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Is Sex Work Feminist?

I listened to a discussion on radio four yesterday about whether sex work is feminist. I haven’t come to a conclusion and will leave it up to you to make that decision for yourself. But I do want to discuss both sides of the coin.

The woman on the radio argued that because sex work derives from the male objectification of women, sex work is not feminist. My immediate thoughts were that, if a woman is making a choice for herself, then it immediately becomes a feminist act. We have been fighting for the rights of women to be free to make the same choices men do. Using that logic, whether a woman decides she wants to be a housewife or an escort, that choice has been made using her own autonomy, therefore it’s feminist, since the decision has been made out of the bounds of oppression. When we start telling a woman what she can and cannot do for work, that becomes oppressive, right?

The other side of the coin is that sex work is a male influenced occupation. It enables men to view women as objects and to feel as if he ‘owns’ a woman for however long he pays for her. It opens women up to derogatory remarks from men who view her naked on Only Fans and decide she’s worthless because she takes her clothes off for money.

As long as porn and the pay gap exist, sex work should exist. I know many a man who says, ‘I would never pay for a nude’. Which is such a weird irony, because they are more than happy to watch free porn, but when it comes to actually paying the person on the screen for the world they are doing, the man finds himself on a sudden moral high horse.

Yes, sex work is a male built institution, but as long as it exists, I do believe women should benefit from it. Particularly when the pay gap still exists. If men are able to generally make more money than women and work in higher ranking jobs, then women should be able to do the one job that the majority of men wouldn’t make any money from. We want equality and when we achieve that then maybe sex work should become a thing of the past. But we still aren’t equal. We are coming a long way, we are so close. We have a few steps to make yet.

I wonder whether sex work continues to create inequality in that it allows men to view women as objects and commodities, therefore adding to perpetual sexual violence in our culture.

I’m not sure where I stand on this one. I think the answer, as usual, needs nuanced discussion. There isn’t a binary answer. I think we must look much deeper at a whole host of other topics before we can truly decide whether sex work is or isn’t feminist. I don’t think the answer is either entirely yes or no. For now, perhaps we can respect one another’s decisions and treat everyone with kindness.

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