Activist, writer, sex-positive feminist, single mother, sandgroper, grumpy old woman.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Happy International Whores Day!

The history behind International Whores Day is one of my favourite stories in the whole wide world; demonstrating the determination and resilience of sex workers, the kindness of strangers, and the strength and solidarity of women.

On the 2nd of June in 1975, around 100 street-based sex workers decided they'd had a gutful of police being more interested in harassing and arresting them, than in solving murders and other crimes committed against them. They took over a church and staged a sit-in, in protest.

As the days wore on, the police became more and more impatient. Instead of attempting to negotiate with the sex workers and resolve their issues, the police just threatened them with increasingly harsh penalties. When the protesters still showed no sign of backing down after a full week in the church, the police announced that they were going to have the sex workers' children removed from their homes.

This cruel threat outraged the women of Lyon, who promptly walked into the church and joined the sex workers in solidarity. If you're going to remove the sex workers' children, the women said, then you're going to have to remove ALL our children - because how can you tell the difference between one mother and the next?

The police eventually stormed the church with batons and the protest ended in violence, but the sex workers' stony determination and the awesome display of solidarity from the women of Lyon empowered others to take a stand, sparking similar protests in Marseilles and Paris. In the end, many of Lyon's sex workers had their fines written off and, more importantly, full-scale police investigations into unsolved sex worker homicides were launched.

The protest in Lyon inspired sex workers around the globe to organise and become politically active, and the modern sex worker rights movement was born. In 2010, there are hundreds of sex worker organisations, networks, lobby groups and peer-based outreach services, all around the world. In places where sex work is illegal, sex workers rally for better laws and access to justice - where sex work is lawful, sex workers demand better work conditions and an end to discrimination. And across all sectors and in all nations, sex workers continue to fight for the right to have their murders investigated, to not be harassed by police, to not have their children removed, and to be accepted and supported by their community. The basic right to be treated with dignity and respect.

To sex workers the world over...Happy International Whores Day! May your fight one day be won.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bogan Bashing (Fuck the Poor)

Back in the 80s, bogans were characterised by their black stretch jeans, black DBs, black AC/DC (or Metallica, or Motley Crue, or Gunners) t-shirt, flanno overshirt and mullet. They listened to hard rock, drank copious amounts of beer, drove banged-up utes with big V8s, and...well, that's about it. They were just your average Aussie yobbos. In the area where I grew up, just about everyone could be considered a bogan. The clothes, the utes, the booze, the classic Aussie rock; all standard fare in Western Australian outback towns.

Today, the word 'bogan' has come to mean something else entirely. It's a little bit yobbo (clothes, booze, music), a little bit trailer trash (domestic violence, anti-social behaviour, uneducated, poor), a little bit dole bludger (unemployed, lazy, "having kids for the welfare") and a little bit redneck (politically conservative, white supremacist, xenophobic, sexist). Everything we hate about humanity, all wrapped up in one neat little flanno-clad package. How convenient.

But I wouldn't be so worked up about this if it was just a simple issue of semantics. Take a quick look around at the comments on news sites, blogger opinions, etc and you'll see it's so much more than that. This is real hatred. Take a comment I read today, for example (the catalyst for this angry rant):

"We should sterilise them. Seriously. Generation after generation of bogan filth, milking the welfare system and filling our prisons. It might sound over the top, but if these stupid sluts can't keep their legs closed, it's the only way to end the cycle. We have to stop them breeding".

Someone followed up that post with...

"Sterilisation? If a racehorse gets hurt and can't earn its owner money, they put it down. We're pouring millions into welfare and what do these bogan cunts give us in return? Nothing. Sterilisation's too good for them. We should be putting the bastards out of their misery".

Oh lordy, where do I start? I could remind people that forced sterilisation is a suggestion once made to solve the 'problem' of Aboriginal people and, later, the 'problem' of people with disabilities. I could point out that in these days of political correctness, there are very few minority groups that people would dare talk about in that way. But what I really want to draw your attention to is the central premise of both those These people hate these so-called 'bogans' because they're POOR.

When the hell did we become the sort of society that bashes people for living in poverty?

Australians have always been on the side of the battler. In fact, we're so obsessed with backing the underdog that cutting down Aussies who get too big for their boots is practically a national sport. As a nation, we don't like people who put themselves on a pedestal. We don't allow our politicians, our celebrities, our millionaires, or anyone else to lord it over us. A person may be richer, more powerful, more famous, or more beautiful than you, but they are never 'better' than you.

So, if our Prime Minister doesn't have the right to think he's better than the rest of us, what gives blue collar workers and housewives the right to think they're better than the average 'bogan'? When did it become ok for everyday folks to crap all over our nation's most vulnerable? When did it become ok to hate someone because they're destitute? If there was ever an example of 'un-Australian'...this is it. It goes against everything we've always claimed to believe in.

Interestingly, this hatred doesn't dissipate when the poor, lazy "filth" get off their butts and start earning the big bucks. 'Cashed up bogans', the media dubbed them - unskilled, uneducated, flanno-wearing men (and women) who work on the mines, often clearing over $120,000 a year. We hate them when they're poor, but we hate them just as much when they're rich. This time we apparently hate them because they don't deserve it. But I think it's more than that. I think we hate them because they dared to rise above their station. We don't want them sponging off the taxpayers, but we also don't want them having more money or power than 'respectable' folk. We want them to contribute, but they need to remember their place.

Sadly, due to the aforementioned cultural similarities between 'bogans' and rural West Aussies, country folk are also finding themselves the targets of anti-bogan abuse. A recent news story about the mass closure of Year 11&12 district high school programs across the state (another rant for another time), elicited reader comments that taxpayer funds were "wasted" on educating country people, that they didn't need high school qualifications to get work in the bush, that they might have to reconsider "popping out all those kids", and that they would just have to move to the city "but then they would have to actually get off their arses and get a job". Sound familiar?

I don't know what started this bogan-bashing trend and I really can't make sense of it. All I know is that the stigma and insults are making disadvantaged people's lives even harder than they already are.