Was reading Martha Nussbaum’s essay on prostitution earlier today and some of her points are truly brilliant.
For anyone who hasn’t read it, Nussbaum believes that prostitution is no worse than other jobs that exist legally in the world today and that the reasons we use to ban it are…
theres a lot of reasons that prostitution is far worse than other jobs that exist legally. 90% of Native American women who have been prostituted are raped.
here’s one of the best essays ive read about why prostitution cannot be a job like any other
its worth reading the comments as well
Valid point, but a lot of the issues like the danger of getting raped, abused, or murdered would be solved with legalization. If it was regulated there could be police protection. The violence would decrease dramatically.
The idea that prostitution is a “violation” is always one that puzzled me. Consenting to have someone enter your personal space is not a violation. If someone pays you and you agree to let them enter your personal space that it is an agreement. Is it really that different from someone being paid to be a nude model? Someone being paid to test invasive medical equipment? Sure, there’s sex. But that’s just another type of personal space.
I really think that prostitution is just another job that someone can choose, whether they are down on their luck or really just like having sex with multiple people (let’s not pretend there aren’t people like this in the world). I don’t think the answer is getting rid of the option. The answer is making the option safer.
no, they wouldn’t be solved by legalization at all. the women most at risk of being raped, abused, and murdered are far less likely to meet the standards for regulation (like passing clean on drug and STD tests).
This paragraph by Meghan Murphy sums up why just because women make a choice to do something doesn’t mean its okay:
Prostitution exists because of the inextricable link between capitalism and patriarchy. The two, under these circumstances, cannot be separated. Desperation, poverty, abuse, addiction, a lack of other opportunities for work, a need to pay the rent and feed the kids, a history of colonialism and racism, and of course, a misogynistic culture that treats women as things that exist to feed the capitalist wheel, to sell and to be sold, all work together to create a society wherein prostitution not only exists, but thrives (if you consider an abundance of men profiting from prostitution and sex industries ‘thriving’). Why is the response to the abuse, to the exploitation, to the deaths, and to the trauma that many women experience as a result of being prostituted, to treat this as simply ‘a job like any other’? What other job demands that the employee be violated? Maybe raped? Maybe abused? Maybe murdered? Maybe called horrid names until self-confidence has been worn down to a thread? Maybe develop PTSD? What progressive person would argue that this kind of treatment should be legitimized? That women’s bodies, indeed, should be available for purchase by men? And that men should feel A-OK about that?
For 90% of women, they would not “choose” prostitution if capitalism wasn’t forcing it on them. This is not a choice that is made freely, it is made under extreme duress.
Another fantastic essay by her debunks the “choice is the only thing that matters” narrative (I really suggest reading the whole thing):
I think you are partly right though, decriminalization would decrease a lot of the abuses. But it will never make prostitution like any other work, because of capitalism and patriarchy. Meghan Murphy supports decriminalization and efforts at regulation, but she also recognizes that these efforts will help those with the most resources.
We want women to be safe, but we also want women to be human. We want women to have rights, but we also want women to have real choices. We want respect and equitable treatment for women but we don’t believe that johns will ever provide this. No man who thinks he has the right to purchase women is a man who believes in real equality and a man who can legally do this is a man who thinks that this is what women should do for him. No woman should be thrown in jail for having to do what she needs to in order to survive, but certainly we don’t need to accept and legalize exploitation from men in order to decriminalize the women?
You, again, make some great points, and I agree with some of what you are saying. I would like to point out that a lot of jobs are harmful to the workers, but they are still legal. Yes, perhaps those jobs don’t come with the precise dangers that prostitution does (and I would say that’s because they are legal, regulated, and don’t come with the stigma of a sex worker), but they still carry very real dangers and downsides. All jobs chosen by desperate people are going to have extreme downsides.
The male dominated society we live in is indeed harming prostitutes, but it’s not because of their job, it’s because of how society treats them because of that job. The actual act of selling sex is not what’s harmful. (And it is selling sex, not selling women. Exceptions of course are made for those in prostitution due to kidnapping, trickery, blackmail, etc. These cases are BAD and should definitely be illegal, no question.) What’s harmful are the consequences society imposes to keep prostitutes in the gutter. We don’t want prostitutes to be respectable, so we disgrace them. But what is REALLY wrong about selling sex? I can’t seem to find a satisfactory answer for this. Sure, selling sex will never quite be like any other job, but does that mean it’s not a job worth having around?
I think the main difference in our opinions is where the source of violence against women who are prostituted comes from. I don’t mean to misrepresent you, but it seems like you’re arguing that it stems mainly from its illegality and negative stigma, whereas I think it comes from interlocking systems of oppression (patriarchy, racism, and capitalism are the big 3).
If there was any other job that was illegal, would 90% of Native American women who worked in that job be raped? We know for a fact that this isn’t true, there is something about prostitution which makes it unlike other forms of work.
For a long time, feminists have viewed sex as more than genital contact. Since 90% of women are not being prostituted out of their own free will (they are being forced into it by capitalism), prostitution should not be viewed as sex work, because for the vast majority of women it clearly does not fit the enthusiastic consent model.
Not only that but when we frame sex as work, we work from an assumption that sex can be something that exists only for male pleasure. That sex can be something that happens to women but does not require that women feel pleasure as part of the act.
The reason for a man to buy sex from a woman is, without a doubt, because he desires pleasure without having to give anything in return. This is a male-centered purchase. If we are to define sex as something pleasurable for both parties then how on earth can we define prostitution as sex work? There is something decidedly unprogressive about calling something ‘sex’ when the act is, in fact, solely about providing pleasure for one party (the male party) without any regard for the woman with whom you are engaging in this supposed ‘sex’ with. Doesn’t this defy the whole enthusiastic consent model?
You cannot divorce a choice from the conditions that the choice is made under. If it is the choice between being prostituted or starving on the streets, that isn’t much of a choice.
There was an excellent comment on one of the feminisms posts I linked:
From “A Research Report Based on Interviews with 110 Men Who Bought Women in Prostitution”:
-One-fourth to one-third of the men we interviewed endorsed rape-tolerant attitudes.
-12% told us that the rape of a prostitute or call girl was not possible.
-10% asserted that the concept of rape simply does not apply to women in prostitution.
-22% of our interviewees explained that once he pays for it, the customer is entitled to do
whatever he wants to the woman he buys.
From “Comparing Sex Buyers with Men Who Don’t Buy Sex”:
-Thirty-seven percent of sex buyers and 21% of non-sex buyers think that once sex is paid for, women are obligated do whatever the buyer wants
-Both sex buyers and non-sex buyers evidenced extensive knowledge of the physical and psychological harms of prostitution. The men observed common psychological symptoms include low self-esteem, depression, substance abuse disorders, and dissociative disorders.
-Paradoxically, while viewing prostituted women as degraded objects who were different from other women, at the same time, a number of men understood that their extremely negative attitudes toward women in prostitution inevitably also contaminated their own relationships with other women.
-Several men clearly expressed their awareness of – and their satisfaction with – the falseness of the women’s emotional expression. “The best part about going to prostitutes is you don‘t have to worry about them feeling good because they‘re going to fake it no matter what. So you can just focus on having a good time yourself.”
From “Men who buy sex
Who they buy and what they know”:
-Twenty-five per cent told us that the very concept of raping a prostitute or call girl was “ridiculous.”
-Sixteen per cent stated that they would rape a woman if they could be assured that they would not be caught.
-Acknowledging their sexually coercive behaviours with non-prostitute women, 37% told us that they had tricked non-prostituting women into having sex by lying to them.
-Twenty-seven per cent of our interviewees explained that once he pays, the customer is entitled to engage in any act he chooses with the woman he buys.
-Forty-seven per cent of these London men expressed the view to a greater or lesser degree that women did not always have certain rights during prostitution.
-As Kinnell (2008) argues, such men believe that “buying sex entitles them to do anything they want” (p264) or that paying “gave them the right to inflict any kind of assault they chose” (p86).
The fundamental cause of these attitudes is patriarchy, which does not disappear with regulation. Yes, fewer women will be abused and raped because of decriminalization, but the driving force of these attitudes will still exist. I think we agree on part of this, but instead of calling it patriarchy, you’re calling it stigma against women who are prostituted. But the stigma doesn’t come from the legal system, it comes from patriarchy. However, when you recognize that its patriarchy that’s the cause, then decriminalizing it doesn’t change the stigma against women who are prostituted.