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Prostitution and Objectification

irresponsibleness of anti-prostitution feminists

Date: 11/07/2001

Swinger wrote:
<<#2. A large part of feminism to me is fighting for equal treatment and respect of women in our society. Getting rid of the asymmetry in how men and women are represented. I fucking HATE the way women are sexually objectified in this society, and our beauty and sexuality cheapened to sell all kinds of random bullshit goods. I don't want to be objectified! So here is my fear. If "Jill" decides to strip or sell her sex to "Bob", that is her choice and that is fine, unless it will coincidentally objectify me as well just by being a woman in the same society. In other words, because "Bob" determines that it is okay to objectify "Jill" since she allows it, will he think it is okay to objectify me too, or any other woman for that matter? Will it make it easier to transfer that objectification to me in everyday situations (i.e. the workplace) although I'm doing my best to fight this asymmetrical representation? In a larger context, will it make it that much easier for the media or society in general to sexually exploit and objectify women to sell goods (as they obviously already do)? This is why I'm on the fence. Help.>>

Hi Swinger - let me address some of your concerns...

1) Speaking about "choice" is pretty much useless in the discussion about prostitution. It should go without saying that in this society, people's choices are limited by sexism, racism, homophobia, as well as the capitalism. The debate over whether or not prostitutes have "choice" sidetracks the real issue, which is this lack of true "choices" as result of these oppressive structures.

2) Provider of sexual service is not inherently "objectified" any more than other workers are in the capitalist system; indeed, it is possible to imagine a society in which prostitutes are regarded as professional caregivers and not merely sex objects. Objectification of women in prostitution tells us more about the society in which it occurs than what prostitution inherently does to women.

3) If "Bob" decides to objectify you after having a consentual commercial sex with a prostitute, it is *his* problem and he is solely responsible for it. I often feel that anti-prostitution feminists and rapists think exactly alike: they conflate rape, which is an act of unconsentual sexual violence, and consentual sex. Anti-prostitution feminists believe that prostitutes cannot not get raped, while rapists think that prostitutes cannot get raped - which is the same thing, once you realize that both positions relieve the actual rapist of responsibility. I do not think being raped ispart of my job description, and resent the joint suggestion from anti-prostitution feminsts and rapists that I am forfeiting my right to ever refuse to have sex or be objectified by being a prostitute.

4) Regardless of whose responsibility it is, yes, there is a chance that a greater acceptance of prostitution (in the absense of greater social justice otherwise) might result in greater objectification of women who are not sex workers. But the way to change this is to fight unconsentual or unwanted objectification/sexualization of our bodies. I find it completely irresponsible for middle-class feminists to scapegoat prostitutes just so that *they* can be liberated from unwanted male gaze, while prostitutes are having to face the social, economic, and legal persecution on their own. I do not believe that it is an ethical feminist practice to sacrifice one group of women "for the good of" other women.


------------------------------------------------------------------------ * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.