A topic that cannot go unaddressed in any discussion about sex work is the extreme divide among feminists on the topic. Although their debate is complex, one of the biggest obstacles faced by feminists on opposite sides of the issue can be boiled down to a disagreement between the liberal and the radical. While those who are fighting for the rights of sex-workers might be viewed as radical in the sense that subversive sexual acts are considered more extreme, what feminists who champion sex-work are really fighting for is the right to work within and gain benefits from an oppressive, patriarchal system -- and working within the current system for empowerment (both economic and otherwise) is actually a liberal feminist strategy for helping women survive in a patriarchal society. It is unavoidable that this ideology will conflict with the goals of radical feminists who are more concerned with overthrowing patriarchy altogether than with trying to merely navigate through the oppressive system. Feminists who are most concerned with prostitutes’ rights advocate for the removal of a stigma on behaviors that radical feminists feel are detrimental to all women. While the more liberal-minded “sex-positives” argue that the fact that it is commonplace for women to use sex as currency is a justification that we should eliminate the stigma against the most deliberate practice of this exchange, radical feminists would rather live in a world where no woman would ever be in a position to have to use sex as currency at all. They would argue that using sex as currency is not something we should work to normalize, but that it is one of the things most wrong with the system.
Because sex can be such an intensely personal issue in our society, the divisiveness among feminists on this topic is extremely complex and deeply emotional. Conflicts could be avoided, however, if more feminists took a step back to realize that the struggle is not as much about sex as it is about strategy. The members of each ideological camp seem to have the same end in mind – a world in which women are free from patriarchal oppression -- but they happen to disagree about the means through which this can be achieved.
The problems faced by women in sex work mirror the problems all women face as an oppressed class. Like all women, their collective lack of access to power within patriarchy and capitalism prevent them from uniting in a solid movement to fight for their rights, and the vast differences among them in terms of class, race, sexuality, and the circumstances of their work keep them isolated from each other and unable to mobilize. However, to portray them merely as victims would deny their agency and their potential to organize do great things under the right conditions.
"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan
Saturday, June 9, 2007
If you've been reading this blog for any extended period of time, you will find that when I address issues that are divisive among feminists, my writing often attempts to seek out some sort of common ground. I think that critique and debate among feminists is crucial, but not at the expense of abandoning the goals we have in common. At the end of the day, it's important that we can still be united with each other against sexism, patriarchy, and ALL forms of oppression. So, in keeping with that theme, I thought I would post an excerpt from a much longer essay I just wrote on about the sex work industry:
Posted by Tracey at 11:47 PM