Caty and I got into lively conversation last night (well, we were already in it) when these photos from Sunday’s demonstrations in Turkey started flying around Twitter and Facebook. This one’s been shared about 5000 times from this post, and then was tweeted (and translated from a sign with the same slogan) on Twitter:
“We’re whores, and sure these politicians are not our kids!”
Caty put it to a Turkish-speaking friend on Facebook, who offered this translation of the sign, which is a little different:
“We whores are sure that Tayyip is not our son.”
The reference for the shirt and sign’s pushback is the insult “son of a whore,” one of those slurs of contamination (your mother is worthless, ergo…). You see and hear it at these demos sometimes without a thought, particularly the thought that maybe, the woman in the t-shirt with the red umbrella marching side-by-side with you might be a whore. So here she is speaking back.
And, using the same words as sex workers at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol occupation in 2011 to do so, when they had to confront the same:
…we decided that we absolutely had to have a pedagogical, and not just militant, approach. We try to make protesters aware that some of the language and slogans they use are profoundly misogynistic, even if they don’t mean them to be. People tend to call such-and-such politician a “son of a whore”, for example. In response, a group of sex- worker activists began holding posters that read: “Excuse me, but I’m a whore, and I can assure you these politicians are not my sons.”
We try to use humour and dialogue, not so much to change the actual words people use, but to get them to reflect on negative gender stereotypes and their impact on society.
This one says: “Let whores govern, since their sons have failed us”
I remembered a more explicitly nasty variation on the whore-as-capitalist-collaborator meme that popped up at Zuccotti Park, again in the pose of anti-austerity critique:
Heaping such blame is both anti-worker and misogynist, and props up claims that capitalism and patriarchy are somehow driven by prostitution (which predates one, if not both). If it exists at all as its own special dirty category of money distinct from all that other virtuous money, “whore money” – the actual money made by whores – is a stop-gap for many struggling in the crisis, not the crisis itself. Never mind the fact that whores are more likely than most other workers to keep money outside of a bank, due to banks’ own discriminatory policies and fears of attracting scrutiny that could in turn attract police attention. (Also, is ball-licking here posited as awesome or exploitative, and can you have it both ways, even rhetorically? Cool story, protestbros.)
(That’s a sticker, by the way, stuck up on “the red thing,” Occupy Wall Street’s iconic homing beacon. To throw more signs, etc. on top of this, it was the day Judith Butler came to speak at Zuccotti, and the park was so packed we couldn’t even find her, just ten feet away.)
But in Zuccotti Park, as in Puerta del Sol, as in Gezi Park:
Whores have long been at the barricades, even when they didn’t announce themselves. Forty years ago this Sunday, the prostitutes of Lyon did so under their own banner, and occupied a church in protest of the police, an action now regarded as the birth of the modern sex workers’ right movement:
(Mega h/t to @kitabet on Twitter, who translated and circulated the original images from Turkey, who pointed out that if the park that inspired these protests was destroyed, trans sex workers would be among those displaced. Many “development” projects in global cities have been nothing but tarted-up “clean streets” campaigns, resulting in, and certainly in the case of Times Square’s re-development, intending to cause the isolation of sex workers from their work, homes, and communities.)
The banner reads, by his translation, “Whores to power. Their sons have already failed us.”