Well… My answer is yes, of course – I’m both. But it’s certainly an interesting area for discussion. First, it might be worth looking at the different types of feminism.
Although there are many shades in between, and there are now women* who call themselves things like ‘femalists’, most feminists fall roughly into one of two categories: radical and liberal. Broadly speaking, radical feminism is more old school, while liberal feminism is a newer development that seeks to empower women by using/manipulating the patriarchy rather than destroying it. So, libfems are, for example, pro sex work, whereas radfems want to abolish prostitution all together. Similarly, libfems tend not to object to surrogacy, and for many their feminism is ‘intersectional’, i.e. it includes (trans-identifying) men.
*Men can be allies, but not feminists.
Like many women I’ve come to feminism fairly recently (4–5 years ago) and via the gender critical movement. I don’t like the term GC, and don’t feel it’s accurate, but I’ll use it as short-hand. Gender critics disagree with gender identity ideology, which is the belief that ‘gender’ is as, or even more, important than biological sex, that transwomen are women, transmen are men and that some people are ‘non-binary’. As a biologist by background, I view this as anti-scientific nonsense, and became horrified – and thus more active in the fight against it – when I saw more and more organisations being captured.
Gender critics are NOT transphobic – we believe everyone should be able to live as they wish. What is important to us is that sex is recognised when necessary and that single-sex spaces are protected, women and girls can have fair sports, prizes, quotas etc. For example, rape trauma centres should be available that only allow women in. Ditto changing rooms, bathrooms etc. That doesn’t mean similar mixed-sex facilities shouldn’t be available if appropriate, just that there should always be single-sex options.
Language is important – ‘cis’ is more nonsense, retroactively applied by trans rights activists who want ‘trans’ women to be an equal subset of women. No. It’s like taking about undecaffeinated coffee. I call men men. For those who still think it’s about ‘being kind’, I’d like you to ask yourself a few questions.
- Where are all the balaclava-clad middle-aged women protesting outside trans rights events?
- Why is 90% of ‘trans rights’ activism about men gaining access to women and girls’ spaces?
- Why aren’t women trying to get into Masonic lodges or some cricket or golf clubs?
- Why do women’s health publications talk about ‘cervix havers’ and ‘menstruators’ yet when the subject is e.g. prostate cancer it’s just ‘men’?
Do you see it yet…?
So, I am definitely not a libfem (it is, in my opinion, a younger women’s movement, and I suspect many will grow out of it as their life experiences increase). One common fallacy about radfems is that they hate men. While it’s maybe true that there is a higher proportion of lesbians in the radfem movement, including some ‘political’ lesbians, many radical, or at least firm, feminists are happily married with children. I certainly have zero interest in women sexually and have loved or been friends with many men. That doesn’t stop me recognising, or even experiencing, issues like the sex pay gap.
I’m thus maybe 75% GC, 25% radfem. The obvious source of disagreement with the latter for me is sex work. I believe it’s incredibly naïve to think prostitution will ever be abolished. That said, I also appreciate that I’m in the very lucky 5–10% of women globally who are in the trade 100% voluntarily and with the ability to choose exactly who I see and what services I offer. The vast majority of women in sex work – when you look at it from a worldwide perspective – enter it for one of two reasons: dire poverty, or coercion. Many, many prostitutes are trafficked and face violence or even slavery, and this includes some sex workers in the UK.
While I love the internet and think it’s generally a force for good, one of the downsides of social media particularly is the loss of the ability to have discussions and disagreements – now, everyone who disagrees with you even slightly is a Nazi bigot. It’s tiresome and juvenile. One of the plus points of feminism is that while there are many arguments, they rarely devolve to this level. And that’s why, while I disagree with radfems about sex work, I am sympathetic to their views because I know their hearts are in the right place. I think we need to tackle the trafficking aspect separately, and ditto the poverty, and that if these two issues were successfully dealt with, a much higher proportion of escorts would be fully independent and in control of their lives and work, including being able to exit sex work whenever they wanted.
So, yes, you can be both a sex worker and a feminist, if you believe women and girls’ lives are just as precious as those of men. We only need to look to Afghanistan and Iran to see what happens when they are viewed as lesser, not to mention the dozens of other countries where they face FGM, child marriage, female infanticide, menstrual huts and the myriad of other indignities and injustices.