An Open Letter to W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu


Dear Kamau and Hari,

Hi! Ismail here from the Reclaiming Sex From XXX blog. I’m a huge fan, both of your respective stand up careers and of the show. I really appreciate the way that you have both carved out space for people of color to think and laugh about life, politics and oppression. I’ve listened to every episode of politically reactive, it’s a contender for my favorite podcast (and I listen to oodles of podcasts.)

I’m writing because of something that came out of your Killer Mike interview. I loved the interview (and I’m a Run the Jewels fan) – I appreciated Killer Mike’s clear, smart, no bullshit take on a whole series of issues. Towards the end of the interview, Killer Mike took a moment to talk about how much he likes strip clubs and weed – and it occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to tell you guys how much I’d appreciate a conversation about the sex industry on the show.

I took to twitter to say so, but someone had already beaten me to it. What transpired (you can revisit the conversation via my twitter feed, @reclaimingsex) was a disagreement (wasn’t quite an argument) between myself and another guy on twitter (on one side) and three women (on the other side), two of whom are “sex workers” (if you’re wondering why I’ve put this in quotes, see the “contemporary debates” segment of this article).

The disagreement revolved around two conflicting arguments about the sex industry, both of which identify as “feminist”. I’m not trying to claim that I am a feminist, but as an ally to the women’s movement, I feel strongly that one of these arguments is right.

I’ll summarize both arguments as best as I can:

  1. The sex industry is, or should be, or can be a powerful tool for liberation. All people (women in particular) should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies, including exchanging money for sex. The buying, selling and filming of sexual acts is a part of healthy human sexuality. Pornography is harmless fun and entertainment. Prostitution and strip clubs are a healthy way for people (in practice, mostly men) to get their sexual needs met.
  2. The sex industry is in it’s premise deeply rooted in sexism, male domination and misogyny. It is born out of the industrialization of sex and is driven by the super profits made by a small group of mostly white men and profits off of the labor of primarily poor women, and treats poor women of color especially brutally. We are currently en route to a public health epidemic of massive proportions, in which children (starting at age 11 for boys and 14 for girls) are learning about their sexuality through the ultra-violent misogyny of free Internet porn.

These are brief and inadequate summaries, but you get the idea.  Anyhow, I think this is a really important conversation for us all to be having and almost no one is having it. “Sex workers rights activists” do speak openly and honestly and often about perspective number one. You can hear them on Podcasts such as the “Savage Lovecast” or Siouxie Q’s “Whorecast“. It is all also generally the opinion of third wave feminists.

The second perspective is from a group you might call “radical left second wave feminists”. Gail Dines, a professor at Wheelock College, seems to have become the most prominent international leader in the anti-porn dimension of this movement.

As men, we are both the key producers and consumers of pornography. The vast amount of money made, money spent, and content consumed comes from us. We drive this industry. But we are almost completely absent from this conversation. This is an industry that has a huge impact on the lives of women (and the society at large) and I believe we have completely abdicated responsibility in the conversation about whether or not we are participating in liberation or oppression. Or some combination of the two.

Anyhow, back to Killer Mike’s comment. Strip clubs are directly related to prostitution and pornography. Very often striping is a gateway for women to one or the other or both. I think it would be an important conversation on Politically Reactive. I think it’s important to have both of these perspectives represented for consideration. I’m happy to help in any way I can but there are many more people (mostly women but some men) who are more qualified than me to weigh in on the #2 perspective, I can help you contact them if you want. I’m also happy to speak on these issues myself, should you be interested in talking to me. Once you and your listeners have considered the two sides of the issues, I think a third conversation will be important specifically regarding men and our roles in the matter. This you’ll be harder pressed to find great speakers on, though Robert Jensen and Ran Gavrieli are both good examples of the #2 perspective. Dan Savage might be the ideal male voice on the #1 perspective.

Men (especially those of us who are parents) need to start thinking critically and  talking about the sex industry.

Thanks very much,


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