Sunday, May 23, 2010

Because Patriarchy Sucks So Much, Women Shouldn't Have To Do So To Earn a Living

[image is from here]

The first part of this post will be some commentary by me on the matter of prostitution and why I basically refuse to engage in using terms like "sex work". The last part of this post is published writing by feminist Malebogo Kgalemang. (The source is linked to below).

First, no one I personally know who has been involved in various ways as "the ones pimped, bought, rented, exploited, procured by white het men"--including me, but not inside a system of prostitution strictly speaking, has ever used that term. This doesn't, in and of itself, de-legitimise the term, and this post isn't about telling women what they should or shouldn't call what they do or what other women do. This post is about what I do here, and why. As I understand it, women in systems of prostitution and sexxxism industries who are not race, class, and/or Western privileged, use many names and endure many names. These names are often regionally arrived at; they may be chosen among a group of women, derived from or in resistance to particular stigmas and understandings of the politics and social meaning and effect of men procuring women for men's heteroracist (<---new term for this blog) and anti-lesbian misogynistic sexxxual release, over whom the men necessarily structurally and institutionally, and interpersonally in varying ways, have more power. At the very least, men have sexual and economic power, privileges, and entitlements that women within the same ethnic and cultural group do not have. Men collectively and also often individually, with the means to do so in such systems, and with relative and substantive freedom, possess and exercise this power over women, however it is demonstrated in any particular interaction or "exchange".

That some het men choose to enact this power by having women exert painful force against men's bodies, such as in a BDSM scene in which the man may be hurt-for-pleasure, we must keep in mind it is his pleasure, not hers, that is required. It is always his desires, fetishes, etc., that are attended to, not hers. Should she disobey him, disregard him, refuse him, reject him, or otherwise not attend to his needs as he determines ought to be the case given the money he has paid to rent her, he is relatively free to exert force or harassment in retaliation. He may also rape and murder her.

This all means that there is not, in fact, a patriarchal political social environment free enough for women to say that any woman (let alone girl) "freely chooses" to be in those systems. As a point of comparison, I have many of the most significant forms of social-political privilege there is, yet am never free to not exist inside a corporate capitalist white het male supremacist system. My choices, which are significantly more vast than those I know who are poor, female, and/or of color, are not made "freely" in any absolute sense. The decisions and choices I have to make are all relative to the systems I exist in. Being white doesn't place one outside white supremacy, it only means one benefits from the system in ways people of color do not. Nor does being white inside a white supremacist system mean I am "oppressed" as a white person.

I was recently, and for a short time, part of a profeminist men's list serve where some members wished to argue that men, as well as women, are oppressed by patriarchy. A few of us basically said "bullshit" and I soon exited the scene, as that level of ignorant misunderstanding about what the case is for men in patriarchies is not, for me, "profeminist".

If one cannot NOT live in a society in which there is no social pressure on girls and women to meet men's sexual selfish and self-centered pseudo-needs, and if one cannot NOT live in an economic system that meets everyone's basic human needs, then political coercion exists. Period.

In the society in which I live and those I know about through friendships, that political coercion is a complex, currently sometimes termed kyriarchical, but which is, at least, white and het male supremacist, misogynistic with specifically race-based forms of woman-hating, sexxx-obsessed (while in some ways sexually repressed), influenced and dominated by globalising corporate capitalism and Western/white terroristic militarism, anti-Indigenism, MaleGodism (<---also a new term here), and environmental murder.

In my country, over the last many years, there has been an effort underway to respond academically to socially oppressive reality by pretending that if we change the terms, we change the social reality. This is to say, if we say, for example, "whites and men are also oppressed in white male supremacist systems" this means that it becomes, somehow, more socially true than if we don't.

Paralleling this is a move among some to declare that women who are oppressed in and by various male supremacist systems and strategies, to say that if women say they are making free choices, they are. And for anyone to say they are not, is to deny those women agency and power. I'd argue that patriarchy, not people who name patriarchal hegemonic harm, oppress and dehumanise women. And using language as a way out that is not matched by structural, political, institutional reality is a form of survival inside a system, not a means of transcending or existing beyond it.

I was in conversation recently with someone who has interviewed what she calls [female, non-trans] "sex workers" although the women themselves do not use that term. She, I think appropriately, notes the problem of finding a term when writing that is not derogatory or dehumanising.

To me, a liberal, dangerous, and misogynistic solution is to make one's work one's identity in name without naming the political context for the work existing in the first and last place. By "first and last place" I mean that before procurement happens, before a woman either is enslaved, trafficked, pimped, economically coerced to fuck and suck men repeatedly because that's the most meaningful (including financially profitable) work she can do, and after this activity occurs, after she has cash in hand, post-fucking and sucking, he has power that she doesn't have. She isn't imbued with male supremacist privileges and power because she holds in her hand what was, an hour or so ago, some of his cash. She doesn't become freer of male supremacy by sexually dominating him in rented/paid for sexxx scene either. That she has agency is not the issue. Whether she's experiencing a collectivist understanding of Women's Liberation from Racist Patriarchy, in a radical profeminist sense, is.

I argue that using the term "women inside systems of male supremacist and misogynistic exploitation" neither dehumanises nor condescends to any woman, but does locate systematised behavior, social practice, in the political system in which it exists, and without which it couldn't exist as it does. The term "sex worker" much like the term "domestic abuse" invisibilises the most influential forces "at work": racist patriarchy and corporate capitalism. Me calling someone a sex worker is as likely as me saying a woman being battered by men is surviving "domestic abuse". This blog exists to highlight and delineate the forces which oppress women, not obfuscate or obscure them.

One of many means of perpetuating oppressive systems is to engage in various forms of denial. Calling oneself a "sex worker" isn't necessarily engaging in patriarchy-denying. It may be a way of surviving it. What it isn't, ever, in the view of this blog, is freedom from patriarchy.

The following writing is from *here* @ Mmegi Online.

Opinion, by Malebogo Kgalemang
A Woman's Perspective On Prostitution 
Those who call for the legalisation of prostitution chart different reasons that are a reflection of a lack of deep, detailed and critical analysis of the effects of prostitution on women.

In this space, I want to respond to an already gendered aspect of prostitution as a business transaction where some women sell their bodies for sex. Some of you who have read past editions of both Monitor and the Sunday Standard will remember the different reasons propounded by some male commentators who are in support of legalising prostitution. Some of the reasons are, prostitution is "for the men who are not satisfied with their sex lives... the government will benefit from tax revenues" (Eddie Mdluli, SS, 5/2/07); "it will bring happiness and stability in families... and... curb the spread of HIV/AIDS" (Bugalo Chilume & Gobopamang Letamo cited by Joe Gaie).

Some are quick to give Thailand (a country with a flourishing sex industry) as an example of a country with low HIV/AIDS infection rates. With the example of Thailand, none of the proponents underpin the high and uncontrollable child and women trafficking nor is Sweden, a country that legalised prostitution is now convinced that the legalisation of prostitution is not working. Sweden has since passed a gendered legislation that criminalises the buying of sex (men who buy) and decriminalises the selling of sex (women are treated as victims who need help). Whether the legislation worked or not, the interested reader will have to dig for results, because they do exist.

But what is it that proponents of the legalisation of prostitution are missing? Is it possible to construct an imaginary space of how legalised prostitution will work? Is it possible to think of the different effects of legalising prostitution? What happens when we relate HIV/AIDS to prostitution, is it not a tenuous mix, where we combine our interest in sex, our fear of openly discussing our sexuality with our fear of illness and death?

By advocating for the legalisation of prostitution, proponents of prostitution are mainly requesting that prostitution be subject to government regulations and statutory laws of Botswana. The proponents are actually saying, "make it clean, see to it that the women have mandatory medical check-ups, set up brothels, and impose government control."

What this means is that the legislator will authorise everything from labour to taxation. Proponents of prostitution are requesting that prostitution be with any other profession.

But is it and would it be possible to view and equate prostitution like any other profession? What if we are to put a human face to prostitution? In a nutshell, what are the moral consequences of legalising prostitution (for there is no way we can exclude morality out of our critical and fundamental decision making)? What are the implications of legalising prostitution? What exactly are the proponents of prostitution demanding the legislator do?

To dissect the above questions, I commence from a very deep, strong and vividly and imaginary definition of prostitution. As defined by the radical feminist, and critique of prostitution, Andrea Dworkin, "prostitution is the use of a woman's body for sex by a man, he pays money, he does what he wants, and he leaves." Dworkin further elaborates this definition by accentuating that "prostitution is not an idea (or even a fantasy), it is the female vagina penetrated by the male phallus, by one man, and then another man, and then another man and then another man... That's what it is" (1995). This means prostitution is sexual exploitation, possible rape and violence against women. Women prostitutes do not have any form of power; they are subject to their client's demands.

For in prostitution, no woman stays whole. It is a social death to the woman prostitute, for she is a person without power, and honour. She is dehumanised. Her real identity and personal history are erased and are of no significance to the client since they are concealed from the client.

In a nutshell, proponents of prostitution are requesting that the legislator become a "pimp." The essential meaning of a "pimp" tends to assume an individual who controls the prostitution of one or more women. Pimping is not only about control. It is about the different dynamics at play in establishing, authorising, endorsing and enacting, flourishing, and sustaining legalised prostitution. Pimping comes in varied ways. It can be passive, active, and a direct or indirect beneficiary of parties involved in legalised prostitution.

Examples include tax payments to the government, travel agents, hotels and airlines that will benefit from sex-tourism, landlords benefiting from leasing their houses to brothels and escort services, tabloid and local newspapers which will derive an income and profit from advertisements placed by brothels, and escort agency that will mushroom once we legalise prostitution. For the above cited examples, beneficiaries will sustain prostitution by making profits from its legalisation.

Not only will the legislator be a "pimp," legalising prostitution reveals what the proponents of the legalisation of prostitution think of women. We already exist in a patriarchal and misogynist culture that narrowly views sex as an entitlement of male needs (see Chilume's Monitor opinion columns, 2005). Hence, how will we separate prostitution from the patriarchal culture, which already marginalises, stereotypes and stigmatises women? Proponents of prostitution advocate for the violation of the woman's right to dignity.

Proponents yearn and long to deny women prostitutes the right to own their bodies. Proponents desire women prostitutes to be reduced to commodities. Proponents deny women prostitutes' emotional stability. The legislator will encourage women and child trafficking, a crisis countries that have legalised prostitution are now facing.

Consequently, the legislator will institutionalise women's poverty and degradation.

Proponents of prostitution are requesting us to imagine a society in which we will socialise our daughters and sons to think of their sexuality as a commodity, and to dream of prostitution as a profession to be pursued. Since we tend to flourish on 'copy-cating,' we can either follow the example of Thailand or of Germany (a country that espouses a strong support for human rights) yet both countries are unable to control women and child trafficking. Alternatively, we can follow Sweden by criminalising the buying of sex.

For once the legislator (and the nation) creates a space where the relationship between prostitution and client takes places in a specific legal, institutional, social, political and ideological context, Batswana will become a pimp nation!! Is this what development is about? Is this what Vision 2016 envisions?

Malebogo Kgalemang
Drew University
Madison, NJ USA


  1. This is very beautifully written Julian. I share your views deeply on the nature of prostitution and "sex work". Having family members who have been involved in prostitution I know that at least for a large population of women who engage in "sex work" they are at the mercy of their own addictions, weakness, self esteem issues, and the men that they come into contact with are taking as much as they possibly can from these women.

    Many of the statistics I've seen say that men who frequent prostitutes, what was it, something like HALF new the women were forced into prostitution, or had begun prostitution when they were a child and still bought the women anyway.

    : (

    My take on this issue is not populate among a lot of people my age. So many people think that strip club workers, porn workers, prostitutes and other sex for sale professions are empowering to women and that it's healthy.

    Every woman I have known, and that is a LOT that has been involved in stripping, has suffered deep emotional anguish from their involvement with it.

    I don't know everyone, so I can't speak for those who felt empowered by their situations and I have come across a few people online who claim to feel empowered, but if I see someone who needs to binge drink regularly, use other drugs, has mental health issues that seem to be affecting their life I have a hard time believing that the sex work doesn't have a deep affect on a womans psyche.

  2. Dear SustainableFamilies,

    I am done with the pimp-apologists and the pro-prostitution politics.

    I declare it, here only, BULLSHIT.

    Why? Because of what you say and because of what I also know in my body and from listening carefully.

    There is an idea out there, quite a dangerous one, in my view, that "some people" are fine with prostitution, that they do well with it, that it works for them. And, well, I do not know everyone who is stripping or selling their bodies, or having their bodies sold and rented by a man or woman who takes a cut of the cash.

    But to those who have never done this "work"--and the quotations marks are not intended to deny it is work, labor, expended energy for a goal of income, I say that I am not figuring out all of how I was harmed by "genuinely consenting" for years to meet a man in motel rooms. And the people I know well, closely, in relationships of love, not in pro-prostitution contexts where one must tell what was must to make it all seem like it ought to be legalised... the people I know are not so different from me, nor am I so drastically different from them. Whether poor or not-poor, whether female or male, whether of color or white, being in a social environment where one many or dozens assumes he can do with you what he wants takes a toll. And to be used repeatedly is not a harmless thing to have happen, no matter how or where.

    The bottom line is that in patriarchal systems, in white supremacist systems, and in capitalist ones--and prostitution needs at least two of the three to exist, if not all three, "exploitation" is the core value, as well as inhumane hierarchies in which some groups oppress others. And it is never, ever, the oppressed who are exploiting the oppressors, although the rich ex-husband and pimps and procurers would have us all believe they alone are the victims of what they'd otherwise say is a victimless profession.

    There's nothing good about exploitation, about being used and treated as a thing for men to get off on or in. There's nothing good about that if you value a kind of humanity where human dignity has meaning and value. Human dignity and being ejaculated on by a hundred men are not, in any way, synonymous. This is not an indictment of semen; it is an indictment, a calling to account, of what men do with their bodies and the meanings they bring to those actions.

  3. When slavery was considered not a vile violation of non-white women's, girls, boys' and men's human rights many pro-slavers used similar arguments wherein they maintained 'such non-civilised non-white groups' benefit far more from being sold to white men and then only having to work in order to be fed regularly, have a bed and not ever again have to worry about the necessities of life.

    When slavery was supposedly abolished in western society, some freed slaves did not want to be free because they believed being a slave was far better than being free.

    Some prostituted women (not all) are very, very fortunate, they are not routinely subjected to multiple acts of male sexual violence and instead are able to negotiate with the Johns what sexual acts they wish the John to inflict on them. Should we then dismiss the vast majority of prostituted women and girls who consistently say they want to exit but cannot because our white male supremacist society ensures that little or no support mechanisms are put in place. Instead prostituted women are given 'free condoms' advised how to negotiate with the vicious dehumanised Johns, as though Johns even consider prostituted females to be human. Or prostituted women are advised how to strategise exiting from the room when the John exhibits violence as though a prostituted woman who is invariably naked whilst the John is fully clothed,is able to enact 'agency.'

    Bottom line is prostitution is the oldest male oppression of women and girls and it continues because it is males who demand sexual access 24/7 to women, girls, boys and sometimes men.

    I know women who have endured prostitution and none of these women 'believed it was just a job like any other.' Those pro-prostitution apologists should work as prostituted women/men for at least six months and then we'll see if they still consider prostitution to be 'just work.' Furthermore those individuals would be placed under the control of pimps or else work on the streets. That is the reality of prostitution not hollywood's euphemistic, misogynistic portrayal of prostitution wherein every John is a 'good man who just happens to be lonely.'

    No man ever died from lack of not being able to thrust his penis into a woman's/girl's body - but pro-prostitution apologists claim it is men's right because they need regular sexual release via accessing a woman's/girl's body.

    Changing prostitution to 'sex work' is a deliberate attempt to hide the realities of men's sexual violence against women and girls. Sweden has criminalised the Johns and 'flushed them into the baltic' Now other countries must also follow suit - but they won't because men's pseudo rights always supercede women's and girls' right to be human and not men's sexual service stations.