I read this amazing blog post in writing by renee called It’s High Time Students  Told Pro-Sex Trade Academics #Timesup and was reminded of my days in the early 2000s as a member of the University of Pittsburgh’s Campus Women’s Organization. There were a lot of positive aspects of the organization, such as Take Back the Night, supporting women’s sports, watching movies focusing on strong women, and marching for reproductive rights.

But that only accounted for about 60% or so of the CWO’s activities. The other 40% was incredibly problematic, especially as I consider the growth of pro-porn and pro-“sex work” liberal feminism.

In retrospect I see just how ominous these acitivites were given how much pro- porn and pro-prostitution “sex positive” feminism has leaked into mainstream feminism. And how much of it started on campus among the students themselves, students who bought into the seemingly empowering idea of “sex positive.” I myself came very close to buying into what is basically a neo-liberal backlash against TRUE sex positive feminism, which includes abolishing porn and prostitution.

The CWO president for the first few years I attended Pitt, Allison (and her administration), was REALLY into sex toy parties. This was viewed by her and her admin – really her friends – as a form of sexual empowerment. We were all encouraged to buy something, including bondage items such as handcuffs, bondage tape, and penis rings. I also remember other meetings in which we played “sex bingo” where we had to act out sex positions – including one in which a guy has sex with a woman on her back.

After Allison graduated, it shouldn’t be any surprise that she decided to work in porn. I remember finding this out when talking to the president of sexual assault services at Pitt. I remember this conversation so well because of the cognitive dissonance involved. In my first two years of college, Allison and her friends ran a campaign against this particular president because she had asked a sexual assault victim if there had been alcohol involved. Thus she was accused of blaming the victim and was attacked by the CWO. Later, after Allison and her friends graduated, the president stated to me how misunderstood she had been. Apparently she asked about alcohol to prepare the assault victim for police questioning and simply to gauge the situation; in no way was she blaming the victim. She then stated, in a puzzled tone, that Allison was now working in a porn shop, saying “talk about something that hurts women….”

She was right, of course, and showing her age – the second-wave feminist baffled as to why a supposed feminist would work in porn, especially one so protective of rape victims. And yet due to the influx of “sex positive” feminism, there was no questioning by members of the CWO that giant, penetrative sex toys and working in porn were not actually empowering. Really, there was a Japanese toy that resembled a vacuum cleaner with a giant didlo!

Reflecting on those years, I believe I was witnessing the transition between a more second-wave feminism to the established mainstreaming of third-wave feminism – i.e. liberal feminism. I eventually moved away from the CWO, mainly because I was part of a still robust women’s studies program – which is now the gender and women’s studies and a complete joke (see my past post). Because of my robust women’s studies education, however, I eventually rejected the “sex positive,” porn obsessed feminism of the CWO.

Unfortunately, feminists who followed in my footsteps did not. We shouldn’t be surprised, given how much queer theory has subsumed women’s studies department, and how focused on identity and self-empowerment feminism thus became. When I was in women’s studies, everything was focused on structural oppression, and trans identities weren’t a thing. When we addressed the sex industry, it was with objective honestly. I recall watching a documentary on these strippers at this one particular strip club who tried to unionize. They were doomed to failure, however, because their customers refused to protest the strip club for them. There was no solidarity between customer and stripper; the men entering the strip clubs looked highly amused at the idea of a stripper union, and showed no guilt in not supporting the women. Why would they? This ending, along with the view of customer towards the stripper, was no lost on anyone.

And yet we all know the present discourse on the sex industry in academia, as renee so eloquently summarized in her article. And it seems to just be getting worse. On one of my “favorite” liberal websites, Guerrilla Feminism – I stalk all those websites to see what is up – a contributor reminded readers to make sure not to forget Cyntoia Brown’s “agency,” even though they recognized she was victimized, and then they objected highly to the claim she was trafficked, as apparently this should only be applied to women and girls kidnapped straight from their homes and kept under lock and key – and implying someone was trafficked was denying her agency – or whatever. You know, if there is one thing that shows you have agency, it is feeling the need to shoot a john in the head because you are so scared of him you felt you had no other resort (roll of eyes). And what is disturbing is that these websites, which word-vomit “sex-positive” academic feminism, may be the only access to feminism for many, many young women. Already, if you read enough online, you will see that Beyonce, who reenacted a strip club in one of her videos, is now considered more of a legitimate source of feminism than bell hooks.

This doesn’t give me much hope for the critical analysis of the sex trade in liberal feminism, i.e. third wave feminism, or in academia. I only hope that more and more young women can begin to think critically and enter the blogosphere of sex industry-critical posts and articles. Because you really can’t overthrow the patriarchy and leave the sex industry – that bastion of male sexual privilege – in place. I look back on my CWO experience and feel guilty as to how I contributed to this disturbing explosion of sex trade-positive feminism, and only hope such damage will soon be mitigated.