SWERF’s & Standpoint Theory- 2018

The following essay is discussing the image above with references to Aileen Moreton-Robinsons article “Towards an Australian Indigenous Women’s Standpoint Theory” (2013). Throughout this essay my main argument is that within all social categorisations (race, class, gender etc.) there is a hierarchy in which a dominant viewpoint may be accepted as a universal truth. Different perspectives will have different ideas around which discourse is the most dominant. Specifically speaking this essay is investigating two groups of people; Sex Workers and SWERF’s (sex worker exclusionary radical feminists) and the conflicting ideologies of the two. I have chosen to discuss in more detail four of the above ‘squares’ and the different standpoints that each of the two groups represent.
⦁ “You’re too brainwashed by patriarchy to understand”
There is no denying that we are all impacted by long-standing patriarchal systems, whether it is positive or negative impacts. The main argument SWERF’s employ against sex work is that the objectification of women is inherently degrading to women and further perpetuates the patriarchy, regardless (and completely ignorant) of individual agency. You could argue that SWERF’s and Sex Workers experience different ontology’s, as both groups are each at differing standpoints. In her article, Moreton-Robinson highlights the issues of Nakata’s “gender-blind” theory stating that he “..universalises Indigenous men’s experience” (Moreton-Robinson, 2013, p. 339). The same could be argued about the SWERF’s that by excluding Sex Work from their type of feminism they are attempting to universalise their point of view. Without understanding that different ontology’s exist, and that their epistemological way of understanding is not the ultimate universal truth. I argue that SWERF’s are unconsciously acting as the patriarchal forces within the breadth of feminism.
• Sex work is rape/paid sex can’t be consensual
As someone who has experienced multiple sexual assaults, and who is now a sex worker, this statement couldn’t be more untrue. I feel safer in my work environment than out in the city streets on a Saturday night. In my job I have the freedom to not only choose when I work but I also get to choose my clients. I understand that my position within the industry is a privileged one and I do not speak on behalf of all workers. Context is extremely important within sex work discourse. In (most states of) Australia sex work is legal, so within legal contexts sex workers have legal (and in the case of brothels and parlours, physical) protection surrounding their work. Not all sex workers have been assaulted or abused in their lives and again I don’t claim to be speaking on anyone’s behalf, my opinions are based on my experiences and my own distinct standpoint. Moreton-Robinson posits that “our understanding of reality and its meaningfulness exists because of our ability as subjects to assign meaning that has been produced historically and socio-culturally” (Moreton-Robinson, 2013, p. 335). It is unclear what has influenced SWERF’s historically and socio-culturally that has produced their opinions on other women’s bodies, but we could make assumptions around religious beliefs, misunderstanding of information or just ignorance as the driving forces of their views. My view is that the patriarchal systems SWERF’s claim are oppressing sex workers are the same systems which have dictated their epistemology.
• Sex Work is objectifying
Moreton-Robinson discusses the perspective of feminist standpoint theory and the dis-connect between body/earth. This is in contrast to the indigenous women’s standpoint perspective where the same disconnect does not exist and instead indigenous women understand humanness through their connection to all living things (Moreton-Robinson, 2013, p. 335). This same disconnect can be applied to the issue of sex work but instead of the body/earth duality, we can look at the values we place upon sex/love (or mind/body) and whether these can be seen as one or separate things. It may be argued that these ontological differences are at the core of this conflict and the concept of objectification is due to the inability of SWERF’s to understand that a woman may see sex work as providing a service much like a plumber or dentist, rather than an emotional and degrading experience. Many sex workers are able to separate sex from love (or the mind from the body), in order to perform their jobs. When the issue of objectification of Sex Workers arises, there is never any discussion around other professions, such as models or actresses who also use their bodies in order to make money. Another contentious term SWERF’s like to use in opposition to sex work is intimacy; yet again there is no mention of other professions of which ‘intimacy’ is inevitable such as child carers, gynaecologists or nurses. What differs between the aforementioned professions and Sex Work is the sexual aspect. It seems there is something quite threatening to SWERF’s about sex and sexuality which brings me back to the duality of sex/love and the SWERF’s inability to separate the two.
• Equates sex work with trafficking
When discussing sex work the issue of sex trafficking often appears. What we need to remember is that agency and context are vital when discussing sex work. If women (and sometimes men) are forced to perform sex work, or have not made the decision themselves to work in the industry this is trafficking. Sex work is not sex trafficking. In Moreton-Robinsons article, Foucault’s ‘subjugated knowledge’ concept is briefly referenced by Patricia Hill Collins work around the suppression, repression and oppression of black women’s epistemology by ‘white patriarchal knowledge production’ (Moreton-Robinson, 2013, p. 333). My argument here is that Sex Workers ontology as well as their axiology has also been suppressed, repressed and oppressed by dominating SWERF discourses.
Unlike Indigenous people, who were born into their social category, sex workers have made a choice to belong to their social category. Regardless of this I believe that many of Moreton-Robinsons arguments and concepts can (and have) been applied effectively to better understand these perspectives. I suggest that further research surrounding sex work could also effectively employ the standpoint theory in order to broaden our understanding of the epistemology, ontology and axiology of both Sex Workers and SWERF’s.

Moreton-Robinson, 2013, ‘Towards and Indigenous Women’s Standpoint Theory’, Australian Feminist Studies, Vol. 28, No. 78, pp. 337-347
Imgur, 2017, ‘SWERF Bingo’ [image], ‘Anyone want to play SWERF bingo?’, Imgur, viewed 23 April 2018

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