by Furry Girl
It's common for grassroots activists to have issues with creating good branding and messaging, and this topic is something I've been thinking about a lot this year with regards to the sex workers rights movement and what I want to do with my upcoming project. I've been trying to step back from things and look at them with a fresh pair of eyes. What concepts are we most getting across to the public? What are we directly telling them, and what are our actions more subtly telling them? (This is sort of an extension of the outreach post I wrote earlier this month.)
Graphics-wise, we rally around the image of a red umbrella. I have no idea how people came to pick this as our logo. Was it because sex work is so sad that there's a flood of tears, and the umbrella is protecting us from the tear storm? That's the best idea I can think of. If I don't get it, I'm guessing that the public doesn't get it either. It's not as vague a graphic/shape as, say, a red ribbon for HIV awareness, but it's also not as obvious as the Sierra Club's logo of a tree, or March of Dimes' logo of a figure cradling an infant. "We feel safe inside red umbrellas! We demand more free red umbrellas from the government! Stop beating us with red umbrellas!" I have no idea what we're trying to express.
Going deeper than my quibbles with confusing clip art, I think it's a mistake that the sex workers rights movement in the US is pretty much perma-linked with the radical sexuality/BDSM scene. I am a sex-positive pervert, but that doesn't mean that I think we ought to be tacitly pushing the message that sex workers rights is a niche concern only for sexual deviants. I've touched on this before, but wanted to stress it again.
Closely linking the sex workers rights and sex-positivity/kink worlds feels like a clique-y move, the banding together of big city sexual rebels to thumb their noses at the vanilla mainstream, not a political strategy that wins mass converts and legislative gains. I've said it many times: I don't want sex workers rights to be a cause only supportable by perverts. No other labor or human rights campaign would have a construct like this. "If you're not into sewing, then there's no room for you to express concern about sweatshops and working conditions in textile factories." Or, imagine if the gay rights movement had sodomy as its key piece of branding and activism, conveying a message that if you're not into ass-fucking, you're not hip enough to support equal rights for queer people.
And what about all the sex workers for whom the job is just a job? Must they be subject to grudgingly attending yet another erotic dance party/dildo decorating contest/porn screening fundraiser? I don't want those sex workers to feel alienated from their own movement just because they're not in the mood to attend a sexually-themed event as a form of recreation. Sexuality is a big part of my life, but I also have the self-awareness to realize that it's not that way for everyone, and not all sex workers identify as renegade sluts. (Most don't, I'm guessing.)
It's hard to envision what a sex workers rights fundraiser/event would look like if it didn't involve some combination of topless women, sexually explicit art, loud music, sex toys, and cocktails. Our message seems to be, "Support sex workers rights, because we're sexy people who throw a good party!" I don't mean to sound like an anti-party wet blanket, but it would be great to see sex worker events that reach out to public through a medium other than sexy outfits, booze, and dancing. What about a nice, wholesome bake sale - in the middle of the day? Sex workers have some amazing cooks in our ranks, so how about we show off a talent other than entertaining people with our sexiness? What about a "sex workers clean up a city park" day? Aren't we trying to show that we're a normal and productive part of our communities? By and large, public events that American sex workers organize are about mostly sexy/arty/party things, then some vigils for dead hookers sprinkled in. What message does that send? "We're creative sluts who party, then we get killed, and it's sad?"
Even with more multilayered events like New York's Red Umbrella Diaries, the dynamic of almost all of our happenings is that sex workers are for entertaining the public. Whether we're titillating the public by working as strippers or telling stories about working as strippers, it's still reinforcing the one-dimensional role of sex workers that our value hinges on our ability to amuse the normals via sexually-themed entertainments. (This is why I have the world's most boring sex worker blog. It's pretty much entirely devoid of stories about customers, even though I know that's what brings in the readers.)
I'd like to see the US sex workers rights movement brand itself more as a labor rights movement, a human rights movement, a free speech movement, a privacy movement, an immigration reform movement, and less of a "for badass sexual outlaws only" party bus. Sexual freedom and sex positivity definitely belong in that mix, but we're holding ourselves back by putting radical sexuality at the forefront with so much of what we do and who we bother reaching out to. Sex work is a complicated topic spanning all sorts of working conditions, classes, genders, and motivations. We're selling ourselves short to limit its appeal so greatly.
How do you want to see sex workers portray our cause to the public? What notes do you think we're failing to hit? What are similar causes doing it better?
(As with everything I've said this year that calls for more activism and more participation from more types of people, I know I'm going to get comments/tweets/emails bitching at me for daring to criticize existing activism. I'm not saying "we can never have a party again," or "readings and storytelling are evil and must be banned." I want to create balance by doing and calling for more of the things that I consider useful, not by censoring or preventing anyone from doing their projects. Spare me the "Why are you trying to stop ____ from doing ____?" commentary.)
Furry Girl: a good time not yet had by all.
- I operate SWAAY.org, an accessible sex workers' rights site that educates the general public about our lives and our issues.
- I've been vegan for 13 years because it's the easiest way for an individual to contribute to less violence, suffering, and exploitation.
My adult sites
- Cocksexual.com: Strapons
- EroticRed.com: Menstruation
- FurryGirl.com: Unshaved
- TheSensualVegan.com: Store
- VegPorn.com: Herbivores
More of me online
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New to my blog? Some favorite posts
- "You have no right to dislike feminism after all it's done for you!"
- "You misrepresent true feminism by focusing on the bad feminists. They're not real feminists anyway!"
- An argument for more sex workers to be out?
- Degrading, violent desires
- Do you have what it takes to be an empowered sex worker?
- Feminism is the shitty relationship you had in your early 20s
- Feminist porn isn't a branch of sex workers' rights, it's an obstacle
- How are we branding sex workers rights in the US? (Let's focus more on *worker*, less on *sex*!)
- How to do your homework on trafficking, "rescue", and the affected communities
- Let's stop pretending that "objectification" is a thing that exists
- Musings on ethical porn and the red herrings of "feminist porn" and "violent porn"
- My call for a "working" class uprising against inaccessible discourse and the over-representation of dabblers
- Sex trafficking is the new crack: manufactured "epidemics" as political tools
- The common logical fallacies deployed by anti-sex worker activists
- Things I've gained from being a sex worker: an anti-paternalistic perspective
- Vigilantism and 'crushing bastards': in praise of anger, hatred, and taking joy in the smiting of one's enemies
- Want to play BINGO with the antis?
- Watch out for psuedoscience: my long-time nemeses of concern trolling and "teaching the controversy"
- What do I mean when I say "sex worker"? Why I'm against an overly-broad definition
- Why I call them "anti-sex worker" rather than "anti-porn" or "anti-prostitution," and why you should too
Favorite sex/ho blogs
- Amanda Brooks
- Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers
- Belle de Jour
- Born Whore
- Bound, Not Gagged
- Dan Savage on SLOG
- Danny Wylde
- Jiz Lee
- Kat's Stories
- Laura Agustín
- Lux Nightmare [2006-2007]
- Maggie McNeill
- Our Porn, Ourselves
- Sequoia Redd
- Serpent Libertine
- Sex Worker Pie Charts
- Sexonomics by Brooke Magnanti
- Shit They Say to Sex Workers
- Stuff Sex Workers Eat
- Whore Madonna