In defence of the Open Letter to Gail Kelly

On 2 August feminaust posted Emily Walker’s open letter to Gail Kelly, CEO of Westpac, in response to:

“Kingpin of Australia’s adult toy industry Malcolm Day has begun raising money for the listing of what he claims will be the world’s biggest brothel, a three-storey 42-room mega-sex-plex opposite Sydney University on the city’s Parramatta Road.

“The new complex will create the largest short-stay bordello globally. On completion, earnings are projected to double to $40 million of revenue and $12 million of EBITDA,” according to a stockbroker presentation obtained by BusinessDay.

Westpac is the senior financier on the deal, chipping in $12.1 million to redevelop 84 and 86 Parramatta Road, and slap it together with the existing brothel at number 82 – replete with a large underground car park.”

This letter has sparked quite the debate at feminaust, with some inappropriate comments slung at Emily but also a number of more thoughtful comments, and a post from one of the feminaust editors, which I refer to below. I’m writing to defend Emily’s letter as an important opportunity to talk about the sex work industry.

One third of the feminaust team has chosen to respond to Emily’s use of language. It’s a tricky aspect to write about, especially as one side of the argument sees the term ‘prostituted women’ as being paternalistic, whereas the other side sees it as important language that reflects attention back to the people seeking prostitution services. What I take from this is that each genre of feminism thinks deeply about the language they use and to assume they don’t and not even attempt to understand where they come from lets us all down.

The former argument went on to speak about women’s agency being compromised by the aforementioned language, whereas I’m knowledgeable enough to know that the radical feminist response to that would be to question how easily women can exercise “agency” when there are so many coercive forces being brought to bear upon them. And, statistics taken of sex workers show that they do overwhelmingly represent (but are not always) marginalised groups (regardless of their profession). For more information visit http://projectrespect.org.au/, they have primary data from their outreach program which they publish in their annual report.

My point is, this is a website for debate and discussion. If you refer to our guidelines here, it states that we will not “try to please all of the feminists all of the time!” So be prepared to read about a feminist viewpoint you don’t agree with. And most importantly, we are not here to define feminism and so personally attacking each other if you don’t agree is unacceptable. Rant of an editor over.  In this post, I’m going to avoid the politics of language altogether.

What I felt was important about Emily’s letter is that it highlighted for me the fact that sex work is a profitable, global industry and therefore needs to be questioned on an ethical, social and industrial level. For example, we happily scrutinise the workplace conditions of office jobs (ie. OH&S), we question the ethics of how cows are killed in Indonesia and we speak out about our views on the mining industry and how it links with the redistribution of wealth. We can talk about the language surrounding prostitution/prostituted women/sex work till we’re blue in the face but what I want to talk about is the women working in a stigmatised but highly profitable industry.

My questions are:

How do we support women who are working in an industry that requires panic buttons?

How do we support women who are working in an industry that places them at a high health risk?

How do we support women who are working in an industry that also works with trafficked and imprisoned women?

How do we support women who don’t want to be prostituted women any more?

How do we support women who take pride in sex work and have the right to?

For me, it comes back to choice. How do we as a society make sure these women have the choices to protect their health, protect their co-workers, change professions  as they see fit (as most people do), enjoy the same workplace rights and protections as anyone else, but also have access to support which is sensitive to their line of work. Sure, exercising agency in a patriarchal society is bloody difficult for any woman and man, but to argue that women completely lack any agency at all is to do them a disservice.

Coming back to Emily’s letter, as a bank providing funding to “the largest short-stay bordello globally”, Westpac has an obligation to think seriously about how they support women’s human rights in this industry – as they should about any other industry. And it is absolutely Emily’s right to voice that as a feminist she believes that prostitution is a violation of women’s human rights and she will rethink her association with Westpac.

I believe supporting women in prostitution means being vigilant against sex trafficking, providing exit programs, ensuring that sex workers have an OH&S approved workplace (as dorky as that sounds) and that any instances of violence are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The list could surely go on. How a bank or any other corporation achieves all this, I don’t know, but some one has to make sure its happening. I also don’t pretend to have the answers but if we work together then we could get there as a movement.

I would love to hear from sex workers as to how they view their industry, what they need to be safe in their workplaces and their view of sex work more generally.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by IsBambi. Bookmark the permalink.

About IsBambi

IsBambi is an administrator for feminaust. She is also a young woman excited about all things to do with feminism, skiing, British TV, dogs called Trevor and cycling. In addition to trying to do too much at once, she enjoys empowering young people and dragging men into the feminist debate.

10 thoughts on “In defence of the Open Letter to Gail Kelly

  1. Well with posts like this you’re not going to hear from sex workers in a very constructive way.. You want to know why? Because I read this and it sounds like you dont actually care about what current sex workers think about our work and what we need to be safe. Otherwise you would be referencing our own blogs and websites and not the work of people who are clearly opposed to us.

    You reference a blog that references anti sex work crusaders who’s “research” is thoroughly and continually debunked.

    And where is the reference regarding this statement?
    “How do we support women who are working in an industry that places them at a high health risk?”

    And what does this mean:
    “question how easily women can exercise “agency” when there are so many coercive forces being brought to bear upon them. And, statistics taken of sex workers show that they do overwhelmingly represent (but are not always) marginalised groups “So only white rich women are allowed to consent? We all live in the same world! I don’t say your choices are less valid because you’re nothing but a marginalised woman!!

    Sure question big bucks and business. Be my guest, but don’t pretend you’re not adding to the discrimination and stigma we face when you do it with the offensive language and misinformation and using every stereotype against us!

    We want to know what sex workers need to keep us safe at work. You’re absolutely right, we need good OH&S (no not at all dorky I promise, though way less interesting than sweeping in like saviours to rescue us i know).

    We need choice in workplaces, we need big brothels, we need private workspaces, we need medium collectives, we need safe streets. We need to be safe wherever we work, and some of choose to work for big business and the anonyminity and convenience that that offers us.

    Question big business, question banks, question laws that make it hard for those of us without big banks behind us to get the right council approvals and ridiculous unnecessary regulatitive requirements to work for ourselves (or migrate for work purposes). Question the laws that mean we have less choices about what we do and how we do it and who profits from it. Don’t take away the very few choices we have!!!

    And also, this comment:
    “How a bank or any other corporation achieves all this, I don’t know, but some one has to make sure its happening.”

    Someone has to, yes, and do you know who that someone is? SEX WORKERS ARE!! Every single right that sex workers have won, have been won and fought for by sex workers ourselves!!! I currently show up to every rally in South Australia where we protest for sex workers to stop being arrested. To stop having condoms used against us as evidense, to give us rights in the workplace. Where are the “feminists”? Where is Emily? Where are you? WE ARE FIGHTING FOR OH&S AND YOU LOT ARE NOT HELPING!!

    And in closing, do you want to know what sex workers thought when they read about westpack funding this brothel? Well I will tell you. Many sex workers i spoke to were thrilled there was a bank that did not discriminate against sex workers and the sex industry, and many sex workers i know have now oppened an account with westpack. I think I might too.

    • I am right here, reading what you and many of your sisters have to say and taking it on board.

      Of course, while the prostitution industry exists, we as a society should do everything possible to improve OH&S, reduce stigma and make the place of prostitution (whether that be a mega-sex-plex, the woman’s home or the street) as safe as it can possibly be. Nobody deserves to be exposed to the violence that many prostituted women face on a day-to-day basis.
      However, I believe that in a world where men and women are truly equal, no person (whether male or female) would be available (whether forced or by choice) to be purchased by men (and it is predominantly men) for sexual use.
      I would like to believe that one day we as a society could move past the ‘harm minimisation’ model of prostitution to a model where this industry would no longer be ‘necessary’ because nobody would believe that it is acceptable to buy another human being for sexual use.

      If my fellow posters above and below can honestly say that in their experience of the prostitution industry they have never suffered violence while earning their living, that they have never felt pressured by a customer or an employer to do something that they didn’t really want to do, and that they would honestly choose prostitution over any other job, then I am really and truly glad. Because that doesn’t match what I have read and heard from the experiences of so many prostituted women in this world.

      • *deep sigh*

        yes emily i can honestly tell you i have never experienced violence in the workplace.
        yes i have been pressured by clients to do something i didnt want to, once or twice, and i said no and they listened. the one – yes one – client that didnt listen properly was asked to leave, and he did.
        yes i have had bosses pressure me to work longer hours than i wanted, but never to do a service i didnt want. yes i have had shit bosses. but thats not because i was doing sex work, thats cos bosses will try push their workers. full stop. no matter what industry. iand us workers also know how to band togther and support each other. i think they call it ‘organising’, you know.. for workers rights. not to be put out of a job.
        i dont know why i bother, you will just find a way to dicount my story and that of every other worker who has responded here and choose to believe the victim porn you dreg up from some poor womans life, and then hold it against us all.

        forgive me if i sound bitter, im just sick of not being believed.

      • Also, really, my post above doesnt matter one bit. It’s irrelavent. What is relavnt is that you agree that while sex work should be ade safer. So please tell me, have you ever written an open letter to any of the state governments asking them to
        1) stop arresting sex workers and using condoms as evidense against sex workers in South Australia
        2) Allow sex workers to work together for safety in qld
        3) Allow private workers to work or themselves without impossible council restrictions and blackbans
        4) Stop the WA government from FINGERPRINTING ALL SEX WORKERS, REVERSE THE ONUS OF PROOF AND FORCE THEM TO DISPLAY THEIR REAL NAMES AT THEIR WORKPLACES
        5) Allow legal and safe brothels in Tas and NT
        6) Allow private workers to work from their own premises in Melbourne without restritive license costs and conditions meaning only big business can operate
        And the rest….
        happy to supply details and links etc, Infact perhaps i will pen an open letter to australian feminists concerned about the safety of sex workers in australia.

  2. How is having an ‘OHS approved workplace’, ‘dorky’? All Australian workers have the right to a safe workplace: under OHS laws in each state, managers and busines operators are required to provide a safe workplace, doesn’t matter what type of workplace it is. OHS is not about ‘approval’ at a fixed point in time, in fact, its about having systems in place to identify and minimise risks.

    The problem is that where sex work is illegal, the safe work authorities don’t inspect premises to make sure they are OHS compliant, leaving workers vulnerable. The industry should be decriminalised so that sex workers can access basic labour rights protections like all other workers instead of being treated as criminals.

    Criminalsing the industry in any form – whether you criminalise clients, workers or both, only pushes it underground, making it superficially less visible. It’s not going to get rid of it, as Sweden demonstrates.

    Arguments about the moral validity of sex work (is it work, is it explotation, is it trafficking?) detract from discussons of improving conditions for workers in the sex industry. As a feminist with an interest in gendered labour, this is untenable. You don’t need to agree with or support sex work to care about basic workplace rights for people in the industry.

  3. First of all, you say you don’t want to debate language but using terms like ‘stigmatised and profitable’ in the one sentence is already a value laden statement. These statements and the types of views postulated in the popular press and in the open letter portray us as human beings incapable of making informed decisions and at best,in need of ‘rescuing’ and ‘reforming’. You say we are marginalised. Yes we are but the marginalisation is not due to any failings on our part. Our entrenched marginalisation, which I fight against every day, is attributed to misinformation and lies often presented in the guise of research by those who have a position that sex work is intrinsically harmful and degrading and why would anyone not want to give it up in exchange for some form of menial labour with long hours and little return. Back to the Westpac letter, how do we know Gail Kelly is not a fierce fighter for the rights of sex workers and has not queried the ability of the borrowers to provide a best practice workplace for sex workers. I happen to know from first hand experience that Westpac have a respectful position on sex work being work, lending to us as any other citizen if we meet the financial criteria. Furthermore, they see the industry as a legitimate and legal entity with the same rights and responsibilities as any other industry, – as it is under the law and as it should be everywhere. The views put forward in the open letter continues to harm and silence us which reinforces the marginalisation of the majority of sex workers worldwide.

    The world is a dangerous place today and many services and professionals have a range of strategies in place to protect them and their interests in the case of unwelcome intruders and those generally bent on committing a crime. Even bank tellers have panic buttons under their workstations along with counsellors, massage therapists and others working one on one with clients and with the public..

    The question you should ask yourself is does this portrayal of us as voiceless victims of our own downfall exacerbate our marginalisation and what you, as an individual, could do to remedy that.
    Julie Bates
    NSW sex worker

  4. You question ethics in terms of other industry, as you should – however the standards you place are absurd.
    Using your phraseology – the query of cows in Indonesia? My family are farmers in outer NSW and far Northern Queensland. The land as far as you see when I go home at Christmas is our. Our family’s, our business. We treat our cattle well; we’ve been doing it for over a hundred years. Our ethics (your words, not mine) are good. When our cattle leave our land in most circumstance we know what happens next. Sadly we are unable to control every next step and there are unethical and inhumane operators’ – it is sad.
    Oh did I mention I am a whore, that’s right lilt’ole country girl putting herself through a master’s degree, as those darn ole cows weren’t bringing home the bacon!
    And have I mentioned that just the other night I received money from an adult to spend two hours with him. We had sex, nice sex, kind sex, and non-judgmental sex. And afterward I went home and watched lateline and wondered what was wrong in the world.
    I don’t know what he did, I didn’t ask? Should have I? Maybe he robbed a bank the next day or took literal meaning in “100 points for someone elderly” – I don’t know. And nor the fuck should I (yes I know I swore – I am an adult who makes the choice to swear).
    It is very simply – my ethics are my own and at no time is it acceptable to make assumptions or worse judgments, on what I do or who I am. Nor do you need to examine my ethics.
    Oh and as far as Westpac I have banked with them for 14 years, bought and sold four investment properties, have a mortgage and two credit cards with them and guess what every cent I have paid them is because someone one else paid me to fuck them.

  5. Whore stigma wins again.

    Westpac pulls out of brothel project

    http://www.smh.com.au/business/westpac-pulls-out-of-brothel-project-20110815-1iu75.html

    Thanks everyone, hope you sleep better tonight now that you have made completely sure we all know where we stand. I dont want to ever hear another “rad fem” tell me that feminists have less power than sex workers again, you have MORE POWER THAN US, SO STOP TALKING FOR US AND LET US TALK FOR OURSELVES!!!

  6. I can’t believe this blog firstly published the letter against the westpak loan, and now I can’t believe you have CONTINUED to publish this hurtful, immature, whorephobic and inaccurate drivel. What was the plan with that? Get your site clicks up by publishing stuff that makes people upset?

    Oh and quoting project respect? Please, gimme a break. They’re so full of made up figures they don’t even know what their real address is.

    Basically if you can be bothered writing an article for free for FEMINAUST they’ll publish it, even if your a anti-sex work vigilante who knows nothing about the industry. No editing, no discerning, no respect for sex workers.

    You are exploiting sex workers marginality for the sake of your websites popularity. Thanks for nothing.

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