In late October last year, a group of burka-dressed women who called themselves Big Sister, announced that they had “gone underground” to collect a list of 56 names and 117 numbers of alleged prostitution purchasers, which they then handed to the police. Under a clear but self-denied Orwellian slogan―“Big Sister is watching you!”―they called for legal action to be taken against these prostitution buyers.
Little to nothing has been heard or seen of Big Sister since then, but their one and only act did certainly have a stirring effect as it snowballed into a discourse, from which two female voices have particularly stood out due to their critique of the mainstream feminist agenda projected by Big Sister.
Not professing to predominant feminist attitudes on issues like prostitution, porn, gender quotas, stereotypes, rhetoric and men, to name a few, these two women, author Eva Hauksdóttir and anonymous blogger Móðursýkin (“The Hysteria”) have deepened the discourse with an often thankless layer of challenging ideas. To better understand their stance, I met up with them and began by simply asking why they take part in this discourse.
“I shudder at the mere thought of the woman’s general victimisation,” says Móðursýkin, a self-described anarcha-feminist. “I see it as a big error within feminist theory, which has to undergo a debate inside the feminist milieu.” Eva, who doesn’t like to label herself, but says she relates most to the existential-feminism of French feminist Simone de Beauvoir, agrees with Móðursýkin. “A woman should be allowed to exist on her own terms―she should be allowed what is good for her as long as it doesn’t violate others.”
But isn’t the woman subordinated in the society we live in? I ask. “Some claim so but I really disagree,” Móðursýkin says. “And why should she always be a victim? I started to feel like my ex-boyfriend was violent towards me in our sex life, after spending too much time on victim-feminist ideas like penetration being violent in itself. Then I was shocked, realising how sick these thoughts were and how important it is to break away from them.”
Eva and Móðursýkin see this general victimisation working against women’s ability to see and feel themselves as strong beings, eventually creating a vicious circle. “Feminism is all about empowering women, but how can a woman be empowered when constantly undermined as a victim?” Móðursýkin asks. Eva continues, bringing up the lack of women in the media and political discourse. “Of course we should ask ourselves how women’s position in those fields can be strengthened, but we don’t do that with a comfortable settlement in the never-ending victim role.”
SEX, COFFEE AND COALMINES
Back to the original discussion on Big Sister and their campaign against prostitution, I ask them about the link between prostitution on one hand and violence and human trafficking on the other. It seems widely recognised that those phenomena go hand in hand, for instance in one of the openly stated aims of Femínistafélag Íslands (Iceland’s Feminist Association), which is “to fight against any manifestation of gender inequality,” including “the pornification, aggressive, derogatory advertisements, violence, human trafficking and prostitution.”
“It is true that human trafficking and other forms of violence can thrive well where prostitution occurs, especially in poor areas,” Eva says. “But the same applies to coffee and cocoa production and so many other industries. Defining prostitution as human trafficking is thus as wrong as defining chocolate production and consumption as slavery. The two might cross, but it doesn’t make them one and the same. Absolutely not. We hear it all the time that we shouldn’t accept the fact that there is a need for prostitution in society. This argument implies that prostitutes are all women in distress. Some of them surely are, but not all. So shouldn’t we first try to create a society where women worldwide can make a living without being forced to use such a method, before we take it away from them? It isn’t possible to forbid poverty.”
Móðursýkin goes on about jobs that could be considered slave labour, such as coal mining, and says that if she had to choose between those two fields, prostitution would be her choice. “What mostly shocks me, Eva says, “is how women who work in this field are not listened to, but instead defined as victims, even if they stand up against such a definition themselves.”
WHERE ARE ALL THE HAPPY PARLIAMENTARIANS?
But are there any substantial examples of women rising up in order to protect their honour as prostitutes? Isn’t the happy whore just a mere myth as repeatedly stated, for instance by Big Sister? “I have never understood this demand for the prostitute to be happy. Why isn’t she just allowed to do her job as most other people?” Móðursýkin says. I admit that a demand for the happy doctor, the happy bank employee―“or the happy parliamentarian,” Móðursýkin adds―isn’t very commonly heard, but at the same time I I’m not aware of prostitutes rising up to defend their reputation.
Eva blames the stigmatisation of prostitution and particularly the small size of Iceland’s society. “But I like to refer to Susanne Møller, a spokesperson for the Danish Sex Workers Interest Group, who in 2008 squeezed into a conference on prostitution and human trafficking, which she had not been invited to take part in,” Eva says. After finally being allowed to join, Susanne was not introduced as a spokesperson for this association but as a representative of the happy prostitute. “She started her speech,” explains Eva, “by criticising the use of this concept as it doesn’t come from prostitutes themselves but from their opponents, seemingly in order to humiliate them. Susanne pointed out how prostitutes simply experience good days and bad days, just as any other employees.”
The two believe that the concept creates a marginalising polarisation―of the vulnerable victim and the happy whore.―However, Eva is sure that most prostitutes are located somewhere on the large spectrum in between these two margins. She says that in most Nordic countries, members of sex-workers’ associations find the shame and stigma surrounding prostitution being the worst elements of the discourse.
A NECESSARY POISON
“The stigma is strong and dangerous,” Móðursýkin says, “especially in light of the victimisation. I have witnessed discussions where people seriously question prostitutes’ ability to judge their own happiness.” Eva continues: “In discussions on the web I have seen people state that prostitutes in defence of their jobs are too brainwashed to even know and understand what they themselves are saying.”
Recently, in a widely circulated article, Eva was accused of adding weight to anti-feminist attitudes. Eva says the author asked her “not to poison the discourse.” So I ask them if they aren’t afraid of actually entering an anti-feminist rhetoric, satisfying misogynist men and thereby destroying the work of those fighting for gender equality. “No doubt, some idiotic men can interpret my writings as such,”Móðursýkin says. “But as I find today’s mainstream feminist discourse very unwelcoming―especially for men, who of course have to be included in that discourse―I am trying to open up a conversation about feminism and its discourse.”
Eva adds: “It will always be possible to find something against feminism, and everything coming from feminists can be abused in a dishonest purpose. The only thing I ask is for people to back up what they say with arguments and be willing to look at things from more than one perspective. If that demand means “to poison the discourse,” then I would feel ashamed of myself for not poisoning it.”