There are women who claim they freely choose “sex work” and that they are not being coerced. These women will get angry if you insist that, yes, they are being coerced, as well as being abused. The argument goes, I Chose to Do Sex Work, I’m Not Being Coerced, How Dare You Tell Me I Don’t Have Any Agency, Why Do You Think Women Can’t Consent When There’s Money Involved, etc. This worldview comes from I Choose My Choice feminism, you know, the idea that we should validate any choice any woman makes ever (as long as we’re not liberating women from oppression) and it comes from viewing sex work purely in terms of labour, while ignoring the context of male supremacy and rape culture. The pro-sex work lobby convinces us that women can do whatever they want with their bodies and some of them choose sex work so who are we to question that? If only it were that simple.
I’m all for women doing whatever they want with their bodies, but why are we pretending that sex work is what women want? Sex works means servicing men in ways that men choose, it’s giving men pleasure, it’s fulfilling men’s fantasies. Sex work is men paying for someone to get them off without them having to reciprocate. It’s men opting out of actually having to make a sexual experience good for her in order to get her interested: just give her some money instead. It’s not about what women want at all. This system of men getting whatever they want from women and not giving anything back exists in a larger context. Women are still doing most of the housework and child care and we’re still getting paid less money in the workplace. We do more than half of our society’s work and we get paid less than half of the money produced and we own less than half of the property. Men are literally getting free labour from us. I don’t know why we’re putting up with it.
If we can consider for a moment the funfeminists’ claim that sex work is just “work,” then it’s extremely one-sided work. It’s a group of mostly women working for a group of mostly men. If giving people orgasms is work, and if orgasms are a necessary product that our society should produce, then why are all the orgasms being produced men’s orgasms? It would seem that getting men off is a necessary public service that women “choose” to do, while nobody gives a shit about women’s orgasms. If women were actually doing what they want to with their own bodies, then women would be the ones having the orgasms.
In our system of two distinct sex classes, the men in the ruling class, the women in the oppressed class, the concept of consent does not mean the same thing to the same group. Men can get almost anything they want almost any time. Wives and girlfriends are expected to be sexually available any time, and in the absence of a wife or a girlfriend, a man can still find a prostitute. Consensual sex for a man means doing or getting whatever he wants; a woman is always around to give it to him. On the other hand, for a woman, consensual sex doesn’t necessarily mean sex that she desires. Women can “consent” to sex, the funfeminists claim, even in the absence of desire. She can “consent” to sex if there’s an external reward, like money, to be gained. The last funfeminist I spoke to about consent said to me that I must have never been in a long-term relationship because, and I quote: “Longterm relationships often involve people doing something for their partners they may not feel like doing, whether it’s sex or taking out the garbage.” Let’s just dissect that quote. Taking out the garbage is not done just for your partner, it’s done for the whole family, including yourself. Further, taking out the garbage is a stereotype found all over popular culture of the only job a man is supposed to do around the house. However, tons of work needs to be done around the house, and chances are everything in that garbage can was either cut, peeled, chopped, dusted, wiped or swept by a woman. Even though women are doing most of this work, the work is done for the whole family, including the man. He doesn’t even want to take out the garbage, which means he doesn’t even want to do the tiniest bit of the work involved in feeding himself and cleaning up after himself. And when he does this tiny portion of the work involved in keeping himself alive and healthy he’s a “good husband.” The wife, on the other hand, is supposed to do all the cooking and cleaning plus perform sexual acts for him that she “may not feel like doing”. The funfeminist who said this to me sincerely believed she had made a good point about her pro-sex work position and did not notice that she had just actually made a point about women’s oppression. From a quick glance, maybe it looks like a fair trade, women giving their husbands sex and their husbands taking out the garbage, why not? But that’s not the whole picture. She’s expected to do almost everything for him that there is to do, whether she desires it or not, and he may or may not take out the garbage in return. It’s an excellent example of what consent means for men and women in a patriarchy. For men, consent means doing whatever they want to do and also not doing whatever they don’t want to do, and consent for women means just “agreeing” to whatever she was going to be expected to do anyway. It’s okay, she agreed to it, it’s consensual, says the pro-sex work lobby, why are the silly radfems claiming that women can’t consent and have no agency? None of them seem to be asking the question about why it’s okay for men to feel so entitled to sex that it doesn’t matter whether their partner desires it or not.
Not everyone is in a traditional heterosexual marriage, and not everyone falls into the category “man” or “woman.” But a great many people do, and our culture produces media image after media image of women agreeing to do what men want, so much so that we don’t even notice it. See my post about “heterosexual pronging,” for example. I don’t want there to be a special version of consent for women. I want it understood that sex is something people do together because they both desire it, and that the absence of desire means the absence of sex.
If women had fully human status, we would be free agents choosing to release our own sexual tension the way we see fit, with partners who desire our pleasure too, not just their own. We wouldn’t be a class of people who are coerced through social norms and financial distress to just “agree” to whether the ruling class wants from us. You can really tell who’s in control when you look at whose pleasure matters and whose does not.