — we talked to, none of them said they ever felt personally threatened or unsafe from a Craigslist encounter. … While a woman might decide that standing on a street corner, waiting to be propositioned for sex was too risky, answering an online ad from someone offering 150 roses for a blow job at a nearby hotel might not be such a bad thing. The beauty of Adult Services, compared to other listing sites such as Backpage or CityVibe, was that a provider was in total control over how much information she wanted to share.

I’m interested in this because another article has gotten a lot of buzz in the last few days:  “Sex Work to Pay Off College Loans? How the College Debt Racket Sucks Young People Dry — And Led Many to Occupy Wall St.” Written by Melissa Gira Grant, a former sex trade worker herself, it starts with a young man who’s part of the New York protests: 

“My loans are $1,300 a month,” he said. “My rent is $1,300 a month. My salary is $2,600 a month. You can see the problem. So I work as a prostitute for food and utilities.”

The article is really quite good. Cutbacks on student loans, and increasing rapacity on the part of educational institutions themselves, are making it impossible for kids to get a degree that essentially is the sole entry to employment in the U.S.  Grant quotes a leader of the movement to forgive student loans, in a summing-up:

“By turning education into a commodity where the students must personally bear the full costs of an educational system that, in fact, benefits all of society, not just the students themselves, we’ve shifted the ever-increasing burden of skyrocketing tuition costs down the socio-economic ladder onto those who can least afford to shoulder them. Couple that with a job market that’s been utterly decimated by the irresponsibility and greed of those at the very top, the underlying reasons for the Occupy Wall Street protests start to come into focus.”  

But what has this got to do with sex work?

Actually, aside from the scandalous intro, nothing in the article does. It’s about economic exploitation, not sexual shame. And that should be the point.

I’ve known plenty of middle-class students — starting in the 80s — who dealt with the skyrocketing costs of an education advertised to everybody but priced to the kids of the rich, by doing sex work on the side.  I’ve also known plenty of students who waited tables in restaurants or cafes, did “tutoring” for richer kids, translated texts ranging from the dumb to the dull for pennies a word, drove taxis, or other menial jobs, to get by.   I can tell you who felt more exploited. Sex work, entered into with proper protections (see the quote above) and a clear-eyed set of goals, paid more and offered more independence.

Of course, the downside was that you could get expelled if the school authorities found out about this rampant immorality, or you could go to jail.  But this was a matter of regressive laws, repressive policing, and oppressive social attitudes.

What the headline of this article in the otherwise unimpeachable Alternet suggests, is the still-surviving sexual puritanism of part of the Left. I’m willing to bet Grant herself wasn’t responsible for the slant; but some editor saw an easy way to score shock points on Occupy Wall Street’s behalf. That’s wrong. It distracts from actual concerns. The real issue is twofold:

  • the lack of support society provides for equal educational advancement, which drives students away from study and into a variety of ill-paid, exploitative work;
  • and the state and social oppression that makes some of the best-paid work available illegal and unnecessarily dangerous.
Come on, guys. Get your priorities straight.