After reading Gendergeek on prostitution, I have the need to explain why I think pro-decriminalization and feminism do go together despite what other feminists have to say about it.
For starters, I think sex work is no more inherently worse for women than any other form of labour. It seems to me that the idea that sex work is inherently detrimental extends from patriarchal thought. How else do we explain why sex is considered something women own and that we loose something (our honour?) whenever money exchanges hands prior to sexual relations?
From where I stand, the complaints about money, which party controls it and what conditions the sex worker works in are secondary in nature when it comes to why prostitution should remain illegal. We do not do this with any other industry – only the sex industry. No one clamours about how people are inherently exploited in food services and the food service industry must be criminalized for example.
I reject the idea that as a woman I own sex. This logic is the same one that allows women to be blamed for rape and is something we see everyday. Rape victims are asked questions such as:
- Were you wearing a skirt ‘up to there’?
- Were you flirting with him?
- Why else would you wear heels like that?
These questions and more clarify that the patriarchy think women own sex and are thus responsible for controlling it. Also, women who dress in a certain manner or behave in another get routinely referred to as “slut”. They are “advertising” it and it is assumed they are giving it “away”. Women are routinely called ‘whores’ if it’s thought they are ‘charging’ for it (real or imaginary, literal or figurative). This is patriarchal thought and feminists regurgitate it to some degree when it comes to the sex industry.
We do not own sex. We participate in an activity referred to as sex. Otherwise, we might as well start claiming that we own walking. When we do sell it, it is a service, not a body offered for sale. There is no reason to outlaw this service because it involves genital contact. Prostitution, in and of itself, is not intrinsically violence against women.
However, it is true that the sex industry as it currently stands is exploitative. Many sex workers are addicts that work in dangerous environments and situations. Women and children are routinely abducted and held as sex slaves. Other women are lured in by promises that turn out to be false. In some areas of the world, children will proposition you on the streets in broad daylight.
I think these conditions extend not from the very nature of the industry, but from the legal and social conditions that surround the sex industry. They are not necessary. Child labour, dangerous work environments, dismal wages, employee abuse; we fight these in other industries and we do so by siding with the workers. Why treat this particular industry differently? I see no logical reason to do so that does not involve the social stigma of being a sex worker.
To be blunt, the feminists who would ban prostitution seem to be cutting their noses off to spite their faces. Everyone professes to be against causing these women more harm, but how do some feminists plan to do this? Where are the plans to crack down on those who cause these women harm (kidnapping, false imprisonment, rape, theft, assault, abuse, etc.)? They are buried somewhere under the mountain of “Arrest the Customer!”
In America, we have another industry that has suffered many problems. It routinely used children (who were often not paid) and the work conditions were horrible. The pay was kept so low that employees could potentially end up in hock to their employer. Essentially, it was slavery and that industry is the coal mining industry.
Now imagine that the reformers had said that the best way to fix those problems was to arrest the people who buy the coal. I think this is what feminists who support the continued criminalization of prostitution are doing. They are taking a bad situation and making it worse by refusing to deal with the problems that make the sex industry dangerous.
Furthermore, I believe that women and men will continue to sell sex to one another despite whatever law we put down. In light of this, I think the best way to protect these women is to make sex work as safe as possible. I support decriminalization. I recognize the need for unions and see these as necessary tools to improve this industry. I do not condone the stigma that is forced upon the shoulders of sex workers, past or present.
Additionally, I find it abhorrent when a feminist tries to shout down the voices of sex workers. It is also revolting to see feminists tar and feather any woman that does listen to them. This is how the patriarchy works. It shouts until we are silent and then it attacks the men who do listen to us.
We need to listen to every woman involved in the sex industry, not just the ones who fit our preconceived ideas. To do otherwise is to betray them. Any feminist that refuses to listen to the voices of sex workers needs to sit down and examine their reasons for doing so.
If what I’ve written here makes me a fake feminist or some other such claptrap, so be it. I gladly hand over my feminist credentials, but not in spite or defeat. I stand for all women, not the self-appointed elite.