SHADOWBANNING: Big Data and Algorithms -2019

There is no doubt that the internet has drastically changed contemporary society by increasing global connection, increasing productivity, and increasing convenience for the majority of people around the world. On a surface level these all seem to be reasons to celebrate the internet, and they are, however the perceived positive impacts overshadows the bigger picture as the big player corporations who dominate the boundary-less space of the online world are rarely challenged in their processes. In 2015 Frank Pasquale wrote a book titled The Black Box Society which focused on the secret algorithms that he argues control most aspects of modern life, specifically money and information. He argued that “what we do and don’t know about the social (as opposed to the natural) world is not inherent in its nature, but is itself a function of social constructs” Pasquale, 2015, pg. 2). He is making the point here that there is an assumed objectivity of algorithms within the online sphere. He suggests here that all meaning has been constructed through a particular perspective, and that the internet is far from a free and equal, democratic space. The internet is a domain that tends to reflect the material world that we all occupy and vice versa. In a capitalist, patriarchal society that is vastly unequal, the reality of the online world reflects those same values; as exemplified by double standards and lack of consequences (for those who hold different forms of power) among other discrepancies that often go ignored.

Pasquale recognises the importance of power arguing that “knowledge is power..”  and that “to scrutinise others while avoiding scrutiny oneself is one of the most important forms of power” (Pasquale, 2015, pg. 3). We see this play out in the dynamics between tech corporations and the average citizen. As discussed in the chapter, the public are considered ‘open books’ and we voluntarily submit our personal data over to these corporations in order to make our lives easier. And while the convenience is easy to recognise within our daily lives on a personal level, the overall impact on our increasingly connected globalised world is harder to track. Big data platforms get to dictate their own ‘community guidelines’ and policies around the type of content that is allowed on different sites; in an almost invisible way they are shaping culture by defining what is and isn’t acceptable in the online (and subsequently offline) world. In an article going back to 2016, Quartz found that there were particular groups who were constantly targeted and censored online including: plus-sized women, mothers, women in general, sexual health organisations, indigenous groups, journalists (often those speaking out against particular political parties/entities), artists/museums/galleries (specifically those that included any sort of nudity), and LGBTQ groups and individuals (York, 2016). The continued policing of marginalised groups will be discussed in more detail below.

Due to the increasing reliance we all have on our digitised devices it is easy to ignore the invasion of privacy and the way in which these corporations have used algorithms and other forms of new technology to influence what we buy, where we go, or even who we vote for (The Great Hack, 2019). Influence over our everyday lives is slowly being overtaken by corporations than that of government as Pasquale argues “most major decision about our lives are made in the private sector, not by a state bureaucracy” (Pasquale, 2015, pg. 17). Given that many people fail to interrogate the intentions of these large corporations the assumption that they are public goods eclipses the reality that they are corporations that prioritise profit over anything else. In 2012 one of the richest tech men in the world Bill Gates spoke at a media summit stating that he felt he could probably have ‘as much’ of an impact on society from outside the political sphere than within it (CBS, 2012). In order to make change from a political standpoint you need consensus, either within your party or across the population. For someone like Bill Gates to make a change or have an impact he can use his large financial capital to make decisions under the guise of philanthropy. Another significant difference is the length of time you could potentially hold that influence, in politics there are restrictions on the terms you can spend in office, as a ‘philanthropist’ nobody is setting restrictions or an expiry for when you must stop contributing. Different forms of power are underestimated when it comes to the online world and while this example focuses on the economic capital that Bill Gates holds the internet also privileges other forms of capital including the social and the cultural.

The title of Pasquale’s book is a metaphor for the secrecy built into the algorithmic system. Algorithms used by corporations like Facebook and Google are predictive algorithms, which take an analytical approach to online data that are concealed within ‘black boxes’. Pasquale called them black boxes because we, the public, do not have access to the processes of these algorithms as they are protected by law and are labelled as ‘trade secrets’. Algorithms rely on existing data sets which it then analyses, recognising patterns which it then replicates to predict the future. Historically speaking, the ideology of humanism has prevailed which privileged the European white male as the default human to which all identities that fell outside of that default were considered as ‘other’ (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 15). So what does that mean for internet users today? It means that bias is built into the seemingly objective formulas which continue to replicate the status quo. A more recent book that also focuses on algorithms was written by Safiya Umoja Noble in 2018 titled ‘Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism’. Her interest in the topic stemmed from her own personal experience using the largest search engine Google. She describes her horror at the inequalities she saw online when using Google. There were significant differences in the results of black girl vs. white girl as well as the auto-fill suggestions that appeared once she began typing something into the search bar. As she utilised this ‘impartial’ tool, Noble noticed that sexism and racism (among other discriminating factors) were built into this search engine which is presented to the public as democratic and of providing truths. Consequentially, all those ‘non-default’ beings are disadvantaged through these invisible algorithms.

The biases built into the online institutions are no accident; the existing data that is fed into the algorithmic formulations is never neutral, it always comes from a particular perspective. This makes it extremely important to be aware of historical constructions of particular identities. In her book Noble argues that much of the data that exists around minorities generally perpetuate stereotypes or have negative connotations attached. Along with the auto-fill suggestions Noble raises an interesting point about the page ranking system that Google employ through their algorithmic calculations. Popularity of particular pages prioritises them over less frequented pages implying that pages with more visits somehow deserve to be viewed more than others. Noble points out that “if the majority rules in search engine results, then how might those who are in the minority ever be able to influence the way they are represented in a search engine” (Noble, 2018, pg. 6). The inherent flaws in this page ranking system goes largely ignored considering the embedded nature of Google in contemporary (western) society.

Throughout her book Noble also asks the reader to be mindful of the interests of these platforms and reminds us that these platforms are corporations with economic goals prioritised over ethical principles; “despite the widespread beliefs in the internet as a democratic space where people have the power to dynamically participate as equals, the internet is in fact organised to the benefit of powerful elites, including corporations that can afford to purchase and redirect searches to their own sites” (Noble, 2018, pg. 50). The ability to use economic power to influence page rankings is an obvious indicator of the lack of neutrality across multiple platforms and although accessibility of the internet is increasing, accessibility in and of itself does not create democracy. There is no doubt that there is increasing accessibility to the internet across the globe but that does not mean there is any increasing in democracy or equality. Noble suggests that “structural inequalities of society are being reproduced on the Internet, and the quest for a race-, gender-, and class-less cyberspace could only ‘perpetuate and reinforce current systems of domination’” (Noble, 2018, pg. 59). We must continue to challenge the motives of the dominant platforms and push for more transparency of their operations.

The increased reliance of the internet, especially in educational environments has meant that many people around the world must be engaged with particular platforms and services in order to participate. This directly impacts on the architecture of the internet and the next part of my presentation will be focusing on an issue known as shadowbanning. Many argue that the currency of social networks is human attention. According to The Economist a shadowban: “in theory, curtails the ways in which that attention may be earned without blocking a user’s ability to post new messages or carry out typical actions on a network. Shadowbanned users are not told that they have been affected… The only hint that such a thing is happening would be a dip in likes, favourites or retweets [in the case of twitter]– or an ally alerting them to their disappearance” (GF, 2018).

While shadowbanning occurs on a number of platforms, my focus will be on the photosharing app Instagram and their policing of queer, people of colour, women, sex workers, disabled bodies, plus size bodies and most identities falling outside of a cis-white-male body. When it comes to online nudity, Instagram’s policy appears to be straightforward. Their community guidelines state: “Photos of post mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed” however, “photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully nude buttocks” are not (Instagram, 2020). While this appears fairly clear cut, Instagram seem to have a murky grey area in which ‘sexually suggestive’ content and their creators often falls victim to the perils of being shadowbanned.

An independent and online newsletter/platform specifically for women, trans, and non-binary people called Salty describe their mission as

            “Legacy and mainstream media has failed women, trans and non-binary people. They assumed our straightness, our thinness, our frigidity and our fragility for far too long. They preyed on our insecurities in order to market products to us, and told us stories from one perspective, over and over again.

But Salty isn’t legacy media. We’re a radical new publishing platform with a mission to pass the mic to Salty babes across the world and amplify their voices. We’re fighting everyday to ensure the authentic stories of women, trans and non-binary people are not erased.”  Salty, 2020

Salty recently undertook their own research that looked at the ways that algorithms affect marginalised groups, coming to the conclusion that plus-size profiles were often flagged for ‘excessive nudity’ and ‘sexual solicitation’, and that queer people and women of colour are policed far more than their white counterparts. When images of fully-clothed plus-sized or black women are removed for being ‘inappropriate’, the platforms AI learns to adopt biases that reinforce misogyny and racism, creating barriers for certain groups in the digital realm. Again the irony becomes apparent that the assumption that social media is an equalising force in modern society but in reality actually serve to further suppress communities who are most often discriminated against. Salty concluded that risqué content featuring cis white women seems less censored than content featuring plus-sized, black, queer women- and cis white men appear to have a free pass to behave and post in any way they please, regardless of the harm they inflict. A clear example of this double standard is the presence of both PornHub and Brazzers on Instagram, two of the biggest pornography companies in the world, with their total amount of followers combined exceeding 18 million people. The illusion of freedom on the Internet only serves to benefit those already at the top of the social hierarchy; the marginalised who challenge these existing norms are constantly punished with no fair or due process. We as a global society must continue to push and challenge these corporations for more transparency if we realistically aim to eradicate different forms of discrimination in both the online and material worlds.


Braidotti, R, 2013, ‘Post-Humanism: Life beyond the Self’, in Posthuman, Polity Press, Oxford, pp. 13-54

BrazzersOfficial, 2020, <>

CBS, 2012, ‘Bill Gates Says He’ll Never Run For Office’, CBS News, 9 October 2012, viewed 30 March 2020, <>

GF, 2018, ‘What is “shadowbanning”?’, The Economist, 1 August, 2018, viewed 30 March 2020, <;

Instagram, 2020, ‘Community Guidelines’, <[0]=368390626577968&bc[1]=285881641526716>

Noble, SU, 2018, ‘A Society Searching’, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, New York University Press, New York, pp. 15-63

Pasquale, F, 2015, ‘Introduction: The Need to Know’, The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information’, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 1-18

PornHub, 2020, <>

Salty, 2020, ‘What We Stand For’, Salty, <;

The Great Hack, 2019 [Netflix], Jehane Noujaim & Karim Amer

York, J, 2016, ‘A Complete Guide To All The Things Facebook Censors Hate Most’, Quartz, June 29, 2016, viewed 30 March, 2020, <;

Women in the Public Sphere: Gendered Responsibility -2019

CW: Violence against women/sex workers, femicide

On Tuesday the 13th of August this year, a woman was stabbed to death while at her place of work. Police described the attack as ‘terrifying carnage’ and it was initially speculated that it was perhaps linked to terrorism, which they later clarified was not the case (ABC News, 2019). The attack happened in the early afternoon and was played out quite publicly with a number of eye-witness accounts immediately releasing footage of the ‘rampage’ to social media sites. It wasn’t long before the focus shifted away from the perpetrator and onto the victim whose occupation became sensationalised and central to the discourse emerging from the attack. Michaela Dunn was a sex worker working under the decriminalised model in the state of NSW and was still not safe from misogynistic violence which ultimately took her life. This essay will explore a number of intersecting factors that have converged with Michaela’s death and will interrogate the cultural perception of such an event. I will begin with a discussion on how violence is used to enforce patriarchy and how that links to ideas of appropriating of femininity. Statistics highlighting how prevalent misogyny is within contemporary Australian society rounds out the first section. The next section will analyse the role of discourse and mass media and how the pathologisation of both perpetrator and victim have direct impacts on our cultural understandings of gender roles. An internalised tension between sexual vigilance and the right to feel safe is also discussed in regards to gendered responsibility. The final section will consider the impact of dichotomous understanding of women through the Madonna/whore complex.

In a patriarchal society which is organised in a way that give men the majority of power; they dominate, oppress and exploit (other men and) women as a way of maintaining that power, violence is often employed when there is a direct challenge to that power (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 394). Kane & Schippers have suggested that women are the gatekeepers to heterosexual activity and therefore hold a potential power over men; “men fear women’s ability to use sexual allure as a manipulative tactic to ‘unman’ them” (cited in Bareket et al, 2018, pg. 520). In this regard the stigma that is attached to sex workers makes a little more sense as sex workers directly threaten the patriarchal dominance through their awareness of their sexuality. Double standards are rampant in modern society, especially when it comes to sexuality and sexual practices between the genders. Bareket et al. argue that double standards play a specific role in line with patriarchal ideology and seek to regulate, control, and restrict women’s sexual expression and sexuality (Bareket, 2018, 2018, pp. 520-521). Violence against women is no new phenomenon but the rise in visibility has gained worldwide fame through the recent #metoo movement. The movement highlighted how prevalent misogyny and sexual violence against women really is and along the way created a community of survivors rallying for social change (Me Too, 2019). Vicious attacks on women like the one that tragically took the life of Michaela Dunn could be argued as an attempt at restoring social order to the world (Butler, 2004, pg. 34). Kimmel further argues that “Men’s violence toward women does not happen when men’s power over women is intact and unthreatened; rather, it happens when men’s power breaks down, when his entitlement to that power is threatened and insecure. Violence is restorative, retaliatory.. When that entitlement is aggrieved, they don’t just get mad; they get even” (cited in Everbach, 2018, pg. 17). The aggressive nature of these sorts of attacks place women in a particularly vulnerable position in wider society as Gilchrist et al revealed that “although women are not inherently more fearful of crime in public spaces than are men, women’s fear is strongly associated with the performance of appropriate femininity” (cited in Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 344). The discussion that followed included a number of examples of ‘flawed femininity’ including “walking home alone at night, or drinking too much alcohol” (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 345). Sex workers may be seen as the embodiment of everything anti-feminine, the perfect example of inappropriate femininity.

Given the precarious nature of sex work in much of the globe it is difficult to obtain true figures surrounding attacks and murders of (predominately female) sex workers. Often seen as the most vulnerable in society, it has been suggested that the more labels attached to a woman, the less she is seen as a full human in the eyes of others; nobody cares much when a ‘street-based, ‘homeless’, ‘drug-addicted’, ‘trans’, ‘woman-of-colour’ goes missing, or even worse, is murdered (Fox & Wykes, 2015). The statistics around violence against women in Australia are slightly easier to gather and prove that gendered violence is a patriarchal epidemic deserving of attention and scrutiny. According to Our Watch a woman in Australia is murdered on average once a week by either a current or former partner; a third of all Australian women have experienced physical violence; a fifth of Australian women have experienced some form of sexual violence; almost 10% of Australian women have experienced violence at the hands of a stranger; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were experiencing violence at 3.1 times the rate of non-Indigenous women (Our Watch, 2019). When incidents such as the murder of Michaela Dunn occurs it is a stark reminder of the value that women hold in society, and that female sexuality does not hold the same respect and value as male sexuality.

In an article by the main problem represented in the reporting is that violence and murder are a part of the job if you are working within the sex industry. The article has a number of quotes from a prominent sex worker who goes by the name of Jessie-Lee Pierce who states; “I’m not shocked by it [Michaela’s murder], but it saddens me because I think violence and murder are a part of our job” (cited in Graham, 2019). The words expressed by Jessie-Lee are an example of internalised whorephobia and highlights the gendered responsibility that women are expected to carry while navigating through society. Her words appeal to many anti-sex-work radical feminists whose ideology rests on the idea that sex workers “become the victims of regular sexual objectification, exploitation, and violence; and that, by participating in this kind of industry, sex workers become co-perpetrators of these crimes” (Miano, 2017). This perception is highly damaging as it places the blame on women working within the industry and frames it as though sex workers are responsible for any violence inflicted on them. The mass media then plays its part by exacerbating and reproducing these narratives further excusing the behaviour by men. The discourse surrounding sex work, bodily autonomy, as well as questions surrounding appropriate forms of labour always have a gendered focus and the responsibility of men is a constant silence throughout these public discussions. One of the ways that the media perpetuate the gendered nature of public sexual discourse in regards to violence is in the way that perpetrators are presented to the public. A number of scholars have argued that violent men are represented in one of two dichotomous ways; on the one hand we see media representations of vicious ‘monsters’ and ‘assholes’; and on the other we have presentations of ‘normal’ men who are facing a misunderstanding or even a full fabrication (Quadara, 2014; Fanghanel & Lim, 2015). By pathologising the perpetrator as an irrational abject figure, the concept of risk is externalised and the ‘asshole’ functions as the source of danger relieving ‘society’ of the responsibility to manage similar issues of safekeeping, public danger and security. The role of governmentality becomes apparent here as motivations behind these abject attacks are individualised and are not seen as a symptom of wider rape culture. Instead, these figures become anomalies and a scapegoat for which other (good) men publicly condemn the attack while shouting “not all men!”. The lived effects of the invisibility of these ‘normal’ men results in what we now have come to consider as rape culture, feminist writer Clementine Ford argues in her book; “[rape culture] characterises a society in which the impact of sexual violence is not only minimised but the definition of what constitutes ‘real’ sexual assault is considered up for public debate and scrutiny. It enforces and codifies the language of victim-blaming and perpetrator excusing” (Ford, 2018, pg. 293). Consider the statistics from the ABS Personal Safety survey 2016; over half a million women (553,700) experienced sexual assault by a male they knew (87%), with only 1 woman out of every 10 reporting the incident to police (ABS, 2017). Perpetrators are created through the legal discourse, that is, their performativity needs to be verified in order to be legally labelled as ‘perpetrator’. The failure of so many cases to be reported (and subsequently of those that are reported but fail to reach a conviction) truly defines the rape culture we currently live in.

It is clear through the reporting that emerged after Michaela’s murder that discourse and language are extremely telling of the gendered inequalities in wider society. In many of the articles in the days that followed much of the focus was on the ‘heroic’ men who stopped the perpetrator once he was out in the streets; “social media has been full of praise for the men, and Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said they were ‘the highest order or heroes’” (ABC News, 2019). Some within the sex worker community have spoken out about the dominance of the ‘hero’ angle in the media, suggesting that the overshadowing of Michaela’s death highlights the disposable nature of the ‘prostitute’ in society; “her job does not make her a lurid story” (McGowan, 2019). Speaking in regards to the media framing of two particular incidents in Melbourne a number of years ago Jane Gilmore argues that “women are not people in the eyes of the news, at least not the way men are. Women are tits and arse, they’re glamorous or fat, they’re wives or mothers or stupid or demanding or nagging or annoying or sweet or pretty. Men on the other hand, are fully-rounded, complex people- as long as they’re not too womanlike” (Gilmore, 2019). Simone de Beauvoir argued that society needs prostitutes as scapegoats; “the existence of a caste of ‘lost women’ makes it possible to treat ‘the virtuous woman’ with the most chivalric respect” (de Beauvoir, 1949, pg. 613). The explicitly titled; “’She was a whole person’: Michaela Dunn’s murder and its impact on Sydney’s sex workers” further alludes to the point that women within the sex industry are less-than-whole beings, with society focusing on the sexual dimension of the work as the question of morality trumps all questions surrounding rights and autonomy (McGowan, 2019; Mac & Smith, 2018, pg. 25).

For many women, an internalised tension is always in play in regards to personal safety and/or freedoms. On one hand woman believe they should have the freedom to wear/say/do what they please within public spaces without fearing for their safety, yet on the other they are equally aware of their personal obligation to be safe in public spaces. This vigilance of personal safety is extremely gendered and emerges through particular discourses which are further perpetuated through mass media. Fanghanel & Lim argue that the representation of women within the public realm as problematic stems from the 19th century construction of gendered public and private spaces (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 342). They argue that the public domain was seen as the man’s place while the private domestic sphere was expected to be inhabited by women. The sexual vigilance women face serves to solve the ‘problem’ of women in public spaces and is an example of victim-blaming discourse, a key component to wider rape culture. At the beginning of the 20th century women were increasing their presence on the labour market and scholars have suggested that the discourse surrounding trafficking of (predominately white) women “helped to draw the literal and figurative borders of the ‘nation’, and became a way to police (especially) female and non-white sexuality more broadly” (Laite, 2017, pg. 38). The anti-trafficking discourses which began to emerge around this time put emphasis on the anti-exploitation of particular bodies within sexual labour paradigms. However as a number of scholars have suggested this perspective was carefully calculated to ignore certain intersections of work and sexual labour, specifically for women, as their unpaid labour was still crucial to the workings of the capitalist system (Laite, 2017, pg. 42). The moral panic that was created at this time helped distract the public away from the inherent exploitations built into the capitalist system and stressed the “moral over the monetary” when discussing the plight of the sexually fallen women who had ended up in the sex industry (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). For many women had consensually chosen to step into the field of sex work as a way of gaining financial freedom at a time when there were very limited (paid) employment opportunities, in line with de Beauvoir’s argument that equality is not a possibility without women’s economic freedom from men (de Beauvoir, 1949). Although the unemployment rate for women in Australia is a considerably low 5.2%, women are still seen as imposing on the public male domain and remain ‘responsible’ vigilant subjects within wider society (Australian Government, 2019).

Fanghanel & Lim have argued that the ‘safekeeping’ that women are expected to perform in their everyday lives is an extremely gendered experience and links back to the performativity of gender (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 344). As one of Butler’s core ideas she argues that “it is important to distinguish performance from performativity: the former presumes a subject, but the latter contests the very notion of a subject” (Butler cited in Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 392). In other words it is through the performance that we are constituted as subjects and that doing brings into being that which it names. For women in society are also often portrayed as a dichotomous entity embodying either the virgin or the whore (Brownmiller cited in Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 343). Stemming from psychoanalytic theory, Freud coined the term Madonna-whore complex to stipulate a hindrance that some heterosexual men face when engaging with the opposite sex (Bareket et al. 2018, pp. 519-520). Freud’s understanding of the Madonna/whore complex stems from his psychoanalytic training and disregards all social and cultural aspects arguing instead that the root causes lie in the unresolved sensual feelings towards the mother. The Madonna-whore complex speaks to the way women are expected to perform (in)appropriate femininity represented by both the Madonna (good, chaste & pure) or the whore (bad, seductive & promiscuous). These polarizing perceptions have long existed and can be traced back to the ancient Greeks which has, over time, permeated outside of the Western context (Pomeroy, 1975; Bareket, 2018, pg. 519). Coming back to the original argument presented by Fanghanel & Lim, what they suggest is that within media discourses, the types of women who are attacked are presented as not performing the right kind of femininity. In the case of Michaela Dunn she was quite literally a whore, an aspect of her life which was sensationalised throughout the media as a way of dehumanising her to the public. It highlights the way in which we organise and stratify different sexualities and reveals how society punishes or rewards certain kinds of intimacies. Mechanisms for holding accountability through governmentality are more apparent from this perspective. Pathologisation of Michaela as the ‘whore’ not performing the right kind of femininity and the condemnation from those even within her own community speaks to the way women are expected to be in society. The ‘safekeeping’ advice women are confronted with on a daily basis comes from a number of sources including other women. Coming back to the article posted on Jessie-Lee also implies that particular websites attract “sick” clients and that advertising on higher end websites, instead of the classifieds page Michaela was advertising on, could have had a potentially different outcome (Graham, 2019). Jessie-Lee fails to condemn the behaviour of the murderer, maintaining her position that violence is a part of sex work and even ended the article with tips for other workers to “eliminate as much risk as possible” (Graham, 2019).

This essay has attempted to highlight that the way in which mass media, and increasingly social media, frames particular events and the importance of language to perceptions. Michaela Dunn’s death was overshadowed by the pathologisation of her killer, as well as the sensationalism of her job choice. Women who are sexual continue to be demonised by society, an interesting paradox given that women are socialised to recognise themselves as sexual objects yet are highly punished when they recognise and attempt to capitalise off of that very same sexuality.


ABC News, 2019, ‘Sydney stabbing suspect tackled by ‘highest order of heroes’ using chairs and milk crate’, ABC News, 13 August 2019, <>

ABC News, 2019, ‘Woman killed in alleged Sydney stabbing spree identified as 24yo Michaela Dunn’, ABC News, 15 August 2019, <>

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2017, Personal Safety, Australia, 2016, Cat No. 4906.0, <>

Australian Government, ‘A statistical snapshot of women in the Australian workforce’, Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, 8 March 2019, <>

Bareket, O, Kahalon, R, Shnabel, N & Glick, P, 2018, ‘The Madonna-Whore Dichotomy: Men Who Perceive Women’s Nurturance and Sexuality as Mutually Exclusive Endorse Patriarchy and Show Lower Relationship Satisfaction’, Sex Roles, No. 79, pp. 519-532

Fanghanel, A & Lim, J, 2017, ‘Of “Sluts” and “Arseholes”: Antagonistic Desire and the Production of Sexual Vigilance’, Feminist Criminology, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 341-360

Gilmore, J, 2019, ‘Rape is not ‘sex’, and ‘broken hearts’ don’t cause murder. Women are dying- and language matters’, The Guardian, 1 September 2019, <>

Graham, B, 2019, ‘’Murder is part of our job’: Sex worker calls for protections after Sydney stabbing’,, 15 August 2019, <>

Laite, J, 2017, ‘Between Scyalla and Charybdis: Women’s Labour Migration and Sex Trafficking in the Early Twentieth Century’, International Review of Social History, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 37-65

McGowan, 2019, ‘’She was a whole person’: Michaela Dunn’s murder and its impact on Sydney’s sex workers’, The Guardian, 17 August, 2019, <>

Me Too Movement, 2019, ‘History & Vision’, Me Too Movement, <>

Miano, A, 2015, ‘Feminism 101: What is a SWERF?’, Femm Magazine, <>

OurWatch, 2019, ‘Facts and figures’, OurWatch, <>

Pomeroy, S, 1994, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, & Slaves, Pimlico, UK

Stardust, Z, 2017, ‘The stigma of sex work comes with a high cost’, The Conversation, 10 August 2017, <>

Quadara, A, 2014, ‘The Everydayness of Rape’, in Powell, A & Henry N (eds) Preventing Sexual Violence, Palgrave Macmillan, London

Vickery, JR, & Everbach, T, ‘The Persistence of Misogyny: From the Streets, to Our Screens, to the White House’, Mediating Misogyny, pp. 1-27

An Illicit Benefit: The Legalisation of Cannabis in the A.C.T.-2019

The Australian Capital Territory is the first jurisdiction within Australia to legalise cannabis. The way in which the media has handled the unfolding of the new law has highlighted just how problematic our current understanding of illicit substances really is. The legislative changes that have taken place are currently being debated across the public discourse with a focus on the legal implications. Given that there have been no changes to Commonwealth drug laws, the new laws in the ACT are in direct contradiction with the Federal law which stands in strong opposition to the decriminalisation or legalisation of current illicit substances. Cannabis was first made illegal in Australia in line with the 1925 Geneva Convention which was organised by the League of Nations (Wodak cited in Gregoire, 2014). Very few Australians had even heard of the substance at the time and the restriction was faced with very little backlash. It has remained an illicit substance for almost 100 years with the last few decades sparking increased visibility and debate. The global perception of cannabis is slowly changing with more places around the world legalising the plant for both medicinal and recreational purposes (The Economist, 2019). In modernity binaries tend to dominate our thinking and as a society this is extremely prevalent within the discourse of drugs (Dennis, 2019, pg. 40). Many assumptions surrounding drugs stem from this dichotomous thinking including the misconceptions of legal=good/ illegal=bad, or; prescription drugs= medicine/illicit drugs=harm (Dennis, 2019, pg. 40). Regardless of its legal status in Australia, cannabis continues to be the highest consumed illicit substance in the country with rates in the 1990s suggested to be the highest in the developing world, even surpassing nations with a more explicit weed cultures such as Canada or the US (Roxburgh et al. 2010, pg. 1071; Hall, 2007, pg. 712; Wilson et al, 2014, pg. 169). I will begin this essay with a brief historical construction of cannabis which is crucial to understanding the current perception of this plant. Following on will be an analysis of two particular articles that were written in the days following the legislative announcement. The way in which criminality is understood is challenged and discussed in regards to particular bodies. The focus on health from the perspective of politicians will also be interrogated and compared to other substances to highlight the double standards currently in play within the public discourse. The final part of the essay will consider different approaches to cannabis, namely from the perspective of the user. Assumptions of ‘the user’ is also discussed as well as the implications of those assumptions on existing research within the field.

The perception of cannabis has changed significantly over time. Historically speaking cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years with evidence showing it goes as far back as 400AD (The Economist, 2019). In the US context the ‘reefer madness’ hysteria that dominated the public discourse in the 1930’s painted cannabis in a particularly negative light as it was considered to be associated to different racial groups including Mexicans and the African American community (Lopez, 2016). The next big moment for cannabis within popular culture was the 1960’s and the counterculture movement as some have suggested “the drug’s effects [reflect] a perfect metaphor for the alternate reality that the counterculture hoped to effect” (Weiss, 2015). The counterculture movement moved across the global and even reached Australia where previously recreational drug use was not a concern of the government (Lee & Bartle, 2019). History is vital to understanding the current contemporary construction of substances such as cannabis and the role that globalisation and the political economy have played cannot be undermined. In regards to global power, there is no doubting the political significance of the United States, particular for other Western Nations. In the context of drugs the US has been at the forefront of the ‘War on Drugs’ with policies in place that create more social harms than any physical harms the laws are intended to curb, with some going as far as labelling it “the most tragic and abject failures in the history of public policy” (The Age, 2016). In 1994 the domestic policy chief for President Nixon John Ehrlichman was quoted as explicitly recognising the racism embedded in the war on drugs; “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities… Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did” (Ehrlichman cited in Lopez, 2016). Although the explicit racism here stems from the US context, Australian drug laws also have a history of racism stemming back to the race-driven opium laws at the beginning of the 20th century (Lee & Bartle, 2019). For many contexts drug prohibition has been used as a tool to repress public dissent. The impacts of this deception are still being felt globally as no evidence has yet to be found that the prohibitionist approach has reduced the rates of supply of illicit substances, and instead has become the barrier between people seeking help while simultaneously increasing social harms and organised crime (Lee & Bartle, 2019; Hall, 2007, pg. 714).

In the majority of reporting in the days following the territory’s announcement the problem is presented as an inherently political one and frames the debate as a battle between the state and federal governments (Lowrey, 2019; Australian Associated Press, 2019; Karp, 2019; Mannheim, 2019). The guardian presented an article on the 27th of September with a number of quotes from Josh Frydenberg speaking on behalf of the Morrison Government stated that the Federal Government was not in support of the new legislation and described “drug use as criminal behaviour” (Karp, 2019, emphasis my own). Frydenberg’s remark suggests that he views laws as objective and existing outside the social reality of Australian society. He fails to recognise the “discourse, practise and politics” that have constructed our contemporary perception and legislative practices as he demonstrates a constructionist approach to the problem (Fraser & Moore, 2011, pg. 2). To assume that concepts or problems such as ‘crime’, ‘criminal’ or even ‘drug’ have fixed meanings would be to completely ignore the sociality of our existence as Bacchi argues “they [problems] are never exogenous to (outside of) social and political practices”(Bacchi, 2017, pg. 2). Kane Race suggests that the policing of consumption practices in regards to illicit substances is never an even playing field and that certain bodies are targeted within “an intense but superficial battle between the amoral market and the moral state” (Race, 2009, pg. 60). Taking this into account, Frydenberg is complicit in perpetuating the existing understandings of what is a crime, and who is already seen within society as a criminal. Consider the heavy police and sniffer dog presence at Redfern Railway station, where you are six and a half times more likely to be searched as compared to Central station (another station notorious for a considerable police presence). This is no mistake given the high population of young people, and a large Aboriginal community (Gregoire, 2015). Therefore there is not only a preconception of what ‘criminal’ behaviour looks like in the eyes of society, but there are also particular bodies that are considered more criminal than others and are actively targeted in operations that attempt to undermine the ‘drug problem’. Speaking to Vice, trans activist Stephanie McCarthy claimed that she has been searched by the NSW police within the Sydney rail network 6 times over the last year while not once having any sort of illicit substance on her (Gregoire, 2015).

Underlying the strong opposition of the Federal Government are a number of assumptions framed from a ‘health’ perspective. In the same Guardian article mentioned above Federal ministers were quoted as highlighting the health risks involved with cannabis consumption. The health minister Greg Hunt was quoted as saying he was “very concerned” about the health implications of legalising such a substance (Karp, 2019). It is clear from this quote that within drug discourse many double standards exist and that there are a number of legal substances available on the market that also pose health threats, specifically alcohol and tobacco. The leading assumption here comes back to our dichotomous understanding of illicit substances, and the belief that substances that are legal are not bad for your health. Fraser and Moore argue that science has dominated drug discourses and knowledge production while simultaneously overlooking social and structural implications associated with drug use (Fraser & Moore 2011, pg. 1-2). The state’s relationship to particular types of substances has less to do with harms and health and more to do with history and political motivations as the introduction has touched on. In 2010 a panel of experts reviewed and ranked 20 legal and illegal substances and measured them in regards to harms to the user and to wider society including health impacts, economic impacts and crime. They found that the most harmful substance currently available on the market is alcohol with a significant risk of harm to others (Lee & Bartle, 2019). Cannabis was ranked much lower down the scale and mushrooms were considered the safest substance to consume. While the media has focused on the legislative confusion, these statistics highlight the false assumptions underlying the Federal governments opposition, namely that illicit substances are inherently bad for your health.

Taking a slightly different approach to the issue was Rachel Clun writing for the Sydney Morning Herald. The problem presented here is also a political clash between the Capital Territory and the Commonwealth however she has chosen to represent voices from the other side of the debate as opposed to the articles above. She opens her article by suggesting the new legislation would be a “micro-experiment” that she believes will potentially “pave the way for further decriminalisation” (Clun, 2019). Stepping away from the morality of the issue she suggests that regardless of your position, this new law will allow research that is currently lacking within the field to be undertaken as the threat of criminality will allow more people to engage with researchers and medical professionals. An interesting contrast between the Guardian article and Clun’s is the (brief) mention of who the opposing Federal Government is actually targeting; “ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the federal government should focus on organised crime drug trade rather than the territory’s cannabis legalisation” (Clun, 2019). The new legislation allows for Canberrans to grow up to two plants (four per household) and posses up to 50 grams of cannabis, while certain aspects simultaneously remain illegal; offences including supply (regardless of monetary exchange) as well as  hydroponic cultivation (White, 2019). As already discussed the most visible way law enforcement attempt to curb the drug ‘problem’ is through deployments of highly trained dogs who ‘sniff’ out illicit substances. The use of drug-detection dogs in public spaces (predominately in the state of NSW) have proven completely ineffective and does very little to limit drug supply. In fact evidence shows that the practise actually increases risky behaviour and is even linked to ongoing trauma, specifically for those within already marginalised groups (Malins, P, 2019). The majority of those facing prosecution following the enforcement of dogs have been low-level users, with evidence showing that only 4.8% of incidents resulting in a supply offence (Hughes & Agnew-Pauley, 2019).

What remains completely unspoken throughout all of these representations are the harms and impacts associated with legal substances. According to the ABS “tobacco smoking is one of the largest preventable causes of death and disease in Australia with smoking estimated to kill almost 19,000 Australians a year and responsible for 9.0% of the total burden of disease in Australia in 2011” (ABS, 2019). While the rates of smoking have significantly decreased due to higher taxation over the last decade tobacco remains available to consumers as a licit substance. There is almost no public discourse on the morality of tobacco smoking within Australia nor around the high consumption rates and health impacts of alcohol. The most widely consumed substance both within Australia and globally is alcohol, a substance that was a contributing factor in 4,186 deaths in Australia in 2017 (ABS, 2018). The World Health Organisation estimates that there are over 3 million deaths every year as a result of alcohol and that approximately 5.1% of the global burden of disease and injury are also attributed to the substance of alcohol (WHO, 2018). Alcohol (and tobacco) are often disregarded when there is a discussion surrounding ‘drugs’, as Derrida has argued “the concept of drugs is not a scientific concept, but is rather instituted on the basis of moral or political evaluations: it carried in itself both norm and prohibition, allowing no possibility of description or certification- it is a decree, a buzzword” (Derrida cited in Fraser & Moore, 2011, pg. 10).

The way in which drugs are presented within public discourse, namely from the media and through the opinions of powerful political figures can have a number of effects on public understanding and may be classified as discursive, subjectified or lived effects as identified by Bachhi (Lancaster et al, 2015, pp. 142-143). The historical construction of cannabis can help to understand discursive effect which is the impact that the represented problem has on the possibilities of “what can be thought and said”. The discursive implications are evident in the limitations of understanding of cannabis as deviant/criminal behaviour and further restricts the possibility of cannabis being framed as something positive or beneficial to an individual’s health or even to the wider society. We can see an example of subjectivities being produced through discourse in the remarks made by Frydenberg above, implying that those who engage in illicit drug consumption are already viewed by society as criminals regardless of the motivation behind the use. The third effect Bacchi discusses as a consequence of problem representations are the real material repercussions in people’s lives (Lancaster et al, 2017, pg. 118). Without a doubt the most devastating lived effects on those who consume cannabis have been those that have suffered through a criminal form of punishment (Hall, 2007, pg. 712).

Young people and drugs have a long history of association which has had a significant impact on the way in which illicit substances have been researched and understood. Regardless of its illegal status, the normalisation of drug use has permeated through the Western world. There are countless references to drug use in popular culture with many examples of glorified drug use and sub-genres of film including ‘stoner flicks’ (Dolginki, 2015). According to the Australian Government Department of Health “drug use is a fairly normal part of growing up… Risk-taking is also a normal part of development and experimenting with psycho –active drugs is just one of the many risks that some young people will take during this time of great change” (Commonwealth of Australia, 2004). Even though the government is aware of how normalised drug-taking is within the Australian culture, there is still a failure to implement true harm reduction processes. In order to attempt to understand the normalisation framework of illicit substance use, Parker et al. suggested there are 5 components to consider: “availability and accessibility of illicit drugs; illicit drug trying or lifetime usage rates; rates of recent and regular illicit drug use, social accommodation of illicit drug use and cultural accommodation of illicit drug use” (Parker et al cited in Wilson et al, 2010). The cultural accommodation of illicit drug use, specifically cannabis, has an extensive history and highlights the argument that criminalisation is the most harmful aspect of cannabis use (Hall, 2017, 713). Young people are not the only group of people specifically associated with illicit drug consumption as recent discussions surrounding welfare recipients and drug testing have made quite clear (Henriques-Gomes, 2019). While there are a number of flaws with the proposed drug-testing of welfare recipients, evidence suggests that more than half of lifetime users aged over 14 years of age are currently employed and 47% hold post-school qualifications, which again challenges existing ideas of who uses drugs (Lee, 2019).

Normalisation is not a generalised phenomenon and as Wilson et al. has suggested we need to consider the different social and cultural contexts through which the drug consumption is occurring. The use of normalisation is often used in conjunction with research on younger cohorts of the population. However a study conducted by Roxburgh et al. found that daily use was most prevalent amongst 40-49 year olds directly challenging existing assumptions of who the ‘user’ may be (Roxburgh et al. 2010, pg. 1073). More recent research confirms that older populations are often the most concentrated cohorts of regular and/or lifetime use (Lee, 2019). Existing drug research has been dominated by a focus on young people and has continued to focus on risks rather than benefits. Chatwin and Porteous took a different approach to their research and engaged with ‘responsible’ long term users to investigate their motivation for use and the impacts on their social engagement with society (Chatwin & Porteous, 2013). They also challenged the saturation of quantitative research within the field of drug studies and suggest a more qualitative approach will better inform the public health agenda (Chatwin & Porteous, 2013, pp. 236-237).

Chatwin & Porteous discovered there were three main reasons long-term users continued to engage in cannabis consumption. The first reason was pure pleasure, a concept which has been discussed in a range of different contexts by numerous scholars (Becker, 1963; Race, 2012). Cannabis and pleasure, as argued by Becker, are not automatically linked through consumption, rather cannabis users learn to enjoy the experience of consuming the ‘drug’ which is in itself ambiguous (Becker, 1963, pg. 42). Pleasure is a key motivator as to why we do a lot of things in life, and many sources of pleasure are often regarded as bad for your health, drugs being an excellent example. Race argues that drugs as medicine is legitimised through its function to restore the body back to its normative state, in comparison to ‘non-medical’ drugs which people engage in for predominately recreational and enjoyment reasons (Race, 2012, pp. 1-2). The dominance of a scientific/medical discourse surrounding the topic of drugs feeds this dichotomous understanding of medicine vs. ‘drugs’ and the assumptions that one is inherently good and the other as inherently bad. Barad also challenges our understanding suggesting that material objects are neither purely the product of discourse, nor entirely determined by their supposed intrinsic material attributions (Barad, 2003, pg. 819). In line with Becker’s suggestion that aspects of drug consumption are learned pleasures, the criminal aspect currently still attached to cannabis use must also be taken into consideration given that “pleasures that emerge in consumption events extend beyond the physiological (or pharmacological) effect of the drug itself” (Duncan et al, 2017, pg. 182). Removing the criminal aspect of cannabis consumption will subsequently increase the pleasure the consumer derives from the activity.

The second reason found for long-term use were motivations that centred around health and wellbeing, both in regards to specific health-related issues such as colitis ulserosa, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, as well as more generalised conditions such as stress or anxiety (Chatwin & Porteous, 2013, pp. 246-247). This particular finding directly challenges the authority allowed by medical and scientific discourses in the wider discourse around drugs. While many in Chatwin & Porteous’ research admitted to self-administration of cannabis-as-medicine, some had discussed their consumption of cannabis in relation to other prescriptions stating “I have suffered from colitis ulserosa since the age of 10, which was treated by prescription drugs but continued to rumble on until I started smoking dope when it went into total remission” (Chatwin & Porteous, 2013, pg. 246). Again this challenges the authority of medical practitioners as gatekeepers of (substance) morality.

When we take these constructions into consideration it is clear that medicine plays a juridical role, “in which medicine takes on the symbolic and political role of social order and moral control, expressed, when advantageous, through the punitive mechanisms of the law” (Race, 2012, pg. 60). By defining drugs through the binary of medicine/(illicit) drugs the government is able to control the bodies of those within the society through the construction of morality enforced through a discourse of medicine and science.

With medicinal cannabis on the rise globally the ignorance of the possible benefits of cannabis by political entities is greatly impacting the relationship between citizens and those with power/authority. It highlights the government’s propensity to ‘pander to fear’ rather than engage with evidence based research to enforce a cultural and political shift in the way we handle drug issues. Many governments, across different times and contexts, have argued that their hesitations around cannabis as a substance stem from the concern around health. Yet they continue to treat the issue as a law and order issue completely contradicting themselves as they fail to practise what they preach. In their research Hall found that criminal punishment did not deter users from using again, as they believed that the personal benefits of using the substance outweighed the risk of criminality (Hall, 2007, pg. 715). It is not just users who are sceptical about the information provided by the government as the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey from 2016 found that 84.4% of Australians are in support of legalising medicinal cannabis and the support of recreational legalisation is also increasing; 26% of Australians supported recreational cannabis legalisation in 2013 which increased up to 35.4% in 2016 (Bartle, 2018). This essay has highlighted the political nature of drug ‘problems’ and has attempted to challenge existing assumptions surrounding the issue.

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SWERF vs. Historian: Literature Review-2019

This literature review analyses two articles that focus on the broad concept of ‘sex work’. From the onset it is important to make clear that sex work encapsulates all forms of sexual labour being exchanged for a resource, which in most cases is money but may also include shelter, drugs or alcohol (Mac & Smith, 2018, pg. 1). It is also important to note that sex work, by definition, is not the same as sex trafficking, a conflation which will be discussed in detail below. Sex work (prostitution) has long been considered the oldest profession but the stigma and perception of deviancy still remains (Basserman, 1967 & Pomeroy, 1994). Different perspectives on sex work exist; from those who believe that as a society we must eradicate all forms of sex work in order to protect women, to others who understand the industry as work and are actively seeking ways to counter the essentialisation of sex workers identity. Melissa Farley is a staunch anti-sex work campaigner who has been researching and writing on the topic of prostitution and the sex industry for over 35 years. Her article ‘Bad for the Body, Bad for the Heart: Prostitution Harms Women Even if Legalized or Decriminalized’ (2004) showcases her radical feminist ideology focusing on the victimisation of women in the industry ignoring the possibility of individual agency or choice. The second article also focuses on the sex industry, however the approach is vastly different. In Julia Laite’s article ‘Between Scyalla and Charybdis: Women’s Labour and Sex Trafficking in the Early Twentieth Century’ (2017) the focus is not on the sex, the clients or the victimisation, instead Laite focuses on the labour. She provides a discursive analysis of what was happening in the context of the early twentieth century in an attempt to deconstruct the contemporary understandings of sexual labour and sex trafficking.

Farley’s article was written in 2004 and is a response to the decriminalization of the sex industry in the state of New Zealand. Farley asserts her view that all aspects of prostitution are inevitable forms of violence against women stating “Prostitution is an institution that systematically discriminates against women, against the young, against the poor, and against ethnically subordinated groups. Prostitution cannot be made safer or a little bit better by legalizing or decriminalizing it” (Farley, 2004, pg. 1117). Her ideological stance is representative of a radical faction of feminism known as SWERF: Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminism (Sugathan, 2015). In line with ‘radical feminism’ Farley’s understanding of the sex industry is based off the idea that “patriarchy rests on the subordination of women through sexuality and reproduction” (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 409). By framing all women within the sex industry as victims rather than workers providing labour, Farley’s reductionism actually creates more harm as explained by Gira Grant; “The experience of sex work is more than just the experience of violence; to reduce all sex work to such an experience is to deny that anything but violence is even possible” (Gira Grant,2014, pg. 104). Farley and other SWERFs are working towards the full eradication of the sex industry from their ideological high horse by putting forward source-less assumptions within her academic pieces. These assuming statements help situate the reader within the ideology of the author, for example; “Often they [sex workers] do not think that their health has benefited or that they are offered more protection under legalized or decriminalized prostitution” (Farley, 2004, pg. 1089). Without referencing this particular statement, Farley is subjecting her own voice as the speaker of the workers presenting her opinion as an objective truth. As discussed by Hall “It is we who fix meaning so firmly that, after a while, it comes to seem natural and inevitable” (Hall, 1997, pg. 21), representing the importance of history to further understand the way in which we make sense of the world today. Hall is also highlighting the fact that if we only expose ourselves to one story, after enough time that story becomes our truth. In this regard it is important to recognise that Farley constantly references her own work perpetuating her own opinion and voice on the issue.

The way that Farley has given herself authority on this topic is especially troubling given all the silencing that actual sex workers face, a point that Farley herself is aware of; “Women in prostitution are silent for many reasons. They are rarely given the opportunity to speak about their real lives because this would interfere with sex businesses. The silence of most of those in prostitution is a result of intimidation, terror, dissociation, and shame” (Farley, 2004, pg. 1117). Given the social and academic capital Farley already holds, she’s ignorant to her own silencing practices as has been pointed out by other academics, as well as those within the industry (Pit, 2019). Ronald Weitzer has written a number of responses to Farley’s work, critiquing her biased perspective and interpretations of research (Weitzer, 2005). Weitzer found that when women in the industry had views in opposition to Farley’s she would discount their voices claiming a ‘false consciousness’ on behalf of the women. This ‘false consciousness’ stems from a Marxist model and is understood as “a phenomenon undermining the agency of the working classes whereby the individual ‘imagines false or apparent/seeming motives’” (Engels cited in Levy, 2016, pg. 47). This model represents the manipulation possible for those who hold power to discredit the experiences of marginalised people. Miller argues that discourse does not mirror the ‘true reality’ of the world, rather it holds power and “we cannot get ‘outside’ of discourse and gain access to anything beyond it” (Miller, 1990, pg. 116). Weitzer also critiqued her “methodological problems” and noted that “many of her citations are to her own co-authored articles” (Weitzer, 2005, pg. 971). Weitzer’s main concern was that “it is quite possible to replicate a flawed study, reaching similarly flawed conclusions” (Weitzer, 2005, pg. 971); a perspective similar to Hall.

In discussing the positive public health conditions surrounding HIV and the work of the NZPC (New Zealand Prostitutes Collective) Farley resigns to the fact that sex workers peer education and activist work “.. has undoubtedly saved lives” (Farley, 2004, pg. 1112). However she continues the section by implying that organisations that encourage HIV and health awareness within sex worker communities only encourages and proliferates prostitution on the whole. She suggests that the goals of many of these groups is based on financial incentives and argues “The distribution of public health funds for HIV prevention has occurred with little oversight of recipient goals, program implementation, or ethics.” (Farley, 2004, pp. 1113-4). This alludes to a conspiracy theory around funding and the intentions of these organisations even though it is highly hypocritical for Farley to suggest this. Much of Farley’s own research has been done through ‘Prostitution Research and Education’ which is a not-for profit organisation that Farley herself founded (Talavera, 2012). She uses extremely strong language which is deliberate in order to capitalise on the shock value in an already highly politicised topic. An example of this is the way in which she describes workers as ‘prostituted women’. This problematic description emphasises Farley’s perspective that prostitution is something that is done to women, and symbolises her view that women lack choice/agency within a sex industry that exists in a capitalist society.

Unlike Farley, Julia Laite’s perspective is a lot less clear as she takes a more objective approach to her topic of inquiry. While the first article viewed all women within the industry as prostituted women and conflated sex work and sex trafficking to be a singular concept, this article takes a look back through history to understand the origins of the concept of sex trafficking. Through her research Laite discovers the moral concern over labour conditions of women during a time of increased employment opportunities for women. The discursive analysis that Laite undertakes is in part due to the context of her research, as she is researching the historical construction of trafficking. The importance of discourse in relation to knowledge and power is crucial to this topic as “discourses are now active agents, not even merely performances, in the material world of power” (Grossberg cited in Fornas, 2000, pg. 50) a point which Laite is clearly aware of.
Laite’s main argument is that exploitation is not unique to the sex industry; rather, exploitation is actually the very thing that upholds the capitalist system. Through her research Laite proposes that the discourse surrounding both licit and illicit womens work was calculated to uphold certain ideological notions specifically in regards to capitalism, gender and race. Where Laite and Farley differ dramatically is in the way they view ‘prostitution’; for Farley the focus is on the sex, the body and the dynamic between ‘john’ and ‘prostituted woman’ (Farley, 2005) whereas Laite recognises that prostitution is a form of labour and focuses much of the article on the way in which trafficking first came to be understood at the turn of the twentieth century. Given her understanding of prostitution as work, Laite’s article focuses on more than just the morality of the industry through her discursive lens to suggest that there were a number of events that occurred during that time which helped shaped the way we view the sex industry. Laite outlines the forming of a special committee under The League of Nations known as the Advisory Committee (AC) to investigate the increased number of women entering into the sex industry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through her research she discovers that the committee found that exploitation under capitalism was a leading cause of women entering into sex work; “Key studies on prostitution throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries found, repeatedly, that women and girls were motivated to sell sex because of economic factors and because of exploitative experiences in other kinds of work” (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). The AC framed the issue as a moral issue, creating a public moral panic surrounding “white slavery” distracting the public from the real issue that all work under capitalism is exploitative; “[AC] delegates could only understand exploitation as sexual exploitation and in so doing were blind to both the way that sexual labour could (like other work) be done in good and bad conditions, and the way that women might articulate their positive engagement with that work” (Laite, 2017, pg. 50). Admitting to the real catalyst for women entering the sex industry would be to publicly announce that the social structures that uphold Western societies in modernity are exploitative and harshly unequal. It was in the best interest of the AC to reshape the issue through a moral lens in as a way to keep the social subjects in order through governmentality.

In line with her first argument, contradictions and double standards surrounding not just sex, but also labour are highlighted throughout her article. She gives a number of examples of figures of authority turning a blind eye, much like Farley, when the information provided did not align with their own beliefs. Much of the evidence that Laite references throughout her article focuses on the international entertainment industry which was heavily saturated with young women and girls being transported across state lines to engage in the legal entertainment industry which was commonly linked to clandestine prostitution (Laite, 2017, pg. 51). An example of the double standards surrounding the public discourse includes the blatant ignorance of actual abuses by recruiters and employers and focusing on the moral aspect of promiscuous sex. This double standard speaks a lot about gender at a time when women were largely entering the paid realm of labour and helped set the foundation of gender labour roles that continue to exist today; “Indeed, this period, which witnessed the sharp rise in the migration of women to work in care and service industries in Britain, helped lay the ground work for what has today grown to be an army of foreign domestic labourers who work under exploitative conditions” (Laite, 2017, pg. 56). Many of the arguments that are presented by Farley also contain double standards that she distracts with her emotive language that describes the experiences of prostituted women, however as Laite suggests many of the abuses and possibilities of exploitation exist in all forms of labour and again highlights the link between discourse and power.

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Has Modernity Afforded Women More Sexual Freedom? -2019

The perpetuation of historical myths surrounding female sexuality has transcended into the modern through a collective imaginary. Jasanoff suggests that often the line between real and imagined realities is blurred and “observed facts of nature are refracted through collective desires for logic and order, producing authoritative representations of how the world works- as well as how it should work” (Jasanoff, 2015, pg. 6). The collective imagination of citizens within a patriarchal society dominated by a threat of violence is inevitably going to internalise the expectations of their social role and perform their expected identity to the best of their ability. Female sexuality throughout time has been suppressed and far too often is accepted as biological fact, rather than understanding it through a cultural or social lens. Some scholars have argued that this suppression is “one of the most remarkable psychological interventions in Western cultural history” (Baumeister & Twenge, 2002, pg. 166). My main argument in this essay is that modernity has not brought sexual liberation to women, and from a Foucauldian perspective the fact that much of the sexism and suppression of sexuality is happening subtly makes it all the more hard to resist. This essay will interrogate some pivotal moments that are at the intersection of discourse, power and sex. I begin this essay with a discussion on the historical construction of the division of labour and what that meant for social gender roles at the beginning of modernity. Next I will focus on the dominance of science and the legacy that remains from a number of influences at the time. A discussion on some of Foucault’s ideas, specifically that of discourse and the use of some examples within that paradigm will be explored, which have helped shape our understandings of modern day sex work. Braidottis understanding of humanism is also referred to and discussed in regards to the silent dominance of such a problematic term. The final part of the essay will have a look at Foucault’s understanding of biopower and how that is employed in the modern context. The sexual revolution of the 60s as well as the recent #metoo movements will be discussed in regards to female subjectivity to argue my point that women are no more sexually free than pre-modernity.

In regards to sexuality, the female body has historically been imposed with external meaning stemming from a patriarchal gaze. The 18th century saw many social and cultural changes stemming from rising capitalism which shifted the importance of existing institutions such as marriage and the family. The rise of capitalism brought about structural changes in which production moved outside of the home and individuals were expected to sell their labour for a wage. Some scholars have suggested that new understandings of gendered roles during rising modernity were understood through the separation of paid and unpaid labour; women were responsible for the reproduction of labour while men were responsible for wage work and financially supporting the family unit (Tilly & Scott cited in Dempsey & Lindsay, 2014, pg. 19). Marriage as an institution was dramatically changed towards the end of the 18th century when the idea of romantic love made its debut within the wider society (Giddens, 1993, pg. 39). Romance within marriage was a modern phenomenon; previously marriages were based on economic development rather than passion and love. “The complex of ideas associated with romantic love for the first time associated love with freedom, both being seen as normatively desirable states” (Giddens, 1993, pg. 40). This connection between love and freedom was able to distract society from existing economic aspects of marriage, focusing more on the social and pushing the economic into the background. In early modernity, women would alternate between productive (paid) and reproductive (unpaid) labour, it was near impossible to do the both simultaneously (Dempsey & Lindsay, 2014, pg. 21). Simone de Beauvoir recognised this separation of paid and unpaid labour as a key site for the subordination of women, she argued that without economic autonomy from men; “she remains a vassal, imprisoned in her condition” (de Beauvoir, 1948, pg. 721). She was speaking at a time when women were entering into the labour force at rates higher than ever before, afforded more civil liberties than generations of women before her. Suppressing female sexuality was an important patriarchal tool that helped women understand their role in society as passive, secondary citizens. The way in which women came to embody themselves was dependent on the meaning given to them by patriarchy and men which has taken different forms over time. De Beauvoir also argued that the biological condition of women was not a handicap in itself; rather the negative meaning is imposed from the oppressive and hostile society externally. From her phenomenological perspective she also recognised that cultural and social changes happen over time, and that there was still a considerable amount of work to be done before women would lose the cultural marker of ‘other’.

There have been a number of significant influences in regards to the way we understand modern gender, sex and sexuality. It was the 19th century that saw a push towards scientific understanding to discover truths about the world, as science was coming to be accepted as the highest order of fact. Foucault suggests that it is considered a form of knowledge that is immune to different political and historical conditions, potentially considered an ahistorical platform of knowledge production. Foucault recognised this blind acceptance of ‘science’ and considered himself to be ‘anti-science’, challenging the epistemological privilege that was attached to scientific understandings within dominating discourses. While the leaders of this dominating discourse are commonly institutions such as governments, or entire industries such as the medical or legal fields, Foucault recognised that an analysis of all practices including the ordinary experiences of communication, or discourse, hold vital information to understanding sexualities over time. One of the key issues that plagued gendered understandings of early modernity was a penchant for looking back through history in an attempt at understanding the role of women, rather than looking at the possibilities afforded to women, especially in the context of new technological developments. Freud is sometimes seen as a victim of the failed recognition of historical changes, accepting the universal ‘man as default’ that society had thus far dictated. Feminist critics such as Kate Millet argued that: “the effect of Freud’s work, that of his followers, and still more of his popularizers, was to rationalize the invidious relationship between the sexes, to ratify traditional roles, and to validate temperamental differences” (Millet cited in Bullogh, 1980, pg. 68). The legacy that Freud left behind is extremely influential in the way we understand the human psyche and many of his theories were left unchallenged for much of the 20th century. Freud accepted the narrative passed down throughout history that women are “not in control of their biological processes, and this led them to be victims of penis envy” (Freud cited in Bullogh, 1980, pg. 68). The discourse surrounding the role of women for much of the newly industrialised contexts leading into the beginning of the 20th century focused on the biological lacking of women, regardless of the social context and ignorant of new technological advances. The idiom of co-production seems applicable here as a recognition for the inseparability of the way we represent and know the world and the ways in which we choose to live in it. Jasanoff argues that “knowledge and its material embodiments are at once products of social work and constitutive of forms of social life; society cannot function without knowledge any more than knowledge can exist without appropriate social supports” (Jasanoff, 2015, pg. 3). Jasanoff’s point here is that knowledge, specifically scientific knowledge, cannot be constructed as separate from the social and as a result implicates political motives, biases and basic misunderstandings within the order of knowledge. Freud’s scientific understanding of the female psyche was biased on his understandings of the role of women in society passed down through a collective imaginary. For this reason it is important to trace back through history to understand the social construction of the role of women leading into modernity. Luckily, Foucault has done that for us.

In his 3-part (unfinished) series on the history of sexuality, Foucault explores different understandings of sex and sexuality across time and in a number of contexts. Foucault himself understood the importance of context and was not afraid to change his opinions or views given new information or ideas. He recognised the lack of interrogation surrounding sexualities, specifically from a humanities perspective, and dissected different discourses to better understand the social construction of how we currently understand sexualities. Focusing on discourse, Foucault recognised that from the 17th century there were two main perspectives or ‘orders of knowledge’ surrounding sex: reproductive biology and the medicalised perspective (Foucault, 1978, pg. 54). Within the medical discourse specifically, Foucault noted that doctors began to view their patients from a medical gaze, dehumanising their patients and seeing them as a set of organs rather than a person. When looking at discourse, Foucault argues it is important to not just look at what has been said or discussed, but to look at the concepts and ideas that are silent, that exist on the margins. The continuation of particular discourses perpetuate into contemporary times as Holland et al. conducting research on adolescent girls in the 90’s discovered; “The topic of sexual activity set both the young women and the interviews limits on how they could talk about sex, since the dominant culture has no acceptable language for discussing sex in ways which are not clinical, obscene or childish” (Holland et al. 1994, pg. 24). These contrasting discourses helped to shape the understanding of monogamous, heteronormative sex as the natural and correct form of human sexuality. The basis for the push towards monogamous heterosexual sex lies in the need for reproducing labour for the capitalist system, as previously discussed. The 17th century is an important turning point in regards to sexuality as Foucault suggests the rise of regulated sexualities coincides with the rise of the capitalist system and the industrial revolution. The way in which sexuality was repressed actually made way for new sexualities and understandings of sex, and changed the dynamic of power in regards to the way that sex was talked about. Foucault proposed that the secret nature of pushing sex into the private sphere gave power to different institutions and the discourses they employed, recognising that power was not always centralised and that there were both positive and negative power dynamics. Within certain discourses, such as the legal and medical fields, a binary of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours emerged. The notion of ‘perversion’ was able to flourish outside of these discourses but owe their creation to the repression within particular institutions. The medicalisation of sex meant that the experts on sexuality were the doctors and professors who had been socialised in much the same way as Freud, and the gender bias inherent throughout history was legitimated through ‘scientific’ understandings of sex and sexuality. Another legitimating discourse that was extremely influential to our current understandings of womens labour and sexuality stems from the way in which sex trafficking was framed at the beginning of the 20th century. With more women entering into the labour force than ever before a new threat was perceived and discussed in the public sphere. In 1927 the League of Nations created a new committee in order to undertake research investigating the exploitation of women within the entertainment industry. Many girls aged 15-25 were travelling internationally for the purposes of work and the League of Nations believed that these women were at high risk of being duped or coerced into the sex industry. What the advisory committee found was that there was a direct link between the exploitative nature of women’s (licit) work and a susceptibility to the sex industry (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). Put simply, the economic inequalities between the genders was the driving factor for many women seeking a living wage turning to the sex industry (consensually) as a means of surviving. However, while the committee recognised the economic basis as the catalyst for many women turning to sex work, their report focused on the moral rather than the economic; “Though members of the Traffic Committee bemoaned the influence of women’s low wages and subsequent poverty, they emphasised the moral over the monetary” (Boris cited in Laite, 2017, pg. 48). This is one of the many examples throughout history that highlights the power that is held in discourse. As Foucault argues, we can see that the materiality of this particular discourse has been produced within a particular social order where women were not seen to hold sexual agency or autonomy of their bodies. The morality discourse surrounding female sexuality continues to persist and women today are still stigmatised for taking ownership of their bodies and sexuality. Those who hold the power within the social order are the producers of the discourse and within this discursive order they legitimate knowledge through their own definition completely discounting those who are silenced or repressed.

The concept of humanism is also important in understanding the historical construction of suppressed female sexuality. Humanism stemmed from the enlightenment and opened a new way of living through a more secular separation from God. The Enlightenment period signalled the beginning of a new modern world highlighting a number of ideas that persist into our contemporary society. Some of these ideas include: reason and rationality (as the basis for organising knowledge); empiricism (observing and collecting information through the senses); scientific understanding of the natural and social worlds; universalism and a search for general universal laws; progression of humans (improving the human condition was possible); individualism (all knowledge comes from within); tolerance of other religions or doctrines; freedom (we are born with choices); and secularisation (in conjuncture with tolerance) (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 15). Stemming from Western Europe these hegemonic understandings of what it meant to be human privileged the (white, cis) male who embodies much of the above and is understood as ‘intrinsically moral’ (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 13). The narrative of ‘male as default’ has its roots in ancient Greek scripture but the ideology of humanism was adapted in the 20th century by Europeans who saw themselves at the forefront of modern human civilisations. As Braidotti suggests; “This Eurocentric paradigm implies the dialectics of self and other, and the binary logic of identity and otherness as respectively the motor for and the cultural logic of universal Humanism” (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 15). In this respect ‘otherness’ is represented by those who fall outside that default status; sexualised (women, non-binary etc.), racialised (non-white), and naturalised (the environment and natural) others. Given that reason and rationality are afforded to the default human, the ‘others’ are inherently seen as irrational, and inferior and are “reduced to the less than human status of disposable bodies” (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 15). The humanist paradigm has always prioritised the masculine worldview ignoring the subjectivity and agency of those that fell into the category of ‘other’ and although debates around post-humanism have been circulating since the 1960s, remnants of humanism are still present in our contemporary society. For example a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine found that women were less likely than men to be resuscitated by CPR in public because women have breasts (Prasad, 2019). The way in which society has sexualised the female body as well as the use of ‘neutral’ (male) mannequins for training purposes has resulted in a 23% gendered gap in the odds of survival when needing CPR. In similar vein, Jenny Valentish’s book about substance abuse outlines the gendered bias that still persists in much academic and medical research where researchers are constantly told that (female) gender-specific research is pointless; “it [would be] a waste of time to address anything to do with women because men are in the majority and that’s where the focus should be” (Copeland cited in Valentish, 2017, pg. 271). Here we see the masculine view that only the majority is important, re-centring the idea of humanism. Valentish also discusses the fact that in many medical and physiological studies, menstruating women are seen to be an anomaly and are excluded from participating in the studies (Valentish, 2017, pg. 273). This in itself has resulted in a number of drug-related deaths in women, clarifying Braidotti’s point on disposable bodies. Humanism is so pervasive in our society, that for much of society it remains unseen, making it difficult to recognise and resist.

Women and those considered ‘other’ as disposable beings can be analysed through the tactics of suppressed sexuality. Women, and their sexualities, have been suppressed as a way of upholding patriarchal values through the threat of, or actual violence. The origins of patriarchy have been debated but for the sake of this essay I will be using the term patriarchy as defined by Christ who suggests that “patriarchy is a system of male dominance in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality with the intent of passing property to male heirs.. [It is] rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, and in which men who are heroes of war are permitted to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people” (Christ, 2016, pg. 218-220). The legitimisation of violence stems from prehistoric times when war was common and threats to power and resources held by men resulted in an assertion of violence. Sovereign power continued the legacy of legitimated violence and it wasn’t until the Enlightenment period that Sovereign power conceded to the role of State authorities. It is the shift from Sovereign repressive power to a more normalising invisible form of power that marked a new understanding of the role of self-governance and subjectivity in modernity. Foucault differentiated between the Sovereign “right to take life or let live” and the modern State power that exercises “the right to make live and to let die” (Foucault, 1978). The publicity of such harsh punishments in pre-modern times made for an awareness of the power dynamics existent in society. With modernity came a new dynamic of State power in which the prison was born and punishment moved away from the public eye. Moving into a more subtle form of power, Foucault argues this normalising power seeks to control bodies under the guise of ‘protection of life’, in direct opposition to the previous power dynamic. Foucault’s terminology for this form of power is biopower which literally means having power over another body; “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations” (Foucault, 1976, p. 140). The connection between biopower and self-governance is strong and the role of self-surveillance in modern societies is confusing understandings of gendered subjectivity, especially in the virtual world and in social media. Hidden State power makes it harder for resistance and I suggest a similar thing is happening in regards to sexism in contemporary times, in part thanks to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s. Lewis suggests there are 3 core components of modern sexism “(1) a belief that sexism is no longer an issue in society and is a thing of the past, (2) negative attitudes towards women who fight for equity and (3) resentment toward women who advocate for affirmative action of gender conscious policies and practices” (Lewis, 2018, 383). The invisibility of contemporary sexism makes it difficult to resist, difficult but not impossible.

The normalisation of biopower has resulted in many misogynistic tendencies being accepted not just by men, but women have also unconsciously internalised many sexist ideas about the world. In a 2002 study, Baumeister and Twenge found that suppression of female sexuality was actually enforced more by other females than by men; however I propose that this suppression has been about protection rather than competition as the article suggests. They found that when women were in power they restricted sexuality more than when men were in power, who they found pushed for a more liberal sexual freedom (Baumeister & Twenge, 2002, 195-96). They argued that female suppression comes from the perspective that sex as a resource in limited supply therefore suppressing other females sexuality increases her own chances of securing the resource. My counter-argument is that the internalisation of misogyny, and the resulting suppression of female sexuality, is a result of the socialisation and conditioning of young women who see harsh consequences for their actions unlike that of the opposite gender. Constant policing of womens bodys in public spaces, (social media, breastfeeding in public, the debate around abortion etc.) have taught women that their bodies are intended to be passive, making embodiment a difficult process. Passivity as a trait of femininity stems from biological understandings as Foucault pointed out. Foucault was particular in discussing generalised sexualities and glossed over specific gender ideas, rarely speaking explicitly about female sexuality. In his essay around pleasure from the second volume of The History of Sexuality, Foucault recognised the language that has been employed in regards to what constitutes as sex: penetration. He argues that penetrative sexual relations are always a specific power dynamic in which the person who is participating in the penetration act holds the power over the submissive subject. Again this understanding stems from the humanist approach that recognises sex to involve a phallic object, therefore excluding women as active participants. Women in this paradigm are understood as biologically submissive and Foucault saw no reason to question the ‘nature’ of the role of women; “As for the woman’s passivity, it did denote an inferiority of nature and condition; but there was no reason to criticize it as a behaviour, precisely because it was in conformity with what nature intended and with what the law prescribed” (Foucault, 1984, pg. 2015). From the Foucauldian perspective suppression of female sexuality was a given due to their biological role of passive receiver. In his discussion Foucault outlines examples from the Ancient Greeks in which boys were sometimes seen as sexual objects. As a passive receiver of sexual penetration the receiver is viewed as an object; specifically an object of desire and/or pleasure, and the idea that one would enjoy the role of passive receiver contradicts the understandings of masculinity and dominance that the penetrator represents. The inferiority of the person who played the passive role was only called into question when the ‘objects’ were boys. In this example Foucault discussed the incompatibility of wanting and enjoying being the object of pleasure and the self-discovery that was necessary in order for the boy to become a man. In the context of women, this speaks to gendered understanding of subjectivity; the ideals of the feminine are in contrast to the ideals of the ‘human’, as previously discussed.

Modernity brought about many social and cultural changes and beginning towards the end of the 19th century was what is now considered the first wave of feminism in the West. This first wave movement was sparked by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, strong abolitionists fighting for the women’s right to vote, which was actually sparked through racism: black men were given the right to vote in 1870, offending these upper-class white women who believed they should have the right to vote before the former slaves (Grady, 2018). While suffrage was the main goal for these first wavers, they also recognised the lack of equality in areas such as education, property ownership and employment rights. Securing the right to vote in the early twentieth century seemed to end the first feminist wave, not because equality had been achieved, rather the goals of the feminist movement had been fractured and the movement failed to unite in their primary goals. But it wasn’t a simple shift in the public understanding of women’s role in society; many psychologists at the time including supporters of Freud suggested that “political feminism [is defined] as an evil which by encouraging women in their drives for economic independence and into denying the need for male protection were attempting to remove the beneficial ‘economic drives’ that were such a bulwark to marriage and family” (Bullogh, 1980, pg. 68). Given that sex was understood through the medicalised discourse during this time period the opinions of these ‘experts’ were minimally challenged until the second wave of feminism. The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s brought about new understandings of the existing gender order. Spurred by the release of The Feminine Mystique (Betty Friedan) as well as the re-release of de Beauvoir’s iconic The Second Sex (1948) a new wave of feminist activists began (or continued) fighting towards an end to discrimination based off perceived biological differences (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 406). It was during this period that the anti-humanist sentiment began its discourse; Braidotti argues that this occurred as a response to “the many failed political experiments of the twentieth century. Fascism and the Holocaust on the one hand, Communism and the Gulag on the other” (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 17). Both these political ideologies were a stark departure from the humanism of Europe; Fascism represented a ruthless rejection of human reason while Communism was seen as the winners of the Second World War and the ideology came to be emblematic of the defeat of fascism across Europe. Criticisms against both patriarchy and capitalism were strong during this time as the public pushed against religious, legal, medical, familial and political restrictions of the past. Hekma & Giami posits that it was at this time that “the holy triangle of marriage, reproduction and heterosexuality as foundations for sex was broke, and love and pleasure became its essential reference points” (Hekma & Giami, 2014, pg. 10). New technologies, new forms of media and rising globalisation all contributed to the sexual revolution which allowed women greater autonomy over their own bodies. During this sexual revolution the notion of equality was a driving factor with women pushing for the same sexual subjectivity afforded to men. While many changes occur, my main argument here is that the sexual liberation women believed they achieved was actually a new realm for patriarchy to conquer. We can see the impact of that through the recent #metoo movement. The #metoo movement became a global talking point in 2017; however the initial origins of the movement date back to 2006. The popularity of the movement in 2017 was sparked by a tweet shared by actress Alyssa Milano that stated: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet”. The response was overwhelming and within 24 hours there were over 11,000 retweets and 30,000 responses, continuing to grow in the weeks and months that followed (Haynes, 2017). For many modern women sexual harassment is commonplace and normal, so much so that this movement was unprecedented in its global reach emphasising the universal nature of patriarchal sexism. An article in The Times suggested that the liberation movement of the 60s was understood as an open sexual availability of all women; “The only sexual rule today is ‘consent’, and men have been taught that women are potentially always sexually available because that is what ‘liberation’ means” (Quinn cited in Badham, 2018). The images produced by the media during this time underwent a dramatic change and rode the wave of sexual liberation all the way into the 21st century. The increase of sexualised media had a gendered aspect and there were more images and cultural objects being produced that had direct impacts on the public perception of women in society (Hekma & Giami, 2014, pg. 12). Since the mid 20th century, the media has played a significant role in the socialisation process. The #metoo movement was attempting to highlight the prevalence of rape culture within our society, the silent biopower controlling the way bodies operate in the social world. Social commentator Clementine Ford suggests “Rape culture doesn’t refer to a system in which sexual violence is being overtly encouraged or taught. Rather, it characterises a society in which the impact of sexual violence is not only minimised but the definition of what constitutes ‘real’ sexual assault is considered up for public debate and scrutiny” (Ford, 2018, pg. 293). There are countless examples stemming from a number of different contexts around the world that exemplify this rape culture, and the rise of social media has allowed for a conversation to occur. Resistance is coming from both sides; those who have been marginalised are standing up and speaking out, while those who continue to hold the power are not willing to give it up without a fight.


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Laite, J, 2017, ‘Between Scylla and Charybdis: Women’s Labour Migration and Sex Trafficking in the Early Twentieth Century’, International Review of Social History, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 37-65
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Valentish, J, 2017, ‘A Call to Arms: How drug and alcohol research and treatment fail women’ in Woman of Substances, Schwartz Publishing, pp.271-281

Censorship and Subjectivity: Identity Construction in Online Spaces-2019

The way in which we interact, consume and produce media has changed dramatically in the 21st century. The influence of the media in the way in which we construct our identities is dramatically changing, especially in the identity construction of young boys and girls. The rise of social media has created a new economy of the self, where ‘likes have become the new metric for evaluating self-worth’, particularly in adolescents. Within the discourse surrounding social media use, it is often young women who are criticised for the way in which they are choosing to (re)present themselves in online spaces. The way in which we all curate our public selves is part of this new economy of the self, however there is clearly a difference in the representation and policing of content between the genders. Within a patriarchal capitalist society, the female body has been objectified and commodified in order to sell anything from make-up and clothes, to burgers, booze and even vegetarianism.

The prevalence of social media and the permeation into everyday life is challenging the status quo of image production, which has historically been dominated by the male gaze stemming from the patriarchal perspective. Social media is reinterpreting the user as both subject and object simultaneously, and female ‘artistis’/users are attempting to take back agency and autonomy of their bodies through digitised virtual spaces. From the perspective of Braidotti, this is an example of “a new form of materialism that emphasized the embodied and therefore sexually differentiated structure of the speaking subject” (Braidotti cited in Echavarria Alvarez, 2008, pg. 23). Rather than woman as ‘Other’, social media is a way for women to explore their own subjectivity presenting themselves in an individualised way that takes into account different cultural intersections. Not just women, but other minorities are able to have a voice in the way that they are constructed online. Braidotti discusses her anti-humanist understanding of human subjectivity as a rejection of the Eurocentric, male ‘default’ understanding of humanity. Modern image construction takes a literal form in the online world and may be seen as a departure away from phallogocentric definitions of ‘Woman as Other’. Braidotti reflecting on the work of Irigaray, discusses the unrepresentability of women stemming from the colonisation of the feminine by the male imaginary. This male-centred understanding of ‘woman’ has shaped the modern social world and many social and cultural norms are reflected in the community guidelines of social media platforms. The following part of the essay will look specifically at the platform Instagram, and the sexist contradictions present within their terms of use.

Gendered double standards that exist within our society are especially obvious when looking at acceptable sexual behaviour among the genders in adolescents. The concepts of both boyhood and girlhood are modern concepts that carry different meaning in today’s understanding of ‘the self’. In the wake of ‘post-feminism’ neoliberal ideas push for a more individual responsibility of the self, in which girls are held more accountable for their actions and ‘being’ than that of boys. The use of social media is a new way for young people to explore different identities, while also being exposed to different forms of self-expression from a range of different contexts. Instagram is the most popular photo-sharing app in the world with over 1 billion users currently registered around the world (Carman, 2018). Their Community Guidelines in respect to nudity and sexuality states:
We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples but photos of post mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of painting and sculptures are ok
(Instagram, 2019)

The censorship of female bodies is much more prevalent than that of male bodies, and the nipple exemplifies this perfect. The way in which the female body is commodified for public marketing and consumption is telling of the control that men seek over women in order to assert their masculinity. When looking at the images and messaged from society in regards to the female body the nipple is always censored, not the whole breast, but the nipple. The female nipple is no different than the male nipple, so we can see that it is not the nipple itself that is offensive. Unlike the male nipple, the female nipple actually serves a function and helps facilitate life, yet it is still removed from online spaces. Biased censorship of women’s body’s teaches girls that they are sexual beings; that regardless of the artist/users own perspective; female nipples are sexual and may never be seen outside of a sexual context. This gendered censorship is sending different messages to young boys and young girls; girls will learn that their bodies are shameful and sexual while boy’s bodies are invisible in the conversation. Women are experiencing censorship in the online world which is impacting how they are in the real world. Social media is like a double edged sword when it comes to the critical response to patriarchal world views; on one hand social media is opening up to different interpretations of femininity, embodiment, gender and self-identity to anyone who has access to a smart device and the internet, and on the other it is a space in which power is exercised through censorship ensuring women conform to the gender role assigned to their physical body; a sexual being.


Braidotti, R, 2013, ‘Post-Humanism: Life beyond the Self’, in The Posthuman, pp13-54, Cambridge; Polity Press

Braidotti, R, 2003, ‘Becoming Woman: Or Sexual Difference Revisited’, Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 43-64

Carman, A, 2018, ‘Instagram now has 1 billion users worldwide’, The Verge, 20 June 2018, viewed online 17 June 2019,

Echavarria Alvarez, J, 2008, ‘Telling Different Stories: Subjectivity and Feminist Identity Politics’, The Virtual Peace Library of the UNESCO Chair for Peace Studies, viewed online 18 June 2019,

Instagram, 2019, Instagram Help Centre, Instagram, viewed 14 June 2019, <;

Precarity in the Labour Force: Discourse as Distraction-2019

For many in the West the idea that some people in the world are suffering through different forms of exploitation (more often than not for the benefit of the West) is unimaginable, especially considering modern technologies that have been developed to benefit human civilisation. It is impossible to deny that exploitation across the globe is both racialised and gendered, and the rise of globalisation has changed the understanding of how and where our products and services are being produced and provided. The dominance of ‘convenience’ in a modern society has changed the global political and financial economies, as well as having a detrimental impact on our environment. In contemporary times, the ways in which we understand ‘exploitation’ has been shaped by particular institutions and have come to reflect economic and political agendas of a specific group of elites who hold political, economic and social capital. Arguably sex trafficking has dominated global discourse surrounding human trafficking as a whole. The significance of this weighted rhetoric is calculated in order to further the political agenda of those in power. Exploitation and precarity go hand in hand with the migrant worker and this essay will attempt to highlight the ignorance of the intersection between women’s exploitation within the wider labour force and human trafficking. The essay will begin by looking at the early 20th century history of trafficking discourses which came about at a time when women’s participation in the labour force was increasing. Following on will be a discussion around the separation of different forms of labour and impact that patriarchy has had on understanding gender roles within modern societies. The final part of the essay will be a case study on the recent anti-trafficking bill in the US and the implication on migrants and other marginalised people.

While many scholars taking an historical approach to understanding trans/international trafficking of humans and take a positivist perspective in regards to the human rights protection the debate affords, others have been more critical in regards to the driving factor for these discourses (Laite, 2017, pg.40). One such critic argues that “the historical anti-trafficking movement was about crime control rather than relief or rights” (Knepper cited in Laite, 2017, pg. 40). To better understand this point, an investigation of the events that birthed this discussion within modern times is essential. At the turn of the 20th century a new debate surrounding the exploitation of white women and children in the context of mistreatment and prostitution began in Europe. This has had a considerable impact on the way in which we understand sex trafficking around the globe. It was during this time that key studies surrounding the exploitation of women within licit work were undertaken. This prompted The League of Nations to create a committee known as the ‘Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children’ in 1921 (Laite, 2017, pg. 46). In 1927 the committee commissioned research to be undertaken to investigate both the extent and the character in which women were being exploited within the entertainment industry. Labour migration within the entertainment industry was extremely common, especially in women aged 15-25 years. It was understood that this particular group of women were especially at risk of being coerced or duped into the sex industry. The vulnerability of these women was framed to highlight the exploitative nature of sexual labour while ignoring the exploitation that was inherent in other industries, including the entertainment industry. The need for legislation was justified in the intent to ‘protect’ these susceptible women from the immorality of the sex industry. This reflected the perspective held by the majority of the committee, who believed that all forms of sex work are inherently immoral and degrading (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). The 1927 report found a direct link between the exploitative nature of ‘women’s work’, in that the wages were not enough to be considered a ‘living wage’. It was this economic factor that pushed many women into prostitution. What is important to note here is that although the report stated that the economic factor was to be considered, the focus was on morality rather than financial; “Though members of the Traffic Committee bemoaned the influence of women’s low wages and subsequent poverty, they emphasized the moral over the monetary” (Boris cited in Laite, 2017, pg. 48). Focusing on morals rather than the financial was a calculated move by the Advisory Committee; by ignoring that sexual labour may be considered work like other forms of labour, it ignores the fact that regulation may be beneficial for those participating in the industry. By imposing specific ‘morals’ on women in the industry disregards their agency and autonomy as citizens within society, and has helped to fuel a designed discourse that has perpetuated into contemporary discussions on the same issue.

As already mentioned, one of the key issues in this discussion is the separation of sexual labour from other forms of labour, which has resulted in forced sexual labour coming to be understood as “the nexus of all so-called social evils” (Shah, 2008, pg. 20). Towards the end of the 19th Century the development of a “free” global labour market in conjuncture with the move to abolish slavery gave way to a new (gendered) understanding of unfree and free labour, an understanding that continues to persist to this day (Laite, 2017, pg. 44). This is made obvious in the statistics surrounding time spent providing domestic and care work within family institutions and the gender disparity that exists today; 86% of women in Australia believed they did the majority of the housework, while 73% of men stated that they were the primary breadwinners (Acharya, 2018). This highlights the understanding that women are natural care givers and this type of labour should remain in the domain of unpaid labour. Understanding the gendered dimensions of labour is vital to this discussion. The way in which sex is viewed within our contemporary society is still based on religious and patriarchal ideologies, which stem from a misogynistic worldview that women are ‘less’ than men. In the words of the French feminist Simone de Beuvoir “He is the Subject; he is the Absolute. She is the Other” (2011, pg. 6). The patriarchal dominance of Western society is important as it dictates what is allowed to be commodified in an open market. When it comes to female sexuality and the female body, commodification only appears to be acceptable when the objectification is coming from the outside. Morality is questioned when women provide sexual services (consensually or not) yet society has no problem in objectifying women in the name of marketing, using the female body to sell anything from beers to vegetarianism. The sexual autonomy of women has long been seen as immoral, and many people who hold abolitionist views on the issue (of consensual sex work) disregard the inherent exploitation that capitalism thrives off. The way in which this issue is represented in the media is also calculated and as Andrijasevic and Mai argue;
Stereotypical trafficking representations conveniently distract the global public from their increasing and shared day-to-day exploitability as workers because of the systematic erosion of labour rights globally. In doing so, they become complicit in the perpetuation of the very social inequalities, hierarchies and conflicts that allow exploitation and trafficking to occur” (2016, pg. 9)
The issue of sex trafficking is a gendered issue that transcends national borders. It is impossible to discuss gendered understandings of labour, especially in the context of paid/unpaid labour, without discussing the dominance of patriarchy throughout history. The assumption that patriarchy is naturally inherent for humans is wildly misguided; the end of the nomadic period for humans dramatically changed the gender dynamics of communities and the physically stronger men were in charge of defending and providing for the physically weaker females (Ananthaswamy & Douglas, 2018). Marx also understood the importance of this societal shift and discussed it in relation to the rise of the labour market: “great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled onto the labour-market as free, unprotected and rightless proletarians” (cited in Cohen, 2006, pg. 13). The way in which Marx uses the word ‘free’ is specific in its use, and refers to the freedom that proletariats have from ownership of land or resources that allows them to sell their labour power as a commodity. The subordination of women taken as something natural helps to enforce particular ideas around what can be commodified within a patriarchal capitalist society. The role of the media in perpetuating certain rhetoric’s within the public discourse is significant, not just through news media but also through film portrayals including biased representations within the documentary field (have a think about how many films, both fiction and non-fiction, that have been made about sex work without any consultation with ACTUAL sex workers). A number of scholars have highlighted this media influence, stating that it is not just news media that help frame the situation in a particular light but general understanding are a product of both history and contemporary media.

Prostitution is commonly referred to as ‘The Oldest Profession’ and the exchange of sexual services for economic or other material gain has been around since the Greek Dark Ages approx 1100 BC (Bassermann, 1993, pg. 1). Prostitution has been framed in a number of different ways over the course of history, depending on the political climate of the time. In modern times, the conflation between sex work and trafficking has been extremely damaging to those (mostly women) who are engaging in consensual sex work. Those who are even more susceptible to this damaging rhetoric are minority sex workers, including migrants, people of colour and transgender workers. While consensual prostitution or sex work may be defined as “the exchange of sex for money, drugs or influence between two consenting adults” (Galucci, 2019), trafficking on the other hand involves third party control. The key difference between the two is agency, something that is more than often overlooked within the political discourse. The remainder of this essay will focus on the current US context since the implementation of FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Traffickers Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) bills in April 2018.
The image conjured in the public mind when we hear about a victim of trafficking is often of a “young, innocent, foreign woman tricked into prostitution abroad” (Andrijasevic& Mai, 2016, pg. 4), which is why the events leading up to the enforcement of the FOSTA bill was even more shocking to the US audience. Classifieds website ‘Backpage’, which predominately hosted adult services content, was involved in a high-profile court case in which it was found to be not-guilty of hosting illegal content, even though the court found that Backpage were aware of the illegal content on their site. The content in question was advertisements of underage girls being trafficked through the site. The most shocking thing to both the local and international audiences was the fact that the majority of the girls being trafficked through the site were American citizens, challenging the above notion of who the victims are. The not-guilty ruling was thanks to Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act which stated that “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” (Reynolds, 2019). In basic terms; prior to FOSTA/SESTA websites were not held liable for what third parties posted to their websites, these bills changed the onus and the effects are being felt by many not just in the US, and even those outside the realm of ‘sex work’. This ruling prompted the FOSTA/SESTA bill and it was signed into law by the Trump administration on the 11th of April 2018 (Romano, 2018). These bills amended the Communications Act so that responsibility was in the hands of the website should the content be involved in “the promotion or facilitation of prostitution” or “facilitating traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims” (cited in Peterson, Robinson & Shih, 2019). It is clear by the language used in the policy that sex trafficking and prostitution are conflated and doesn’t allow any protections for consensual sex workers. Given the public understanding of ‘trafficking’ the bills received a lot of public support including support from both sides of the political spectrum and even some high-profile celebrities (Romano, 2018). However, although these bills appear to have good intentions the actual impacts are far more detrimental than expected, hardly surprising once you consider that sex workers were not consulted throughout the policy development process. To avoid potential liabilities a number of websites that were used by consensual sex workers have been removed from the internet putting the lives of sex workers (who are already marginalised within society) at even greater risk. The way in which sex work has operated since the birth of the internet dramatically changed improving the safety of many workers (giving them access to networks and lists of ‘bad johns’ etc.) with FOSTA reversing a lot of these advanced safety measures and pushing sex work into the shadows. Within the first month following the enactment of the bill thirteen sex workers were reported missing with two more confirmed deaths by suicide, highlighting the danger imposed on consensual sex workers by pushing them into an invisible economy (Chamberlain, 2019, pg. 2174). Many anti-trafficking advocates and social commentators have argued that these anti-trafficking bills will have ‘unintended consequences’ and the threat to internet freedom is wildly ‘unconstitutional’ (Patel, 2018).
Evidence suggests that migrants and other marginalised people such as queer identifying, transgender people, disabled and people of colour have been more affected by these bills and some have suggested that this is intentional as the US has a history of “profiting off the mass incarceration of already vulnerable people” (Patel, 2018). The status of workers has a direct impact on the resources they have access to, and often face extra hurdles in landing a stable job such as language barriers, cultural differences and blatant racism. For many undocumented migrants in the US the employment opportunities available to them are very limited, leading many of them to unregulated jobs, including within the sex industry, making them more susceptible to trafficking (Murphy-Oates, 2018). Although there are many industries where trafficking of people occurs, it is only the sex industry that seems to garner the most attention. This speaks to the gendered and racialised understanding of trafficking victims and as Alice Miller suggests “we need to avoid the perpetual retelling of the story of the sexually abused victim who needs only rescue rather than a demanding woman who needs rights and social justice as a citizen” (cited in Crosby, 2007, pg. 46).

What this essay has attempted to highlight is that work under a capitalist system is inherently exploitative and political discourses are crucial to understanding different flows of not only people but also information, both within and across national borders. Criminalising a particularly gendered form of labour, in this instance sexual labour, has done more to “serve more the interests of states in controlling their borders than protecting women in situations of vulnerability” (Crosby, 2007, pg. 46). While many immigration controls do foster precarious working conditions for migrants this essay emphasizes that within patriarchal society, precarity is prevalent for all those who are seen as ‘the other’ including women, migrants, people of colour, disabled, non-cis and non-heterosexual people.

Acharya, M, 2018, ‘Majority of housework done by women in Australia: Survey’, SBS Australia, 4 December 2018, viewed 10 June 2019, <;
Ananthaswamy, A & Douglas, K, 2018, ‘The origins of sexism: How men came to rule 12,000 years ago’, New Scientist, 18 April 2018, viewed 10 June 2019, <;
Andrijasevic, R & Mai, N, 2016, ‘Editorial: Trafficking (in) representations: Understanding the recurring appeal of victimhood and slavery in neoliberal times’, Anti-Trafficking Review, Issue. 7, pp. 1-10
Bassermann, L, 1993, The Oldest Profession: A History of Prostitution, Dorsett Press, USA
Chamberlain, L, 2019, ‘FOSTA: A Hostile Law with a Human Cost’, Fordham Law Review, Vol. 87, No. 5, pp. 2171-2211
Crosby, A, 2007, ‘People on the Move: Challenging migration on NGOs, migrants and sex work categorization’, Development, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 44-49
De Beauvoir, S (Translated by Borde, C & Malovany-Chevallier, S), The Second Sex, Vintage, London
Galluci, J, 2019, ‘Human Trafficking Is an Epidemic in the US. It’s Also Big Business’, Fortune, 14 April 2019, viewed online 14 June 2019, <;
Hodge, D, 2008, ‘Sexual Trafficking in the United States: A Domestic Problem with Transnational Dimensions’, Social Work, Vol. 53, No. 2, pp. 143-152
Laite, J, 2017, ‘Between Scylla and Charybdis: Women’s Labour Migration and Sex Trafficking in the Early Twentieth Century’, International Review of Social History, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 37-65
Murphy-Oates, L, 2018, ‘Shutting Down Websites to Curb Sex Trafficking Has Life-Threatening Consequences for Sex Workers’, The Feed, viewed online 9 June 2019, <;
Patel, S, 2018, ‘We Must Repeal SESTA, a Deadly Law That Does Nothing to Help Trafficking Victims’, Vice, 22 May 2018, viewed online 14 June 2019, <;
Peterson, M, Robinson, B & Shih, E, 2019, ‘The New Virtual Crackdown on Sex Workers’ Rights: Perspectives from the United States’, Anti-Trafficking Review, Issue 12, pp. 189-193
Reynolds, M, 2019, ‘The strange story of Section 230, the obscure law that created our flawed, broken internet’, Wired, 24 March 2019, viewed online 14 June 2019, <;
Romano, A, 2018, ‘A new law intended to curb sex trafficking threatens the future of the internet as we know it’, Vox, 2 July 2018, viewed online 10 June 2019, <;

Online Female Censorship: An Exploration of Subjectivity 2019

The rise of the internet has brought about a number of changes to our society and the way in which we interact and make meaning of ourselves and each other, however the virtual world is not a neutral equal space. With over half the world’s population having access to the internet there are a number of ways this global tool is being controlled by different entities including governments and transnational corporations (Why Do Some Countries Censor the Internet, 2019). While there are a number of authoritarian governments who censor their states internet use for political purposes this essay will be analysing the censorship of the female body and sexuality which I argue seeks to uphold the patriarchal values in which women are subordinated by men. I will begin with a brief history of censorship and Foucault’s concept of disciplinary power, then the essay will move to a focus on the social media platform Instagram and the censorship on women’s body’s and bodily functions. Linking back to Foucault and disciplinary power, Althusser’s theory on ideology and ideological (state) apparatuses will also be discussed in relation to the way in which we have come to use and understand social media. Two specific forms of censorship will be analysed throughout; female nipples and menstruation blood. The end of the essay will bring these discussions together from the perspective of de Beuvoir.

The idea of censorship is not a new or modern concept; throughout history different forms of censorship have played a crucial role in upholding social and moral codes. The term censor originates back to ancient Greek times where the ideology of good governance was promoted through censorship of the community in the name of the good of the public (Newth, 2010). Although censorship originated in Europe, different forms of censorship have been found to be employed in different parts of the world across different times highlighting the importance of context. Prior to the rise of the internet, censorship of information was a lot more concentrated, with the State holding power to regulate what is acceptable and allowable using morality for grounds of censorship. The dominance of the internet beginning at the start of the 21st century brought about a number of hurdles in regards to censoring accessible public content. Given the immaterial nature of the internet; the transcendence across national borders; and the level of accessibility to its users, censorship of the internet remains a delicate topic with the power to regulate often falling outside of State powers and more commonly in the hands of private enterprises. Although some media corporations may serve as sovereign powers, the transnational nature of them makes it difficult to enforce their rules and regulations. The shift away from this sovereign power in the 21st century is what Foucault would argue as disciplinary power;
It is a type of power which is constantly exercised by means of surveillance rather than in a discontinuous manner by means of a system of levies or obligations distributed over time. It presupposes a tightly knit grid of material coercions rather than the physical existence of a sovereign.. This non-sovereign power, which lies outside the form of sovereignty, is disciplinary power
–Foucault (cited in Boyle, 1997, pg. 177)
Foucault used the example of Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’ structure to elucidate his theory of disciplinary power. He argued that the central figure within the panopticon formation was hidden and the threat of being seen by this authoritive figure was enough for the subjects to self-regulate and abide by the rules. From this perspective we can see that the panopticon is an individualising and totalising form of power. The internet as a domain however, operates remarkably different to that of our material society, which is why many theorists towards the end of the 20th century believed that the internet would be “immune from (state) regulation” (Boyle, 1997, pg. 178), more so due to the fact that it would be extremely difficult to do, rather than an unwillingness to do so. If we view the internet, or more specifically social media, as panoptic models all users agree to participate in this Big Brother type surveillance, as you must agree to the company’s terms and conditions while creating your access profile. Once ‘inside’ the panopticon individuals self-regulate and enforce their own oppression onto themselves often conforming to the hegemony of the system in the process. Given the nature of social media, the way in which subjects are able to (re)produce themselves to the world is highly curated and the awareness of the audience is always considered. While social media company’s outline their own specific ‘community guidelines’ in regards to what is deemed appropriate, the images deemed acceptable are still dictated by social norms rather than a specific legislation or law.

The following part of the essay will focus specifically on the social media site Instagram which is an image and video sharing social networking website with over 1 billion users worldwide (Carman, 2018). Instagram claims their aim is to have “a world more connected through photos” (Instagram, 2019), however many of their ‘terms of service’ contradict this and I will be focusing specifically on the gendered bias Instagram employs in order to control and mediate user’s content. Although users may post any type of image to their feed such as art, landscapes etc, the majority of images on the site are photos of people, many of which are ‘selfies’. This ‘self-imaging’ technique in which the user is posting themselves is particular to social media in that the user or artist is both subject and object, directly challenging “our conceived social order of image production” (Faust, 2017, pg. 160) within our patriarchal visual based culture. Female artists are especially challenging the order in regards to the image production veering away from the domination of the male gaze and into the hands of historically-written marginalised people.

The community guidelines of the online platform Instagram states a number of rules that their members must adhere to in order to freely use the media. The following statement is the description under the rule “Post photos and videos that are appropriate for a diverse audience”:
We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples but photos of post mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of painting and sculptures are ok
-Instagram, 2019
Although the terms ‘nudity’ and ‘sexual’ appear to be self-explanatory terms, the definition of what actually constitutes as nudity and/or sexual content is highly contested in the online world. The community guidelines outlined by Instagram are representative of social and political norms within our society and upon closer inspection the sexism inherent in these guidelines becomes apparent. Both real world and online nudity are understood differently between the genders and the nipple exemplifies this perfectly. While cultural norms of what is deemed appropriate/inappropriate parts of the body to be shown in public evolve and change over time, the restriction of the female nipple has persisted till today. The notion that the nipple is too sexual to be seen is highly contradictory, especially given the fact that it is the only part of the breast that must be censored. We do not have the same censorship on the male body and even though the female nipple serves a bodily function (unlike the male nipple) the female nipple in online spaces is automatically seen as sexual and therefore prohibited. By hiding the female nipple specifically, society is telling women that their breasts are sexual and may only be seen from that perspective. The gendered bias teaches young women that they must police their bodies, in a way that men do not, and that we must hide parts of our body to ensure we do not arouse the opposite sex. The way in which women subjugate and oppress themselves; both in the real world and online, is an example of biopower in play. The purpose of biopower, according to Foucault, is “to optimize the life of the population as a whole” (Inda, 2005, pg. 5). He also suggests that the use of biopower is a positive force of power, rather than the classic understanding of punishment enforced negative power. The Panopticon concept employs this biopower and subjects are left to self-regulate on their own accord. Within a capitalist, patriarchal society where men hold all the power and economics hold privilege over everything, biopower represents the ideologies of men, and the reproduction of labour power is enforced through social norms. This includes pushing heteronormative ideologies in which women exist for the consumption of men.

Women have learnt through media, family, and educational institutions the correct way to carry and dress their bodies in order to conform to the expectations of society. According to Althusser these institutions function ‘by ideology’ rather than through physical violence enforced from above. It is the production of scientific knowledge functioning through ‘knowledge and desire’ which dictate our societal norms to which we all unconsciously agree to conform to (Pylypa, 1998, pg. 21). In line with Foucault’s concept of biopower, Althusser’s theory on Ideological State apparatuses function positively (through ideology) as opposed to the Repressive State apparatuses which function through violence. In other words, Althusser understood subjects to be confined to specific ideologies of existence, constrained and interpellated into our own existence within society. While this theory relies on the existence of the imaginary, Althusser does clarify the existence of materiality within this concept. He argues that
the ideology of ideology thus recognizes, despite its imaginary distortion, that the ‘ideas’ of a human subject exist in his actions, or ought to exist in his actions, and if that is not the case, it lends him other ideas corresponding to the action (however perverse) that he does perform” (Althusser, 1971, pg. 103)
In the context of social media, what we present online is how we ‘perform’ and our ideas are only being realised in the way in which we present ourselves to the world; it disregards all that has not been posted online.

In 2015, Canadian poet and artist Rupi Kaur posted an image of a fully clothed woman laying in bed on Instagram. In the image the woman is laying on her side with menstruation blood both on her pants and the bed. The image was quickly removed due breaching the ‘community guidelines’ even though there was no nudity or sexual connotations present in the image. But instead of accepting the removal, Rupi and her (thousands of) followers fought back, making a public statement directed at Instagram:
I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human” (Kaur cited in Sanghani, 2015)
Instagram eventually restored then deleted, and once again restored the image to Rupi’s account and asserted that the removal was ‘an accident’ (Livingstone-Lang, 2016, pg. 17). This particular incident sparked a global discussion around menstruation and made it very apparent that menstruation blood still induces disgust in many people with some comments going as far as “being a woman is honestly disgusting.. I would do anything to kms [kill myself]” (cited in Livingstone-Lang, 2016, pg. 17). While this comment was quite extreme, many people were outraged and disgusted at the sight of a normal (yet unseen) bodily fluid in a normal bodily process. The notion of disgust is linked to abjection; “the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other” (Kristeva cited in Smith, 2017). As well as this breakdown of understanding, the abject is something that disrespects borders, rules and positions. Menstrual blood on social media provoking this sort of outrage is hardly surprising when we still treat the act of monthly bleeding as a taboo topic. Douglas suggests that taboos are important in regards to social control, much like Foucault’s ideas about disciplinary power; taboos seek to control the behaviour of the population by socially out-casting those who do not conform, rather than punishment coming from a sovereign power (Douglas, 1984). The continuation of menstruation as taboo is hardly going to be changing when the leading photo-sharing platform is censoring these sorts of images.

In the 1940’s Simone de Beauvoir wrote an influential book called The Second Sex. In it she outlines how throughout history patriarchal rule has resulted in man having been deemed the default of humans, sidelining women as ‘the other’. She discusses how this patriarchal notion has shaped gender roles and understanding of what it means to be ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Given that man is the default, de Beauvoir argues that due to this dynamic, women can only ever position themselves in opposition to the Subject (man), and the way in which she produces her femininity is key to being accepted by society. Although de Beauvoir was writing in the 1940’s, unfortunately not much has changed. Women are still seen from the male gaze, and are expected to conform to a certain level of femininity, which includes the understanding that their bodies are sexual and are for the consumption of men. In 2019, this is very much still the case. Women are expected to be sexual beings and must conform to that should they wish to avoid being socially outcast or denied access to participate in particular online spaces such as Instagram. Both the female nipple and menstruation blood highlight the extra scrutiny women face in today’s society, especially in regards to the way in which they present their bodies, both in the real world and online spaces.

Within the social media realm, especially Instagram, the gender bias that exists is so pervasive of our current society, people often are not even aware of the sexism we all agree to participate in when clicking ‘I agree’ to the terms and conditions of the site. It is interesting to note that violence within society these days is generally accepted and normalised more so than sexuality and nudity. While Instagram is explicit in outlining that sexual content will not be tolerated, which as I have argued is extremely sexist, the presence of violence on the platform is generally allowed. The community guidelines do state: “Because so many different people and age groups use Instagram, we may remove videos of intense, graphic violence to make sure Instagram stays appropriate for everyone” (Instagram, 2019). I fail to recognise how a female nipple in a non-sexualised context, or some blood on the pants of a girl laying in bed could be more offensive than the glorification of weapons and violence, but that just highlights how much further we have to go before we are rid of gendered understandings of the role that men and women play in society.


Althusser, L, 1971, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)’, From Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, London and New York, Monthly Review Press, pp. 127-186

Boyle, J, 1997, ‘Foucault in Cyberspace: Surveillance, Sovereignty, and Hardwired Censors’, University of Cincinnati Law Review, pp. 177-205

Carman, A, 2018, ‘Instagram now has 1 billion users worldwide’, The Verge, 20 June 2018, viewed online 14 June 2019, <;

Douglas, M, 1984, Purity and Danger, Routeledge, UK
Foucault, M, 2008, ‘”Panopticism” from discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison’, Race/Ethnicity, Vol. 2, No. 1

Instagram, 2019, Instagram Help Centre, Instagram, viewed 14 June 2019, <;

Livingstone-Lang, R, 2016, ‘Our Bloody Bodies, Ourselves: The Shocking and Playful Resurgence of Menstrual Art’, Broken Pencil, Fall 2016

Newth, M, 2010, ‘The Long History of Censorship’, Beacon for Freedom of Expression, viewed 13 June 2019, <;

Pylypa, J, 1998, ‘Power and Bodiloy Practice: Applying the Work of Foucault to an Anthropology of the Body’, Arizona Anthropology, No. 13, pp. 21-36

Sanghani, R, 2015, ‘Instagram deletes woman’s period photos- but her response is amazing’, The Telegraph UK, 30 March 2015, viewed 14 June 2019 <;

Smith, S, 2017, Julia Kristeva’s “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection”, 10 November 2017, viewed 14 June 2019, <;

‘Why Do Some Countries Censor the Internet’, 2019, Open Access Government, Febuary 5 2019, viewed 13 June 2019 <;

Morality vs. Human Rights: Understanding Cultural Policy and Sex Work-2018

The importance of everyday life is vital to developing a sound cultural policy. Everyday life of everyone in the community should be valued but it is clear that this is not the case. Government policy is heavily influenced by economic values and it is for this reason most governments expect “outcomes for their investment” (Victorian Government cited in Caust, 2003, pg. 52). This economic paradigm often favours the arts over other cultural products within cultural policy and Boaden and Ashton suggest that this is due to the arts being the “easiest cultural area to manage” (Boaden & Ashton, 2015, pg. 21). With the rise of globalisation and information technologies the global markets underwent a rapid change and the approach to cultural products and services has resulted in aspects of our culture losing government support and/or funding. Given the ambiguous nature of the term ‘culture’, competing definitions of culture have made cultural policy even more complex as funding decisions are informed across different cultural forms including: “everyday lived culture, lifestyle culture, elite culture, alternative culture and subculture” (Craik et al. 2003, pg. 29). However, if cultural policy is dominated by an economic paradigm, aspects of culture that are not seen to have the capacity to generate a financial return may be ignored. Human sexuality is an intrinsic part of everyday life yet it is almost never discussed from a policy perspective. The link between sexuality and citizenship is much stronger than is often assumed, and the way in which societies are organised frequently support the ‘normalcy’ of heterosexuality and monogamy. This essay will explore the link between sexuality and citizenship, specifically looking at sex workers and the sex industry. It will focus on the moral and ethical considerations that dominate the public and policy discourse. Cultural planning and mapping will be discussed in regards to its exclusivity and the invisibility of certain groups of people in order to maintain the status quo of society. There are a number of ways in which sex work can be viewed and these paradigms will be discussed in relation to their influence over policy. The final part of the essay will discuss the best legal framework for the sex industry to be safe for all involved and will look at New Zealand as a brief case study that highlights the possibility of a model in which the rights of workers are prioritised.

The concepts of both cultural planning and mapping are vital to developing strategies and policies for sustainable development of the community, ensuring that cultural diversity is not lost or compromised. Cultural planning may be described as “strategic and integrated use of cultural resources in urban and community development” (Mercer cited in Boaden & Ashton, 2015, pg. 22). In other words, community development should be based on a number of processes that attempt to understand the human needs of a community while assessing the resources that enhance the development and participation of citizens within cultural life. Cultural mapping is a key part of this process and is best described as an assessment of existing cultural resources, with an emphasis on community engagement that measure both tangible and non-tangible cultural artefacts (Boaden & Ashton, 2015, pg. 23-24). Historically much of the cultural planning that has occurred in Australia has largely focused on facility provision and arts facilities, ignoring large sections of community culture, namely those that fall outside the ‘arts’ domain. It may be argued that there are aspects of our community we choose to ignore from the cultural perspective and this results in a lack of inclusion during policy development. The privileging of certain aspects of culture within cultural policies is a form of ‘hegemony’ in which “the dominant culture uses education, philosophy, religion, aesthetics and art to make its dominance appear normal and natural to the heterogeneous groups that constitute society” (Miller and Yudice cited in Mulcahy, 2006, pg. 320). This hegemonic dominance of society offers different understandings of male and female sexualities, based on biological assumptions rather than “a consequence of social differences in how female and male sexuality are constructed” (Hekma & Giami, 2014, pg. 13). This asserts the fact that under patriarchal society, male dominance within all social structures appears to be innate and natural rather than socially constructed.

The assumed hegemony of society is damaging to minorities who are often overlooked in the cultural mapping process. One of the biggest issues with cultural mapping lies in the silencing of certain peoples voices; often marginalised people are ignored, especially when they are functioning outside of legal frameworks. Sex workers in much of the world certainly fall into this category and have far too much to risk working under criminal systems where speaking out could put their lives in danger. Sex workers aren’t unique to this silencing technique as drug users, homeless people, migrant workers and the elderly are often ignored and overlooked when community development is underway. Individual freedoms can justifiably be denied to a member of the community who does not conform to social norms and heteronormativitiy, such as sex workers, and many western politicians rely on biological essentialism to further their argument surrounding what is ‘natural’ to continue denying an individual’s rights and freedoms. Given that much of human sexuality takes place in the private sphere, it is often overlooked from a policy perspective. However Weeks suggests that sexuality may be considered “the magnetic core that lies at the heart of the national political and cultural agenda” (Weeks cited in Hubbard, 2001, pg. 53). Arguing that sexuality is often used as a political tool in order to demonise ‘bad citizens’, such as queers, ‘perverts’, sex workers and other minority sexualities further establishing heterosexuality as the norm.

In many contexts there is a level of shame and taboo that surrounds sexual discourses that are driven by historical and religious understandings of sexuality. As discussed the ‘natural’ understanding of sex as a tool to reinforce hegemonic heterosexuality encourages citizens to participate in accepted forms of sexuality which include heterosexual, monogamous, pro-creative sex. Sex workers, specifically female workers, actively challenge patriarchal ideals and expectations as they embrace and capitalise on their sexuality, and it is for this reason sex workers are so heavily vilified. When the sex industry is discussed in the public sphere it often creates a ‘moral panic’ in which a debate around the ethics of sex work is discussed among cultural ‘experts’ or ‘commentators’. Ethical and moral questions are not unique to policy debates surrounding sex work, as historically we have seen similar discussions that weigh up between science/facts and ethics/morals; including HIV prevention, stem-cell research and needle exchange programs (Weitzer, 2010, pg. 53). These examples of contentious issues have all been topics in which the status quo of society is threatened, and a moral panic had been employed to ‘fix’ the problem. By giving priority to morals over rights, we ultimately deny full citizenship to certain people. In this case it applies to those who deviate away from heteronormative ideals through a lack of sexual citizenship:
“Sexual citizenship refers to the transformation of public life into a domain that is no longer dominated by male heterosexuals, but that is based in gender and sexual diversity. The goal is a society in which diverse people can take responsibility for their own sexual lives” (Hekma cited in Meyer, 2018).
Once we comprehend that much of our understanding of human, specifically female, sexuality is based on social constructs rather than these ‘natural’ assumptions we take for granted, we can then remove the moral and ethical questions and focus on the safety of all members within in a society.

Far too often sex work is used synonymously with sex trafficking and this is one of the most problematic issues when it comes to discussing sex work. Exploitation is often discussed in regards to the sex industry yet it never applies to any other industry, especially those that thrive on paying their employees minimum wage (hospitality, retail etc). Many negative assumptions are put forward by oppression theorists (discussed below) who dominate public conversations about the sex industry. Cohen’s ‘moral panic’ model; which attempts to engage the state to ‘fix’ a potential problem brought about by a particular group or event which is seen as a threat to the status quo of society, is often employed when sex trafficking (or work) is brought to the public’s attention (Homan, 2011, pg. 2). The role of these periodic moral panics, which are often perpetuated by media and the authorities, function to “reassert [the state’s] right to power.. [which] supports the view that questions of sexual morality are prominent in definitions of citizenship” (Hubbard, 2001, pg. 53). What Hubbard implies here is that those who do not conform to a ‘moral sexuality’ are ultimately denied their rights and are not seen (or treated) as full citizens in regards to benefits and political recognition.

When we focus on sex work discourse several paradigms occur. The first paradigm is the oppression paradigm, often the most dominant discourse that permeates the public realm. The oppression paradigm sees all forms of sex work as the “quintessential expression of patriarchal gender relations” (Weitzer, 2009, pg. 54). This view is ignorant of different factors that may be in play such as the type of sexual commerce, agency of the worker, national situation, historical time period etc. Radical advocates go further and suggest that violence against women, subjugation and exploitation are an inevitable and a core part of the sex industry with some oppression academics arguing that “when men use women in prostitution, they are expressing a pure hatred for the female body” (Dworkin cited in Weitzer, 2010, pg. 54). For many oppression theorists there is a general understanding that under patriarchy, there is no way that a woman can choose to be a sex worker freely and all workers are victims who need to be saved. Through this perspective research is often skewed and biased to further the author’s own personal perspective on the subject. They frequently engage in ‘prescientific reasoning’ which is described as “conclusions formed in the absence of evidence or lacking in the critical ingredient of falsibility” (Popper cited in Weitzer, 2010, pg. 15), often presenting their central arguments to be undeniable absolute truths. Frequently oppression theorists will focus their research on workers who fall into the lower rungs of the ‘whorearchy’ (see image 1), often ‘survival’ workers, which produce warped conclusions. There are a number of reasons the oppression paradigm is extremely problematic in its perspective, most obviously it completely discounts the voices of the workers. By making sex workers voices not heard you create an invisible demographic of people within a society. There is a general understanding in Western societies that “all individuals are apparently equal in the eyes of the law and the state” (McDowell cited in Hubbard, 2001, pg. 53), and Hubbard suggests that heteronormativity is accepted as the norm and those who ‘transgress sexual and spatial order” (Hubbard, 2001, pg. 58) are disciplined, in this case silenced, which then reinforces hegemonic heterosexuality and sexual monogamy.

The opposite end of the discourse spectrum would be the empowerment paradigm which holds that sex workers have agency to make decisions for themselves and see sex work as another service provided within the neoliberal free market. Supporters of the empowerment paradigm push against prohibitionist laws and suggest that much of the social stigma is due to the illegal nature of sex work (Oselin & Weitzer, 2013, pg. 454). While not as extreme as the oppression theorists in their perspective that all women are victims, or in this case empowered, supporters of the empowerment paradigm can sometimes fail to recognise that there may be a level of subordination involved in some forms of consensual sex work, arguing that “there is nothing inherent in sex work that would prevent it from being organised for mutual gain to all parties” (Weitzer cited in Social Spaces and #SexWork: An Essay, 2013). What this paradigm largely ignores are the varied complexities that exist within the sex industry and that not all workers feel empowered by their jobs. It is true that some sex workers feel empowered through their work, yet the idea of empowerment and work as intersecting concepts only seems to apply to the sex industry. Another issue with the empowerment perspective is that it highlights one of the biggest issue in the industry; not recognising sex work as work. If we fail to see this work as a job, like any other job, the idea of empowerment (and consequently degradation) are often central to the morality debate, which begs bigger questions surrounding how we view both sex and sexuality, specifically in women.

If the oppression paradigm is situated on one end of the spectrum and the empowerment paradigm is at the other, the polymorphous paradigm would sit somewhere in between the two. The polymorphous paradigm holds that “there is a constellation of occupational arrangements, power relations, and worker experiences” that exist within sex work (Weitzer, 2010, pg. 55). The other two are quite radical in their ideologies, whereas the polymorphous paradigm has a level of flexibility and understands there are a number of complexities to consider on a more individualised basis. From the polymorphous perspective there is an even consideration between subordination and agency; it recognises that both subordination and agency may be at play at different stages in a sex workers career. Both the empowerment and the polymorphous paradigms understand that sex worker rights are human rights and advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work.

There are a number of different legal frameworks under which sex work can operate around the world. The first is most strongly influenced by the oppression theorists, which is full illegality of full service sex work (prostitution). This undeniably has the most negative impact not just on the workers directly, but the social stigma and general discourse in the wider public. This is where skewed research depicting the worst examples of sex work are used to stereotype workers and treat them as representative of the whole demographic of workers. While prohibition is pushed by anti-sex work activists, it is clear prohibition won’t solve the problem. Studies have shown that violence against sex workers actually increases in places where there is a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards full service sex work (Sanders & Campbell, 2007, pg. 4). Under an illegal framework organised crime is given the conditions to thrive without regulation. Studies suggest that decriminalisation or legalisation leads to a more transparent industry which makes it tougher for criminals to succeed in their illegal activities. Lupton suggests that most of the dangers that sex workers face within illegal contexts are not inherent parts of sex work, rather, the lack of access to material resources is the key cause of these added vulnerabilities (Lupton cited in Sanders & Campbell, 2007, pg. 12). Again this suggests that more vulnerable women lacking in social and economic capital would find it the hardest to access the necessary resources for their ongoing safety. Much like the discourse around female safety in greater society, the onus on safety is often placed on the worker (predominately female), being held responsible for personal risk avoidance. This reactive approach highlights the ignorance of many state Governments that put morals ahead of human rights, advocating that if women were not in the sex industry this violence would not occur. The ignorance towards safety of all citizens, and the personal responsibility most workers face further establishes the patriarchal dominance that permeates western societies and confirms the hegemony that many government policies wish to further cement.

Another framework under which the sex industry can operate is legalisation, in which strict rules and licensing are created by the state in order to regulate and control the industry. The Nordic Model is an interesting interpretation of a legalised framework that decriminalises the sale of sex, while simultaneously making it a criminal offence to purchase sex. It was first adopted in Sweden in 1999 as a reaction to oppression theorists dominating the national sex work discourse (Levy & Jakobsson, 2014, pg. 2). Legalisation brings about a binary within the industry; of legal and illegal practices. Anybody participating in sex work outside the often restrictive ‘legal’ guidelines are still subject to criminal punishment and it fails to protect many within an already marginalised minority (Green, 2015). This is due to many regulations favouring sex workers within the higher rungs of the whorearchy, who generally have the most access to the resources they need. In places where sex work is legalised there are often many abuses of power, predominately from police who manipulate workers with threats and coercion (Murphy, 2015). Many prohibitionist’s are actively against any form of legalisation or decriminalisation from a moral perspective as they believe that it “symbolically gives an official stamp of approval to a vile institution and creates what they call a prostitution culture, in which commercial sexual transactions are rendered acceptable” (Weitzer, 2010, pg. 22). But this moral standpoint actually enforces the lack of respect for human autonomy and agency, arguing that if for whatever reason you end up in the sex industry you are not morally worthy of protections that the rest of society have access to. Reaffirming that citizens who fail to conform to the moral sexuality deemed ‘normal’ by the government results in ‘second-class citizen’ status as perceived not just by the state but also by other ‘first-class citizens’ who have conformed to the state expectations, also known as social stigma (Hubbard, 2010, pg. 53).

Human rights organisation such as Amnesty International support decriminalisation of sex work who, unlike many cultural planners, actually engaged in a dialogue with current and former sex workers before reaching this conclusion. Decriminalisation is the final legal framework and is the framework which is supported by an overwhelming majority of sex workers and their allies (SWOP, 2018). In 2003, New Zealand was the first country in the world to decriminalise sex work. New Zealand is an excellent case study for a well-developed cultural policy that enables sex workers to work freely and have access to the same legal and employment rights as the rest of the population (Abel, 2014, pg. 581). While the process towards decriminalisation in New Zealand was not without is hurdles the State understood the need to prioritise the human rights of all workers/citizens ahead of the moral and ethical considerations. The push towards decriminalisation came from a sex-worker led group formed in 1987 known as the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) who have been receiving funding from the NZ Government since 1988. All of the arguments presented by the NZPC were evidence-based and “public health and human rights arguments were central to the passing of the PRA [Prostitution Reform Act]” (Abel, 2014, pg. 14). Since decriminalisation passed in New Zealand several reviews have been undertaken and have found that the positives have outweighed the negatives in all aspects of the updated policy. Because sex workers in New Zealand have full rights, crimes against sex workers are taken seriously by the police and the State, and a number of convictions of crimes against sex workers have been processed through the New Zealand judicial system.

Regardless of which side of the morality fence you sit, we need to view sex workers (and other minorities within the community) as human beings deserving of the same human rights as everyone else in society. Throughout this essay it is clear that there is a huge resistance to members of the community who threaten the status quo, especially women in control of their sexuality. From the policy perspective, morality and ethics are given too much weight within public debates which is extremely damaging to many people within our communities. This is especially true when there is an obvious lack of evidence to support these moral judgements. These negative public discourses on sex work stemming from oppression theorists, does nothing to eradicate the true harms that do exist and as discussed has been proven to further perpetuate violence and stigma against (female) sex workers. From the economic perspective, decriminalising sex work would allow for sex workers to contribute to the local economy and takes much of the power away from criminals who understand the demand for sexual services. By decriminalising compared to legalising, governments are able to take away criminal punishments without being seen as ‘encouraging’ the growth of the sex industry.

Abel, G, 2014, ‘A Decade of Decriminalisation: Sex Work ‘Down Under’ but not Underground’, Criminology & Criminal Justice, Vol. 14, No. 5, pp. 580-592
Boaden, S & Ashton, P, ‘Mainstreaming Culture: Integrating the Cultural Dimension into Local Government’, in P. Ashton, C. Gibson & R. Gibson (Eds.s), By-Roads and Hidden Treasures: Mapping Cultural Assets in Regional Australia, UWA Publishing, Perth, pp. 19-36
Caust, J, 2003, ‘Putting the “Art” Back into Arts Policy Making: How Arts Policy has been “Captured” by the Economists and the Marketers’, The International Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 51-63
Craik, J, McAllister, L & Davis, G, 2003, ‘Paradoxes and Contradictions in Government Approaches to Contemporary Cultural Policy: An Australian Perspective’, The International Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 17-33
Duggan, M, ‘Whorearchy’ [image], The Whorearchy, Monique Duggan, viewed 11 November 2018, <;
Green, C, 2015, ‘What Would it Look Like to Decriminalize Sex Work? Just Ask New Zealand’, bitchmedia, viewed 4 November 2018, <;
Hekma, G & Giami, A, 2014, ‘Sexual Revolutions: An Introduction’, in Hekma, G & Giami, A, (Eds.), Sexual Revolutions: Genders and Sexualities in History’, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp. 1-24
Homan, S, 2011, ‘’Lockout’ Laws or ‘Rock Out’ Laws? Governing Sydney’s Night-Time Economy and Implications for the ‘Music City’’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol. 17, No. 5, pp. 1-15
Hubbard, p, 2001, ‘Sex Zones: Intimacy, Citizenship and Public Space’, Sexualities, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 51-71
Levy, J & Jakobsson, p, 2014, ‘Sweden’s Abolitionist Discourse and Law: Effects on the Dynamics of Swedish Sex Work and on the Lives of Sweden’s Sex Workers’, Criminology & Criminal Justice, pp. 1-15
McCarthy, B, Benoit, C & Jansson, M, 2014, ‘Sex Work: A Comparative Study’, Archives of Sexual Behaviour, Vol. 43, No. 7, pp. 1379-1390
Murphy, C, 2015, ‘Sex Workers’ Rights are Human Rights’, Amnesty International, 14 August 2015, viewed 2 November 2018, <;
New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, 2018, History, New Zealand Prostitute Collective, viewed 30 October 2018, <;
Oselin, S & Weitzer, R, 2013, ‘Organisations Working on Behalf of Prostitutes: An Analysis of Goals, Practices, and Strategies’, Sexualities, Vol. 16, No. ¾, pp. 445-466
Sanders, T & Campbell, R, 2007, ‘Designing Out Vulnerability, Building in Respect: Violence, Safety and Sex Work Policy’, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 1-19
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Film Analysis: The Piano-2018

“You know I am thinking of the piano. She does not play the Piano as we do Nessie… No, she’s a strange creature and her playing is strange, like a mood that passes into you… To have a sound creep inside you is not at all pleasant” -Aunt Morag

Within the Gothic trope power structures and sexuality are so intertwined that is almost impossible to separate the two (Hendershot, 1998, pg. 97). For this reason the relationships in The Piano are interesting for analysis as Campion has attempted to challenge this within the movie. There is no explanation offered as to why Ada stopped speaking at the age of 6. But her muteness perhaps represents all women during that time; lacking discursive power within broader society. It was inconceivable during that era for women to be autonomous agentic beings; instead they were expected to be docile, domestic mothers producing and rearing children for their husbands. In the opening scene we see the world through Ada’s eyes, she is looking through her fingers, held up to her face like bars in a prison. This mute personal prison is Ada’s private way of protesting against oppressive patriarchy. Ada appears to be a passive spectator rather than a participant in the real world, highlighting her isolation in Scotland and later New Zealand. Ada’s power in her muteness is paradoxical in regards to the Gothic trope as Moers suggests that the “Female Gothic as the mode par excellence that female writers have employed to give voice to women’s deep-rooted fears about their own powerlessness and imprisonment within patriarchy” (Moers cited in Brabon and Genz, 2009, pg. 5, my own emphasis added). The rejection of the paternal language and the use of other means, including the piano as a substitute suggest that Ada’s will is much stronger than was to be expected of a woman of that time. Flora confirms her mother’s understanding of her power in silence when she tells the other women “Mother says that most people speak rubbish and it’s not worth it to listen”, shocking the other women in the room who are (consciously or unconsciously) participating subordinately within the oppressive system. This essay will be exploring a number of different ways in which Ada expresses what escapes the bounds of conventional language through the body; including the impacts of colonialism and patriarchy on men within the system; the relationship between mother and daughter; and finishing with a brief discussion about the affair between Ada and Baines.

The body as a form of language is extremely prevalent throughout the film, not just through Ada but an analysis of all the main characters show interesting undercurrents of meaning. There are several clues to suggest that Stewart is very much like Ada’s father in terms of epitomising privilege by both being heterosexual, white, colonial men. Stewart doesn’t appear to be inherently evil, rather he is the perfect product of his time. We know her father upholds similar values in regards to women as property as is made evident by the sale of his own daughter (and grand-daughter) to a man neither had met on the other side of the world. It is due to Stewart’s conviction to uphold the social order that makes him obsessed with property and incapable of seeing his wife as anything other than another object to be owned. Hendershot suggests that due to his capitalist, patriarchal view of the world “Stewart can have relations only with an aestheticised Ada whom he can control through representation” (Hendershot, 1998, pg. 98). Ada is quick to pick up on the controlling nature of her ignorant husband as seen in their first interaction with one another. During this first encounter Ada uses her body, her daughter and her note-writing, to communicate to Stewart the importance of the piano to her. When Stewart, Baines and the Maoris first discover Ada and her daughter on the beach Stewart looks visibly disappointed in his mail-order bride, as we watch him survey Ada and Flora’s belongings strewn across the beach. This scene sets the tone for the future relationship between Ada and Stewart. It is clear Stewart views everything on the beach as his new acquired property including Ada herself; there is no distinction made between the way Stewart observes her or her (now his) possessions. Prior to arriving at the beach Stewart makes a pitstop in the jungle to adjust his hair using an image of Ada as a mirror, this is an indication of what Stewart is expecting when he meets his new wife: ultimately when he looks at her he is expecting to see himself (re: representation discussed by Hendershot). Through the use of her body we see that Ada is clearly made uncomfortable by her new husband, she is rigid, stiff and timid. Stewart’s blatant ignorance towards both her and her piano results in an irreversible impact on their relationship. Stewart uncompromisingly declares the piano too heavy to be transported and decides it’s best to leave it on the beach. Ada attempts to communicate in a language which her husband understands, in the form of a note delivered via her daughter Flora, who acts as a barrier between Ada and Stewart. Bainbridge suggests that this is a tactical move as “Ada is situated outside the symbolic realm of language and discourse, her daughter Flora clearly is not” (Bainbridge, 2008, pg. 170). Stewart reasserts his patriarchal power by ignoring his wife’s insistent request and it’s this exact power, and lack of understanding of his privilege which ultimately results in the Ada’s rejection of her husband Stewart.

The connection between mother and daughter is vital to the diegetic image and without Flora as moderator between her mother and the outside world Ada’s language would have been conveyed to the audience with meaning and/or emotion. When we hear the childlike ‘inner voice’ of Ada at both the beginning and end of the film we are really hearing Flora’s voice. Indicating that Flora acts as her mother’s mouthpiece: she is her mother’s physical voice. Flora is both an extension of her mother yet also engages in her own subjectivity, which transforms over the space of the film. The transformation occurs when Ada’s desire for her piano, for herself to be completely whole, threatens the bond between mother and daughter; when Flora feels herself losing her mother’s monopolised love. There is a visual and embodied mimesis between mother and daughter, seen through costuming, mannerisms, actions and ‘motherliness’ (scenes where it appears the mother/daughter roles have been reversed). We see the mimesis in action during the scene in which Ada and Flora approach Baines to ask him to assist in retrieving the piano from the beach. Their costumes and mannerisms are completely in sync and it is clear the bond between mother and daughter goes beyond an act of ventriloquism. This mimesis is extended to the next scene after which Baines has changed his mind about taking the pair back to the piano on the beach. The joy that Ada experiences once reunited with the piano is visibly shared with her daughter and it is the first time in the film we see both of them truly happy. Baines was the only person to witness this joyful moment for the mother and daughter and is crucial to understanding the affair between Baines and Ada.

As Baines bore witness to the joyous display on the beach when the girls were reunited with their piano, he saw the intensity to which Ada and Flora expressed their delight. He understood through their expressions the importance of the piano, and the desire Ada possessed for it. Baines eventually trades his property for pleasure, when he traded the land for the piano, he understood the desire Ada has for her piano. Through Lacanian subjectivity, Baines discovered he desired the piano as much as she: “my desire is the desire of the other” (Bihlmeyer, 2003, pg. 23). While their affair began from an abuse of power on behalf of Baines, there are a number of ways in which the actions of Ada could be interpreted. Bainbridge suggests that the way Ada uses her body in her exchanges, not just with Baines but also with her husband, is in relation to her “creating an economy of her own which centres on the piano” (Bainbridge, 2008, pg. 158). The bargain struck up between Baines and Ada is the first interaction in which Ada is given a chance to participate in capitalism, within her own economy. Baines acknowledges the autonomy of her body (to a point) and allows a deal to be made between the two in which she will play for him in exchange for the eventual return of her piano. The couple eventually appear to have a ‘mutual love’ for one another however it is unclear whether the love that Ada feels for Baines is genuine or whether Ada is just making the most of a bad situation, making a choice between the lesser of two evils (Baines & Stewart). Stoltenberg argues “In a patriarchal system like the western one, dominance, subordination, force and violence must be made to feel like love and sex in order to produce gendered inequality” (cited in DuPuis, 1996, pg. 71). Although it was a different time, it is hard to comprehend that an intelligent woman would eventually fall in love with her manipulative rapist without some level of coercion being exercised.
There were a number of ways our Gothic Heroine used her body to express herself, as well as the other characters and the relationships between them. It appears by the end of the film that Ada has broken free from her personal prison, thanks to the ‘love’ between her and Baines, this (and the rest of the movie), however, are always open to new interpretations and readings.

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