I was reading a feminist blog yesterday, and the blogger in question had posted her opinion about prostitution. The short version is: she thinks it's bad. She thinks men who see prostitutes don't see women as human being and are using them "like toilets with pulses". She feels men think they have the right to buy sex and she thinks that's wrong.
(This is the link, if you want to go read what she said. It's long, I warn you. And even if you are opposed to her views, I would strongly advise against trying to debate with her, because I don't think that's what she's looking for.)
Naturally I myself don't agree with her, although of course she's entitled to her point of view. I did make a comment or two, but LiveJournal isn't always the best forum for such discussions, and then the author politely told me that she wasn't interested in what I had to say, so I politely left.
But I will paraphrase and expand on some of my thoughts here.
It's impossible to talk about prostitution like it's a thing, an institution. It is in a sense, but it's a really a collection of human interactions. It's like marriage that way - an institution, but one made up of many, many sets of two people. I was married once, and you know what - it wasn't a good experience for me. Does that make the entire institution of marriage bad? I don't think so.
So I don't go along with the theory that since some women are victimized by being forced to be prostitutes - and yes, this does happen, I'm not denying it – that if a woman chooses to be a prostitute, she's supporting the victimization of those other women. That doesn't follow. I also believe in a woman's right to have an abortion. There are women who are forced to have abortions. Does that mean that we should ban all abortions, everywhere, because those women's rights were violated? No. It's free choice, or the lack therof, that makes something right or wrong.
I don't think anyone has a "right" to buy sex. So, if there was no one who was willing to sell it, well, would-be customers would just be out of luck. But there are women who are willing to sell it, and I do think women should have the right to sell sexual access to their bodies. It's a question of ownership. Do I own this body I'm in or not? I think I do. And I think that as the owner and operator, I should the right to do with as I see fit. This dovetails with my beliefs about abortion rights – it's my body, it's my choice. As one of my favorite authors Pat Califia once said, "What I choose to do with my freedom may appall you, but it is none of your business."
I chose sex work because I've always felt strongly connected to my own sexuality and I know that I have a gift for understanding and nurturing other people's as well. I think the US is a very sex-negative society. I don't like that. As long as people are taught to hate and fear their own sexuality, they will hate and fear the people who stir those feelings in them. Part of what I try to teach people is some greater acceptance of their own sexuality, and I think I've had good success with that. I think I'm lucky to be self-employed in a career where I can do something I'm good at, something I think is worthwhile, and be paid well for it. I have total control over how and when and where I work, and I like that.
The downside is that most people don't understand and don't approve, and the legal issues. That, to me, is the part of being a sex worker that's most apt to be damaging: the pressure, the name-calling, the marginalization and isolation she may encounter. If she internalizes those beliefs - and for many women it's hard not to - she will start to hate herself, and with self-hatred comes a host of other self-destructive behaviors. But I think it's not the sex with men that's damaging these women, it's being told they're bad, dirty sluts. And I think it's unfortunate when the people calling them that think of themselves as feminists. That's not any brand of feminism I want to be a part of.