Sex work made me realize feminists are toxic I won't support a system that endangers me by criminalizing my clients and attempting to end demand for my services.

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.

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7 thoughts on “<span class="entry-title-primary">Sex work made me realize feminists are toxic</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">I won't support a system that endangers me by criminalizing my clients and attempting to end demand for my services.</span>”

  1. I think it’s important to see sex work as work. Part of capitalism, an economic system that forces all who don’t own factories, farms or porn studios to sell our bodies and minds to live. When we work we aren’t ourselves, we are automatons alienated from our bodies. Obviously this varies, a teacher in a rich school has more autonomy than a Vietnamese factory worker. But they are both workers. Looking at it like this the solution is the abolition of all work. In that sense I’m a sex work abolitionist, but I’m also a farmer abolitionist and a cashier abolitionist. The key is organization, unions, direct action and ultimately communism. Where society creates goods for us, and people don't have to work.

  2. To Gen and Anna, please consider yourselves super blessed to have had fathers in your lives that were for women’s equality, and taught you that you had awesome power to behold as women. Sadly, that is not the case for most of us. I love this column. It is incredibly eye-opening and relevant, not just to sex workers, but to all women on some level or another. The comments below the articles are particularly interesting to me because of the varied experiences we, as women, have faced, and sometimes overcome.

  3. While I have always considered myself a feminist (well, at least since adolescence when I first started arguing against anti-choicers in health class), I was never the type of person who looked down on sex work. However, I’ll be totally honest: it was not something I thought very much about as a feminist issue until probably mid-college, around 3 or 4 years ago.

    I knew (and still know) a fair amount of women and men who consider themselves feminists, yet still say things like, “C’mon, if that was YOUR daughter, you wouldn’t want her to be a whore” or “If your kid wound up doing porn, wouldn’t you be ashamed?” So basically, the “freedom of choice” extends to everybody, except those who choose to, well, choose…they are somehow lesser than those who choose something else? It is bizarre to me. Totally bizarre. I recently reblogged this little comic that perfectly summed up my feelings on how some feminists view other women:
    Granted, it’s regarding wardrobe, but I think the message applies to so many areas of women’s lives: how we dress, where we work, how we speak, where we live, who we choose to fuck or not fuck.

  4. My problem with classifications like “egalitarian” or “humanist” ignore the fact that men and women are not on equal footing. If they were, we could go from there with an egalitarian, humanist mindset. Currently, using those terms seems like putting equal validity to “men’s rights” which is completely unnecessary since they’re not suffering from the same oppression (I do realize that the patriarchy is damaging to men, and I’m against that).

    • Okay, just wanna make it clear that I really don’t care about the men’s rights movement even a little bit. Basically that movement can be summed up with a bunch of dudes saying “life isn’t always a nonstop party of me getting my way so how can I have privilege?!” and crying into their fedoras. I don’t care. I drink their stupid boy tears instead of morning coffee.

      That said, there are issues that affect men, and while they may not be as visible or even as important as a lot of women’s issues, they exist and need to be paid attention to at least sometimes. I mean, you can say “the patriarchy hurts men too” and it does, but there’s stuff that needs to be done to fix the specifically male problems as well as the lady problems and the more universal issues.

      I’m not saying egalitarianism doesn’t have its problems, but it is true that I’ve never come out as a sex worker to a self professed egalitarian and encountered a strong, unchangeable negative response, while I find that at least half the time when I come out to a self-professed feminist, her hackles raise and will not go back down. I don’t want to be part of that club, because so many of the members have been downright dehumanizing towards me.

    • I can’t speak for the egalitarian group, but the humanist groups that I participate in have a pretty big focus on leveling the playing field. So, no they (at least the humanists) don’t “ignore” that fact. In fact, in an email update I received today from, the headline of it was “Women’s Equality in Pakistan.”

      However, they also help people that are in need of help REGARDLESS of gender. One of my biggest issues with the feminist movement is that they tend to say fuck men they have it so easy, when there are instances in which men are just as suppressed. I’m acknowledging the fact that men are almost never suppressed because of their gender (at least not by the patriarchal society we live in), but they are humans and people too who also need the support of other human beings. I’d also like to point out that there are scholarships that you cannot be awarded unless you have a vagina (I would also like to acknowledge that these in no way make up for it being legal for women to make less than men solely because they are in fact female). There are inequalities everywhere. For everyone. For different reasons.

      So my problem with being a part of feminism or the MRM (and while I do respect many feminists, I have zero respect for MRM) is that it gives members of those movements an excuse to completely ignore the other gender and to step on their rights in order to get their “equality.” (I am also aware that not all feminism is like this, but it is the majority of what I’ve come into contact with in the midwest.)

      Instead of getting women’s equality at any cost, how about we keep men in mind as human beings with rights too. Let’s keep men with rights instead trying to suppress them back.

      All of that being said I’m not a fan of labels in general… at least not on a personal level. If there is a movement, of course there needs to be a word or phrase to describe it so that we can communicate about it, but when it comes to individuals… well actions speak louder than words.

  5. I’m sorry that you feel this way — not because I’m of the “everyone needs to call themselves a feminist!” mindset (I’m not) but because it sucks to feel forced out of a group that you wanted to be in.

    I consider myself a feminist, I suppose, though honestly I don’t care much about the semantics of it. I think the inherent issues of equality — and how do we make equality happen — are far more important than what people choose to call themselves. If someone agrees with the principles and particularities of feminism (the not-excluding-anyone kind), but they don’t want to use the word “feminist” — I don’t really care. I’d rather have more people on the right side of history than drive them away by yelling CALL YOURSELF A FEMINIST until I’ve alienated them entirely.

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