I’ve noticed, because I can read, that there are an awful lot more women out there fighting for women’s “right” to get naked, get fucked, and have the whole thing taped than there are men doing so. Why might that be? Every time I get into a conversation about sex positivism or third wavism (coinage!) with a group of people (that doesn’t include any radical feminists), the men (even the ones who use porn) seem more likely, if they’re being honest, to agree with me that porn and prostitution exist in inherent conflict with feminism, whereas the women want to tell me I’m blowing it as a feminist because I’m excluding women who engage in sex work from feminism. I’ve even met a few women who have told me that I’m worse than men are because I’m trying to tell them what to do, because I’m trying to limit their choices, as opposed to the men, who are all about letting them exercise their freedom and express their sexuality. That’s a real knee slapper.
Where are the men who want to argue vociferously for women’s “right” to participate in their own exploitation? Where are the men clambering to convince me that (women) getting naked for money is empowering? Where are all the dudes who want to tell me that feminism is about “choice” and that women who are making the “choice” to suck a bunch of dicks for money are leading the charge toward some future utopia in which women will be safe, free, and human? Not many of these men exist, because most men know that they’d have a hard time keeping a straight face while making such claims. So why are women making the claim for them?
As stupid as I think most (MOST – calm down) men are, it’s pretty goddamn brilliant that they’ve gotten women to run around fighting the porn/prostitution battle for them. “Sex-positive” “feminists” are the greatest allies men have ever had in their quest for ever more unfettered access to women’s bodies and a free pass to degrade and abuse women. I mean, if you can get a few women to acquiesce to your porn fantasies and call it a feminist choice, you’re the fucking man, right? You don’t have to claim responsibility for the damage caused to some women because you’ve got a few other women who will call the women hurt by your support for the sex industry anti-woman and anti-sex. Fuck yeah!
I’ve had untold numbers of dudes make comments to me that let me know how men really see sex positivism. One example: some asshole, in trying to belittle my blog and feminism in general, commented, “Get off the internet. But if you’re one of those sex-positive types, I do oral.” Mmmhmm.
Most men love sex positivism and hate radical feminism. That should tell us something.
There are some ethical issues involved in sex work of all kinds. Performing sex acts for money isn’t apolitical, and it doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Women who participate in sex work and run around telling people that it’s a “choice” and that it’s “empowering” and that it’s somehow a feminist act have an effect on other women’s lives, whether they like it or not. They shove a detour into feminist discourse and make it possible for the public to ignore the chief problems women still face while they’re arguing about whether pole dancing is what feminism is all about.
But, apparently, asking someone to think about something is akin to telling them they’re worthless and have no agency, according to the sex-positive types I’ve been reading. Well, I’m not doing that, and I expect people to discuss things like rational adults, not get all whiny because they are uncomfortable with the issues my questions raise.
I want to say first that this post is in no way directed toward women who are unwillingly involved in sex work, but rather toward women who conceive of sex work as a choice, and a feminist one at that. I have said this before and I’ll say it again now: I’m not here to take pity on “choice” sex workers for not “getting” what I “get.” I understand that we all live under the same oppressive system, that we get by in whatever ways we can, and that we all face different obstacles and have different priorities. I’m not calling sex workers sellouts, I’m not saying they’re deluded, and I’m not going to decide the consent issue for them. But I, unlike many purportedly pro-sex-worker feminists, will not patronize “choice” sex workers or their advocates or treat them like babies by refusing to ask them to explain their positions (pisaquaririse brought my attention to that tendency, which I thank her for because it helped me tremendously as I formulated this post).
With that out of the way, I’m inviting anyone who calls her/himself a sex-positive feminist or who refers to sex work as a feminist choice to answer the following questions, and I promise to be fair, civil, and reasonable in discussing them:
- Do you believe that women would participate in sex work if we did not live in an oppressive, misogynistic culture? If so, what would the sex industry look like in a world in which women were seen as possessing the same humanity men do?
- Do you believe that pornography and prostitution negatively affect some women’s lives (obviously some sex workers suffer abuse, but I am referring to women outside the sex industry here)? If not, why not? If so, does any of the responsibility for that lie with sex workers, or does it lie solely with the producers and pimps? Or somewhere else?
- Why aren’t there more men out there arguing for women’s “right” to participate in sex work? What do you make of the fact that very few men call sex work a feminist choice? I’d also be happy to discuss the arguments of men who do make such a claim.
- Can women like Jenna Jameson be considered feminists for taking leadership roles in the production of pornography? Why or why not? If the answer is yes, how can we reconcile the negative effects pornography has on women’s lives with referring to a producer of mainstream pornography as a feminist?
- How can sex work empower individual women when it requires that women submit to being objectified and performing acts for money rather than out of genuine desire to do them?
- Alternatively, if one genuinely enjoys something and gets paid for it, does it become a feminist act?
- In other words, does feminism exist to advance the cause of women as a whole or for individual women to use as a justification for their personal choices?
- If sex work is a valid, feminist choice for individual women, what are we to make of women who say that their participation in sex work resulted from their dire poverty, drug addiction, etc. being exploited by pimps and porn producers?
- I see sex work as a reductionist commodification of human sexuality. Do you think that the reduction of sex to a commodity has a negative effect on our ability to explore and express the potential of human sexuality? If not, why not?
- If you’re a sex-positive dude, tell me why. Why are you in such a huff to help women out? And why does it manifest as sex positivism? Why is your desire to help women out limited to arguing for their “right” to serve you sexually?
I realize I’m asking a lot of big questions and that I’m leaving a lot out. Please feel free to bring up anything you think germane, and to pick and choose what to address. I also realize that I’ve framed the debate, but I don’t care. I’ve wanted the answers to these questions for a long time, and I have to pose the questions if I’m going to get the answers I seek. You see, these questions stem not from a desire to trap anyone, but from my own honest sticking points when I think about what I’ve seen of the sex-positive position.