…I would like to get back to focusing on the issue of rhetoric as truth.
This post takes a different approach than the previous two videos. First, I am reversing the video content and my response, so the video content is quoted.
As I listened to the video, I was taken aback by how rife the content was with logical fallacies. In fact, this would be perfect fodder for an introductory Logic 101 class to evaluate for these fallacies. Although I do not call out these fallacies exhaustively, I do highlight some of them.
One common factor of prostitutes is the history of surviving emotional, physical or often sexual abuse and violence.
Given that these are undefined and unqualified, I am not sure that there is any woman who has never had any violence of some degree or another. I presume this should be further qualified that it is directed toward her. I’ll be perfectly frank: I have never dated a woman who has not been raped at least once in her lifetime, some had been several times, and several others had been molested as children. Only a couple of these had any connections to sex work of any form, so it is interesting that this a raised as a vector, first for the over-expansive domain and second without contrast to other women in a sort of control group fashion.
These previous aspects have been suggested to be even stronger than the factor of poverty.
Notice again the speaking in generalities. No facts are being asserted here. We are trapped in a telephone game, where hearsay and speculation dominate the held position. Somebody anonymous person somehow somewhere suggested that some relationship might exist. There is nothing there.
Some poor women will be prostitutes, and others will take underpaid or illegal jobs…
Duly noted. And some will graduate from college and become computer programmers. And so?
…but the ones opting for prostitution will have had a history of sexual violence.
Notice that no claim is being made that this violence is more or less frequent than the cohort not opting for prostitution.
That a middle-class girl may also find herself working as a prostitute because someone taught her that she was worthless.
Wow. So much to unpack here. The narrator, Elly, is asserting a parallel between prostitution and worthlessness. The implication is a person with worth would not choose this profession because she would choose a worthy profession. I wonder where and how this worth is determined.
…and the only thing of value she could do was to give sexual access to men.
So Elly, whether she admits it or not is deprecating women who choose this profession, but she tries to shroud it in language that she feels otherwise.
Now comes the psychobabble about trauma reenactment, as if it were a thing, and in a classic misdirect, she asserts that this is not even her own judgment; in fact, it is the analysis of these women who are clearly qualified to make a professional judgment of this nature in the realm of pseudoscience.
Anecodote: Women come to the conclusion that they’ve been abused their whole lives, so why not get paid for it.
Here is where I break to discuss post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy or anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is frequently misinterpreted via the availability heuristic, which leads to an overestimation of the prevalence of an occurrence. This is a well-documented logical fallacy. This fallacy is employed when the person arguing has no real data to support their position, so they opt for personal stories, hearsay, and anecdotes. Related to this is confirmation bias, which is the result of, having established a position, only seek out facts that support the position even if these facts are outnumbered by contrary facts by orders of magnitude.
Such thinking is the basis behind anti-vaccination groups and homoeopathy advocates. The best these people can do is to point to themselves or a friend or a friend of a friend who benefited (or was disadvantaged) by some therapy or other action.
Bald assertion: We have a rape and paedophilia culture.
What is the basis for this claim, and what is the scope?
Media culture promotes the message be pretty, be fuckable, or be invisible
Here, we are in full agreement. The technical fallacy here is that for every 10 girls subjected to these messages, 1 becomes a prostitute. Yet even by conservative statistics, at least 1 in 5 women have been raped, 1 in 4 have been sexually abused. So the cause and effect don’t add up. In the US, about 14% of people are officially considered to in poverty.
In statistics, there is a concept of signal and noise. The problem is that understanding statistics is not natural for humans. It involves the analytical System II, in Daniel Kahneman‘s parlance, rather than the heuristic, System I. A cognitive problem plaguing people is apophenia, where they read patterns into data that simply are not there. A form of this, called pareidolia, is how people see Jesus’ face in toast.
No body can stand beign penetrated to 10 to 30 male strangers every single day.
So the 10 to 20 customers a night I commented was unrealistic has now morphed into 10 to 30. It is somehow important to note that these are strangers, presumably as a nod to acknowledge that 30 acquaintances would be just fine because there would be enthusiastic consent and mutual arousal. Beware stranger danger.
If indeed prostitution is just a job like any other job, like, say, flipping burgers, then I would wager you would have absolutely no issue switching jobs with a prostituted person for one day and let it be your anus that’s penetrated in the state of non-arousal by 15 men during one night.
O! Europa. Firstly, I wouldn’t trade my jobs to flip burgers let alone be a prostitute. Secondly, there are scores upon scores of ‘typical’ jobs I would have no interest in switching into. Nor would I presume that many others could actually do my job in any case. Why would someone presume that the punter wouldn’t notice the old switcharoo? And what’s with the anal penetration. Some prostitutes will ‘do’ anal for an up-charge, but many—perhaps even most—prostitutes won’t even accept anal at any price. This is about boundaries.
And someone seems pretty obsessed with the prospect of being penetrated by 15 men. I’d chalk this up to a power struggle, a foray into the world of penetration politics. Even gay men discriminate between top and bottom, so it’s rather a submission thing rather than a female thing.
Prostitution is incompatible with enthusiastic sexual consent
Elly runs through a bizarre strawman scenario that is too silly to even repeat here, and then she returns to some Disney Princess fantasy world of wooing and requited love.
She (sort of) acknowledges (without saying as much) that there is a distinction between economic and social spheres. I’d suggest reviewing the Isreali daycare study, where they learned that lesson the hard way. This does not mean that some people don’t blend the two spheres. It also doesn’t mean that a woman might not put out for a hamburger but might be persuaded by steak.
Anecdotally, I am aware of some women who say they would have sex with their favourite celebrity—if only he would ask.
In the end, this has become more and more disappointing. As so much of this material are vast generalisations and practically at the level of conspiracy theories, there is not even a debate to be had. There are so many technical flaws, I feel I need to pull a yellow card. There is nothing to push against except for the lack of structure or method. It’s all so nebulous. It’s all so quixotic, tilting at windmills.
To be honest, I don’t see how this would convert someone on the fence, let alone an opponent. This material is pretty much relegated to echo-chamber choir preaching.
I think I need to get back to the topic of subjectivism and out of the weeds of activist politics.
In this video, Elly’s premise is to focus on the right to buy sex instead of the right to sell it. Pausing for a moment, I’d like to point out that sex is neither bought nor sold; rather access is rented or leased, in a manner similar to renting a streamed movie on Amazon or Netflix. You retain no rights to ownership or future access. You don’t get to keep it when your time is up. Rather than adopt new nomenclature, I’ll continue with the convention in place.
Rather than asking is there a right to sell sex, ask is there a right to buy it, AND ask is there a right to profit off of selling someone else for sex.
Ignoring whether a right can even exist ontologically, I’ll go along and pretend that a right can exist. We’ve been down this street before, but I am commenting in real time, and I am not yet even a minute in. Essentially, she suggests asking two questions:
Is there a right to buy sex?
Is there a right to profit off of selling someone else for sex?
Clearly, these two questions are related. The right to buy sex begs the question from whom, so even though the focus is redirected from the seller to the buyer, there cannot be a buyer without a seller. In practice, the seller is a critical piece of the equation. For example, I may have a right to buy an automobile, but you only have the right to sell it if it is your property; you can’t rightfully sell me your neighbour’s car.
Separately, is there a right to profit from selling sex [as a first party transaction] in the first place, and for selling someone else for sex [as a second party transaction] in the second place?
[SPOILER ALERT] » This video does not yield the anwers to these questions.
The next order of business is to use these talking points…
…followed by this assertion.
“There is plenty of evidence that men are motivated to buy prostituted women because prostitution at its core means the availability of sexual access with little to no boundaries to young, attractive women anywhere at any time for affordable prices.”
This is where I go off the rails and critique poor methodology and poor rhetorical form. Let’s unpack this:
- There is plenty of evidence that…
- First, plenty is a weasel word. It carries no rhetorical weight unless it is followed with, well, plenty of evidence. How much is plenty? Is there plenty of counter-evidence? Is the evidence more prevalent than the counter evidence or vice versa.
- Second, what is the source of this unspecified, uncited, and unattributed evidence. Elly references links; perhaps they are the evidence she is references. What is the quality of this evidence?
- Not to offend, but this wouldn’t even pass as a Wikipedia comment.
- …men are motivated to buy prostituted women because…
- Apart from the inability to actually know someone’s motivation, I am interested in seeing where this leads.
- Elly uses the noun phrase prostituted women. As she employs the adjective form prostituted, I am led to wonder what the motivation was for this word choice.
- My initial thought is that she is modifying the noun women because wants to differntiate buying women from buying prostituted woman, but I don’t think this is quite right.
- My next thought is that her motivation to convey that these women have no agency or volition; they are passive objects who are prostituted against their will.
- My third, or perhaps it was my first, thought is why not emply the plural noun prostitutes. She has already established context that her focus is women, so I am left feeling there is a deeper subtext. Perhaps I am reading too much in.
- …prostitution at its core means the availability of sexual access with little to no boundaries to young, attractive women anywhere at any time for affordable prices.
- This is some definition. I’ll need to unpack this one slowly:
- This definition get to the heart of the matter from the perspective of the punter.
- Prostitution is the availability of sexual access… Yup. Nailed it.
- …with little to no boundaries… Wait, what? Where did this come from? Is there some subclass of prostitutes to which this applies? Surely does not define all prostitutes? Does this define most prostitute? As I understand it—at least the escorts of Backpage of days gone by, a victim of FOSTA—, escorts to have boundaries. Moreover, some boundaries can be expanded by an up-charge. Even reading the negative reviews on the Invisible Men Project, it is apparent that many of the complaints were that the woman refused one service or another, which is to say to enforce a boundary. This appears to be counterevidentiary.
- …to young… I wonder how we are defining young. I wonder what the average age of a prostitute is. A quick Google search of ‘prostitution’ yeilds a recent arrest of 7 women. I am not saying this is a valid random sample or size, but their ages range from 27 to 55 with an average age of just under 40-years old. I suppose to a 70-year-old, these are young. Let’s move on…
- …attractive women… Attractiveness is relative, but let’s just say there’s no accounting for taste. Without comment, I’ll leave it to you to decide the attraction level of these same arrested women.
- …anywhere… This is a bold assertion.
- …at any time… This is an another bold assertion. I am certain there is support for this claim somewhere.
- …at affordable prices. Finally, the end of this parsing party. Affordabilty is another relative term. Who’s the punter and what’s the cost? I’m noticing that first guy perportedly spent £340 for 45 minutes. That’s about $450 US for the peeps reading on this side of the pond, and I am just going to go out on a limb and suggest that is beyond the affordability range of most Americans by several hundred dollars.
At the end of the day, I am left with the impression that the purpose of this definition is to incite and inflame not to objectively define anything. In the court system, this is what one would call leading the witness. As such it would be inadmissible. I concur.
Her next course of action is to determine ‘If your opponents are aware of widespread social stigma in society against prostituted people, which causes risks or disadvantages during interactions with law enforcement or social services, ask them if Johns are somehow magically exempt from this’.
Resulting from my previous search, it seems buyers not exempt. In fact, 6 of the 8 people arrested were men ‘charged with patronizing a prostitute’.
Again, an unsubstantiated claim was countered in less than a minute. It feels to me that the tactic is to throw so much word salad at the opponent that they simply can process the mis- and dis-information, and without recourse to Google, they may be overwhelmed and convert having never researched any of the false claims. Donald Trump relies heavily on this technique.
If they are unable to see the misogyny in the words and actions of punters, introduce them to punter forums…where prostitutes are rated like products.
The claim of misogyny is one of intent. It is not a claim that the words are offensive. It is a claim that the intent behind the words is fueled by some inherent hatred of women. I’m sorry but this is unadulterated psychobabble.
I did read the negative reviews on the punter forums, and to be honest at the expense of being accused of mansplaining, these don’t read much differently to bad service reviews on on Yelp or Google. And, yes, the woman are rated—albeit like services not like products: like my stylist butchered my hair; my gardner killed my dog; whatever. Linguistically, this is akin to code switching. They are employing the vernacular of the forum.
Do some of these men hate women? Sure. Who knows? Do they hate all women? Do all men who frequent prostitutes hate women? Do they hate all women or just prostitutes? Do they hate their mothers? Is their hatred of prostitutes simply a hidden hatred of their mother manifest in hatred of women? Do they hate other categories of people? Do they kick cats and beat dogs? Of course they do, and then they go home and beat their wives and children and speak poorly about their aunts and mothers.
Of course, this line of reasoning is just as inane as the line that inspired it.
She mentions men who freely admit to abusing and raping women.
Wait, what? I didn’t see that. I must have been distracted by the snuff films.
I can tell this is just turning into a rant. If there is one thing I can’t stand—and there is more than one thing I can’t stand—is sloppy academics. The rules of engagement for defending a position with integrity are simple. If the goal is to win at any expense, then, as the saying goes, all is fair in love and war. But I am not sure what the prize is here. I am not one to have much faith in the intellectual capacity of most humans, but even I am pretty sure that the majority of people can see right through this subterfuge.
Shake it off, Bry. Just shake it off. Push through it. No pain no gain.
Presumed motivators for men to pay for prostitutes are because…
A. Men want to have sex with no responsibilities with maximum control and no required effort of actually impressing and winning over the other person, and because other men are willing to provide it by pimping out others for their own lucrative profit.
Wow. Another unfounded, ungrounded assertion. Just some claim pulled from thin air. Also, I am pretty sure I heard her say A, as if to enummerate some list, but I never heard any subsequent letters.
- Men want to have sex…
- So far, so good…
- …with no responsibilities…
- I’ll presume she means with no additional strings attached. I am not sure what other responsibilities we could be talking about.
- …with maximum control…
- I am pretty sure we’ve already trodden this teritory. Perhaps he feels he has (or even has) more control over a prostitute than over some alternative woman. Perhaps he wife or partner won’t allow him to do something or another, but I have a feeling that this maximum control claim is a bit more hyperbole than reality justifies.
- …and no required effort of actually impressing and winning over the other person…
- I am fast-forwarding a bit because this feels like reading it will be like watching paint dry or grass grow. By what Romantic construct is this a thing? Someone’s watched too many Disney films. And this is a game, and the person who pays to avoid effort is a cheater? He jumped the queue. Hmmm. When I say it like that, it does seem awfully juvenile.
- …and because other men are willing to provide it by pimping out others for their own lucrative profit.
- Let’s just tag some barely relevent rationale on because we can.
- And let’s pepper our speech with superlatives so the hyperbole doesn’t feel lonely.
Prostitution exists because of the demand not because of a subset of women who are nymphomaniacs.
I have to admit that I loved this last line.
Also [prostitution does] not [exist] because of poverty. Poverty is a supporting factor.
Rachel wins the strawman argument contest of the year. Who is asserting that poverty is the sole arbiter of prostitution? Apparently, some unnamed source in Parliament.
Prostitution exists for one reason: male demand —Rachel Moran
This logic exhibits a fundamental lack of understanding of the basic rules of transactional economics and equilibrium in context with supply and demand.
Not to be a dick about it, but I can demand a Ferrari until the cows come home, but this will not conjure a Ferrari. Believe me, I’ve been waiting for those cows to come home for ages. Also, the supply of Ferraris does me no good either because the transction price is too high; therefore, I cannot afford a Ferrari.
Even if this nymphomaniac offered her services for free, there could be no transaction without demand, so the monetary exchange is a secondary factor.
Don’t sugarcoat the violence that punters and pimps commit.
Also, don’t differentiate violence that happens on the job, such as a dope dealer or a loan shark that would have occurred, perhaps even sooner, whether or not she was a prostitute. Let’s just pretend that these are related to her line of work because it helps to inflate number to make our position more sellable.
When a prostituted woman is raped or killed, the most likely rapist and/or killer is a pimp or a John. That makes prostitution the only so-called occupation which [sic] changes the most likely perpetrator of severe bodily harm from a partner or relative to your customer or employer.
And this is relavent how? Perhaps we should make associating with partners and relatives illegal. It seems that they are the biggest concern.
Why is this a so-called occupation? Is this not a job or line of work?
Lastly, make it very clear that this dynamic and this level of violence does not magically change under legalised prostitution.
The set of men buying and selling women doesn’t really change.
I disagree. Where prostitution is illegal, the good men are going to exit the system, and only bad men will remain. Of course, if you define all men who frequent prostitutes as misogynists, then I suppose you’ve created a situation where all men are bad, and so I stand corrected.
Let’s see how that renders as a categorical syllogism:
- – All men who frequent prostitutes are bad.
- – Joe is a man who frequents prostitutes.
- ∴ Joe is bad.
I see how it works. I stand corrected. All punters are evil. Burn them.
Under legalisation, too, men retain their disgust for the prostituted and their disrespect for their boundaries.
Here we go again with the broadbrushing.
Ample evidence are the punter forums of Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. This contempt and the sever mistreatment does not change unless there is effective widespread social intervention that teaches children for elementary school onwards that prostituted women and men are just as human and deserving of respect as anyone else and that all sexual interaction requires enthusiastic consent, which means that it cannot be bought.
Prostituted women and men are just as human and deserving of respect as anyone else…which is why we should deprive them of their livelihoods. Nothing says “I respect you” more than kicking the chair out from under you. That’s my creed.
Not merely consent but enthusiastic consent. Not only do I have to work, I have to do so enthusiastically.
Abolitionists have an issue not with the prostitutes but in the system they are caught in and the men who operate and benefit from it.
I think I am approaching the end of this clip.
The systems they are caught up in is Capitalism and a market economy, a system that presumes to be able to put a price on anything.
A cynic is…a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. — Oscar Wilde
Hatred of a system does not equate to hatred of a person in that system.
I agree, and so…
Humans have a piss poor track record in understanding complex systems, whether weather, poitical, sociological, economic, or otherwise. The issue here is that you can hate the system and love the person, but if you disrupt the system intentionally or otherwise, the wide ranging effect may prove disaterous.
Punters love the system but hate the women. Abolistionists care about the women.
Where is all this categorical hatred coming from?
Lastly, Elly mentions that she is working on a video piece to summarise the important stats and info on who punters are, what they do, and why they do it.
And here is where I will challenge your integrity. Who here would believe—especially insomuch as by her own admission that she recommends hiding inconvenietly opposing facts—any reporting would contain an accounting of unbiased and unabridged data, metrics, or summaries or that proper methodological rigour would be applied for the study.
On the topic of studies, in the description of the video on the page, there are links, which I’ve copied here for comment.
I am not so sure I have the interest in commenting on the rest of the series. To be honest, Elly has other series as well. I’d like to take a look, but I’m afraid I’ll have a similar reaction that the position and content haven’t been well thought out. Perhaps a strong editor would help, a disinterested party who would maintain (or otherwise elevate) the integrity of the content and who would provide needed rigour.
In the end, Elly’s message would be stronger and more cogent, and she could shed the chaff whilst retaining the substance.
So, now I’ve gone and done it. I thought that my commentary on prostitution would be a one-off. However, in researching arguments against prostitution, I happened upon this blog, which led me to videos on Elly Arrow’s Youtube channel. To be fair, she self-identifies as ‘a radical feminist from Germany’, and although there are many cultural similarities between the US and Germany, I could be missing some urgency not present here in the US. Please visit her channel and decide for yourself.
At the start, it seems we have many things in common. She Elly declares, ‘I am the humanist, atheist, pro-lesbian, sex industry-abolishing, gender-critical, radical feminist Liberals and Conservatives warned you about’. Whilst, I am not a Humanist, as I feel this is too narrow of a focus on the larger system, I am an atheist, pro-lesbian, gender-critical, and radical, though perhaps not feminist, as, like the term ‘terrorist’, it’s lost all meaning because it’s been coöpted by so many different factions. . I do have to ponder how one can simultaneously be gender-critical and pro-lesbian or a feminist, as both of these rely on gender identity, but I’ll save this for a possible future topic.
Specifically, she replied to a commented I made on her video, Arguing for Abolition Pt. 2 – Talk About Class. I also commented on How To Make The Case For Prostitution Abolition, so I’ll start there. I haven’t watched the rest of the series or any of her other videos yet, though I may if only to critique them.
Let me get the ad hominem stuff out of the way first. Perhaps she mentions on her blog or in other videos how she came to this place, but I’d like to understand her experiences and motivations that brought here to this conclusion. She says she used to feel differently, so I’d also like to know how she formulated that conclusion, too. It is apparent that she reads a script, which is distracting. Even the choice to read can be edited to sound more natural. It would also make the presentment more succinct. It would also be useful if she would upload her transcripts to the videos so we didn’t have to rely on the auto-translate feature. Pro Tip: This would also help with search indexing and findability.
In this video, Elly gives good advice on how to engage in a ‘debate’.
In the midst of this setup list, Elly slips in some irrelevant commentary about pimps. This is a related but distinctly separate side issue. Later, she tries to conflate sex trafficking and prostitution, which is again a tangential concern but can be resolved independently. In policy, this is known as scope or specificity. This is an intentional misframing of the argument. Don’t fall for this ploy and adopt this frame. You’ll lose the debate by not recognising that she’s switched domains.
Allow me to illustrate this:
We start simply with a canvas of all work.
Then we add ‘sex work’ as a subset of ‘all work’.
Then, let’s add prostitution as a fully contained subset of sex work (and all work). Again, clearly, this is not to scale. Although sex work can be subdivided into categories besides prostitution, cam girls, phone sex operators, pornographic actors, and so on, and some women may operate in more than one of this subcategories, I will ignore them for the sake of this illustration.
Prostitution can be future subdivided into categories of streetwalkers, escorts, call girls, and so on, each sharing aspects whilst retains distinctions. Besides distinctions in services and autonomy, the ranks comprise of women from different socio-economic classes.
Next come ‘pimps’, but before we get to them, let’s recognise for the moment that these people—for better and for worse—provide a supervisory or managerial function. ‘Managers’ exist outside of prostitution, inside the sex industry and out.
Within the sex industry, and particularly within the subset of prostitution, these managers are called pimps, so we’ll focus our attention there. As depicted, not all and perhaps not most prostitutes have pimps. Presumably, there are pimps, if even by some other name, who ‘manage’ sex workers who are not otherwise considered to be prostitutes.
Now that we’ve established that pimps are not involved in all prostitution, let’s step back for a moment before bringing all of this together. First, let’s recognise that there exists a general category of human trafficking. These humans might be domestic workers, manual labourers, or sex workers.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s limit the scope to the subset that is human sex trafficking, again noting that not all prostitution involves human sex trafficking.
Finally, let’s look at the final diagramme. Here we see the overlaps among the entities, and we can see that, theoretically, we can formulate a policy solution that addresses the deeper exploitation without disrupting the broader order of things.
In the end, one cannot simply conflate either human sex trafficking or pimping with prostitution. This is an attempt to win an argument by playing slight of hand with a language shell game. But at no time does Elly create a compelling argument as to why prostitution somehow does not fall into the category of work.
I am not going to enter into debate at this time the issues that Capitalism and Colonialism introduce into the world at large, though I feel that the real debate lies there.
Moreover, looking at the length of this post, I am going to address my response to Arguing for Abolition Pt. 2 – Talk About Class in another entry, hopefully, either today or tomorrow.
DISCLAIMER: This post is a veritable rant. It promises to go off script or at least be oblique to the recent themes I’ve adopted. It is also a bit late, missing the heels of the FOSTA debacle in the United States.
Prostitution is immoral. It exploits women. It exists in a world of violence. It objectifies and creates a rape culture. It is a vector for transmission of diseases. These are the main arguments against it, yet many of these are arguments against Capitalism itself.
In fact, most arguments of prostitution are criticisms of capitalism or conflated claims to some tangential activity. The most popular conflation is with sex trafficking, ‘modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act‘.
Prostitution is a category of sex work, which includes dominatrixes in the BDSM space, porn actors (and actresses if you expect archaic sexist jargon), phone sex operators, cam models. Nude modelling is somehow tasteful and not readily included in the collection.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines sex workers [PDF] as ‘women, men and transgendered people who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services, and who consciously define those activities as income-generating even if they do not consider sex work as their occupation‘. I won’t comment on why they feel the final dependent clause is relevant to the definition. Perhaps it’s in the realm of the aspiring actors or screenwriters who wait tables but don’t consider themselves to be waitstaff.
Returning to the main arguments in turn:
Prostitution is immoral. As a subjectivist, this is a difficult argument to win. Although morality is a human social construct, many people believe otherwise, and even those who don’t ascribe to the notion of an objective morality still adopt and abide by the fabricated moral codes generated by the worldview of, say, Christians or Muslims or some other sect who claim to have direct insight into such codes.
Nothing is immoral that society doesn’t declare to be immoral.
Nothing is immoral that society doesn’t declare to be immoral. In the United States, the institution of slavery—what I call hyper-capitalism or a capitalist’s wet dream—was deemed moral by most. Eventually, the morality was hotly debated, and now, it is considered to be immoral. Time changes everything. In some circles, slavery is still considered to be moral. In other circles, it has morphed into wage-slavery and because money is exchanged within a frame of a labour market, it escapes the definition.
Excepting for local norms, prostitution is not inherently more immoral than banking or retail sales.
Prostitution exploits women. Excepting that there are male prostitutes and sex workers, it is commonly believed that these people are (somehow) less likely to be exploited, so I’ll keep this focused on women. First, it is important to separate prostitution from human sex trafficking. This is not the topic, and it’s a problem with specificity. If you feel that sex trafficking is immoral and should be illegal, that’s fine; but don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Focus on the actual problem. <sarcasm>If you want to prevent all women from being exploited, lock them all up in monasteries. Problem solved. </sarcasm>
Prostitution is not inherently more immoral than banking
If one wants to discuss exploitation, let’s discuss a system designed such that a person needs to earn money to survive. Period. Full stop. If you buy into the capitalist worldview, then, that in order to survive a person chooses to be a marketing executive, a customer service representative, a janitor, or a prostitute, is none of your concern.
I have heard many arguments put forth that these women should get ‘real jobs’, jobs that pay minimum wage (or less) and have no other benefits, jobs where it would take a week or more to earn what they could in a day or less. That’s not even rational.
Prostitution exists in a world of violence. Despite trends, the world is still a violent place. Part of the higher probability of violence in the realm of prostitution exists because these women are marginalised by moralists. Even where prostitution is legal, it is still often viewed as immoral. They have little recourse to the legal system. They can’t organise. They are forced underground. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Don’t force these women into alleys and underground.
In the US, recent FOSTA and SESTA hysteria have disarmed women from the tools they used to navigate their environment. They could share intelligence related to which men to avoid for one reason or another. Other tools have cropped up to facilitate this cooperation, but these tools benefit from network effects. The more people having access to the information clearinghouse, the better.
Prostitution objectifies women. I’ll concede this point straight away but not without noting that many things objectify women: the beauty industry, the entertainment industry, the marketing industry in general. If as a society we can resolve objectification and prostitution is the last holdout, I’m onboard, right there with you. But there is no need to make prostitution the poster child for eliminating objectification.
Prostitution creates a rape culture. To be fair, I have no metrics on this, and I am going to pass, but not without saying that it seems to be an implausible claim. And I have read counterclaims anyway.
Prostitution is a vector for the transmission of diseases. Indeed. And driving is a vector for traffic accidents. Of course, given higher frequencies of an activity, one would expect a greater number of outcomes—even with the same probability, the additional exposure may result in hitting this undesirable lottery. And the variety of partners with unknown sexual histories is problematic.
However, a mitigating factor is education—and not simply moralistic lip service. Women need to understand the risks and understand how to diminish it. Yet again, being marginalised does not necessarily allow a woman to be empowered. A client can insist on unprotected sex. If he forces his hand, no one is going to believe that a prostitute can be raped. As with sex trafficking, rape is its own subject and is only part of a larger conversation.
I was winding down, but I found a related quote I wanted to address:
Geena Leigh was in prostitution for 19 years from the age of 18. In her submission to an Australian inquiry into the regulation of brothels, she said prostitution: “has this way of stealing all the dreams, goals and beautiful essence out of a woman. During my years in it, I didn’t meet one woman who enjoyed what she was doing. Everyone was trying to get out.”
Evidently, lack of enjoyment in one’s employment is not limited to prostitutes. The is the problem with fundamental attribution bias. A recent Gallup poll cited that 85% of people hate their jobs. Maybe Gallup only interviewed prostitutes, or perhaps the 15% who liked their jobs were the only ones who weren’t sex workers.
Well, there went my morning…
For those wondering (and who’ve gotten this far), the impetus for this post was some other blog posts I happened upon in WordPress’ Reader.
Episode 8 of The Moral Foundations of Politics with Ian Shapiro was another difficult lesson to watch—rather to listen to—the student responses. Evident is the degree of indoctrination or brainwashing these students have been through. I want to document some pieces I feel are relevant to my position.
The responses were primarily knee-jerk responses anchored on institutional indoctrination. Whilst it makes sense to indoctrinate a group, I am opposed to imposing an obvious relative morality but passing it off as absolute.
Asking how prostitution could be illegal when sex and commerce are both legal, the responses—to be fair, only a couple people responded—were about how it might somehow ‘harms’ women or society as a sort of negative externality, be violent, have been coercive or a form of slavery, have involved a married or otherwise committed spouse, or have involved an under-aged person. These were poor man’s strawman arguments at best, each potentially with merit, but each a separate issue from the question.
In fact, we can likely find evidence of each of these in a ‘typical’ employment situation: coercion, under-age, a threat of violence, implied or expressed; the spousal issue doesn’t fit these situations, but even if we want to legislate keeping people safe from their own actions, it is as illegal for unmarried persons, so the rationale is insufficient.
The point I hold is that prostitution in and of itself is no more exploitative than any other source of employment, a source income. Given that Western society imposes income as the primary means to support one’s self, the wrong here is that artificial barrier. Were income not a veritable necessity, prostitution to earn money (or use as a barter) would also be unnecessary. This is not to say that the other aforementioned objections would be resolved; this because, as I mentioned, they are different issues.
Next, we are told that marital rape originally not considered a crime because a woman was considered to be chattel property transferred patriarchally from her father to her husband. As I’ve written previously, I do not subscribe to the notion of property in the first place, but taken that as given, it is obvious that property is determined through whimsy. Property rights change over time, whether receding as just noted or expanding to include intellectual property and the expanse of patentable ideas. It’s disconcerting that application of the law can be so arbitrary and, though perhaps not capricious, frivolous. And given it is all open to interpretation, the pendulum can swing in the other direction, as the women of Iran and other fundamentalist theocracies has experienced.
Apparently, I’m done ranting. Basic income has been mentioned as a solution to some prostitution, as some women participate out of desperation. Though I feel that this might kerb some prostitution, some women would still seek to supplement this base income, if only to advance their personal standard of living.