A response to Julie Bindel (at the Verso blog)

1991

In what I can only hope is the last time I ever dedicate my precious time and energy to parsing the worldview of RadFems(TM), SWERFs/TERFs (and SERFs – surrogate-exclusionary radical feminists)… I recently wrote a new piece: ‘Not a workplace’: Julie Bindel and the school of wrong abolitionism.

Published a month before the tragic death of veteran sex-working activist Laura Lee, whom it villainises, Bindel’s book The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth excludes trans women from womanhood, LGB rights, and feminism, even going so far as to speculate that Sylvia Rivera was not at Stonewall. Indeed, it systematically paints trans women as enemies of feminism, accusing Janet Mock – among many others – of ‘celebrating’ the connection between trans women and sex work (p.282) as part of an “attempt to merge the identities [?] of prostitution and so-called ‘gender-queer’” (p.279). Not content to blame queerness for calls to decriminalise sex-working lives, Bindel then turns around and levels the claim that trans women are overrepresented in sex work for essential reasons: “part of the whole trans woman identity is about presenting as hyper-sexualised” (p.287). We are ultimately presented with a sinister “pact between trans and ‘sex workers’ rights’”, presumably to foist sexual slavery, organised rape and dehumanisation on the (‘natural’) ‘rest’ of womankind.

Most of the piece is not a review of The Pimping of Prostitution, however. It’s a response to a specific article, published in The Guardian. When Bindel came out with the column in question – “Prostitution is not a job. The inside of a woman’s body is not a workplace” – my friend and comrade Petra Davis suggested on Twitter that it might be fun to take it apart word by word, i.e.:

  • The INSIDE of a woman’s body is not a workplace.
  • The inside of a WOMAN’s body is not a workplace.
  • The inside of a woman’s BODY is not a workplace.
  • The inside of a woman’s body is not a WORKPLACE.

So that’s what I did. It’s up at the Verso blog. Here is an excerpt:

For those of us who aren’t fans of work (most workers) it might seem encouraging to see someone sticking it to workplaces. Unfortunately, Julie Bindel doesn’t actually have a problem with jobs per se, far from it; she just thinks that some of them go too far. She names a number of biomarkets – Ukrainian hair selling, “the breast milk trade in Cambodia”, “blood banks in India”, and gestational surrogacy “in the global south” – as examples of what she most abhors, namely, prostitution: “the practice of using human bodies as a marketplace”.

The first thing to note here is the selection of ‘workplace’ and ‘marketplace’ in this context (rather than, say, ‘worker’). We should stop and ask ourselves what ends it serves to suggest that a gestational surrogate, blood donor, or prostitute, in particular, becomes a place – more so than a mother, athlete, call-centre worker or restaurant critic – under capitalism. It’s easy enough to see where bioethical concern is coming from: intimate labours, sexual labours, clinical labours, gestational labours all intuitively demand especially robust frameworks of worker control.