Further thoughts on the ‘sex positive’ response to prostitution

Following on from this post, and after reading this post and its comments thread (which lead me to the material for this quote of the day) at IBTP, and after reading through Laura Agustin’s blog, I have come to some conclusions.

As the ‘good girl’ and the ‘bad girl’ are two sides of the same patriarchal coin, so the pro-prostitution ‘sex positive’ and the Conservative woman (I am using here Andrea Dworkin’s account of the ‘domesticated female’ from Right-Wing Women), are also two sides of the same coin.

Both are engaged in a defence of the patriarchal status quo – although they are not defending exactly the same aspects of it.

Both are uncritical of men’s behaviour, and both are unquestioning of the idea that women exist to service men’s needs. For the ‘sex positive’ no extreme of male sexual behaviour can be questioned or criticised, as long as he is prepared to pay the market rate for it. For the Conservative woman, it is the role of women to act as ‘gate-keepers’ of male sexual behaviour; if men ‘stray’ it is either the fault of one woman for ‘leading him on’, or the fault of another woman for not performing her duty by catering to his ‘needs’ correctly in the first place.

Under both paradigms, men cannot be held fully responsible for their actions; male sexuality is an inevitable, unstoppable force of nature, and men themselves lack free will and reason to be able to control it. Also unquestionable is the contradictory mix of men’s ‘natural’ role as ‘head of the family’, along side male insecurity and helplessness that requires a woman as equal parts domestic drudge and personal cheerleader.

Under both paradigms, women are supposed to accept without complaining their role as existing only to service men’s needs (and to keep quiet about the boredom, lack of kindness or respect, and all but the most extreme violence) – the smart women is one who learns to manipulate as much material gain as possible out of that role, not one who tries to fight it, or decides she would rather be poor than submit to it.

Both the Conservative woman and the ‘sex positive’ are anti gender equality and anti feminist (although they may claim otherwise), both view any attempt to challenge men’s behaviour as trying to ‘police’ ‘private’ behaviour, and to go against ‘nature’. For both, the idea of a truly equal, egalitarian relationship between a man and a woman is impossible (and yes, I can see how funny it is for a radical feminist to be defending the possibility of decent relationships with men – we’re the one’s who are supposed to hate men after all!).

11 responses

  1. Jennifer Drew

    Very deftly analysed – yes indeed male sexuality is supposedly a ‘given’ and hence cannot ever be critiqued, challenged or changed.

    In the self same way men but not women must never be held accountable or responsible for their actions and/or behaviour since it is women’s responsibility to provide emotional, personal and even sexual support to the male. But this is totally at odds with patriarchal dogma which promotes the myth of male rationality and female irrationality but with one important exception and that is in respect of male sexuality. Male sexuality is supposedly biologically driven and therefore when a male becomes sexually aroused he is supposedly incapable of rational thinking or taking responsibility for his sexual behaviour or actions – that is where the woman’s role comes into play. She, not the male is supposed to have the power to gatekeep, restrict or prohibit male sexual activity, but this too is at odds with the reality of our male supremacist, male-centered and male dominant society. But this begs the question what about male rationality? Why does male rationality ‘take a holiday’ when the thorny question of holding men accountable for their sexual violence against women is raised? Is it in fact a smoke screen designed to hide the realities of how male power and male domination operates? It would certainly explain why our male-dominant and male-centered patriarchal society consistently always focuses on the female survivor of male sexual violence and attempts to discover the ‘truth.’ The ‘truth’ of course is no ‘truth’ but is all about blaming women and holding women accountable for men’s violence committed against them whilst neatly invisibilising and hiding male accountability.

    Reality check – men believe it or not are human too and men are responsible and accountable for their actions and this includes male sexual expression and pseudo belief men as a group should have unlimited sexual access to women and girls as and when they wish.

    Sex positive is simply the old, old tired male domination, female oppression being played out, only under a different name. Real sexual equality would mean men being held to the same standard as women rather than the on-going sexual double standard.

  2. […] antiplondon over at Anti-Porn Feminists has been thinking about the “sex positive” response to prostitution. […]

  3. Jane Caputi, we should consider you a national treasure. Reading your words and knowing you are still with us gives me enormous comfort.

  4. Chocolattruffaut

    I looked at Laura Agustin’s blog and I can’t believe that she can spew forth the same tired stereotypes-e.g radical feminists hate male sexuality, are the same as Christian fundamentalists, etc-with a straight face and with the smug attitude as if she’s saying something new and just so oooh controversial! The things she says about the Swedish model and about Sweden itself is just mind-boggling. I know it’s easier to think that all Swedish prostitutes are blonde sexpots a la I am Curious Yellow, but studies have shown that most often it’s immigrant women tricked into thinking they’re getting gainful employment.
    As someone who divides her time between England and Sweden, I have nothing but respect for the Swedish model and Swedish feminists 🙂

  5. Yes, Augustin is a strange one, an absolute neo-liberal, in that, to her, all human interactions are economic transactions, but at the same time, it’s really important to her that other women engage in prostitution.

    The things she says about child prostitution are even worse; apparently, being against child prostitution is taking away a child’s ‘right’ to be an economic unitalso, babies and toddlers have a sexuality, which means child prostitution is a-ok!

  6. Chocolattruffaut

    Oh my goddess, I can’t believe that some people can be drowning in post modernism so much that rationalizing the rape of children comes easily. Regarding child prostitution, have you heard of Robin Hustle? She’s a white middle class “artist” who works as a prostitute, and now writes periodically for Jezebel. Her articles have included why radical feminists are wrong about prostitution because she loves her job and how her parents are gaaah sooo totally lame for worrying about her safety, and also a list of tips if you’re considering becoming a prostitute too!
    She also posted some links to her “academic and scholarly articles” about child prostitution, and they mirror Augustin’s arguments about a child and/or teenager’s agency.
    If you have the time, I would love to see a post on her, since she seems to have the same blinders that Augustin and Brooke Magnanti wear!

  7. Sounds awful! I really want to do a detailed write up of Agustin some time soon, but I will have a look into Hustle too.

    And Ugh! Jezebel 😦

  8. I agree wholeheartedly with you about it not being possible to have a truly equal relationship with a man. You’re right- who says that a woman couldn’t handle being head of household? I am, proudly, because I live alone, but I am talking about the women with three kids and a husband. (Oh I sooo don’t envy that kind of situation), anyways, a woman could definitely pull it off. (Imagine her at the head of the table..) Men have been taught for centuries that this is “their” home; HE is king of the castle. I think it would be revolutionary if more women demanded this role in a “marriage.” It would be difficult, because men never want to give up an inch of their f’in power…A marriage is never good for women. It drains their life’s energy, and she becomes her man’s PRoPerty! It’s just like the old days…nothing has changed. But now, when a woman wants to leave the guy, to him, it’s a slap to his ego, and he will feel free to stalk, murder, assault, threaten her, etc. Read the papers!! This, like rape is an epidemic. I read the paper from the big city I live in, and it makes me physically sick, and very sad. There IS a war on women going on not just in the USA, but all over the world! Thanks for creating this blog! I love to read and comment on writings by my sister rad fems! I look forward to reading more!

  9. Hi Amanda, and thank you for your comment.

    I didn’t actually say that it was not possible to have a truly equal relationship with a man (although I think it would be very very difficult in the real world as it is now), I was saying that both conservative and ‘sex positive’ women believe it is impossible.

    Also, this ‘head of the household’ thing – why does any one person have to be ‘in charge’?

  10. reclaimthenight

    Thank you Jennifer Drew for telling it like it is.Men have to be accountable for their behaviour.Male sexual violence against women is the only crime where the victim is blamed. The euphemism ‘sex positive’ is the same old lies- male oppression of women of course.

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