In a nutshell

Emma of Gendergeek:

Patriarchy offers women economic insecurity, and then offers them a “way out’ in a form that benefits patriarchy.

This was a mid-thread comment from Emma in a thread of 91 comments responding to her post Prostitution: selling the sisters (out).

Emma discusses the prostitution-specific narrow arguments (that are also used more broadly in general feminist debate) regarding autonomy, constrained choices, victimhood and stigmatisation. The post is exceptionally well argued, and the whole thread is fascinating, particularly the debate between harm-minimisation advocates versus the outright abolitiionist stance.

Still, for all those folks wanting a simple, elegant definition of exactly how the system of Patriarchy oppresses women, I think it’s hard to go past that single sentence.

Addendum: of course, that is how all human hierarchies operate – a subclass is structured into economic insecurity, then that subclass is offered ‘ways out’ that benefit the hierarchy. Somehow, there’s a great deal of denial about whether humanity either does actually structure all societies so far in a fashion that women are the most economically insecure class, or that even if this is the case that there is any way to remedy it.

Further thoughts: It seems fairly obvious that an orderly human society requires some sort of hierarchy. Today, there’s no rational excuse for the hierarchy not to be a transparent meritocracy.

Obviously, in the past, when childbearing was much more likely to lead to women dying young, child mortality was also high, and strength of numbers on the battlefield was paramount, it made some sense to concentrate access to the hierarchy in male hands so that women could be confined to the domestic sphere and to the production of future warriors and future mothers of warriors. There would have seemed little point in wasting education on a woman with no control over whether she died young in childbirth or not, but at least a man in battle could arguably survive through the application of warrior skill.

However, just as those non-industrialised societies also benefitted from denying access to the hierarchy to those males relegated to slave/serf/non-citizen status, our current society has evolved to a point where such divisions seem intolerably unjust. Just because the economic insecurity of women made structural sense in past generations doesn’t mean that it should be irrationally clung to now that the whole basis of our economies/societies has changed in the age of industrialised technology and a drastically lowered maternal and infant mortality rate.

Categories: gender & feminism

2 replies

  1. It’s an interesting debate. I (think I) agree that the man involved in the transaction should be prosecuted when caught. I don’t think that the prostitute should ever be. Having had friends turn to prostitution, I know that it’s a miserable business.
    The post is well written and well argued, but highly theoretical – sexual predators will always, regardless of legality, prey upon those poor souls – male and female – forced into a position whereby they have to sell their bodies in order to survive. In the end I’m not sure how making life harder for a poor soul to continue to exist, a prescription proclaimed from behind the safe confines of the home keyboard, will help that poor soul.
    But to the poster’s own words:
    “Ultimately, I’m not sure that the majority of prostituting women could care less about a rhetoric (sic) of choice and empowerment.”
    I’m sure that’s true, but I’m sure it’s also true of the theoretical empowerment to be found in having their shitty lot made that much shittier by having every john arrested prior to payment.
    It’s a tough issue that I don’t pretend to have a full handle on.

  2. Yes, I found Emma’s post fascinating but am not sure that all the answers are there. Harm minimisation is a worthy pragmatic goal that probably doesn’t go far enough, but punishing johns judicially so hard that it’s even harder for sex workers to earn a living doesn’t strike me as the only way forward either.
    Still, if the debate can be had without resorting to pro-pornstitution/anti-pornstitution invective (which it sadly so often does) it’s an issue that needs more objective consideration.

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