Ending Sexual Oppression

1 Oct

bell hooks proscribed for us ways in which we can liberate women? Today we begun a discussion about sexual violence, links between sex and violence, and the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray–the novel and the movie. Is the decriminalization of sexual bartering a liberatory strategy? Why or why not?

Read this article. It will help you think through a few things.

Decriminalizing Prostitution

10 Replies to “Ending Sexual Oppression

  1. In the New Republic article, former sex worker Cecilia Gentili’s statement, “These people advocate for more police power––they want them to have absolute power over people’s bodies” stood out to me because it brings up the conversation surrounding a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body that is also evident in the topic of abortion. Decriminalizing sex work might seem like a very out there, controversial decision, but when it comes down to it, if you believe that a woman, and not the police or government, should have complete control over her body, then you should support it. New York’s proposed bill would protect against trafficking, and underaged girls from engaging in prostitution, so it would be making sex work safer. The bill would also protect sex workers from being denied housing and prevent police from being able to discriminate against sex workers who are non-white, immigrants, or transgender, as they are disproportionately targeted and can be picked up simply for walking to the subway or wearing leggings under the excuse that they are “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” Decriminalizing sex work would be a strategy of liberation because it would allow women to be empowered and make their own decisions about what they chose to do with their body, while also protecting against the abuse and exploitation that currently run rampant in the community of sex work. An example of this that the article referenced is in the case of Yang Song, where a sex worker was sexually assaulted at gunpoint by someone who said he was an undercover police officer. When she reported the assault, the man was not punished in any capacity and Song was actually arrested months later for prostitution, eventually dying from a four-story fall from the massage business she worked at when the police raided it. Legalizing sex work would reduce the stigma around the industry and benefit society as a whole.

    • I agree with the points you are making about the rights over a woman’s body. In some cases, women may have no other choice to make money than through prostitution. If this is what they are choosing to do with their bodies, they should not be punished for it. They are not necessarily harming anyone or interrupting the functioning of society by doing so. As a result, I believe that decriminalizing prostitution would have many benefits for the safety of women involved. The fact that the situation is against the law causes people to work in dangerous and dirty conditions at times. This is similar to how people obtain illegal drugs. Just because they are illegal does not people will not do what it takes to get what they want, whether that be drugs or prostitution. Additionally, many women involved in prostitution are doing so to make money, and by legally punishing them, it becomes more difficult for them to make a living. Moreover, making it legal could lead to some sort of regulation that helps to ensure that the women will not be harmed by men or other people they are working with. Overall, the decriminalization of prostitution would reduce societal, legal, and safety pressures associated with the process.

  2. While the decriminalization of sex work will not single-handedly overcome sexist oppression, it is a liberatory strategy to help those who are negatively affected by the stigma surrounding sex work. This stigma is translated into laws and regulations that do more harm to the people in the sex work industry. The article gives the example of fines and arrests that take place where sex work happens, which forces sex workers into more dangerous positions to make a living. The majority of sex workers are women: women of color, immigrant women, and trans women, so the risk of arrest or violence is carried by these women. The criminal laws surrounding sex work perpetuates these risks. The legalization of sex work is not ideal, a better goal would be providing aid and welfare to the marginalized groups from which the majority of sex workers are part of. However, that is a very complicated goal that will take a long time to complete. In the meantime, sex work should be decriminalized because it liberates those women who are currently being shamed and jailed for simply trying to make a living. The society and economy we live with today both places emphasis on the need to have sex while also demonizing it, which is unfair to people who have no other choice than participate in sex work. This unfairness is reflected in government policy and should be seriously reconsidered and adapted to regulate sex work safely.

    • I like your point that decriminalizing sex work would make the conditions for sex workers safer, not just in terms of legal repercussions, but also in terms of welfare and aid. I know there are laws in some states that allow police to charge someone with prostitution if they are carrying a “suspicious” amount of condoms, which leads to more sex workers carrying fewer condoms. That in turn makes their job more unsafe, because it is limiting their protections against STIs and diseases. Sex workers put their bodies and health on the front lines and the decriminalization of sex work would open the door for creating protections for them. In breaking the stigma around sex work, I think it would definitely benefit out society, because as you said, media and the economy promotes a need for sex while also shunning it. Decriminalizing sex work would allow womxn to reclaim their sexuality. The incredibly sexist ideas that men can have a lot of sex and be revered while women who are sexually active are social outcasts need to change, especially since there are actual lives at stake in this situation. I think it’s also important to notice that it is sex workers who are discriminated against, not those who create demand and pay for the services.

  3. The TNR article brought up some worthwhile pros of decriminalizing sex work. One that stuck out to me was that decriminalizing sex work limits police-civilian interactions, and cuts back on arrests due to petty, non-violent crime. This is a similar argument used in the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana campaign, where the arrests for small possession of marijuana typically target minority and poor populations.
    From an economic standpoint, it makes sense to regulate the sex market. It will protect the sex workers, since they can now operate within the confines of the law. Moreover, it protects them from pimping, or abusive clients, who may blackmail them with the illegality of their trade.
    I don’t think, however, that decriminalizing sex bartering is by any means liberating. I can’t help but think back to our conversations on housework. After slaves were freed from the south, they still ended up being economically dependent on white people. Lots of this, especially for women, was through housework. Sure, while it was liberating to be out of slavery, they were still at the beck and call of abusive bosses with little to no accountability. Freeing black people did not make them rich. It instead made their old enslavement illegal, and left room for new ways to exploit their labor.
    By allowing sex work to continue as a decriminalized practice, I think we as society ignore the problem at hand. This problem is why people are driven to sex work in the first place. Sex work is not something that people, typically, voluntarily do. Sure they may decide that it is the best thing to do given their financial circumstances, but I’d be willing to bet that not many people grow up wanting to be prostitutes. By decriminalizing sexual bartering, we don’t take any strides to fixing the economic issues that drive people to sex work in the first place. In fact, we may empower more people to take this walk of life, since it may seem easier than going to college or getting a job in the food service industry. Granted, I do believe it is within a person’s right to decide what they want to do with their life. However, I do not think that prostitution is someone’s first choice, and is rather something people are driven to as a last ditch attempt to make a living.

  4. On the topic of decriminalizing prostitution, there is a diverse perspective of feminist and non-feminist views. I tend to side with the idea that it feels messed up that there are laws telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. This has come up with the controversy over abortion, and the issue becomes personal when institutions try to impose laws upon the basic human rights of an individual. It seems quite obtrusive of the law to say who a woman can or cannot sleep with, whether money is involved in the transaction or not. I think it is important to remember that sex work is work. For some people, this is the only way that they can earn a living to put food on the table. Making prostitution illegal only adds to the negative stigma of sex work, which in itself is a form of oppression. As the article points out, decriminalizing sex work would have effects that stretch beyond just making sure individuals have access to make a living in a way that is not illegal. The NY bill also drops the strike on prohibiting the housing of sex workers. With individuals no longer being turned away or evicted from housing and also able to make a living in a legal way, I think big steps are being made to stop this form of oppression.

    • I agree with you on the diverse perspective of feminist and non-feminist views, Sally. Many have different views on what women can do with their bodies. In some minds, a woman’s body should be pure, while others believe you can choose what to do with it. I truly agree with the decision of New York State. In the article it states, that over 1,500 people were arrested for prostituted acts. Most of the people arrested were workers of color and transgender, which is extremely discriminatory. As women and feminist movements continue, I believe that there will be more states that decide to decriminalize prostitution like New York.

    • I also agree with the view that women should have full autonomy over their body, even if it is prostitution. Preventing women from having sexual interactions for money is oppressive, for women are unable to make decisions with their own bodies. This oppressive action is a way to control women, and strip them of their fundamental rights to do as they please with their bodies.

    • I agree with you in that “it feels messed up that there are laws telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies”. My perspective on sex work is that it is a valid form of work in which women should be able to legally participate in, since they choose what to do with their body. By legalizing sex work, women will be monetarily liberated as they will gain economic empowerment. While sex work may not be seen as the ideal job for women, it can provide money and a way of life that would otherwise be unattainable. Sex work can also be seen as a better alternative to working for minimum wage as women may end up receiving better wages. And once sex workers are no longer being discriminated against in regards to housing, they will have more autonomy to openly choose their sexual partners and proceed with their business dealings.

  5. The decriminalization of sexual bartering is a liberatory strategy. The distinction between human trafficking and sexual bartering is very important, and a key idea in the debate. Legalizing prostitution is something very different than legalizing sex trafficking, though they are related. Sex workers are people too, and should not be discriminated against and denied housing because of their profession. People deserve full autonomy over their bodies regardless of gender or profession. Legalizing prostitution would give the government the ability to regulate it, and let sex workers perform their craft in a safer way. The government could mandate and provide regular STI testing for sex workers and possibly even implement a type of background check if they felt it was necessary. On the other side, sex workers could advertise safely on legal websites, background check their clients, build open support networks, maybe even unionize, and make their work exponentially safer. Additionally, if prostitution was legalized, it would give sex workers more legal footing if they have to testify in court against clients. In several cases, rapists received less jail time (or no jail time), than people arrested for sex work. Immigrants, trans-, and people of color are targeted more in arrests for sex work; this is evidence that criminalizing sex work is about deeper issues related to xenophobia, transphobia, and racism. Criminalizing sex work is an archaic practice that patronizes women and dehumanizes them. Pimps and human traffickers should still be arrested and punished, as they are abusing people, but the actual sex workers often had no choice but to participate. We, as a society, need to stop blaming and arresting victims and instead focus on taking down the real villains and the systemic oppressions that force women into the industry. Some sex workers may choose to consent to engage in sexual bartering, and they should be entitled to do so at their own discretion. Many others are forced into prostitution, by situations out of their control, and are possibly being threatened or abused by pimps or human traffickers. In either case, the sex workers themselves involved should not be arrested.

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