Students and sex work

‘Sex for tuition fees anyone?’ is the latest of a spate of headlines sensationalising the depressing trend of women turning to sex work in order to pay skyrocketing university tuition fees.

First off, some qualifiers – it is appalling that young working class people are faced with a choice between insecure employment on starvation wages, the dole queue, or paying tens of thousands of pounds for an education which provides no guarantee of employment at the end of it. It is appalling that students who don’t want to take on a life time of debt now have few other options, and that profit hungry creeps are seemingly so hungry to exploit this. All of this goes without saying.

I’m also sure there will be some trollish discourse from MRAs about how it’s really men that are the victims here because male students can’t make money the same way (they can, but not in the way MRAs would want to imagine), and how of course women sex workers are the real exploiters here because they’re selling something they should really be giving away freely (because plentiful sex with conventionally attractive women is every man’s birth-right, yawn…) Those people are idiots, and not the issue I’m addressing here.

However, I think we (socialists) need to speak more carefully about sex work, and this is an opportunity to discuss how.

Because the bourgeois media isn’t sensationalising this story to improve things for all students; barely any of the articles pose an alternative to our increasingly individualised, privatised and prohibitively expensive higher education system. The narrative here is about protecting young, “middle” class, heterosexual, cis-gendered, able-bodied, women from “falling victim to prostitution” – to give the editors credit the term ‘sex work’ is properly used, though unfortunately without replacing the objectifying sentiment.

Why, as Marxists, shouldn’t we just jump on the sensationalist bandwagon? Firstly, we need to understand that sex work is just that – work. We don’t call for the end of certain types of work under capitalism just because they’re exploitative – all work under capitalism is exploitative. Can we say that sex work is more damaging to sex workers, society or the environment than every other form of work? Does a sex worker’s sale of intimacy undermine their interpersonal relationships any more than do jobs which separate workers from their families for long periods of time, leave them with health problems or cut short their lives? One could blame the sex industry as a whole, but even that could stand as a criticism of every industry which perverts and alienates labour for elite profit accumulation.

The ‘sex positive’ sex workers movement is loudly proclaiming the legitimacy of this form of work – empowered workers who are striving to destigmatise their work, often organising in trade unions to gain better pay, safer working conditions, and more agency over how they work – struggles we wage in our own workplaces every day but which can only be waged once hand wringing about the type of work in question is put aside. Making it clear that sex workers are only as much ‘victims’ of their work as are the rest of us under capitalism is fundamentally empowering – yes super-exploitation exists, but this is compounded not helped by stigmatisation – some of us are lucky enough to enjoy our work whatever it is, and some of us hate our jobs, are underpaid, harassed, bullied and abused in the workplace – and frankly in desperate need of a fighting, democratic union to get organised in. Indeed until the right to be safe at work is extended to sex workers, even rape of sex workers will remain seen as par for the course and ignored by society and the legal system.

But avoiding stigmatising sex work is only part of the story here. Once we stop casting sex workers as a special sort of victim, we also need to recognise that sex workers are as varied (if not more so) as any other group of workers. The present bourgeois media sensation about student sex work is part of the wider sex-slave trope wherein young women with every sort of privilege imaginable save their gender are stolen or tricked from their promising, respectable lives and irreparably sullied and ruined by taking part in sex work, until they are either saved by some outside hero (but of course remain ‘spoilt goods’) or become another statistic – perhaps turning up dead and reported as a ‘murdered prostitute’ (defined forever by their profession). This discourse doesn’t help anyone, and I would argue is part of the problem.

To summarise – sex work is only one symptom of the problem of students being forced to find ways to cope with the escalation of cuts to the right to free, publicly-funded education. To be sickened and disgusted by this symptom draws attention away from its cause, as surely intended, and further serves to stigmatise sex work and sex workers. We should struggle alongside students and sex workers for free lifelong education, legalisation of sex work with full employment rights, for a fully funded NHS, for inclusive public services to provide support to those who want to leave sex work, and for decent jobs, homes and services for all to allow the decision to undertake sex work to be free from economic necessity.

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Stop Dorries’ abstinence for girls sex education bill

Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP, who has voted against equal gay rights in the past, has just successfully proposed a bill to teach GIRLS (specifically) the ‘benefits’ of abstinence from ‘sexual activity’! Who’s up for starting a big campaign against this dangerous heteronormative sexist anti-sex bill before its second reading in parliament?

Join the Facebook Page Stop Dorries’ abstinence for girls sex education bill

Check how your MP voted

Email your MP with the following points (alter tone depending on whether they already voted for or against but email either way to make sure!):

Dear [Your MP],

On 4 May 2011 Nadine Dorries proposed a bill to require that sex education in schools should include content promoting abstinence to teenage girls.

While sex education already mentions the option of abstinence, this Bill would require active promotion of abstinence to girls, with no such requirement of the education provided to boys.

There is no logic in promoting abstinence to girls specifically – it is sexist. There is also no evidence that promoting abstinence in sex education reduces teenage pregnancies.

The wording of the bill is also ideological – it is not demanding abstinence from heterosexual sexual intercourse but from all sexual activity. This is dangerous as teenage girls may be taught that masturbation or other sexual activity is also wrong.

I call on you to vote against this archaic ideological bill on its second reading on Friday 20 January 2012.

Please respond letting me know your voting intentions regarding this bill.


[Your Name]

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Some feminist links

I thought it’d be good to share some of the feminist / feminism links I’ve saved over the years on my delicious.

I know there’s millions more but these are just a few I’ve come across that I felt were worth saving.





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Queer Mutiny Brighton, May Day and Cuts

// This is a proposed article for various activist publications around May Day 2011 and Queer Mutiny Brighton’s involvement in it, as an introduction to who we are and what we’re upto lately. //

Queer Mutiny Brighton is a collective of anti-capitalist queers of all sexualities and genders who meet regularly in Brighton. We aim to politicise mainstream LGBT communities and to queerify activist communities. We’re a DIY collective committed to fighting prejudice and hierarchies.

As queer workers, in solidarity with the whole of the working class, we will be celebrating the achievements of workers’ struggles on May Day 2011, whilst continuing to fight against capitalist oppression.

Impending cuts to public services and benefits will hit queer people in Brighton particularly hard. For example, 22% of LGBT respondents to Brighton’s ‘Count Me In Too’ survey (CMIT) have been homeless at some point in their lives. With housing benefit being slashed, this can only get worse.

Cuts to the NHS budget will be felt by queers as healthcare services used by our community are slashed. CMIT states that, “people of other more marginalised identities more frequently reported experiencing mental health difficulties, including bisexual-, queer-, trans- and black and minority ethnic people, those who feel isolated, and those on a low income.” Queers experiencing mental distress find it more difficult to escape poverty as they suffer multiple layers of discrimination.

Hate crime continues to be extensively perpetrated against queer people. 73% of respondents to CMIT said that they had experienced abuse related to their sexual identity and/or gender identity in the past five years. As policing services come under pressure from budget cuts, anti victimisation units are undoubtedly at risk.

Queer Mutiny Brighton is affiliated with Queers Against The Cuts – a national campaign highlighting the specific impact of the cuts on queer people. We will be resisting all cuts to public services through direct action and by uniting with other anti cuts campaigns, such as Brighton Stop The Cuts Coalition. Join our pink and black bloc at May Day and other demonstrations. Keep up to date via the Queer Mutiny Brighton website and our Facebook group.


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LGBTQ Struggle and Socialism

Unfortunately I do not have space (or time!) here to write a dialectical account of LGBTQ struggle throughout the ages, however I will summarise what I think are the key issues facing LGBTQ people today, and how this links to the wider struggle for socialism.


A while ago I met my friend in a pub and had a book under my arm about the fight for LGBTQ liberation. When he saw it he laughed and said ‘you are liberated – gays can get married now, what else is there to fight?’

Every opinion expressed cannot be taken out of context: my friend who said this was a white heterosexual male, living in one of the most permissive cities in the world, surrounded by people who think in a similar manner to him, and living in a country that (at least legally) recognises some gay rights. Therefore of course his opinion is going to be based on those factors, so perhaps from his point of view he didn’t see that there was a struggle to be had.

Firstly, I do not believe that true ‘liberation’ is purely about legalities. It is not simply about a gay couple having the same property rights as a heterosexual couple. Despite how far we have come with recent reforms in the law, and actually in attitudes, many young people would still rather kill themselves than come out, homophobic attacks are increasing, and only 1 percent of reported hate crimes lead to convictions.

I remember in the year 2000 when they lowered the age of consent for gay sex to 16, and whilst recognising what a massive step this was for equality, I was exceedingly frustrated that these seemingly liberal attitudes did not reach into my real life, as at the same time this was being put through Parliament then I could not walk down the road holding the hand of the woman I loved without facing verbal and physical abuse. This situation is still a reality for thousands upon thousands of people in Britain, let alone the rest of the world. Until this isn’t the case, then I do not believe gay people have succeeded in ‘liberation’.

The things that have been won and so hard fought for will come under attack, and the struggle to defend the gains of the last few years will have to be coupled with campaigns to protect everything else that is under threat in these times.

In times of austerity, it allows extreme right wing groups such as the BNP and the EDL, or the right-wing press to prey on people’s fears, and exploit them, and to create divisions in our society. Homophobia is still rife in the media; a perfect illustration of this was the headlines in the Daily Mail shortly after the announcement of allowing a person’s sexuality to become a reason for asylum: ‘Now asylum if you’re gay’ – accompanied with an editorial entitled ‘no room for gays’. LGBTQ oppression has an ideological function in that it encourages workers to think of themselves not as part of collective groups like unions or the working class, but as members of small, vulnerable groups competing for scarce resources.

I also think that language has an important role in subtly affecting people’s perceptions around what is ‘normal’. Language used by the Conservatives in particular – phrases like ‘family values’ – intrinsically ostracise those who deviate from the norm. We are constantly being told by the Government and the media that the decline of ‘traditional family values’ has led to ‘Broken Britain’ etc., and this kind of talk cannot but be helped to be absorbed by society, along with the implications of this. This kind of language instantly excludes gay people, as well as any other non-‘normal’ family group, such as single mothers.

LGBTQ oppression is rooted in class society through the institution of the family. Capitalist rulers will support the family because it provides care for the young, old and sick at low cost.

In all class societies, the family has been the main institution by which sexual conformity has been enforced. But the form of the family and its relationship to production have changed quite radically from one mode of production to another, and the nineteenth century saw an important transformation in this field. The coming of industrial capitalist society brought a whole complex of changes – the separation of home from work, the polarisation of gender roles for women and men in these ‘separate spheres’, and a new stress on individuality and personal life.

Attacks on university places, benefits, childcare, and the NHS will generate a mass of social problems, from homelessness to student debt, and historic levels of economic inequality, which should all be laid at the feet of government. Yet it is in seeking to avoid this outcome that the old scapegoats will be reached for and weight will be put onto ‘family values’ – as the pressure will fall onto the family to provide support and resources previously provided by the state.

The Tories’ track record means that nobody can be complacent about the future. David Cameron voted to keep Section 28, he has forged an EU alliance between the Tories and a rabidly homophobic Polish party; the Equalities Minister Theresa May voted against an equal age of consent, against lesbian fertility rights, and also to keep Section 28. The Tories are a fundamentally homophobic party, they only feel they are not allowed to express this because of current public opinion, yet this is subject to change, as there is the risk that the cuts will create a bitter, witch-hunting atmosphere with increased attacks on minorities like Muslims, refugees and LGBTQ people.

So far this has been about Britain. Just because Britain has (relatively) equal legislation with regards to gay rights then obviously this does not mean it is the case in the rest of the world, far from it. Perhaps it would be stating the obvious to outline the persecution that LGBTQ people face in other parts of the world. In Iran, for example, if a male minor gets raped then he faces 99 lashes. If he is above the age of consent then he can face the death penalty, simply for engaging in sodomy, whether it was consensual or not. Gay rights and sexual liberation is a universal issue.

As feminists, queers, and socialists, our duty is to stand up for oppression in whatever form this may take, be it homophobia, racism, or any other kind of oppression of the working class. The persistence of oppression in all walks of life shows that despite achievements in changing the law in Britain, and a lot of Western countries, then there is no guarantee against discrimination.

True liberation means breaking free of the class society that imposes such restrictions on our lives, including our sexual lives. Where there has been successful resistance, rebellion and revolution in wider society we have seen victories for sexual and gender freedom; (we saw the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution) where we have not we have seen repression, tyranny and humiliation.

This means that LGBTQ oppression is specific to modern capitalist society. It is not the case that same-sex relations or the punishment of individuals who had them were completely absent from previous societies, but that certain people should be defined by society as different because of their sexual preference or behaviour, and that they should be oppressed for this difference, is a situation which has only developed since the industrial revolution.

Engels imagined a future society where men and women ‘make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual’ without the restrictions of money, power and class that capitalism imposes upon us. The struggle against gay oppression is therefore a struggle to end capitalist society and its particular distortions of sexuality and gender; and this can only be achieved by a socialist revolution carried out by the working class.

Posted by Holly

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“Petrifying Liquid” – Alcohol, abstinence and capitalism

I’m currently in my ninth week of sobriety, a move that wasn’t planned, pre-empted or a response to anything more extreme than a particularly virulent hangover from 4 pints of fruit beer. I had planned to take just two weeks “off” but during that time happened to be reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and taking particular note of Tressell’s commentary on the use and abuse of alcohol by the working class. From this, the sober experience suddenly became something deeper, which instead of merely conflicting with the practicalities of my far left political interests (meetings, including pre-meeting caucuses and post meeting wind downs invariably taking place in pubs), became something which could be political in ways I’d never considered.

The most visible and accessible argument was, on the surface, one relating to consumer-end politics – with the purveyors of intoxicating beverages (or indeed, “petrifying liquids”) cast as demonic profiteers of a system which produces, more efficiently than anything, broken people. The implied desperate agency of the habitual working class drinker does not ring true with my personal experience of daily alcohol consumption which seems, if anything, to be largely incidental rather than actively sought as a route to oblivion. However this actually serves to support rather than contradict Tressell’s assertion about the role of public houses in relation to the working class. Alcohol culture is immensely profitable; combining huge mark-ups on products with terrible pay, terms and conditions for workers.

The incidental nature of drinking in the UK speaks less to our casual attitude towards alcohol, than to a lack of alternative social spaces. The fact that in a town as purportedly bohemian as Brighton the only cost-free meeting spaces are licensed premises speaks volumes. Not just for political or other meetings, but for socialising as well. I have yet to find for example, a café other than the infamous Market Diner that stays open past 7pm. The monopolies of alcohol and big retail squeeze common spaces out of city centres, and essentially privatise our social interactions – giving us little choice but to contribute financially, and often also with our health and sobriety, for the luxury of shelter in our own cities.

The point that Tressell makes in comparing alcoholism to socialist activism is also astute and intriguing.

It was a good thing for Owen that he had his enthusiasm for ‘the cause’ to occupy his mind. Socialism was to him what drink was to some of the others–the thing that enable them to forget and tolerate the conditions under which they were forced to exist… Some people deny themselves the necessaries or comforts of life in order that they may be able to help to fatten a publican. Others deny themselves in order to enable a lazy parson to live in idleness and luxury; and others spend much time and money that they really need for themselves in buying Socialist literature to give away to people who don’t want to know about Socialism.”

The stresses of capitalism on families and individuals today are better hidden than they were when the book was written over a century ago. Poverty is masked by insurmountable household debts, displaying an outward façade of comfort which barely disguises the economic bondage of the majority who live their lives in the red. Socialist activism is (except of course to the superstitious) the most active way of attempting to counteract the intolerable conditions peculiar to capitalism, but it also serves the same purpose as alcohol for the individual who is acutely aware of the misery around them – it helps them to relax, and to sleep at night.

What about, then, the subculture of sobriety? The most well known groups of abstainers in the UK are ex-alcoholics, and those who are straight edge. Although there may well be a small element of overlap these are basically two discrete groups, the former struggling to overcome a crippling addiction, the latter opting out of the mainstream and in to a close knit and coherent set of values with a corresponding music scene, fashion and ethos for other behaviours including diet and sex. I don’t pretend to know a great deal about the straight edge scene, and am sufficiently apprehensive not to attempt to describe it in any greater detail, my point is that what we are left with is a mainstream of high intoxication, and a lack of an inclusive and dialectic counter culture to challenge it.

We have heard much in recent years of the horrors of “ladette” culture. Firstly of course this is indicative of the oppressive and exceedingly profitable myth of intoxication as a pillar of masculinity, and the politically useful (to the capitalist class) implication that a drunk woman must be merely aping an innately male behaviour, rather than independently forming a similar and possibly rational behavioural response to a shared set of societal pressures and conditions. Post feminists would claim that the rise of female binge drinking demonstrates the achievement of equality, despite the fact that no one here has been liberated, least of all women.

If binge drinking is a reaction to barely tolerable economic conditions and/or a related lack of capitalism-free social space, then opting in or out of it without confronting capitalism itself really is little more than personal choice, and can never be an overtly political act in and of itself. Whilst it has raised my awareness of implicit attitudes surrounding alcohol and the underlying financial incentives in play, I don’t think that sobriety is revolutionary in any way other than in my personal life, giving me an unprecedented sense of control and motivation. My comrades may feel otherwise, and that’s fine, but it would be nice to think that come the revolution there will be dialogue and debate about the wider role that alcohol and intoxication plays in our society and how we can address it in a manner which liberates us all.

Posted by Shona

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Why nothing but a “needs budget” will do

Brighton Stop the Cuts Coalition delegates met on Monday to discuss, amongst other things, an anti-cuts pledge for local council candidates to sign, or reject, in the lead up to May’s local elections. The most contentious point under discussion was that candidates, if elected, should propose a no cuts budget.

The precedent for such a tactic, as many know, is that of the Liverpool City Council of the 1980s, who with a majority of Labour councillors set an illegal budget and won a concession of £20million from Thatcher’s government to be spent on social housing, in what had become one of the most deprived areas in the UK.

This of course, was not achieved in a vacuum – Militant Labour in Liverpool had engaged enormous working class support and built a vibrant local regeneration campaign which drew in and empowered historically disenfranchised and disillusioned elements of Liverpool society. Furthermore, the miners strike was in full swing, and Thatcher’s concession has been regarded as an attempt to avoid opening another front of her government’s class war.

The law surrounding the issue of budget setting, unlike those around trade union activity, was actually liberalised by Blair’s Labour government. If an “illegal” budget is set, councillors will not be incarcerated or even surcharged. To suggest so is simply disingenuous. Councillors can now only be surcharged in cases where they have acted illegally for personal gain. Today councillors refusing to set a balanced budget would first be warned by officers that they could not do this and if they persisted would be replaced by government commissioners.

The resistance of officers was raised as an impenetrable barrier to the success of a no-cuts budget by Green councillors present at Monday’s meeting, and it was suggested that the only difference proposing such a budget (rather than tinkering with a Con-Dem cuts budget) would bring about would be that a faceless Whitehall bureaucrat would be called in to make the cuts instead, and that they would inevitably do so in a more ruthless manner.

The reality is, unfortunately, that it makes not a blind bit of difference to the worker or service user whether it is a democratically elected representative of any ilk implementing the cuts or an unelected bureaucrat. The vulnerable communities who rely on council spending to keep their children in education and away from crime, to provide support for those requiring and providing round the clock care to the severely disabled, and to access the facilities that so many take for granted will find no comfort in knowing that it was only with heavy hearts that councillors snatched away their dignity and plunged them in to desperation.

This we have all discussed before, however a new front opened on Monday – it was suggested that a cuts budget could strive to be compassionate. That cutting executive pay, and scrapping schemes to regenerate car parks, mow lawns in wealthy wards, and remove cycle lanes would be a way to soften the edge of the cuts agenda. Whilst at first this argument seems intuitively appealing, it is a red herring. The extent of even this first year of cuts (and there are at least 3 more to come) will be impossible to meet by scrapping a few six figure schemes or salaries. Services will inevitably suffer.

Furthermore, and most importantly, we must not forget that every so called “efficiency saving” is money that could have been invested in essential services if councillors had only fought to maintain budget levels. Cut executive salaries and schemes to pander to wealthy wards certainly, but that is money that we must fight to keep – every penny of it should be redirected to protecting the most vulnerable in our society. With rising unemployment communities are under immense strain and public services are essential for protecting the vulnerable of all ages from coming to harm from poverty, neglect or abuse. Every redundancy not only effects the worker, and the future employee who could have filled a vacated post, but the many service users who rely on those who’s jobs are currently being “deleted” by councils across the UK.

No one expects councillors to succeed on their own, and they are quite correct in suggesting they cannot. However this is not the end of the story, we are still in the early stages of a growing anti-cuts movement, the first national TUC demonstration is yet to take place on 26th March, and although sure enough we have no miners strike and union membership is historically low this is only the beginning. As the cuts begin to bite this movement will erupt and councillors of the left must be prepared to fully represent the interests of their constituents.

As a movement we will be there to rally behind those councillors tenacious enough to take a stand and win justice for the vulnerable on a local level. The national level is a more daunting prospect with even the Labour party ignoring economists and prescribing severe cuts and privatisation – as in Egypt, the beheading of the hydra doesn’t immediately equate to liberation. But this is another battle that, united with organised workers, we can and must, eventually win.

Posted by Shona

Posted in Capitalism, Cuts, History, Privatisation | Leave a comment