By Andrea Timbone
Prostitution legalization is a heated debate. Some of the loudest voices on the scene are feminists who proclaim that sex work is a legitimate way to empower women. This perspective represents the sex positivist approach and implies that if you want to support women, it follows that you should also support prostitution.
But can feminism actually support the abolition of the commercial sex industry? Yes, it is possible! There is another feminist stance on the scene, referred to as neo-abolitionist, which views prostitution as a form of oppression against women, exploiting vulnerable populations to support a patriarchal industry.
Both stances attempt to support women’s rights, but differ in opinion on how to get there. Here are a few key points from both perspectives:
A woman should be free to make her own decision regarding the type of work in which she chooses to partake.
Intimacy and what actions or sexual acts are considered intimate should be decided by the woman.
Sexual commerce provides a patriarchal right of access to women’s bodies, thus perpetuating women’s subordination to men.
All forms of pornography, prostitution, and sex trafficking are abuses of sex and a form of power taken away from women.
Sex-positivist’s claim that a woman should be free to make her own decision about her work is true. A woman should be able to decide her own employment. Unfortunately, the reality is that prostitution is oftentimes a direct result of the lack of choice, stemming from issues like poverty, mental health illness, and a history of abuse. Women should have the economic and social mobility to procure a job that does not demand selling their sexuality.
Sex-positivists are also right in that women should have a direct say in what is considered intimate for themselves. Women should be in control of what happens to their bodies. Unfortunately, this is also not a reality in prostitution, where women are physically assaulted, raped, and murdered as a result of another’s idea of intimacy.
As we explored in our two-part series on the Top 10 Myths About Prostitution, prostitution is not a true “choice” and is deeply damaging to prostitutes, who are predominately women. The vast majority of prostituted individuals suffer rape, assault, PTSD, and general violence–particularly in countries that have legalized it. For instance, in Germany abuse has soared amidst decreasing wages and working standards. The horrific ways in which women are expected to do more for less reveals the abusive, anti-women underbelly of prostitution.
And as prostitution expands and fuels demand, trafficking women becomes more likely in order for traffickers and pimps to maximize profit.
The vision of female empowerment presented by the sex-positivist approach is a nice sentiment, however, we must dig deeper to understand that truly empowering women means supporting an end to the commercial sex-industry.
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