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Michael Kimmel, #MeTooSociology, and Feminist Betrayal of Sex Workers In Academia

I’ve made an entire alter ego out of the things people hate most about women: bodily autonomy and self-determination in the form of sex work and body modifications, among other things. The recent allegations against prominent sociologist Michael Kimmel, a man known for his scholarship on masculinity and masculine entitlement, unveil the things people love most about women—complicity in the form of apologetics and silence, among other things.

As a former sex worker and sociologist, the allegations against Kimmel sent me spiraling in ways I did not anticipate, and not just because I have repeatedly experienced sexual harassment in my academic career. I am particularly revolted by the allegations against Kimmel because I disavowed my hard-earned sex worker gut feeling in order to elevate his career.

The lauding of Kimmel as a feminist hero and the white, cis women who still defend him, are particular kinds of institutional, personal, and professional betrayals. Black feminist sociologists like Patricia Hill Collins have, for years, pointed to the “insider within” position of marginalized people, explaining how social, racial, and sexual marginalization contributes to a clearer vision of society (a fish doesn’t know it’s in water, after all).

Despite my sex worker red flags going off every time I used to show Kimmel’s TEDTalk in the college classes I teach, titled Why Gender Equality is Good for Men, I’ve used his work for years. I’ve assigned his books. I’ve suggested him for paid lecturing gigs. More than anything, that’s how the “game” of academia works—in order to succeed, one must deny the knowledge gained as an “insider within.” Having played the game of sex work and the game of academia for quite some time, I always suspected that Kimmel was the kind of man who’d believe that fucking him was its own form of liberation. But I pushed that feeling to the side because YAY FEMINISM!

The allegations against Kimmel produced the hashtag #MeTooSociology, which is teeming with horror stories of sexual assault in higher education. Relatedly, after experiencing sexual harassment as an undergraduate and graduate student, I decided to do my Ph.D. dissertation on the sexual harassment that sex working femmes in academia experience.

In my dissertation, I interviewed 20 sex workers who were either students or faculty at an accredited university in the U.S. or U.K. Every single one experienced unwanted sexual attention in intellectual spaces—classrooms, offices, conferences, etc.—because of the lingering perception that sex workers are perpetually available. I also included my own experiences in academia as a once current, now former sex worker. I have been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, and propositioned by no less than nine cis men in academic positions of power.

It’s our 2018 call for pitches!!!

This picture is a pitcher pitching a pitcher because we’d like to emphasize that we want your pitches.

Happy New Year, readers! Per usual, we are taking our January hiatus—-just a small break from publishing while we do a little site maintenance. Tits and Sass wouldn’t exist without you, so perhaps considering resolving to write something this year?

We’re soliciting for your pitches! New writers, please familiarize yourselves with our contributors’ guidelines. A gentle warning: first time writers are usually edited rigorously (but kindly!). E-mail your pitches to info@titsandsass.com.

As usual, pitches from workers who are of color, trans, and/or genderqueer will always be prioritized, but don’t feel pigeonholed into writing on topics of identity. We know you’re experts on a wide variety of topics.

We love pop culture and media analysis, takes on breaking sex worker news, event coverage, and essays that illustrate the way the personal is political. We’re less keen on hyper-personal narratives but exceptions are sometimes made for the truly extraordinary. Pitch us almost anything you want, but listed below are a some specific topics we’re always looking for.

Porn workers: you didn’t get nearly enough coverage in 2018. We want to hear from you—-particularly about the ways your industry is both influencing and being shaped by the tech industry.

Sex working in the Trump administration: Has a second gone by when you aren’t reminded that Donald Trump is president? What are the sex worker angles? Migrant workers, we want to hear from you on how you’re navigating this especially hostile landscape and what other sex workers can do to help.

Movie, book, and television reviews: Vanity Fair said that the past year was a great one for sex worker portrayals in entertainment. What say you? We generally prefer reviews of entertainment that’s fairly current, but older material isn’t off the table.

The newest trends in criminalization we should watch out for: How are law, policy, and anti-trafficking discourse being leveraged against us black and grey market workers in this new year, and how are we adapting and resisting?

Survival workers and trafficking survivors: We want to make Tits and Sass accessible to your analyses and perspectives, so often shut out of the sex workers’ rights movement. Tell us what you’re thinking about and what issues are relevant to you.

Naked Music Monday: This column’s only parameter is that it must have some music. Write us the perfect playlist for a session or strip club shift. Is your favorite artists latest single sex work adjacent? Analyze it for us. In the past, writers have covered Cardi B and Beyoncé plus pole dancing with Bruno Mars, given us inspirational playlists and endorsed art haus indie for a session.

Support Hos: Does a sex working character on your favorite TV show warrant a closer inspection?

Activist Spotlight: Americans workers, show us who’s doing the work on ground in your area.

Don’t forget, if you need advice, we have some irregular advice columns. E-mail Dear Tits and Sass for any of your general sex work inquiries.  If you need advice about making a risky decision as safe as possible, send that to Ms. Harm Reduction.

 

Quote of The Week

I am proud of the work I’ve done as part of the Women’s March policy table – a collection of women and folk engaged in crucial feminist, racial and social justice work across various intersections in our country. I helped draft the vision and I wrote the line “…and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements.” It is not a statement that is controversial to me because as a trans woman of color who grew up in low-income communities and who advocates, resists, dreams and writes alongside these communities, I know that underground economies are essential parts of the lived realities of women and folk. I know sex work to be work. It’s not something I need to tiptoe around. It’s not a radical statement. It’s a fact. My work and my feminism rejects respectability politics, whorephobia, slut-shaming and the misconception that sex workers, or folks engaged in the sex trades by choice or circumstance, need to be saved, that they are colluding with the patriarchy by “selling their bodies.” I reject the continual erasure of sex workers from our feminisms because we continue to conflate sex work with the brutal reality of coercion and trafficking. I reject the policing within and outside women’s movements that shames, scapegoats, rejects, erases and shuns sex workers. I cannot speak to the internal conflicts at the Women’s March that have led to the erasure of the line I wrote for our collective vision but I have been assured that the line will remain in OUR document. The conflicts that may have led to its temporary editing will not leave until we, as feminists, respect THE rights of every woman and person to do what they want with their body and their lives. We will not be free until those most marginalized, most policed, most ridiculed, pushed out and judged are centered. There are no throwaway people, and I hope every sex worker who has felt shamed by this momentarily [sic] erasure shows up to their local March and holds the collective accountable to our vast, diverse, complicated realities.

—Janet Mock’s tumblr statement on the erasure and subsequent re-addition of sex workers’ rights content in the agenda document this week for the Women’s March On Washington

 

Queer Muslim Sex Worker (2017)

(Photo courtesy of Amy Ashenden)

Queer Muslim Sex Worker: These are labels that aren’t supposed to go together, but in the life of Maryam, a genderfluid Pakistani Muslim person living in London, they do. A newly released, independently-funded podcast with this title by journalist Amy Ashenden aims to shed light on how Maryam’s different identities are sexualized, vilified, and ostracized in their own ways.

As she navigates her various forms of closetedness “like a maze,” Maryam’s candor lets the listener in on how stressful this life is. In fact, it is so stressful that she’s often had suicidal thoughts because of it. At the end of the podcast, Maryam relates how since finally being disowned by her family after hiding her sexuality and her experience in the sex industry from them, she’s been unable to focus on her responsibilities, dealing with the trauma of abandonment by numbing out with alcohol and partying at strip clubs. I feel for her because I can relate to that sense of hopelessness.

In a culture with highly communal values, your life is not your own. Your life actually belongs to your family, and anything you do or say can either bring honor or shame to them. For this reason, it’s extremely rare for Muslims to talk openly about gender and sexuality.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t Muslims who are LGBTQ, it just means they’re not welcome in the Muslim community. As Maryam observes, “I’ve never seen a queer Muslim person who came out to the community and was welcomed with open arms.”

If being gay is bad news to the community, being a sex worker is even worse. However, the Muslim community itself creates the necessity for survival sex work by rejecting members of the community who are queer. As Maryam explains that she is saving the money she earns from webcam work to support herself in case she is rejected or disowned by her family for being gay, she illustrates how Muslim youth are not exempt from one of the most typical ways young people first become involved in sex work: by being disowned by their parents for being gay. The ability to take ownership of our bodies and sexuality is even something that draws people like us to do sex work.

My recommendation to Muslim youth who ask me about coming out is always to wait until they’re financially self-sufficient. We already know what happens to people like us. “I think I’d be sort of exiled from the community until I changed my ways,” Maryam says sarcastically when asked what would happen if she came out.

When traditional Muslim family values clash with the individualism that is the hallmark of Western culture, we take up a new fight beyond oppressive regimes and occupation back home and racism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment here. Now we’re fighting for the freedom to be ourselves, beyond those labels and intersecting identities.

Community Funds For Sex Workers Affected By Backpage’s Closure

(Photo by Flickr user 401(K) 2013)
  • Lysistrata fund: @Molly-Doom at Venmo or sara.vinik@gmail.com at Paypal for donations, contact sara.vinik@gmail.com or LaFemme.Molly.Doom@gmail.com if you need to receive funds. Limited resources at the moment, but they are trying to solicit more.
  • Donate to @$CharlottePage through Squarecash and the money will be distributed directly to sex workers in need.
  • Donate to Vee Chattie’s fundraiser through Venmo, or email her at veechattie@gmail.com to ask to receive funds.
  • There’s also a Generosity page for donating to low-income people affected by the closure of Backpage here, focusing particularly on “trans folks, people of Color, differently-abled folks and others with bodies who are discriminated against under our white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalistic government.”

We urge readers to comment with contact information for any additional community funds they know about. Feel free to contact me personally re: distributing donations at simon.caty@gmail.com as well.