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Prostitution - How to show solidarity without denying oneself

10 novembre 2006

par Micheline Carrier

Can one show solidarity to a cause without simultaneously endorsing other people’s values and positions on all matters ? I think that yes, one can. Just as nearly everything else on this wonderful planet of ours, the notion of solidarity is a relative one. In the light of divergent values and positions, we may have to make a stand. Solidarity for women does not mean fighting for every one of their claims, nor to support them only because they are women.

When she presented her candidacy at the head of Parti Québécois, I supported Pauline Marois because I felt that she had both the necessary experience and capacity to lead her party. But, if it had meant endorsing the program of Parti Québécois, I would have refused. In my views, the Parti Québécois and the Liberal Party are the same, one party being simply older than the other.

I can support lesbian women, aboriginal women, muslim women for specific reasons and so on, but this does not mean that I am committed to endorse all the positions taken by those groups. In fact, these women are no more motivated to act on many subjects, than women are, in general, on the subject of prostitution.

I feel solidarity with all prostituted persons whose total decriminalisation and right to both social and appropriate health services I demand, in the same way as all other citizens benefit. Yet, the fact of feeling solidarity with them does not force me to endorse what only a small number amongst them fight for, in other words, the official recognition of prostitution as a job and the decriminalization of pimps and johns (and I don’t care about the johns’ views on which status they would prefer prostituted women to have).

If, by being supportive, I had to support this stand, I would have to deny my own values. I would also have to give up my solidarity with the majority of prostituted women who, for their part, do not demand better conditions for being prostituted ; these women want to leave prostitution which they consider as being a provisional means for surviving and in which many of them are trapped. Can these prostituted women assert that their sisters, whose views are that prostitution is a job and who deny the alienation which most of them claim to suffer, are not in solidarity with them ? In fact, who has the authority to pin point solidarity in this or that group of women ?


Am I slandering when I say that the Stella Group promotes prostitution ? I do not think that I am. The Stella Group publicly gets up in arms for the recognition of prostitution as a job and for granting it a legitimacy which I do not acknowledge and, in my views, this activism does promote prostitution. Yes, I do believe that a group promotes prostitution when, as in the case of the Stella Group, the core of a speech made in public on its behalf consists in trying to convince a majority of people that all the prostituted persons (and the community) would be better off if, without fighting the prostitution system itself, which is supported by pimps and johns, prostitution was totally decriminalized and laws were made to improve "working conditions" as well as the services they should be entitled to. There is nothing defamatory in saying this.

The argumentation of slandering arises as other arguments, which were not daunting to all, diminish in the public eye : For instance, to not support the claim of prostitution as a job would be to encourage violence towards prostituted women ; to consider prostitution as a form of violence would be an insult and contempt towards prostituted persons ; to view prostitution as a form of oppression would be to aggress, humiliate or hurt prostituted persons (even if we know that the majority of them consider themselves as being oppressed). We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated or feel guilty by such remarks. Those women who speak out in support of prostitution and justify the support that UQAM - and other groups - give to a propaganda campaign which, disguised as a training course, makes prostitution ordinary, are free to express what they wish on feminist websites or anywhere else. Therefore, others have as much right to express opinions that differ from theirs, or that are even opposed to theirs, without being suspected of slandering or of being unable to show their solidarity.

If we make no difference between Fathers for Justice (which denounces the financial aids granted to groups that do government’s work by helping women who are victims of marital violence or other forms of violence) and the criticism about a teaching institution (which supports a so-called "tuition" activity on "Sex Work"), or again the criticism about a substantial sum of money provided from funds raised for the fight against HIV in a pro-prostitution forum (which was supposed to be discussing strategies, notably, to introduce prostitution as a job), I do not think that adding a comment to it will change anything ("270 000$ for Forum XXX").

Like Ana Popovic who has published a moderate, balanced and fair article on this website, I ask myself what the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) is aiming at by supporting activities for a propaganda campaign that is falsely called "tuition course". The university’s banner will not alter the fact that the prostitution system is one of the oldest systems of women alienation and that it is not enough to "improve the working conditions for the exercise of prostitution" for this system to stop being alienating. In a social context where prostitution is surrounded with a prestigious halo, one has to have some courage in order to assert one’s dissidence. Still, the public consensus represents the only way to demonstrate that there is no consensus in favour of the decriminalization of pimps and johns (prostituers), although there is one in favour of the decriminalization of prostituted persons (see references below).

If groups for the promotion of prostitution as a job have now such an audience with the authorities and the people, it is because they have long been the only ones to speak out on the subject and try to make people believe that they had acquired a consensus for their cause.

But silence is a heavy weight on the shoulders of those women who have neither institutional help nor the direct support of activist groups, yet want to extract themselves from prostitution. I feel primarily associated to these women and, at the same time, I have respect for all the other women whose values or aims I do not share.

 This article answers to some message commenting Ana Popovic’s article Is UQAM accomplice to the sex industry ?

Here are some stands on prostitution which you rarely hear of in the medias :

 Regroupement québécois des CALACS
 Association canadienne des CALACS
 CALACS Entre Elles
 La CLES-Abitibi/Témiscaminque
 Le Centre des femmes de Laval
 La Fédération des femmes du Québec

Translated for Sisyphe by Sylvie Miller.

On Sisyphe, November 21, 2006.

Micheline Carrier

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