April 30, 2007
My thoughts on the sex industry
I’m not entirely sure I want to write this post. I consider myself a card-carrying feminist, and I feel like there are far too many other feminists out there (particularly, perhaps, in the blogosphere) who are all too ready to strip me of that card I carry (if you will) if I publicly disagree with them. The trouble is, there’s an issue about which I disagree with certain feminists who are more vocal than I am and/or have made their name as Feminists to a greater extent than I have. And normally I wouldn’t talk about it in a blog post for fear of never wooing the sort of readership I’d like to have. But I’m just so tired of the “good feminists believe x” meme that I had to say something: I don’t think the sex industry is inherently anti-feminist. Now, please don’t misunderstand me; there are a number of problems with the sex industry as an overgeneralized monolith, as well as more specific problems with more specific arms of the sex industry that generally connect back with reinforcing patriarchal ideas, subjugating women, and making violence against women acceptable. However, I disagree strongly with the idea that things like pornography, phone sex, erotic dancing, and even prostitution can never be empowering for a woman, and that any woman who does take pleasure in any of the above is deluded, or worse. Here are a few of my problems with the anti-sex-industry stance:
1. It’s all well and good for a white middle-class woman who’s never had to worry about where her next meal is coming from to rail about the societal damage strip clubs wreak. However, there are a number of women out there to whom the sex industry is a very appealing way to make ends meet. Could you look a woman who made the decision to strip so she’d only have to work two jobs instead of three in the eye and tell her her choice was wrong?
2. To be perfectly honest, the argument that a woman’s choice to willingly enter the sex industry isn’t really a true, willing, free choice because of our patriarchal society has some merit (but I think that also comes back to the class issue–the choices of lower- or working-class women, as well as women of color, are significantly more limited than those of middle-class white women), but the statement that women who find dancing or working the phones or acting in a porn flick empowering and sexy just don’t understand how oppressed they are by the patriarchy sounds, to me, patronizing. How different is having a feminist pat your head and say “it’s okay, you just don’t know any better” from having a patriarchal male do the same?
3. The sex industry exists, so I find it a great deal more productive to consider what can be done to make the sex industry as it exists right now safer and more empowering for the women involved in it than to disapprove of the whole industry as (again) an overgeneralized monolith.
To wit, here are a couple of great quotes from the comment thread of this post on the problematic nature of choice (the author of which is “not feeling the pro-pron thing,” but as opposed to many feminists who are anti-porn, I feel like she and I could have a good discussion on the topic–and I feel like we would agree more than we would disagree):
Jasmine: For me, I think all of this operates at a level of abstraction I’m increasingly frustrated with. People ARE sex workers right now today in our communities. People DO sex work right now today in our communities. How “we” (non-sex-working-liberation-interested folk) FEEL about it is not really the most important issue. These are people I love, these are people that I want to be safe. If more folks would get real about it, these are people you know and love too.
People will do sex work as long as people buy pron and buy other sexual services. There’s no end to that in sight – even if we wanted one (which is of course debatable). So in the meantime we need to attend to how all of the structures of oppression (racism, classism, ablism, heterosexism, transphobia, etc. etc.) play themselves out ON THE BODIES OF (again, these are more than abstract concepts, they are lived and felt realities) a population of people who cannot call for help even from the chronically dysfunctional social and legal mechanisms available to non-sex-workers. What happens when a population of people (a population that exists because there is a market demand for such services) cannot count on communities to defend our humanity (b/c we are not “respectable enough”)? cannot count on police to do anything other than arrest us when we report being victimized by violence in the context of sex work (b/c of the criminalization of sex work)? what happens when society says that sex workers cannot be raped – are unrapable?
Blackamazon: I dont care how the cop FEELS about taking in an abusive john or the health center FEELS about making sure sex workers are protected.
If anyone’s interested, here’s more on the debate: on the more pro- side, here’s Jessica’s post about the Feminist Porn Awards turns into a debate in the comments thread; on the other hand, in this post Twisty (of I Blame the Patriarchy) explains it all to you (three rapid fire-thoughts: a) IBtP is not for beginners!; b) I really enjoy reading IBtP about 90% of the time; and c) I couldn’t read the comments thread because toward the beginning someone mentioned that people shouldn’t “need” visual stimulation anyway, at least not ideally–and, yeah, don’t even get me started on how I feel about that one). Also, if anyone’s curious, here’s the post that set me off–and it wasn’t the post so much as the fact that someone voiced disagreement, ending with the line “Sorry Kyso, but as a feminist sex worker who works constantly – and selectively – to preserve and promote my political beliefs, I cannot help but feel offended by Twisty’s blatant overgeneralization and ignorance of the porn industry”–and rather than engage her in a dialogue, the subsequent comments just shut her down, rather harshly in my opinion. (Also, like Twisty, I generally enjoy reading Kyso’s writing.) Example:
What the Patriarchy wants most is for women to enact their assigned role of sex hole(s). It doesn’t care much how you do it.
If you want to participate in an industry that reinforces women’s status as objects worth nothing more than their sexual usefulness, be my guest. Just don’t pretend it’s a feminist endeavor.
I appreciate that this is an emotional issue, but I’m not sure how belittling women who are most likely on your side about every other issue relating to feminism accomplishes anything.
I was going to put a video in here, but I think maybe this is running a bit long (heh… just a bit…), so I’ll save that for a separate post. If Sera, the Radical Vixen, and/or she who is Uppity and Unrepentant are still with me, I would love to hear your thoughts! (And, of course, anyone else’s; it’s just that those three ladies are likely to have some strong opinions on the subject…)