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Fuck Politeness

This is a revolution, not a public relations movement

So Hexy, cross posting at Hoyden About Town, brought this to my attention yesterday.

June 2nd, 1975. Lyon, France. A bunch of sex workers occupied a church in an act of protest against discrimination and failure by police to investigate or prosecute crimes against them. The cops responded by threatening to take their children away if they did not vacate the church.

Once this threat was uttered, the situation changed dramatically. Non sex working women from the town were shocked from their complacency, and joined the sex workers in the church, rendering the police unable to tell who was and wasn’t a sex worker. Bit of an “I am Spartacus” moment, that.

International Whore’s Day is held every June 2nd, to commemorate this action. It is considered to be one of the formative moments of what we now know as the sex worker’s rights movement. This year, Scarlet Alliance is holding a Red Umbrella protest march.

So very many things I love about that story. I love the womens’ initial willingness to stand up to the police in defence of their own rights, which were clearly being completely disregarded for no better reason than that ‘who cares what happens to a whore’?. I admire the courage involved in that as they would have known in advance the power imbalance and that it could end badly for them.

I love the fact that the other women in the town were moved by empathy and came into the church to support other women against the police. I love the statement of solidarity that results. First that women who are not directly affected by the situation protested about are willing to intervene in that secondary injustice, (the threats of the police during the protest) and second that (and perhaps I’m reading too far into it) there seems to me to be a larger shift from a complacent acceptance of the misogyny behind the word whore – rather than engage in that day to day dodging of the consequences of misogyny, and a pushing away of its effects by disavowing the label whore, pretending it’s not there, or doesn’t apply to ‘you’, there was a willingness to stand in solidarity with women who more directly bear the brunt of the incredible violence of misogyny.

When I spoke of this in the office, my boss was confused. He was flappy and shocked. “WHY would they use the word WHORE?? Isn’t that an insult? “. Well I would think that it’s deliberate and for many complicated reasons. Yes. It’s a word deployed to label negatively  a woman who engages in sex work. And there is massive amounts of damaging violence behind it. And it is also a word used against women who do not engage in sex work. It is a word that is deployed against women all the time to spit misogyny to insinuate that women who have sex are worthless/non people/can be treated like shit with no consequences. And we have seen historically that there is truth in this, in the reluctance to investigate and prosecute rapes of women generally, and against sex workers specifically.

There is something lovely about standing together and instead of disavowing whore as a label for ‘someone else’ and trying to obtain the (conditional and always uncertain) societal approval from maintaining a self definition as a ‘good girl’ and continuing to uphold that stupid and ridiculous and incredibly damaging and violent binary of ‘damned whores and god’s police’, of madonnas and whores, instead of pretending that there is something “about” a woman who is a sex worker, standing and saying it’s fucking ridiculous that a woman’s rights to bodily autonomy, respect, protection from the law and financial independance can be threatened by virtue of their occupation, and/or their perceived sexuality and at its root it’s ugly agrressive misogyny and we’ll stand together and reclaim the word whore and support all women rather than accept the bullshit discrimination and violence.


Sex workers at the Sydney demonstration will be wearing red and carrying red umbrellas in solidarity with sex workers around the world & to fight discrimination.

Meet Outside Parliament House, Sydney
Wear Red, Bring a Red Umbrella
THIS Tuesday 2nd June, 12:30pm

Sex workers are demanding protection under anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws in response to unfair bias from financial institutions, lenders, Local Councils and in advertising. Supporters are invited to join us.

I can’t make the protest, but I’m hoping to pick up a red umbrella and to discuss International Whore’s Day with everyone in the lead up to Tuesday. I don’t see how a society that has a demand for sex work can then treat sex workers like shit and get away with it – at bottom, when pushed it is clear that it is because society still thinks any woman with a sexual appetite, any woman who engages with sex on her terms, any woman who does not manage to maintain society’s view of her as a ‘pure and chaste’  girl (and society will take it away on its own terms) is less than, is a certain ‘kind’ of person, does not deserve the same rights and protection as ‘other people’, deserves any vigilante violence and/or discrimination that comes her way and with no other basis than misogynist aggression and a punishment of women, particularly women who work in the sex industry.

So thanks Hexy for posting this, and for making me think through my alliance to sex workers. I like the notion of reclaiming the word whore and using it to fight with. I like the way deploying the word can force a reconsideration of stupid assumptions about the ‘kinds’ of women who engage in sex work as opposed to the ‘kinds’ of women who “would never”. I like the symbolism of the colour red, and the inability of the public to distinguish who is an who isn’t a sex worker to drive home the point that of course you cannot ‘tell’ just by looking at someone. I like the discussions this sort of demonstration can spark, and I like reading your posts. And I love the notion of a red umbrella and a day to proudly proclaim that I am a whore and I am proud, and there is nothing negative about it and to stand in solidarity with women the world over whose rights are imperilled by virtue of their employment.

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