vBy Raven Bowen
In case you missed it…Maggie Gets a Grilling!*
- What do you do?
I’m a Chair in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at York and I am co- chair of the Sex Work Research Hub.
- Favorite Color?
Green! I like grass green, Emerald and I like red. Although red and green should never be seen! I like red and green together.
- One thing that you are most proud of?
Oh, can I have two…okay, my boys. I’m very proud of my boys. And as a feminist when I had boys I thought it was divine retribution but they are really great men and feminist men. And I’m also really proud of the work I’ve done around sex work, migration and the collaborations.
- Why the sex industry?
I was invited to do a piece of research on ‘prostitution’ in Nottingham funded by Home Office ‘Safe Cities Money’ in 1989 the focus was to improve safety in certain Northern cities. I took what I called ‘woman centered’ approach and spoke to sex workers about their experiences of first hand then other agencies. I met an outreach worker, Karen Hughes, who was working on her own to provide outreach to sex workers and she also created a sexual health drop-in center in Nottingham for all people including sex workers. The research led to what I think was the first multi agency forum that included sex workers as equal partners in 1990. Sex workers said ‘don’t think you can just come out and take from us and go off and build your career!’ What a fantastic entry into empirical research! It’s a knowledge transfer, you’re facilitating you’re not owning it. I got to participatory action research through that model.
- Last thing you laughed about?
Yesterday, in a workshop with migrant girls. The project is looking at what it’s like to live in London for migrant girls and Mothers. The project combines walking and theatre-based methods and we had a fun finale to the workshop with girls, they did a catwalk in the hall to play different characters and were playing/acting as ‘bad girls’, ‘good girls’, ‘nerdy girls’, ‘strict moms’ and we all laughed. They were so amazing!
- Favorite food?
Um, that’s a hard one. Chocolate and haloumi. But not together. Haloumi salad.
- Current project or pursuit?
The Sex work project, Hidden Lives of Female Sex Workers in Teesside. It’s participatory action research, peer-led. Women have interviewed other women about their lives and we are currently analyzing and the report will be launched on the 15th of July in Durham. So it’s kind of a Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexuality legacy project.
- Biggest regret?
Well I don’t really do regrets but I wish I had spent more time with my kids when they were young.
- Facebook or Twitter?
Twitter, I love Twitter!
- What challenges you the most in your sex work related activities? Definitely the tension between academia and sex work. The power around who gets heard. If I could wave a magic wand it would be to flatten than, so I think what we do is use it and make sure that at every opportunity, if you’re doing something academic it must be collaborative -the participatory action research model is helpful. I hope the Sex Work HUB can build on that. Sex workers say ‘Nothing about us without us.’
- Favorite movie?
It’s called ‘Silence’ and it’s by an Irish filmmaker called Pat Collins and his wife Sharon Whooley.
- Last time you cried?
Yesterday (May 19th) after the workshop for girls. They were talking about family life and how their parents worked really hard and other struggles. Doing Theatre methods can remind you or bring to the fore things that you haven’t thought about for a long time. So what made me cry was an experience of stigma, of racial and class stigma. I was reminded about this moment with my mum when she was being interviewed about money for our school uniforms. I was about 10 [years old] and this man treated my mum like the dirt under his feet. And so, I cried yesterday on the way to the tube station, being reconnected to that feeling—the humiliation she experienced and being connected to the stigma of class politics. And of course that is then the fuel for my work. It drives me.
- Are you a cat or a dog person? Dog! Totally Dog!
- Who understands you?
Oh, I’m not sure who gets me. I think Steve [husband] probably gets me! Hopefully, yeah. And my kids do…I think so, I’m not sure!
- Last book or article you read? So the last book I read Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border by Colm Tóibín who walked the Irish border during the troubles. It really gives you a good insight into sectarian politics.
- Childhood fear?
Spiders. I like them now…
- What did your last text say?
“I’m here Raven”
- One thing that your work is aimed to do for the sex industry?
Decriminalization, you know we need people to challenge the law and we have great lawyers in the HUB. I think in the HUB we have all of the necessary partners to bring together to really go for decriminalization.
- Meaning of life (One Word)?
- What’s the last thing you googled?
‘Premier Inn free wifi’ because I was staying at premier Inn in London.
- What did/do you want to be when you grow/grew up?
Well I did want to be an air hostess but then I got put off from working at Pizza Hut. But actually what I would really like is to be is a filmmaker!
*The was our first 21 Questions. The interview with Maggie O’Neill was conducted May 20th 2016. Next up, Hannah, a sex worker/madame.
Please Note: The Goal of the ’21 Questions’ series is to get to know sex industry professionals, other parties, and researchers in our network. The series will alternate profiling interesting people who support the human and labour rights, dignity and respect of those involved in sex industries.