Acronyms dictionary



What does SWERF mean?

SWERF is an acronym standing for Sex Worker-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, a label for a woman who supports mainstream feminism but opposes sex work, believing it is ultimately oppressive.

Related words

feminazi, political spectrum, deadname, safe space, Rosie the Riveter, positionality, slut-shaming

Where does SWERF come from?

SWERF is as a sister term to TERF, or Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, a term coined by Viv Smythe in 2008 for feminists who exclude transgender women from their interpretation of feminism out of belief that they aren’t women, or that they reinforce sexist, binary roles.

SWERF emerges online by 2013, notably used on a site, Everyday Whorephobia, which addresses challenges sex workers face. It stands for Sex Worker-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. A SWERF is said to support the empowering aims of radical feminism, but they don’t extend their support to sex workers, believing sex work, including pornography and prostitution, inevitably objectifies and oppresses women. 

The term spiked in 2018 with the passage of US House and Senate bills, known as FOSTA-SESTA, or Fight Online Sex Trafficking ActStop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. The laws were intended to cut down on sex and human trafficking online, but many consensual sex workers have said it has hurt their ability to earn income, and safely, on sites like Craigslist.

Women who supported FOSTA-SESTA were sometimes labeled SWERFs, and their critics maintain that doing consensual sex work is a choice women have a right to make.

Erika Moen & Lux Alptraum / The Nib

SWERF opponents also argue that making sex work illegal puts women more at risk of trafficking and violence. Gloria Steinem, a feminist pioneer, is sometimes called a SWERF.

Examples of SWERF

...shoutout to bi sex workers (if ur a swerf gtfo) your body is yours to do with as you please and i hope youre always safe. ur valid and i love u
@openpitbbq, January 2019
misandry-mermaid / Tumblr
SWERFs pride themselves on the belief that sex work is inherently wrong because it enables the patriarchy. Therefore, they argue, sex work cannot be divorced from women being objectified by men. Most act as if they personally know what is best for sex workers, even though many (albeit, not all) SWERFs have zero experience with sex work themselves.
Ana Valens, The Daily Dot, April 2018

Who uses SWERF?

SWERF is used in third-wave feminist discourse, and it often appears alongside its sister term, TERF.

People generally use the term as a pejorative against feminists who oppose sex work, denouncing them as hypocritical and counterproductive to the larger project of women’s empowerment.

There’s also lots of crossover between those who might be considered SWERFs and those considered TERFs.

They may call themselves sex worker/prostitution abolitionists, believing the practices will ultimately lead to the abuse, violence, and subjugation of women by men.

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of SWERF like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of SWERF that will help our users expand their word mastery.