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Posts Tagged ‘sex work’

Daughters in porn

This is a year past topical, as will many things be that I finally get around to blogging about, but it’s still relevant.

There are major problems and concerns with the porn industry, which better feminists than I continue to articulate all over the interwebs. People who work in that field but may not feel thrilled about it may need our support; it’s a riper area than many for exploitation, and the cultural context and gendered expectations should be borne in mind when considering the nature of anyone’s voluntary decision to be involved in sex work of any kind.

But fuck, if somebody likes their job, try being happy for them even if you find sex icky, and if somebody doesn’t like their job, maybe have some sympathy for them as an individual without generalising broadly about everyone working in the entire industry?

Be proud of your daughter even if she does porn. Be proud of your daughter because she does porn. Just love your kids and stop judging sex workers, dude.

(Incidentally, although it’s broadly not a bad article, a major oversight means that the headline is completely untrue. Many sex workers are not somebody’s daughter. Five bonus lateral thinking points if you can figure out how this is so. Wait, scratch that; negative ten basic reasoning points if you can’t.)

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I am in favour of the objectification of women.

Okay, that might be a little misleading, but if I said I was against it then that wouldn’t be controversial or edgy at all.

Either way, I should clarify my position a little.

Objectifying women isn’t always a good thing. Nor is it always a good thing when it happens to men. Transfolk probably bear the worst of it. But gender-based degradation of women is no small deal.

Strip clubs and pornography exist, (predominantly) for the enjoyment of (also predominantly) heterosexual men. We like being able to lust after and fantasise about women explicitly, and these things give us a chance to do that in a way our hormones crave but society doesn’t often allow us. There’s a vast industry which relies on exploiting and reinforcing the role of women as objects of men’s sexual desire.

And it’s not outrageous to imagine that these attitudes might spill over into other areas of human interaction. Women have a hard time being taken seriously by some people in many areas of business – the corporate and political worlds are still predominantly white and male.

There’s a degree of imbalance and inequality between the genders (let alone among people who don’t fit neatly into one category or the other) which nobody should wish to see perpetuated.

But if your intent is to be a critical thinker, a skeptic, a rational humanist – in other words, if you give a shit about people and you care whether what you believe is actually true – then you should be open to criticism of the ways you might think this imbalance ought to be addressed.

In particular, I think the sexism debate could do with much more emphasis on building up than dragging down.

Take strip clubs. Some people – mostly women who identify with a particular definition of feminism – think these are awful places, and want to see laws passed against their very existence. They don’t want men to be encouraged to see women as pieces of meat on show for their enjoyment, and they don’t want women to feel pressured into having to take a demeaning job as the best way of supporting themselves financially, because of the sexist attitudes this perpetuates.

Rather than doing anything to support or encourage women, this seems only to assume that men can’t be trusted and will inevitably behave with deplorable incivility if offered the slightest prompting to do so.

Some men fail, or refuse, to act as if women are ever anything more than sexy pieces of meat. That’s undoubtedly a bad thing – it’s a pretty crappy move to write off most of an entire gender’s potential like that. But it’s not clear that this behaviour will be diminished even slightly if you remove the venues where men get to enjoy ogling the sexy meat with impunity. It’s not going to stop men noticing that women are sexy and they are made of meat, or stop them behaving in ways inappropriate outside of allocated zones like a strip club.

However… this also isn’t to say that there’s not a problem worth addressing here. The fact is that men often do take the “sexy meat” attitude to women beyond reasonable bounds. Most women I know have had direct experience of being made to feel as if their physicality is all they’re good for, in a way that wasn’t appropriate and which they didn’t enjoy.

But there’s no contradiction in letting people know what’s inappropriate and what isn’t in the majority of human interaction, while also letting people earn a living through sex work or a related industry.

There’s an automatic connection in many people’s minds between a person earning a living in the sex industry, and that person being diminished in the perception of the rest of society. But that’s a problem with society and its hang-ups, not with the industry itself.

Some people are generalised about and de-individualised, because of their gender or gender identity – something of which both men and women can be both objects and perpetrators. Some women find that the sex industry provides the only means through which they can financially support themselves. That’s a problem with the economy and the job market, not with the one profession offering them a life-line.

I understand some people’s frustrations at the “freedom of speech” counter-argument. Josie Long has tweeted in the past about how little she appreciates the way she’s sometimes stereotyped as a woman, and sees strip clubs as a part of the problem. She appreciates the importance of freedom, but has tried to explain that it’s an unhelpful thing to use as a conversation-stopper.

Freedom’s important, but a lot of people still aren’t happy, and there might be something we can do about that even if we don’t agree on what we can do about it straight away.

Banning the burqa was an attempt to address an illiberal cultural tradition by means of an illiberal national law. I think passing legislation against strip clubs is a similarly bad idea, but re-emphasising the importance of people’s personal freedoms doesn’t solve the issue of the oppression of women within Islam, or of the bidirectional gender discrimination in the rest of society.

Giles Coren didn’t solve any of those problems either, but he was right about a few things. Misandry deserves to be given proper consideration, and men can be victims of just about every injustice that can befall women. But the two distinct problems don’t need to be placed in competition. We don’t need to bring attention to the suffering of men by playing down the hardships faced by women, and we don’t have to decry the evils of the sex industry if we think women deserve a greater societal respect. (How much respect does it show for the men and women in the sex industry, if we insist that they and their profession must be eliminated before we can make any progress?)

Some women want to have sex for money. Some women want to be treated more like an actual human being around the office. Both of these are fine aims, and we only need to make sure we’re giving each issue a reasonable amount of attention, without letting any one side of the conversation become stifling.

By which I mean: Let’s not get so hung up on the issue of freedom in the sex industry that we ignore the plight of women who feel inappropriately sexualised and objectified by men – but, let’s try not to focus on sexualisation as a bad thing, to such an extent that people in the sex industry feel marginalised or demeaned themselves.

Let’s not sneer at any attempt to raise the subject of misandry in a sensitive discussion about gender discrimination – but let’s also not be so persistent or strident in bringing it up that women always feel like they’re being shoved aside so that men can talk about their own problems.

Yes. Let’s all just follow my advice and everything will definitely be fine.

(If the comments below happen to go feral again, do try to keep things civilised.)

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Some impressive writing I’ve come across recently:

– David Allen Green on sex working and criminal law, making a lot of sense about the simplistic “there ought to be a law” attitude that commonly holds sway on matters of undesirable behaviour.

[T]o “ban” something is not to eliminate it; it merely means that future incidents of it may be attended by different legal and other consequences than it otherwise would have.

This is actually really important. There are certain activities which most of society would rather people didn’t do. But if the solution is to simply make those things illegal, it’s a complete illusion to suppose that they’ve all now been neatly tidied away and aren’t really happening any more. For some behaviours, there’s absolutely no reason to assume that they’ll happen any less just because you’ve banned it. And in fact you’ve just created a huge number of criminals out of nowhere, which is even more of a problem in itself.

Obviously some things need laws against them, but the assumption that that’s going to be enough to fix something over-reachingly social and complex – anything to do with drugs and sex, for a start – doesn’t appear to be founded in reality, judging by the extent to which these problems still exist.

– The problem of gay teens committing suicide reaches much farther than the playground. Young people suffering because of their sexual identity – from both their own guilt, and the taunts or attacks of others – is directly related to the attitudes of politicians and public figures across the country. However much more enlightened the western world is supposed to have become about this, policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the number of government officials who think a person’s sexual preferences matter a damn to something like whether or not they can teach a class of kids, all add up to a constant message to gay people that they are inferior, or broken, or not fully human. That message isn’t just coming from other teenagers, and needs to fuck right off.

– Speaking of not fully human, did you know test tube babies have no soul? It’s true! You might not expect much sensible, rationalist insight from the “Faith and Reason” section of USA Today, but they’ve got that little factoid right on the money.

Where it falls down, of course, is that they seem to think this makes such children different from the rest of us somehow.

This is where magical thinking can lead you. Invisible, unknowable, non-existent essences become more important than people, and articles get written in major national publications suggesting that the continued existence and lives of millions of people might be an affront to God, worthy of “ethical condemnation”. Here’s PZ at his best:

And it’s incredibly offensive to go further and suggest that the parents of these children, who have gone to extraordinary expense and trouble to conceive, are mere “shoppers”, as if people who get pregnant in a casual evening’s rut are somehow necessarily conscientious ethical philosophers and serious about their children, while someone who sinks $10,000+ dollars into invasive medical procedures and subjects their body to a few months of stressful hormonal treatments must be getting pregnant on impulse.

Testify.

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