Feminism and the Sex Trade

I am a bit torn on the sex trade. I’ve turned it over in my head many times and it is just yet another example of one of those things that I don’t think I know enough about to really have a definitive stance on. When I was younger, it was an easily concrete black-and-white issue of “sex trade bad!” Since then, though, I’ve grown up and had a lot of experiences that change things, including being friends with a former stripper (she now sells sex toys). As I’ve said time and again, experience is not monolithic, so what she has to say about being a stripper certainly doesn’t necessarily apply to every stripper, but talking to her has certainly opened my eyes.

Anyways, Iceland has banned all strip clubs, and the Guardian is headlining this as “Iceland: The world’s most feminist country.” I have a hard time sitting by and feeling comfortable with that statement.

It always irks me when people try to add the modifier “pro-sex” when I say I’m a feminist (“Oh, you’re a pro-sex feminist!”). First off, what the hell does that even mean? I know feminists who don’t necessarily agree with my views on sex, but they still like having it. It really bothers me that we are adding the “pro-sex” modifier because that means that being anti-sex is somehow the norm for feminists, and the whole anti-sex humorless man-hating hairy bra-burning feminist is a cultural trope I want to destroy. (For the record, my feminist friends are easily among some of the raunchiest, perviest people I know. We have fun.)

So, I dislike this idea that stamping out sexuality is a feminist victory. Stamping out unhealthy sexuality is a feminist victory, but I don’t think that getting rid of every strip club in Iceland is the answer. You can have healthy sex shows. That much I know. I doubt that every strip club is a bastion of empowered, happy, healthy women, but does that mean that getting rid of all of them is a solution? No, probably not.

I’m unfamiliar with Icelandic culture, so I cannot speak to what might play out there. But in the US, it doesn’t seem to me like it’s the presence of strip clubs that’s leading to women being commodified–that is a symptom. So even if all the strip clubs were shut down overnight, the commodification wouldn’t stop. Instead of purchasing access to look at a woman’s body legally, it will go underground, and that’s when it immediately becomes that much more dangerous, particularly for the women involved. Now it’s a lot harder for them to draw the line and say no to customers, because the customer has the leverage of the woman’s illegal activity to hold over her. It will be that much harder to get help from police. When strippers are harassed or raped, they already face a much harder time getting legal help or taken seriously; make them illegal and it will become quite nearly impossible.

You know what would be a feminist victory in my mind? If women could do what they want–be strippers if they want–without it being illegal, without getting judged, shamed, and scorned by the population, and without being blamed for any attacks they suffer. I would love for the same thing to apply to men, as well!

I had a brief discussion recently about why there are so few strip clubs that have men stripping (related: Nevada’s first male prostitute has quit his brothel after over two months, but only 10 clients) and so on. The initial knee-jerk response given was “well, women don’t want to pay to see men naked! Women aren’t wired like that/don’t have the same sex drive as men/aren’t as horny” and so on. I disagree with that. Women have libidos as well, and we like to look at naked men. However, it’s been socially programmed into everyone that women don’t want this and won’t pay for it, and if we do/would, we’re abnormal and inappropriate. So, the market has been neutered, essentially.

So to me, a feminist victory would be equal opportunity sex trade–anyone who wants to strut their stuff can, without recrimination. They will be provided with safe working conditions, health care, vacation time, etc. The social stigma will be removed. Their clients will treat them with respect and appreciation.

Sexuality is powerful, wonderful stuff. The more we make it illegal and shameful, the further we will have to go to achieve a state of healthy, happy sexuality.

P.S. Would you look at that! In the time it took me to write this, Feministing did a write-up that bludgeons mine into the ground. Go check it out!

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03/29/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized.

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