Why does the left want prostitution to be 'a job like any other'?

The go-to perspective on prostitution from many progressives in Canada these days seems to be a fairly hard and fast vote for decriminalization or legalization. Even many of our beloved East Vancouver lefties  seem convinced that the most progressive position to take is one of ‘sex as work’, arguing that debates around prostitution should prioritize labour rights, allowing women to come out from the underground and ‘into the light’ as free and autonomous workers.

The gaps in this logic are all at once complex and simple. While I have long been a supporter of labour rights, of unions, and have counted myself as a fighting member of the working class who has waivered somewhere between socialism and Marxism from the moment I understood the concept of class struggle, I’ve found myself suddenly misaligned with some of those with whom I share my end of the political spectrum.

These are the people I vote for. They represent my interests and ideologies and yet, when it comes to the issue of prostitution, it feels as though we’ve been pitted against one another.

On one hand there seems to be a distinct lack of class analysis – we forget that there are reasons that some women are prostituted while others are not, that some women have a ‘choice’ while others do not. On the other, because decriminalization has, in part, been framed as a labour issue (i.e. that this is a job like any other and, therefore, should be treated in the same way any other service sector job is, in terms of laws), the gender and race factors fall to the wayside and we forget that prostitution impacts women and, in particular, racialized women in an inordinate way. Prostitution simply doesn’t happen to men in the same way that it does to women. It is no mere coincidence that the missing and murdered women and that Pickton’s victim’s were, largely Aboriginal women, that many of the women on the streets in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver are Aboriginal. Where is the race, the gender, and the class analysis within decriminalization rhetoric? How will licensing help women who cannot ‘work’ legally? How will decriminalizing male buyers, male abusers, pimps and johns keep women safe from these men? Particularly when so many of the women being bought and sold have little choice in the matter?

Why has decriminalization been positioned as the progressive position to take in Canada?

On November 4th, Forrest Wickam asked, in a piece for Slate Magazine “What did the founders of socialism think of prostitution?” Strangely, for those who count themselves among the group of progressives who maintain that the violence and abuse that is so much a part of prostitution can only be negated via a normalization of the industry via an ideology based in workers rights, those who brought us our class struggle, who provided us with the idea of a working class, did not view prostitution as ‘a job like any other’. Rather, it would seem as though they were, in fact, abolitionists.

Wickam explains that: “Karl Marx viewed prostitutes as victims of the capitalist system,” hoping that prostitution would vanish alongside capitalism. He goes on to say that Marx “viewed the abolition of prostitution as a necessary part of ending capitalism.”

So why are progressives promoting the idea that prostitution is simply the selling of a service? Why are abolitionists being paired alongside the Christian right? Why is the conversation around prostitution not one that is framed by a desire for freedom from oppression but, instead seems rooted in a starting place that says, decidedly, “well, we give up”.

And indeed, when our work is to normalize the industry rather than to provide exiting programs, social safety nets, public education programs, and other options for women who find themselves without a way to support themselves or who are vulnerable, I do think that we are giving up.

Decriminalization seems to assume that prostitution is inevitable and that, therefore, male power and dominance is inevitable and, as such, all we can do is to make the best of it.

Why are progressives giving up on women? And not only that but why are they giving up on men? Why is there an assumption that men must treat women as things to be used for their pleasure? Is the message we want to send out in Vancouver and, more widely in Canada: “this is what men do” or “this is what we expect from the society we live in”?

Not only that but when we frame sex as work, we work from an assumption that sex can be something that exists only for male pleasure. That sex can be something that happens to women but does not require that women feel pleasure as part of the act.

The reason for a man to buy sex from a woman is, without a doubt, because he desires pleasure without having to give anything in return. This is a male-centered purchase. If we are to define sex as something pleasurable for both parties then how on earth can we define prostitution as sex work? There is something decidedly unprogressive about calling something ‘sex’ when the act is, in fact, solely about providing pleasure for one party (the male party) without any regard for the woman with whom you are engaging in this supposed ‘sex’ with. Doesn’t this defy the whole enthusiastic consent model?

While I certainly support human rights and worker rights, I also support women’s rights and believe that, as a feminist, I cannot and will not work towards normalizing the idea that women can and should be bought and sold. I certainly will not promote this as part of my progressive politics.

Prostitution exists because of the inextricable link between capitalism and patriarchy. The two, under these circumstances, cannot be separated. Desperation, poverty, abuse, addiction, a lack of other opportunities for work, a need to pay the rent and feed the kids, a history of colonialism and racism, and of course, a misogynistic culture that treats women as things that exist to feed the capitalist wheel, to sell and to be sold,  all work together to create a society wherein prostitution not only exists, but thrives (if you consider an abundance of men profiting from prostitution and sex industries ‘thriving’). Why is the response to the abuse, to the exploitation, to the deaths, and to the trauma that many women experience as a result of being prostituted, to treat this as simply ‘a job like any other’? What other job demands that the employee be violated? Maybe raped? Maybe abused? Maybe murdered? Maybe called horrid names until self-confidence has been worn down to a thread? Maybe develop PTSD? What progressive person would argue that this kind of treatment should be legitimized? That women’s bodies, indeed, should be available for purchase by men? And that men should feel A-OK about that?

In what profession is it expected that ONLY women must provide for ONLY men as part of equitable workplace legislation (and I don’t believe I should have to remind everyone that yes, the vast majority of prostituted women service men)? How is it progressive to institutionalize gender inequity? Women as things that can be bought or sold when under duress, to men who have the means, is not a progressive position to take. Why our fellow left wing politicians and comrades have not explored alternatives to the normalization of sexism and abuse, such as the Nordic model remains somewhat of a mystery to me.

We want women to be safe, but we also want women to be human. We want women to have rights, but we also want women to have real choices. We want respect and equitable treatment for women but we don’t believe that johns will ever provide this. No man who thinks he has the right to purchase women is a man who believes in real equality and a man who can legally do this is a man who thinks that this is what women should do for him. No woman should be thrown in jail for having to do what she needs to in order to survive, but certainly we don’t need to accept and legalize exploitation from men in order to decriminalize the women?

Simply, no person who views themselves as progressive and who believes in working towards an equitable society should, from my perspective, also believe that an equitable society can exist in one where women are prostituted.

I support my left wing allies and my progressive representatives but I cannot understand how we can share a desire to end capitalism or corporate greed or oppression in any form and not all at once desire to end prostitution.



Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Twizzler

    Right on! I share your sentiments and am happy that you are strong enough to share them against a harsh “activist” backlash.

  • You are awesome. I have been so frustrated with the “progressives” in our liberal Massachusetts college town because they refuse to see what you see so clearly.

  • Thanks Megan. More postings like this, from strong minded women might help to create a fuller version of progressive politics both electoral and popular

  • Barbara

    Thanks for this article, you articulate everything I think, whereas in my head it swarms around in a big mush of “aaaarrrgh”.

    I am proud to say that the party I am a member of, The Scottish Socialist Party, has as our official position the Nordic model. We didn’t come to it easily and we had nasty times but we won.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Well that is wonderful to hear Barbara! Thanks for sharing.

  • Kyle

    I can’t really think of anyone claiming prostitution should be a job like any other.

    The crux of it is that we live in an imperfect world and women in prostitution have not been given proper consideration precisely because they’re seen as being on the wrong side of the law.

    Surely the sane solution is to decriminalize those who are or feel in position where they have to sell themselves while maintaining laws against those who would buy people. That leaves many issues, of course, but the law isn’t the solution to all things, as has been proven time and time again.

    • That is actually the stance that Megan and other abolitionists take. I don’t know any feminists who want the women to be criminalized.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Many people claim that prostitution should be viewed as just a job like any other. As for the rest of your comment, I believe we are in agreement?

  • The reason for a man to buy sex from a woman is, without a doubt, because he desires pleasure without having to give anything in return.

    Leaving aside the point that there’s never just one reason why people do anything and there’s never a single reason that applies to all people, there are two problems with this.

    First, when someone pays another person for anything, they are, in fact, giving something. They’re giving money in exchange for whatever good or service they’re receiving. When you pay your car mechanic, your therapist, or your babysitter, you’re giving them something. It’s fine to make the argument that paying for sex is problematic, but please be accurate in how you’re portraying it. We can certainly debate the ethics of exchanging money for sex (or food or mental health services, etc.), but it’s a falsehood to say that it isn’t giving “anything in return.”

    Second, many of the people I’ve spoken with who sell sex have said that lots of the men actually do want them to experience pleasure, orgasm, and in many cases, they want some level of intimacy. Leaving aside the question of whether that’s the best way for these men to get their needs met, you’re ignoring the lived experiences of a lot of people and what you’re saying is simply not true. We could debate how often it happens and whether it justifies decriminalization, but not if you’re going to make a sweeping statement that simply isn’t true.

    • Meghan Murphy

      But this ‘something’ that is given in exchange does not have the same impact, does it? How does, for example, paying your mechanic to fix your car intrude onto/into a person’s very being? I mean, part of the issue here is that we are saying ‘sex’ is being exchanged, but is it really ‘sex’ if it is solely for the benefit of one party? I don’t mean to say that sex is some sacred thing, but I do mean that having sex is different than fixing someone’s car…particularly because of the way in which it is gendered.

      • Of course sex is different than fixing a car. As is bodywork, serving in a restaurant, or providing child care. But if you’re saying it isn’t sex if the primary focus is on one person’s pleasure, then you’re also talking about a whole lot of experiences in which money isn’t exchanged and the entire thing is entirely consensual for both people. So maybe I don’t understand what you mean by “intrude onto/into a person’s very being”. Can you clarify?

        • Meghan Murphy

          Ok, so yes, I’m saying that calling prostitution ‘sex work’ is inaccurate if we are defining sex as something that is meant to be pleasurable both all parties involved. I think I’m not understanding what you mean by “then you’re also talking about a whole lot of experiences in which money isn’t exchanged and the entire thing is entirely consensual for both people”

          Re: “intruding onto/into a person’s very being”, I mean that our bodies are not separate from our beings and that abuse to our bodies is also abuse to our beings. I also mean that prostitution literally intrudes onto/into woman’s body (i.e. with things like penises).

          • So as far as what I meant, lots of people sometimes do things like give a partner oral sex without any expectation of reciprocation in that session. For that matter, there are lots of men who will advertise in the casual sex personals for someone to give “no reciprocation oral sex” to. When you ask things like “is it really ‘sex’ if it is solely for the benefit of one party” what happens in those experiences? Is that really sex?

            You’re making the claim that all people who exchange sex for money experience abuse in every interaction? While I can fully agree with that in situations of trafficking and slavery, it really doesn’t work that way in the experiences of everyone who engages in sex for money. For that matter, unless you want to say that all sex with men is rape (which I don’t think you do), then what is it about the giving of money that makes it inherently abusive?

            We can certainly talk about the fact that a lot of people are forced into exchanging sex for money, just as a lot of people are forced into trading all kinds of labor for money. We can talk about the abusive nature of that. But that doesn’t have to mean that all sex for money is abusive, any more than all labor for money is. And FTR, I’m not claiming that the fact that some people choose sex work and enjoy it is necessarily a justification for all of it, any more than the fact that some people choose to work in restaurants or on farms justifies the forced labor and slavery that also exists in those industries. But in no other arena do we claim that because these people are forced, nobody should do it. Instead, we ask what needs to happen to make sure that people aren’t forced. So what makes it different when it’s sex?

          • Meghan Murphy

            Well, I think that it is different because it is about male power and prioritizing male ‘needs’ and male pleasure at the expense of women’s bodies and lives.

          • pisaquari

            Charlie, would you maintain that rape has the same level of severity as someone forcing another to harvest crops or delivering a drink top a table?!
            (Psychologically, psycho-somatically, biologically/gynecologically-speaking?)

          • pisaquari

            …as someone forcing another to harvest crops or deliver a drink to a table*

          • Of course not. And not all sex for money is rape. I’ve known far too many people who sell sex, both as colleagues and friends, and I’ve heard too many stories about their experiences to be willing to lump all of them together. (And before anyone jumps to a conclusion, no, I haven’t paid for sex.)

            I’ve spoken with people who had deep and intimate connections with their clients and felt genuine affection for them. I’ve spoken with people who enjoyed their work and got real satisfaction from it, beyond the financial benefits. It happens much more than you might think.

            I have no problem acknowledging the fact that for many people, sex work is undertaken out of desperation. I have no problem talking about the fact that some people live in sexual slavery. That is 100% real. I’ve also spoken with people who have had those experiences and unlike some folks, I don’t deny or minimize that.

            In that light, I want to ask why so many abolitionists ignore the experiences of people who choose sex work, who are not forced or coerced, and who find it to be a positive experience. We could argue about how common it is (although given that people across that spectrum have many reasons for distrusting researchers, there’s no reliable data). We can debate whether that justifies decriminalization. We can explore whether it’s possible to end the abusive forms of prostitution while also making room for people to choose to engage in sex work. And we can’t do that if you’re going to deny the existence of people whose lived experiences contradict your theories.

            That’s all I’m trying to say. Listen to all of the stories of the people who actually do it. They all deserve to be included in this. I’ve never heard of a sex worker who claimed it is a universally positive experience. But I’ve heard plenty of non-sex workers who have said that it is a universally negative one. And that doesn’t seem like a good foundation for any real progress.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Hi Charlie,
            I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t feel that I am ignoring the experiences of people who choose sex work and are not ‘forced or coerced’ in the way that you mean. I do think, and I believe you would agree, that ‘choices’ are made because of many factors and that the fact that a woman would ‘choose’ sex work is because of a context of male domination, in part. I mean, it’s not like I’m arguing that this woman is wrong or bad or should be thrown in jail so what do you care if we argue that men don’t have the right to buy sex from her? I’m not denying her existence, I’m denying that this happens within a context of equality and I’m denying that equality will ever exist so long as men think they have the right to buy women.

          • We’re in agreement that many people make the best choices they can within a context of injustice. Absolutely.

            If you’re not ignoring the experiences of people who are not forced, then what keeps you from using language that includes their experiences and stories? Why do you use language that is rooted in assumptions that none of the people who sell sex have any choice?

            Many sex work activists have argued that calling it “buying a woman” or “selling their bodies” is simply inaccurate, outside of the context of actual slavery. How can they “sell their bodies” if the person they sell it to doesn’t own it and doesn’t take it with them. If I sell a book, the person I sell it to keeps it. But if I have sex for money, the person I have sex with doesn’t take my body. They don’t own it, so how can they buy it? For that matter, contrary to popular myth, many sex workers do actually choose which clients to see and which acts they’ll engage in. How can that happen unless they are able to make real choices?

            In fact, one might make the point that reframing it as selling a service instead of the more inflammatory “selling their bodies” is, in fact, part of challenging the idea that men have the right to buy women. Nobody is required to sell a service, after all. A mechanic or a graphic designer can turn down a customer, if they want to. So can a sex worker, to the degree that they’re acting from their own volition. The more you call it “selling their bodies,” the less space you make for that because a lack of agency is implicit in that phrase.

            As I see it, the more relevant questions are: What are the factors that lead to some people having more choice around this and others less? What can we do to help more people have more agency and control over their lives? What can we do to support people who want to stop selling sex? And what can we do to help the people who want to do it keep themselves safe?

            After listening to people in the sex trade for a long time, I simply don’t see how criminalizing the men helps the women. If you acknowledge that selling sex helps many women pay the bills (as you have in this thread), how does it help them to take that away, even if we don’t criminalize them? Doesn’t that make their lives harder?

            I’ll keep saying it: listen to the people in the sex trade. Ask them what they need and then do it. Help the people who want to leave by helping them get out. Help the people who need other kinds of support by giving them that. And don’t presume to come up with a “solution” without them. It consistently makes things worse.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Many women have also decided that they wish to be called sluts. Am I going to call them sluts? No.

            Ok. In seriousnes – not all women agree on that language and there is no reason why some women get to dictate the language based on their personal perspectives. If the selling of the body doesn’t accurately describe the act, would you prefer the ‘renting’ of the body? The body is for sale either way….Women’s bodies are, in fact, commodified, objectified, sold, whether or not we are comfortable with that it remains true.

            I’m not going to approach an issue based only on the perspective of the most privileged of people. I’m also not going to pretend that prostitution is simply ‘a job like any other’ (which is what I believe you are demanding when you try to alter the language in this way) because it makes some people feel more comfortable. Changing the language does not change the act or the attitude, it just makes men feel at ease about what they are doing. And no, a sex worker cannot turn down a client if she needs the money to survive. Women get sexually harassed on the job all the time and they take it because they don’t want to lose their jobs. But is sexual harassment legal? No. Is it ok? No. Are we trying to end it forever? Yes.

            You listen to only *some* people in the sex trade. Not all of them. Not everyone agrees with you. Not everyone shares this perspective. All that said NO abolitionist is actively kicking women out of the sex industry – we also want to help those who are in it BUT we want an end to this. The industry is oppressive and represents the way in which we are not equal in this society. Should we not work to change this?

          • Nahema

            Oh good, Charlie’s got sex worker friends and his friends make all the facts about prostitution irrelevant.

            The more he avoids talking about john attitudes and john violence the more we know we’re on the right track to keep centering their role in making prostitution the destructive cultural tradition that it inherently is.

          • I have to agree with Nahema. You don’t put any focus or responsibility on the johns.
            Why is all the onus on women’s choices?

          • Meghan Murphy

            Aaaaaaaaand we come full circle. Back to the Nordic model. Place the onus on men / johns. Not women.

    • Nahema

      You’re looking at entirely the wrong side of the problem, and in doing so are blaming women for “choosing” the exploitive positions men force them into because they won’t pay the same money for anything else an unskilled woman or child can do. Men are the problem, specifically the minority of men who choose to pay for sex. Stop justifying men taking advantage of women’s desperation and start justifying men’s coercive and destructive sexual behaviors.

      Why don’t you ask why men have needed to invented a hundred hateful words for prostitutes and no hateful words for plumbers or cashiers? Why not ask why men don’t have a habit of raping and murdering waiters or chiropractors with anywhere near the frequency they do to prostitutes and strippers?

      Men can stop making prostitutes the most raped and murdered women. Why don’t you ask why they don’t stop? Men can raise the average age of entry into prostitution above 13-14 years. Why don’t you ask why they don’t? I believe in the Nordic Model, and that means I believe the ball is in men’s court to prove they can have their hookers without hating them to death. Why don’t you ask why men care so little for the lives of their sex partners that they routinely impregnate and give them deadly diseases and are willing to ignore basic life-saving preventions in the name of getting their sexy pleasure? Johns know prostitution hurts women, they admit they know and they admit they don’t care. Why don’t you ask johns why legal brothels have “panic buttons” but hairdressers, gardeners, and mechanics don’t expect their customers to try and rape and/or murder them?

      How does you’re nonsensical “it’s just work” explain the abominable way men treat women who have sex for money, or the way men treat women who marry wealthy men, or the way men treat sexually active women, or the way men treat rape victims even when they’re children?

      You’re walking over a very large pile of dead and mutilated women’s bodies and stubbornly refusing to look down and see what men have done and keep on doing in the name of their selfish, sexy pleasure. For men’s entertainment.

      Look down, Charlie. Look down and see what men do to prostitutes and then explain why they do that.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Thanks Nahema. Nail on the head.

    • You could look at it in terms of the Liberal service economy, particularly the RayGun thru O’Bama version that relies on the non Progressive neo flat tax arrangement which results in more disposable income for the economic elite. Growth and revenue take precedence over humanity; things demanded by this elite are priced out of availability for everyone else; the elite get normal quality we get cheapo products; and if this Liberal plot succeeds and the “winners” rise, then the similar process continues and all of the cheapo products are then priced out of availability, too. If you want to lease a woman for sex you get the equivalent of someone working at Burger King. Can I take your order sir. Do you want to mortgage your property to buy that service?

  • martin dufresne

    Many so-called progressives and leftists advocate for prostitution to be made into a job like any other. You may not be able to think about it but that discourse is all over the place.
    I can’t vouch for this point being “the crux of it” but it seems to me that women in prostitution are not given proper consideration because men want them used and abused, that is what many of them pay for and the industry goes to great lengths to accomodate them by locking women in such positions.
    Decriminalizing all prostituted persons – not just those who are or feel they are in a position to sell themselves” is what the abolitionist movement advocates. Their positions go a lot further if you care enough to research them, mostly giving those women and youths the resources, support and alternatives they are asking for.
    The call for dissuasive measures – including sanctions – against their various exploiters is no “solution to all things”, but it does send out a clear message and has proven effective to reduce the numbers of men feelng entitled to buy and sell women and youths.

  • jade

    As a person who is paying my bills and supporting my kids with my earnings in the sex trade I am clearly one of those lefties who disagrees with abolitionists. Of course I support strengthening our social safety net and creating more choices, just don’t try to take this option away. Prostitution has helped me get and keep a roof over my head. I have a criminal record. My options are limited in ways yours likely aren’t. We who select the sex work alternative have our own reasons. Please respect the voices of those who are actually in the sex trade. Prostitution exists because people can support themselves doing it. The money is better then many other jobs and the flexability -especially for single parents, is hard to match anywhere else. We deserve the same rights and employment standards as anyone else.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I hear you Jade. Abolitionists aren’t trying to take away women’s livings, they don’t want to criminalize women, they want women to have other options and they don’t want to simply make it ‘ok’ for men to think women are for sale. I realize that some women’s options are limited in a way that mine are not and that, clearly, since I haven’t needed to engage in sex work in my lifetime, I hold a certain level of privilege that others do not. I think the point that I am trying to make is that women make these choices for financial reasons, often, because they may not have other choices – so in many ways we are agreeing with one another? The goal for abolitionists is that, one day, hopefully, there will be equality and, therefore, no prostitution, that men won’t think that this is what women should be for, not that we want to suddenly prevent women who need to engage in sex work from doing so. It is, as you know, much more complex than that.

    • Nanna

      Dear Jade,
      Thank you for sharing your personal situation which of course is thought provoking.
      However, I wish to point out that I argue as an abolitionist because I do listen to women who like you have personal experience with prostitution. Except, they tell a different story. A story of how much it has ruined for them, personally and sexually, some argue alongside abolitionists while others have retired completely from debating as they are too exausted.
      In my country, we have one of the highest levels of social security in the world, yet sex is sold on the street at an extremely low price, and the majority of the people who argue for a complete liberation of the sex trade are rich and well educated.
      Still, you do have a point about employment standards. The problem is, even in countries like Germany and Holland with those rights, the majority of prostituted women live without them.

    • Hey Jade,

      We want you to survive (and thrive!).

      And no abolitionist that I know, or respect, would judge you.

      The thing is, many men are poor and have criminal records but don’t end up resorting to prostitution. It’s infinitely unfair that they have other options and you don’t.

      • Amanda

        But they might not make as much money as prostitutes do, either. I don’t know if it’s accurate to say they have more options. How can you be certain the men you’re referring have a better life than Jade? Maybe they’re not prostitutes, but it’s possible they’re working far more hours for far less cash.

        • joy

          So, Amanda, the fact that this person might or might not make money means … in your eyes, he’s totally entitled to buy a woman’s body? To rape her? Hurt her? Possibly kill her?

          Great! Awesome. Good position. I think some notable assholes, like George W. Bush, his cabinet, and his entire constituency would agree with you. So would Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. If you’re from Canada, I don’t know who your equivalents are, but just imagine it.

          The point is, political conservatives love to advance the belief that poor people deserve what is happening to them. Particularly women, and especially women who enter into the ‘sex trade’ (put in scare quotes since it’s not so much ‘sex’ they’re trading) because of economic coercion (eg, they cannot afford to live comfortably or care for their children without selling themselves).

          On the other hand, a radical (or even a particularly insightful progressive) might say that this problem is not so much a personal problem as it is a social and economic problem. A problem that might be fixed by helping all human beings achieve a reasonable standard of living, so no one would *need* to turn to prostitution.

    • lizor

      Jade, I know this comment is years late but what you say supports Meghan’s argument. You explain “My options are limited”, and this is exactly what the Nordic model is trying to underscore and improve upon. The liberal-left that wants to equivocate sex work with other forms of labour must pretend that women’s economic choices are much broader than they are in reality.

  • Meg

    Hey there – just wanted to post a bit of a correction to a few statements above:

    1)The reason for a man to buy sex from a woman is, without a doubt, because he desires pleasure without having to give anything in return.

    No no no no no. If you look at any of the prostitute review sites, or any client forums: they actually want the prostitute to enjoy herself. The major criticisms or bad reviews are not criticism of appearance or classiness. They are simply crtiicisms regarding lack of enjoyment: “Bunny did not seem to be enjoying herself.” “Bambi does not seem to enjoy her job.”

    Simply put: men buy sex because -they don’t want to face rejection. -they don’t want to go through the entirely sexist pick-up-artist game or lead on someone they actually aren’t interested in dating or pressure their partner into doing something they don’t want to do. The list goes on.

    But it is not for one-sided pleasure. Please get this out of your head.

    If you think that sex should only occur within romantic, emotional and committed relationships, that is a fine position to take. But the using someone else for their own pleasure argument really doesn’t stand up.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I’m sure men *want* the prostitute to enjoy themselves, that’s why there are so many women who fake orgasms, that’s why women in porn pretend to be having the best sex of their lives, the problem with these men on these forums is that they have their heads so far up their asses that they actually believe that they are doing women a favour by buying sex from them, that the women they’ve paid for are really, really, just loving it! It’s all a part of the fantasy, isn’t it. I absolutely do not think sex should only occur within “romantic, emotional and committed relationships,” I have made the opposite clear in all my work and in my life so please do not place your pre-conceived notions on me. I am not pro-monogamy or pro-marriage (though I am certainly happy to be monogamous, I don’t think it is any more ‘healthy’ than being polyamorous and, in fact, think it is likely that monogamy is not all that great for people/women) – sex doesn’t have to be emotional, and I have had plenty of sex that is far from it BUT it does not need to be exploitative, abusive, or one-sided. It does not need to happen because one party has far more money and power than the other. It does not need to happen because men feel entitled to access female bodies, as though their bodies exist for male pleasure.

      • pisaquari

        Meg: What??

        From “A Research Report Based on Interviews with 110 Men Who Bought Women in Prostitution”:

        -One-fourth to one-third of the men we interviewed endorsed rape-tolerant attitudes.

        -12% told us that the rape of a prostitute or call girl was not possible.

        -10% asserted that the concept of rape simply does not apply to women in prostitution.

        -22% of our interviewees explained that once he pays for it, the customer is entitled to do
        whatever he wants to the woman he buys.


        From “Comparing Sex Buyers with Men Who Don’t Buy Sex”:

        -Thirty-seven percent of sex buyers and 21% of non-sex buyers think that once sex is paid for, women are obligated do whatever the buyer wants

        -Both sex buyers and non-sex buyers evidenced extensive knowledge of the physical and psychological harms of prostitution. The men observed common psychological symptoms include low self-esteem, depression, substance abuse disorders, and dissociative disorders.

        -Paradoxically, while viewing prostituted women as degraded objects who were different from other women, at the same time, a number of men understood that their extremely negative attitudes toward women in prostitution inevitably also contaminated their own relationships with other women.

        -Several men clearly expressed their awareness of – and their satisfaction with – the falseness of the women’s emotional expression. “The best part about going to prostitutes is you don‘t have to worry about them feeling good because they‘re going to fake it no matter what. So you can just focus on having a good time yourself.”


        From “Men who buy sex
        Who they buy and what they know”:

        -Twenty-five per cent told us that the very concept of raping a prostitute or call girl was “ridiculous.”

        -Sixteen per cent stated that they would rape a woman if they could be assured that they would not be caught.

        -Acknowledging their sexually coercive behaviours with non-prostitute women, 37% told us that they had tricked non-prostituting women into having sex by lying to them.

        -Twenty-seven per cent of our interviewees explained that once he pays, the customer is entitled to engage in any act he chooses with the woman he buys.

        -Forty-seven per cent of these London men expressed the view to a greater or lesser degree that women did not always have certain rights during prostitution.

        -As Kinnell (2008) argues, such men believe that “buying sex entitles them to do anything they want” (p264) or that paying “gave them the right to inflict any kind of assault they chose” (p86).


        Also: men not wanting to face rejection or deal with the dating scene is in NO WAY related to their treatment of prostitutes. Furthermore, if “undue pressure” is a good enough reason to keep men from
        attempting certain activities with a known partner then how do they justify obtaining those same activities from a ***stranger under economic, drug-related and/or pimp-related pressures?***

        • We all need more Pisaquari!!

        • Levi

          @pisaquari Don’t forget all the men who buy a blowjob on the way home from work. They absolutely don’t care if the streethooker is enjoying the work or not.

          They just don’t care at all.

        • ned

          This comment was pure win.

        • Dear Pisaquari,
          I now feel sick. Not a figure of speech. And I almost punched my computer screen.
          Fuck the world.
          I’m sorry, I entered the comment section for frank and informative discussion, but your cold hard facts have left me with nothing else to say besides…

          And, thank you.

    • Expecting a prostitute to pretend to enjoy herself does not = caring about her pleasure. Maybe some folks don’t realize this, but most men don’t like to think of themselves as rapists. It can be quite the ego bruiser. Having sex with someone who doesn’t appear to be enjoying themselves hits a little too close to “home”. In porn, this doublethink is ever present, to satisfy mens’ sadistic desires while also trying to reassure them that they are not in fact sadists. You can have the woman doing something that men know or assume to be unpleasant, while moaning and asking for more. (TRIGGER WARNING)Bree Olsen encapsulates this phenomenon perfectly on her twitter. “The only thing that hurts more than anal is not having anal.” For another example, take Teen Anal Nightmare 2. The slogan is, “Every scene 100% pure anal hell.” On the back of the DVD, there are photos of women seemingly in pain while being penetrated, interspersed with dialogue such as “Sweet teen craves anal sex!” and “DP stands for double ass punishment!” To think of these johns the way you do is just so naive, it’s kind of sad. Your argument is the one that doesn’t stand up.

      By the way, where did Megan say sex should only be in committed relationships? Or was that just another pathetic attempt to paint feminists as puritans?

      • Meghan Murphy

        “Expecting a prostitute to pretend to enjoy herself does not = caring about her pleasure. Maybe some folks don’t realize this, but most men don’t like to think of themselves as rapists. It can be quite the ego bruiser. Having sex with someone who doesn’t appear to be enjoying themselves hits a little too close to “home” — Exactly. Thanks for your comment No Sugarcoating.

      • I had a boyfriend who was abusive. Sex (or rather, “sex”) always hurt for me, largely because I wasn’t into it it, to put it mildly (and was being full-on raped, to put it harshly). I remember one particular night he stopped fucking me for just a moment while I winced in agony and said “can’t you just PRETEND to like it?!” After he finished (of course), he got pissed at me, because it was “really hard for him to enjoy himself” when he knew I was in excruciating pain. And yes, he thought this would make him seem considerate and kind.
        Most men who buy into porn and prostitution want to believe in the myth that the women involved are just really that into degrading, painful sex, but never ever EVER take the time to imagine what it might actually be like for her, to put themselves in her position, the empathize, as if she is in fact a fellow human being who doesn’t want cum in her eye any more than you do. These women make their living from selling this myth. But it’s a myth, plain and simple, one that has been perpetrated for years for the benefit of men at the expense of women. If you ever, even for a moment, ever believe it to be remotely true, no matter how good an actress you’re looking at, you have no right to ever call yourself “progressive”.

    • Oh and Meg, here’s another enlightening quote. “What makes porn exciting is the transgressive nature of the acts portrayed – the abuse and degradation that women seem to be happy to endure for money.”

      I have the source if you don’t believe me.

    • rfsw

      rofl. my. fucking. waffle.

      sorry i’ve worked in the sex industry and i’ve no time or patience for deluded women who are running a high off the narcissism of being ‘desired’ by men and feeling ’empowered’. because they have zero solidarity with other women in the sex trade who aren’t fellow narcissists.

      i have empathy for women who have been coerced by patriarchal society but that shit utterly dries up when it comes to what they are using their relative influence that comes from their being heard as men’s duped favourites to shit on all other women in the sex industry who aren’t flattered or traumatised out of noticing their conditions.

      so -fuck off-.

  • Milly

    Bravo Meghan. The leftist defense of prostitution makes about as much sense as an animal liberationist favoring decriminalization of dogfighting because it’s ‘just like’ any other form of pet ownership. There are DEGREES of exploitation folks.

    • Nanna

      I’ll copy that!

  • Amazing post yet again. You have such admirable courage, i tell you!

  • I’m sorry I got so graphic in my comment, Meghan, but I feel it really does damage when these people sugarcoat and avoid mentioning the reality of pornstitution. The only thing the sex-positives have going for them is that most women haven’t watched porn/listened to men talk about sex candidly, so it’s easy to pull some young ones in with promises of “consent” and abstract descriptions of what pornstitution COULD be. Their movement depends on the average woman remaining ignorant to mens’ desires and opinions, and it is destined to fail. When the curtain finally falls down, most women are just not going to put up with their BS anymore. I sure didn’t.

  • person

    excellent post.

  • person

    “The only thing the sex-positives have going for them is that most women haven’t watched porn/listened to men talk about sex candidly, so it’s easy to pull some young ones in with promises of “consent” and abstract descriptions of what pornstitution COULD be. Their movement depends on the average woman remaining ignorant to mens’ desires and opinions, and it is destined to fail. When the curtain finally falls down, most women are just not going to put up with their BS anymore.”

    No Sugarcoating, your comment is right on. I was thinking about this very thing the other day.

  • person

    by the way, does “lack of enjoyment” mean lack of real pleasure or failure to express such pleasure in a way that complies with the dudes porn-induced fantasy of how a woman should behave in bed?

    • joy

      Why is that important in this particular conversation?

      I think I know what you mean (ie, men often cannot recognize when a woman is experiencing orgasm unless she accompanies it with a theatrical and pornified display), but it’s not entirely relevant here.

      From my understanding (including but not limited to my own experience), few women truly orgasm from penetration alone anyway, whether it’s in or out of porn/prostitution sex. But porn/prostitution sex is especially designed to be at best unstimulating and at worst outright painful. So many women fake orgasm anyway, and some of them don’t even know they’re faking it (because they don’t even know what an orgasm *feels like*).

      If one or two johns out there do in fact know where the clitoris is and can in fact give a woman an actual orgasm, regardless of whether she expresses it in a male-recognized way, a.) I certainly never met them, and b.) it’s not super important to this discussion.

  • Milly

    Another thing that I think dudes like Charlie need to learn, is that a vagina is not a hand. It’s like these people need an anatomy lesson. Perhaps it would help if they were to imagine being paid to eat food they didn’t like, when they weren’t even hungry. I listened to your interview with Sheila Jefferies recently, Meghan, and I was really struck by the comment she made about the Vic Govt advice to prostituted women to avoid using anesthetics for the vagina, as it can lead to greater internal damage and we’re not even talking about damage from ‘abuse’ here (of course I would still call straightforward sale of a woman’s body an abuse myself).

    I’m not sure if I agree with you about sex not needing to be emotional. I think we’re emotional creatures and if we’re withholding emotion in what I believe is a situation that requires a great deal of trust (especially if we’re talking about PIV for women and the one-sided consequences that entails) and a certain amount of intimacy then I think the effort to negate that emotion can easily turn to hatred, anger and disgust either for the other or for the self (just a personal theory). I’d like to think that people at least capable of feeling enough love for their fellow beings that they can share loving, delightful, sexual encounters without becoming attached or committed, but maybe not in a Patriarchy.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I hear you Milly, and I do agree that that it is a situation that requires trust and, therefore intimacy. I am just trying to make clear that I don’t believe sex *needs* to be romantic, or that it needs to happen in a certain way (i.e. with a certain kind of / level of emotion, often connected to ‘love’/marriage/romantic monogamy, etc) – I realize that sex can also be physical and can most certainly be pleasurable without the ‘love’ factor.

      • Milly

        Cool Meghan. Just that the idea of ’emotionless’ sex has been bothering me recently.

    • lizor

      Good point, Milly. Even Annie Sprinkle writes about traumatic emotional exhaustion and PTSD-like symptoms she experienced as a result of working in porn for many years. One of the most overlooked side-effects of sex work from what I can tell – all other risk factors notwithstanding – is the emotional toil of having one’s body penetrated by so many different people, being intimated connected to their mental state (which happens on a somatic level in penetrative sex), and having to perform a dishonest emotional reaction to that.

  • marv wheale

    Interpeting Marx is like deciphering the Bible. Either one is often misunderstood by using a selective and ahistorical reading of the texts (a fate both deserve). A more conprehensive and contextual reading of Marx shows that his analysis does not treat women as an oppressed social group by men but by capitalists. Working class men do not exploit women sexually as a group. He sees sexual relations as very individualistic, naturalist, volountarist and mostly harmonious. Equality is generally present between men and women of the lower classes. There are some irrational differences that manifest because of class inequality. Full gender equality, meaning in the workforce, will be achieved in a classless society, he thinks. So sex relations are subsumed into the class struggle. In my view, feminism must be methodologically post-marxist to genuinely take women seriously (so would aboriginal sovereignty have to be – but that is another story). Relatedly, prostitution predates capitalism so it was not caused by capitalism. But capitalism certainly has sculpted it by turning women and girls (and a vastly lesser number of men and boys) into commodities.

    Putting Marx aside (where he belongs), the belief in “free choice” is bewildering. Male supremacy and heterosexuality are a system. They construct our choices in sexual matters as does capitalism in class relations. Gender oppresses women through sex. No one really chooses heterosexuality in its current forms no matter how much consent there is because the assent is artificial. Heteronormativity under male imperialism is obligatory whether it be marriage, sexual harrassment, pornography, prostitution or so called equality lovers (polyamorous or otherwise). “All the world is a stage” and that setting is patriarchy. It severely restricts what we can become but not inevitably so.

    Apply these class questions about work (under capitalism) to sexual relations: Does a worker meaningfully choose her or his type of work or place of work? If working conditions improve would oppression disappear? If you have satisfying or high paying work, does that imply (from the class equality standpoint) your work is not exploited? As Catharine Mackinnon once said, is “a good fuck…any compensation for getting fucked” ? I think we all know the answers to these questions.

  • ned

    Meghan (and other commenters here): this is just a general question. I’m completely on the same side of the fence as radical feminists on the fact that prostitution and pornography are harmful industries, for the individuals involved, for women as a group, and for society more generally. Where I’m not entirely convinced is that this argument can be made from a purely feminist point of view, without bringing in other ethical or social theories about the commodification of sexuality, and the relationships between sexuality, commerce, power and intimacy more generally.

    Just for clarification and as a thought experiment, imagine that the sex industry was gender-neutral, and there were as many men selling sex as women, and to female buyers as well as male buyers. There could also be transgendered people selling sex as well. In other words, there was no patriarchal superstructure to dismantle. In that situation, would the sex industry still be so problematic *from the purely feminist point of view*? (And you can assume that if the sex industry were gender-neutral, any violence that might occur in it would also be gender-neutral.)

    If the answer to that question is “no”, then it seems to me that the reason why feminism is against the sex industry has nothing to do with moral ideas about how the commodification of sexuality is a bad thing per se, but more to do with a historical-critical analysis of male-female power relations … prostitution/pornography are social institutions that have historically been used to subjugate women and keep them in a status subordinated to men, since it is primarily men who buy female bodies. And because of the weight of history, the continued existence of patriarchal structures, and the conditioning of sexuality under patriarchy and heteronormative gender roles, the idea of a gender-egalitarian or gender-neutral sex industry is a pipe dream — no matter how much legal reform is conducted, it will never create a work environment in the sex industry that does not have an overall political cost for women as a group.

    Would that be a fair re-statement of the feminist position, or do you think there is a specifically feminist critique (not a general moral or social critique) of the commodification of sexuality separate from the historical-critical perspective given above?

    • Meghan Murphy

      I think it would still be problematic because the selling of sex would continue to exist as a result of poverty, i.e. this would be happening in the context of capitalism. So I believe that there would still be an exploitative power dynamic as some would need to sell sex to others who can afford to buy. I think it would continue to be oppressive and exploitative regardless of whether patriarchy was at play.

      That said, patriarchy changes A LOT, as does a history of colonialism. Women’s bodies are commodified and objectified and women are viewed as less than human within capitalism but also without. I see capitalism and patriarchy as relatively inextricable from one another though, they function hand in hand.

      As Marv points out, prostitution existed before capitalism so it is both an issue of female subordination and (now, today) an issue of economic inequity.

      • ned

        I see what you’re saying here, but is this based on a belief that sex is an inherently different kind of activity than other kinds of work? As someone pointed out above, a vagina is not like a hand. Sex seems to involve a level of physical vulnerability, physiological changes, emotional changes, etc. that you don’t see in other kinds of human activities.

        Also, we might argue that sex places women at risk in a way that it doesn’t put men at risk: women get pregnant, and after all men are generally physically stronger than women, so there is an inherent asymmetry involved between men and women as far as the potential costs of sex go.

        Anyhow it might be useful here to reference a chapter by Martha Nussbaum, ‘”Whether from Reason or Prejudice”: Taking Money for Bodily Services’, which compares sex work to other kinds of labour. Nussbaum tries to argue (unconvincingly, in my opinion, and I think her position on this topic has evolved over the years anyway) that sex work is not much less degrading than other kinds of physical labour, and argues for labour unions, legal reform, etc. to help sex workers (as is done for other labour professions). The chapter appeared in her liberal feminist (though sympathetic to MacKinnon) book, “Sex and Social Justice”, and was reprinted in “Prostitution and Pornography: Philosophical Debate about the Sex Industry”.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Of course a vagina is different than a hand. And penetration is certainly part of the issue here. Sex is an inherently different kind of activity for many reasons – physically, emotionally, but also socially, because of the way we conceive of sex, because of the way many men treat / view sex, because of the way rape is used as a weapon of war, because of the way rape is used to control and oppress women. I do think there are kinds of labour that no human should have to do and that some forms of work are demeaning but I don’t know? Do we also argue that these things should actually be empowering? Do progressives support war? I mean, going to war to traumatic – do progressives pretend that these experiences of trauma should be empowering? Why is sex work exempt from this analysis?

          • ned

            “I do think there are kinds of labour that no human should have to do and that some forms of work are demeaning but I don’t know? Do we also argue that these things should actually be empowering? Do progressives support war? I mean, going to war to traumatic – do progressives pretend that these experiences of trauma should be empowering? Why is sex work exempt from this analysis?”

            Yeah, that’s bang on the money. Re: Nussbaum, what she’s arguing is just a pragmatist position, i.e., yes, sex work is degrading, and so is a lot of other physical labour, but because these professions aren’t going away any time soon (and there’s no clarion call for abolishing other degrading forms of physical labour yet), let’s focus on reform.

        • lizor

          OK. Here’s an alternate thought experiment, Ned: If you were paid to show up at a hotel room or to climb into the back seat of a car and to there be penetrated and fucked by a man you have never met, and to be expected to act as if you are really enjoying it, is that a different activity than other kinds of work?

      • ned

        I feel like, in order to be consistent, abolitionist feminists need to call for the wholesale reform of certain kinds of labour professions as well. There are certain kinds of work that take an emotional toll and are much too dangerous to ask human beings to engage in. I’m hopeful that some day we’ll have sufficiently sophisticated robots to whom that kind of work can be relegated so that relegating it to humans starts to look unthinkable. Let machines be machines, so that humans are finally free to be human.

    • I’d like to second Meghan’s comments, and tell you that Twisty from IBTP has elaborated on these questions you’re putting forth. There’s also lots of nuggets of wisdom in the comments section. I love that we’re having this discussion!

      • Meghan Murphy

        Me too! Can you send me the IBTP link / links? Twisty’s analysis is always solid.

    • Nanna

      Ned, that is an interesting thought experiment!

      If we could imagine a gender-neutral sex industri, equally dangerous for men and women, involving an equal number of male and female prostitutes and clients that took advantage of – or was damaged by it equally. No, in that case I would personally not find it problematic from a feminist perspective. From other perspectives possibly, but not from a feminist perspective.

      Along the same line, I feel quite disengaged when it comes to prostitution among homosexual men.

  • Milly

    @ Ned. I guess I would see the situation you describe ( as unlikely as it is) as falling under the same category as BDSM and Gay male porn, still exploitative from a feminist perspective because of the eroticisation of dominance and submission.

  • Nanna

    Thank you for this very interesting blogpost+intelligent and civilized comments!

  • Ned–

    Much of what goes on in the sex industry is far from “just” sex; there is a reason why prostituted women have higher rates, on average, of PTSD than even men coming back from combat.

    Men who buy “sex” have said if they did not go out and purchase “sex” with a prostituted woman they would rape a woman. And indeed, in Sweden, where the Nordic model exists, reported rapes have increased since its’ implementation.

  • Milly

    @ ned Also, that’s why I think Radical feminism is so cool because if taken to its’s end it requires a total shift in the entire world order, it asks us to imagine the what if human society was based on truly egalitarian relationships. Pornstitution, unpaid domestic labour, compulsory pregnancy and enforced gender performance are a focus for radical feminists because of the way those particular facets of society reinforce women’s status as the sex class. That doesn’t mean that radfems don’t care about exploited factory workers.

  • jade

    I have not experienced violence in the sex trade. I work with a network of people for safety reasons. Clearly that works. Though I entered this business in financial crisis I remained in after prostitution solved that crisis because it is a good job for me and far better then I was lead to believe before I began.

    Violence is not inherent in sex work. Criminalization is what makes this more dangerous then most other jobs. I know women who have done this for decades. I am not “ruined” personally or sexually. Clients are generally not brutes. Many are disabled or socially isolated. Most I have met are very nice but of course there are some jerks.

    Many more men would prostitute if there was enough demand for them to make a living at it.

    The vast majority of sex workers provide regular full service at the most. That is oral and intercourse with a condom. These boundaries for service are set in advance along with the fee. We choose the amount of calls we do and when we work.

    There are other types of work I wouldn’t do – couldn’t do. I do not find this activity traumatic. Even if this would not be your preference it is the preference of many including myself.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Jade. A couple of things:
      1) How do you think that sex work contributes to the creation of an egalitarian society? I’m honestly curious…
      2) How do you define ‘nice’
      3) Criminalization of whom/what “makes this more dangerous then most other jobs”?

  • Ivy

    I also find it disturbing how the sex industry is being more and mroe accepted by society…mostly men. Although I have been told I am being mean by “sex workers” on feminist blogs that I think prostitution is not just a job and is incredibly degrading whether it is stripping or being an escort or whatever. My sister in law waqs a stripper who turned to prostitution./…she turned away from the family that loved her and turned to drugs…she died from a drug overdose….she was also one of the ones who talked about how empowering stripping was…..You know what, she was an excellelnt dancer and a lovely person before she turned to drugs! So forgive me, when I am not that accepting of the likes of Belle De Jour who talk about how “empowering” being a prostitute is.

    And yeah it does often feel like it is the most privlaged sex workers that are allowed voice…no one wants to hear from the ones that suffer.

  • This is a very good conversation – which has left me thinking what I knew as I was being raped by leftist johns – that the left will want and need that prostitution is classed as sex work, so they can pretend to themselves that their prostitution and access to porn is only with women and girls who must be happy.
    Johns want and need to imagine that their prostitute is “happy”, or if they are into sadism, that their prostitution does not mind whatever violence he does to her. I was sadistically raped by many men who would see themselves as left-wingers – these men were the worse at forcing me to act happy even as their sadism was putting me into hell. Often these men would speak of human rights and how ghastly rape and child abuse was when done to the non-prostituted.
    I learnt to survive by acting happy, by asking orgasms and massaging the egos of my rapists. I have long-term trauma from those men – and the worse aspects was their mental abuse.
    Leftist men who speak of it just being sex work – are just justifying their “right” to have free access to the sex trade.

  • There’s no surprise here. I am not a Leftist and have never much liked the Left (except for the feminist part of it).

    These sorts of problems are bound to arise because not only is the Left male-dominated, it is also fundamentally misguided.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Misguided in what way, Komal?

      • – Little to no understanding of economics.
        – Too much statism (most of the time), and hence support for authoritarianism and paternalism.
        – Collectivism.

        ‘What is the Left doing right?’ is the question we ought to be asking. It mainly occupies itself with asking the government to give people things, which if nothing else seems boring and not worth dedicating one’s life to.

        • Meghan Murphy

          What is wrong with collectivism? And who is it you are arguing who has ‘Little to no understanding of economics’ – this isn’t exactly representative of my experience with leftist theorists….I hate to tell ya but ‘boring’ isn’t cutting it for me as an argument against the left…

          I’d also add that, I believe, many progressives value people over the economy, so while capitalists might view the left as having ‘little to no understanding of the economy’, the left might argue that capitalists prioritize the economy over people.

          • 1. Collectivism is deeply unethical. We’re just going to have agree to disagree on this.

            2. All Leftists I come across know very little about economics. For example, they do not understand how the free market generates wealth, and they think raising taxes to infinity in order to provide paternalistic services is a feasible option. Etc. This is based on my personal contact with Leftists, and is confirmed by the fact that most economists are not Leftists.

            3. If by ‘capitalists’ you mean economic libertarians, or people who support capitalism (who are not necessarily capitalists, btw), then I disagree that we care too little about other people, or at least that this is inherent in economic libertarianism. Capitalism does not entail anything about how much people value each other: it’s an economic system, not a set of moral prescriptions (although it does have a moral basis), and people can easily exist within this system while holding, for example, feminist values. In fact you all are doing this already, as you are clearly being able to successfully manifest your values within this system. Nothing about the capitalist system around you forces you to not care about other people.

            Leftists even benefit from the very system they condemn: by living in a society which is as well off as it is partly because of capitalism, by using technology which exists because of capitalism, by benefiting from the individualism that came historically with the advent of capitalism*, and by often advocating for vast social welfare systems that depend upon taxing wealth in order to exist, which requires wealth, which is generated through capitalism!

            * If it were not for this individualism, you would be relatively stuck in a traditional gender role and family role, and would have little identity of your own but identify mainly with your family or community. You would also have less privacy, and the possibility of even the most minimum feminism would not exist. It is surely not a coincidence that all the democratic movements, including feminism, emerged after capitalism did. Traditional agrarian societies (what we had before capitalism) are traditional patriarchal, aristocratic, and extremely hierarchical societies. From a historically and spatially parochial perspective (i.e. an untraveled Western perspective) ‘individualism’ may merely sound like: ‘prostitution is a choice’, or ‘pornography is a personal matter’, but from a more global and historically informed perspective, individualism means the idea that everyone’s place in the universe is not pre-determined by natural law, and that it is okay for individuals to break free from traditions: including oppressive patriarchal traditions. And let’s not forget the ‘radical’ potential of technology, which cannot flourish without individualism and capitalism.

          • I’m not intersted in debating right-wing economic policies on this site, as I figure most
            people who visit it are leftists. I will say that you are right: the vast majority of professors of economics are right-wingers. However, this can be be circular, since students with a left-wing philosophy may not want to take courses from mostly or only those with a right-wing bias, and thus we end up with yet another set of right-wing econ academics.

            Also please remember there are leftists world-wide, including in very poor countries. Those in the U.S. and other rich, predominantly white nations are “benefiting” from living behind a giant military complex. One that is ultimately destroying the very landbase we live on. The technologies we use contain minerals stolen from other peoples. The militarization of places such as the Congo is causing massive rape and murder there….but you knew that.

          • The reason most economists are not Leftists is that Leftist assumptions about economics are not borne out by the empirical data. The consideration you mentioned is not an example of circularity, but either way, it is not a sufficient explanation behind why economics is ‘right-wing’. Even if left-wing students now avoid the economics classroom, it does not explain how economics originated as ‘right-wing’ to begin with.

            You have also assumed that Leftists will choose to avoid economics rather than change it. This is of course an empirical question, and I do not know for certain what has been happening with Leftist students, but given the spirit of activism (a completely misguided spirit, but that’s another story), it is also possible that many Leftists will choose to study economics and find empirical data to the contrary of what ‘right-wing’ economists have found, but as far as I know this has not been done.

            Now of course one can just challenge the normative assumptions underlying the pro-capitalist position, without challenging the empirical claims. I think that’s what Meghan was beginning to do, but I have not heard any strong argument showing that capitalism is an unjust, albeit wealth-generating economic system.

          • ned

            Meghan and others — I won’t speak for Komal here but I tend to agree with her re: the lack understanding of markets, etc. on the left. The truth is that there isn’t a single purely capitalist or purely socialist economy anywhere in the world today. All political economies today are mixed, and it actually makes no sense to bash capitalism, when even the most “socialist” economies are based on welfare capitalism (social democracy != socialism). Also, I would add that markets, in and of themselves, are morally entirely neutral, though it’s an open question (and one that can be tested empirically) as to what incentives and resources are best organized and distributed through markets, and what incentives and resources are best organized and distributed in other ways (e.g. no economist will argue that legal systems ought to be bought and sold on a market).

            Corporatism, i.e. conglomerates getting bailed out by governments, is actually deeply anti-capitalist. The original ethic of capitalism requires that once you’ve made an investment, you assume full responsibility for the risk you’re taking. If companies go bankrupt, they need to be allowed to hit rock bottom, not bailed out.

            It is also not fair to practicing economists to act as if they are not doing any research to deal with issues of social justice. Nicholas Barr at the London School of Economics has written one of the finest books on the economics of the welfare state. Feminist economists are working on issues related to women’s unpaid labour, among other things. I’m not really an expert on economics, but I don’t dismiss the discipline out of hand either. When I get time I plan to watch these video courses on capitalism and economic issues:

          • ned

            Also, this course discusses the many hybrid political economies around the world at present, making the case that there’s no “pure” type anywhere and comparing countries as different as the United States and China:

    • lizor

      “These sorts of problems are bound to arise because not only is the Left male-dominated, it is also fundamentally misguided.”

      And the Right is a magic bastion of gender equality??? And trickle-down economics is working so well for the working poor?

  • irony

    Great essay. Although, I have trouble standing on the side of someone fighting marginalization while they are actively marginalizing a segment of the group of people they’re fighting for… Before you start critiquing the approaches of people who are admirably attempting to make the lives of prostitutes less dangerous by allowing a little light to be shed upon them and allowing them to join the rest society and give them access to the justice system when a crime is committed against them, please revisit your definition of gender equality and then talk policy. Because, while our society isn’t perfect, it, our social norms, and our justice system is the best we have right now, and keeping prostitution illegal all these years hasn’t done much good for those trapped in the sex trade.

    Essays like this are the reason I – a man – have to defend actual feminism to all my friends – female, male, gay, or otherwise.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I see how this works. Men rape, murder, abuse, and exploit women, but it’s the feminists who are marginalizing them/ourselves? Convenient. I really wish we would start putting at least some of the onus on men. Just for once. I wish that men would take responsibility for their actions instead of explaining to women/feminists how sexist oppression works. Yes indeed, that’s what I wish.

    • Ok….you realize that Meghan argues for the decriminalization of selling sex, which would give prostitutes access to the justice system when a crime is committed against them, right? It sounds like you don’t.

  • My issues with prostitution is that I’ve never been able to see sex as a commodity. It’s an experience, one shared between two people who are attracted to each other and want to enjoy each other’s bodies. Like sharing a steamy look with a stranger across a room, spontaneously laughing at the same joke, or randomly deciding to go on an unplanned adventure, sometimes the chemisty between two people just makes these awesome moments of synchronicity come together. It’s something that happens, naturally. I just can’t wrap my head around owing it to someone in exchange for some worldly good like money.

  • marv wheale

    It’s ironic that irony is so uninformed about the Nordic model of prostitution abolition. An analogy would be for a racial equality minded white person – living in the slavery era in the US – to not realize that black people should be decriminalized for being runaway slaves while white slave owners should be criminalized. Both examples are foundational knowledge for sensible thinking and social justice.

  • Milly

    Irony, most prostituted women are already marginalized by poverty. Legal changes will do nothing to alleviate their poverty or their lack of choices. Indeed if we take up the Pro-prostitution rhetoric of choice, poor women will actually have less choice to say no to prostitution if it is legally sanctioned by the state and could even find themselves coerced into prostitution by the state if it is legalized.

    I was 19 during the 90’s recession had dropped out of high school and was living in an area that had the highest unemployment rates in the country. I was hoping to work in hospitality, but the local employment office found me a job at a glove factory, I didn’t really want to work in a factory but I didn’t really have any other choice. The economy improved, I moved to a more prosperous state and got an entry level government job- my ticket out of poverty.

    Factory work hasn’t left me permanently scarred, but if I had fallen into prostitution then, ( I was giving it serious thought at the time and had actually responded to an ad for prostitutes in Victoria offering a free flight, it turned out to be a scam where you’d fly south and be forever paying off your debt, a virtual sex-slave, but I hung up the phone after he asked for my measurements – thank goodness I had some sense for self-preservation!) I hate to think how my life would have out.

    Sorry for personal ramble but I think it needs to be made clear the lack of real choices poor women have and that the solution is not to give them even crappier ‘choices’.

  • jade

    Well Milly thank goodness you had some sense for self preservation unlike those of us who went the sex work route – in your opinion. I too worked at a factory and I absolutely prefer sex work to that.

    This is not a matter of being given choices by anyone else. We will take this income if we so choose. We are doing it in almost every community across the world. Pity us, criminalize and stigmatize us. None of it has stopped us. None of it will. Endanger us to coddle your own discomfort with us by fighting to keep our clients criminalized even as we fight against that. You fight us.

    Prohibitionists/abolitionist right-wing religious zealots and rad fems are our enemies.

    • Milly

      Sorry for my poor writing jade. I don’t feel in any way superior to women who have been forced into prostitution. I was suicidally depressed at the time. It was self-destructive behavior and I merely meant that I’m glad now that I had a lucky escape. I don’t know how to respond to the rest of your comment. I’m sorry that you feel like rad fems are your enemies. I think that men who “rent an organ” (in the words of a John- taken from Melissa Farley’s report) are more worthy targets of women’s ire.

    • lizor


      Milly wrote “[I] responded to an ad for prostitutes in Victoria offering a free flight, it turned out to be a scam where you’d fly south and be forever paying off your debt, a virtual sex-slave”

      Are you saying that this story is not true because your experience was different than that? Now who is doing the silencing? Who is being disrespectful?

    • Carmen Speer

      I know this is years, years overdue, but it helps me to have an actual person to respond to while writing a comment like this, regardless of whether or not she will actually read it.

      The only coddling I see going on here is people saying “We absolutely don’t blame you” and etc.

      I don’t blame the you who was impoverished. I don’t blame the you now necessarily either, whatever your motivations (brainwashing, Stockholm Syndrome, knee-jerk defensiveness, simple greed). I’m not insulting you for your choice to stay in prostitution despite no further economic need. I’m insulting you for calling rad fems your enemies and for implying that your choice is more important than the well-being of all women.

      I have gone back and forth on my feelings about prostitution. I do believe, for example, that women’s sexuality and allure can be empowering. I also believe there are some women that through a combination of street smarts and good luck have managed to escape violence in prostitution, and who are better at most at compartmentalizing (i.e., it is not traumatizing to them to be used as a masturbatory object–not saying that’s always the case, but often; I’m sure a deeper aspect to the transaction is not the norm–by men they find, on the whole, unattractive). I also believe that there are some women who have decided to be sexual therapists and advertise their wares as such, and who genuinely approach each transaction as a way to help their client with intimacy issues. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with any of this.

      What’s wrong with it is the patriarchy.

      To me, it’s similar to my own sexuality. I would really like to embrace the sexual side of myself–flirtatious, in control. The problem is with how it’s interpreted by others and my value as a person is then measured (reduced).

      Within a patriarchal context, prostitution is the industrialization of inferiority. It is about keeping women in their place–as sexual service providers for men–and constantly reminding men and women, whether they take part in the industry or not, that that is what women are for. Some ideas–like communism–are great in theory, but in practice they devolve into fascism because human beings are so stuck on power. The idea of egalitarian, empowering prostitution–or prostitution as a job like any other, with no far-reaching social consequences–is another such beautiful fantasy. In reality it gets immediately co-opted in most cases by patriarchal and colonialist violence. So as an institution, prostitution keeps women–all women–down, and is a threatening specter for women who hover on the margins of society, many of whom are women of color.

      In terms of individual prostitutes, the majority of prostitutes who have taken part in surveys have met diagnostic criteria for PTSD and have claimed they would like to exit, if they could. There is a correlation between childhood abuse and prostitution and many prostitutes enter the industry as children.

      Even if this were not the case–even if the vast majority of “voluntary” prostitutes felt happy with their work–there is a recognized tie between prostitution and sex trafficking. In every case where prostitution has been legalized trafficking has skyrocketed, and police can’t keep up or are even involved themselves in maintaining the cover-up of illegal brothels, receiving bribes or sexual favors or both in return for their co-conspiring; this is especially true of countries already renowned for their police corruption, as is the case in many impoverished developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

      When you legalize something you send the message that it’s okay. Legalizing prostitution will not make it safer, it will just bring out the johns and create more demand that not nearly enough local women will flock to meet. This creates the perfect conditions for traffickers to move in, after they’ve sufficiently conditioned the women they’ve enslaved.

      Only by abolishing prostitution and sending the message that it’s not okay to buy women’s bodies can we even begin to address sex trafficking (and the harm done to women who are conscripted into prostitution by destitution and who find themselves abused and traumatized by it).

      In a post-gender world, we might be able to have sexual services and hands-on sexual therapy and women would be celebrated instead of feared and reviled for authentic displays of sexuality. But we don’t live in that world. “Harm reduction” should really be about reducing the harms as experienced by all women under patriarchy, which means the abolition of prostitution.

      If abolishing prostitution means saving one trafficked or coerced woman from a life of sexual torture it’s worth it. Even if it means you losing your job.

      Anyway, liberal feminism aside, this is not about you. Or me. Or even–above sentence notwithstanding–about her, the sex slave, the unwilling prostitute. It’s about all women.

      • Carmen Speer

        I’m aware that came off as a bit harsh and I’m sorry. (This apology is to you, Meghan, not to Jade). I don’t judge the privileged few who choose to work in prostitution despite having other options (although I do think that, if not utterly deluded and if aware of the harm caused by their chosen profession, they are being selfish, so I guess I do judge them, never mind). I don’t SAY anything about my judgment of them if they simply keep quiet and go about their business. But so many have decided to speak up in the name of their “rights”–and have usurped a whole generation of feminism–that I think it’s time we speak out against these particular sex workers, yes. They are aware of the statistics regarding violence against women in prostitution and the link between prostitution and trafficking, I’m sure. And yet they continue to push their agenda as if their experience of prostitution were the only one (or the only important one) and all those statistics in all those studies done (as well as the voices–often not nearly so loud, as survivors are often ashamed–of exited women) are merely lying. As if studies asking johns what they think–or johns’ reviews speaking for themselves–weren’t convincing enough in and of themselves. And as if the pain and suffering of millions of women and the continuing second-class status of all women takes a back seat to their “right” to ply their trade. It’s pure selfishness and egotism. Mixed with a very peculiar brand of naivete to boot, if they think that the vast majority of men in this patriarchy are ever going to respect a woman they pay to have sex with. Most men don’t respect women who have sex with them for free.

  • Amanda

    This South African blogger seems quite aware of class issues yet still favors decriminalization: http://www.women24.com/Wellness/WomensHealth/Why-decriminalise-sex-work-20111114

    Also, please be conscious of your language when you say that women who work in prostitution are “bought and sold,” as that’s not merely inaccurate, but horribly dehumanizing and demeaning.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I agree that it is extremely dehumanizing that men buy and sell (and believe it is in their right to buy and sell) women.

      • Amanda

        Why do you pretend to miss the point of what I’m saying instead of engaging with me respectfully?

        I’m suggesting that your language of buying/selling is inaccurate and dehumanizes women, and robs them of whatever choice they may have had (even if it was made under economic duress) to perform sex work. People who engage in sexual labor for financial compensation are not merely bodies for sale. Selling/buying implies permanently changing ownership, while a prostitute still “owns” her body and self when she performs sexual labor. I’m quite sure that you understood my point initially, but chose to feign ignorance. It’s disappointing, because many prostitutes (like myself) would prefer to at least have their voices heard and respected in the conversation.

        • Meghan Murphy

          The language of ‘buying and selling women’ is the language men use. Not the language I invented. Me identifying what is going on does not equal me dehumanizing. Pointing out oppressive systems does not make me the oppressor. Of course women are not merely bodies for sale, which is PRECISELY why feminists are critical of industries which make women into “merely bodies for sale”. I imagine that the many prostitutes who have exited and are abolitionists would also like their voices heard and yet decriminalization advocates seem to consistently erase those voices and claim to represent all sex workers. Prostitution impacts all women. Not just you.

          • Amanda

            Yes, Meghan, clearly prostitution affects more than just me—in this post alone multiple women who work as prostitutes have spoken up. I never claimed I was the only woman affected, nor that I think I can speak on behalf of all women in prostitution. I do wish our voices, diverse as they are, had more respect in the debate.

            And while I am well aware that you haven’t invented the language of buying and selling women, I encourage you to adapt a more accurate and respectful way of speaking about us. This is something you can do without even agreeing with decriminalization. The buying/selling vocabulary makes us sound like slaves. Even those among us who might be poor or uneducated, and with fewer options, are not necessarily slaves. We have a level of autonomy, and we certainly don’t surrender ownership of our bodies when we work.

            Prostitution was not my first choice, but it wasn’t my only either. I could work a lot of hours for less pay and still survive, or I could choose my current lifestyle which allows me to provide a comfortable life for myself and my daughter, and spend much more time with her than I could if I had an office job. Many of us could do something else if we wanted but, for single parents especially, this allows me a better life than any other realistic option would.

            It surprises me that anti-prostitution activists only focus on women in the industry. There are plenty of gay male prostitutes working out there. There are definitely more male-for-male prostitutes than female-for-male prostitutes relative to the size of the populations they serve (gay men versus straight men). Why doesn’t anyone seem to get upset about men selling sex? Why is it only called degrading when women do it?

            If you were to successfully prosecute every man who goes to a bona fide prostitute, would that be enough? What about the more ambiguous relationships, like sugar daddies, mistresses, housewives, etc, where a woman is sleeping with a man and profiting from him in some way? I think these arrangements work for many people, and it will be impossible to curb every form of sex-for-money. It’s wiser, in my opinion, to focus on trafficking, rape, pimping, coercion, physical abuse, etc. These are crimes that exist independently of prostitution, and cause obvious harm to people. Prostitution itself can (and does) exist in the word free from these types abuse.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Amanda – I think that your voices are heard in this debate. I think that the problem is that those who argue that for decrim often argue that it is ONLY sex workers that may speaks on the matter. And those sex workers who do speak on the matter tend to be those with privilege.

            When I use the language of buying and selling women it is applicable to all women. Not just you. So this isn’t about me using language that sits right with you. Women are commodified. Women’s bodies are for sale. Everywhere. On television, film, advertising, and, of course, in prostitution. MY body is objectified by the male gaze. Am I dehumanizing myself? No. Of course not. Am I a slave? Of course not.

            Every woman has a certain level of autonomy. This doesn’t erase the fact that some women’s choices are extremely limited and that we all make choices within the constraints of a patriarchal system. Just because I make a choice it doesn’t make me free from this context or free from those restraints. We make choices all the time, but they are limited. ‘Choice’ doesn’t erase power and domination.

            You say: “Prostitution was not my first choice, but it wasn’t my only either. I could work a lot of hours for less pay and still survive, or I could choose my current lifestyle which allows me to provide a comfortable life for myself and my daughter, and spend much more time with her than I could if I had an office job. Many of us could do something else if we wanted but, for single parents especially, this allows me a better life than any other realistic option would.”
            Don’t you see that as a problem?? Like, a systematic problem? Don’t you see it as a problem that women can’t survive and take care of themselves and their families without selling sex to men?? I do.

            The vast majority of the prostitution industry is fueled by men buying sex from women. Yes, men also buy sex from men. Every once in while women buy sex. Is there really any point in pretending that this industry doesn’t exist because of male power and privilege? The exception exists, but it isn’t the rule. Anyway, abolitionists don’t support men buying sex from men/boys either, just so you’re aware….

            What success would look like would be a society wherein women don’t need to sacrifice their bodies or selves to men because they have few other options. “Success” would be an end to patriarchy, if that’s what you’re asking. This will take a long time. I seriously doubt I will see that happen in my lifetime. We feel that part of this process includes changing the way men view and treat women. Making it clear that women don’t exist for male pleasure. And that means that, we hope, one day, prostitution will no longer exist.

            Of course feminists also focus on trafficking, rape, pimping, and abuse. OF COURSE they do. This isn’t ONLY about prostitution. But it is all interconnected and prostitution is a pretty harsh representation of what men really think of us.

          • Amanda

            I do understand how prostitution affects more than just sex workers, in the way that sexist advertising affects more than just models. That makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, criminalization affects prostitutes more than it does other women, and I do think we deserve more of a voice in the debate for that reason.

            I can certainly understand not wanting to participate in the sex industry, and not wanting your friends/children/loved ones to participate in an industry that you feel degrades women. Even though my experience as a prostitute has mostly been decent, I’d prefer if my daughter doesn’t grow up to do the same thing (for a variety of reasons). If I had a son, I would want him to grow up to respect women, and while I don’t think patronizing a sex worker occasionally makes you a disrespectful person, I’d really hope he didn’t participate in the sex industry in a way that where he stopped recognizing women’s humanity, or destroyed his own capability to have a relationship. (I realize you might believe *any* patronage of the sex industry does this, but based on my experiences, I really don’t.)

            That said, I don’t think recruiting the government and law to criminalize prostitution (either buying or selling) is the way to go. There are many things I’d prefer people I love didn’t participate in, I guess hard drugs being the most convenient example, yet I don’t think criminalizing will bring about significant or meaningful. I don’t think having laws that make all cocaine users criminals is helpful, nor do I feel that way about laws that make all purchases of sex illegal. Cocaine use can lead to aggressive behavior in some people; criminalize that behavior because the reality is that plenty of people can use drugs occasionally and not become addicted, aggressive or violent. Raping/pimping/kidnapping/slavery is inherently abusive and should be punished, but paying someone for sex is not inherently abusive; plenty of people do it within a consensual context. I think criminalizing all forms of sex-for-money might not be the best way to assist people who are the true victims of abuse and trafficking.

            If you find the entire sex industry degrading and sexist, I understand discouraging people from participating, but i don’t think sending nonviolent offenders (and there are many johns who are nonviolent) to prison for any reason is beneficial to our society. I believe we should make the sex industry as safe as possible for people who choose to participate in it. Prosecute people who *explicitly* hurt women in a tangible, physical way—*not* in the philosophical sense of participating in an industry that doesn’t support feminism.

          • Amanda

            *significant or meaningful CHANGE*, oops, typo

          • Meghan Murphy

            But Abolitionists don’t advocate for criminalization of women. They advocate for decriminalization.

            I do believe that men who buy sex are also men who don’t truly believe in gender equality and in the humanity of women. I don’t think it necessarily destroys capacity for a relationship, so long as the man in question stops buying sex and reflects on his actions in a way that brings him to an understanding of how, exactly, his (past) behaviour ties into a context of power, privilege, and patriarchy.

            I also don’ think that criminalizing drugs or drug use is useful. I think it is backwards. And it is completely different than criminalizing pimps and johns. Drugs and drug users are not marginalizing anyone – I mean, drugs are inanimate objects so criminalizing drugs is not the same as criminalizing johns. Drug users are marginalized because we don’t have adequate social services and support. I guess, criminalizing drug users could be seen as akin to criminalizing prostituted women (though, still, not the same thing…), but I don’t advocate for either, so…The drug argument, applied to prostitution, makes no sense to me. Women aren’t drugs, men aren’t drugs. Drug users are people who are sick and need social services and a compassionate society. There is hardly anywhere in Vancouver for drug users to go to even detox, nevermind anywhere for them to live and be provided with the care they need. The problem is the system. The problem is our society. Women also end up in prostitution because of a lack of social services. Because women are poor. Because they, perhaps, have a history of abuse. Because they believe this is their only purpose. Because some asshole sexually abused her when she was young and this is all she knows. I truly believe that if women had other options, had housing, support, a reasonable income AND were not subjected to abuse by men, we could end prostitution. In the meantime, we need to make men stop doing this. Because they don’t seem to be doing it voluntarily.

            Criminalizing pimps and johns says: “women are not for sale”. Men don’t need sex like they need food and water and shelter. Why are we pretending like this is something people need to survive? They don’t. Men buy sex because they can. Because they think they have the right to. Period. We need to say – no, you don’t have the right.

            I would be more inclined to say that, rather than sending all johns to jail, they lose their job. There are different levels of criminalization. Not everyone who breaks a law goes to jail. Some johns would go to jail. Some maybe wouldn’t. But either way they would lose privilege in this society in a way that impacted their lives enough to stop buying women. I’m told that, in the Netherlands, if a city employee is caught at a strip club, they lose their jobs. I’m honestly not all that interested in jails, in the way they function right now. It tends to make things worse rather than better. That said, I don’t think that rapists and abusers and murderers should get to participate in society in the same way that others do. I do think jails should include rehabilitation if at all possible. But this is a whole other conversation. As far as right now goes, since this is the world we live in, we need to work to create a socialist society wherein there is no huge gap between the haves and the have nots and we also need to end patriarchy and male privilege. We have to change the system entirely. I think one part of this change would be to say, actually, buying and selling women is not ok. You can’t do it anymore. Otherwise it will never stop.

          • Amanda

            So if a woman offers a man sex for money, completely consensually—and it does happen!—and he accepts, pays her, and respects her rules and boundaries, you think he deserves to be punished and she doesn’t? Don’t you think that, in some sense, that demeans the woman’s ability to make decisions for herself?

            For the occasional woman who does buy sex, few as there may be, do they deserve to suffer legal repercussions as well?

          • Meghan Murphy

            I’ll let it slide for that one lady hows about. Now can we get back to talking about reality?

          • Amanda

            Because I live in reality, and I’m part of reality. You’re probably saying the one hypothetical female sex consumer is not part of reality—in any event, you ignored the first part of my question completely. You ignore the reality of many women’s experiences, sex workers like myself who want our industry to be legal and as safe as possible. Because you think we’re not the “real” prostitutes or something, and we’re not part of reality.

            I want to help people get out of the sex industry if they want to. And I think efforts are better focused there than making all sex consumers outlaws.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Abolitionists want safety but more. Without an end result, a goal of equality, you cannot count yourself as an activist or a feminist. You are real, yes, but harm reduction is not the be all end all. We are working to end patriarchy/exploitation, not to legitimize male supremacy.

          • Amanda

            It’s like when people don’t fit into this oppressed/oppressive “reality” that you’ve decided applies to everyone everywhere, you just get sarcastic and dismissive. If you’re so confident in your beliefs, I’m surprised you react this way consistently when engaging with your commenters.

          • Meghan Murphy

            I’m sure you can imagine how these consistent derails become frustrating after a certain point. The female consumer is not who we are talking about and is maybe 1% of total consumers. It is irrelevant.

          • No, I don’t think that demeans the woman’s ability to make decisions for herself. This is about him, not her. He Stop taking the responsibility away from men.

          • lizor

            “Raping/pimping/kidnapping/slavery is inherently abusive and should be punished”

            Amanda, I take this to mean you support the criminalization of pimps, not prostitutes, much like the Nordic model.

  • jade

    Thanks Meghan for that blatant mischaracterization. Your position is weak when you must resort to lies. Those of us who provide sexual services for payment and know the dynamics of actual sex work as opposed to the sex slavery fantasy of rad fems will actively fight your bullshit at every turn.

    Do you ever wonder why there are no current sex workers on your prohibitionist side?

    1. You want to take away our jobs.
    2. You lie about sex work to promote your agenda.
    3. Your actions hurt the women in the sex trade.

    Have you noticed how much of the feminist community has slipped over to our side?

    • Meghan Murphy

      What lies, Jade? I was pointing out, in my comment above, the way in which you’ve elected to blame feminists for demeaning and dehumanizing, rather than point the finger at the men. Unfortunately we all have a hard time blaming the perpetrators of violence in this culture, often blaming women and feminists for their own oppression.

      I think it’s fair to say that it is the pimps and johns who do the objectifying and dehumanizing, not the feminists.

      Men hurt women in the sex trade. Men rape women. Men abuse women. Men kill women. Blaming feminists for this violence isn’t going to stop the violence or create change. I think this is the great lie. Not only that but it gives men exactly what they want. A free pass.

  • jade

    I didn’t blame feminists in general -especially because most of them to seem to support us and are not prohibitionists. There is a segment within the radical movement that wants sex work abolished by claiming it is slavery. That is a lie.

    Your comment “men buy and sell women” is not about sex work but rather about slavery. It is disingenuous at the very least to characterize the voluntary provision of sex work (which the vast amjority of it is) in this way.

    Men hurt women in marriage. Men objectify women and other men or children with their gaze as they go about life. Cut their eyes out I guess. Don’t play out your rad fem rage with men’s gaze and ways on sex workers by threatening our livlihood. That’s bullying.

    Maybe you should meet some clients before you steretype them as enslavers and abusers. They are disabled, widowed, isolated, lonely, grateful, sweet, and of course there are grumpy ones too. They are people just ike you and I.

    I consider myself a feminist btw.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Hmm…No I don’t agree. What are the men running brothels in Nevada selling? Girls. Prostitution, when done because of a need to survive, to ensure the survival of ones children, because of vulnerability, is not voluntary.

      The radical feminists you speak of, the feminist abolitionists are, in fact, feminists – to blame them for the dehumanization of women is sad in some ways. Are we really so desperate to not see the perpetrators for what they are? Blaming feminists is a classic tool of the mainstream media and of patriarchy. We’ve been blaming feminists for society’s problems since feminism existed. Another classic tool of the patriarchy? Trying to derail feminist debates and arguments by accusing women of being ‘too angry’. Being angry about inequity and abuse and exploitation is ok. It is more than ok. You know what they say – if you aren’t angry, you’re not paying attention.

      I agree that men hurt women in marriage and that they objectify women and girls. Yet you seem to excuse this? “Cut out their eyes I guess” – you clearly aren’t being serious. So what do you suggest? We do nothing? We don’t work to end patriarchy? Well, fine, you don’t have to. Feminists are doing this work. We wish to be done with patriarchy and prostitution perpetuates women’s inequality. So I’m not sure where your feminism lies if you don’t want to end patriarchy and the oppression of women?

      I have no desire to talk to pimps and johns. Though, of course I have talked to men who’ve bought women. Far more than I would have liked to, unfortunately. And I don’t care how sweet you think they are – no man who buys sex from a woman desires an end to patriarchy. Not one. They are not like me. Because I don’t see women as things I can buy and use for my own means. I see women as human beings.

    • ned

      Jade, I feel like you’re side-stepping everything Meghan is saying about the wider social costs of the sex industry as far as its effects on systemic male-female relations go. To argue against the radical feminist perspective you would have to make the case that the sex industry is not an obstacle in the way of the realization of a gender-egalitarian world. In your rant against radical feminism, you actually have not addressed this point at all.

      Regarding preferring providing sexual services to other jobs, well, sure, that’s your preference and perhaps that is the best choice for you at this point in time, but neither you nor I live in a vacuum, and the individual choices we make affect the wider society, and we do have an obligation to other human beings with whom we share that society to make choices that benefit everyone on the largest scale possible. That’s not to say that if you don’t have other choices, your choice to provide sexual services should not be respected. Of course it should be. But you can’t really side-step that there are wider social costs of the industry that you’re participating in.

      That said, I am willing to concede that I’m not convinced by the abolitionist talk and the equation of the sex industry with slavery. Excluding the sections of the global sex trade that are heavily tied in with human trafficking networks, I think it’s fair to say that there is a sizeable number of women who willingly (in the sense of having individual agency in a given context) choose to do sex work.

      Also, what this discussion with Jade is indicating to me is that the feminist argument against the sex industry can only go as far as pointing out the effects of the sex industry on male-female relations and the social costs of that. Beyond that it’s difficult to avoid some discussion of the morality of commodifying sexuality at all.

  • jade

    Wow meg. You have twice accused me of claiming feminists “dehumanize” women or sexworkers(?)
    You are arguing against points I haven’t made so I can’t really engage with your speech about the victimization of feminists. I have attacked abolitonist/prohibitionist rad fems specifically for exactly what they are doing trying to abolish the work of millions of people -female, male & trans world wide.

    I can attack your allies -the religious right, extreme conservatives and REAL women too for the same thing if you like.

    This is the F-word. I thought the F stood for feminism – thus making that part of the topic at hand.
    Starting to wonder if it stands for fiction in this instance.

    Peace out.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Ok Jade – my apologies. I had thought you were referring to Amanda’s comment and my response. Perhaps you could clarify exactly what you mean when you say: “Thanks Meghan for that blatant mischaracterization. Your position is weak when you must resort to lies.” What are the lies you keep referencing? And the mischaracterizations? I have no allies on the religious right or anywhere on the right for that matter. It feels like you aren’t really paying attention if that’s what you’ve gotten from my writing. Oh well.

      What you have gotten right is that the ‘F’ is for ‘feminism’! Good guess! Hence the argument to end the oppression of women. Taa daaaa!

    • Yep, turns out extreme conservatives and fundamentalist Christians LOVE radical feminism! I was really surprised to see so many of them supporting Meghan on this blog…..oh wait, that was just a figment of your imagination. Nevermind!

      • Meghan Murphy

        I am a darling of the right-wingers, that’s for sure! Margaret Wente loves me, I just know it.

  • jade

    Unless they are sex workers. Taa daaa!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Jade. You are doing exactly what you claim radical feminists do – that is, you have decided that all prostituted women have the exact same perspective you do. *Some* sex workers advocate for decriminalization / a harm-reduction model. Feminists also argue for decriminalization (of women), but we also argue for an end to patriarchy. If that isn’t the goal of feminism, well then, count me confused. If we aren’t fighting for that, then what is the point of feminism pray tell?

    • ned

      Jade and any other pro-sex-work feminist reading this: I’d really like you guys to address how the sex industry serves the purpose of gender egalitarianism, which is what I consider the core goal of feminism.

      This is a separate issue than the issue of legal reform of the sex industry, etc. to make life easier for sex workers. Sure, that can and ought to be done (and I don’t think Meghan or any other radical feminist here opposes it). Just like people try to reform religions in societies where religion and politics can’t be separated for various historical-cultural reasons. It’s a pragmatic compromise with reality. I’ve really got no issues with that.

      But I’m interested in a philosophical point here. You’re refusing to address an incompatibility between sex work and the goal of gender egalitarianism. If male dominance and female subordination is and has historically been systemic, which I do believe is the case, sex work will always be equivalent to male purchase of female-offered sexual services, and ensure that male dominance is perpetuated. This is a wider social problem. I’d like to see how pro-sex-work feminists address this, because so far, I haven’t seen anything substantial.

      The other option is that you say that you don’t care about gender egalitarianism at all, which is fine. Except that having abandoned the goal of equality, what’s left and what’s the point in calling it feminism? It would make more sense to say one is just a plain ol’ liberal who believes in individual empowerment without caring too much about gender- or race-based systemic oppression.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Thanks Ned. That is exactly what I keep trying to get at, but no one on the pro-sex-work/decrim end seems willing to respond. It seems clear that, as you say, there is “an incompatibility between sex work and the goal of gender egalitarianism” – so why, if the end goal is *not* equality, insist on calling it feminism?

  • jade

    Are you saying it’s the responsibility or purpose of sexworkers to promote gender egalitarianism?

    Are you going after all the more stereotypical professions on this?

    Maids, secretaries, stay at home moms, nannies, nurses, strippers, models, seamtresses, women who take men’s names when they marry etc. etc. then there are all the male dominated professions too.

    Many sex workers do plenty to improve the lot of others in this society.

    Also you make so many erroneous assumptios about sex work I am not about to educate you – just the line about female subordination (ned) is a joke. It is the sex worker who solicits the client. You do not understand the real dynamics.

    • Meghan Murphy

      No. Not at all. We are saying that the purpose of feminism is to work towards gender equality and to end the oppression of women. So if you are not working towards this end then how can you argue that what you are fighting for is feminism? Why call it feminism, in that case?

    • ned

      Jade, you’re just being silly now. I didn’t make any assumptions about sex work — my point was that male domination is systemic, not just in sex work, but pretty much everywhere. Radical feminism works to dismantle male dominance. It opposes sex work because sex work translates, in practice, to the male purchase of female sexual services. That leads men to view women a certain way on a systemic scale and it gets in the way of the realization of the social ideal of gender egalitarianism. I think this is pretty well-established. Recent empirical research on johns shows that they have a certain view of women.

      You bring up a whole lot of other roles women are made to play in patriarchal societies — “Maids, secretaries, stay at home moms, nannies, nurses, strippers, models, seamtresses, women who take men’s names when they marry etc. etc. then there are all the male dominated professions too” — well OF COURSE radical feminism *would* argue that women should live more balanced lives and not limit themselves to excessively feminine roles that prevent their development as full human beings. When did anybody say radical feminism wouldn’t argue this? It’s a pretty consistent worldview.

      Again, if you don’t care about gender egalitarianism, what’s the point in calling yourself a feminist? You can just call yourself a liberal/libertarian because liberals/libertarians are not really concerned with dismantling systemic oppression per se but only concerned with getting individuals as many choices as possible within the status quo.

      I’m kind of done with this conversation because as usual the pro-sex-work people aren’t interested in being intellectually honest. You could actually use this as an opportunity to refine your intellectual assumptions and (if you’re honest) conclude that you think individual liberty is more important than gender equality. That, again, is perfectly fine as far as it goes — it just doesn’t merit the label of feminism.

  • Karen

    Prohibitionist feminism contributes to the oppression of prostitutes! That is why the left is not on your side and most feminists aren’t either!

    • Meghan Murphy

      But do MEN also contribute to the oppression of women? Is there any particular reason why we are so focused on blaming women for the oppression of women? Do you feel like, maybe, JUST maybe, you could be leaving out something rather significant from this equation?

      I’m also a little confused. Are you saying that feminists are not on the side of feminists? That doesn’t make sense to me.

      For the record, there are many progressive men who don’t think that prostitution or the decriminalization of pimps and johns is progressive. Unfortunately the decrim lobby has bullied so many people into silence that they are afraid to say this. Not all are afraid, but many. Silencing dissent doesn’t equal a win and it certainly doesn’t mean everyone agrees with you.

  • ned

    Meghan, a side-question: in the Nordic model, are men criminalized any time they purchase sexual services, or are they criminalized only when they engage in acts of violence when they purchase sexual services?

    • Meghan Murphy

      My understanding is that buying sex from a woman would be illegal.

  • jade

    Ned, in the Swedish example clients are criminalized simply for non-violent consensual transactions with another adult. We would have no problem with them being prosecuted for abuse. We a huge problem with good clients being charged. We participate. We get paid. We place ads. We solicit him and he gets charged? How is that fair?


    I don’t know what you mean Meghan when you ask -“Why call it feminism”?
    I am not saying sex work is feminism.

    Why do “abolitionist” feminists choose to selectively concentrate on eradicating my job (sex worker) and not the other sexist jobs that I listed?

    • A lot of abolitionist feminists are critical of stripping, modeling, female subservience, and of course women taking men’s name in marriages. Hell, a lot of radical feminists aren’t keen on marriage, period. What’s wrong with “seamstressing” though? Tailoring is a much more gender-neutral form of employment, and how does it ruin women’s lives? That’s the key point, here. Prostitution negatively impacts women to a more severe degree than all those other professions, including the sexist ones. Meghan isn’t a big fan of strip clubs, but practically, prostitution is a more urgent issue.

    • Meghan Murphy

      But you argue that you are feminist, yes? That you are making a feminist argument? If we can agree that prostitution is not feminist, or rather, is oppressive / perpetuates inequality between men and women / will not liberate women, then I would think we could also agree that, at some point, we’d like to an eventual end to this industry. I have written about / been critical of stripping and am VERY critical of marriage and of women taking men’s names. I don’t think that women being seamstresses, for example, objectifies women and perpetuates rape culture, but rather that many professions which are viewed as ‘women’s professions/work’ are devalued precisely BECAUSE it is seen as ‘women’s work’. Being a mother, for example, is unpaid labour because it is viewed as something women do ‘naturally’ – and things that women do are not important things (according to dominant ideology). I am critical of prostitution, pornography, stripping, etc, because this industry benefits men, in the long run, and makes women into objects which exist for male pleasure and because the idea that women are objects that exist for men to use perpetuates rape culture, as well as for other reasons.

  • jade

    Oh right because sex workers are slaves. I forgot the bullshit for a moment.

    And it is bullshit. Unlike Abolitionists that fought against slavery you have no interest in targeting the small percentage of those who are in this against their will and are going after all of the consensual sex work because you don’t like it. It’s sexist.

  • jade

    I disagree that sex work is oppressive or that it perpetuates inequality.

    One can be a sex worker and be a feminist.

    Targetting prostitution for extinction is oppressive to prostitutes.

    • Meghan Murphy

      No. Prostitution is oppressive to prostitutes and to women. It exists because of male power and male privilege. Do you think that the fact that men have commodified women and sex and think that they are somehow entitled to access women’s bodies, particularly women’s bodies that belong to women who are marginalized or who have few other options, creates equality between the sexes?

      I agree that one can be a sex worker and be a feminist – but I wonder how one can argue that prostitution works towards the goals of feminism?

      Would you also argue that critiquing the institution of marriage targets married people? Would you argue that I am oppressing married women who have taken their husband’s names because I am critical of this practice?

      • “Would you also argue that critiquing the institution of marriage targets married people? Would you argue that I am oppressing married women who have taken their husband’s names because I am critical of this practice?”

        Brilliant. Btw, I forgot to thank you for doing so much work on this important topic. So: thank you :).

        • Meghan Murphy

          Thanks Komal 🙂

    • One can also be a seamstress and a juggler. It is possible to be two unrelated things at the same time.

      Doing what you have to do in order to live will always contain doing shit that feminism isn’t fond of for all women as long as we are living under Patriarchy. The whole point of Patriarchy is oppressing women, so there are no women that are under such a system that aren’t occasionally forced into unnatural sexist shapes. Does that mean that feminists should instead aim for women to not be so unequal, but just slightly lower than men? That seems like a pretty sad goal.

  • jade

    Being critical of something and being part of a movement to abolish it are 2 different things, especially when such efforts are harming those involved.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I would argue that radical feminists would probably like to ‘abolish’ the practice of women taking men’s names in marriage. I would also argue that many feminists would like to ‘abolish’ the institution of marriage in its entirety.

      We would also like to ‘abolish’ patriarchy. As such, we would like for the commodification and objectification of women and women’s bodies to end.

  • Gregory

    What I’m concerned about in this discussion is how the voices of queer people are ignored. I am a hesitant abolitionist (probably nordic model), in that right now this is where I stand, but I’m trying to understand it better. I am mostly concerned with the commodification of intimacy and the human body. As a queer cis-gendered male, though, I am worried that male-male prostitution is being ignored (female-female and trans as well). Additionally, what about feminist/queer porn? How can pornography be used as a way to fulfill fantasies, an art form, or a form of sexual education? It doesn’t solve the commodification problem, but I think they are important questions.

    From the client perspective, I don’t really understand why one would pay for prostitution/sex work because of the social networking ability to get a lot of that for free. Would a pro-sex abolitionist ideal be sex clubs or places where alternative forms of sexuality could be safely explored with out becoming commodities? (Think “Short Bus”?) Regardless of one’s view, let’s not ignore queer voices in this discussion, privileged or oppressed.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I don’t think that queer voices are being ignored so much as I think that, largely, men buy sex. Both from women and girls and men and boys. There are a few odd female buyers but I don’t think it makes sense to build an entire argument based on a tiny, tiny, minority of people. Either way, men think they have the right to access and abuse bodies of those they have power over. Here is a lesbian perspective on prostitution, for your reference: http://www.mediacoop.ca/story/feminist-lesbian-position-prostitution/6380

      I really don’t want to get into the porn conversation here because I feel like it’s going to take us waaay off topic and there are other places on this blog where we’ve had similar conversations, specifically about pornography. https://feministcurrent.com/category/prostitution-2/
      That said, I do think there are lots of ways we can show naked bodies / sexuality without objectifying women. Short Bus is great. So are many of Breillat’s films, in my opinion. Naked women / sexual women don’t need to be dehumanized women. That’s just what we’re used to.

      Some people have written about the harms of gay male porn as well. You may want to look at Christopher Kendall’s work for a further exploration of this issue. http://johnstompers.com/2005/08/the-harms-of-gay-male-pornography-a-sexual-equality-perspective/ He argues that those same power dynamics of power, control, and subordination play out in gay male porn, too.

      The ‘what about feminist/queer porn’ question is a whole other conversation. I will say that a) the vast majority of porn is not feminist/queer b) I don’t know that such thing as ‘feminist porn’ even exists (though, of course, people do claim it does – just because a woman directs a porn film doesn’t mean it is feminist) c) the word pornography means the graphic depiction of whores so if you are interested in representations of female sexuality on film that aren’t oppressive you may want to call it something else….

  • jade

    There aren’t campaigns to abolish those other things.
    Unfortunately, this abolitionist feminist ferver is concentrated on the policing of my body and how I choose to use it. I hate police.

    • Meghan Murphy

      There aren’t campaigns to abolish the practice of women taking their husband’s names because it doesn’t contribute to rape culture, it isn’t completely tied to colonialism and systematic abuse and marginalization of Aboriginal women, and because it does not specifically target a class of women. Women aren’t being raped and murdered and abused en masse as a direct result of this one misguided decision. All that said, this is all related, of course. And feminists see that. They see the ways in which marriage as an institution exists specifically because of male domination and because of a system that viewed women as chattle. As things which can be owned. All related. In terms of that which is most urgent, I would say that most of us care about the lives of women and about women being free from dehumanization. Also, no one’s arguing that taking your husband’s name is a specifically feminist act…Though some do argue that it is something women can choose because they are ‘liberated’. Which I take issue with. All the time.

      • Dominique Bernier

        In Quebec, a woman cannot use her husband’s name anymore since 1981. She has to ask for it like any name change, and permission is only granted for “serious reasons”, whatever that means. It’s a direct result from feminist advocacy.

        Just sayin’

  • sam

    You can do whatever you want with your body, take as many lovers per day as your like. However, money is a social product subject to group decision-making and not yours alone.

  • jade


    It is dehumanizing to have an organized set of more powerful women infantilize & disregard us by trying to impose your biased beliefs on us, despite our protests and the fact that we are directly affected & have far more knowledge about the reality of the sex trade. The rad fem portrayal is fictional and therefore misguided. You are marginalizing and hurting the women with whom you disagree because of your dedication to an ideology (that sex work is violence) regardless of how erroneous it is. Sex work is not inherently violent. It should not be criminalized, nor should it’s participants be marginalized or demonized. Many feminists agree with the sex worker’s position making this a conflict that is dividing feminists in a big way.

    Of course this IS my decision alone. It sure as hell is nobody elses.

    • Meghan Murphy


      MANY Abolitionists were prostituted women. You do not speak for them. Stop erasing their voices. Their lives and experiences are not “fictional”.

    • Actually it’s not just your decision. It is precisely this type of individualism that even *I* am against. Your decisions hugely impact other people and you have a duty to consider how it does so, and to modify your decisions accordingly. You do not live on this world alone, and your inflated talk of resisting against feminists (as if we’re the oppressors) just comes off as egoistic BS.

      Further, there is more to what is good and bad than what people have the ‘right’ to do. Prostitution is inherently and always wrong: it is inherently exploitative, emotionally destructive, immoral, and almost always misogynistic (yes I used that dreaded word: ‘immoral’, and I stand by it, though of course I do not speak on behalf of other feminists when I say it).

      There is something several of us have been saying, that you seem to be ignoring. Just because some Western, often middle-class, white women with a decent level of education experience prostitution as less abusive, does not mean that it generally is not abusive. Non-white people exist as well, and countries outside the U.S. and Canada also exist. Most feminists who are against prostitution are coming at this from a place of empathy and solidarity with those women for whom prostitution is degradation and use, by their own testimony — and such women constitute the majority of prostitutes/ex-prostitutes. Their interest is not in policing your body, which they have no vested interest in anyway since they do not benefit from misogyny (unlike men, who do).

      Since I am rather uninterested in such things as solidarity, I am going to step out of my feminist shoes for a moment and say that I find people like you shameful. Your interest in engaging in this utterly degraded activity that perpetuates the delusions and misogynistic entitlement of men does not impress me even remotely. So I personally don’t give a damn if your ‘livelihood’ is adversely effected by anti-prostitution policies, and I especially do not have a problem with it if such policies end up protecting the vast majority of poor and abused women who are not as vociferous in the defense of their own dehumanization as you are.

  • jade

    Holy fuck. You know I’ve been to jail. You know I’m a whore…..and shit, did I forget to mention I was raised on reserve? (off now. didn’t know I had to jump thru the qualification hoops for whitey to hear me)….so let the logic follow – I am part Aboriginal. Of course, it’s all about identity politics with you gals. Fuck this horse shit. I don’t care what U think anyway.

    U rad fems need to keep speakin for us hookers and marginalized people cuz we are too damn stupid for u 2 listen to a word we say. Thanks for the usual!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Hmm. Riiiight. All about identity politics with us. But isn’t this all about you and you alone? Don’t your actions only impact you? The fact that men buy sex from you only impacts you? My point is that you do not speak for all women. Regardless of your experience and identity. You are actively erasing the voices of all the women who fight against prostitution and patriarchy and pretending as though abolitionists all share the same life experience (which is, according to you, fictional). It’s bullshit. Do you actually know what the term ‘identity politcs’ means? Somehow it feels like you haven’t been listening at all. Prostitution perpetuates inequality between the sexes. It perpetuates the objectification and commodification of women and women’s bodies. Prostitution exemplifies the way in which men view women in this society. It impacts all women. There is no doubt that women have very different life experiences, but there is also no doubt that prostitution does not help women. It does not encourage equality. It isn’t about respecting women as human beings.

  • jade

    Meghan says to me:


    How desperate and deceptive you are on this topic Meghan. Thanks for the reveal.
    I speak for myself. Most of my friends are in the sex trade so I know their opinions. We do talk about this every day.

    I don’t silence anyone. That accusation is YOUR silencing tactic. ERASING ABORIGINAL VOICES?!
    I am honestly still shocked by that one.

    Aboriginal women disagree on this topic and have a range of opinions. AWAN speaks for itself. Other Aboriginal groups are on our side. Diversity.

    My wise Aboriginal feminist friend once advised me not to get into these conflicts as I should not debate human rights. Perhaps she is right. These are our lives and your topics of interest.


    An insulting and deceptively phrased statement. I am not prostituted. Is that the word that you (abolitionists) think justifies your intervention into our lives? You claim we are prostituted (by others) so can can justify your imposition as something that is beneficial….just not for anyone other then you. Does it help you ignore our words? Do we suffer so much from internalized racism, classism and sexism that we know not what we do and someone else (rad fem abolitionists) knows best for us?

    I am beginning to see that our lives and livelihoods are fodder for those in the business of feminism. Those who need funding or want more funding. Many are making money off of our backs already. They don’t want to lose that and if prostitution isnt criminalized they might. Are they living in part on the avails?

    Who am I to disagree with those who know best who have blogs and radio shows and need a trendy topic to try to revive their movement and retain their pay cheques and was I just played as a prop to do just that?

    • Meghan Murphy

      Oh give me a break, Jade. No one’s getting rich off prostituted women except for pimps. You think we make money off this? Really??? Have you EVER met a wealthy radical feminist?? Where is it you think this imaginary paycheck is coming from? The internet? Co-op radio? This is volunteer work.

      The decrim faction, though, is, of course, partly financed by johns. The feminists who, supposedly, make money ‘off your back’ are also decriminalization advocates. If prostitution is legalized then the government would profit from prostitution. Currently the City of Vancouver is profiting off of ‘massage’ parlour licenses. Who is it that you think is really making money off you? Open your eyes and look around. It isn’t radical feminists.

      As for your claim that everyone agrees with you except for AWAN, You should actually read some other perspectives on the issue you claim as your own.

      From the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC):

      From AWAN, The Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostituion and the South Asian Women Against Male Violence which argues that decriminalization abandons Aboriginal women and women of colour:

      From exited prostitutes:

      From the Asian Women’s Coalition Ending Prostitution:

      From the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN), who you seem to dismiss for some reason:

      And yeah, I agree. You shouldn’t debate human rights if you don’t care about them. Prostitution IS a human rights issue. Not a labour issue, not a health issue. This isn’t about making a terrible situation marginally better, it is about human rights. Women have the right to be full human beings. Not things for men to use.

  • jade

    I am a full human being. I am not a thing. It is a shame that this must even be stated. It is a shame that you dehumanize me because you oppose my job choice. Do you even notice the typical abolitionist way that you marginalize sex workers?

    I am well aware of the non-profits, NGO’s and “charities” in the rescue industry. They employ people. They fly people across the country to speak against prostitution. E Fry runs jane schools(STAR)and even some john schools. Some Rape Crisis centres and women’s shelters have taken abolitionist positions and utilize their paid staff or contractors in those pursuits. I didn’t say feminists were getting rich. They are getting paid though.

    And yes we finally agree on something. This is a human rights issue. It is also a sex worker’s rights issue.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I’m curious, Jade – what stake do you think I have in all this? You’ve accused me of being ” in the business of feminism,” of benefitting from some kind of funding (from where, you have yet to say), of “making money off of [your] back”, of perhaps, “living in part on the avails”, of simply “need[ing] a trendy topic to try to revive [our] movement”, AND (my favorite of all!), somehow getting a pay cheque from all this!

      I think we know what your stakes are – making a living in prostitution and not feeling dehumanized and oppressed while doing it.

      Where are you getting the idea that it is feminists who are profiting from prostitution? The only feminists who do profit from prostitution are the ones who support legalization who, believe me, are far better funded than any radical feminist organization is.

      In terms of all that you have accused / assumed about me – where on earth are you getting these ideas? Again, what stake do you think I have in all this? I don’t believe that you think I am simply writing about all this in order to get attention, unless, somehow, you think I enjoy abuse and name-calling? So what is it? How do you justify the assumptions you’ve made? Based on what information are you making said assumptions?

    • KG

      “It is a shame that you dehumanize me because you oppose my job choice.”

      Opposing someone’s job choice is not an example of dehumanization. To dehumanize someone is to deny their humanity or imply they are an object of use, which merely opposing someone’s choice does not constitute.

      You’re made several assertions about radical feminists making money off abolition. Besides the fact that you have not substantiated any of these assertions, you are also committing a fallacy by implying that if rad fems make money from some work, then the position that underlies that work must be wrong. By this same fallacious logic, you ought to reject your own position, since you make money from prostitution and your position happens to be one defending prostitution.

      I think it may be helpful to make explicit what the points of disagreement are between yours and our (the abolitionists’) position. We seem to be talking past each other to some degree. One of the major points of disagreement is on whether prostitution is inherently violent. IMO prostitution is not inherently violent in the physical sense of violence, but it is inherently exploitative, and I understand ‘exploitative’ to have a subjective, not merely an objective, reality. If you are paying someone for a service, this automatically prevents the development of emotional intimacy by creating a hierarchy, and a means-end mentality in the buyer (e.g. consider how weird and alienating it would be if you were to pay your partner every time she made you dinner out of kindness, or pay your parents for taking care of you as a child). In ordinary cases of labour this is not necessarily a problem since you can do your work in sanctity and often autonomy, but when the work involves allowing people, especially men, to fuck you, then you cannot. Sex is by its very nature a violating act, one that involves a high and unusual level of bodily intimacy and what would otherwise be thought of as a boundary-violation. This is several trillion times more the case when there is PIV or PIA involved, which as a predictable, boring rad fem you can guess I am totally against in principle.

      Now, you must be thinking: wait a minute! Does not this mean, KG, that you are anti-sex entirely? No. I am generally sex-negative (that’s just me, NOT most rad fems) and think sexuality is some remnant of our animal past that we’d be better off without, but that is not necessary for my position on this issue. All I have to do is hold that emotional intimacy changes the nature of our boundaries, such that we are willing to tolerate physical closeness with someone — i.e. we do not experience it as a boundary violation — when we are also emotionally close to them. I am willing to share a bed with my partner in a way that I am not with a stranger. I am willing to share utensils (and therefore saliva) with my brothers in a way that I am not with those who are not my kin. I am willing to share stories of my life with a friend the way I am not with a work colleague. And so on and so forth. In fact this is even more the case with sexual intimacy than other kinds of physical intimacy. There is something special about sexual contact that makes it more violating and gives it a particular psychological and spiritual significance, which is probably the reason children often get traumatized when they are sexually touched by an adult, but not when they are being non-sexually bathed by an adult, playing wrestling or other contact sports, hugging, or being checked by the doctor.

      Anyway, the bottom line is: behaving like you are emotionally intimate with someone with whom you have only a temporary business relationship is not generosity, it is emotional unhealthiness and wretchedness of the highest order. And the reason women are forced to do it is because men are capable of seeing women as toilets in which to dump their semen. By objectifying women in this way, and by being the ones penetrating them, they do not experience such empty, destructive sexual activity as emotionally damaging in the way that a person with empathy and proper emotional development would, or in the way that the person being much more severely violated and forced into subordination (and feminized and ‘rented’) does. For the men it is as if they put their dick in some random object and masturbated. But for the woman being used, it obviously is not that way, which is why many women in prostitution are very emotionally damaged and even traumatized by the experience, and some of them become abolitionists for THIS reason (NOT to make money). And for those who are not traumatized or do not experience themselves as objects of use and subject to misogyny, I have found two interesting tendencies among them:

      1. They tend to be emotionally volatile, often angry and impatient people. You are a good example of this.

      2. They seem to be in denial, often recounting stories of being stabbed by Johns while talking about how wonderful prostitution is. I am a student, and if my professors randomly lunged to stab me from time to time, or if my students (I am also a TA) tried to run me over with their cars every now and again, this would not be normal. Yet, the bizarro women who are able to defend prostitution and recount being raped, stabbed, run over, burned, etc. do not seem to notice how much lower they are setting the standard for this sort of ‘work’ compared to others, and do not ask why there is so much more violence associated with prostitution than other kinds of work, even other kinds of illegal work (e.g. drug trafficking. The people pushing the drugs are not attacked on a regular basis by drug-buyers as far as I know).

      Anyway to wrap up this very long comment, my position is that prostitution is not only profoundly unhealthy, damaging, immoral and spiritually backward, but it is also profoundly misogynistic, patriarchal and dehumanizing to women. The latter reality is related to the former: it accounts for why the former type of relationship desirable in the eyes of many men, and for why the majority of prostituted people are women and the vast majority of buyers men. It also determines the whole culture of prostitution, making an extreme case of patriarchal gender roles and sexual politics. I will leave you with an example which should be food for thought: why are prostituted women generally hyper-feminine? Perhaps, could it be, patriarchy + the inherent degradedness of prostitution?

      • jade

        Meghan, please note that those comments were about the business of feminism and not all specifically about you.
        For you personally I would say that this is great for your career in feminism and journalism. Those are your areas of education and where you seek your future income. You’re paving your own way. You make in-roads with all the big wig feminists and abolitionists. Lee is in the comments patting you on the back. She is the backbone of Rape Relief and CASAC – 2 of the interveners against the sex workers in the Ontario case. Hi Lee!

        I also believe that you do believe that ending prostitution is possible and the best course of action for women in general, even if it hurts women in sex work and isn’t going to happen.

        For feminist institutions there are jobs on the line that could be lost with decriminalization. Even more concerning in the feminist industry is that there is more funding and donations and jobs to be had with the beating of the highly trending anti-trafficking drum! Finally a shared value with conservative anti crime zealots! Many fem orgs are adding this fight to their list of concerns and efforts. There is deliberate conflation of consensual adult prostitution, trafficking, slavery, child abuse and violence in much of the feminist rhetoric. That is dishonest.

        And the criminalization of clients simply for being clients regardless of whether they are disabled, kind, widowed, lonely, etc. is absurd and an absolute slap in the face to feminism. To seek punishment for them when we seek them out and even exploit their vulnerabilities in some cases is unjust and wrong. Pushing to charge the clients is to indulge an ideology about male/female relations beyond all logic. As someone here said -they weren’t concerned about male clients with male sex workers, but as soon as the service provider is female she is a victim – ignore that she is the orchestrator, ignore that this is what she wants, ignore that she benefits financially and punish him. She is simply too damaged or stupid to be held to the same standard as a man. She will suffer in the end because you’re still seeking the criminalization of the job by criminalizing the client….well you’re seeking the total destruction of her income through abolition. No current sex worker will be on board with that. Abolitionists don’t care. They want it gone and us gone.

        In the hysteria (had to say it) that surrounds the belief that “sex by it’s nature is a violating act”(KG & Dworkin) rad fems promote the notion that females are victims of the het sex act. Maybe het sex should be banned or require approval from a feminist committee to ensure the female isn’t a dupe of the patriarchy promoting the oppression of other women thru her objectification and participation as a living sex toy. This really goes beyond prostitution.

        And KG I can’t be bothered with you except to say that it is dehumanizing and agitating when people like Meghan and her ilk say that sexworkers are THINGs for men to use and that by being in this profession we are not full human beings….and a whole lot of other BS assumptions about us, our jobs and our clients.

        • Meghan Murphy

          HA HA HA. Yeah. They’re always looking to hire radical journalists. What newspapers have you been reading lately? All those progressive / radical news sites with tons of cash??
          IF I make a career out of anything it would be based on skill and on writing. Wouldn’t that be nice! Being a radical is probably the worst way to go if you ever want to make a living. I also have an education. I have a lot of debt, as a result. My education nor my writing nor the fact that I have feminist allies in the movement guarantees me anything, career-wise. Nor does the fact that some consider me to be inflammatory. Saying unpopular things makes you unpopular. I can hope, for certain, but my motivations for the arguments I am making are because I think these issues matter. I honestly believe we can change things. I, of course, like anyone else, would also like to pay my rent. The fact that you don’t think that women should be paid for their work, simply because you don’t agree with it, is strange. Discourse is not a bad thing. Debate is not a bad thing.
          Progressive organizations are hard up for cash. Point blank. There isn’t a conservative in the world who would pay me to do anything. Nor would I work for a right-wing organization. Why decrim advocates insist on making these ridiculous claims about all the money feminist abolitionists are making or about them being ‘in bed’ with the right is beyond me. I guess it works for their arguments to slander abolitionists and, I guess, we will just have to keep correcting information. It seems like a waste of time, but if you insist!

          I don’t know what you mean by “the business of feminism” but those who I can think of who might qualify are those who are best able to please the mainstream and dominant ideology. Not those who attack everything pushed by mainstream media / powerful institutions. This is why neoliberalism seems to be so popular within American feminist discourse – those in power have an interest in perpetuating this ideology. They find people who can be critical but within certain boundaries, and then they tell us this is progressivism.

          The reason why radical feminists conflate “consensual adult prostitution, trafficking, slavery, child abuse and violence” is because they are all related. Sexually exploited children often become sexually exploited adults. Violence is very much a part of prostitution. Prostitution is about the subordination of women. Women are groomed for this work. If you can’t see the connections it is deliberate. Because they are there.

          Being lonely or disabled, in no way, justifies misogynistic behaviour. It is absolutely sick that these examples are brought up over and over again as if, a) they are representative of johns (who are very often married men with families – lonely? No. Disabled? No. Just entitled men.) b) it excuses this behaviour.

          As I’ve said already, I don’t support men buying sex from boys and men either. That said, the vast majority of men who buy sex buy it from women. Women are, yes, our primary concern. It it no way means that the exploitation of boys/men is acceptable either.

          I realize that is is unpopular to say so within 3rd wave / fun-feminism discourse, but the truth is the penetrative sex does impact women differently than it impacts the men who are doing the penetrating. It isn’t hysteria, it is true. That doesn’t make it wrong (in my opinion, though I don’t speak for all feminists on this matter), but within the current context of domination and subordination that exists (as argued by Dworkin), penetrative sex has a particular meaning and impact.

          You keep making the same argument…Almost as though you are intentionally ignoring the things I am saying….WOMEN are treated as things, as objects, as bodies, by men. WOMEN are sexualized. Men who buy women think that women are things that exist in order to provide them with pleasure. WE are not arguing that you, or any other woman, IS, in fact, “a thing”. Men make women into sexualized objects in order to justify their behaviour and because this is what they have been taught should turn them on.

          I understand that it feels more comfortable, at this point, to blame feminists for this. You probably need to believe that your clients are decent guys who totally believe in women’s equality. I get that. It’s called a coping mechanism. I don’t blame you at all for wanting to feel ok about the work you do. You need to pay your rent too and I can’t imagine that anyone would want to go to work every day feeling like their clients don’t respect them. But it is patriarchy, not feminists, that decided women were things to be used and it is patriarchy that perpetuates this. Again, pointing this out is not the same as making it true. That would be like arguing that the person who calls out racism is the racist themselves. Because they said it. It makes no sense.

          I believe that we must see ourselves as connected to a larger culture / society. It is extremely dangerous to view ourselves as individuals and to imagine that our choices and actions don’t impact others. I don’t blame you for the oppression of women, you are doing what you need to do to survive. But the fact that you are defending this, defending the system that has put you in this position is completely backwards. I wouldn’t defend landlords just because I have to pay rent to them. I don’t defend capitalism just because I have to buy things. And I’m not blaming the left for pointing out the way in which inequity affects me. I’m not angry at them for pointing out how fucked up everything is. And how fucked up my life (and others’ lives are) is as a result. My choices impact other people, but I also must make choices within the constraints of the system within which I live – a system I don’t agree with or support. I’m not going to pretend that it’s just fine because I need to participate in it.

          • joy

            In case anyone reads this and gets hung up on the paragraph wherein Meghan talks about sex being different for women than it is for men:

            She’s not echoing the right wing about women having more ooey-gooey emotions. She’s talking about female-specific harm. Penile penetration of the vagina has implications for women that it does not have for men: potential pregnancy and the attending complications (including but not limited to preenclampsia, prenatal diabetes, etc.), painful and easily infected rips and tears in vaginal and vulva tissue, internal bruising, injury to the cervix, increased risk of bladder infection that if left untreated (because of lack of health care or a lack of symptoms) can become chronic and/or migrate to the kidneys causing permanent damage … it goes on.
            And these are just the things that can happen during “normal” (read: not excessively violent) penetrative vaginal sex.

            Women know this, on some level. On some level, penetrative sex is potentially traumatizing, even in ‘consentual’ situations among totally secular and non-conservative adults. Women know this, and they (we) respond to it. Even “sex-pozzers” do. I can remember many, many instances of young “sex-poz” women having to deal with “the morning-after comedown” whether or not they cared about or even liked the previous night’s partner and wanted to hear from him again. (I was one of those young women, but not the only one.)

            The more violent the encounter, the more female-specific harms increase. Porn-style sex, which most men (and thus logically, most johns) practice, is very physically damaging to the female body for many reasons, and the more violent and forceful the individual the more damaging it is. Keep going and you have torn or ruptured pelvic and/or uterine or fallopian ligaments, compromised cervices, torn or ruptured vaginal or even uterine tissue, dislocated bones, bruising, internal bleeding …

            Emotions have hardly anything to do with it at all. It’s all about our, women’s, survival instincts. There’s no shame in wanting to survive, or feeling afraid or used or sad in the face of someone asking us to risk our health for the sake of getting his rocks off.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Thank you, Joy! That is exactly what I meant. Your clarification and explanation is much appreciated.

        • KG

          Why are you not distinguishing between radical feminists believing that prostitution objectifies women and the radical feminists objectifying prostitutes? Are you not capable of making the distinction, or what?

          It may be irritating when radfems depict prostitution as objectifying, and you may even hold that it is inaccurate, but that does not make it dehumanizing. It is not necessarily dehumanizing to think someone is being dehumanized!

          The most charitable interpretation of your position that I can make is that you believe radfems are denying the agency of prostitutes. Since agency is part of personhood, a denial of agency amounts to dehumanization. But I reject this argument since I reject the claim that the radfem case against prostitution denies the agency of prostitutes. I think you hugely overestimate how much agency they generally have, and I think human beings in general do not have as much agency as they may believe. Further, it is not dehumanizing to deny that all prostitutes have a high level of agency all the time: one can challenge that some choice was made freely without denying agency entirely. And even if radfems were denying agency entirely (which they’re not) it is not dehumanizing to the same degree, or at least in the same way, as actually objectifying someone and treated them as an object of use.

        • lizor

          I know I am responding approximately 1.5 years late – I wonder where jade is now -if she has advanced to a more highly paid position as a prostitute what with her added years of experience, seniority, etc?

          I hope you are OK Jade and I would love it if you came back to this thread with an update on your work and your political position regarding that. I mean that.

          A year and a half ago you wrote “For feminist institutions there are jobs on the line that could be lost with decriminalization. Even more concerning in the feminist industry is that there is more funding and donations and jobs to be had with the beating of the highly trending anti-trafficking drum!”

          Um… really? Seriously?

          By this logic the lavish lifestyle (bahahaha) I enjoy thanks to my decision to resist and dismantle patriarchy would be under threat if my political goals were met. You caught me, jade! I’m just pretending to fight white male hegemony while all the while praying it will continue to grow, ’cause otherwise, all of that money that just falls from the sky every time I openly discuss the circumstances of my rape (for example) could cease to fall into my lap. And boy oh boy was it cool when that anti-trafficing trend came along. It took me a while to get with because I thought the hip thing was to support trafficking until I saw “anti-trafficking” on Yahoo trending. Now I am the queen of the coffee bar as well as having so many lucrative job offers, I hardly know where to start!

          Sorry, I can’t help the sarcasm. This notion that feminists are financially benefitting from of the criminalization of prostitutes,and that this is the motivation to argue for a different model, is utterly ridiculous.

  • Hey comrade Meghan!

    Just to let you know, I read your article above on People of Color Organize! and was intrigued enough to write my own response, which can be found on my news blog The Prison Gates Are Open…

    I’ve provided the link below:


    Hope to see a response and future conversations between us. 🙂

    B.J. Murphy

    • Meghan Murphy

      Hi B.J.
      Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your response / post. In regards to your comment that “the “Nordic Model” wishes to address this problem without addressing capitalism at the same time;” I guess I do see the Nordic Model as addressing the capitalism aspect of prostitution, much moreso than any other response / system, because it is centered on what I see as a socialist model. By providing social services / safety nets, affordable housing, education, etc, we are saying/acknowledging, in my opinion, that prostitution happens because women need to do it to survive. Women should be able to survive without having to resort to prostitution. I think it is a step towards another system and an acknowledgment that capitalism punishes the marginalized and benefits the privileged.

  • The propensity of certain “Marxist” parties to embrace “sex work” is usually a result of the degeneration of many parties as a result of the 1989 collapse of the socialist bloc. Since then, many parties tacitly accepted the inevitability of the market and a capitalist world. This includes movements like “21st Century socialism” which purport to be something new when in fact they are nothing but recycled revisionist and liberal ideas. It seems to be the same with patriarchy and women’s liberation- the parties and activists who take the market and capitalism as a given do the same with women’s liberation and patriarchy. They are too demoralized and cowardly to take a stand against either so they pull this weaselly “pro-worker” act.

    However there are still many real Marxist-Leninist parties which uphold Marx’s words about the “abolition of prostitution, both public and private.” I can’t speak for Canada but in the US there’s the American Party of Labor which takes a very hard stand against this.

    Also, I’d advise people to be wary of people coming on here claiming to be “sex workers” who made the choice on their own. For one thing, for every real one who can come on some blog and flame you, there are thousands who aren’t allowed to have contact with anyone save for the clients and pimps. Hell, I can come on here and claim to have wrestled a bear to death at the age of 15. Who’s to say otherwise?

  • “Prostitution exists because of the inextricable link between capitalism and patriarchy. The two, under these circumstances, cannot be separated”. This is axiomatic. One of the problems particularly in the USA, is the absolute censorship of anything that is Communist, consequently USA persons simply don’t know what Communism is and are absolutely terrified and psychically blocked from even examining it and this is true elsewhere – e.g., O that ah yes that’s with Labor, Labor Unions, jobs jobs jobs Obama is for that so it’s Left wing. Maybe in 1840. I’ve explained all of that here http://tmblr.co/ZmumLyIfdcrD. But in regards to sex and from a Male standpoint, prostitution is indeed a tool that is made specifically in support of the otherwise fading WCHP ideal. It’s like Argentina the last bastion for Nazi refugees, here we pay you, make us feel like a WCHP man. There are clearly a number of women who want that, usually they’re married to republicans and I suppose Democratics see this as an upward mobility fantasy for women as a sort of compromise to or with the WCHPs – a sort of co-opting. Personally I’m in favor of Free Love. Women ought to be as free sexually as men and that ought to be protected when or if they want to be naked in Public and mostly in all cases protected from WCHP brutality; but all of that is beyond the scope of my original comment. Awesome viewpoint. Thank you ♥♥

  • mee

    Good article, I don’t think had read that much about the Nordic model before.

  • Cat

    I don’t know if the “left” does, I think sections of the left do infected by liberalism and post modernism. Many sections of the left see prostitution as violence against women and harmful to all women. That prostitution is super exploitation and that hiring out body parts is not akin to labour but is akin to sexual slavery.

    I have no problem with prostitutes organising themselves and making demands but I do have a problem with the trade union movement supporting trade union rights – how can a shop steward negiopate for a prostitute? What around sexual harrassment? Negioate with the pimp about pension rights and continous professional development and wages? What about health and safety or policies and protocols on supervision? It makes a mock out of trade unionism

    • debs

      We do have to be careful with terminology, Liberals and post modernists might want to legalise prostitution ( who knows, next they might want to legalise murder), but the left, socialists that is in the tradition of Marx, not only want prostitution but everything that goes with it (pimps and trafficking)seriously criminalised.
      Workers sell their labour power,
      Workers do not rent out their orifices by the hour or sell their kidneys. Both are super-exploitation and the fact that the exploited may “consent” to their despoilation does not make it legitimate as “consent” under capitalism is manipulated

  • sporenda

    I do not know the statistics for Canada, but some polls and stats have been published in Europe about the political leanings of “johns”: the percentage of men who purchase sexual services from women is higher on the Left than on the Right.
    According to this poll, the percentage of Right wing johns is about 11/12%, the percentage of Left wing Johns is about 33% (the rest being Center).
    (Of course, men tend to undereport visiting prostitutes, but since the Right is much less religious in Europe than in the US, the undereporting might not be very differebt on both sides.)

    The reason why Left wing guys want to see prostitution as a regular job is simple: they want to keep (the option of) using prostitutes.
    And if Marx saw prostitutes as victims of capitalism, his explanation may well have been a way NOT to look at the root of the problem: men and patriarchy.
    Marx behavior with women was exploitative and abusive, his long suffering wife had to put up with his sleeping with the maid, for one thing.
    And some socialists like Proudhon were rabidly misogynistic, deciding that a husband had the right to beat up and even kill his wife if she misbehaved.
    Socialism is mostly about defending men’s (as in males’) rights, in France, it was the Left who opposed systematically women’s right to vote for decades, until it was passed by the Right in the mid 1940s.

    Prostitution cannot be explained by capitalism, it existed way before capitalism was created, and socialists governments are not necessarily better for women’s rights than Center Right.

  • Chaz Everett

    At the end of the day all I can gather from this article and the comments is that there are certain women who rail against the idea of men looking at a women in a certain way, or expecting them to behave in the manner that comports with their definition of what a woman is to them. However, these women are never comfortable with the idea of certain other women truly making choices for themselves. Instead they look at women in a certain way and expect them to behave in the manner that comports with their definition of what a woman is to them.
    Not much difference there.
    Everything else is external and irrelevant. No one is championing sex trafficking or abusive pimps. In fact those are problems related to the PROHIBITION of prostitution not the legalization of it. Of course there are still issues and problems to be dealt with but how can you argue with the fact that women should be able to make the choice of what they put in or allow to come out of their bodies? To argue that they are victimized or aren’t thinking straight is using the same arguments that the American right uses to deny women basic health care.
    Get over the man/woman thing. We want different things.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Are you stupid? What do you mean by ‘prohibition’? Do you actually mean abolition? Or have you simply invented something nonexistent in order to claim that it contributes to male violence against women? For the record, abusive men perpetuate abuse against women, not feminists (though it’s hard to tell if that’s the argument you’re making as you’ve used the term ‘prohibition’ without explaining what you mean by that). Some women ARE victimized in this world, to point that out and to try to change that is in no way related to the “arguments that the American right uses to deny women basic health care” (not, at least, in the way that you mean it) — that doesn’t make any sense. Advocating for health care for women (do you mean reproductive rights?) would naturally be about empowering women, not victimizing them… Finally, to say that “women who rail against the idea of men looking at a women in a certain way” is a decidedly sexist and anti-feminist comment which makes your opinion on the matter (or, really, any matter relating to feminism and women) moot.

  • Rye

    A question regarding the Nordic model has been on my mind as of late. What about the privileged women in prostitution? By privileged, I mean the women who sell sex despite having good choices? Or, the women who are educated and earn good money working full-time, but choose to occasionally sell sex part-time to earn more disposable income?

    In particular, I am wondering about enforcement. I see two likely possibilities. One is that contemporary laws on matters such as privacy, censorship and due process won’t change much. If so, the Nordic model will simply reduce prostitution and benefit privileged prostitutes. It would empower a woman selling sex with the option to report a buyer to law enforcement for buying sex plus whatever other criminal charges that may apply. So if a man was not deterred by the act of buying sex from a woman, he will have every incentive not to give her a reason to report him. If this is meant by abolitionism, then I am fully in support of it.

    Alternatively, another possibility is that contemporary laws on such matters mentioned earlier will change to give the state broad powers to actively interfere in prostitution transactions. More than respond to overt prostitution or set up sting operations, law enforcement would be able to do things such as violate a prostitute’s privacy to arrest her buyers or censor the internet to prevent prostitutes from advertising or communicating with their buyers/each other online.

    If the first possibility is followed, buying sex from women in privileged circumstances would be mostly tolerated. Is that the idea? Or do abolitionists wish to ruthlessly interfere with the capacity of women in privileged circumstances to sell sex as well? Thanks.

  • Anne R.
  • bmore111

    Agree completely that sex trafficking and exploitation should not exist. Also sexploitation in advertising. Also child marriage and “honor killings”. Also genital mutilation. Also slut-shaming. Also child labor and sweat shops and unsafe factories.

    Is sex work intrinsically more awful than these other awful things or at the same level of awful?

    What about sex therapy?

    • Meghan Murphy

      What do you mean by sex therapy?

  • Pingback: A Question on Prostitution and the Revolutionary Left: My response to Meghan Murphy’s analysis | The Proactionary Transhumanist()

  • JMP

    Since this is an old post that I just encountered now (by way of the response post) I’m not sure if this comment will be read but here goes anyhow…

    Thankfully, the revolutionary communist left in Canada has not followed this “sex work is liberating” line that has caught much of the academic left in its tomb for the past few years––even the academic marxists are jumping on this bandwagon. So it is not “the left” in general that has this position, but a particular privileged and vocal group of the left, most often entrenched in student movements.

    The PCR-RCP recently launched its “Proletarian Feminist Front” at a conference in Montreal attended by women from a variety of cities and backgrounds. One of the items it ratified at this conference was a rejection of the “sex work” discourse that seeks to mask the realities of prostitution, which should set it apart from these other conciliatory marxist groups that go out of their way to argue that prostitution is not inherently patriarchal.

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  • Ginny Brown

    As you say Meghan, the marxist position has long been that prostitution is both:
    (a) an inherent part of female oppression (rather than something that can be made fine)
    (b) oppressive in itself.
    And has become an inherent part of capitalism, although its roots are in male power over women, which Engels traced back to long before capitalism.

    It is annoying that many now call themselves ‘marxists’ while describing “sex work” (as it is now mandatorily known) as “work like any other”. It is both a distortion of marxism, and will put many off exploring the real legacy of marxism.

    I attach an article by a very sharp feminist blogger – not a marxist, but she makes vital points about women’s prescribed societal role: https://rootveg.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/what-sex-work-is-work-means-for-women/