The sexist campaign over a new law on prostitution… or, when 343 “bastards” claim their right to their “whore”

In 1971 conservative France, 343 famous French women stood up for the rights of all of France’s women. Their bold gesture was to come out about having had an illegal abortion, thereby exposing themselves to criminal prosecution[1]. This declaration written by Simone de Beauvoir soon came to be known as the Whores’ Manifesto. In France, this challenge to law and morals remains to this day one of the milestones in the feminist struggle for women’s right to control their own bodies.

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The Whores’ Manifesto (1971), reading: the list of the 343 French who have the courage to sign the manifesto “I had an abortion”

A few days ago, 343 “scumbags” stained the legacy I was so proud of. I have not been taught to say swear words: these self-confessed “scumbags” signed their own Bastards’ Manifesto, subtitled “Hands off my whore” and meant to echo the Whores’ Manifesto.  But while the latter demanded to have the right to decide what to do with their own bodies, the former demands to dispose of the bodies of others [2]. Indeed, these men voice their opposition towards France’s crackdown on prostitution[3].

This contempt for the feminists of the 70s is revolting, especially coming from men who have nothing of the courage of these women (whom, if we need reminding, risked their lives by undergoing unsafe abortions[4]).  To make an analogy, it is almost as if we used the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King to defend the right to import slaves from a third world country in order to offer them “a better life”. The feminists wanted to end women’s oppression, while these men seek to renew it. But even more disturbing is these men’s taking advantage of their fame to promote inhibited sexism and an idealised perception of prostitution. The irresponsible use of freedom of speech is a matter of grave concern, because it reflects a great problem of our times: a misplaced taste for provocation which, despite considerable progress in society towards gender equality, tells us a lot about the misunderstood perception of women that some men really have.

Within our increasingly transparent society, that one discloses personal deeds and opinions is more common than ever[5]. The 343 Bastards have shown us how wrong going public about one’s activities and beliefs can be. By shouting from the rooftops that they visit prostitutes, they trivialise prostitution – an inherently clandestine, hidden activity. This manifesto normalises something which should never have ceased to be a transgression.

There are limits to indecency and dishonourable remarks. The use of the possessive is particularly striking: “Hands off MY whore”. Gathering between men in order to speak about alleged rights over women is something nauseating. Just like holding an anti-feminist discourse which would have us believe that they are the unfortunate victims of feminist progress. Isn’t this a reversal of roles? The possibility they have to be customers is only proof of their economic and symbolic power in a market and patriarchal society. Their freedom is that of the fox in the chicken coop.

It is somehow absurd that clients claim their “right” to buy sexual services from another human being. Their excuse can be reduced to a defense of “property rights” passed off as human rights, in the most vulgar and cynical negation of women’s rights.

Such a sinister attempt to defend prostitution shows that they got it all wrong: when prostitutes fight for their rights, it is precisely to gain more power against “johns”[6]. And indeed, clients have been targeted in a recent report on the social and sanitary situation of prostitutes in France, where 90% of prostitutes are victims of mafia and criminal networks[7].

One cannot ignore the obvious connection between sexual abuse, pornography and prostitution. They are the wells from which is drawn the universal discrimination against women, throughout the workplace, politics, human relationships and culture. Isn’t the most common insult against a woman to call her a “whore”?


[1] Hannam, J. (2007). Feminism: A short history of a big idea. UK: Pearson Educated Limited, p. 140

[2] Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Women’s Rights and Government spokesperson, during the French government press conference of October 30th 2013.

[4] Singh, K., & Ratnam, S. S. (1998). The influence of abortion legislation on maternal mortality. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 63, S123-S129: Death from unsafe abortions are almost unknown in countries where abortion is available on request.

[5] Jourard, S. M., & Lasakow, P. (1958). Some factors in self-disclosure. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 56(1), 91.

[6] Morgane Merteuil, general secretary of Strass (Syndicat du Travail Sexuel), which campaigns for decriminalisation, told the men claiming to defend them: “We are nobody’s whores, especially not yours … If we fight for our rights it is largely to have more power against you, so we can dictate our terms … ” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/01/sex-workers-hands-off-my-whore-france-prostitutes

[7]Mission sur la situation sociale des personnes prostituées, http://www.senat.fr/commission/soc/mission_sur_la_situation_sociale_des_personnes_prostituees.html (in French)

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About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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