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10 March 2008 @ 08:06 am
Even Conservatives Keep Using Sex Workers. Doesn't This Prove Eradication Impossible?  
Surely, I can't be arguing that anti-sex, misogynist conservative Americans are really alright with sex work? Well, frankly yes. In fact, I believe that the majority of anti-sex misogynist men in that culture have visited a sex worker at some point, but that's sheer speculation.

Conservative America, for religious reasons, out of a sexist distaste for women who don't go find themselves a husband to tell them what to do and stay completely faithful to him for the next few decades, and because of a general fear of unsanctioned sex which stems from religion, are certainly adamantly against sex work, or so it seems at first.

However, conservative America, with its more blatant and intense variety of misogyny, tendency to trap people in marriages into which they would never have entered had they been allowed to have sex any other way, and high rate of closeted homosexuality is in fact the perfect breeding ground for sex work. (Note that I am not saying marriage woes are justification for paying sex workers, just that they make the behavior more likely.) Sex work is needed here in order to keep a dysfunctional society functioning, in order to keep people from feeling the need to come out of the closet, leave their wives with the full realization that abstinence education had caused them to marry the wrong person at the wrong time, and so on.

Why would a society which needs some women to be sex workers constantly harp on them with violent, religiously-tinged invective? I imagine it's because conservatives see in the existence of sex workers proof that their societal model doesn't actually work (they're probably right here) and need somebody to blame. Women are an easy scapegoat. After all, conservatives already don't like us.

I am not a conservative, as I have stated. I do not believe in suppressing sex along with sex work or with teaching women that they have no power outside of their use to men and then forbidding them to use that power. I have an actual and intellectually honest interest in getting rid of sex work because I have an actual interest in creating a society which does not rely on its existence. This is very different and should not be mistaken for somehow echoing the conservative anti-sex work attitudes.

An anti-sex work approach which is not religious or conservative in nature and does not attempt to punish sex workers for the decisions that were made for them has almost never been tried on a large scale simply because it's never been all that popular. To try and connect my idea of a sex-work free society to that of conservatives or to insist that their failure to bring about this societal change is my failure as well is nothing short of willful equivocation in an attempt to discredit me by association.
Aikojitterbean on March 12th, 2008 06:43 am (UTC)
I found your blog via Feministing.org. In the light of this Elliot Spitzer mess and the increased discussion of prostitution, I'm finding what you write very enlightening. The capitalist, "choice" arguments for prostitution haven't sat well with me, but I haven't been able to articulate why exactly, other than when I imagine being a prostitute, I feel horrible even thinking about it.

But your blog has articulated the issues I have with prostitution. Thanks again for your writing, and I look forward to reading more.
The Why I Hate Fun FAQwhyihatefun on March 12th, 2008 12:57 pm (UTC)
Gut feelings often have a basis in reality. They're just hard to articulate because nobody's given you the language and you haven't had time to invent it on your own. Your gut feeling that prostitution was somehow unpleasant, although vague, was right on the money. (And I'm glad I could help you put words to it.)
Aikojitterbean on March 12th, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the response. I do have a question that I've been thinking about in the past few days, as discussions of legalization and decriminalization circulate on the internet and I find myself not knowing quite what to say.

I agree with you that hiring prostitutes in morally reprehensible, and an emotionally healthy man won't enjoy it, and a man who does take some pleasure in it probably is not emotionally healthy. I agree that prostitution is inherently abusive and oppressive and I don't think consent can be bought-- prostitutes are paid to ignore the fact they don't consent. And I agree that the best way out of this is education, social services, and mental health services.

But clearly, we have to change a lot about society if we were to eliminate prostitution. So what are some pragmatic steps that we as individuals can take or advocate for on a community level? What do you think of legalization or decriminalization paired with education as an interim measure? Are there any countries whose policies on prostitution you think are on the right path?

I ask because I don't know how to respond to people who say that "Legal and regulated is better than what we have now!" I think this is probably true (it couldn't be worse, at least). But I also feel this removes the conversation from the reality of what sex workers experience, and people are already too quick to ignore that.
The Why I Hate Fun FAQwhyihatefun on March 13th, 2008 02:14 pm (UTC)
Decriminalization with education is the best interim step possible, in my opinion.

Arguing that any solution is better than what we have right now is sort of irrelevent. I mean, yes, but is that an excuse to never try to do better? Saying that legalization works better than criminalization, therefore we should never try decriminalization with education (which would probably work even better) is sort of a total logical steaming pile of shit. Translated into English it means "I know a way to halfway fix this problem, so I'm totally deadset against anything that would actually take care of it completely!" This is what you should say when people make this sort of silly argument at you.

I actually think that Sweden's policies are on the right path in some ways. Punishing johns instead of prostitutes is in fact a great answer if you believe in punishing people. However, I'm a prison abolitionist. I don't believe that 90% of people who end up in jails, even for a night, even including my former clients, actually belong there or that putting them there actually helps anybody.

The thing about feminist and sex work issues is that they touch on so many other issues, like anti-capitalism (since sex workers are one of the most vulnerable groups exploited by capitalism), abolitionism (since we need to re-examine our desire to punish anybody involved with unnecessary jailtime), racism (since the sex industry is inherently racist), etc.

As for steps individuals can take, it helps a lot to speak out. It helps a lot to let your guy friends know that you're not okay with it. Believe it or not, most men in the world think they have the right to go abuse women systematically while maintaining close personal friendships and relationships with women. They need to learn that this is wrong, that we are watching, and that women get angry when they are abused because abuse is not okay.

While the process of changing our culture into an egalitarian one from one in which men dominate and women are complicit in their own exploitation, even publically endorsing it, is a long and arduous one, it is necessary. While it might be painful to try and change minds one person at a time, it's necessary. You'd be surprised what a big difference it makes to speak out, to say whenever it comes up that you are offended by people tossing around the word "whore" lightly and using "pimp" like it's something positive. You are offended by the use of violent pornography by men you know, because you only are willing to be friends with people who are willing to consider the human beings involved to a degree that prevents them from being aroused by watching an unsuspecting woman get hit.

Speaking up makes a huge difference. Men become predators because they spend their entire lives getting the message that hurting women is okay. Let them know it isn't, and you will have an effect. Women become victims because they learn from a young age that it's their role. Try to change their minds.

As for something more concrete, most of my ideas are not... the kind of thing I'm comfortable discussing online. Certainly, sending out petitions, educating your friends, protesting, writing letters to your congressmen, staging civil disobedience at a local purveyor of sex work, providing services to prostituted women so that they can leave sex work, etc all apply. These are all the kinds of things that people do in order to effect positive change if they don't believe in less mainstream measures like destruction of property/diversity of tactics.

If someone were to believe in diversity of tactics, I would never publically endorse or condone them, but for their own sake I hope they do their research and stay safe.

An interesting article by a woman who used nonviolent tactics while simultaneously finding herself fighting alongside those who used diverse tactics can be found here.

Aikojitterbean on March 13th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your response. You have given me a lot to think about. This is the first time I've researched this specific issue, though I've thought about it in the abstract. I think a lot of progressives get the idea that they can't be anti-prostitution because that would be prudish and it would be impinge on a woman's right to do what she wants with her body, but I would rather err on the side of not being complicit in the oppression of women.

"Choice" is an unfortunate word to have become associated with women's bodies, because it has a commercial connotation that strips the morality away from it. Also, since the right has laid claim to morality, progressives feel uncomfortable talking about it. But it's not about "choice," it's about autonomy. The right to decide what happens to your body is deeply moral and personal and shouldn't be for sale.