Sex workers push back against panel on pornography

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Sex workers push back against panel on pornography

Current and former sex workers and supporters of the profession stand outside the Lincoln Park Student Center in protest on Wednesday of XXX: Love and Life in a Post-Porn World.

Current and former sex workers and supporters of the profession stand outside the Lincoln Park Student Center in protest on Wednesday of XXX: Love and Life in a Post-Porn World.

Laycie Dressler | The DePaulia

Current and former sex workers and supporters of the profession stand outside the Lincoln Park Student Center in protest on Wednesday of XXX: Love and Life in a Post-Porn World.

Laycie Dressler | The DePaulia

Laycie Dressler | The DePaulia

Current and former sex workers and supporters of the profession stand outside the Lincoln Park Student Center in protest on Wednesday of XXX: Love and Life in a Post-Porn World.

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Tensions erupted during a panel on the ethics of pornography on Wednesday.

As part of their year-long series entitled, “The Year of Filth,” the DePaul Humanities Center hosted “XXX: Love and Life in a Post-Porn World.” The purpose of the panel was to discuss the sexist and racist ideolgies of the pornograhy industry in the United States, according to the event’s official page.

The panel featured three guest speakers, professor Rebecca Whisnant of the University of Dayton and co-editor of Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, Meghan Murphy, the founder and editor of Feminist Current and professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas at Austin and author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity.

The event was protested by a number of sex workers and supporters of the profession, who felt that the event was crafted to shame those who partake in sex work. Sex work is defined as the provision of sexual services for money or goods, according to the World Health Association.

“It’s anything that is selling a sexual fantasy,” said a protester and former sex worker who requested to remain anonymous. “While there are legal definitions, really what it comes down to is between the client and the worker, and what experience they’re wanting.”

Protesters stood outside of the Lincoln Park Student Center prior to the event, holding signs and red umbrellas, the international symbol of sex workers.

“I think any industry is going to reflect the culture that it’s within, and capitalism exploits all people and labor,” said Codi Schei, a co-founder of We Are Dancers America and board member of Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) Chicago.  “So I don’t think sex work is different, other than criminalization, which also increases stigma and violence.”

Protesters highlighted the economic incentive to participate in sex work, emphasizing that underrepresented communities make up a large part of the sex industry.

“The reason why sex work exists in the modern age the way that it does is because of capitalism,” the anonymous protester said.  “A big reason for the stigma is that a lot of people don’t want to admit the way for many marginalized groups, the way for many women, the way for many trans folk, for people of color, to have any economic stability of indepence is through sex work.”

The protesters ultimately viewed the panel, holding signs that read “Listen To Sex Workers” and “Sex Work Is Work,” among other mantras.

The panel was preceded by an address from  H. Peter Steeves, Director of the DePaul Humanities Center. Steeves addressed the controversy surrounding the event, affirming that the panel was not meant to degrade sex workers.

“I want to make it clear that the spirit of this event is not to put down, stigmatize or harm in any way the women who are a part of these various capitalist industries,” Steeves said. “We will not stand for an ethos that either attacks women or condescends them tonight with tropes of rescuing them against their will.”

Following Steeves’ introduction, Whisnant took to the stage to discuss the deeper  reasoning behind feminist critiques of pornography.

“Indeed pornography is offensive. It’s offensive to me, it should be offensive to anyone with a conscience,” Whisnant said. “It’s important to understand that feminists object to pornography not because its offensive, but because it’s harmful.”

Whisnant went on to state that pornography is harmful to both men and women, saying that it creates a culture of subordination of women.

Whisnant’s speech was punctuated with audible comments and laughter from the protesters, causing many audience members to request for them to be quiet.

Murphy expanded on this point during her speech, rejecting the idea that pornography is a harmless tool of fantasy.

“Pornography is far from just words and thoughts in any case,” Murphy said. “It is literal depictions of sexual abuse, of rape, of humiliation, alongside misogynistic and racist words so explicit and so commonly used in porn it’s almost unbelievable.”

Murphy is a controversial figure in feminist circles for her comments on transgender people, likening transgender identity to a “trend”. Murphy was recently banned from Twitter after multiple suspensions for posting incendiary comments against the transgender community, according to Yahoo.

“Steeves knowingly booked someone banned from Twitter for hate speech,” the anonymous protester said following the event. “He is not someone who should be allowed to teach to or about marginalized communities, including women.”

Jensen caused an uproar from protesters after referencing nofap.com, an online forum designed to support men who want to avoid pornography and masturbation.

Protesters accused both the website and Jensen of supporting incels, or involuntary celibates, an online subculture of  men who state they cannot find a romantic or sexual partner, despite their self-perceived attractiveness. Incels are are included in Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.

Jensen was referred to as an incel by several of the protesters throughout the remainder of the evening, much to the anger of audience members in support of the panel.

Following the speakers, the panel opened a Q&A, in which several of the protests criticized both the panel and the speakers.

One audience member in support of the event addressed the protesters, remarking that she has extensively studied sex work. One proteser countered her statement, remarking “I live sex work.”

The continued loud objections from protesters ultimately agitated much of the audience, leading to a chaotic environment of shouting and hostility between the opposing viewpoints.

The anonymous protester later remarked that they would be attempting to file a complaint against the university and the organizers of the event after an audience member repeatedly took pictures of her without her consent.

“I understand that it was a public event but it was on university property  so they could have  actually helped,” they said. “Instead, I now have fear that [the audience member] will post my photo and try to dox me.”

While the panel was more tumultuous than was originally intended, it signifies that discussions surrounding pornogprahy and sexual autonomy will likely not be coming to an end.

“I think there’s a lot of risk and danger and violence and problems within pornography, that are also pervasive in other parts of our society,” Schei said. “Until we learn to support and listen and respect sex workers, that’s not going to be fully addressed.”

Additional reporting by Laycie Dressler.