UPDATE: This article how now been officially re-published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET).
My following article below was originally written and published on The Prison Gates Are Open… in December of 2011, which was a response to a comrade of mine on the question of prostitution and how the revolutionary left should address said question. To this day I still stand by my position, in which I wish to re-publish here.
The question of prostitution has been a matter of debate throughout the progressive and revolutionary left for many years. To engage this topic as unbiased as possible, I must first admit that, as a white male, I cannot say that I am the best subject to take on this particular question under the personal perspective of the oppressed: that of women, who are predominantly not white.
They are the victims of a racist, capitalist system. And it was Karl Marx who correctly stated, “…the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from that system, i.e., of prostitution both public and private.” Though, Marx had only addressed the question of prostitution through the understanding of overthrowing capitalism and the Bourgeois State, not what is to be done by that of the revolutionary left while capitalism is still the current socio-economic system.
And that is where I and Meghan Murphy differ on the question of prostitution. She had written a brilliant article, “Why Does the Left Want Prostitution to be ‘a Job Like Any Other’?,” which was published on her blog, Feminist Current. And I say brilliant, despite my objections, because she made a definitive argument by furthering the question of prostitution under a class analysis.
Having said that, there is a question within the question of prostitution that I do not believe Meghan had answered, at least not openly. That question is: what are we, of the revolutionary left, to do in regards to prostitution while under the capitalist system? She presents a slight, alternative idea known as the “Nordic Model,” in which correctly points out that women usually fall victim to prostitution due to poverty, racism, and sexism. As a result, legal assistance is provided to that of prostituted women instead of locking them up.
The problem with this, though, as the article states quite clearly in the very first paragraph, is that the question doesn’t directly address capitalism as being the reason for said social problems. Instead, the “Nordic Model” wishes to address this problem without addressing capitalism at the same time; it doesn’t want to address the fact that, even as you may provide services for women, under capitalism the problems will continue, regardless of there being safety nets.
What the “Nordic Model” essentially tells women is that, ‘while we’re not going to necessarily end the very system in which inflicts these very problems on you, nor are we going to try and end the system of exploitative and oppressive pimping, we will be there for you when you fall victim to prostitution.’
Is this what we really want for women, whether they be Black, Brown, or white? As someone of the revolutionary left living under this capitalist system, I cannot come to terms with this ideal in which doesn’t address, nor provide solutions to, the question of prostitution. The long-term solution to prostitution is the overall solution to capitalism: socialism! But when it comes to the short-term solution – a temporary solution as the capitalist system remains – the “Nordic Model” only partially answers the question.
Yes, we should provide services for women who suffer from poverty, racism, and sexism. Though, we also must prevent Pimps from harming our women as well through the exploitative and oppressive nature of criminalized prostitution. In fact, the question of prostitution is in correlation with that of the question of drugs under a class analysis.
While we can say that drug use will more than likely decrease exponentially, and quite possibly diminish completely, after the overthrowing of capitalism, to keep drug use criminalized would be to continue oppressing the victim, regardless if you provide services or throw them into prison. It still doesn’t address the questions of poverty or racism, in which drug use directly relates to that of prostitution.
Instead, as is for drug use as well, the temporary solution to prostitution under the capitalist system is this: legalization! It’ll be the only way in which to, 1) end the exploitative and oppressive work of Pimping, and 2) get women off the streets and into a regulated, protected environment of sex work – at least for those who wish to continue selling sex as their means of earning wages. The “Nordic Model” should also be applied to the extent in which we provide services to all women, addressing the questions of poverty, racism, and sexism.
Those who are not in the business of providing sex for work tend to assert that it’s nothing more than, “about providing pleasure for one party (the male party) without any regard for the woman with whom you are engaging in this supposed ‘sex’ with,” as was so claimed by Meghan Murphy in her article. And while it may seem as simple as this for those of us who are not in the line of work that provides sex for wages, I believe it to be far more complex.
An ex-sex worker had addressed this question, herself, in which she stated:
“Anna van Heeswijk states that prostitution is not a job like any other, but why should it not be? Why should I be condemned by society and left unprotected just because I wish to work with my genitals rather than my hands or my brain? They are my genitals and I should be free to choose to do whatever I wish with them. There is a serious problem in society of negative attitudes towards sexual women, whether they charge for sex or not. Women as chattels may not be written in the legislature any longer, but we are still not free to own our own sexuality. The recent slut walks were a reminder that women are still judged as somehow deserving of attack if they fail to conform to the sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice straight jacket imposed by some men and so-called feminists alike.”
She had also addressed the problems with the “Nordic Model”, or as she called it the “Swedish Model”, stating that it’s incorrect to conclude the model in being a “success”, and that the model is wrong in claiming all acts of sex work is violent, in which is, “unsupported piece of propaganda which seeks to encourage patronisation and infantalisation of the many sex-workers who voluntarily choose to earn their living through sex work.”
The violence of sex work isn’t that of the mere act of having sex for money, per se, but the violence in which Pimps inflict upon women and the violence of the Bourgeois State as they release their attack dogs – cops – to raid union-protected establishments in which allow women to have sex for money.
And so, if we are to truly end the violence of sex work, then we must target the violent predators – pimps and police – and not the victims of racist pimp- and state-orchestrated violence! We must legalize prostitution, get women off the streets, end the business of pimping, and end the racist business of state-orchestrated aggression toward women, who are predominantly that of color, and instead toward that of the pimps themselves. Only then will we, of the revolutionary left, be able to address the question within the question of prostitution as we continue our struggles against the capitalist system.