Why I Cannot Support the Legalization of Prostitution

Let me first say that I have no judgments about sex workers, that I would only criminalize buying sex (not selling it), that I care very deeply about the women in sex work, that I would pledge my allegiance to their health and safety and happiness, that I fully consider myself both a radical and sex-positive feminist, that I supported—and still support—the Slutwalk, that I would not find insult in another woman calling me a slut or a whore for the purpose of reclamation or otherwise likening my behavior to sex work in defense of prostitution, except that in such a comparison she is dismissing the context of prostitution in a manner that is belittling and erasing for thousands of women in inhumane conditions and thus mistaking nuance for contradiction in her claim of logical consistency*, that I used to share your opinion that legalizing prostitution would protect women in sex work, and finally that I have profound affection for Ozy and immense respect for Clarisse Thorn and for other sex-positive feminists who have been so compassionate, understanding, and accepting.

But after reading several well-researched articles (as well as secretdiaryofadublincallgirl) that thoroughly examine the consequences of initiating such regulations as well as the dire conditions of the enormous number of women involuntarily involved in prostitution (read: raped), I’m forced to conclude that legalizing prostitution is not a practical solution, that legalization does not reduce harm, and that such an action would be equivalent to legalizing patriarchal oppression in that regulations will be constructed and controlled by men, and thus systematic oppression will be reinstated.

Were we to treat prostitution as any other profession (if feminists insist on ignoring context and ramifications) we would still find that in such a state of patriarchy regulation fails us—in wages, in health care, in maternity leave, in sexual harassment and safety, in glass ceilings—when has the ground leveled anywhere else without a fight? And when the occupation in question is prostitution, that fight means meanwhile, women will be raped. And they will be considered legally. raped. I find it entirely unprecedented that a woman would trample over the lives of the underprivileged majority of women who are raped, assaulted, abused, impoverished, and voiceless, by establishing such a system solely to further her career from her own position of privilege.

Legalization and “regulation” would force underground women who don’t meet “qualifications” (some of which will inevitably be absolutely racist/classist/ableist) to sell, with more dangerous “clients” who are also prevented / do not wish to pursue the legal route.

Prostitution and pornography is a haven for the exploitation of detrimental prejudices structured by colonialism and imperialism while reinforcing them (all the more disturbing considering there is allegedly positive correlation between oppressive imagery and climax), and it seeps into society via advertisements, interactions—and, most frightfully, it establishes dehumanizing and objectifying ideas of normalcy. This will not remain regulated within applied constraints.

There are conflicting reports regarding the results of prohibiting the purchase of services but not the selling of them (thus decriminalizing women and instead only criminalizing the men who buy their services)—but the majority of reports I’ve read conclude that this works, and is an alternative to legalizing prostitution. (And unless I want to go out and conduct the studies myself, I will have to side with reports on measurements of quality and prestige.)

When women (of all intersections) receive equal wages for equal work, up to two years of maternity leave, when the costs of tampons and pads and birth control are covered and viewed as basic healthcare, when there’s an equal number of men in sex work as women, when we cease living in a rape culture, I might consider legalizing prostitution for the purposes of regulation. I might believe there is truly harm reduction. Until then it is simply not conceivable. I’ve often complained that radfems are all theory and no practicality, but on this issue the popular position of sex-positive feminism is unrealistic in application.

*Seriously. Asserting that there isn’t a difference between a woman having sex with her husband so that he’d take her to the mall and a woman forced to prostitute herself in the midst of physical and sexual abuse is an infuriating microaggression. Not to mention it reinstates patriarchal gender roles.

10 thoughts on “Why I Cannot Support the Legalization of Prostitution

  1. Kammy

    Seriously. Asserting that there isn’t a difference between a woman having sex with her husband so that he’d take her to the mall and a woman forced to prostitute herself in the midst of physical and sexual abuse is an infuriating microaggression. Not to mention it reinstates patriarchal gender roles.

    I think the point of this is supposed to be for women who oppose it on moral grounds, but that wasn’t your approach. So yeah.

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  2. Thanks for this – you managed to articulate a lot of points that I’ve debated with myself in my head. I’ve always gone back on forth on legalizing prostitution – on the one hand, it seems so obvious that we commercialize women’s sexuality that it seems pedantic to argue that a woman can barter for sex, but not sell it outright. But on the other hand, there is so much evidence that women aren’t choosing to enter into this trade.

    I think a lot of the problem is that female sexuality is treated as a commodity, and not necessarily a commodity that women can control for themselves. There’s actually a really interesting book on the subject of the sexuality/sexualization of young girls called The Lolita Effect, which you might enjoy.

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  3. Interesting post, Nahida :)
    Of course, prostitution is against Islam. I am very aware, however, that just stating that prostitution is haraam isn’t going to make the problem go away.
    Although I didn’t check the correctness of his statement, my teacher in Egypt told us that prostitution in Egypt used to be legal, and women in prostitution used to have their own hospitals where they were treated if they had caught some kind of disease. The women in prostitution were also regularly checked, and lost their license if they had a disease and were then send to the aforementioned hospital. Although I’m not sure that this was out of concern for the women, or their clients, the positive aspect (if true) is that they got treated. Now, of course,prostitution is illegal and women in prostitution often live marginal lives, without proper healthcare or treatment or protection.
    In Belgium, some prostitution is legalised. When you walk out of the back of the north station in Brussels, and turn left by mistake, you will see a street full of women behind windows wearing practically nothing, trying to sell their body to whoever walks past. Of course, the men don’t think about these women’s stories, or what they have been through, or are going through every day. I don’t see how any woman would enjoy being a prostitute on the street, if she is really honest with herself. Or is this me belittling another woman’s opinion?
    Although my idea of what should happen may be flawed too, I just cannot agree to the legislation of selling your body to others. I think prostitution should remain illegal. However,I don’t think that prostitutes should be punished or go to jail. There should be social workers to listen to their stories, and give them assistance in any way possible to help them change their lives. If they were trafficked here under false pretenses, maybe, if the woman wishes it, they should help her getting back to her country and family. Or they can propose a course for her or other opportunities for work that don’t involve having sex with men for money. Like I said, there are probably flaws too in this theory, but it’s just my opinion of what might begin to help these women.

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  4. Joe

    The main thing that bothers me about feminists being opposed to prostitution is the fact that feminists say they are for equality. They say they are for equal rights, but they are completely against the idea of men and women sharing the right to have sex at will. No adult woman who is not incarcerated is celibate against her will. If a woman wants to have sex, she can have sex. Unfortunately, this is not the case for men. An unfathomable number of men are celibate against their will, and legalizing prostitution would bring them equality by allowing them the same rights to sexual activity that women now enjoy.

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    1. No adult woman who is not incarcerated is celibate against her will. If a woman wants to have sex, she can have sex. Unfortunately, this is not the case for men. An unfathomable number of men are celibate against their will, and legalizing prostitution would bring them equality by allowing them the same rights to sexual activity that women now enjoy.

      Um. Wtf.

      Sorry to break it to you dude but sexual activity is not a “right.” That is only the first part of what is wrong with this comment.

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