No, really. This week, in between typing until my posh pansy fingers bleed for fun and profit, I have been watching in awe as one of the most serious feminist issues of our time has unfolded online. I speak, of course, of the great London Protest Chant Row of 2009.
It's the annual Reclaim The Night march tomorrow, which means that up and down the country, earnest sisters are getting ready to have a massive shout at each other. What'll it be this year, ladies? Trans people insulted in the street? Screaming matches outside Spearmint Rhino? Punches thrown over podium space (no, really) ?
Apparently, this year, it's protest songs. We're not content anymore with trusty old numbers like the women! -united! - will never be defeated! - direct, idiot-proof, and easily slurrable for those discerning gentlewomen who like to take a hipflask or two to such events, naming no names. This year the various feminist factions who've come to (literal) blows in the past over issues like prostitution, lapdancing clubs and transmisogyny are actually literally writing actual protest chants to piss one another off. Bad ones. Here's this, from Object, to the tune, and I'm deadly serious, of John Brown's Body:
The women who’ve been bought and sold
They need to have a voice,
If you’ve been pimped or trafficked
Then you haven’t had a choice.
It’s time to tackle punters,
And to show them what we mean,
Begin with Clause 14!
Women’s bodies not for sale (x 3)
And we won’t be for sale no more!
Look, I'm a fan of Clause 14, and I'm glad it wasn't thrown out when it went through the Lords last week. With proper sanctions it sends the right message - that people who use prostitutes have a responsibility not to fucking rape them. Right. Good. But whatever you think about the scansion of this verse, written after the event, it is no more or less than a massive, throbbing screw-you-in-the-eyes to the sex workers' rights groups that fought long and hard to make their voices heard over this Bill.
Yes, these shitty lyrics are right: sex workers need a voice. Unfortunately, both factions in this debate are prone to make the claim that the other faction denies sex workers a voice. What actually happens is that both groups, in the events they organise and the propaganda they put out, select a few speakers that they deem to be the 'authentic' voices of prostitution, wind them up and point them at each other rather than at the forces of patriarchy. On hearing about the proposed - for want of a better word - song, one member of the socio-feminist workers' forum Feminist Fightback said:
"Looks like we need to get on it with our own chants. Does anyone have a megaphone we can take?"
One of the proposed retort-songs is:
I sell sex/ Get over it.
I have a Brain/Get over it
I will win/ Get over it
And this time Feminist Fightback are actually looking like the mature ones. I'd join in, but, yknow, I don't ....actually sell ....sex.
Not to sound crass, but come on, sisters. We can do better than this. We need to do much better than this. We're meant to be symbolically reclaiming the night from enforced fear of sexual and physical violence, not taking cheap shots at each other. There is goddamn work to do. Right now, today, we live in a goddamn rape culture (hat-tip to Shakesville; trigger warning). Women and girls are abused, beaten, raped and murdered every day by violent partners. Women all over the world are still second-class citizens. Another generation of women in this country is growing up cowed, objectified, pressured to perfect themselves, to erase themselves, to starve themselves. We should be worrying about the pay gap, not the megaphone gap.
There is work to do. And if there are things we can't agree on, then we need to bloody well sort out what we can agree on and learn ways to work with each other, otherwise we're going to get laughed off the ideological playing field, and we stand to seriously let down those thousands of women in this country alone who really don't have a voice. I'm laughing right now, but not in fun. Come on, guys. Get it together.