The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Each For Equal’ – underlining that our individual actions work towards (or against) equality. As a woman in the sex industry, I’m highlighting four key things people can do to contribute to this goal.
On International Women’s Day, it can be easy to see ‘equality’ as some broad, nebulous concept, which is achieved by protests or law changes or huge shifts in public consciousness. And of course, to a great extent it is.
But those big changes don’t happen without the result of individual action. ‘The public’, after all, is just a collection of individuals, all acting in the ways they believe are right.
‘Each for Equal’ as a topic gives me a chance to reflect on the actions I take which contribute to equality (and the actions I don’t take, and why that might be, and how I can do better). In fighting for equality in the sex space, there are myriad battles to pick: from challenging bias when it pops up in news articles about masturbation, to calling out the rank hypocrisy of banning sex toys ads but allowing promos for Viagra.
So I thought I’d have a go at listing four things you can do to support women in the sex space, and show you’re standing up for equality this International Women’s Day…
I’m serious. You don’t need to share your favourite porn video with your Nan over on Facebook, but if you can be open – somewhere, somehow – about the sexual content that you read (maybe posts from this blog, for instance?), on a very basic level you’ll be helping those who make sex content to break out of the silo that tells society sex is shameful.
Women’s bodies are disproportionately stigmatised on social media platforms, and sex itself is seen as too taboo for the big tech giants to stomach. That won’t change until individuals demand better, and tell Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others that there’s nothing shameful about our bodies and our pleasure.
We’re lucky to be an industry which is powered by many incredible women: bloggers, writers, educators, entrepreneurs, sex workers and more. But even in the sex industry we’re often swimming against the tide: women are likely to have fewer followers than men in the same industry. If this sounds like old news that’s because it is – back in 2012 AdWeek reported something very similar, that women tend to get retweeted less frequently than men as well. You can do your bit to change this by retweeting women and recommending their work.
Sex workers are especially important to listen to – frequently left out of debates (including debates on sex work!). I’m currently reading Revolting Prostitutes by Juno Mac and Molly Smith (who you can follow on Twitter - @fornicatrix and @pastachips) which is an excellent in-depth exploration of the sex worker rights movement and the valuable things we can learn from listening to sex workers.
A very short and non-comprehensive list of amazing women in the sex space who I’d recommend following on Twitter include: @SamTalksSex, @CindyGallop, @WomenOfSexTech, @SexAbled, @GirlOnTheNet, @mskelgee and @JoanPrice.
If you regularly read media which comes solely from the perspective of men, or you work in an environment which commissions men or invites them to speak but you don’t see many women involved… ask why! This goes in multiple directions too: asking ‘why aren’t trans women being consulted on this topic?’ or ‘why aren’t we speaking to any women over 40 for their experience here?’ can be a really good way of highlighting where the gaps are in people’s commissioning process, and helping to ensure that space is made for everyone to speak and be heard.
We all have our personal blind spots. While I am frustrated with the lack of representation of older women in the sex industry (and grateful for the incredible work of champions like @JoanPrice), there are almost certainly other areas where I – and Hot Octopuss – could better represent people. Talk to us and, if you’re one of the people whose voice we’re missing, pitch us.
It can be very frustrating for women to be surrounded by people who say they care about equality, but who disappear into the ether when difficult conversations need to be had. Many women will know the feeling of sitting round a table debating gender and having the men who say they support you back down and stay silent, for fear of rocking the boat.
It’s a difficult conversation to have, especially if you’re trying to change the minds of people you respect and love, but for women (and indeed anyone else who is marginalised) it can make a huge difference to the conversation if you just decide to join in. Say ‘I agree with her’, and mean it. Join in with conversations about pleasure and consent, and listen to the women who explain that these conversations have not always included them.
Within the sex industry there are so many incredible people, of all genders, who not only do the important work like campaigning for change on a legal level, but the day-to-day work of standing up for women, sharing their work, and joining the tough conversations to show they care about equality. I think these four things are useful ways you can get involved, but there are many more – come share your suggestions in the comments or over with @HotOctopuss on Twitter, and tell us what individual actions you’re taking this International Women’s Day.