The sex trade and women’s liberation

We will never achieve women’s liberation so long as the sex trade is alive

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Collegian File Photo

By Ruya Hazeyen, Collegian Contributor

With the rise of fake-woke neoliberal feminism, we are increasingly fed propaganda that the sex industry is just as legitimate as any other industry, and that “sex work is work.” We have been told that in order to be a feminist, we must support the sex industry and sex workers. It has become such that criticism of the industry gets confused with criticism of the workers. However, it is possible to criticize an industry while still supporting the workers. After learning more about radical and proletarian feminism, I now understand that to truly support women, we need to call for the dismantling of the entire system, not the legalization of sex work.

Amidst well-intentioned efforts to normalize sex work, we are now at the point where we are glamorizing it. We often hear that sex work is empowering, and that women should be allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies. This reasoning, although optimistic, is a cop out that discounts the bigger problem surrounding the industry. The truth is, sex work is not only classist and misogynistic, but also racist.

Most women in the industry have either been trafficked into it as children or are in it because of class conditions and monetary insecurity. Additionally, critical race researchers have found that domestic sex trafficking and prostitution are direct descendants of slavery. With 40 percent of sex trafficking victims identifying as Black women, it becomes clear that the sex work industry is engulfed in racism. This is not surprising, as America’s Black women have long been eroticized as sex objects. This dates back to when sexual exploitation was a key enforcer of Black slavery and later, racial segregation in the United States.

The argument that prostitution is one of the oldest professions for women and so there should be no shame in it is often debated. In “Revolting Prostitutes,” Juno Mac and Molly Smith argue that sex work is legitimate work because “people sell sex to get money.” And going off literal dictionary terms, they would be right — that is what work is. Their argument centers on the fact that we should embrace the sex industry because under capitalism, people must sell their labor to survive. To me, all this argument does is prove why the industry needs to be dismantled: the oppressed will do whatever it takes to survive, and when they cannot sell their labor, they are forced to resort to selling their bodies on the market.

According to research done in 2012, in high-income countries that have legalized sex work such as Denmark, Germany and Sweden, countries that have legalized prostitution are associated with higher human trafficking inflows. Additionally, criminalizing prostitution in Sweden, in contrast to Denmark and Germany, resulted in a decline in human trafficking inflow. In countries like the Netherlands where prostitution is legal, sex trafficking is the most common form of human trafficking, with there being at least 3,000 victims per year.

With all this information, I find it hard to call for the legalization of the sex trade, and I refuse the notion that an industry built on the oppression of women is an empowering one. With prostitution being the oldest profession for women who did not have any other options thousands of years ago, how can we say that we have progressed as a society by promoting the commodification of our bodies and sex as a means to live rather than providing other means to live?

The fact is that claiming that the sex industry is empowering is a myth sold to us by men. They want us to believe that we are empowered by this work so that it continues to profit them. And to that, I pose the questions: if it is not focused on a woman’s pleasure and is only done as a means for survival, is it really empowering? How can one can be a true feminist while calling for the glamorization of using our bodies as commodities?

Sex work is not legitimate work. An industry largely composed of women, especially Black women, who have been trafficked into it as children, or are forcibly in it because they have no other form of income, is not an industry that should exist. An industry with a disproportionate amount of violence, rape, theft, and killing should not exist. By calling sex work real work, we are diminishing the dangers of it. Semantics matter, and we must first understand that to dismantle it, we must call it the sex trade instead of work. Modern feminists pretend that they are stepping on the neck of the patriarchy by calling sex work, work. However, the truth is that they are the ones being stepped on by the patriarchy. Even women who sell sex on supposedly empowering websites like OnlyFans, which is owned by a man, are not in control of their labor. It is impossible to be your own boss in an industry run by men and that only benefits the man.

Ruya Hazeyen can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ruyahazeyen.