I’m following Feministe (www.feministe.us), which is run by three authors and frequently features guest bloggers. One recent post submitted by two guest bloggers, Debbie and Laurie, entitled “The War on Sex Workers” (http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2013/02/05/the-war-on-sex-workers/), argues that “the war on ‘sex trafficking’” is actually a war on sex workers.
They share quotes from an article by Melissa Gira Grant, one of which reads: “…Feminists once offered a powerful critique of the criminal justice system, but that argument has faded as they have found power within it. Not surprisingly, they have found conservative allies along the way. In redefining sex work as an issue of bad men doing bad things to enslaved young women, anti-prostitution activists have recast themselves as liberators instead of scolds, while simultaneously making their message more attractive to the social conservatives who have at times distrusted them.“ This quote suggests that somewhere during the fight against our society’s hierarchical power structure, feminists actually became part of the power structure and have forgotten their roots. This is interesting not only because it’s a powerful statement that would probably spark heated debate among feminists about whether or not it is actually true, but because it also implies that feminists should be in strong opposition to our society’s power systems. I’m not sure that that’s necessarily true- I don’t think it’s fair to say that conservative feminists aren’t “good” feminists or that they are hypocrites. I suppose this is a case of liberal feminism vs. radical feminism (Grant here favoring the radical point of view).
Guest bloggers Laurie and Debbie responded to Grant’s statement: “Anti-sex-trafficking “feminism” is respectable. It allows feminists to get a foothold in the halls of power, to be listened to by the kind of people who spend the rest of their time waging the war on women, to be funded by Warren Buffett, to see laws they argue for pass… Anti-sex-trafficking “feminism” is a way to reify and strengthen race, class, and cisgender values, because it essentially says “I would never voluntarily have sex for money, therefore any woman who has sex for money must be a victim, a moral failure, or both.” Thus, the women who hold this position get to have their penetration and eat it too: the sex they have is fine, but the sex prostitutes have is disgusting and deserves to be illegal.” This is again interesting, because Laurie and Debbie raise the point earlier in the article that transgender and minority women are more likely to be pressured into sex work, which illustrates how this issue highlights divisions of race, class and gender within feminists. The last line of this quote is especially interesting to me- at what point does sex for these women become prostitution? I’ve heard the (sexist) opinion that, regardless of whether they pay directly or they “pay” by courting a woman, men pay for sex. Movies and television also set up scenarios in which a woman uses sex in order to get something that she wants, but we don’t consider this prostitution because no money is exchanged. I also believe that, in this instance, we see the woman as using sex to gain power rather than as being taken advantage of by lecherous men. But is there really a difference?
Then again, Laurie and Debbie are also careful to state that they do not support sex trafficking, sex work involving minors, or “anyone being forced into sex work against their will.” This reminded me of a point raised in The Bro Code, which was that there is a distinction between making a choice because one does not see a better option and between making a choice because one truly wants to make that choice.
This is a complicated issue (also in part because sex work and the sex industry is comprised of more than just prostitutes: pornography, strip clubs, and go-go dancers are all part of the sex industry as well), and one that continues to be debated on the Feministe website. Head blogger Jill actually posted a response article (which can be found here: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2013/02/06/supporting-sex-workers-rights-opposing-the-buying-of-sex/) shortly after the first article was posted, illustrating another point of view. I agreed with much of Jill’s article, and I think that it is important to make a distinction between being opposed to the buying of sex while making sure that, in the fight against the commercialization of sex and against prostitution, we don’t hurt the very people we are claiming to be trying to help.