Is Prostitution Now a Choice for Some Women ?
Recently to my disappointment I watched a couple of youtube videos and a comment on a NYT article where radical feminists attempt to critique a middle class university attending woman who is in prostitution. Unfortunately I did not feel that this critique of the woman’s situation was as powerful as it could have been so I’m going to offer some ways in which I think the attempt at critique could be strengthened and made more powerful, there are crucial points to be made here. (Of course I don’t agree about her non binary feeling of gender identity erasing the fact that prostitution is rape. Whatever she feels like she’s still being raped. (If you don’t understand that many rape survivors don’t “feel raped”, then to be honest you don’t understand anything about rape and its violation). The truth is still the truth regardless of how the victim feels.)
Getting back to the attempted feminist critiques I was disappointed. According to the feminist video bloggers, unlike for poor women, it is now suddenly a choice for her, she has options (or more options), she’s different and not like the women who were economically coerced into prostitution. I understand that they may mean well and want to point out how much more disadvantaged other women in prostitution are along the axis of economic and financial coercion into it (I guess you could argue in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that some women are coerced more than others by food needs etc) but I don’t think this is a helpful angle to critique from. A much more powerful critique could be taken from a different angle which I will talk about here.
Since when have radical feminists come to see prostitution as a choice for some women ? Maybe to these radical feminists making these videos they are trying (sadly in vain I would add) to make a socialist argument, and address the extreme economic coercion happening to poorer women, yes it is much worse for those poorer women. To be sure women who are getting paid $1000 for each paid rape (which btw you can then take that money and pay for fiver therapy sessions to get over each rape ?) are suffering a different level of violence from women being paid $5 for each paid rape.
At that rate let’s calculate how many serial rapes it takes each of them to pay their rent every month if their rent is each ~$1000. The middle class person might be able to get by with one rape, while the other might take as many as two hundred rapes (or maybe more).
One is at least a couple orders of magnitude worse (and truly almost a different creature). However I don’t think that it is right to be criticizing the women rape victims in the case of “upper class” prostitution either. Both they and the women in lower class prostitution are being raped. Is prostitution not paid rape ? Kajsa Ekis Ekman has spoken about how some women in Sweden in prostitution are taking the money and then feeling so (understandably) awful about it that they throw away the money. (It’s a great socialist understanding and health refusal to capitulate to money that allows Ekman to talk about this). Tanja Rahm wrote powerfully on her blog in Denmark about how when she was in upper class prostitution a man once gave her a paid of 12 000 pound (~$24 000) shoes and afterwards she felt so icky about it that she had to get them away from her, she couldn’t even sell them, she couldn’t even stand the money from them near her she just had to give them away or throw them out to get them away from her. More people need to hear this story.
I wish Tanja Rahm would like other survivors of prostitution translate her blog out of Danish (unfortunately not everyone has the ability, curiosity or patience to use google translate) and write a book because her critique is uniquely situated and powerful. It has the potential to critique and inoculate young women against not just “upper class prostitution” but also the ideas being promoted and marketed to them them they should “sugar baby” to have luxurious and sumptuous things (which many young women are made to feel so ashamed for not being able to afford). She writes (I’m paraphrasing) something like, “It doesn’t matter whether you are on silk sheets or drinking champagne with the buyers…” Let’s not forget (as capitalism urges us to) that women are being raped on silk sheets, in five star hotels, in the classiest of settings and it is still rape. It is still destroying and killing women. Incredible violence is happening, let’s not be confused by or forget to be outraged when people do violence in a classy way. (It also unfortunate that the words “classy” and “noble” have become in popular parlance almost synonyms for “moral”).
In the same breath we are confronting the epidemic and promotion of Sugar Babying which is basically informal prostitution and brazen exploitation of young women for sex. How are we supposed to confront this when some feminists have now decided to criticize prostituted women and talk about their “choices” if they are middle class ?Sometimes (particularly as the class divide between the ultra rich, the .1 and .01% and the rest of us widens) middle class women are being exploited sexually sometimes so that they can pay for college or law school even (I should point out that even for upper middle class students experiencing violence in their immediate family, they may not be able to financially rely on even their well off upper parents to pay for college), and some of them are being exploited so that they can pay for Tiffany jewellery or designer clothes worth thousands of dollars (which while not being the difference between starvation or a roof over their heads is still coercion since in a capitalist system they have been inculcated over many years to feel humiliated and less than for not being able to afford). Is this still not exploitation ? Money is not consent. We know that young women are being marketed to with designer clothes, upscale vacations and shoes and having desires stirred up in them which they cannot afford (and humiliated for not being able to afford) and then rapist men profit of of this entire system and then use those desires coerce them into sex.Money is not consent, even if the woman is not starving and can pay for college. Do we need to reiterate this again ? This is still sexual exploitation and it fools no one, when rapist men deceive and entrap women into this. Also haven’t ultra rich men have always been able to get away with the worst violence against women and live above the law in a way that other rapists might not always have been able to ? So it is particularly important to call it out as exploitation when it is rich and ultra rich rapist men luring women into prostitution.
If you are curious to explore some of the con artistry in place luring middle class young women into prostitution just see “Crazy about Tiffany’s” which sadly promotes the idea that women by nature just love expensive, jewellery and shoes and are all willing to prostitute ourselves for it (like the “upper class” call girl Audrey Hepburn plays in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”). This documentary includes the producers telling two young upper east side girls who love both Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Tiffany’s jewellery, that the character they so admire and aspire to be like is a prostitute. The young upper middle class girls look humiliated and shocked at being told this, they are being humiliatingly taught their place in the world. (Hopefully this verbal inculcation will not be followed up with the visceral unmistakeable message of child sexual abuse, which at least 30% of girls experience). This documentary left me decidedly sickened about Tiffany. This insanity of painting women as creatures whose nature it is to want to prostitute ourselves in exchange for expensive jewellery, shoes and clothes, needs to be taken apart at the seams, instead of feminists now agreeing that it is a “choice” or more of a choice (albeit one that we disapprove of and will essentially victim blame) for middle class women.
In 2014 two middle class men in Canada sitting across from me in a cafe were discussing the possible new prostitution law and I asked to join the conversation. One of their arguments for why prostitution should be legalized in Canada was that, “You don’t know about upper class prostitution. If a young girl wants to buy herself some expensive clothes, shoes, jewellery, a car, a house and men want to give her money to get them for her in return for sex shouldn’t she have that opportunity to buy herself nice things ?”
This is always the argument, “But you don’t know about upper class prostitution. ” “But prostitution need not be a seedy, less than classy thing. It can be very classy (noble even), have you not hear for the $1000 an hour sex workers ?” We are supposed to be so impressed! The money is supposed to take away feminists’ ability to think and shut off our brains into a catatonic state (consent?). (Have people not heard of Obama’s $400 000 an hour speaking fees ? Summon me when men start paying women that much per hour of “sex work”. (Hint: I’ll still be calling it rape though). (Also the investment bankers who are hiring these $1000 an hour “sex workers” are earning millions of dollars a year, but no one ever suggests that the women should get to make this much money too. They are supposed to be satisfied, lucky and grateful for being raped for $1000 an hour.) Prostitution always seems to happen across not only a gender but also a class divide, it’s always a classier and richer man purchasing a poorer woman who can’t imagine making as much as him, even if she’s a middle class young woman and he’s paying her $1000 an hour. (It’s still exploitation, those men paying $1000 an hour would never dream of allowing themselves to be raped for $1000 an hour.)
This disgusting, “But you haven’t heard of upper class prostitution, where they get paid $1000 a hour, it’s not always a less than classy thing to do” is frequently presented as a supposedly compelling argument for why we should legalize and tax prostitution. It comes up almost predictably, like clockwork one could even say, in every debate on prostitution. Supposedly we are supposed to be compelled by this idea because all hail the almighty dollar, money and classiness makes everything OK. We are supposed to be so overawed and impressed by the money that suddenly we forget our morals. I am not impressed.
Cover it in silk sheets and designer clothes and rape is suddenly OK and “noble”. If the rapist is richer suddenly it’s OK. If it happens on a private jet, if rape happens in Versailles, then it’s OK because they are keeping it classy. As long as you do it in a classy way, rape is OK, and not rape. (This is the same basic argument for lower class prostitution actually, the money makes it OK and as long as money is involved, the free market solves everything and we are supposed to turn off our critical thinking skills or at least be overawed by “money.” If you cannot oppose this argument in upper class prostitution, then you lose the ability to refute this argument when applied to lower class prostitution as well.) I am not impressed.
What do you imagine that criminals like Jeffrey Epstein and other billionaire rapists were doing ? Was the rape not happening on their private jets ? Were they not probably buying the girls that they were raping designer clothes and giving other gifts worth thousands of dollars ? And the girls they were raping were probably middle class or upper middle class girls. Was it still not rape ?
Don’t billionaires and nobility rape their daughters and wives (and small sons too) on silk sheets, in designer clothes, in private jets and super yachts and in five star hotels ? (If I’ve learnt anything from watching dark Danish child sexual abuse movies it’s this, child abuse and sexual abuse knows no class lines, it’s happening to the upper class people everyone is admiring and aspiring to be like and maybe we should temper our admiration). Meanwhile from the outside it looks like the victims are living the ultimate luxurious, sumptuous and elegant life. Everyone envies them and aspires to be them (every woman supposedly clamours to marry a rich man, the richer the better, whether he rapes you or can rape you and get away with it is apparently not a consideration (just focus on bathing in Hermes), as would be his likely immunity from having to face any consequences, the richer and more powerful men have always been above the reach of the law and able to abuse their wives and children even more than other men and get away with it), they are supposedly living the ultimate dream of a life. In a capitalist society this is untouchable, as long as it has enormous money attached to it, it must be all OK and consent must be happening (and the more money attached the more untouchable it is) and we should all aspire to be that too even if it means being raped.
What do you think daughters of millionaires (or billionaires or trillionaires for that matter) who were raped by their fathers learn about their place to be in the world ? Yes they learn to expect to have silk sheets, and fine clothes and they also learn to expect rape. They learn that their sexuality is something to be traded. Their parents’ money does not shield them from this. What sort of situation would you expect them to end up in ? I would expect them to end up in a situation very much like “upper class” prostitution where rape is happening on silk sheets with a classy rapist who wears designer clothes. (But as long as the rapist is classy and it’s happening in an upscale context we know that it’s all great, because capitalism can never let us criticize anything classy, anything classy is amazing and “noble”.)
And if people are not willing to confront rape dressed up in “classiness” and upscale surroundings, how do feminists ever expect to stop the epidemic of “sugar babying” (basically prostitution) that is literally threatening to engulf us ? By victim blaming ? I hope not. This needs to be aggressively critiqued, and criticizing the middle class women that fall prey to this, misses the chance to aggressively critique this in a political context including looking at the buyers of prostitution and the political and economic forces that coerce women to create this situation.
(p.s. This article gave me a serious headache when I first started writing it, maybe my brain got overloaded when I was summing up the rapes for poor women to pay their rent. I like summing up things but not so much when it is rapes).