Friends, in past articles I have at times used the metaphor of prostitution as a means of criticising those who I deem worthy of criticism.
But this inevitably raises the question: if I’m using prostitutes as a metaphor for something bad, then doesn’t that mean that I must have a negative attitude towards prostitutes themselves?
Well, actually no. It’s the difference between one’s actual feelings and a mere literary conceit.
And this ties into a much large philosophical issue: the problem of is/ought distinctions.
Let’s use prostitution as an example.
Prostitution has been around since, well, always. It’s often described as being the world’s second oldest profession after flint knapping.
Ok, so most people don’t actually know what flint knapping is (I only do because I’m a goddamn weirdo).
But if they did then they would totally realise that it is way older than prostitution.
Anyway, many societies have frowned on prostitution and often this frowning gets to the point where people stop frowning and start burning. Or rather stop believing that prostitution is a social problem and start believing that there is something morally wrong with prostitutes themselves.
And burn them.
I of course disagree with both of these positions: I don’t think that prostitutes are necessarily immoral people, and I don’t think that prostitution, as a concept, is a problem.
In the interests of full disclosure I should point out that I have never been to a prostitute and don’t think I ever will. But I must admit that this might be because I’ve never been that hard up for the kind of ‘release’ that they offer.
Can I expect the same from merchant seamen (hehe) whose long voyages keep them from their wives and husbands for years at a time? Were we expecting chastity or merely relentless masturbation from the migrant workers whom Apartheid forced to live away from their families?
As far as I can tell prostitutes have existed in every society of sufficient size to accommodate them and efforts to ban the practice have always ended in failure.
I’ve heard it said that even in fundamentalist religious states like Saudi Arabia brothels exists; they just have the added expense of a corrupt imam who marries the ‘couple’ at the entrance and divorces them on the way out.
So prostitution is ineradicable. But should it be? It is a simple fact that many of the women who engage in prostitution do so because they feel they have no choice.
Many do not believe that they have any other way of making money. Many more are forced into the life by those more powerful than themselves. This is always wrong. But it’s not something that is wrong with prostitution, or any other form of entertainment.
The thing that is wrong with forcing someone to be a prostitute is not that it’s prostitution.
What’s wrong with it is that it is slavery.
All forms of slavery and exploitation are bad and the things that make prostitution bad (in the examples described above) have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with exploitation.
I mean let’s see: Abuse? Check. Inability to leave? Check. Loss of rights? Check. Exploitative business practices? Check. Being made to wear those hideous fishnet stockings? Double Check.
Friends, those things are always bad, wherever you find them. The addition of sex doesn’t change much. Two things that it does change are that it makes the “business” more personal and it also makes abuse more likely to occur.
You see thanks to patriarchy we live in a society where sex and power are closely conflated. A lot of people get off by dominating others and in our culture that often means using sex as a weapon. I’m sure I don’t have to mention that this is only a problem if the person being dominated doesn’t fully consent to it.
Of course prostitutes who are taken advantage of and abused do not consent, and have been robbed of the power to resist. My point is that there isn’t anything wrong with prostitution in theory; it’s just sex for money, and sex is really not that important.
But the reality is that many prostitutes are not happy with where they are. They are treated appallingly badly by pretty much everyone, simply for giving society what it wants. This dichotomy between how prostitution ought to be (“no worries”) and how they are treated (“a fate worse than church”) leads to many discussions around the issue ending in an enraged deadlock.
This is because the two points of view do not, in any way, contradict each other.
It’s an “is/ought” distinction: a disagreement between how things should be and how they are.
There shouldn’t be any problems with prostitution, but there are, and we need to do something about them.
The obvious solution, and one which has worked in many countries, is to wo/man the fuck up and just legalise it.
If we can collectively admit that there is no way in hell prostitution is dying out any time soon, and that there really is no fundamental problem with paying for sex, then we can go to the logical next step of legalising it.
Which would hopefully also be a start to treating prostitutes like people again, and giving those who want to leave the life the help they need to do so.
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]