So even though I consider myself a radical feminist, I’m still a little confused about what radfems think about legalizing prostitution?
I honestly have no opinion on this atm because I’m too uneducated.
I’ve heard people say it would be bad, that it would just be exploiting women further than they already are, but then I’ve heard people say that it would most likely eliminate abusive pimps and kidnappings….not sure how true those things are, again, just people’s opinions I’ve heard.
Please inform me.
hi! consider me your helpful informo-pixie, here to guide you through “thinking about sex work as a feminist.” i’m here to help!
a lot of your fellow radical feminists (although not all — there are certainly women who claim the label of radical feminist without subscribing to these ideas) will have a lot to say about how all sex work, but usually focusing on full service sex work and pornography especially, is inherently exploitative, damaging, and demeaning to the people who do it. And, they sort of have a point. It can be pretty horrible to wake in the morning and know that if you don’t go out to a job you hate, if you don’t put up with people for hours and hours who think you’re less than human and that they have a right to treat you any way they wish, that you’ll be denied a place to live, food to eat, and medical care you might need to survive. Demeaning is right. But while what I described does apply to sex work, it also applies to any waged labor while we live in a capitalist society that is more than all right with allowing people to literally die when plentiful resources are available. There’s nothing about that that is unique to sex work. And if you try to treat the “symptom” of specifically sex work being demeaning and inherently coercive by getting rid of it, without treating the illness of “dangerous and violent capitalism,” then all you are doing is a) stigmatizing sex workers by singling them out as somehow more responsible for this shitty system (as laborers!) than everyone else and b) driving sex workers in (or further in) to poverty by depriving them of work. Which, we’ve established, is necessary in order to obtain food.
But let’s say, that you think that sex work is problematic for other reasons. Say, someone told you that the vast, vast majority of people in the sex trades are not there by choice (but not in the capitalism-is-inherently-coercive sort of way), and it is only a tiny privileged few who have an in any way tolerable experience.
Well. The first thing you need to know is that your information? Is pretty much dead wrong. And collected by extremely unscrupulous people who have built careers profiting from the labor of (rescued) sex workers. (Sound familiar?)
But, let’s pretend, for a second, that the basic premise is true — that sex work is unmitigatedly terrible for most of the people in it, and that most of us would leave if we were able. The absolutely best thing you can do for sex workers in those circumstances is to advocate for the decriminalization and destigmatization of sex work. Not regulation, not legalization, which end up being instruments of government violence, and a means to arbitrarily enforce regulatory laws only on workers the state feels like targeting (such as trans women, WOC, outdoor workers, etc). Read up on the Contagious Diseases Acts if you want an example from the past, and check out the ridiculous restrictions on the people who work legally in Nevada brothels (not to mention how much money, precisely because of the regulations, goes into the manager’s pocket, not the worker’s). And certainly not end demand models (like the Swedish Model or the Nordic Model), which officially criminalize only the client and not the provider. These models might sound sort of good, but they serve, in practice, to increase violence against sex workers and to bar them from accessing necessary services. (You can check my “end demand” and “end demand model” tags for times when I’ve gone into the mechanics of this in more detail.) These models do not achieve their stated goals — they do not drive down the quantity of sex trade transactions that happen, and they make it more difficult for women to exit the industry that want to, not less, and they make working much less safe. This is true whether sex workers are working because they want to, or because they are being forced to — workers who fall under the definition of being trafficked are also benefited by decriminalization and harmed by criminalization.
It’s also important to remember too, that, when people do choose sex work, they don’t always choose because it’s the best job they could ever think of having ever. A lot of people choose to do sex work because it is the best or only way to get their needs met, either because they can’t get hired working civilian jobs (because they’re working undocumented, or because racial or transmisogynistic oppression makes employers pass them over for opportunities), or because they have responsibilities or disabilities (or both!) that make the requirements of civilian jobs unmanageable (even if you don’t like sex work, it tends to have much lower barriers to entry than other work, can be much more flexible in terms of what and how many hours you need to work, and can get your expenses covered faster than most civilian jobs, so that you have time to meet your other responsibilities, like say, providing childcare). And so when you work towards making the sex industry disappear before you make hostage-holding capitalism disappear, you are removing a source of necessary income from the sex workers who are already the most vulnerable.
It’s a little late, and I know I haven’t covered everything, but I do think that educating people who are looking to get educated is an important task, so I would love it if you came back on this post with any questions or concerns you have about it. I’ll be happy to try and clear anything else up for you.