Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sex and the single guy. Well, married guy too.

Back in the early years of graduate school, when I was beginning to understand the libertarian political economy, an opportunity came up in class discussions for me to see how far that can be stretched.  I suggested to the class--this was before the days of NAFTA, the Berlin Wall was still there, and China was just about waking up--that in the global division of labor, perhaps we can also think of the spatial distribution of sex work.  And that as much as the US specialized in the silicon industry, well, Thailand specialized in the sex industry.

Of course, discussions at the graduate level are often to test the limits of a theoretical interpretation, but in this one maybe I went too far. Or, for all I know, thanks to my accent, nobody understood a word of what I had to say.  There were no discussions, and we moved on.

The sex industry has morphed in so many different ways now.  Like I mentioned in this post two years ago, I was thrown for quite a loop reading about the vibrator in the New Yorker and in the Atlantic.  If these two magazines that I have subscribed to for years could mainstream sex and the vibrator, then there must be a great deal happening and, as always, I am the last one to know!

Last night, I was flicking through the options on the telly--back home I get only the basic channels and the 49 channels here was mindblowing. One of those was HBO.  The channel surfing me was shocked when I reached HBO.  A completely nude woman was demonstrating various types of vibrators and other sex gadgets.  On regular HBO. Not even some special HBO.  And definitely not some adult pay channel.  When did the puritanical America become so open about sex and vibrators and sex toys?  Did I miss a memo update?

And then today, I scanned at one of my favorite websites ever--the nerd that I am, I have to check in there even when on the road--and there was a link to an article with this teaser:
Prostitution used to be a bad thing – degrading, retrograde and to be opposed. Now sex work is just another service job, like being a waitress...
What was even more interesting was that the link was not to a libertarian publication but to The Nation. So, of course, I had to read it.
On the left, prostitution used to be seen as a bad thing: part of the general degradation of the working class, and the subjugation of women, under capitalism. Women who sold sex were victims, forced by circumstances into a painful and humiliating way of life, and socialism would liberate them. Now, selling sex is sex work—just another service job, with good points and bad—and if you suggest that the women who perform it are anything less than free agents, perhaps even “empowered” if they make enough money, you’re just a prude. Today’s villain is not the pimp or the john—it’s second-wave feminists, with their primitive men-are-the-enemy worldview, and “rescuers” like Nicholas Kristof, who presume to know what’s best for women.
What the what?  There is a group on the left that argues that sex work is just work?  Really?  From the left?  When did I miss this memo?

The author, the ever fiery feminist Katha Pollitt goes for it:
It’s one thing to say sex workers shouldn’t be stigmatized, let alone put in jail. But when feminists argue that sex work should be normalized, they accept male privilege they would attack in any other area. They accept that sex is something women have and men get (do I hear “rape culture,” anyone?), that men are entitled to sex without attracting a partner, even to the limited extent of a pickup in a bar, much less pleasing or satisfying her.
I think I should get back to my ashram soon and stay away from these updates.  Nah, that won't happen--I will continue to investigate this strange world from the protective ashram that my home is.  Stupid is as stupid does, whether on the road or at home!


Ramesh said...

Whoa, Whoa - that is some post. Where do I even start commenting.

Will comment on the most important aspect of your post obviously. The 49 channels in your hotel room is mindblowing ??? What word are you living in my friend ?? Forty nine ? Even China's CCTV has more. And you want to count CSPAN as a channel ??? You guys are still living in the 21st century.

Completely disagree with The Nation's point of view. Which world are THEY living in. World over, (and even in America, I bet), the vast majority of prostitutes are trafficked). Free will, my foot. The pimp and the organised crime behind them, are the amongst the worst form of humans.

Having said that, if there is a lady , or a man, who enters the sex industry on her or his own free will and sees it as just another service, I will applaud them and defend their right to ply their trade. But that is a miniscule minority, I am afraid. Perhaps the proverbial 1%.

Sriram Khé said...

Oh, hey, of the 49 channels, five or so were about sports, and another five pretended to be news channels. What us is the expanded channel lineup then! Oh, I forgot that you would like to have a gazillion sports channels, including one devoted to curling alone!!! ;)

That column by Pollitt was critical of the perspective that there are some in the left who view sex work as work. Maybe I didn't phrase that well and (mis)led you to think that the Nation was advocating that position. Yes, free will, my foot--indeed!