Tag Archive for empowerment

Paradigm Shift Event Coverage- Sex Work and Human Rights: Feminist Advocacy Strategies- What would an ideal world for sex workers look like?

By Allyn Gaestel, Paradigm Shift Staff Writer

Sex work advocates from around New York gathered at The Tank March 30 for a wide-ranging conversation on human rights, feminism and sex work in New York and internationally. The audience started out quiet. Christina Cicchelli, a porn actress and panelist asked the room “How many of you watch porn?” The whole panel raised their hands, but few audience members did. Cicchelli responded, “In your mind I’m sure you’re saying ‘yes!’ But you can’t raise your hand right now.”

The panelists each introduced themselves and spoke of their individual work as sex work advocates. Experts ranged from lawyers to youth advocates and media liaisons. Later, as the question and answer period warmed up, audience members asked provocative questions that took the panel in new directions. One question was about what all these activists and advocates were working for, what were their long term goals, and what would the sex work industry look like if they could have it how they want.

The responses demonstrated the specific emphases the panelists have in their work, but the overriding theme—one that fits so perfectly with the question of the links between feminism, human rights and sex work—was that a utopian world for sex work would be linked to a utopian world for everyone, with justice across the employment sector, equality in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation and respect for youth. The responses were inspiring and quotes are located below.

This is a central issue for those interested in any movement building, it’s not a question of empowering one group or making specific changes for a certain population. Rather, everything is linked, and all of society must be engaged in movements to push through positive change. For exploited sex workers to be empowered, they must have options in and outside of the sex industry, and for sex workers by choice to do their job in peace, society must break down the barriers of stigma and criminalization.

Audacia Ray works for the International Women’s Health Coalition, is a respected author and co-founder of Sex Work Awareness.

“For me that question is larger than just what the sex industry would look like, it’s a question of what employment would look like. I would like to, in my wildest dreams, see a world where people can be compensated for all different kinds of work in a way that gives them actual real choice about how they want to spend their working days…I would like to see a world where women and trans people are able to get good employment and good wages in parts of the world and work that is not the sex industry and be really truly be able to choose between sex industry work and other work”

Christina Cicchelli writes for $pread magazine in addition to her work in porn and other industries.

“As a current sex worker let me tell you what my world is going to look like….Small things could ultimately change the way that we talk about sex work. In the beginning I told you, really I can only talk about pornography. In a different world I could tell you about other professions without feeling as if I’m going to get incriminated against by somebody in the audience or somebody listening, that is a big difference in terms of the way that we can even have this discussion with people who are currently in sex work.

And as someone who is currently running her own business, a big thing that I’m learning about is even finding ways of selling my content without breaking any laws…if you’ve ever used paypal or godaddy things that you would normally use just to sell your business, for me it would take much longer and it would cost me more in the end because of the work I do. Granted, it might be legal in some states, and granted in society’s mind pornography isn’t really thought of as having any of those particular issues, but for me just being somebody who has been in the porn industry and has started out I can tell you that the way I handle my business, it’s discriminatory. I’m not doing anything wrong, and yet I can’t…function like a normal entrepreneur.

I think what we’re all working towards is really just trying to find equality in terms of the choices that we have and be able to talk about sex work in a way that isn’t going to be incriminating and in a way that isn’t going to prevent us from living our lives to the fullest and making those choices that ultimately make us happy.”

Will Rockwell is a youth advocate and editor of $pread magazine

“’Ideally’ is such a huge question, and I like how Audacia framed it in terms of how the sex industry in a utopian vision would be part of different changes in the world around economic, racial, and gender justice.

I think ideally we would start incorporating young people into the vision too, not to assume that every young person is sexually exploited, but to assume that perhaps it’s a more complicated story and until there are those options […] to choose more empowering paths or different paths as opposed to the limited choices many of us who started young were left with, which is to say a ‘choice among limited choices.’ Still, every choice under post-industrial capitalism is a choice among limited choices, and those options would have to include, in this ‘utopian’ universe, a place to sleep, regular pay, non-minimum wage job, an end to racist, sexist, and transphobic occupational discrimination […] Definitely, I think a practical step to take right now is to incorporate more into the movement a vision of what we’re doing to help young people who work, too, and to address their self-determined needs, whether it is improved working conditions, an end to criminalization, or a safe exit from the industry.”

Sienna Baskin is an attorney at the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center

“People usually come to me when they have a problem, because I’m a lawyer, and it’s a sex work problem, because it’s for the sex workers project. So mostly people are not having their best day when they come to me. But every once in a while I have someone who comes to me and says “I have a problem, but let me just tell you one thing first, I love sex work, I love it, I tried being a psychotherapist, didn’t like it, I love it, it’s what I want to do” and they just want to make that clear. I wish every client felt that way and that we lived in a world where everyone felt that way about their jobs and that they just love their jobs. And I think that’s a bigger, broader change in capitalism…we need to make that happen.

Another thing I would love is if people could put their sex work jobs on their resumes when trying to get other jobs. When I often talk to people about employment discrimination and they [say] “I have to…hide the fact and hope that no one finds out the fact that my work experience is in sex work.” But there are so many transferable skills and I wish that that could be recognized and people could talk about all the great skills they now have that could be applied to other kinds of work.

And then in doing policy work on the federal level, on the state level, I realize that sex workers are the last thing its OK to discriminate against, it’s OK to throw under the bus. And if you really want to get the votes out or get elected again, just make a law against sex work—another one, even though it’s already illegal. I would love a world where sex workers are recognized as a really formidable constituency and every law that you’re trying to pass you have to think ‘well how might this impact my sex work constituency and I should really talk to them about it and make sure they’re on board.’”

Maryse Mitchell-Brody is co-founder of Sex Workers Action New York

“I want a world with access, whether that means access to condoms, access to choice, access to housing, also access to justice, whatever that means for individuals and not necessarily [through] what I call the criminal legal system (not the criminal justice system) because I don’t think people experience much justice there.

We really are talking about what we’re against, but we’re up against an awful lot. I want to see more collectivizing and solidarity in sex worker communities…I’ve seen a lot of amazing solidarity and I’ve seen folks not always having each other’s backs as much as I’d hope. So I want a world in which it’s safe for people to have each other’s backs because it doesn’t mean you going hungry that night.”

There is a lot to change to make a just world for sex workers, but the links between sex work advocacy and broader social issues can inspire solidarity between movements to move the process forward.

Sex Work, Human Rights, & Feminism Series Part 2: The Image of a Sex Worker

This series of posts from the community is in preparation for Paradigm Shift’s next event, “Sex Work and Human Rights: Feminist Advocacy Strategies” A panel discussion and screening on TUES, March 30th, 7pm, NYC. We want to hear your stories! View call for submissions- deadline 3/28-

by Morgan Boecher

Sex work is a divisive issue among contemporary feminists. Is it a job that enables independence and empowerment or is it a compromised position for women that reiterates sexist roles? The heated debate from various sides indicates that the answer is not simple. Sex work has had a decidedly positive impact on some women’s lives, while other women have never known the meaning of empowerment through sex work. The myriad experiences of those involved with and affected by sex work cannot add up to a sum total of “sex work = good” or “sex work = bad.” However, patterns emerge and sex work begins to mean something.

For me, sex work means danger. There is someone very close to me who is a sex worker, and she is not empowered. She is not free or independent. She is controlled by boyfriends and drugs and insecurities. She hurts herself and those around her all the time. Her idea of what a woman should be like – sexy, fashionable, cute, rich – is a cocktail of TV stereotypes. It’s as though she consumed the most literal hourglass-shaped template from mainstream media.

But to say that the poor thing had no choices is terribly condescending. Of course she had choices, even though they were embedded within a culture that partially promotes the glamorous porn-star-gangster image. Out of many options, she chose to focus on that one image of what a woman can be in American society.

This is where I get caught up in the idea that sex work is dangerous for women. The media portrays a specific, one-sided, degraded image of what a sex worker is, despite the vast diversity in individual experience and personhood among sex workers. This misogynist portrayal incites people to copy it, thus producing a pattern that gets us no closer to a feminist future. Of course there are sex workers who are aware of the messages that are propagated by the media, and actively decide how to respond. No sex worker is without choice, but the invasive effects of the media cannot be ignored either.

So is sex work inherently more dangerous than other businesswoman-customer interactions? Besides the physical and emotional complications that are usually involved with intercourse, no. But within the context of a sexist society that naturalizes sex work as something that women were meant to do (how many times have I heard that lame “it’s the oldest profession!” excuse?), well, that’s another matter.

I question whether sex work in any form can be a way to empower women as a whole. I feel like I can be convinced otherwise, but right now I am doubtful that it can. I have seen the heinous ways in which the one I care about was violated, and how that violation led to her downward spiral of which sex work is a part. If anything is to change, though, sex workers must be the ones to define themselves, not the misogynist media. And the sex workers who have the well-being of women in mind, namely feminist sex workers, will be the ones to redefine the trade for the better.

Sex Work, Human Rights, & Feminism Series Part 1: Musings of a nude model on sex work, feminism and empowerment

This series of posts from the community is in preparation for Paradigm Shift’s next event, “Sex Work and Human Rights: Feminist Advocacy Strategies” A panel discussion and screening on TUES, March 30th, 7pm, NYC. We want to hear your stories! View call for submissions- deadline 3/28-

by Ami

Nights and weekends I work as a nude model. I work with artists of all genres; photography is the easiest and pays the best. I love it. I love to model because I like having a part of my day naked and shared that doesn’t involve sexual penetration or bathing. I feel empowered in my body because I know that it is mine if I am choosing to sell it. It’s mine and I decide who pays to see it to, how much I sell it for, and I make my own schedule.

I also know that I’m good at modeling, and I like getting better. It’s a skill to build on with each experience.

When I model I have a moment of quiet from the incessant body questions and insecurities I have the rest of my day. It doesn’t matter how I feel about my body, it’s open and available as it is. I use it instead of critiquing it. And no matter how I am feeling about my physicality, whether it’s a “fat day”, a “sexy day”, a “curvy day” or a “puny day” I get the same range of responses. It reminds me that my head-trips on body image are solely in my mind.

During the day I work as a writer at a prestigious international institution. I interview diplomats and promote myself as a thought leader. I write about women’s issues, and work for the promotion of women’s empowerment. But I’m entry level so I’m not paid. I have written on sex work from an intellectual public health perspective. I like to publish on sex work because I hate reading most articles in the mainstream press on sex work. I try to use language and tell stories to give people a more nuanced view of the trade. I have worked as an ally for sex workers in the United States and Senegal, so I bring these hands on experiences to my writing.

I worked on an article about sex work during the World Cup in South Africa, which my editor had many qualms about. She did not like my inclusion of a quote about the potential for economic opportunity through sex work during the event. She worried that I was not problematizing the fact that women can be economically forced into sex work. She was stuck on a victimized view of sex workers. And eventually she said that really it was part of her discomfort with the broader trend in society that women make more and get ahead more easily by using their sexuality, femininity and sensuality than by using their intellect.

Well. I thought. Then perhaps you should pay me so I can sustain myself through my intellect, not through my body. She had no idea why this was such a personal issue for me, and I couldn’t tell her without risking stigma. It really just isn’t something I can talk about to day-life people.

It’s funny because I sell my body to pay my rent, and I let powerful men take me on dates so I can eat something besides eggs and rice. The latter activity is much more socially accepted, but I struggle with it more than nude modeling. I don’t mind having mindless sex with men in exchange for drinks, dinners, plays, movies, parties. But I prefer the direct transfer of money so I can shop for what I want, go where I want and socialize how I want, on my own time, with or without a date.

Transactional sex and nude modeling are complicated. I don’t know how I would behave differently if I had a steady income from my day job. I probably wouldn’t model, because it’s tiring to work fifteen-hour days. But I think people need to know that sometimes body transactions are fun and healthy. It’s definitely useful. And while I engage in the struggle to promote women’s empowerment internationally, I have no qualms about my own economic activities. I work and someday maybe I won’t. For now I am exploiting the cultural system of sexualizing women. The system is not exploiting me.

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