On May 23, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed seven people, including himself, and injured 13 in Isla Vista, motivated by his desire to enact revenge on sorority girls who refused to date him. In the aftermath, social media exploded with the hashtag #YesAllWomen. The hashtag was intended as a reflection of women's experiences with harassment and violence, which they saw embodied by Rodger's statements. Women from all over the world posted their everyday dealings with misogyny that “yes, all women” face.
In the weeks that followed, several groups organized to take #YesAllWomen's Twitter activism offline. The feminist pro-abortion organization, Stop Patriarchy, encouraged people to take their activism “from the tweets into the streets,” and on May 30 and 31, thousands of activists all over the country gathered to speak out.
Unfortunately, Stop Patriarchy's stance on sex work is unacceptable. Though it supports a woman's right to choose when it comes to abortion, it does not support a woman's choice to enter the sex industry. Just like their nemeses, the pro-life activists, these anti-porn feminists feel completely at ease dictating the choices other women make about their own bodies. Stop Patriarchy doesn't see sex workers as allies in the fight, they see us as helpless victims who participate in an industry that contributes to the rape and oppression of all women.
Stop Patriarchy's “Call to Action” webpage claims “the broader culture has been pornified: pole dancing is taught at gyms, 'sexting' is a national phenomenon among teens, and the strip club is the accepted backdrop to 'male bonding.' All this is tied in with and reinforces the trafficking of millions of women and girls as literal chattel in the international sex industry.”
I have a hard time buying into the idea that pole dancing classes at 24-Hour Fitness reinforce trafficking. I also have a hard time buying into Stop Patriarchy's flavor of feminism. The feminism my mother taught me championed a woman's right to choose and not have her decisions dictated by social norms, a government body, or a moral crusade; this is my feminism.
In a time where women are murdered for declining a date, a supposedly feminist organization should not throw sex workers under the bus and co-opt the #YesAllWomen moment to further its anti-sex work agenda. If we are going to actually end violence and oppression of women, “yes, all women” cannot mean “all women, except sex workers.”
Sex workers are at the front lines of violent misogyny. Dismissing the daily murder, rape, and assault of sex workers as an occupational hazard enables the kind of thinking that motivated Rodger to attack a sorority house. Violence against women, regardless of their profession, must be addressed.
Fortunately, Stop Patriarchy is not the only organization to build on the momentum of #YesAllWomen. Organizations such as local art activism group Enough Is Fucking Enough, which hosted a May 30 rally on Powell Street, are inclusive of sex workers.
At that rally, Powell Street was all business as usual, except for a collection of women clad only in underwear, shoes, and handmade signs that echoed their encounters with harassment:
“Hey, baby, can I play with you?”
“You'd be a whole lot prettier if you smiled for me.”
“Gonna slice up your face so no one will ever love you except me.”
Some of these women were sex workers, some were not. All of them had experienced cat-calling, threats, and other forms of violence. All of them were sick of it.
Enough is Fucking Enough's projects aim to bring awareness to “the ways women are dismissed, objectified, violated, and otherwise dis-empowered.” Unlike Stop Patriarchy, this group is actively “pro-sex worker, pro folks of all genders and sexual orientations.”
I hope to see more groups like Enough is Fucking Enough rejecting the anti-porn feminist rhetoric and organizing inclusively within their communities to speak out against misogyny. #YesAllWomen is an important cultural moment in which we are able to take a long hard look at how far the feminist movement has yet to go. Sex work may not be for every woman, but feminism has to be.