Friday, January 22, 2010

On prostitution, poverty, prison, and liberation: an argument for collective action, not arguing against ourselves

[image of liberation poster is from here]

I just posted the following comment, *here*, at a blog focused on ending male violence. The discussion thread, posted, includes a woman who identifies as a sex worker, and other folks who do not. Moses, who is the moderator of that blog, does a fine job of keeping it humane. Thanks, Moses.  :)

I have never really understood the seeming tension between women who willingly work in systems of prostitution and other sexism industries and women fighting to end male supremacy.

In what sense aren't both groups wanting the same things: an end to violence against women?

I see some women who define as sex workers arguing against feminist activists who want pimps and procurers held accountable for what they do that harms human beings, on the class level and on the individual level. Men, predominantly and overwhelmingly, desire and enforce oppression and subordination of some human beings to others, cruelly and without concern for the effect of their actions on women as a class.

All the sex worker arguments above seem to me to be individualistic and anecdotal, which tells me we are in basic agreement.

Does anyone disagree with this:
Those individuals and groups structurally positioned to be most in charge of larger systems of sexist/racist/classist exploitation and violence are dreadful, require incest, rape, trafficking, and sexual slavery, poverty, and homelessness to exist; they do kill women and make the process of destruction appear to be sexy, and they make it profitable, primarily for corporate pimps; those who most profit don't give a damn about women's human rights and well-being.

If we agree on that, why can't we, collectively, focus on stopping the abusive pimps and procurers from being abusive, and stop them by any means necessary?

If capitalism requires poverty to exist, and it does, that doesn't mean trying to find a decent paying job is a bad thing. It doesn't mean capitalism is a good thing, however, and it ought to mean fighting to end poverty and radically transforming capitalism into a political and economic reality that is ecologically sustainable and non-oppressive.

If patriarchy requires rape, battery, incest, and gross sexist exploitation and abuse to function, and it does, then working to make ends meet however one can is not a bad thing. And patriarchy that we must survive in it doesn't render patriarchy a good thing. The call is there to eradicate all forms of violence against women and radically transform patriarchy into something that isn't patriarchal, that is ecologically sustainable and non-oppressive. That's the profeminist/prowomanist/pro-woman viewpoint I hold to.

Speaking only for myself, I have no problem with any group of people fighting for better living conditions. Those battles will, necessarily, take place inside larger systems of inhumane destruction and will, in some ways, reinforce those systems. So I can't imagine organising against women who identify as sex workers who work inside systems of prostitution and other sexism industries.

And I don't support anyone speaking about systems that REQUIRE, PROMOTE, DEMAND, AND ENFORCE patriarchal, capitalist, white supremacist, genocidal, gynocidal, ecocidal child-hating atrocities as "places where good things can happen". Good things happen anywhere. So that's not telling me anything that isn't self-evident. But the fact that a very few people do figure out how to be spiritually liberated while in prison isn't an argument for imprisoning people or for maintaining prison systems. We don't need prison to be spiritually liberated.

To me, such individualistic-only arguments show gross and callous disregard for the lives of the most vulnerable, the poorest, the most exploited, and the least privileged.

Systems that destroy people cannot, in this view, be deemed or determined to be fine, good, just, or humane. They must be radically transformed or dismantled, as long as they are founded on principles and practices of social hierarchy, exploitation, and violence.

And I live in a country that calls all of that horrifying abuse (including poverty, rape, and racism) natural, inevitable, god-willed, and good. And that's f*cked up, to say the least.



The problem is pro-prostitution apologists believe prostitution is acceptable provided prostituted women 'choose' to enter this particular form of male violence against women.

The pro-prostitution lobby are very voluble (aided and abetted by the massively profitable sex industry and its brother the pornography industry). The pro-prostitution lobbyists which in fact are not prostituted women but overwhelmingly pimps, brothel owners, producers of pornography and lap dancing club owners, all claim to be 'sex workers' and also claim to be speaking on behalf of prostituted women.

Legalising prostitution has not worked and evidence is abundant - take Australia with the legalisation of prostitution the numbers of prostituted women being forced/coerced/tricked into prostitution is immense. Also, legalising prostitution has not resulted in the numbers of Johns ceasing to commit rape, sadistic sexual violence and other forms of sexualised torture against the prostituted women. No amount of safety precautions issued to prostituted women will prevent the Johns and pimps from committing sexual violence against prostituted women.

Criminalising the male buyers is the only solution and it is working in Sweden. But criminalising male buyers goes directly against male power and that is why the pro-prostitution lobbyists do not want the focus to be on the Johns and pimps.

Once upon a time western countries believed slavery was acceptable because non-white groups were seen as non-human, but only after a very long and bitter struggle, slavery was finally deemed to be criminal and a violation of all human rights. Not so as regards prostitution because pro-prostitution apologists proclaim it is a woman's choice to enter prostitution - irrespective of the fact overwhelmingly prostituted women and girls want to leave - not remain.

Pro-prostitution lobbyists refuse to accept it is always the Johns who have 'free choice' never prostituted women. Granted a tiny minority of prostituted women 'choose to enter prostitution' but should this tiny minority supercede the majority of prostituted women who want to exit but can't because society believes they are dehumanised beings and will not provide adequate support to enable them to leave prostitution.

'Sex worker' is a libertarian phrase which promotes the myth prostitution is just work - similar to working in McDonalds but I've yet to learn or hear that female staff working in McDonalds have to remove all their clothes and submit to being men's sexual service stations. Prostitution is not 'work' it is male sexual violence against women because of the horrendous physical, mental and psychological damage prostituted women experience in having to submit to innumerable male strangers using their bodies in whatever way the John demands.

The bottom line is prostitution is male violence against women and pro-prostitution apologists are not remotely interested in the terrible injuries and dehumanisation prostituted women suffer. Pro-prostitution apologists believe it is acceptable for Johns to buy another human being and reduce her to a sexual slave. Slavery in other words.

The Industrial Vagina by Sheila Jeffreys documents how the pro-prostitution apologists always deflect attention away from the violence Johns inflict on prostituted women. How the pro-prostitution apologists are not remotely interested in the well-being of prostituted women but instead are determined to keep them in this particular form of female sexual slavery.

Julian Real said...

Thanks, Jennifer, for clarifying that. I had no idea about the amount of pro-prostitution lobbyists actually being pimps, etc. But of course that makes sense, not that I think it is the case in this thread.

I think of the central issues has been Are the anti-trafficking and sexual slavery activists against prostitution, women who have come out of the sexxxploitation industries? Back in the day, the answer was an unequivocal YES--and most, invisibly, were poor women of color. Those who wanted to protect The Patriarchal Pimpdom always noted the few activists who weren't survivors of those systems who was doing this work.

Ruchira Gupta is one such woman. She was not inside those systems, and I find it interesting that white, privileged pro-pimp apologists won't address women of color in what is called "The Third World" directly, when making their case that "prostitution is consensual, healthy work where no one is harmed or oppressed or exploited--except maybe the [procurer]". We can note the prioritisation of what happens to men in such an argument, as well as the invisibilisation of the girls and women, and boys and trans folks, most at risk in those systems, with the least choices and the fewest options for how to try and make money.

And now, my question to any U.S. or UK white privileged person arguing for such systems to continue existing unchallenged in any way by feminist activists, is "Are you fully accountable to all the women and girls who are suffering extraordinary trauma, who are getting very sick and are dying--as a direct consequence of the "work", because of what you wish to have continue? Are you directly accountable to the sexual slaves, the trafficked women and girls across the globe, because what you are talking about is such a non-vast minority experience.

Julian Real said...

1.3 million children in one nation alone are sex slaves. The institutionalised entitlements and beliefs about what female human beings are for, the subordination, discrimination, and violence against women--in every arena of life, is what fuels the demand from pimps and procurers. It is institutionalised misogyny and misopedia, not woman-loving and child-loving, not collective communal respect and regard for children and women, that makes this even possible as a grotesque, global reality.

So I now believe anyone who is pro-pimp and pro-sexual exploitation ought to answer directly to those of us who are the children and women who are the poorest and most heinously abused. Because for "so-called high-end white Western 'I choose this and no one is harmed' pro-pimp apologists to even have that "opportunity", there must be massive sexual slavery as its foundation.

Anyone who is willing to work on the backs of slaves and claim no one is harmed while doing so... well, that's no ethical or compassionate or humane view position from where I stand as a white class-privileged gayboy who used to meet someone in a different motel room once a month "consensually" but never without damage being done to me psychologically and politically. Consent does not mean harm isn't being done, and this is a fact that so many people resist acknowledging.

A dear friend of mine who grew up poor and was on the streets after being seasoned by a pimp who claimed to have her best interests at heart (and was a ruthless fucking liar for saying so), used to say to me something to the effect of: "Don't ask a woman in the system what she feels about it. She can't let herself fully know. She's inside it. Ask her ten or twenty years after she's out of 'the life' what she feels about it. You're far more likely to get an honest and thorough answer once her life doesn't depend on being in it."

Julian Real said...

I think this holds true for some many things. So many women I know who have gotten out of abusive relationships with men, whether their fathers, boyfriends, husbands, or pimps, will speak with far more clarity about what was abusive there, that they couldn't speak out loud about at the time. When I was meeting a white man in a motel room monthly, I would have told you "this is fucked up" but I wouldn't have been able to identify what it was that kept me doing it. I couldn't let myself know that. And in my case it wasn't economic coercion at all, ever. It was political coercion, something that too many apologists for pimps and procurers want to deny even exists. I lived it. It exists. Battered women live it. It exists. Formerly incested women live it. It exists. Pimped women live it. It exists.

All of that doesn't render me or anyone else "a victim"--as if knowing that some people are, truly, victimised is too antithetical to one's libertarian ideals to possibly be the case, except anecdotally. But there are far more people victimised, harmed, oppressed, than not, if we're speaking of the population of girls, boys, trans folks, and women used for sexxx, for sexist exploitation, by men who are either pimps or procurers.

And yes, a similar but not identical argument holds for getting a high-end job that is non-sexually exploitative. It requires massive labor slavery and wage-reliant very oppressive, depressing, soul-crushing servitude. Which is why I won't take "But this system is good, because it works for me" as a legitimate argument.

As you note, working in a McDonalds restaurant is NOT the same thing as men using you like a "sexual service station", as you put it so well. Flipping a hamburger and tapping the price of it into a cash register is NOT just like having a dick in your mouth (or wherever else) and semen on your face. Sorry but that's just true.

I always tell male procurers who self-servingly believe that it is the same, to go do each for a week, putting in ten hour days, and get back to me. None have, yet. I'm still waiting for their reports.