Infantilizing Women in the Name of Feminism

Trigger Warning for discussion of sex work. Pictures NSFW.

I want to talk about the sex industry as a whole and the polarization between different types of feminists when it comes to this industry. Please note that any time I use the word ‘objectify’, I use it as it’s commonly used throughout some feminist media – particularly sex negative media – to describe when a man lusts for a woman based on physicality alone. I will also note that I do not agree with this usage of the term as it lessens its impact when used to describe true objectification.

Most feminists will admit that should a woman be involved in the sex industry, they need to be protected and that legalization and protection from the law is the best way to enforce that.

However, within that group, there are divisions. One side says that a woman should be able to exercise her free will over her body and the decisions she makes, and the other says that women would not make these decisions if they had other (implicitly better) choices.

As I was walking downtown one day last year, I noticed that, as usual, the local strip club signs were defaced. I’ve actually taken to taking pictures of these signs when defaced and have often seen things like ‘whore’ or ‘lesbians’ scrawled across them. This day, it was something new.

This suggests several very important things. A) That men would not “objectify” someone once reminded that they have ties outside of their sexual gratification, B) That because someone has parents, they should not be treated sexually and, the most important to me, C) That this woman would not choose to be “objectified”. Or that she would not like that she was being “objectified”. Or that she’d be a better, more whole person if people stopped “objectifying” her so that she’d be more interested in pursuing other career paths rather than sex work.

Firstly, I am not my parent’s possession. I do not turn to them for guidance, sexual or otherwise, and I certainly do not ask permission from my parents about how I’m allowed to express myself sexually. I am not for them to keep pristine and in immaculate condition for a future suitor or husband, and that is what the argument is implying in asking people not to look at or caress women who made the choice to be looked at or caressed.

The assumption that this woman, and implicitly all women, would be happier if they weren’t made to suffer under the all oppressive male gaze is ludicrous to me. I, as a woman, support other women in whatever line of work they choose, from construction to porn. If you can do the work, and you choose to do the work, then I support your right to be able to explore that option.

I support their ability to make choices in their own life, and I trust other women to know what the best choice is for their own life. I also support their ability to make the wrong choice. That last bit is important – I support people’s ability to make choices that might be wrong.

Text: End White Slavery. She’s not your property you losers.

When you step in, or ask others to step in, to make sex work illegal in order to protect women, you are infantilizing us. You are telling me that you don’t feel that women can make decisions in their own life. You are telling me that you believe your choices for women as a whole are sounder than their personal decisions in life, made for their circumstances. This is sexism at its finest.

There’s a way that feminists use to describe what women do when they decide to work in the sex industry – they’re told they’re making a patriarchal bargain. A patriarchal bargain is when a woman decides to work within the patriarchy in order to exploit it and get the best deal for them while ultimately doing nothing to destroy the patriarchy.

Now, I want you to think on this because even feminists agree that almost every single woman makes a patriarchal bargain in their every day life.

So why do women who work in the sex industry get looked down on for committing this terrible sin of making a patriarchal bargain? It ties into two things – the fact that we don’t believe that women would make the choice to be seen as a sex object if all things were equal or if we were in a matriarchy, and the fact that most feminists still have severe issues with sex and sexuality and how other women choose to present it – morality in disguise of concern. A more sophisticated form of slut shaming.

We understand why men would like to act in pornographic films, and don’t seek to ‘protect’ them from the dangers of the lifestyle – despite the fact that men have a very difficult time when acting in porn. It’s harder for them to find a girlfriend or a wife that accepts what they do, they’re paid less, there’s a different type of pressure put on them and different expectations, but there are pressures and expectations that are required of them.

However there is almost no cause for concern about the sexual objectification of men in pornography – despite the fact that in pornography it is often the male that is seen as replaceable or insignificant, often filmed in a way to allow the viewer to project himself onto the actor. Despite the difficult life that male actors lead, we accept and understand that men not only would have no difficulties adapting to these choices, but that they’d desire them, where as women are assumed to be either loathing their bodies, themselves, or messed up on drugs.

Where are the signs trying to protect our ‘sons’ from female gaze? It’s assumed that males want random sexual attention while females do not.

So whenever I see the “This is Someone’s Daughter!” argument, I really have to ask myself why we, as a society, think we should shame people for finding women’s bodies sexually attractive. I have to ask myself how we can do all the dirty, wonderful things regarding to sexual exploration if we’re too busy worrying if her parents might approve. I have to ask myself why we insist on trying to make women’s decisions for them.

And then I ask myself why what her parents might think about her sexuality or her profession is even an item of debate or used as a way to make people feel guilty. She’s an adult, she’s allowed to make her own choices, for right or for wrong.

11 comments

  1. Violetta Vane says:

    Whoah, that “end white slavery” message is really awful, appropriative and racist… it implies that women of color who’ve been forced into slavery are beneath sympathy.

    I don’t choose to label myself a sex-positive feminist but I’m 100% with you in hating this sort of patronizing approach to the sex industry.

    • Anjasa says:

      I just sort of boggled at how someone could compare slavery – or even ‘white slavery’ (more appropriately known as sexual slavery) – to consenting women stripping. When women making hundreds of dollars a night is considered by any stretch of the imagination to be slavery, we have a huge problem.

      • J. Keep says:

        The whole argument comparing a woman doing very lucrative, voluntary work in a strip club to slavery, or just plain calling it exploitation, seems to be a very radical indictment of all capitalism.

        A factory or office worker would be unfathomably lucky to see the sort of share of profits from their labour as many/most strippers do. If that constitutes exploitation or slavery, then what’s it say about our entire mode of production?

        I’m not against that way of thinking. Employees are most definitely exploited in our society, and I feel it should be addressed, especially as expanding free trade agreements and the deterioration of unions erodes progress made to a more fair distribution of wealth.

        But if one is going to apply that reasoning, they should do so logically, and not just selectively to those occupations that arbitrarily offend you. Puritanical morality does not make for a convincing rational argument.

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  3. canbebitter says:

    Hmm. Found this blog through feministe. I do 100% understand what you are saying. Women can make choices for themselves, and should, just like everyone else, have the right to make the wrong choices. but what bothers me about sex work is that a man can go into a brothel, or strip club, or whatever and choose a woman like she is a product, rather than a person. which I suppose is fine, if you like being treated like a product. but it’s not so much the sex work itself, for me, but the culture that has led men to think that this behaviour is ok, thereby creating the market. it’s not that I have a problem with sex, just paying for it I suppose.
    But that’s only my fairly uneducated opinion, and I think you make an excellent argument.

    • Anjasa says:

      Thank you for your comment! I’m glad you found it interesting.

      I would like to say, though, that the reason men visit sex workers, and strippers especially, are varied. It’s not all that they just want a hot woman who has no personality.

      Some men want strippers just for the sex work, but so many more want them because they’re lonely, because they’re getting older and want to feel attractive and loved, because they want to relax and have fun with a woman without feeling the obligation to have sex (Yes, I’ve heard more than one man say exactly that), because they’re lonely.

      I can’t fault a person for wanting to find someone who will tell them they’re attractive and intelligent and interesting, even if it is all bought and paid for compliments. We all need a boost from time to time.

      I agree that some men have an unhealthy relationship with sex workers, but I believe that the more out in the open it becomes, the more people that talk about it, the less prominant these people will seem.

      http://lettersfromstripclubs.blogspot.com/ is a really interesting blog project, if you wanted to hear more ‘insider’ perspectives from men. Some are disturbing with their misogyny, but others are heartfelt and moving.

  4. [...] I won’t go into the fact that I disagree with that, because I already spoke about it before, but I will say this – if the women are consenting to this, then they should be allowed to do [...]

  5. [...] Infantalizing Women in the Name of Feminism: When we tell women they’re not allowed to make choices about what jobs they want, we’re treating them as if they’re too naive to make their own decisions. [...]

  6. [...] Infantilizing Women in the Name of Feminism – The assumption that this woman, and implicitly all women, would be happier if they weren’t made to suffer under the all oppressive male gaze is ludicrous to me. [...]

  7. [...] Infantilizing Women in the Name of Feminism - When we try to make choices for all women, we’re saying we don’t trust women to decide for themselves. [...]

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