Politics and economics of sexual work
This is a topic I don’t know much about, to be honest.
In an effort to get more acquainted with it, I read Trabajo sexual/Contra el trabajo. This is a summary of some of its talking points:
There is a framework of exceptionality around sex work:
- Proxenetism, of the profiting of sexual workers in vulnerable economic situations (in Spanish legal terms, at least, as a typified crime), is only made different from other capitalistic profiteering by the sexual nature of the work.
- Sex work regulation tries to decouple the strong association between sexual work and femeninity, by establishing clear worker protections in a framework of labour or class relationships. A framework of workers rights, with no exceptionality in place, would reduce abuse and clandestinity.
- In fact, abolitionism often creates situations where clandestinity is necessary, with its corresponding abusive situations. It also avoids associationism and self-organization of sex workers in common, protecting bodies of governance (eg: unions, cooperatives, etc).
- The book traces the stigmatization in Wester Europe of prostitution to the Protestant moral wave (though in this front I have to admit I’m skeptical of Eurocentric explanations to a global phenomenon, but let’s say OK because capitalism, as in, industrial capitalism, is born in England and adopted globally ).
Compare this with domestic labour, another aspect of the femenine work under the “private sphere” with a similarly shadowed aspect within capitalism:
- The fact that domestic labour is not paid doesn’t mean it escapes capitalistic logics.
- In fact: it is paid nowadays: to migrant domestic cleaners and care-takers that erase gender expectations for working women of mid-high income. Their “escape” from sexual work means entering this working force, reinforcing the access of non-migrant working women to the labour market.
- Following that logic, the regular sexual activity is, in a certain sense, always work, even if its enjoyed (!!) in that sex is part of the reproduction of the (masculinized) forces of production. The destigmatization of sexual work makes for a view beyond just reformism.
- The private/public life distinction obeys capitalistic, patriarcal laws. By placing sex work under the public sphere of life (ie: regularization) we are enforcing a deidentification of sex and genre.
Also important: depenalization is not the end goal. That only serves capitalistic goals. The goal is to generate tools within sex workers to impugnate work relationships as a whole.
Consent / Desire
- Consent is, yes, most of the times forced by a vulnerable economic situation - just as in many other labour relationships under capitalism, though. Again, what makes this situation exceptional is an stigma that makes abolitionism more harmful than helpful for sex workers, for thereasons above stated: you force a very real work relationship to a status of illegality, thus effectively removing any means for the workers to protect themselves against violence.
- In other words: is the stigma of prostitution legitimizes violence against women, feminism has to address the stigma of prostitution instead of inciding more in it.
- The battle against prostitution is inseparable from the reality that most prostitutes are migrants, ie, it reeks of racism.
- Desire is not neutral or natural: it’s shaped by the normativitic conceptions of classism, racism, ableism, transphobia, etc. Escaping the framework of exceptionality is part of denaturalizing sex itself, also putting under the spotlight these inherited conceptions.
- So when abolitionists place desire at the center of the problem, they are removing it from the materialistic social forms that produce and regulate it. Desire is not as free and individual as we’d like to - that’d be a trap of neoliberalism that obviates (again) that its a mirror of classist, racist, etc imperant views. This view of desire reflects the socio-economical status of those that hold this view (ouch!). Ie: it’s easy to condemn sex work as a non-migrant (probably white) mid-ladder worker with your basic needs covered.
- Given that the meeting of domestic, sexoafective needs is, despite being unpaid, also work, desire is not a good point of reference.
Some mentioned references (regardless of position):
- Calibán y la bruja
- El poder de la mujer y la subversión de la comunidad
- Antiedipo (Deleuze, Guattari)
- Camille Barbagallo, Margaret Corvid, Silvia Federici.
- Thinking sex Gayle rubin
- Not a choice, not a job - raymond
- Lilian Mathieu
- Intercurse, Dworkin
- The reification of desire
- Teoría de las necesidades de Marx - Agnes Heller
 Would sexual work look different if the Song Dinasty had started the Industrial Revolution? Essentially, th only thing that stopped them from becoming an avant la lettre XIX’s England was politics, if I remember well. According to the Wikipedia, prostitution was linked to the court economy of entertainers in special buildings that regulated by a state-appointed official.