What Lies Beyond Commercial Feminism


As the #metoo campaign remains well within the socio-political spotlight, seasoned patrons of feminism and newcomers alike are seeking to help victims reclaim agency and reparations necessary for recovery from their abusers. Respectability politics are social rules and standards we abide by to protect ourselves from abuse. Feminist agendas often silently validate the abuse of others when their agenda lacks inclusivity. The event at MoMA PS1 Sunday Session shed rays of light onto the corners of radical feminism often overlooked by commercial feminism. MoMA PS1’s most recent Sunday Session dedicated to the Sex Workers Festival of Resistance was a platform for tangible examples of the people directly affected by ignorance about sex workers. The profoundly feminist event functioned as an exhibition for art made by sex workers to humanize how civilians relate to their experience of the world.

Although feminism is often too serious a word for some to use to self-identify, liberating a marginalized body is a tricky tagline sometimes used to justify the abuse of others. In the case of the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) their protected demographic happens to be victims of sex trafficking which demonizes willing participants of the sex industry. Ultimately the bill does very little to help the real human trafficking epidemic, while also throwing sex workers into danger by censoring the platforms the guarantees their safety. The tactics to suppress sex workers never really stops the industry, but it has a way of putting sex workers in more of harm's way.

Stuart/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by-nc)

Stuart/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by-nc)

“In the UK, a law banning the practice of "kerb crawling" -- driving a car slowly along the road for the purposes of solicitation -- has had disastrous consequences. A 2002 report by The Guardian found that sex workers in the city of Sheffield previously operated in a well-lit, non-residential street with CCTV cameras. But a crackdown on prostitution forced the sex workers to move to a poorly lit industrial estate with no security cameras. There was a commensurate spike in violent attacks and murder.

SESTA bill recently passed, which will vastly change the face of internet in the uncertain future of net neutrality. The bill broadly proposes that service providers and platforms should be held accountable for the content shared. This proposal usurps Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

The entanglement of the Section 230 in a bill about Human Trafficking seems considerably odd. Restructuring Section 230 does more to snuff out the possibility of innovation than it does to prevent human trafficking or help victims reclaim their autonomy. When the internet is already ruled by such large conglomerates that crush small start-ups who won’t have the legal backing if serious legal issues arise. All-in-all starts-ups and daily users of the internet will suffer from the restrictions of the new bill more than their counterparts.

The civilian view of the sex industry polarizes the sex industry into victims & oppressors without considering the willing participants of the sex industry. Jenna Torres a project coordinator for the Red Umbrella organization and panelist at MoMA PS1’s Sex Workers Resistance Festival said of her relationship to the law and the dangers of sex work, “I am in more danger when I am caught.” Jenna Torres story is one with shifts up and down. From bouncing around foster homes to achieving her goal of graduating on time, Torres’ goal has always been as such, “I always told myself I didn’t want to be another statistic.”

New York Law States that anyone found in the sex industry underaged is a victim of human trafficking. As an underaged mother of three, the likelihood that the government would view Torres as anything but a victim was faulty. Thus a hard-earned push towards college went to waste as they arrested and trialed Torres as a victim of human trafficking. (Source)

In a difference-in-difference study conducted by Scott Cunningham, Gregory DeAngelo, and John Tripp at Baylor University they found a 17% reduction in homicide against females since the Craigslist implemented an adult section. Without heavy censorship screening programs like Erotic Review have the time to flourish and develop a repore. My concern lies in more than saving lives, but in producing change. Liability is already a pressing concern for large internet platforms who police bodies. If the vote to make platforms like Facebook or Yahoo completely liable for content suggests prostitution or human trafficking go through, the first to suffer are the least socially acceptable.

Another Panelist at MOMA’s event Gizelle Marie is responsible for galvanizing the New York City Stripper Strike using a social media platform. (Source) In her now viral Instagram video, Gizelle Marie gives a passionate speech in a white shirt with barely visible bra straps, but in a world where providers are responsible for content, would she be given the same chance? Platforms delete radical content addressing oppression without crossing lines all the time. “Again and again, when platforms clamp down on their users’ speech, marginalized voices are the first to disappear,” says Cindy Cohn, Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The MoMA PS1 event put the pleasures and woes of the sex industry on full display. A few of their film clips and panelists expressed a kinship and willingness to defend others involved in the industry. The relationship between civilians and sex workers is so loose even though each respective group is negatively affected through the same censorship. When we examine the victims of the #metoo movement and the unseen and unknown victims of the backpage scandal, our bias leans immediately towards what we already know and find familiar. With the uncertain future of Net Neutrality and SESTA to begin in April, commercial feminism lexicon should strive to include the liberation of bodies that sell themselves as well.