Thursday, August 24, 2006

I promised I'd reply to Jo's comment so here we go:

The society we live in functions by keeping sexism alive and well. Radfems seek to change this. Discussing the individual's right to prostitute themselves is at best irrelevant to our aim.

If/when we do live in an equal society, when the Patriarchy ceases to exist, then it would be worth examining the benefits or otherwise of prostitution as a career choice.

Until then the focus needs to be on eliminating the oppression of women, children and some men, and one of the manifestations of this oppression is prostitution.

So, eliminating prostitution is part of a wider program to eliminate oppression and bring about an equal society. I can understand how that makes sense.

And I'd be a total monster if I didn't want to eliminate oppression and bring about an equal society.

I wonder if prostitution in its current form would persist post-Patriarchy. No Patriarchy = no patriarchs, right? No male privilege to cater to? No male entitlement to satisfy? No demanding dicks to suck in exchange for currency? Liberated from The Patriarchy, would a man even consider the thought of contaminating a woman's sacred bodytemple with his dirty money, to satisfy his selfish and anti-social needs?

Maybe the institution of prostitution is not a cause of Patriarchy, but is symptomatic of, or maybe parasitic to, the institution of Patriarchy (such as exists). Without a systemic sense of male entitlement to satisfy, the whole male-entitlement-satisfaction industry would collapse. But I'm not sure that eliminating the male-entitlement-satisfaction industry would do much to eliminate the pre-existing sense of male entitlement (such as exists).

So I wonder if thinking that the elimination of prostitution will help make Patriarchy disappear is a type of magical thinking, similar to thinking that taking cough syrup will help cure pneumonia.

But this whole chicken-egg word game doesn't really address the reality of daily life for those women who exchange sexual activity for money, whose circumstances and opinions are as widely varied as the women themselves. Neither does it address the situation of people who think that those women who do barter sexual activity make life just a little harder for those women who don't.

But I'm still thinking, Jo.

It seems to me a moot point. by which I mean, by the time we reach post-patriarchy, prostitution will be so effectively eliminated as an acceptable thing to do at all, that no one will be considering it a career choice at all.

b/c, look, in order to get there, you have to grow this movement. and if being part of this movement means renouncing any involvement in sex work, then you set up a whole alternative sub-culture, one that increasingly grows in its power to create norms and punishments for those who violate them.

so, 50, 100, 200 years of struggle will effectively shut down any sense that there are acceptable careers selling sex. It will be no more acceptable to do that, after two hundred years of struggle, than it would be to say "I was born to the family called Smith and we've been Smiths every generation since X. I am a smith, my father a smith, etc."

In other words, the feudal era notion that one was born into an occupation or that one must stay in the town where one was born, was simply no longer the case in 1823. People were forced to move under the banner of "free labor" -- to work in the factories. And that struggle of the bourgeosie to annihiliate feudalism won so effectively that, while some sense of tradition remained, it was effectively squashed by the ideas of this new age.

sex work, already marginalized, is not going to be the subject of disppasionate conversations about whehter one would choose it as a career is unlikely to take place after the Patriarchy (tm) has been brought to its knees.

Not to mention that I see no thought given to how exactly patrarichy is brought crumbling to its knees if people haven't even asked -- now -- what it means to have a career and what it would mean post-patriarchy.

*who* would be working *for* post-patriarchy? presumably, considering typical utopian vision, we'd be working for each other,understanding that our labor meets the human needs of society.

I go to work as a bank teller because people need places to keep their money or whatever. well, would we need banks. Does property as we know it still exist? are we talking utopia where money and its safekeeping isn't an issue since there is no money? and there are no people who need other people's money? a complete change in human nature such that greed doesn't exist.


who the hell knows, but i think my point is: it's a dodge to talk about what happens after the revolution, particularly if you're talking an occupation that is currently reviled. it's like talking about the occupation 'used car salesmen' after the revolution.

or maybe 'attorney' -- ha! i just put that one in here for fun.
Bitch|Lab - thanks for commenting. I admit I am really out of my depth when it comes to class analysis so I appreciate your perspective and knowledge.

and if being part of this movement means renouncing any involvement in sex work, then you set up a whole alternative sub-culture, one that increasingly grows in its power to create norms and punishments for those who violate them.

can you say more about that?
here's where i catch. Sacred body/temple.

Now, where I do believe in the human right to self-determination does have bodily and incarnate ramifications...i get nervious about labeling the genitals as the most important entrance to the human body/temple thingy.

it's a tough place. How do i maintain that rape and sexual assault is a particularly heinous means of oppressing women, and then turn around and not validate the "special flower" model of vigin-revering/slut-shaming sexual thought? i'm still trying to work that one out, and i think when i do...this pr0nstitution debate is gonna make a whole lot more sense. Not holding my breath for that, tho.

"one that increasingly grows in its power to create norms and punishments for those who violate them."

Step 1: Shaming folks on feminist blogosphere.
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit!/Utopia!

Snark off...i do actually agree with you, in that as movements gain power, they develop systems of internal regulation, but i also don't see how this thing gets off the ground.

i'm not such a hard and fast realist that i don't actually kind of pine for the Twistolution to happen (all things being equal, i think i'd welcome our new overladies, if that's the word), but i get real stuck on trying to figure out where the connection is between theoretical expressions of radfem and realization. And then someone gets impatient, and cozies up to Big Brother State Power.

Are we stuck?
Maybe I just have less patience lately, but reading your blog post made me want to punch somebody. And, hint: the "somebody" isn't you, AP.
just hmmm. it's sort of the way society works, right? a group starts out as a sub-culture and maintains cohesion by acribing to a shared identity and, typically, finding an "outside other" against which to define themselves. all groups do this. in turn, in order to maintain political agreement -- or at least keep agreement within a terrain of acceptable differences -- you end up having norms of what's considered good behavior.

we have norms of what it means to be a "good blogger". when someone violates that norm -- no matter how little we actually talk about it -- hell breaks lose.

the best recent example is what happened when Twisty trolled her own blog and then flamed the people she trolled, particularly since they were respected members of the feminist community.

this is very subtle. but repeated instances of and observations such activities socializes you to what's acceptable and what's not.

any social movement will have its own norms and ways of enforcing them informally: by judgment. by ridicule. by shunning. by gossip. by formal statemetns of rules and regs.

the sub-culture of bums has its own norms. in normal society, if you bum a cigarette, you smoke it. you don't stick it in your shirt pocket. not among bums. it's acceptable to bum a cigarette and trade ti for something else.

presumably, were bums to want to take control of society and establish their rules, they start punishing people who didn't follow their norms about what to do with "excess" and who is obligated to share and who's allowed to ask to share in someone else's excess. (among bums, since they form loose knit groups to help each other, there is a norm that, when you have excess, you must share. this sort of buys you the right to bum when you don't have excess. Bums who don't share when they have excess -- and you see the same thing in really poor communities -- are shunned and treated poorly by other bums -- because they don't follow the rules.


i'm not saying norms and punishments for violating norms are, in and of themselves, bad things. it's the way people go about that process that can be bad. shaming will always be around. the question is whether it's shaming to expunge or annhilate or shaming to say, "we know you share our ideals about what is good, so we hope you will want to do better."

there, the identity is preserved as a member of the group whereas in the former the goal is to excise the person who did wrong from the group entirely.
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sly - once upon a time I read a really great book entitled How to Stay Out of the Gynecologist's Office. (sadly, now out of print.)

One of the authors (maybe Carol Downer...maybe I'm wrong) wrote words to the effect of "the vagina is about as internal an organ as a mouth."

Reading that (or what I believe I read, at any rate) revolutionized how I felt about women's bodies and their politics.

the heavenly gates, as it were, came tumbling down.
I wish I could think of something to say to this, but I can't. I think sex work, in one way or another, will always be around. I am sure, post patriarchy, it would be hugely, vastly different... perhaps far more an expression of mutual eroticism or art, an expression of an equal enjoyment of one anothers bodies, entered into fully by choice and not truly out of monitary needs...but it would still be around.

Huh, I guess that counts as something.
...or it could go the other way and become even more deumanize and dangerous and seedy, some sort of outlaw subculture thing brought about by backlash and maintained by men (& women) who do not like the 'new world order'...
is prostitution a consequence of, or a parasite of, The Patriarchy?

that is, did it arise out of male entitlement, or did it evolve to take advantage of the FICTION of male entitlement?

i have no idea...but i will think on it.
which all makes me think about Dworkin's difference between the "real" and the "true".
I also wonder about the connection between male entitlement and prostitution. I'm not sure it's necessarily the case that if we get rid of one, the other will dissipate. I'm still stuck on a massage analogy. If I'm dying for a massage, and can't convince my lover to soothe me, I'll pay for it. Am I exhibiting some kind of entitlement by exchanging cash for a physically pleasurable service?

Is it possible, post-patriarchy, or even now, for a woman to exchange sex for cash from a man as a fair trade? If I trade a back-rub for a blow-job with my guy, am I being exploited?

Personally, I think fair trade prostitution is possible, but necessitates better facilities for children and teens in crisis, and social services sufficient to eradicate poverty. In a society in which poverty is a historical tragedy we shake our heads at, will we still have a sex trade?

"In a society in which poverty is a historical tragedy we shake our heads at, will we still have a sex trade?"

I think so, not all women are totally in it for the money.
but why would prostitution (sex in trade for something else of value) arise in the wake of male entitlement?

why would male entitlement stop, find its wallet, count out money, and then resume? why would my entitlement simply not TAKE what it wants?

if one is entitled, that implies that one need give nothing in return. clearly, in the case of prostitution, there is an exchange going on.

I suppose a real sticky wicket in all this is the presence of some third party taking money that rightly belongs to the one who earned it.
I can't address the post-Patriarchy part, since I find "Patriarchy" itself such a nebulous concept. But I do think that as long as there's any kind of money economy (or even any kind of commodity economy), prostitution is going to happen. Even given full economic and legal equality for women, as long as there's any kind of trade in goods and services, its going to occur to at least a few people that its easier/more enjoyable to trade in some form of sex rather than some other good or service.

That's the supply end – the demand end takes care of itself. The idea that there would be an end to a demand requires one to believe in a utopia where either 1) anyone is sexually available to anyone else to begin with (a kind of "Big Sex Candy Mountain"?) or 2) people are so inherently happy with the sexual choices available to them that they're never going to desire people unavailable to them – people will all get over "looksism" and hence not have desires for a rare good-looking other who has no interest in them, the old will never want to get onto the young, and nobody ends up alone. Or 3) people feel all the same desires they do today but would be shame, Shame, SHAMED at the very thought of bartering money for sex and hence just wouldn't even try to buy sex.

I don't see 1 happening, plus it has a big downside – having to play with anybody who wanted a piece of your candy might not be much fun. Number 2 I think is the outcome a lot of people are wishing for, but I don't see that happening either – I think there will always be some people who for various reasons are considered more attractive than others and always people wanting others they can't have. Add trade in money or commodities to that mix and guess what emerges from that naturally. And 3, well, when it comes to controlling sexual behavior, shame seems to be better at promoting hypocrisy than anything, not to mention the side effects of guilt and shaming.
"Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today."
I don't work with the concept of patriarchy, but I do work with the concept of class.

If there's a socialist revolution, in which the working class genuinely takes power and keeps it, then I imagine prostitution, as such, will fade away, as the class system is dismantled. In a socialist society, there'd be prostitution, as there are other forms of work, but the worst abuses would be eliminated, as society is reorganized so that no one is exploited, and working conditions for everyone are improved.

Ultimately, in a truly classless society, in which there's abundance and no one must do anything they really don't want to do, there would doubtless be people who enjoy having sex with lots of people and are especially skilled at it, but they wouldn't be prostitutes, any more than a gardener is a field slave.

That's the long term goal, anyway. In the meantime, the first principle of Marxism is that workers have to liberate themselves, which means that it's up to prostitutes, first and foremost, to say what their own interests are.
I'm not a Marxist, but I am down with that analysis for this, at least.

and I think the notion of the "sacred whore" is really worth looking at more closely, even if it doesn't reflect the reality of most actual prostitutes' work.

I do know some for whom it -does;- it's rather remarkable. I can't help but think it's at least -potentially- a lot more valuable and fulfilling and meaningful work than I don't know becoming a midlevel managerial cog in another overpriced useless widget-producing/selling institution.
It really has little to with patriarchy or male entitlement, the reasons why a lot of men pay for sex these days. Often they are simply lonely and have trouble forming relationships. Prostitution may historically be linked to patriarchy (see Engels) but in it's modern form it has more to do with social alienation than anything else.
and I think the notion of the "sacred whore" is really worth looking at more closely, even if it doesn't reflect the reality of most actual prostitutes' work.

I wonder why it looks like no one has ever said "hey, happy hooker, what makes you so happy?" and tried to see if any part of that answer is generalizable to the vast throbbing multitude of miserable prostitutes. I think some real progress could come out of that discussion.
hi liz - welcome!
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