The Oldest Profession

In a really thoughtful and interesting post, Exploring Assumptions About Prostitution, Punkass Marc lays out his basic assumptions and how they influence his position on prostitution. At the center of the ongoing salon, of which his post is a part, is the issue of legalization—a proposal I generally support with the caveat that I resoundingly agree with R. Mildred when she says “Whether prostitution is legalised has to be all about whether legalisation or decriminalisation helps stem and stop abuses in the industry, nothing more and nothing less.” Legalization shouldn’t be supported or opposed on the basis of how one regards prostitution, because it’s about helping women who are prostitutes, not about the morality of prostitution. The arguments against legalization, predicated on the premise that it’s counterintuitive to eradicating prostitution, are indicative of a fundamental misunderstanding of the cultural circumstances in which prostitution flourishes. Refusing to consider legalization inevitably leads only to more victimized prostitutes, not fewer prostitutes.

As to those circumstances, Marc says:

As I understand her, BL believes class inequities are more responsible than the traditional notion of the patriarchy for what ails us. And in many ways, I agree. If you give all women sound/equal economic footing, a lot of problems would vanish pretty quickly.

But this isn’t an either/or issue. In addition to class issues, there is also a lot of patriarchal oppression. All you have to do is look across any single economic stratum — sexism and gender-based oppression exist amongst economic equals.

If you agree with that assessment, hopefully you agree that it’s important to end that sexism and oppression. One of the key elements of accomplishing that is to work towards ending the practice of men viewing women as objects intended to service their sexual needs. There are other issues we have to tackle, too, but this seems like a crucial one.
I agree that addressing class inequity and sexism is not an either/or issue, but it occurs to me that addressing them may have different ends. Sexism and oppression create a culture in which prostitution—and, very specifically, the kind of prostitution that appeals to men who are buying not sex, but the opportunity to mistreat women (or men)—thrives, but it’s class inequity—including lack of opportunity, economic disparity, shitty schools, drug and gang culture, limited employment, general hopelessness—which creates prostitutes.

(That’s not to say that class inequity doesn’t also contribute to the existence of prostitution, because it does, but only because of the preexisting sexism. And that’s also not to say that sexism doesn’t also contribute to women becoming prostitutes, but generally only because of preexisting lack of options, particularly when we’re speaking about streetwalkers, who comprise the majority of prostitutes, as opposed to women who work in a safe and protected environment for a decent wage.)

So, although the issues of class and sexism are both in need of attention, it strikes me that giving “all women sound/equal economic footing” is imperative in terms of reducing the numbers of prostitutes who choose their vocation out of necessity. It’s the solution to a concrete issue of desperate women scrabbling for survival. On the other hand, combating sexism and oppression is the solution to the more abstract issue of prostitution as an institution. The latter is largely about eradicating the market for prostitutes; the former is largely about giving people alternatives besides that market—and, if we’re interested in ending prostitution mainly because it’s a cesspool of mistreatment for most of its workers, then addressing the class issues that drive them into prostitution is the immediate avenue for protecting them. The existence of the market can’t hurt anyone unless there’s someone providing the service.

That is, I admit, a bit of philosophical claptrap, because it’s a pipedream to think we can reach some ethereal circumstance in which there exists a desire for prostitutes, but none on offer—which is, in the end, why Marc is right that both class and sexism deserve equal attention. I just thought it was worth nothing that they deserve it for different reasons, and I wanted to think out loud, as it were, for a bit, to start the discussion. So, what do you think?

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