Note: After writing this post, I was obliged to jettison the vaunted Facebook experiment. Still on Twitter, though, @IBlame.
Since announcing the Facebook experiment I’ve done practically nothing but approve friend requests and wince my way through a bunch of untamed emoticons and lolz, but one patriarchy-blaming discussion did happen to catch my jaundiced eye. Through the haze of jacknut gas — I believe there is no way to contain jacknuts on Facebook, so this experiment may be coming to a swifter-than-expected close — I detected an argument worth making. This argument erupted when I asserted, as I so often do, that prostitution is a system under the auspices of which rape is legitimized by introducing the element of monetary compensation as a mitigating factor. I said, in other words, that prostitution is pay-per-rape.
You can probably guess what happened next. That’s right, it was the old sex-workers-(and clueless dudes)-vs-woman-hating-radfems type-deal. The scenario goes something like this (I excerpt from the [now-defunct] Facebook thread):
Sex Worker: I’m a professional dominatrix. Sex work is not equal to rape. It isn’t that sex workers don’t get raped, but rape is certainly not the norm. In fact, just the experience of being a sex worker, just as the experience of being an extremely active, healthy sexual person, has the unfortunate consequence of increasing the chances of encountering a sexually abusive person.
Sex worker supporter: In rape advocacy, the woman defines and names her experience because to behave otherwise is to insist that her experiences are less valid than an advocates’ interpretation. Calling sex work “rape” implies that sex workers are too ignorant to define their own reality. How is that respectful?
Some clueless dude: What do you mean it’s rape? In legal prostitution (like Amsterdam) the worker always has the right to say no. Prostitution is a service, like therapy or a massage. If our puritan society would quit demonizing it, it could be regulated and the stigma removed.
[Normally it isn't useful to accommodate clueless dude commentary in any discussion of prostitution, but I include this one for comic relief. Women have the right to say "no"? Ha! Good one! Our "puritan society"? Wha? Has this guy turned on a TV in the last 15 years? "Like Amsterdam"? Dude, if Dutch prostitution is so awesome, how come so few Dutch women heed its siren call? 75% of sex workers in the Netherlands, many of them children, many of them trafficked, are migrants from Thailand, China, Nigeria, and Eastern Europe. Legalizing prostitution in the Netherlands has merely given criminal gangs a leg up and created an invisible underclass of abused, marginalized, undocumented immigrants with no access to social services and no protections under the legal system.]
But I digress.
Savage Death Island recognizes that the word “rape” rankles those with a heavy investment in the status quo. It rankles the married ladies when I aver that marriage is institutionalized rape, because their Nigels are special guys. It rankles victim’s advocates who believe I’m making light of “real” rape. Likewise it rankles the prostituted ladies because they are sex professionals, not victims.
According to sex professionals with internet access, they don’t need a bunch of do-goody theorizers telling them what their experience is or isn’t. They don’t want any radical feminists all up in their shit telling them what they can and can’t do with their lives. They are empowered to make their own choices. They are themselves feminists, so shut up already with the paternalistic jibba-jabba.
I get it. It’s like when some dude shows up to explain feminism to me. So I’d better clarify a couple of things.
If a prostituted woman wishes to describe her experience as that of a trained professional working a trade, she will get no argument from me. I am not interested in telling her how to feel about herself or her work. I don’t deny that there may well exist a cohort of contented, fairly-compensated sex workers who freely choose to find personal fulfillment in providing what they believe is a valuable service. I don’t blame sex workers for choosing to do sex work. I don’t hate sex workers. I don’t even hate women. I advocate fully human status for women in the sex industry, as I do for all female persons in any sex-class industry (including the motherhood industry, the childhood industry, and the spinster industry). I don’t believe prostitution should be illegal. Like many sex worker advocates, I’m for decriminalization.
Oh, and while I’m at it, it should be understood that when I employ such colorful phrases as “men use women as toilets,” I am not describing my personal feelings toward women; I’m describing the institutionalized, enpornulated male contempt of the sex class, which contempt has been documented ad nauseam on this here blog by many professional patriarchy blamers. I do not regard prostituted women as toilets, but it is my contention that men who use them do.
To rephrase, if you are an empowerful sex worker and you don’t feel that your respectful clients and considerate bosses are raping/pimping you, congratulations! The contingency to which I allude — that prostitution is pay-per-rape — doesn’t apply to you.
It does apply, however, to the unknowable legions of women and girls who have been coerced into the life by thugs and drugs and who remain abused and marginalized by misogynist cultural mores and antediluvian jurisprudence. It applies to all exploited women and girls for whom the bitter, grinding reality of misogyny as a human rights crisis cannot be glossed over with fantasies about women’s empowerment and delusions about agency and choice. Here’s my gist:
The patriarchal set-up has it fixed so that the practice of commodifying women’s bodies necessarily creates a rich and fetid growth medium for violence and exploitation. The persistent condition of women as an underclass of rape-receptacles (as per the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women) relies on this concept of bod-commodification. Abuses are not limited to prostituted women, but extend to the entirety of the sex class. Just the other day, for example, my own great state of Texas ruled that women seeking abortions must be forcibly pronged by doctors wielding vaginal ultrasound probes. That’s right, it’s state rape!*
Sex worker advocacy groups seeking to change this set-up to women’s advantage will not succeed, because patriarchy will never allow the liberation of the sex class.
Which brings us to the unfortunate disconnect between Savage Death Islandism and sex work advocacy. Though both yearn for an end to human rights abuses suffered by prostituted women, ultimately we are at cross-purposes. The Savage Death Island idea is to smash patriarchy entirely via revolution, thereby liberating women from the tyranny of the sex class, eliminating the vast power imbalance that lies at the root of fetishized and eroticized dominance, and obviating the demand for prostitution altogether. The sex workers, on the other hand, desire to make a living from patriarchal oppression. So there’s the rub: the feminist revolt scheme would ultimately put them all out of work, because, post-revolution, sex would cease to be a commodity.
Unless patriarchy is smashed, prostituted women will always be oppressed, because all women will always be oppressed.
* The abortion sonogram law, which lawmakers passed last legislative session, requires doctors to perform sonograms and describe what they see, including the size of the fetus and the length of its limbs. The measure has been in court almost since it passed, with opponents arguing it violates doctors’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to disclose information that isn’t medically necessary and that the woman may not want to hear. [...] Gov. Rick Perry also praised today’s ruling, calling it “a victory for all who stand in defense of life.” — Texas Tribune