After a brothel raid in Stockholm, where the Swedish celebrity chef Paulo Roberto was caught purchasing sex, sex work in Sweden and the Nordic Model became a hot topic once more. I wrote this piece as a response to the debate and the overall Swedish discourse. The original Swedish version can be found here.
"Mainstream Swedish feminism is silencing those of us who work in the sex industry by our own volition"
Only those sex workers who identify as victims are allowed a seat at the Swedish feminist table. I like my profession and have agency – because of that I am met with hatred and suppression techniques, writes Lilla Lilith, sex worker in Amsterdam.
In the current debate, many wonder why we never hear from the women who “sell their bodies” whilst Paolo Roberto is allowed to pour his heart out on national television. The short answer is that we are silenced by the Swedish Sex Work Exclusive Radical Feminism (SWERF).
I live in Amsterdam and work as a sex worker. I despise the rhetoric that the majority of Sweden make use of. Once again, I am not selling my body, I am selling a service. To say that the sexual act I have with a man for 10-30 minutes of my life takes me from a subject to an object is outdated and sexist thinking.
I would also like to clarify that trafficking and sex work are not the same thing. If all sex work is rape, then all sex workers are reduced to victims without agency, a view I would like to remind you that feminism has worked hard to discredit for all women who aren’t sex workers. Instead, we are lumped together with children, in need of a guardian and protection. When we say that we choose this profession, the SWERF reasoning is that we have internalised the patriarchal oppression and simply “don’t know any better”.
A Sexist Point of View
To attack female sex work like this would be equivalent to abolishing all heterosexual sex due to the high percentage of rape women are subjected to by men. And why are we only speaking of female sex workers? Isn’t the fact that heterosexual men are not considered owned by their clients, or automatically become victims, proof of the sexism in the current discourse? And although the percentage of the LGBTQ+ community who do sex work at some point is much higher than the percentage of cis women who do - they are nevertheless forgotten in the public debate.
A picture is painted: an eastern European woman who is perhaps forced, who perhaps is poor, who perhaps does not get to keep her money. But perhaps she did choose this, perhaps she does keep her money, perhaps she is more satisfied with her life here than in her home country. I don’t know, and nor do you. But this is a ‘grateful’ picture used in order to strengthen the SWERF discourse. The most common criticism I receive is that my arguments are invalid since I am white and middle class and therefore don’t understand the true suffering in my own community.
I am a Threat to the Victimisation Argument
Firstly, why would this white middle class voice be any less valid than those white middle class voices arguing against me? It is because of my privilege I have the possibility to raise my voice. Even though I risk a lot by publicly being a sex worker, I risk a lot less discrimination and stigmatisation than many of my colleagues. Secondly, the notion that I chose this profession despite opportunities not to, threatens the victimisation argument: no one would be in this profession unless they had to. If we were to accept that I chose this job, with agency, simply because I like it – the foundation of the SWERF sex work-discourse would be significantly weakened.
We are Silenced
The network for this view on sex work is big, and because we are automatically labelled as 'bad people' our comments on the matter are immediately discredited. Only those workers who identify as victims are allowed a seat at the feminist table, and as I refuse to do so, I have been met with hatred and suppression techniques until I can’t take anymore and leave my seat. And now I try again, in the public forum, for all of those who have been silenced by the same means, and for all of those whose feminism includes sex work, trans, and non-binary. Isn’t it time we stop prescribing romance as an essential part of the hetero female’s sexuality and realise that sex work is queer since it subverts the heteronormative assumptions about sex and sexuality?