Whores & Other Mercenaries…
On the topic, here's an article by Petra Östergren on the Swedish anti-prostitution legistlation:
Sexworkers Critique of Swedish Prostitution policy
She's done the unthinkable and actually talked to sex workers about prostitution. A quote:
"I have been concerned by the fact that the very women who are at the center of prostitution policy are so rarely heard and so often feel discriminated against. If equal rights for women is important, then the experience of sexworkers themselves must surely be central to our discussion, regardless of what position one takes on prostitution."
That gives me a very nice segue to talk about feminism as an ideology, so here goes an essay. My qualifications for writing about feminism are huge; I've actually completed a study module in "Women's Studies" at the University of Helsinki. I'm not actually a woman, but that's what they call it.
I most definitely consider myself a feminist. I'm forced to start off by saying that feminism is such a huge ideology that this, in itself, means very little. I consider being a feminist in itself to only mean a vague commitment to gender equality and the betterment of women's position in society. Out of all the strands of feminism talked about on the University of Helsinki's Introduction to Women's Studies course, I identify the most with libertarian feminism. There isn't even a Wikipedia article for it, and our lecturer, Anna Rotkirch, said she doesn't even understand how it can be called feminism.
The only thing I could find to refer to on Wikipedia, incidentally, was the article on Wendy McElroy. I'm not familiar with her works, but I guess I should be. Her book XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography is now available online.
For those of us who haven't read it, I'm taking the liberty of quoting extensively from her Preface:
"Pornography benefits women, both personally and politically. After reading this, anti-pornography (or radical) feminists will consider me a heretic-fit only for burning. Or, to put it in more politically correct terms, I am a woman who is so psychologically damaged by patriarchy that I have fallen in love with my own oppression. My arguments will be dismissed.
In other words, if I enjoy pornography, it is not because I am a unique human being with different preferences. It is because I am psychologically ill.
Anti-pornography feminists try to silence any real discussion of pornography. Catharine MacKinnon, for example, flatly refuses to debate women on this subject. Feminists who disagree are treated as traitors. Their bottom line is: Individual women must not be allowed to question the sexual interests of women as a class.
Liberal feminists often argue against censorship rather than for pornography. Many of them view censorship as being far too dangerous a solution to the "problem" of graphic sex. They believe censorship could and would be used to stifle the voices of women. Nadine Strossen's book Defending Pornography eloquently argues this point. In response, radical feminists consider their liberal counterparts to be the "dupes of men," or "coconspirators in gender oppression."
Yet many liberal feminists accept the basic anti-porn assumptions of radical feminism. For example, they generally accept the idea that pornography degrades women. This agreement does not seem to create common ground, however.
Why? Because anti-porn feminists will not tolerate any attempt to apply freedom of speech to pornography. In her book Only Words, MacKinnon goes so far as to deny that pornography consists of words and images, both of which would be protected by the First Amendment. She considers pornography-in and of itself-to be an act of sexual violence."
If a female feminist who disagrees about prostitution is a psychologically damaged traitor, imagine how I will be viewed by a doctrinaire anti-sex feminist. I'm a man speaking in favor of pornography and prostitution.
Radical feminism is the most dominant "genre" of feminism. To anyone not versed in the intricacies of feminist ideology, when they think "feminist", they are more likely than not thinking of radical feminism.
Radical feminism is a collectivist, statist ideology with very close historical and contemporary ties to Marxism. In Europe, one of the major agencies involved in renewing feminism are university departments of "women's studies" and "gender studies", which tend to be firmly aligned with radical feminism and highly politicized.
The orientation of radical feminism with the university world and the political left combine to create a very abstract, extremely collectivist ideology. Instead of focusing on current, real problems, radical feminism today focuses far more strongly on structural issues in society. There's nothing wrong with this in itself, but when this ideology meets reality, it can get a little ugly.
As the quotes at the start of this article point out, radical feminist views on prostitution are based on their own theoretical constructions. The idea of, for instance, trying to research sex workers' opinions on their trade, is beneath university feminists. Their philosophy tells them that prostitution oppresses women and is a form of violence against women. Any woman who disagrees is automatically wrong; any man who disagrees is an agent of patriarchy.
Another product of the theoretical orientation of radical feminism is their drive to define things in very abstract, academic ways. For instance, in the Finnish men's studies classic Panssaroitu maskuliinisuus, Arto Jokinen gives some very troubling statistics on violence against women in Finland. He then notes that violence against women is defined as actual physical violence, general harrasment, name-calling and whistling at them on the street. I'm sorry, but he lost his entire non-academic, non-radical feminist audience when he equates physical violence with whistling. I understand perfectly well that by a certain definition of violence, this can be a feasible argument. On face value, it's absolutely ridiculous.
The same logic is applied to pornography, along with a pile of deeply misleading, mostly completely false, propaganda. One of the most influential feminist texts on pornography is Andrea Dworkin's Pornography. I already talked about this on my earlier post Feminism, pornography and me. To summarize, according to radical feminism, all pornography is violence against women. Any woman who participates in or enjoys pornography has been oppressed by patriarchy into betraying her gender.
This logic is basically identical to doctrinaire Marxism. In Marxism, everyone's interests are determined by their social class and economic relations alone. All considerations of individual preferences, desires or opinions are automatically secondary to the great forces of history. In Marxism, the opinions of the oppressed are also of no concern; the working classes do not understand that they are being oppressed, and the oppressing classes have no interest in uncovering the structural mechanisms of oppression. Only the select few right-thinking Marxist intellectuals are capable of determining the real structures of society, and consequently telling everyone else what to do.
This, by the way, is the reason feminism broke with all Marxist movements so long ago. According to doctrinaire Marxism, there is no such thing as women's rights or gender questions, since they are all a byproduct of economic relations. In short, there is no such thing as patriarchy, only capitalism. It's hardly surprising that nearly all feminists found this an unsatisfactory position.
Similarly, only right-thinking, academically (or usually otherwise, in the case of Dworkin and others) qualified radical feminists are capable of giving "correct" opinions and information on matters relating to sex and gender. This is the ideology behind Andrea Dworkin's sweeping proclamations and Catherine MacKinnon's breathtaking arrogance in refusing to even debate her position. They, as the feminist vanguard of society, are the sole fount of knowledge on matters of sex and gender.
Dworkin's tactics of lying and misleading on the topic of pornography are echoed by the insistence of today's radical feminists that approving of prostitution is the same thing as approving of illegal trafficking. They would have us believe that all prostitutes everywhere are victims of the sex slave industry. The problem of human trafficking is very real, but it is not an argument against all prostitution everywhere. There are such things as women who choose to be prostitutes. Radical feminists either deny this or explain it away. It doesn't fit their claim of all prostitutes being victims, so it can't be tolerated. Facts that don't fit the picture of proper thinking must be distorted or explained away, to preserve the integrity of the ideology.
Once the mission of feminism is understood as determining the "correct" way to think about each question related to women's rights, gender and sexuality, the idea of telling women what to do with their bodies becomes more understandable. From their ivory towers in academia, feminist intellectuals have determined that prostitution and pornography constitute violence against women and must therefore be banned. There are no arguments the rest of us can make against it, because all of our opinions can be explained away as the products of patriarchy. This idea that the select intellectuals hold correct opinions but everyone else's opinions are determined by their circumstances and the structures of society is one of the most nefarious, elitist and garbage ideas of collectivist politics. It amounts to no less than claiming that we are incapable of managing our own bodies and lives without the supervision of a clever intellectual.
As I don't believe in this, I want to take this opportunity to try and articulate a libertarian feminist view on prostitution. First, a few words on libertarian feminism as I understand it.
The core belief of libertarian feminism is in the individual and the rights of the individual. What should be paramount in all action are individual rights. The application of this position to the fighting of forced prostitution and human trafficking is very simple. Clearly, forced prostitution violates the rights of the people being forced, and this form of crime needs to be fought. However, it cannot and must not be fought by removing the rights of free women to engage in a profession of their choosing.
I maintain that all people have an inalienable right to their own body and sexuality. This includes a right to sell their body and sexuality for money. This right can't be taken away because radical feminist academics claim it has nefarious social effects. Gender inequality between men and women is a fact, but it can't be fought by denying women the right to make decisions regarding their own bodies.
From where I'm standing, the difference between a Muslim cleric denying a woman the right to drive a car and a radical feminist cleric denying women the right to make decisions about their own sexuality isn't all that great. Both want to control the behavior of other people in pursuit of their ideological goals. I believe feminism needs to be about empowering and liberating, not controlling and forbidding.
As I said, the co-lecturer of my Introduction to Women's Studies class couldn't understand how a viewpoint like this can even be called feminism. In my opinion, there's a very simple reason for this. My feminism is an ideology of empowering and liberating women and reducing gender inequality in society. The radical feminist definition of feminism is forcing society to conform to radical feminists' ideas of proper sexuality and morality. This makes them less like a feminist movement and more like a religion. As a libertarian, nay, an anarchist, I'm just as opposed to them as I am to political Islam or political Christianity or political Marxism.
I maintain that it is possible to be a feminist without being a radical feminist. In fact, I maintain the two things are entirely different.