I suggest a valuable mental exercise for every contributor who sincerely believes that there is nothing wrong with prostitution, that there should be no quibbling about the perfectly reasonable exchange of sex for money, etc.  Here it is:  every time (every single time) you hear someone, including yourself, use prostitution or sexual accommodation as a metaphor for spinelessness, gutlessness, venality, dishonesty, vacuity, weakness etc. — stop and issue a verbal correction.

When someone refers to the corporate media as “presstitutes,” interrupt and tell them that there is nothing wrong with prostitution, it is an honest profession and quite separate from corruption or cowardice.  When someone talks about spineless Democrats despicably “rolling over for” the Bush regime or the US press “going on its knees” to Bush, remind them that there is nothing at all demeaning about submitting to male sexual demands, particularly if money changes hands.  Every time someone calls a politician “corporate whore”, tell them how legit a career prostitution is or should be, and how unfair it is to invoke it as a casual insult.  Every time someone says “lies like a whore” or “whores around” or “what a cocksucker” or “he’s Cheney’s bitch” or “that sucks” or “I wouldn’t just bend over for that” or “jeez we really took it in the shorts that time” or any of the plethora of other everyday expressions that reveal a reflexive equation of sex and domination, receptivity and inferiority… interrupt the conversation, and defend the whores.

All the above, and most of what follows was written by European Tribune contributor DeAnander. I was planning to write today about World AIDS Day, but was struck by some of the content provided in several threads started (by AgnesaParis) in recent days over at the European Tribune about the sex trade, prostitution and the accompanying violence:

Legalising prostitution : a lesser evil ?
Evils of the world : of sexual slavery
The human body: yet another consumable?

There is an amazing wealth of information, polite discussion and links in these threads, so I can only encourage you to read them. I’d like to quote a few extracts by DeAnander, who is quite knowledgeable about the topic (but there are several other notable contributors, notably myriad about the Australian experience of legalisation of prostitution):

the harm done to women in prostitution is not merely a byproduct of the illegality of the trade and the secrecy, repression and coercion typical of an illegal business.  Harm is also the commodity being sold.  In the legal brothels of Australia, a woman can lose income if she refuses painful anal intercourse with a client;  her only other option is to charge more for enduring the painful experience.  I suggest the reader — particularly the hetero male reader — might wish to think seriously about how much a well-endowed man would have to pay him to cooperate with such a demand — would it be more than $500 AUD?  How much would it be?  What would it be like to make a living catering to such demands, several times a day?  To lose significant money by insisting on only “safe” or ordinary sex?  To be offered big bonuses for risking HIV infection by not insisting on a condom?  How much money would one have to earn to make it worthwhile?  Would it be preferable to other “dirty” jobs like bricklaying, ditch-digging, or cleaning toilets?

And more fundamentally, is there any such thing as a “fair price” for hurting and demeaning another person?  Perhaps we can calculate one by asking, What price would you or I pay to have our daughter, or any other woman we cared about, spared from such an experience?  What would we pay in ransom to get our daughter safely out of such a situation?  I’m thinking five figures, six figures, heck, most parents would pay whatever was asked, if they had to go into debt for the rest of their lives.  Why are not prostituted women paid these kinds of sums, if that is the fair-market price for the various harms they are expected to endure?

The question of why so many men wish to hurt or demean women is a far larger one.  The scope of a discussion of patriarchy, misogyny, and their bearing on male sexuality as constructed in various cultures around the world, is so vast that I doubt a whole forum could hold it, let alone one thread or diary.  (Head over to Stan’s place and join the brawl in progress.) I would suggest that for the moment, rather than fleeing to idyllic fantasies of Bonobo-land, those concerned with social justice should accept the prevailing Hobbesian realities: that many men enjoy hurting women and find sex inadequate unless it includes bullying and hurting;  that these men are very likely to try to buy access to “disposable” women and children for anonymous use, so as to avoid the complications and loss of reputation involved in being a known batterer or abuser within a community;  and working from these distressing but well-attested realities, figure out how to curb this tendency and protect our society’s most vulnerable women and children from it.  Figuring out how these men got to be this way and how we could raise boys to be less violent and hateful towards girls and women, would be a fine project;  but that’s a multigenerational effort.  In the meantime there is actually-existing abuse and suffering to be addressed, and no easy answers.  

Certainly criminalising the prostituted women themselves is absurd and misogynist.  They are either free agents engaging voluntarily in sexual trade, or victims of coercion, and in neither case are they coercing or doing harm to others.  Perhaps what should be criminalised is “profiteering off the sexual labour of another person” (there have been laws like this in the past prohibiting pimping specifically).  And of course existing laws against kidnapping, rape, assault and GBH should be applied without prejudice to offences against prostituted women (fat chance of that, in a world where male police, judges, lawyers and politicians are often among the men abusing the prostitutes, but it’s a nice idea).

The paper on choice, law, and prostitution is S Anderson, “Prostitution and Sexual Autonomy:  Making Sense of the Prohibition of Prostitution”, from Ethics July 2002.  I don’t think it is available online, unless you have access to Lexis/Nexis or something similar.  Which is a pity as it is one of the best discussions to date of the debate between normalisers and abolitionists.

And again this:

It is a post-Enlightenment, rights-oriented outlook that tells us it is not appropriate for a businessman to tell his secretary to dress sexy for the office, or to do his holiday shopping for him;  we draw a basic distinction between the kinds of services that are appropriately exchanged for money, i.e. ‘what is in my job description,’ and those which are, or should be, a reflection of intersubjectivity and reciprocity.  We look down on people who use sexual favours to get ahead in academia or the workplace.  We don’t want to work for bosses who grope the staff, or make pay raises conditional on a quick shag in the storeroom.

If we take a classic laissez-faire neoliberal approach to prostitution and say that there are no services which it is inappropriate to exchange for money, and that therefore performing sex for money is no different from typing or canning fish for money — hey, it’s just supply and demand, rational actors completing a transaction like any other in a free market — then how do we at the same time maintain that the secretary should not be required to fellate the boss?  After all, if there is nothing shaming or demeaning about performing sexual acts on persons for whom one has no intimate affection, no basis of trust or love, then why should this not be in her job description right along with shorthand and typing?

But instinctively we know that using the lever of money-power to coerce sexual service is a qualitatively different type of transaction from paying for 8 hours of someone’s time to translate documents or wash cars.   Permitting extreme physical intimacy from an untrusted and unloved Other or stranger, on their terms, according to their demand, requires a renunciation of fundamental human boundaries, the acceptance of a profound violation of personal space and bodily/emotional integrity.  Having at the same time to maintain a pretence — an artificial persona — only adds to the alienation.  Anyone who has ever worked Reception for 8 hours a day can tell you how wearying and crazy-making it can be to smile brightly and make nice with often obnoxious strangers all day, even when you are having trouble at home or not feeling very well — to have to put on an act all day long;  imagine having to provide them with the most intimate sexual services as well.

We can judge the depth of our attachment to personal integrity by the shock, outrage, and/or fear that we feel when we read about (or heaven help us, experience) male/male prison rape and prostitution.  When men in prison must submit to sexual service in order to survive or to get along or to earn money, we consider this a tragedy and a horror, a dreadful indictment of an inhumane prison system, a damaging and traumatising experience — even when some degree of (constrained) choice is involved, we know that rape and the threat of rape are forever hovering to sway that choice.  And we know that vanishingly small numbers of men would make those choices if they were free, on the outside.

But we are supposed to believe that women and girls — who live in a society not so different from prison society for men, where an unprotected female without wealth is at high risk for rape, and where the protection of one man (however exploitative) may seem better than being “thrown to the wolves” — take no harm from the same experience.  To believe this, seems to me, is to believe that men are somehow more real human beings, with more dignity and sense of self and self-worth, than women;  which, if I may speak strongly for a moment, is the fundamental assumption of a bigot — whether racial religious, or sexual.  To assume that another person’s self-respect and dignity are inherently of less worth or importance than another’s is surely the base assumption of anti-democracy, the root of caste and feudal class and race slavery.

When men are treated as sexual merchandise by other men in prison, we are deeply shocked and understand that this experience could wound and scar an individual’s soul and pride for life.  We understand the same when men are coerced into playing out pornographic scenes in Abu Ghraib.  When the coercion used is money rather than guns (or money and guns and fists in many cases), and the coerced or constrained person is female, for some reason we collectively believe that she is miraculously resilient and tough and ultra-balanced enough to take no harm from relinquishing her physical boundaries and allowing the occupation and use of her body by an untrusted other.

Again, all the above is not written by me, but by DeAnander, and certainly deserves a wider distribution.

Please ponder her words – and there’s lots more in the 3 threads linked to above.

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