Originally circulated in French on June 23, 2011, and spotted via The F Word:
In the wake of a series of targeted attacks–sometimes subtle, other times blatant–aimed at abolitionist feminists, we call on you, as members of the feminist movement in Québec, to react.
Abolitionist feminists address the fundamentally patriarchal but also racist, capitalist and colonialist nature of the institution of prostitution. The purpose of their political education, prevention and intervention work is to equip feminists with information and tools to enable them to argue that the sex industry is illegitimate and must be eradicated. They also seek to ensure that women have the right to extricate themselves from the exploitative conditions inherent to this industry. They work with women who are or were in the sex industry to organize, pool experiences and act for social transformation. They know that all feminists do not agree with their analysis. But they demand the right to exist, think and work from this perspective.
Abolitionist feminists are publicly denigrated, and, in diverse settings such as universities (including professors) and the social media (individuals’ and group Facebook pages, blogs, websites), are characterized as: “moralizing Christians; old, fat and ugly women who have nothing to do; crazies; sluts and Nazis.” Activities addressing young audiences that are designed to publicize resources for preventing young people from entering into prostitution are criticized, even though these resources are aimed at women who could benefit from these same prevention resources. Ads or announcements about helping services for women who are being sexually exploited in the sex industry are boycotted. Abolitionist feminists are explicitly combatting male violence, yet they are told they are “endangering women in prostitution,” and–the ultimate insult–that they are “committing violence against women in prostitution!”
Feminists who take the risk of naming and denouncing men’s violence, and feminists who have endured the violence of thousands of men in prostitution for periods of 10, 20, even 30 years or more–sometimes from the age of 2–are accused of committing violence against other women. Regardless of our past or our experience as feminists, we believe that it is always, and has always been, unacceptable to tolerate feminists’ use of tactics designed to silence other feminists, even when we are in disagreement. Yet, that is exactly what is happening right now.
These strategies are unbefitting a movement that seeks collective debate and thinking that will lead to new actions and an enhanced feminist practice. It is unacceptable to say that abolitionist feminists are committing violence against women in prostitution. It is even more unacceptable when it is directed against feminists who have a past experience of prostitution! The purpose of these tactics is to silence women and it also means that some women, especially feminists, are reluctant to take a position because they don’t want to be caught up in this pressure cooker. The same tactics also prevent women in prostitution from having access to another perspective and other choices. Of course, abolitionist feminists have no intention of shutting up.
In fact, for the last 20 years in Québec, it has been very difficult to find space in which to present abolitionist feminist analysis. Some women object that abolitionist feminists are too radical or “aggressive” in defending their ideas. Others think that the debate is too emotional and don’t want to have to take a position for various reasons: fear of conflict and possible divisions in their group and/or the movement, fear of not respecting women with past experience of prostitution, etc. Even though abolitionist feminists deplore this situation and hope, through their actions, to enable increasing numbers of women to understand that abolitionist feminist analysis is most consistent with their principles of liberty, equality and solidarity, they respect the right of individual women and groups to arrive at their own position.
As signatories, we would nevertheless like feminists to exhibit feminist solidarity by opposing the tactics of denigration and boycotting. We reiterate our respect for the fact that some feminists do not share the analysis of feminist abolitionists. But to call abolitionist feminists names, to “study” them as a phenomenon of violence against women, and to call for a boycott of groups like the Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle on the pretext that abolitionist feminists are a danger to women far exceeds the threshold of fair and reasoned debate.
The feminist movement is not homogeneous in its thinking, priorities or actions. But unlike any other subject that could ostensibly divide us as a feminist movement, prostitution seems to elicit an enormous reaction on one side and devastating silence on the other.
This is why we are calling on you today to help put an end to these tactics so that we can debate freely. This is particularly important in the context of the Estates General of Feminism process. We are asking you to refuse to tolerate or endorse this denigration or to participate in any way in silencing feminist abolitionist discourse. Whatever the analysis of certain feminist groups or the issues at stake, we are asking you to act when these groups are treated as “crazy” or “violent.” Some women may not like to hear the feminist abolitionists talk. Abolitionists, for their part, do not enjoy hearing feminists defending the sex industry. But, abolitionist feminists cannot prevent women from talking and acting on their convictions and they are entitled to be treated likewise. Our discussions need to centre on ideas.
More specifically, we ask you to:
- Sign this letter (no matter what you think about prostitution);
- Denounce the denigration of feminist abolitionists when you witness this behaviour in discussion forums (meetings or social media);
- Commit to working for a space free of intimidation and denigration within the États Généraux du féminisme.
To sign this letter, please contact: email@example.com
- Canada Prostitution Ruling: “Imperialism and Colonialism Create the Conditions”
- ‘Big Tent’ Feminism? Sounds Great. Feels A Lot Like the Status Quo [#Feminist Friday]
- Why Does the Left Want Prostitution to be ‘a Job Like Any Other’? [#Feminist Friday]
- Native Women’s Association of Canada Opposes Bedford Prostitution Decision
- #Feminist Friday: A Callout, An Update and A Challenge