Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Efforts to Legalise Prostitution are not Just Ineffective In Making Conditions Safer for Women Inside Systems of Procurement and Purchase of Human Beings. These Approaches are also grossly Classist, Pro-Genocidal, and Pro-Gynocidal, Negatively Impacting Women and Girls Globally

Sex shops, adult cinemas, brothels and lap-dancing clubs jostle for clients alongside restaurants, dance clubs and live-music venues on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, the city where the Beatles performed more than anywhere else. John Lennon once said he grew up in Hamburg, not Liverpool. Paul McCartney described it as a “sexual awakening” for the teenagers from conservative 1950s England. “We were baptized in Hamburg because there were the girls,” he says in his official biography. Most were strippers or hookers, he adds. [source of image and captioned text: here]
I cannot accept--because I cannot believe--the premises of the feminism that comes out of the academy: the feminism that says we will hear all these sides year after year, and then, someday, in the future, by some process that we have not yet found, we will decide what is right and what is true. That does not make sense to me. I understand that to many of you it does make sense. I am talking across the biggest cultural divide in my own life. I have been trying to talk across it for twenty years with what I would consider marginal success.

I want to bring us back to basics. Prostitution: what is it? It is the use of a woman's body for sex by a man, he pays money, he does what he wants. The minute you move away from what it really is, you move away from prostitution into the world of ideas. You will feel better; you will have a better time; it is more fun; there is plenty to discuss, but you will be discussing ideas, not prostitution. Prostitution is not an idea. It is the mouth, the vagina, the rectum, penetrated usually by a penis, sometimes hands, sometimes objects, by one man and then another and then another and then another and then another. That's what it is.
[M]any of us are saying that prostitution is intrinsically abusive. Let me be clear. I am talking to you about prostitution per se, without more violence, without extra violence, without a woman being hit, without a woman being pushed. Prostitution in and of itself is an abuse of a woman's body. Those of us who say this are accused of being simple-minded. But prostitution is very simple. And if you are not simple-minded, you will never understand it. The more complex you manage to be, the further away from the reality you will be--the safer you will be, the happier you will be, the more fun you will have discussing the issue of prostitution. In prostitution, no woman stays whole. It is impossible to use a human body in the way women's bodies are used in prostitution and to have a whole human being at the end of it, or in the middle of it, or close to the beginning of it. -- Andrea Dworkin, from her 1993 speech, "Prostitution and Male Supremacy", which may be read in full here*
*Thanks to Nikki Craft.
To those who argue it is only ivory tower academics and other "out of touch" feminists who are for ending prostitution as a male supremacist practice (who, you might suggest, allegedly never worked in any of the sexxxism industries and know-not of sexual exploitation by men or of economic deprivation including homelessness), I wish to remind you that it is primarily those populations of women--those without homes, those who have been used and abused, trafficked and enslaved by men who think some girls and some women exist for such uses and abuses who are fighting against legalising prostitution--who advocate for ending prostitution as a male supremacist practice. It is not primarily academics, or otherwise "out of touch" feminists. The out of touch people are often academics, however. The ones who never did live on the streets, who were never homeless, who have class, race, age, and ability privileges.

It is primarily poor and illiterate girls and women--white, Asian, Brown, Black, Indigenous, globally--some of whom are very literate and are also academically educated (but most not), some with legal expertise (but most without), some with class and race privileges (but most without), some who were never rented or sold by men (but most not), who do this specific activist work--to end, abolish, stop men's sexual use and abuse of girls and women including the trafficking and enslaving of girls and women, and also transgender, and male people, by and for men's consumption, pleasure, and profit.

In the U.S. especially, but across North America and in other lands invaded by palien men, a terribly Western neoliberal ethic supports people thinking of promoters of prostitution (overwhelmingly a white-het-man-thang to do), as something individual women have a right to do, as if individual women are somehow not members of the group "women". An abstract and individualistic ethic of personal freedom to behave in ways that don't indicate any form of collective freedom erases the reality that men having an acted-out entitlement to obtain sexual access to some women and girls impacts women generally, and negatively. Such an ethic of convenient abstraction and non-existent individualism denies women, as a class, the opportunity to be seen as individuals who don't exist to sexually service men, as rented beings or as slaves. 

Let me give but one atrocious-while-terribly-common example of how some men wanting some women to be prostitutes impacts non-prostituted and prostituted women negatively as a class.

I was on the phone with an adult female friend who was walking in a neighborhood outside. She was in sweat pants and a winter jacket--a large loose-fitting coat that was only waist-length. I remember the length because she remarked how she needed a winter coat that was longer, to keep more of her body warm when she walked. She has medium-dark skin, as such characteristics are carefully measured and monitored in the racist U.S. Her class-background is not discernible by her appearance, but she was walking in a working class neighborhood.

You get the picture: She was speaking with me on her cell phone, engaged in conversation, walking along a sidewalk with houses to one side of her.

A car pulled up, slowing down, with the driver riding along at her walking pace which was quickening. The driver repeatedly asked her a question that assumed she was working as a prostitute and might be interested in having paid-for sex. In fact, she was working at having a conversation with a friend (moi). She was also working at being perceived as a person who doesn't exist for anyone's sexual services. She was also working very hard--and this is a job with overtime hours that pays shit--at being understood to be a full human being who is her own person--an individual with a personal life and particular interests and ideas--that in no way belongs to anyone else, that no person in any way ought to assume they have a right of access to. That she was, in that time period and probably beyond it, a stereotype of this driver's racist heteropatriarchal [lack of] imagination, is the point here.

Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot to mention the gender of the driver. The driver was a man. I'm sure you're all scratching your heads incredulously. I know: hard to believe, isn't it?

In case you missed it, this is the atrocity: a woman, my friend, cannot be seen socially as a fully human and individual person, including when she's walking and talking on the phone to another person--the way many humans do. This is an issue of ableism, the ability to be seen as a human being who isn't "for" men who want women to be for them.

So this is the reality: how men treat some women, with male supremacist entitlements and privileges and power firmly socialised and institutionally protected, is how men can believe, in their collective lack of imagination, that my friend existed to sexually service that strange man, or any man or men, or anyone at all. She doesn't. That's not what she was put on the Earth to do. She was put on the Earth to express herself, to hone her substantial intellect, to laugh more often, to have friends, and to live her own life, being seen and treated as the individual she is and always has been. That society, generally, cannot see her as an individual or as fully human, is beyond offencive. It is civilly unjust, criminally inhumane, atrocious beyond words, and a Western and global human rights issue.

Those who argue that prostitution ought to be each individual woman's own decision might wish to first create a society in which individual women are seen as individual human beings, none of whom were put on Earth to sexually service men as rented beings or as sexual slaves. Let me know when that's been accomplished. We can go from there to discuss how some individual women ought to have the right to sexually service men--men who behave an awful lot like a political group when it comes to protecting their privileges and entitlements, that aren't at all individualistic. How curious it is that white het men are the only demographic who can be seen, generally and usually, in media and in history, as "individuals" who did great things, innovative things, remarkable and new things. That Shakespeare. That Einstein. Those Beatles. Procuring and enslaving women isn't usually noted as one of the things non-individualised men (including the Beatles) have done that isn't so great, innovative, remarkable, or new.

To every Westerner and Global Northerner, and to every white het man who thinks prostitution is the world's oldest profession, not among the world's oldest forms of male supremacist oppression of female human beings, let me ask you: do you view "some women" as prostitutes--as existing in order to produce pleasure for exploitive, sexist men who get pleasure from renting and purchasing human beings as their idea (always also exercised as a practice) of how to have "sex"? Do you think your own spouse or sister or mother or daughter is such a woman--one who was put on Earth to perform oral sex on men and to take men's penises into their lower body's orifices, including the orifice that you have (pssst: down there, in back) that you are collectively incredible nervous about anyone entering or even touching? Do you believe "some women" like having their bodies penetrated by ten to thirty men a day? Do you believe "some women" are best suited to perform more or less degrading sex acts on men who think (through the actual practice of mistreatment) that some women are wh*res, naturally?

If so, your beliefs prove the point that legalising prostitution would harm women as a class of human beings, including the individuals you say want to be prostitutes, and who you sometimes pay to say so themselves, while you remain a silent coward, putting up women to speak your beliefs for you. If you want  the right to fuck [over] women on demand, why don't you just say so? Are you too embarassed? Suddenly feeling a bit shy in the communication department?

It is only because of the generally unchallenged existence of Western white het male-controlled sexxxism industries and systems of procurement, of systematic rental and purchase of human beings for "sex", of sexual slavery, of trafficking rings, of child sex abuse rings, of incest of girls by their fathers, that you could even conceive of "some women" existing to sexually service men. Believe me, you weren't born with an idea of "prostitute" in your infant child brain. There are no "pro-procurement" genes and hormones in men's bodies. There is no requisite charter--or ought not be--in any country that states that "some women" must be made to be sexually available to enact the utterly unoriginal whims of men's now-globalised misogynistic/racist/classist fantasies learned only from observing men mistreating "some women" in those ways online or off. Or from practicing mistreating women in those ways and then fantasizing about what was done, and what other men do, to "some women".

With that as an introduction, I offer you this article on the subject of legalising prostitution, an idea always promoted and financially backed primarily by class, race, and sex-privileged men who think "some women" exist to be prostitutes because those women, and others, are wh*res, naturally.

Legalization wouldn't make prostitutes safe

by Janine Benedet

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Supporters of the prostitution industry want us to believe that women would be safe if men's purchase of women for sex is legalized. In the name of women's security, they are arguing in an Ontario court this week that male johns and pimps have a constitutional right to buy and sell women. They are claiming that prostitution is women's work and that legalizing it would advance women's liberty. Opposition is dismissed as based on “moral panic.” A closer look at the violent reality of prostitution exposes the utter fallacy of these claims.

Andrew Evans was convicted of second-degree murder by a jury in Vancouver last week for the 2007 killing of Nicole Parisien, a 33-year-old aboriginal woman. Mr. Evans admitted that he killed Ms. Parisien by beating and strangling her and that he dumped her body in the bushes. The only legal issue was whether he intended to kill her when he attacked her. The answer determined whether he was guilty of murder or manslaughter.

Legally, this case broke no new ground. But a closer look tells us a lot about male violence against women and its relationship to prostitution.

Mr. Evans told the police that he contacted Ms. Parisien after finding her through the “erotic services” category on Craigslist. The Kitsilano apartment where they met was not her home; the evidence suggested that it was used regularly for prostitution. Online services such as Craigslist are becoming an increasingly important venue for the advertising of prostitution.

Mr. Evans said he agreed to pay Ms. Parisien $200. He became enraged when she couldn't maintain his erection, hitting her and choking her to death.

The murders of aboriginal women, mostly by white men, sometimes connected to the prostitution industry, are all too common in this country. Aboriginal women's groups and Amnesty International have documented hundreds of cases of missing and murdered women. Many have not been solved or even fully investigated, the disappearances blamed on the women's “high-risk” lifestyle.

Being prostituted places women at risk, to be sure, but it is not a “lifestyle” that aboriginal women just happen to choose in larger numbers than other women. Promoters of prostitution want the public to believe that prostitution is safe when it happens indoors. But moving prostitution out of sight does nothing more than keep the abuse private and the abusers mostly anonymous.

Mr. Evans was by all accounts a regular guy – a former member of his university rugby team who had volunteered as a peer counsellor. But he was possessed of a sense of male sexual entitlement that led him to believe that he should be able to buy a woman who would meet his sexual demands and that she was worth so little that she could be physically assaulted when she failed to do so.

Ms. Parisien's family has rejected the suggestion that she was a prostitute, maintaining that she was an “escort.” This is an understandable response to grief. But dressing up this abuse as a form of work obscures its casual brutality.

Ms. Parisien was advertised in a mainstream medium, she was prostituted at a prominent apartment building, the suite was monitored with a living-room security camera and yet she died within a minute or two of Mr. Evans's first blow. Legalizing men's purchase of women for sex would change nothing about the arrangement through which Mr. Evans met and killed Ms. Parisien, but it would officially confirm his belief that he was entitled to use her body until he was satisfied. It would also absolve the state from doing anything to address the social conditions that produce a supply of women to be prostituted, or providing the necessary support for women to exit.

The violence in prostitution comes not from the law, but from male pimps and buyers such as Andrew Evans. Canada ought to follow the example of Sweden, decriminalizing women like Nicole Parisien but criminalizing the men who buy and pimp them. We need laws that support the abolition of prostitution rather than its normalization. But if the courts strike down the prostitution laws because they find that men have a Charter-protected right to buy women's bodies, it will become much more difficult for Parliament to enact a law that recognizes prostitution as fundamentally contrary to women's equality.

Janine Benedet is an associate professor in the faculty of law at the University of British Columbia.

1 comment:

JENNIFER DREW said...

Since when did prostitution become a 'male right?' When patriarchy/male supremacy was establised that's when and it is because of these systems that men continue to believe it is their inalienable right, if they so choose, to purchase any woman or girl in order to masturbate into her body.

This is the issue -ending men's pseudo sex right to women and girls and because this issue goes right to the heart of men's power and pseudo rights it has caused immense debate among feminists and pseudo feminists. Those pseudo feminists who believe women 'choose' to enter prostitution and believe prostitution is 'sex work' ensure the realities of prostitution remain hidden and even more important ensure the focus is never on the innumerable Johns, pimps and multi-national corporations all of which profit literally off the backs of women and girls involved in prostitution.

If we believe women and girls were put on this earth to service men 24/7 in whatever imaginable and unimaginable way men decide, then yes prostitution sends the clear message to all women and girls - you are not human and it is only luck or chance you weren't/aren't involved in prostitution. It also sends the message that male sexual violence against women in any shape or form is 'normal male sexual behaviour' because men have the right (sic) of sexual access 24/7 to any woman or girl. This is what so many men and pseudo feminists do not want changed - because if we curb men's power and criminalise the Johns, male pimps, male brothel owners, male-dominated and male-controlled multi-national corporations who profit off the backs of prostituted women and girls. Then finally male domination over women and girls would be eliminated and finally yes finally - women and girls would have their rightful dignity respected, just as men have been accorded this 'right' for centuries.

Women and girls are not for sale to male prostitutors; pimps and multi-national corporations - we are human just as men have declared themselves to be human for centuries. And yes the world does not revolve around men and their pseudo sex needs - no man ever died from lack of penetrating of a woman's/girl's body - but the myth continues that men will spontaneously combast if they don't thrust their penises into women's/girls' bodies.