This is our truth, tell us yours
Content note for slavery and the brief mention of the rape of enslaved women of colour.
Agency is a word you will hear a lot around here, its a short simple term for a lot of complex ideas. In some ways it goes to that ancient concept, free will. Free will is the biggy in Christian Theology. Did Eve really chose to eat that apple, if she didn’t, then did God deliberately cause the fall? If he didn’t then the birth,life, and death of Christ is the result of a cosmic accident. Or was it all predestined, in which case why put the tree of knowledge in the Garden in the first place. Isn’t that like complaining your kid watches porn when you put a computer in their room and dont monitor their internet usage?
Some say without free will everything is meaningless, since we cannot then chose to repent and follow Christ. Others say that we are saved by grace, but that means the Holy Spirit knows we are going to repent, and its impossible to do so without it, so maybe whatever we do, or think doesnt matter. Like I said, its a biggy, and I am not sure I have any answers other than there seems to be a recurring thread of the importance of our personal moral choices.
Which brings me back, perhaps not neatly, but at least briefly, to agency. Agency is the ability to act. To make those personal moral choices, and act upon them. It seems pretty fundamental to being treated as an adult. Some peoples agency is proscribed by disability, poverty comes into play as well. I may decide I wish to spend the evening dining on caviar and lobster, then burn £50 notes in front of beggars, but unless I have the income my ability to show what a world class twunt I am is circumscribed. Perhaps that’s what the pigs head is really about, a low cost option for the poorer students who went to Harrow or Sevenoaks. Then of course there is race, religion, gender, age, (we generally for example think it is acceptable to limit the agency of the young) sexuality, location, a whole host of conditions which mean X may have more or less agency than Y.
It quite quickly becomes apparent that if you are a woman (or perceived to be one) it’s considered acceptable to limit your agency in ways that would be considered unacceptable to men. Yesterday there was a repeal the 8th march in Ireland. Abortion is a contentious, and highly personal issue. It is at heart though an issue of agency. Imagine if men were told that they must endure a medical condition that was quickly and safely treatable, for 9 months, because it was deemed more worthy that they do so? Imagine if men were told their own feelings about said medical treatment were irrelevant, but that of their partner, or even the random they has sex with on a drunken saturday night did matter. Furthermore imagine if some people decided to help the men who needed that medical treatment, but those doctors and nurses were criminalized, attacked, and in some cases murdered?
Whilst people of all genders can and do become pregnant, the laws on abortion, just like the laws on sex work are framed about patriarchal male control of cis female bodies. The collateral damage,such as the fact its trans women of colour being murdered on the streets of America, is something which helps uphold patriarchy, but is not, in my opinion, the intention. The intention is always to tell those women patriarchy is most concerned with, the cis women who produce the next generation, that they only have agency over a very limited number of choices, and most certainly not about the production of children. ( I am not the person to write on the slave experience, due to my whiteness but it occurs that the total removal of agency from black women under chattel slavery in the US is the ultimate expression of this. Their rapes were not even deemed rapes, the white slave owners did not grant them agency in any form, therefore they were not seen as able to consent to sex. By the same measure their children were not seen as their own, but simply possessions of the white ruling class, and possessions do not have agency.)
So it also for women who sell sex. The most basic agency is control over our own bodies. It is why the right to abortion is seen as such a fundamental human right, an acceptance that women are adults able to make decisions about their bodies. As I have, somewhat crudely put it on twitter, I must have the right to determine what goes into, and comes out of my cunt. . Women are not being treated as full adults when society, state, feminism, church or patriarchy tell us this is an acceptable way for you to use your body and this is an unacceptable one. The links between those who oppose abortion rights and those who oppose sex workers rights are strong, and seemingly ignored by mainstream feminism.
This denial of agency, the infantilization of women, is something in which individual men are complicit. Particularly those who identify as feminist, or ride in like white knights to rescue us. So much of what some call being an ally is in fact about telling women they are not capable of exercising agency. A recent meeting with carter comes to mind, where he decided he wished to beat, and mark me in different places to usual. So a riding crop was used on my upper arms and back, to great effect. I remember buying that crop, and a male friend, who considered himself Dominant, and very much a protector of newbie subs, telling me how it should and should never be used. It is safe to say he would have disapproved of my most recent beating. Then again he wholeheartedly disapproved of Carter. This is not to say one cannot advise, or pass on expertise, but far too often what is perceived to be greater wisdom is simply a gender based idea that men know best. Paternalism is so embedded in our society that all too often it is the default.
Which brings us, by a very circuitous route to that tree in the garden of Eden. Perhaps it had to be there because without the capacity to act free will is meaningless. It is not enough to say you can choose to be good or bad if you have no meaningful way of expressing that choice. So it is for women in our society. There is no meaning to saying we are equal within this society until we can make choices which society disapproves of. Free will is something which becomes concrete in the moment we demonstrate we have agency, when we pluck the fruit of knowledge and taste its sweet flesh. As adults we have to accept the consequences of that choice, and then we have to accept the most radical thing of all, that women are adults, with agency, who do not need protecting from their choices.