2.26.2010

Sex Work and Sexual Politics

In the essay by Jo Doezema, “Forced to Choose: Beyond the Voluntary v. Forced Prostitution Dichotomy” another binary of choice is exposed. The dichotomy that is talked about is whether people, mainly women choose to be sex workers or whether they are explicitly forced. However, the point that this piece makes is that poverty is the main factor when it comes to sex work, therefore these women are “forced to choose.” One cannot address prostitution without first addressing poverty and in the same vein one cannot criminalize sex work unless being poor is decriminalized. For so long feminism has been the place where an old debate exists: liberation versus exploitation. Sexism and misogyny tells us that a woman should be modest, reserved and quiet. In this society, showing off a little skin can get a woman labeled anything from a hooker to slut. 

First of all, modern feminists, generally, have taken a stance of favoring liberation in the liberation versus exploitation debate. Meaning they seem more readily convinced that sex work, in its many facets, is a form of liberation for a woman’s body instead of exploitation in and of itself. Feminism sees sex work as bodily autonomy. However, I also think that feminism has done a good job of leaving out the implications of capitalism and racism on sex work and those who participate in prostitution. This is the struggle that more people need to hear about, not just sex work as liberation. Feminism, as the traditional white ideal that it sometimes is, paints sex work as liberation for white women, but we never hear of the poor women and people of color who are held captive by this form of exploitation of the body. Sex is the most profitable industry, in the universe, ever. Sex is used to sell everything from music to cologne. Sex is capitalism’s biggest export and import. In her book, "Black Sexual Politics", Patricia Hill Collins discusses the connection between capitalism and sexual commodity, “making sex highly visible in marketplace commodity relations becomes important to maintaining profitability within the U.S. capitalist economy. The goal is neither to stimulate debate nor to educate, but to sell products.” Therefore, when women’s bodies are used in advertisement as a sales tactic, how can this be liberation?
Sex work is the most extended and serious form of exploitation of women’s bodies. Being that capitalism is contingent on exploiting the labor of underprivileged communities and race, it makes sense that poor women of color are most affected by this system of sexual oppression. Sex work is essentially the intersection of race and capitalism.


Sex work is capitalism’s most visible and hated form of all sexual exploitations. Among other things, sex workers are seen as dirty, dumb, and unworthy of protection under the law. When capitalism exploits sex, it also exploits those who are most affected by the system of capitalism, non-men of color. It is important to make the distinction between supporting sex workers and supporting sex work. We need to stop the criminalization of sex workers because these people are victims of brutal beatings by the capitalism, racism, and sexism found in society and sometimes even untreated mental illness. However, sex work needs to be a system that activists fight against because it is another product of what is wrong in this society. Essentially, feminism and other liberation movements need to support sex workers while fighting against the institution that keeps them oppressed. 


*cross posted at Refuse the Silence's blog*

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