Monday, April 4, 2011

Sex Workers Also Belong to Working Class!

Sex Workers Also Belong to Working Class!
International Women's Day events in Toronto also had a discussion, Sex Work in Toronto: Decriminalize vs. Legalize. What are the issues?” At the event, they discussed about sex work, sex worker and their problems. Sex work, which is called prostitution, is an outcome of patriarchal, heterosexual and monogamous society. This is a society, according to Marilyn Frye, a lesbian writer, teacher, theorist, and philosopher at Michigan State University, “men and …institutions, relationships, roles, and activities which are male-defined, male-dominated, and operating for the benefit of males and the maintenance of male privilege…” (1993: 92). Therefore, it is not a surprise that they use women as prostitutes to experience their “favourite sexual escape fantasies” (1993: 94), which is beyond missionary position. On the other hand, the male chauvinist society labelled the sex worker as a prostitute, someone who is doing third-grade and low-class work than so called normal work that people ordinarily for their living. This is the hypocritical stand of this male chauvinist society. However, at the event, a sex worker was not described as a prostitute, but as a social worker. In addition, guest speakers and participants talked about and discussed sex work and the industry, the practical and legal problems which sex workers face, their status, identity, and how they live and survive in the male chauvinist society. Moreover, they shared how they fight for their rights as a group, their feelings such as shame, anger, and worries and their adjustment with normative society. These discussions made clear that sex work must be integrated with the normative society by making it legal, decriminalizing and recognizing it like other work. In addition, sex workers should be respected and recognized like other workers.
“The time has come to think about sex” (1984: 267) says Galle Rubin, an assistant Professor, Anthropology and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. She says that some people think that sex is not as important as other issues in society. However, she argues against them, saying that sex and sexuality have their own politics within themselves and also with outside world. That is why there are laws against some sexual behaviours and activities, for example prostitution is prohibited (1984: 268). This view has dominated humankind and is expressed through laws and in practical life. These laws and practical attitude discriminate against sex workers in this society. Therefore, it is very difficult to live as a sex worker because they have to face many practical legal problems while they do their work.
One of the attitudes is that sex work is not accepted and respected by this society. Even though sex work is legal in Toronto, working as a sex worker is really a challenge and difficult. At the event they shared some issues, for example, that men who are the main customers could possibly exploit, sexually abuse, and rape sex workers. In addition to this, pimps who are the agent for sex workers have the possibilities to exploit them. Not only them, even the police, who are mostly men and have the responsibility to protect citizens, can arrest sex workers for many reasons. One of the reasons is violating laws by selling sex for money, but not arresting the customers who are mostly men who pay sex worker to have sex. This attitude of the police is real discrimination against sex workers. Moreover, the public and the neighbours can harsh the sex workers by spitting on them, insulting them and some people even use boiling water and dogs against sex workers (Event March, 11th 2009). This shows how sex workers are discriminated against by society through their attitudes, laws, and behaviours. Therefore, liberating sex workers from society is the first step to liberate the sex.
There are many ways to liberate themselves from the oppressors. One of the way, Audre Lorde who describes herself “as a forty-nine-year-old Black lesbian feminist socialist mother if two…and a member of an interracial couple” (1984: 114) says, “it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes” (1984: 114). Her argument is that humanity is divided and conditioned by the oppressors since many groups such as “dominant/subordinate, good/bad, up/down, superior/inferior” and even more like race, color, gender (1984: 114), sex and sexuality. After oppressors made such divisions, they have been dominating humankind the way they want. Since most sex workers who are part of their division are women, it is easy for oppressors to treat sex workers in an inhuman way because women are already in their controlled and an oppressed gender. Sex workers as a group are already oppressed; hence, they have to teach their oppressors such as men, government, and religious institutions. For example, what they do against sex workers, how they treat, discriminate against and dominate them. Sex workers should speak for their rights and fight against illegal and criminal status of their work and discrimination against them. This is another way of teaching oppressors.
Another point of view, Lorde agues is that sex worker’s rights are also part of women rights too because most of the sex workers are women. Therefore, all women beyond their colour, race, status and national should unite (1984: 117) and raise their voice for sex workers’ rights and protection. These oppressions should not be repeated again and again but that is what happening so far because we as oppressed people are not learning from our past and not listening to the people who have been oppressed. (1984: 117). Many people not only women, even some feminists are not listening to sex workers because they have their own thoughts and beliefs about sex work. They do not understand that sex workers are also oppressed by men and male chauvinist ideas. Most of us are still under the condition of male chauvinist ideas but unfortunately we are not able to separate these ideas from our normal thoughts. As Lorde says that, “heterosexual black women often tend to ignore and discount the existence and work of black lesbians” (1984: 121). The same thing is happening for the sex workers who are ignored by women. Sex workers as social workers are, on the one hand, really facing practical problems and difficulties to live and other hand fight for their rights and against the discrimination. As social workers, they also fight to liberate sex from domination of patriarchal society. This is very important in this time as Galle Rubin mentions in her writing (1984: 267). To understand this, “as women, we must root out internalized patterns of oppression within ourselves if we are to move beyond the most superficial aspects of social change” (Lorde 1984: 122). Otherwise she says, “Refusing to recognize difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfall facing us as women” (1984: 118). This would be not only unfortunate for the sex liberation and sex workers but also for the women liberation too.
Legal problems are another important problem to consider because it is an issue not only affecting particularly women sex workers but also women in general. Even though sex work is legal in Canada, sex workers cannot communicate with other persons to sell sex for money because it is violating the law. That is illegal says Kara Gillies, who was a sex worker and has been active in the sex workers rights movement for over twenty years and one of the guest speakers at the event. She also adds that sex worker can be arrested under the criminal law and have to live in jail. Sex workers organizations are saying that this law is against freedom of speech. Therefore, sex work should be decriminalized by government because it will allow sex workers to work freely by opening their businesses wherever they want without fear and work together with other sex workers since this would be safer for them too. (Murdock 2009). However, mostly men make the laws and policies based on their social beliefs which are international like disrespect and criminal act. (Cset and Seshu 2004: 9). Moreover, “Julia Query, sex worker,[says]... no matter what you think about sex work and its ‘morality,’ it is a legitimate feminist position to argue that women in sex work - there by "choice" or economic despair-- deserve to be safe, to have rights as workers and legal recourse for abuse or discrimination from clients and employers (Nguyen 15 Apr. 2009 ).
Sex workers’ rights are also women’s rights and therefore human rights. But the male chauvinist societies and their governments do not care about women’s and sex workers’ rights. The reason is, Marilyn Frye claims, that men depend on women for their needs. That is why men are afraid to give freedom and accept women’s rights because women can get the power over their own body. Then men cannot use her whenever, wherever and however he needs and wants (1993: 95). Then she described that, “male parasitism means that males must have access to women it is the patriarchal imperative….total power is unconditional access, total powerlessness is being unconditionally accessible” (1993: 95). Women having rights over their body is a problem for men because it denies their power. Particularly men like to have total power particularly when it comes to a sex worker. Men do not like this attitude from a sex worker if the sex worker has the power to refuse anything which is asked of them. This creates a problem for them. That is why men are against giving rights to sex workers.
Sex workers are doing a service for people in the patriarchal society where sex is suppressed and discriminated against. Therefore, being a sex worker is not their fault because people need their services and they are providing them. However, sex is not a sin as we believed for long time. Sex is natural and sexual behaviours are a normal act of every human being. Therefore, sex work is natural work too and should be accepted as normal as all other works. Hence, sex work should be legalized and recognized by laws if a person chooses to offer sex for money for his/her living, pleasure or any other reasons by using his/her body without abusing and exploiting others such as customers. It is his/her basic human right and therefore government’s responsibility is to make it legal and decriminalize the sex work. This is one of the ways that society will begin to accept and respect sex work and worker. It is all human beings such as men and women responsibility is to “root out” (Lorde 1984: 122) our male chauvinist ideologies from our minds and bodies. It is a way to free sex from male chauvinist society and respect and accept sex work as it is and workers as they are because they are also part of working class.

Csete, Joanne., and, Meena Saraswathi Seshu. (2004). “Still underground:
searching for progress in realizing the human rights of women in prostitution”.
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Frye, Marilyn. (1993). “Some Reflections on Separatism and Power”. The Lesbian and Gay
Studies Reader. Ed. Henry Abelove et al. Routledge. Pp.91-98.

Lorde, Audre. (1984). “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”. Sister
Outside: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press. Pp.114-123.

Murdock, Jessie. (2009). “A closer look at decriminalizing
prostitution”. The Gazette. London ON. Western University.

Nguyen, Mimi Thi. (15 Apr. 2009).

Rubin, Galle. (1984). “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality”.
Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. Ed. Carole Vance, Boston:
Routledge and Kegan. pp.267-319.

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