Interview: Meghan Murphy on the liberal backlash against feminism
April 19, 2016
by Francine Sporenda
This interview was conducted and translated into French by Francine Sporenda for the website, Révolution Féministe. It has been edited for clarity and length.
Francine Sporenda: What are your thoughts on French Parliament’s recent vote to criminalize the purchase of sex in France?
Meghan Murphy: The recent vote in French parliament to adopt the Nordic model is not only an important and historic win for France, but for all of the EU (and, more broadly, for the world), as it sets a precedent for other countries. That parliamentarians have acknowledged prostitution as a form of violence against women and as inherently coercive is enormously impactful — this is exactly the kind of feminist analysis that industry lobbyists and sexist, entitled men have worked so hard to silence (for obvious reasons).
The continued existence and social acceptance of prostitution relies on the ability to erase the reality of the industry — to erase the real women and girls impacted and to erase the actual idea of prostitution, in and of itself. The sex industry depends on our ability, as humans, to say, “It’s fine, it’s safe, it’s a choice, it’s harmless — just a neutral ‘job’ like any other ‘job,’” and to ignore what is happening to real women in the industry. That erasure lets men off the hook — allowing them to continue operating in these incredibly misogynist ways… And it’s not even that it just lets them off the hook! It’s that their behaviour is, in fact, being supported and endorsed by liberal feminists and progressives who refuse to even DISCUSS johns’ behaviour or the fact that paying women for sexual access is very much connected to rape culture.
That a progressive country like France has taken this step shows show other countries that there are options and that they can’t simply play dumb anymore, ignoring this problem or sweeping it under the carpet.
FS: Recently, there was a campaign initiated, demanding that you be dismissed from your job as an editor at rabble.ca, because (according to them) you were harsh in a post you wrote related to Laverne Cox, who is transgender. You argued that these “sex-positive feminists” were allying themselves with Hugh Hefner, “promoting the pornification of women and lining his pockets”. Can you elaborate on these “sex-positive feminists” and their collusion with the sex industry?
MM: Well, to be fair, the petition to have me fired and no-platformed at rabble had little to do with my commentary surrounding Laverne Cox. Those people had been demanding I be fired and banned from writing at rabble for a long time — privately trying to bully my employers into censoring me — before they created the public petition, due to my work advocating for the Nordic model and fighting the sex industry. They saw my criticisms of the commentary surrounding Cox’s nude photoshoot in Allure as an opportunity to attempt to paint me as “transphobic,” despite the fact that my points, with regard to the claims by mainstream feminists and fashion magazines that the ability to be objectified and desired by men is somehow “radical” and “empowering,” were consistent with the analysis I have with regard to the objectification of all women.
But it wasn’t about Laverne Cox. It was about a very small group of liberals who didn’t like the impact I was having on discourse surrounding prostitution and prostitution law in Canada because, previous to that, they’d kind of had dominion over the topic (at rabble, but also in other progressive circles/media platforms throughout North America, too), and now their monopoly was being threatened.
They’d been happy to marginalize and ignore all the feminists who didn’t agree with them because those women didn’t have easy access to media platforms, but they can no longer pretend we don’t exist and we’ve gained so much ground in terms of our fight. They felt if they targeted me in this way, they could pretend that, 1) It was only white women saying that the system of prostitution is wrong (which is bullshit), and 2) That if they shut me up, the abolitionist media presence in Canada would be notably diminished, and they could go back to promoting sex industry propaganda without anyone challenging it.
They lied on their petition, calling me “racist” and “transphobic” because they knew it would be unconvincing to tell the truth, which is that they simply disagree with the feminist position/fight against the sex industry.
These people, in short, have no politics. Their “analysis” consists of Twitter mantras and is based in individualism and neoliberalism. They are also cowardly. They are aware that if they dare speak out against the sex industry or challenge the notion that objectification is simply an empowered “choice” women make, they too will be targeted and ostracized. It’s much easier to attack me and paint me as the problem than it is, for example, to go up against the porn industry, or the fashion industry, or mainstream media, or the prostitution lobby. They’ll keep their jobs, their social and political privilege, and their popularity with men that way.
In any case, these men and women are not “pro-sex,” they are pro-patriarchy. They support a male-centered view of sex and are, whether they admit to it or not, supporting the racist sexualization of women of colour. Their argument that, somehow, marginalized women will be liberated by being objectified and sexualized in the same way more privileged women are is ridiculous. Marginalized women have always been sexualized and fetishized under patriarchy, and, in any case, if the objectification of women liberated women, we would have been liberated a long time ago. But we aren’t.
Whether or not men want to fuck us has no bearing on our liberation from oppressive structures like white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy. And to attack and attempt to silence feminists who dare to say as much is as pathetically sad as it is dangerous.
FS: Some of the women who petitioned against you claimed to be “intersectional feminists” and called you “racist” and “whorephobic.” What do you think of this kind of intersectional feminism and how do you explain that part of this movement is now supporting prostitution, porn and religious fundamentalists?
MM: They most certainly were not intersectional feminists. Intersectionality means that you consider the way in which various systems of oppression intersect to impact poor women and women of colour in particular and acute ways. Feminism simply cannot be non-intersectional. I mean, you can’t liberate women without looking at the ways poor and working class women and women of colour are impacted particularly by patriarchy or without looking at the ways in which imperialism, colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy work together to keep us marginalized and divided. It makes no sense to ignore this reality. It is the most marginalized women who are targeted by the sex industry — the most vulnerable women. And if you don’t want to look at how these systems function to oppress women, then you aren’t much of a feminist, really.
If these people were truly incorporating an intersectional lens into their “analysis,” they wouldn’t put forth such individualistic approaches to liberation. They wouldn’t pretend as though prostitution is a “choice” for women, and they wouldn’t ignore the men who profit by exploiting marginalized women in the sex industry. Both prostitution and pornography are extremely racist and I find it appalling and insane that anyone who claims to be “progressive” or “feminist” wouldn’t acknowledge that and fight those industries.
Beyond that, these people have consistently ignored the work and analysis of organizations like Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution (AWCEP), Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI), Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN), Af3irm, Apne Aap, the work of women like Fay Blaney and Cherry Smiley… I could go on. They ignore and erase the voices of Indigenous feminists and of women of colour who have been fighting the sex industry for years, instead focusing on women like me or, you know, Gloria Steinem and Lena Dunham, as though they are the only ones who’ve ever challenged the legitimacy of the sex industry. It’s fully and completely racist and ignorant.
FS: Spokespeople for the sex industry are now invited to speak on all sorts of panels and platforms, including progressive and academic ones (last year, an American pimp was even invited to speak at a conference at the Sorbonne, France). Discourse normalizing the sex industry has become quite common on the Left and in academic circles. What do you think of this endorsement of the sex industry by the Left and academia?
MM: I think it’s cowardly and pathetic. It’s about making yourself feel better and ignoring reality and it’s about seeking power and popularity instead of fighting for the most marginalized. Plain and simple.
Men have power and so naturally they want to keep that power — even on the Left. They still want to be able to objectify and abuse women and they want to feel ok about it.
It was a real gift to those men that pro-sex industry women offered them allyship that they could frame as “feminism.” Now men feel they have the right to attack actual feminists with slurs and name-calling, and actively work to silence women who push back against male power, because those behaviours and slurs are supported by liberal feminists. I mean, it’s the greatest betrayal, is it not? That these privileged middle class women have chosen to side with men’s rights instead of fighting for women’s liberation? And that they are offering up legitimate means for men to attack feminists who dare to challenge their right to access women’s bodies? It’s really an incredible time we’re living in. Bizarro World feminism.
Francine Sporenda is French-American, has taught at a school of International Affairs in Washington DC, and is now an independent journalist based in France.