“It’s up to you”: Prostitution, Censorship and Sweden

Self-published at Portland Indymedia, this essay serves as the front page of a website I created specifically as a standing feminist action, www.spreademism.com.


spread’emism (spread-them-ism), n. 1. the misleading idea that women can fuck and get fucked into political, academic and social equality with men via prostitution and pornography.

“It’s up to you”: Prostitution, Censorship and Sweden

There’s a lot for liberals to like about Sweden. With 40% of its parliament women and gender equality on the front burner politically, it’s as close to a feminist nation as anywhere. But the title of this essay mentions prostitution and censorship and I know that’s what you’re waiting for, so we’ll return to the fair land of Sweden shortly. For now, I would like to share with you a new magazine appearing in leftie bookshops called $pread (yes, that’s a dollar sign), a magazine that promotes prostitution as an empowering and satisfying career for women.

I heard about the new magazine when news of a benefit the New York City Radical Cheerleaders were participating in to pay for $pread’s first issue reached me. I wrote a letter to the Radical Cheerleaders asking them to reconsider lending their capitalism-critiquing performances to a pro-capitalism magazine encouraging men to rent the insides of women’s bodies for masturbatory entertainment. When I got an email reply from the editor of $pread my first thought started with a question mark, because I did not write a letter to $pread but to the Radical Cheerleaders. Turns out the pro-capitalism entrepreneurs of $pread moonlight as anti-capitalism Radical Cheerleaders to raise money for themselves without disclosing this synergistic relationship.

A small exchange between editor “Mary Christmas” and I followed, ending in a request to use my original letter to the Radical Cheerleaders in the magazine’s first issue. Mary claimed, “It’s up to you,” but when I refused permission she decided it wasn’t really up to me after all and published it anyway, crediting my writings to “Cindy” and deleting key points of the original letter.

Here’s where progressive paradise Sweden re-enters the scene. When parts of the letter to the Radical Cheerleaders were published against my wishes, my support for the Swedish model of decriminalizing prostitution and a link to information about that model were left out. In 1999, Sweden passed a law removing all criminal penalties for prostituted women while directing increased attention to predatory men seeking economically coerced sex. Recognizing prostitution is not a career for women but systematic sexual violence, Sweden has seen tremendous results in the few years since the law was implemented.

The increased spotlight on men who use prostitutes has reduced the number of Swedish men soliciting, and the law extends outside the country’s borders so that Swedish men on sex tours in Southeast Asia can be prosecuted. No longer powerless against pimps and traffickers, prostituted women have turned abusers in and are taking advantage of social services set up to help them transition out of prostitution.

The Swedish model is reducing the harms of prostitution in ways Dutch and German legalization have so far failed to accomplish. Trafficking into the Netherlands and Germany has increased since legalization, as has child prostitution, because fanning the capitalist flames of men’s demand for prostitutes increases the supply of bodies needed to meet increased demands. This evidence has been meticulously collected over the years and so-called “sex workers rights” groups know legalization hasn’t delivered on its promises. Only 200 of an estimated 25,000 sex workers in Amsterdam are in the sex worker union Red Thread, and only 100 of an estimated 400,000 sex workers in Germany joined the service union ver.di.

Sweden’s success scares pimps, traffickers and other sexual capitalists. It scares them out of Sweden, where the increased risks for traffickers led to a decrease in the number of bodies trafficked there. Solid figures on underground criminal activities are notoriously hard to come by, but in just five years there have been noticeable positive changes and 80% of Swedish people, not known to be conservative prudes, are pleased with the law’s outcomes.

The editors of $pread knew I was against arresting prostitutes when my support for the Swedish model of decriminalized prostitution was made clear. This did not stop them from suggesting that I, excuse me “Cindy”, want to see prostitutes arrested. The Swedish model scares them not senseless, but to censor. It’s not senseless for capitalists to defend their profit source against burgeoning civil rights.

In the 50’s and 60’s some black business owners organized against desegregation knowing once black people could freely choose to shop and eat at white-owned businesses they would no longer be forced to buy from black-owned businesses and profits would drop. They lost their fight to keep a personally profitable result of social inequality intact and racial equality has moved ahead because of it. The sexual capitalists who feel it necessary to censor away proof of Sweden’s success in reducing gendered inequality will ultimately lose their fight holding back progress in women’s sexual autonomy. As ever, Sweden will lead the way.

To read the brief, unedited email exchange between Mary Christmas and myself, go to www.spreademism.com/exchange.htm

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