Monday, January the 28th, 2008

Through a sequence of events that aren’t particularly significant in themselves, I’ve been pondering the following question: Is a feminist stance in favour of prostitution feasible?

Some reading-up on the matter has unearthed what appears to be a fairly contentious debate (see, e.g., [1]).

In summary, “radical feminists have tended to see prostitution as the ‘absolute embodiment of male patriarchal privilege’ and have called for its outright rejection,” while “pro-sex feminists, often drawing on the writing of sex-workers themselves, see prostitution as a form of erotic labour whose conditions require scrutiny, but which is not inherently incompatible with a feminist stance.”

While I form my own opinions on the matter, I thought it’d be interesting to open-up this topic for discussion.

Suppose the woman enters the profession of her own free will, and is comfortable in separating her private life from her work. Suppose she retains sovereignty in conducting her sexual interactions. Suppose she deems it a viable form of employment—preferable to the low-paid and unsatisfying jobs she’s otherwise found herself in the past.

How far would you need to push such conditionals to become in favour? Or would you stay staunchly against regardless?

[1] “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” Dee Amy-Chinn, Feminist Media Studies 6 (2): pp. 175–190.

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15 Responses to “Respectable whores”

  1. Mukul says:

    There are too many suppositions in your post.

    Will you kiss and fellate unattractive/old women? Once you get rid of your libido and think of it, prostitution is not empowering at all. Not to mention, the desensitization, loss of self-esteem, and a greater risk of battling infections.

    That’s the problem with being completely liberal and detached, we become objective to the point of tacitly condoning such professions. If you would not want your sister or daughter in this profession, then it’s certainly not the best job for a woman no matter what is said in the spirit of debate.

  2. Matt says:

    (Ed. note: I’ve edited this comment to prevent potential disputes.)

    Mukul, perhaps it is not as simple an argument as “would you let your family do it?”

    I can ask you the question back, that if your sister wanted to do it to make money and out of choice and enjoys it as a profession, would you let her do it.

    To the author,

    Yes. In the end it could be a choice under certain circumstances, and if someone wants to make that choice, I suppose it is defensible.

  3. Michelle says:

    Radical feminists generally see degradation to females in the most innocuous things, so their opinions don’t count. :P Sorry, I know that’s bitchy sounding, but it’s been my experience that a “radical” anything is never good.

    Should we legalize prostitution? I don’t see why not. I think legalizing it is about making it safer for all parties involved. Are whores ever going to get real respect? I don’t think so. Should they? Hm, never thought about it. It’s not a job I could do, legal or no, but then, I can’t fathom cleaning out septic tanks, either.

  4. pundit says:

    Mukul: I don’t see how my behavior toward any particular kind of woman has anything to do with anything, but I think I gather your stand on this matter: You’re staunchly against it regardless of the circumstance.

    To reiterate, this is just a purely intellectual exercise. The only way I can think about such things is to completely detach myself from them. That’s the only way I can ensure that my preconceptions on such matters don’t overwhelm any objective notions I might form. All that said, I ran your little sibling test through my mind, and that doesn’t affect my stance—for I would let her do what she pleases. I’d be happy for her if she was.

    I think the disconnect here is that though I am using the word ‘whore,’ I’m imagining a woman who’s educated and cultured, with excellent social and conversational skills, and whose job happens to involve sex—à la a courtesan.

  5. pundit says:

    Matt: I believe I agree with you.

  6. pundit says:

    Michelle: You’ve provided two opinions here, one on the profession’s legalisation, and the other on whether you feel women in the profession will get any respect.

    But my question was more along the lines of your third which you didn’t answer: Do they deserve respect?

    And with regards to the radicals, I’m seeing all sorts of crazies come out of the woodwork this political season. “Oh, here’s a photograph where Obama happens to be having his back to Hillary. Surely he must be doing this as an affront to all womenfolk, and must be burnt at the stake!”

  7. Michelle says:

    Do they deserve respect? I don’t think anyone automatically deserves respect, it’s earned. I don’t care what job you do – you can be the Pope or president of the United States, that doesn’t mean I’m going to respect you. I can respect the office, but not the person in it.

    I knew a girl who was a stripper and a call girl for a while, I respected her because she was a good person, her job had nothing to do with me and didn’t bother me as long as she was taking proper care of herself and her customers.

  8. pundit says:

    I guess my poorly-worded question was to have been: Is it a respectable profession?

  9. Mukul says:


    You, Sir, were compelling and objective without an iota of vitriol. Kudos! I’ll rather reply to pundit.


    I agree with Michelle, feminists are part of the problem. I also agree with Matt that it is a defendable profession on an individual level.

    Also, someone who’s educated and has skills you mentioned can do much better than sell carnal pleasure to men around. But you say, “what if she enjoys it as a profession?”. Well, there is a difference between choice and preference. Her choice of profession should by no means be mistaken for her endorsement of it. From what I’ve read in Jenna Jemson’s biography, most of them do not dream of becoming one, they dream of modelling or acting or something else. Foraying into this business or that(Porn) is a consequence or compromise.

    I am most definitely not against prostitution or women indulged in it. Do I respect them? Depends on the person. Do I respect their choice? Yes, though I think it’s a bad one. Do I feel for them? Yes. Would I want a friend or a relative to take that path? No.

    It’s as simple as that, regardless of whether rationalists find it idiotic or rural.

    Coming back to the central question – all professions have some inherent stereotype attached to it. On a general principle, I find academia a respectable field. But, prostitution has a stigma attached to it, whether or not it is justified is a different question. So no, I don’t find it a respectable profession. And my dislike is objective, it’s not against the person, it’s against the profession.

    As a male, I find it repulsive to sell my body and exchange fluids with strangers for money. And the contention that “an educated and cultured upbringing, with excellent social and conversational skills” is part of the package being sold, I can’t help but see the irony. :)

    p.s. Unlike my first comment, I wanted this one to be lucid and structured instead of being instinctive, but then, such is the topic!

  10. pundit says:

    “… but then, such is the topic!”

    I admit it was chosen for that very reason. Occasionally, I stoop to underhanded schemes to elicit responses.

  11. anita says:

    I don’t like referring to some professions as being more “respectable” than others. It’s really the person you have to look at – there are some women in the profession who are respectable and others who aren’t. I didn’t really get what you were asking in the first place, but I used to read belle de jour, and I thought she was very respectable (assuming it wasn’t all fabricated). And there are probably many doctors and lawyers and politicians out there who aren’t respectable.

    I probably didn’t answer your question, but just being wishy-washy as usual…

  12. pundit says:

    The conversation was sidetracked to the issue of respectability at some point, so I’ll reiterate my initial thought experiment: Is a feminist stance in favour of prostitution feasible?

  13. Michelle says:

    Yes, as I think it’s already an occurrance. ;)

  14. Mukul says:

    She’s right.

  15. Gouri says:

    May be it’s possible. But I don’t think it would be possible to separate her private life from her work. Or at least I can’t think of it.. especially in light of the prevailing work culture where the private life is getting more and more encroached upon by work in all other professions.

8,938,157 people conned into wasting their bandwidth.