The prudishness of our society is particularly evident when it comes to female sexuality. Purity pledges see young women “pledge” their chastity to their father’s for safekeeping until marriage, whereas male equivalents see young men pledge to their mothers to not take the virginity of another man’s wife [Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth]. We also have cultural virginity tests for young women, and an obsession in politics with the “sexiness” and dress of women in politics. Then we have abortion laws that seek to ensure the mental soundness of women getting abortions, just to make sure she knows what she is doing. All of these paternalistic laws and customs reinforce this notion that women are not sexual beings. It is no surprise then that female sex-workers are routinely punished by the state and sometimes viewed as victims by feminists. It doesn’t occur to anybody that maybe, just maybe, some women enjoy being sex-workers. Today, an Ontario court ruled that laws surrounding prostitution are a violation of the Charter because they force women “to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person.”
Basically, you have women who screen their clients before engaging in the sex-trade in their own houses. When more than one sex-worker plies her trade in the same house, it is considered a bawdy house and violators are subject to a 5 year prison term. Five years in jail! For having sex! What kind of society do we live in where these women are thrown in jail for selling what is rightfully theirs – their bodies! I will not disagree that some women are victims and that preventing victimization and sex-trafficking are important goals, but throwing women in jail for group sex demonstrates just how prudish we are. This is a serious case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Implying that all sex-workers are victims is simply insulting. It is no better than the paternalistic abortion laws in the United States that just want to ‘make sure’ women understand what an abortion is. Newsflash: women may have vaginas but we are not stupid! If the government was really concerned about women being victimized by the sex-trade, why did they let Picton murder them for a decade before finally getting around to checking on all those missing women? Or why does the current Canadian government not consider domestic violence a crime? Folks, the State doesn’t give a crap about the lives of these women; it simply wants to do what every misogynistic, paternalistic society has ever wanted to do: control female reproduction.
Sex-work flaunts a society’s prudishness in the face of the government, which necessitates a strong reaction – labelling group sex-work as organized crime. If you really want to stop sex-trafficking and victimization of sex-workers, you start treating sex-workers like people. I was watching a news report the other day about a missing woman. Except the newscaster didn’t say ‘woman’, they said ‘prostitute.’ How many other people are labelled by their careers likes that? Does it matter that she is a prostitute? Of course it doesn’t; but people blame prostitutes for getting themselves hurt/murdered/kidnapped. Victim blaming doesn’t stop with blaming prostitutes for their own fate, it starts with blaming rape victims, which is rampant in our society.
Feminism is about choice. The choice to abort or carry to term; to parent or adopt. This choice means that woman should be able to choose to be sex-workers and not be punished nor painted as some poor victim. I can only imagine how demeaning it is for a sex-worker who loves her job to be told that she is a victim. How about we show a little compassion and stop labelling these women by their profession. Rather than throwing them in jail for selling their body, how about we severely punish the men who beat them, rape them, kidnap them, and murder them. How about we stop blaming the victim and start fixing the actual problem: violence against women.
For more information about sex-workers who love their job visit Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC).