Welcome to our two-part series on SWERF culture and anti-sex work! We usually try to keep things positive and lively at YNOT Cam, but sometimes, sharing information — no matter how unseemly — is necessary for keeping everyone safe, happy and working hard.
What even is a SWERF?
Let’s start with the basics. What does the term SWERF mean in a nutshell?
Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists (SWERFs) are activists that hold a relatively conservative view of sex work and sexuality. The term is similar to TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist), but they are not necessarily related — though many radical feminists are no strangers to both transphobia and whorephobia.
The ideology of many SWERFs is that sex work, including camming, is not a form of sexual liberation under the weight of a patriarchal society and capitalism. Rather, sex work is a symptom of the patriarchy wherein sex workers are just reduced to their genitals by their trade and do nothing to further a feminist agenda.
This is a very reactionary view of sex work. In a nutshell, the SWERF attitude is that sex workers shouldn’t engage in the adult industry and that, despite making a clear consenting choice to be in said industry, they are inherently harming themselves and/or allowing themselves to be harmed… which sounds a bit like rape culture, when you think about it.
Whether or not you believe that engaging in sex work is inherently feminist, we can all agree that sex workers deserve to be protected and do the job that they have consented to do without verbal or physical abuse or shaming. Many sex workers love their job and enjoy the financial security it provides, and when a consenting adult makes the choice to become a part of the sex industry — which includes webcam — they should be able to do so safely and without fear of backlash.
Few SWERFs have interest in protecting the livelihoods and bodies of sex workers or improving safety and fair pay in the industry. Rather, they prefer to dictate what is and isn’t an acceptable sex act and circumstances for a person to engage in and seek to abolish sex work altogether.
Rigid control of acceptable and unacceptable ideas — This seems far from radical, doesn’t it?
But aren’t there aspects of the SWERF platform that are… on point?
We can’t pretend that objectification of women isn’t a real thing. It’s a substantially real and horrible thing. And while SWERFs are anti-sex work, many seem to genuinely wish to end violence against women and sex trafficking that occurs all over the world.
Taking steps (even via wishing) to end violence against women and sex trafficking that occurs all over the world is a good thing, however, the attitudes and approach of SWERFs are often abusive towards consenting sex workers. This is, at the end of the day, radical feminists abusing sex workers in the name of radical feminism.
So what harm could SWERF culture actually do to the modern sex industry, other than make it acceptable and progressive to shame sex workers on the internet? We’ve already seen what anti-sex worker attitudes on a widespread level can do with the Nordic Model.
The Nordic Model is a law that has been put to work in several countries, namely in Europe, that decriminalizes sex workers and criminalizes those who are purchasing sexual favors. This was implemented in order to reduce sex trafficking. This may sound good on paper and several countries that the Nordic Model is active in sing its praises, but the law is actually hurting sex workers. On top of that, it isn’t really working to reduce sex trafficking and may in fact be increasing it by forcing the sex work industry further into the shadows.
So what can you do, as a sex worker, to fight against SWERF ideals and keep yourself and other sex workers safe and unbothered? We’ll cover what actions we can all take — sex workers and allies alike — to improve the quality of life of sex workers in Part Two tomorrow.
Em Casalena is a queer sex positive writer and professional protective mom friend. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via carl dwyer.