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Feminist Lesbian Position on Prostitution

by Kathleen PiovesanJacqueline GullionErin Graham


We are a group of lesbians in Vancouver who have been active in the women’s movement. We have noticed the growing trend to support legalization or full decriminalization of prostitution amongst many people concerned for the safety and well-being of prostituted women and men. While we support the decriminalization of prostituted people, we believe this must be done in the context of prostitution abolition, including the continued criminalization of buyers, sellers, procurers and traffickers. We are writing this letter to the community of lesbians and queer women in which we live because we believe lesbians and queer women have an interest in supporting women’s sexual autonomy. Legalizing prostitution is not true solidarity with prostituted women or with the cause of women’s sexual autonomy. Real solidarity with prostituted women is in the fight for abolition of prostitution and for greater sexual choice for all women. Here's why:

1. Prostitution enforces compulsory heterosexuality by teaching men that they have the right to access women’s bodies on their terms and to expect prostitution-like behaviour from other women.  Lesbianism, by contrast, can create more sexual autonomy for women by providing an alternative for some women that is also an example to society of sexuality that is not male-controlled.

 

2. Prostitution is connected to other forms of coercive sexuality in that johns and pimps use their power in the form of money, male sexual privilege and/or violence to choose the nature of the sexual encounter – much as men do in rape, battery and incest.  Many prostituted women have survived rape, battery and incest prior to entering prostitution. 

3. Sexual autonomy for women also requires economic autonomy – prostitution provides neither.

In prostitution, a man has to pay only once to get what he wants, but a woman has to sell many times a day to get what she needs or to meet the expectations of her pimp or the brothel manager.  Outside of prostitution, the condition of women’s work is already often menial, insecure and leaves many women dependent on men and therefore vulnerable to men’s violence, especially women who are racialized, indigenous and/or poor. To use women’s poverty as a reason to legalize prostitution is cynical and hopeless. Real economic equality would not require that women marry, accept sexual harassment, be relegated to low-paid, unsatisfying work or prostitute. 

4. The rights of gay men must not trump the rights of women.  Some “feminists,” such as those at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, have described the bawdy house laws as harmful because “these same prostitution laws have been used in particular against marginalized communities,” meaning men who owned, operated and patronized gay bars such as Truxx and K.O.X. in Montreal.  As lesbians/queer women, we do not want gay/queer men persecuted, but even more than that, we want gay/queer men to stand up for women’s rights.  We will not give over the right of women to genuine sexual autonomy because decriminalizing prostitution laws will permit more freedom to some gay/queer men to engage in buying and selling other men.  Women’s equality is a right.  Some gay/queer men’s prostitution behaviour is not.

5. The law is rarely used to protect women now, and neither will it be if prostitution is legalized or decriminalized. The police and criminal justice system are likely to treat prostituted women in the situation of legalized prostitution in the same way they treat raped, battered, and prostituted women now: providing little enforcement of rape and assault laws, conducting minimal investigations, and judging next to no convictions against the men committing the violence.  Over the last five years in Vancouver, prostitution has been effectively decriminalized - the police have made very few arrests.  During this period, we have still seen horrific violence, including many women still missing, the case of Bakker who tortured women and the death of Nicole Parisienne in a brothel apartment in Kitsilano.  Lesbians and queer women expect to be able to call on the law to protect us from homophobic and sexist harassment. We should demand the same for women in prostitution, namely that the law is used to stop men from sexually harassing, assaulting, buying and selling women.

6. Prostitutes and lesbians/queer women are in some senses co-outsiders to the sexual norms of society.  Names like “dyke”, “slut”, “whore” and “cunt” are used interchangeably against us. But, the responsibility of lesbians and queer women to prostituted women is to demand that all women have sexual autonomy, and therefore not have to engage in prostitution.

7. In terms of choice, prostitution is the opposite of lesbianism.  Lesbians and queer women want and in many ways are able to choose all kinds of things about our lives: how we dress, who we love, how we have sex. Prostituted women do not have these same kinds of choices.  The choices prostitution offers women are how to be marketable, how to submit to lack of secure income, how to submit to beatings and rape, how to submit to demands for unprotected sex, and how to live with the constant fear of violence and constant surveillance and monitoring of behaviour as happens on the street and in brothels.

8. Lesbians know that sexual experience conditions sexual desire. This has been our experience of becoming lesbians and queer women.  We also know that many women who have survived incest, battery, rape and prostitution have chosen to be lesbians and queer as their sexual expression.  We do not want more of our friends and lovers to live with the pain and physical alienation that result from those experiences of abuse.  We want all women to experience autonomy, joy and connection in their sexual experiences.

We chose to be lesbians and queer women as an expression of our love for women, our love of being women and our desire for equality.  This choice has been, for us, expansive because it has given us a greater horizon of expectations and opportunities.  The women’s movement as a whole seeks constantly to expand the boundaries for women’s expression and freedom.  Prostitution, by contrast, is a decision made within the most limited of circumstances, namely poverty, insecurity, violence and misogyny. Prostitution can never be liberatory and should not be equated with sexual autonomy or with feminist goals.


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Topics: IdeasGender
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Comments

I realized that I had

I realized that I had uploaded this as a blog post rather than a story, and so the authors were not properly credited. so here it is. The French version is also posted separately.

We welcome comments, of course, of a constructively critical nature. Or appreciations. those are good too. And if you're interested in contacting us, write to les.abolish@gmail.com

 

Living in Community

As a feminist Lesbian who sees prostitution as the opposite of Lesbianism, how do you feel about the Living in Community project?

http://www.livingincommunity.ca/docs/living_in_comm_web.pdf

-Mary

Living in community

Hi Mary,

sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. thanks for your question. The living in community project was supposedly developed through a series of community consultations. However, the dissent and variety of analysis presented from community groups and individuals is nowhere in evidence in that report. Indeed, several women of our aquaintance who attended some of those consultatiosn were quite shaken by the hostility of some of the other participants towards both women who were engaged (presently or formerly) in prostitution and those who wanted more emphasis on exit programs for women, and serious consideration of the Swedish model of law. Personally, i think the report tried to be all things to all people and ended up being nothing much to anyone. I am not a big fan of 'harm reduction' approaches. It's a cynical response to suffering--the implication is, clearly, that harm is inevitable, prostituion is inevitable and the damage can merely be slowed, but not stopped and not healed.

We don't want to settle for the continued degradation of women, our sisters, friends, loved ones--in prostitution. The Living in Community Report, however well-intentioned, caves in and lets everyone in the community off the hook for the suffering of some of its members. We hope that a healthy exchange of ideas can help us to get to feminist solutions which provide a broad range of choices for women, and expectations of all of us take reponsibility for the well-being of others.

YUCK! PWAH! SPLICHT! PLAY

YUCK! PWAH! SPLICHT! PLAY CLAY! GLA-GLA-GLA-GLA!

Er... I mean... not play clay, but OUTDATED CLOSED-MINDED SECOND WAVE APPROACHES TO WHAT FEMNISM MEANS AND WHAT SEXUAL AUTONOMY LOOKS LIKE! YUCK.

How dare you say that all "prostituted" women (sex trade workers)  are unable to choose how they have sex, who they love and how they dress.

If protecting those interests was actualy what you cared about, you would not oppose bawdy house laws being struck down. Shame on you! Educate yourself! Get un-brainwashed by rape-relief, or who ever it is that told you all this B.S. and find out some info on your own terms. Talk to an actual sex trade worker maybe.

Jesus christ. What year is it?? 1979??? ARhg. I was hoping everyone who thought like this had given up by now.

The year is 2011, and it's time to abolish female sexual slavery

It's terrible how the plight of prostituted women gets twisted and skewed into a matter of "sexual liberation," "choice," and a choice in "who they love," when really, we're talking about sexist violence, exploitation, and misogyny.

Oh yeah, it's some "choice" to be prostituted when you were pimped out as a child, when you're POOR and racialized, when someone keeps you there by violence and blackmail. That's anything but choice to me.

Maybe some women can say they "chose" prostitution, even though:

  • they are usually white & privileged,
  • privileged enough to say so that the public will pay attention,
  • make up a fraction of the "industry,"
  • and have been socialized in a world where the commodification of, and male entitlement to, women's bodies is not only disguised as women's sexual freedom, but it's NORMAL, normalized to the point that men and women don't see the violence, the objectification, the sheer exploitation of the women and children in prostitution.

And what about the johns and the pimps? Where do they figure in? Shame on them for perpetuating the sale and abuse of women and children. Let's hold the real source of the problem accountable.

I applaud this group of feminist lesbian women for standing in solidarity with all women, refusing to abandon those of us at risk of and stuck in this institution of male supremacy. Thank you for this eloquent statement of support.

re: YUCK! PWAH! SPLICHT! PLAY

Wouldn't that be nice if we had all left feminism and activism around prostitution and violence against women back in 1979!! Alas, ye old cult of feminism is still puttering away over here and you will have to amuse yourself by writing nonsensical comments on our blogs until we all die off/get tired of your ramblings and block you.

YUCK! PWAH! SPLICHT! PLAY

YUCK! PWAH! SPLICHT! PLAY CLAY! GLA-GLA-GLA-GLA!

Er... I mean... not play clay, but OUTDATED CLOSED-MINDED SECOND WAVE APPROACHES TO WHAT FEMNISM MEANS AND WHAT SEXUAL AUTONOMY LOOKS LIKE! YUCK.

How dare you say that all "prostituted" women (sex trade workers)  are unable to choose how they have sex, who they love and how they dress.

If protecting those interests was actualy what you cared about, you would not oppose bawdy house laws being struck down. Shame on you! Educate yourself! Get un-brainwashed by rape-relief, or who ever it is that told you all this B.S. and find out some info on your own terms. Talk to an actual sex trade worker maybe.

Jesus christ. What year is it?? 1979??? ARhg. I was hoping everyone who thought like this had given up by now.

 

Please don't try to include me in your "lesbian view" my lesbian view looks quite different.

i applaud to every word!

i applaud to every word!

I applaud to every word!

I applaud to every word!

An open letter from feminists who support sex workers

Here is an alternate view of how to support sex workers.

This open letter was written collectively by several women in Halifax, Nova Scotia, including queer women.

Just to say that this post doesn't represent the views of all lesbians or queer women advocating feminism.

Best,

Kaley

I fully support Feminist Lesbian Position on Prositution

 

As a feminist and lesbian I fully support Feminist Lesbian Position on Prostitution 

I do not believe prostitution is “work” as it is unlike any other types of work. It takes place in and involves the commodification of women’s bodies. I fully support the decriminalization of women (and all) involved in prostitution. However I strongly believe in the criminalization of the men who buy, procure and profit off of women’s bodies. I do not believe men have the right to buy sex when they want it and profit from women’s exploitation.  In addition, to abolish prostitution, women need economic autonomy (examples include guaranteed liveable income and universal childcare), and public campaigns are needed that tell men they do not have the right to buy sex.

Brothels can only be so safe and do not affect all women involved, as even in Canada and in countries with legalization, there is a hierarchy within prostitution, with the most racialized and poorest women on the street. I do not want to fight solely for reducing some harms, but rather for a situation where women do not need to resort to prostitution.

Places like the Netherlands and New Zealand have only see an increase of trafficking of women with the legalization of prostitution. In addition, in Norway where certain types of prostitution used to be legalized (massage parlours), recently Norway chose to go the route of Sweden (the abolitionist route), which I find exemplifies that full decriminalization or legalization is not useful. 

I fully support Feminist Lesbian Position on Prostitution

 

As a feminist and lesbian I fully support Feminist Lesbian Position on Prostitution.

I do not believe prostitution is “work” as it is unlike any other types of work. It takes place in and involves the commodification of women’s bodies.  I fully support the decriminalization of women (and all) involved in prostitution. However I strongly believe in the criminalization of the men who buy, procure and profit off of women’s bodies. I do not believe men have the right to buy sex when they want it and profit from women’s exploitation.  In addition, to abolish prostitution, women need economic autonomy (examples include guaranteed liveable income and universal childcare), and public campaigns are needed that tell men they do not have the right to buy sex.

Brothels can only be so safe and do not affect all women involved, as even in Canada and in countries with legalization, there is a hierarchy within prostitution, with the most racialized and poorest women on the street. I do not want to fight solely for reducing some harms, but rather for a situation where women do not need to resort to prostitution.

Places like the Netherlands and New Zealand have only see an increase of trafficking of women with the legalization of prostitution. In addition, in Norway where certain types of prostitution used to be legalized (massage parlours), recently Norway chose to go the route of Sweden (the abolitionist route), which I find exemplifies that full decriminalization or legalization is not useful. 

prostitution destroys women, health, marriages, communities

The facts about prostitution are very clear, and they paint a picture of unremitting abuse and exploitation. Women need not be lesbians or unanimous in order to apply knowledge of how prostitution hinders all women's liberation into a refusal to let men keep getting away with the economic coercion of women into unwanted sex.

Men do not have a right to sex on demand. We as a society must take the coercion out of sexual relations, and that means de-incentivizing pimps and johns by not allowing them to pry a woman's legs open with desperately-needed money.

If any women are content being prostitutes (no research has ever recorded more than a statistically insigificant number) then I would not stop them from having uncoerced sex with their former paying clients if that's what they choose. It's their body, they can do what they want with it. However, money is a social product and it is therefore subject to rules that restrict its ability to abuse the larger population of highly vulnerable people which comprise 99% of the world's prostitutes.

The Swedish Model decriminalizing prostitution while upping the punishments for men who try to bribe away a woman's right to uncoerced, genuine sexual consent is the way of the future.

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