Wednesday, January 04, 2012


It is easy, maybe too easy, to argue that being a sex worker, a prostitute, is just another job.  It is easy to say that it is just another example of women controlling their own bodies and their own lives.  It is easy to say if you don't happen to be one of the vast majority of women caught in the sex trade, caught in sex trafficking who in reality have no control over anything.  How often have we watched cute little movies or TV shows with the happy call girl, looking so nice, going about her business with a smile on her face?  How many times have we, on the other hand, read about the street hooker found bludgeoned to death in a dark ally?  How often do so many seem to make no connection between the third world women trapped in a sex trafficking ring, living in abject misery and with no hope of a future?  Being a prostitute is not just another day at the office, not is it just another hour on the assembly line.  It is something qualitatively different.  To pretend otherwise is just that, pretending.  It sounds oh so revolutionary and avant garde to to say it is time we all grow up and treat the sex industry and the sex trade with openness, or for us commies, the same way, at least, we treat the rest of private enterprise.  I don't think so.  I completely support the right of women to control their bodies...the key words being "control their bodies."  Overwhelmingly women in the sex trades do no such things.  They control virtually nothing.  The sex industry is not about sex.  It is about power, exploitation, money, and degradation.  Anyone out there willing to come out in support of that.

Anyway, I expect objections.

Remember I support the rights of women in the sex industry.  I support women's rights to control her own body.  I support even unionization and organization of sex workers.  I do not support the sex trade in any way, shape, or form.

The following is from M-L-M Mayhem!

On Privileged Engagements with the Sex Industry

Recently I learned of yet another "leftist" in my region who, convinced that prostitution is an essentially liberating vocation, has decided to dabble in being a call girl in order to demonstrate her politics in practice.  Perhaps she feels that this experience will give her the necessary clout––the anecdotes, the street cred––to argue her prostitution-equals-feminism position in future arguments with those feminists who maintain that prostitution is an essential pillar of patriarchy.

Since I have already written a long post about the stupidity of the "feminist" position that conflates sex work with feminist agency, I won't bother rehashing in my arguments in significant detail.  Rather, I am interested in the class position that produces not only the prostitution-equals-feminist-agency political commitment––the position that leads certain privileged individuals (like the one mentioned above) to dabble in prostitution in order to declare the practice liberating.

By-and-large, those who argue for the essential liberating aspects of sex work––and thus that sex work is not part of patriarchy––are either people who have never experienced sex work, or people who possess the class agency to dabble in sex work without any of the repercussions experienced by the vast majority of global sex workers.  This is the equivalent of suburb kids roughing it on the streets, anarcho-punks from privileged families who think that dumpster diving is a political practice: unlike the people who did not choose to live in poverty, and thus who are actually impoverished, "slumming it" is a crude simulacrum of the actual experience of homelessness.  People whose class positions are such that they can go home, can afford to properly feed themselves, cannot experience what it actually means to be poor––this is a life that was not chosen by the great majority of the world's masses and a life that they do not want.

Thus, someone who owns property and has a secure job cannot actually experience what it means to be a sex-worker because hir prime vocation is not one where s/he is forced to sell her body as an economic necessity.  Sex labour in a context of class privilege is an activity, a game, where one's material reality produces a different set of options: you can always stop, you have a far greater margin of choice (your clientelle are more like dating options on Craigslist but with reimbursement attached), and by-and-large you are not a sex-worker because this is simply compensated dating––it is not the material institution of prostitution defined by labourers who have no other choice but to sell their labour in this institution.  You are not part of this institution's army of labour; you are not part of its reserve army of labour when you aren't working.

Really, I have no moral problem with people who demand monetary reimbursement for casual dating and casual sex.  I do have a political problem, however, with these people assuming: a) they are engaged in the real world of sex-work; b) they are practicing radical, anti-oppressive politics when they are simply slumming and, in this slumming, endorsing extremely alienated wage-slavery.  I never considered the story of Pretty Woman to be "feminist", so I'm not going to consider call-girl slumming an act of radical politics.

And yet, whenever feminist arguments against the prostitution-is-liberating political line are made, those who are committed to sex-work as feminist agency get very angry and self-righteous.  When my above cited post was reblogged and reposted on various sites, for example, there were numerous dismissive comments about how I was "straw-personing" the pro-prostitution feminist line.  Except I wasn't straw-personing anything, and this was proved by the fact that all of those who made this claim could not explain where, how, or why the straw-person fallacy existed and functioned.  (I have complained beforeabout how internet commenters like to name fallacies but are unable to actually understand the meaning of these fallacies and, in naming them, actually produce fallacious arguments [i.e. the red herring fallacy].)  My initial arguments regarding the "sex labour is inherently radical feminism" political line often employed reductio ad absurdem arguments, or reductions to the political essence and logical conclusions of the line I was critiquing––clarifying often politically confused positions to reveal inherent contradictions is not "straw-personing", it is how philosophically sound arguments function.  In any case, there is generally an irony in this employment of the straw-person charge because the people who make it are the same people who actually straw-person those who are committed to the abolition of prostitution as part of the abolition of patriarchy.

Take, for example, the fact that whenever those of us who argue that the global sex trade is an essential part of patriarchy, the response is that we are "anti-sex" and "anti-prostitute."  While it is true that there are puritan moralists whose conservative notions of sex and prostitution is worthy of such a charge, the people who are attacked by this straw-person argument are most often people who are: a) invested in the unionization of sex-workers as necessary (but who want johns and pimps targeted); b) who don't think that prostitution is not essentially defined by the act of sex [this is its formal quality] but by the commodification and control of womens' bodies.  This accusation of "anti-sex" and "anti-prostitute" is akin to accusing all anti-capitalists of being feudalists.  Clearly there are some "anti-capitalists" who are raving reactionaries––who want to go back to the "good old days" where morals were morals (Christian fundamentalists, for example)––and who feel that the market is bad for morality, industrialism terrible for the soul (Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is precisely this sort of "anti-capitalism"), but it would be ludicrous to argue that the progressive commitment to an anti-capitalist politics is marred by the same conservative dogma.  And yet this straw-person conceptualization of the "abolitionist" position lingers and, with this fallacy, the fallacy of bifurcation: either you are for the institution of prostitution or you are against sex and prostitutes.

Those of us who feel that the global sex trade industry is oppressive begin by asking structural questions: who controls the means of production, who by-and-large consumes the commodity, and who profits from the surplus value generated.  These are the same questions that we must ask about any labour institution under capitalism and they are not questions that should lead critical leftists into idiotic dismissals of workers rights or condemnations of people who are forced to sell their labour.  Rejecting the labour process under capitalism does not mean rejecting fights for unions or labour reforms, but a revolutionary position has always been one that judges reforms as ultimately limited.  A unionized factory under capitalism is still a factory under capitalism: it is not a site of liberated labour.

But those who imagine that the practice of alienated labour can somehow be liberating are those whose politics lurk at the level of individuality and the level of the formal appearance of this labour.  When they attempt to make arguments about structure they are reduced to making silly comparisons between sex-work and academic work, arguing that we live in a society where the latter is privileged at expense of the former.  They never question the structural meaning behind the division of labour between mental and manual, nor do they question the fact that their entire analysis emerges from a position of academic privilege.  In the end, their politics is a politics of privilege, of the autonomy that comes from petty bourgeois privilege, radical in form and anti-radical in essence.

And when they cannot develop arguments that actually engage with the arguments of abolitionists, these "feminists" lapse into unprincipled behaviour by targeting feminists involved in on-the-ground work with prostitutes and against the sex industry.  There was an open letter circulated by abolitionist feminists, for example, discussing their treatment at the hands of these pro-prostitution ideologues.  The fact that many of these abolitionists were former sex-workers (and not the type who possessed the privilege to play at sex work like a game), some experienced with the global third world aspect of the sex industry, apparently didn't matter: and so the pro-prostitution feminists ended up targeting a population who had real experience in the industry, just not the experience they wanted to hear.  Really, if this political line didn't exist, it would be necessary for the pimps and pornographers––indeed for the patriarchy itself––to invent it.

1 comment:

Elephantine said...

I've never actually heard anyone argue that sex work is liberating. Can you give me some examples that I could read up on?

I find it interesting that you've just basically decided what sex work was and are claiming anyone who does not fall into this extreme category, which you have decided is in fact the norm without presenting any sort of evidence of this, that they are not sex workers, they are just engaging in sexual encounters for which they are paid for, which you presumably believe is not sex work at all.

What exactly are the vast repercussions experienced by the vast majority of global sex workers..

On what authority do you make these claims and statements in global sex workers name..? Have you been designated or asked to represent and speak for global sex workers or did you take it upon yourself because you assume you can and you know what they need/want?

You've taken it upon yourself to define "real" sex work as always coercive and you've decided every sex worker feels a certain way, all the same way, in that they have no choice. In reality, isn't it instead true that almost all sex workers do have some level of choice?

We can agree that that the other options available may not be great and some women may opt to work as a housekeeper for example, despite the pay being much lower but you do not say anything about this woman that you claim about another woman who may have had the same options but instead chose sex work. They are both in the same situation on every level, the only difference is the work they chose from the same limited options that were available to them.

So what justifies your claim that there is something wrong about, something needs to be done about only one of them, while the other is presumably fine. Is it ok to choose one but not the other?

There is a lot of projection, assumptions and ignorance about how you've taken it upon yourself to define sex workers lives and experiences. You've essentially assumed they are too incompetent to be believed to deserve agency and for their decisions to be trusted.

You've dismissed them as incapable of making that decision and because it is unimaginable to you that anyone,(other than privileged women who engage in "paid dating"/not sex work), in other words; you can't imagine ever doing this yourself and the thought of it is what convinced you that no one would want to and therefore they must be forced - unlike the privileged women who are just faking it.

That is all your creation, your assumptions and your definitions and it's unbelievably offensive that you don't see anything wrong with that attitude.

You've constructed every aspect of your argument, you've decided your beliefs about sex workers represent reality and you can pat yourself on the back for making all these nice arguments to support what you've imagined and then decided was real. How convenient.

Bravo. Must be nice to live in a bubble and be convinced to know better than others what their lives are about.