I want to examine two points I’ve noted are repeatedly raised by anti-feminists, and both ignore certain realities of sex work.
The first argument is against the idea that the gender gap in pay either exists, or, if it does exist, the argument goes that it is justified because men’s work is more dangerous than women’s work. I don’t deny that labour statistics show that men are more often maimed or killed in the workplace. There are standard arguments about how sexist institutions discourage women from entering dangerous and well-remunerated professions, but I don’t want to go there. I want to discuss the one dangerous yet [ETA: reputedly] well-remunerated industry in which the overwhelming majority of the workers are women: the sex industry.
My question is: are sex workers in countries where prostitution is considered a crime included in the labour statistics?
Considering that in most such countries they are not employed in a formal workplace relationship with taxation registration etc, how could sex workers be included in formal labour statistics? So how many drug overdoses, assaults, rapes and murders of sex workers are not included in the labour statistics?
Is the situation different in countries where prostitution has been legalised? Do such countries include the injuries and deaths of sex workers as workplace injuries, or are they put to the side as somehow personal injuries that are not inherently part of the work?
What about sweatshops with illegal immigrant workers? Also dominated by female employees – are these women and their injuries included in the labour statistics? I’m betting not.
The second anti-feminist argument put forth that ignores the realities of sex work is really quite astonishing. It’s an extension of the common argument that men having asymmetric social power over women is balanced by women having asymmetric sexual power over men because men want more sex than women do.
According to this new extended argument, it is trivially obvious that women have more sexual power than men because so many more women can make a living selling sex to men compared to the demand from women wishing to purchase sex from men. If there aren’t as many women wishing to pay for sex, the argument goes that this must mean that more women get all the sex they want (thus having more sexual power than men who don’t get all the sex they want). Corollary: men are in thrall to the women who control the scarce supply of pussy available for poking. Thus the argument concludes that sex workers have more power than their clients who are the source of the money.
This strikes me as analogous to arguing that supermarket checkout operators have more power than the customer because you can’t take your groceries home until you pay them.
Just like the checkout operator doesn’t get to keep the money that customers give to them, neither do sex workers keep the money that customers give to them. The people operating the business space that the sex workers perform in gather the money, and give the sex workers a much smaller cut of the profits than they keep for themselves. Customers may feel exploited by both supermarkets and by strip clubs/brothels, but the exploitation isn’t being done by the customer service providers who are just paid workers, the exploitation of both customers and workers is being done by the larger business organisations that set the prices.
And the people who overwhelmingly set the prices and rake in the profits in the sex industry are men, not women (despite the high visibility of “madams”, these days they tend to be middle management, not outright owners).
And that’s before you even get around to whether there’s more sexual power in the capacity to buy sexual gratification or in the capacity to sell sexual access without regard to personal sexual gratification.