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Mar 16 2008

Legalize, schmlegalize

You know how I was complaining that nobody in the mainstream media is taking the opportunity to discuss prostitution in the wake of TawdryFest ‘08? I was wrong. An AP article in today’s Dallas Morning News devotes about 300 words to the topic. Oh wait, that’s right, no mention is made of prostituted women as a human rights crisis; the article is strictly a lament that nothing law enforcement can dream up ever seems to keep hordes of power-hungry pervs from paying for rapes. The author quotes one Kansas City cop who compares “the effort to curb prostitution” to running on a hamster wheel.

Note that the goal is merely to curb the male appetite for trafficked women. The message? Pay-for-rapists are here to stay! It is unfathomable that human society could exist entirely without a subclass of sex slaves.

Pandagon is not, unfortunately, mainstream media, although I wish it were, but Amanda’s got a timely post up about the pitfalls of legalizing prostitution. She nails it when she proposes that

the problem with prostitution is unique not because sex as a service is unique exactly. I think that the problem with legalization schemes is that prostitution is more, for the majority of the customers, about buying the opportunity to treat a woman like utter trash. In order for prostitution to be legal and yet still viable, the scheme either has to preserve the customer’s right to treat the prostitute like trash (which is why it works in Nevada, though it does the actual prostitutes little good), or an illegal side market of prostitution will flourish next to the legal one. In other words, if you have to be nice to the legal whores, a lot of johns will go to the illegal ones.

Not that legal prostitution is a contumely devoutly to be wish’d — even if johns are “nice” to you, you’re still gettin’ raped — but the illegal prostitutes to whom Amanda alludes would necessarily consist of children, since our broadminded progressive society in its beneficence would be unlikely to license for paid rapeabilty anyone under 18. Which, since 13 is the average age at which prostituted women enter what the AP article tiresomely euphemizes as “the world’s oldest profession,” nothing whatever would change as a result of legalization. At least, nothing for the better.

40 comments

2 pings

  1. octopod

    Link’s broken. (The one to Pandagon, that is.)

    And 13 is the average age? Somehow that’s unsurprising. Is that for the U.S., or worldwide, or what?

  2. Ryna

    Also, cost. Legal prostitutes whose work situation emulated that of the modern “empowerfulized” sex worker would be both unattractively old and prohibitively expensive. The dudes in charge know this and care less about ending the abusive industry than about limiting/criminalizing poontang access for poor dudes. (Also, limiting options for poor sex workers who don’t do high end work.)

  3. Nia

    Can someone please give me one or two good arguments to bang on the head of anyone who tells me that prostitution is the oldest profession? Please?

  4. TP

    Exactly! Since we refuse to actually do the ONE THING that might help prostituted women – prosecute the real criminals, the paying parties who make it all possible, men have no better ideas than to throw up their helpless little pale pink paws and legalize it.

    Then, once legalized, we can turn it into a bigger business than ever, and put the women on a minimum wage and direct all the cash up to the many layers of male managers it will take to insure that no woman ever gets a decent share of the pie. Something like how well-run and women friendly strip clubs are now.

    We’re then one step closer to the ideal patriarchal goal of enslaving all women and making overt the male desire to remove all traces of humanity from as many women as possible who are not directly related to someone with real money. The idea, so hard for the modern dude to grasp, of women as objects, will become extremely easy to understand at the same time it becomes legal, morally correct, and financially sound.

    And just as Twisty says, just as in pornography, once you make it safe and legal to create and download the most horrible pornography you could ever imagine that is openly and sadistically degrading, you create a new vital underground of what is currently the last few taboos; children and bestiality.

    The feminists of the 1970s warned us clearly that it would come to this. I fear that the common sense extrapolations of Twisty are a warning of the Porn World to come.

  5. tinfoil hattie

    Can someone please give me one or two good arguments to bang on the head of anyone who tells me that prostitution is the oldest profession? Please?

    Argue vehemently that agriculture is really an older profession?

    (that’s what a college boyfriend of mine used to do every time I wanted to talk about how wrong prostitution is)

  6. Hattie

    As you say: women without access to money have all kinds of uses in the dude world.

  7. Shae

    I have to say that I have never thought of Amanda’s argument, and it’s a good one.

    I’ve been vaguely on the side of legalization. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  8. Carol

    Age 13 is the average age to start prostituting oneself? Well, THAT explains why the age of “consent” up here in the sticks (Canada) is 13. That’s scary.

  9. Brenda

    Actually it’s 14 in Canada. My gut says that feels too young, but I’m generally for more sexual freedom and letting young women decide who they want to have sex with.

    As for prostitution — I kind of go back and forth on the whole thing — I realize that as long as female sexuality is a valuable commodity, it is going to remain a rational decision for women to sell that commodity, and I don’t think punishing them makes much sense. But I’ve never really been comfortable with legalization as an option because the idea of giving that kind of social approval to dudes who pay for sex (I don’t know that it’s rape per se if a woman chooses to have intercourse for money, though obviously there is a situation of economic power and exploitation at play there; I just feel like prostitutes are still capable of deciding whether or not they consent to sex, even if their motivation is economic as opposed to erotic or romantic).

  10. kate

    Gee wiz, all the links are dead! Means I’ll have to go to pandagon and look up the whole thing myself.

    But for now, I recall Amanda posting a rant from craigslist written by a pissed off, frustrated, disgusted prostitute. She also posted a rant from a certified “nice guy” who felt down on his luck with the women he’s helped.

    Guess which rant garnered nearly 100 comments? Guess which craigslist ranter managed to entangle the empathy, concern, wonderment,
    curiosity, comparatives, narratives and speculation?

    When I made note of the irony of such occurring on a site supposedly full of concerned, aware feminists, I was smacked down with a comment stating, “Well, if you are so concerned for her, maybe you can go help her out.”

    I would, but I can’t seem to get my way around the overwhelming concern for the poor guys.

  11. Rebecca

    “Can someone please give me one or two good arguments to bang on the head of anyone who tells me that prostitution is the oldest profession? Please?”

    I like Kathleen Barry’s response to this: it’s not prostitution that’s the oldest profession. It’s pimping.

  12. phio gistic

    Regarding the “oldest profession” comments – murder, lice and starvation are all ancient traditions as well. Should we not try to do anything about them, either?

    I am boggled by all the comments I see on other sites about “victimless crime” and “consenting adults.” No one in the MSM is taking the opportunity to talk about the coercive nature of money – there is a reason that bribes are illegal, that selling your body parts is illegal. Why does this logic go out the window when prostitution and porn is concerned? If males and sexual exploitation are involved, then suddenly cash is no longer coercive. Funny, that.

  13. Bitch, Esquire

    TP: “Then, once legalized, we can turn it into a bigger business than ever, and put the women on a minimum wage and direct all the cash up to the many layers of male managers it will take to insure that no woman ever gets a decent share of the pie. Something like how well-run and women friendly strip clubs are now.”

    Oh, crap. You know, I hadn’t thought about it that way. That’s exactly what would happen. The same (or poorer) people hooking in McBrothels. Hooters would come out with a new line of facilities: Hooters Extreme!

    The Swedish idea about making it a crime to buy sex and not to sell that Amanda’s article quote seems like a interesting idea. I wonder how much of that plan working (assuming it is, and it’s not clear) would be specific to the Swedish cultural context – different set of hangups than what we got. And, of course, still patriarchies.

  14. Twisty

    Links fixed! Sorry about that.

  15. Chiroptera

    Apparently some men think that public notices of arrests are a menu.

  16. Susan

    Thank you for writing about this, Twisty. The Spitzer extravaganza did not seem complete without your perspective. I was sad to read about your father; he did, indeed seem a very decent dude.

    It occurs to me that the very first step in any legalization scheme should be licensing the buyers, btw. They should have to get tested and pay fees sufficient to support the bureaucracy it takes to implement any kind of public inspection program. All workers should be assured a safe environment after all, and that would include not being exposed to toxic conditions (sick customers). These licenses should be public records, accessible to any potential partners, too. That would be ideal. There’d be no shame in it, right, once everything’s legal?

  17. Ryna

    Brenda- Punishing prostituted women sucks about as much as legalisation. Decriminalization, however, is a pretty good idea.

  18. SpinatTeig

    The best non-mainstream article I’ve read on this topic was posted on CounterPunch last week:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/blader03122008.html

  19. orlando

    Nia, you tell them midwifery is the oldest profession. I think it’s logically apparent that the need for a midwife predates just about any other possible need for a brought-in service.

    Prostitution would only have become necessary after the development of both a supply-and-demand economy and the myth that men need sex more than women do.

  20. Mar Iguana

    “Can someone please give me one or two good arguments to bang on the head of anyone who tells me that prostitution is the oldest profession? Please?” Nia

    The oldest profession is husbandry. No husbands, no prostitutes. I have found this argument 100% effective in immediately shutting ignorant, asshole mouths since the boys know it’s 100% true.

  21. Chiroptera

    Oldest profession?

    Somebody once told me the oldest professions are the clergy and librarian.

  22. Dr. Steph

    Legal or illegal, neither gets to the actual problems: a) men who think women are good for nothing more than sex and b) women who have few or no other options than to provide sex for money (see problem a).

    And for women at least, prostitution is probably the oldest profession, in terms of making actual money at least. Hell, it was the only work men would allow them to do (see problem a).

  23. Feminist Avatar

    Surely ‘wife’ is the oldest profession.

  24. phio gistic

    Oldest profession – how about “scapegoat?”

  25. cycles

    Oldest profession? Might I quote my esteemed colleague KeldaRedux: “Flintknapping!”

    I think part of the problem is that legalization proponents desperately want to look at prostitution hermetically. They use the argument that there’s nothing wrong with providing a service in exchange for money. People do it all the time. You could even say that I’m prostituting myself in terms of my computer skills when the corporate johns give me a paycheck. Blah blah blah blah.

    Most things, out of context, appear innocent enough.

    But then stupid ole reality busts in. Dehumanization, loss of bodily autonomy, the fuckability mandate, patriarchy, rape, dominance – all experienced by women in general, but crystallized perfectly in the actual practice of paying for “sex” (= violence, under patriarchy). Blame!

  26. Kathleen

    SpinatTeig — that was indeed a terrific article. And it is so fitting that “torture warrant” Dershowitz also thinks prostitution is “no big deal”, something else we should just grow up and deal with. I am out of energy for these debates but the one thing that has been made really clear to me in them is that the people who defend prostitution don’t just hate women, they hate everybody.

  27. goblinbee

    SpinatTeig, thank you so much for passing along that article. It is just what I needed to read this morning to clear my head.

  28. octopod

    Candidate for oldest profession: Toolmaker. I think chimps have ‘em too.

    That Counterpunch article was damned good. Thanks.

  29. Lost Clown

    Well there was Melissa Farley’s Op-Ed in the NY Times and then this Op-Ed the next day talking about the Swedish model as the best alternative AND talking about how prostitution is neither a choice nor “victimless.”

    That’s nice and mainstream.

  30. slythwolf

    It’s been argued that the oldest profession is probably midwife. But here’s one that struck me recently: If prostitution is the oldest profession, where the fuck did the men get the money to pay?

  31. Sascha

    Twisty: It is unfathomable that human society could exist entirely without a subclass of sex slaves.

    As a behavioral biologist I’d like to remark on this. It’s not unfathomable, it’s an impossibility that a society run by men could exist without a subclass of sex slaves. The reason is that men are biologically different from women. 2% less DNA than us, unstable at all times due their hormone (singular), inept at reading non-verbal signals (this is in the male brain, not in socialization), generally not doing very well in the infantile stage where a child develops what we call a theory of mind, and generally very poor impulse control (this is biological, not socializaton).

    In a nutshell, men remain eternally three years old inside, stuck at an infantile and egocentric stage of development, both emotionally and cognitively (though sometimes not intellectually). There’s nothing they can do about it, it’s what Nature has made them. Genetically determined.

    Which isn’t to excuse them (I don’t). But it means it’s no use waiting around for them to remedy it, since they can’t — too infantile, too locked up in the hormone, genetically lacking certain abilities, and all the rest. This really is one we’re going to have to do ouselves at some point, never mind convincing them, and never mind the screams that will ensue about how they’re being deprived (since that’s genuinely how it will feel to them).

    I’ve found it’s taboo to say these things at other boards, I hope it’s okay here. Men are really and truly genetically deficient. The sooner we face up to this, the better. Stop discussing with them, accept what they are instead of thinking about what we wish they could be (or rather kid ourselves they could be — they can’t), and start dealing.

  32. Nia

    orlando Mar 17th, 2008 at 3:32 am

    Nia, you tell them midwifery is the oldest profession. I think it’s logically apparent that the need for a midwife predates just about any other possible need for a brought-in service.

    slythwolf Mar 18th, 2008 at 2:44 am

    If prostitution is the oldest profession, where the fuck did the men get the money to pay?

    These are probably the two arguments that I like the best.

    See, slythwolf, what really annoyes me is that people who say “prostitution is the oldest profession” in earnest” explain it by saying that women, at least some of them, willingly sold themselves to men for food and protection, projecting the post-industrial revolution family model (a nuclear family, in which the woman doesn’t have the ability to provide goods) more than a million years back. What makes these people think that a female Homo Habilis or a Neanderthal had less gathering-and-hunting ability than the males?

  33. uh huh

    Sascha – seriously? got any evidence for all those claims?

    Oldest profession was probably gathering food. Everything else came later.

  34. Ryna

    Sascha- Even if this is/were true, the fact that some men behave themselves (rare, but I expect a man who can behave himself to be rare in a patriarchy either way) seems to indicate that they can be trained out of it.

  35. Jennifer

    Sascha – I am afraid that I have to pull out my credentials here. I have post-grad degree in Physiology and Genetics. Your statements have no basis in actual fact or science – that is probably why you get shot down on other boards.

  36. Sascha

    To uh-huh. I base my remarks on published scientific papers. I will go to my archive and look up my references, which will produce a rather boring post, but okay. No time for that today, be back with it later. Meanwhile it’s a fact that men have 2% less DNA (what this means exactly is still unclear, but the fact remains and I love to point it out). It was shown way back in the 1970′s that men are bad at reading non-verbal signals, in any case much worse at it than human women. Males of many other species are very good at reading non-verbal signals, no less than the females. Couple of years ago it was found that all human males carry a gene that looks very much like the gene scientists think is causally related to autism. It is as yet speculation, but it looks like a plausible explanation of this human male ineptness in the non-verbal may be on the horizon. Ha, ha, if anyone would fund the research, which is, for bloody obvious reasons, not very likely.

    Much has been written about the effects of testosterone on behavior (in all mammals), as well as its relatiion to impulse control. In fact, there are published papers stating that female irritated behavior around our periods can be attributed at least in part to elevated testosterone levels, which men have at all times. I translate this as: men have permanent PMS, so better let us run the world since those of us who have it at all only have it (and thus act more like men) once a month.

    It is well known that if you want to reduce general reactivity in a do (i.e., improve impulse control), castration is the way to go. Reduction in testosterone levels increases impulse control in all the mammals that have been researched on this. It’s pseudo-science to say you can’t extrapolate that to human males just because this single specific species hasn’t been researched. Though I wouldn’t in the least mind a controlled castration program to test this out, I am in a position to say “no, you have to prove it AIN’T so in human males, since it’s true of all other mammalian species we’ve researched.” Not all animal experiments are extrapolate-able to other species, but many are (e.g., Skinner’s discoveries turned out to apply to everything with a brain stem). It has been statistically documented that removing the ovaries of a female dog can lead to diminished impulse control in the female (due to increased testosterone levels), which (because of the role of the amygdala and the way impulsive behavior works) can mean increased aggression in some females.

    To Jennifer, pulling out your credentials is in fact a move that always, but always, reveals a weak position. After all, you don’t know mine. And after years in academia, having a PhD tends to be more of a disqualification to me than anything else (see Chomsky on this subject (http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/1991—-.htm — though you may not have to take his words personally, since you are vague about whether you do have a PhD, which usually means a person doesn’t). You are admittedly not an expert on behavior, nor on developmental psychology. And beyond saying you have some kind of credentials, you don’t say anything substantive. Sound byte stuff. The taboo on other boards about saying men are inherently deficient has nothing to do with science, which I don’t think you can ask of most people anyway. It’s that there are so many women who want (or need) to believe that someday a man will be able to love them the way they need to be loved. That there is at least one out there who doesn’t hate us, and/or that she’s not making the most awful compromises to live with Him. Denial abounds. Thus pressure to always say ‘most men’ or ‘except for your loving partner, who is of course different from all the rest.’

    Which brings me to Ryna’s point. All creatures with a brain stem can be taught (conditioned — see Skinner’s work). You can, if you do it skilfully, manipulate behavior in the worst of creatures (within certain genetically determined boundaries), so that (for example) even an obligate predator will be safe to live with 99% of the time. I wasn’t saying we can’t overcome some of the problems Nature has put into men — indeed, being raised (trained) in a different society would mitigate much. I was just saying it’s inherent in men, and their generally appalling behavior won’t change until we do come up with a society that deals with this as a reality.

    If anyone really wants a bibliography, post it please. I don’t feel like putting the thing together (which I truly can), only to find that no one looks at it because we’re all on to other Twisty posts.

  37. Sascha

    I wrote: It is well known that if you want to reduce general reactivity in a do (i.e., improve impulse control), castration is the way to go.

    That should have been: ‘general reactivity in a dog’

  38. Kenzie

    Sascha said:

    It was shown way back in the 1970’s that men are bad at reading non-verbal signals, in any case much worse at it than human women. Males of many other species are very good at reading non-verbal signals, no less than the females.

    So… call me crazy if you must, but wouldn’t it then follow that if males of other species (and if a lack of DNA in the male of the species exists for humans – are we talking the part of the potential X chromosome that’s missing in order for it to be a Y here? – then it would exist for other species as well) are very good at reading non-verbal signals and men aren’t then perhaps, just maybe, it’s socialization that is the difference, not some inherent genetic disadvantage.

    Fer dog’s sake, it’s all the same bullshit with a different context.

    “Men are extremely rational, that’s why they should naturally have power over the irrational and foolish female. Of course, this means they can abuse them with impunity; it’s just the way things should be.”

    “Actually, Men are extremely irrational. By heck, they have less DNA then women, and this means that when they abuse women with impunity they just can’t help themselves, poor dears, and shouldn’t be blamed.”

    I just don’t buy it. When do we get the science that says that men have every capability of deciding to pick up their own bedamned socks*?

    *”Picking up socks”** is here being used as an analogy for the supposed work that women must do in civilizing men in a patriarchal society. Of course, for engaging in this catch 22, as with so many others, women are mocked and derided.

    **As an aside, am I the only one who is pissed off by the references to Obama’s flippin’ socks and his wife’s role in reminding him to pick them?

    He doesn’t put his worn socks in with the dirty clothes. He’s worse than a 5-year-old at making the bed. And after he eats, he doesn’t put away the butter.

  39. Loneoak

    Sascha wrote:

    Meanwhile it’s a fact that men have 2% less DNA.

    And you know who has a lot more DNA than women? Ferns. Actually, all plants have way more DNA than mammals–if you stay in one place your whole life you better have a solid defensive repertoire built into your genome. Your notion that mo’ DNA, mo’ betta discredits everything you say about genetic difference between men and women. It’s not ‘unsettled’ what that 2% lack means … it’s meaningless. Especially re: cognition. I say this as a man who has stuck up for feminist causes my whole adult life (and almost got beat up at the bar last week for calling bullshit on a dude wearing a brothel t-shirt), your claims are offensive and deeply stupid. (My credentials: PhD in philosophy of science.)

  40. Jonathan

    Actually, there is one case on this sorry planet where the legalization of prostitution does help women, and that is in Sweden. Since 1999, the selling of sex is not a crime in Sweden.

    But oh wait, the buying of sex IS a crime in Sweden! Take THAT Johns!

    The only reason to ever make prostitution legal is to prevent the misogynist court systems from copying Islamic Sharia-law and jailing women for being raped. And even then, it’s only works if the perps are finally for-the-first-time-in-ten-millennia locked up for their crimes. And in Sweden, human trafficking (ie. women and girl slavery) fell after the law was changed in 1999.

    In other words, the terrible plight of women actually does lessen when a country actually got off its ass and PUNISHES CRIMINALS FOR THEIR CRIMES!

    No wonder why the entirety of US news media spends all 5 minutes of its international coverage bashing Sweden!

    We feminists should coin a word for this radical new idea where punishment is actually dished out to those who deserve it. (I know “justice” isn’t it, since Dude World has never defined justice in a way that helps women.) I’m sure we can find something snappy for this strange new form of legal radicalism.

    ~Jonathan

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