I have had the pleasure and privilege of reading the ‘Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism edited by Miranda Kiraly and Meagan Tyler.
Apart from the fact that it has a large number of Australian contributors, which is pleasing in and of itself, this is an excellent book exploring the problems with liberal feminists.
I have been madly making notes from the book since it came into my life.
So it was very interesting, as I finished my note-taking, Destroy the Joint posted about prostitution.
Their focus was on International Sex Worker’s Day and cited an article by Tilly Lawless who “asks us all to check our whorephobia”.
That’s enough to raise the heckles.
DtJ asks its readers “why do we struggle to recognise that sex workers have rights?”
The robust and even aggressive discussion that followed in the post, reflected very much the chasm between liberal and radical feminism.
Many of the protagonists in the discussion claimed that as sex workers their voices were the only legitimate voices to be heard. (They vehemently dismissed the voices of those who have exited prostitution and are now activists against it).
Meghan Murphy writes in the Freedom Fallacy:
“Of late, it has become standard to talk about ‘choice’ in terms of individual choice rather than collective choice”
These alleged sex workers claimed their individual choice in their “profession”.
But as Meaghan Murphy goes on to say:
“Choice without politics or theory behind it doesn’t hold power. ‘Choice’ at the expense of others – particularly the marginalised – is not radical nor does it promote equality.”
A liberal approach to prostitution argues that decriminalizing prostitution allows for the protection of women prostitutes, and is reflective of an “individual freedom” ideology.
Caroline Norma explores this in the chapter ‘A human right to prostitute others?: Amnesty International and the privileging of the male orgasm’ in Freedom Fallacy.
She begins the chapter with this statement from Amnesty International:
“Sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need. To criminalise those who are unable or unwilling to fulfil that need through more traditionally recognised means and thus purchase sex, may amount to a violation of the right to privacy and undermine the rights to free expression and health. – Amnesty International”
I must admit to being rather astounded by this statement. It is a stunning example of a declaration of men’s rights and totally ignores women’s rights – rights
- Not to be purchased,
- Not to be raped,
- Not to be harmed,
- Not to be degraded,
- Not to be violated.
Caroline Norma goes on to tell us of how Amnesty International may have been:
“ potentially influenced by the activism of Amnesty UK member Douglas Fox, a founder of, and business partner in, one of the UK’s largest escort agencies.”
The prostitution industry is a global industry – which makes it a powerful industry. How can anyone dismiss the power of such an industry to influence/manipulate public opinion and governments making legislation?
And liberal feminists have swallowed this male entitlement argument and reinterpreted in terms of a woman’s right to choose.
However there are countries which are now moving towards what is known as the ‘Nordic Model’
“It decriminalizes the selling of sex and makes paying for sex a criminal offence. It is designed to end the demand from a minority of men who pay for sex – the demand that drives the prostitution trade and the trafficking of women into it – and to promote specialist exiting services.” Diane Martin (The Independent)
Diane Martin talks of her reactions in being in a country where the Nordic model exists:
“What I was unprepared for, however, was the personal impact of being in a country where access to my, or anyone else’s, body could not be legally purchased.”
However, the Nordic Model is being vehemently challenged by the prostitution industry – and was forceably rejected by many on the Destroy the Joint post.
“The Nordic Model, on the other hand, poses a genuine threat to the long standing ‘right’ of men to exercise sexual dominion over women through prostitution, and to profit from this dominion. It represents a legislative vehicle for abolitionists to reckon over the question of male sexual rights.
What the liberal feminists fail to realise is that the prostitution industry focuses specifically on the most vulnerable and marginalised women in the world. Women who rarely have the option of choice.” Caroline Norma
Meghan Murphy in Feminist Current writes about the intersection between race and class in the subjugation and prostitution of Canadian Native Women.
“That indigenous women — the most marginalized people in Canada — are the ones funneled into this industry, groomed via sexual abuse from the time they are children, offered no options for escape, no housing, no education, no support services, are ignored when they disappear and are murdered, and are dehumanized by men want to think of and treat them as non-human should be one of the most significant aspects of this conversation. It is unacceptable that the voices, experiences, traditions, and realities of these women and girls are left out of debates and decisions around prostitution and prostitution law.”
Liberal feminism’s defence of prostitution can only be seen in terms of neoliberal patriarchal capitalism. As the Amnesty International policy identifies men’s rights to use women in whatever way they choose is the prominent discourse of liberal feminism. Individual liberal feminism can never free women from male violence and abuse. It is only through collective action and an understanding of the political and ideological context of patriarchy, will women be free from male violence.
“By framing a system that funnels women—particularly marginalized women—into prostitution as not only a choice that women make but as a potentially liberatory one, these groups are able to disguise the way in which pornography props up male power, placing the onus for women’s subordination on women themselves. By framing the societal pressure to self-objectify as empowerment, society is permitted to ignore the reasons women learn to seek power through sexualization and the male gaze. By focusing on women’s agency, we ignore men’s behavior.
What is truly being defended by groups that claim to lobby for “sex-worker rights” is not, in fact, women’s human rights but the financial and sexual interests of men. This is why the discourse deliberately avoids addressing the harms caused by these men.”