Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reckless Abandon

I am in favor of legalizing prostitution. I think sex workers deserve respect and admiration. No, I am not being arch, ironic or sarcastic. I mean it. I believe women and men should have complete control of the commodity that is their bodies. I have been reminded, in a recent comment to a piece I wrote, that the political candidates are “marketed like perfume.” And lest we forget, it is usually women’s bodies that sell all the products, and it is men who make the big bucks off the product, legal or otherwise. So I’m looking forward to the day when women really do claim the power that is theirs to take.

In the meantime, we live in a country governed by laws and rules. We have agreed to live by these laws until we get to vote again to make the laws conform more to what we believe to be in the nation’s best interest. Until then, men who make the laws, vow to uphold the laws, enforce the laws, and then break those laws, should be held to the same standard that we hold the least lawbreaker among us. I break the law. You break the law. We all break the law now and then. But if you are ambitious enough to become an attorney who becomes a prosecutor and then an attorney general, and then a governor, or even a mayor, and you break the laws you punished in each of those positions after having vowed to uphold the laws, you should lose your office, and go to jail. If you purger yourself in front of a Grand Jury, it isn’t your hypocrisy, it’s your getting caught. It’s your recklessness. It’s a little like have a sibling who is a meth user. As long as she doesn’t steal from you to support her habit, obviously endanger her kids or yours, or get caught and go to jail, you can maintain the illusion that everything is fine in the family. But once her damaged kids are loosed upon you and your husband, and her trial has become a media circus that makes the carefully crafted fiction that is your life unravel before your eyes, well then, maybe you’ll decide it’s time to get real.

I have never known a man who was faithful. I do not claim to be representative of all women. I know my experience with men is not everywoman’s. But I think testosterone drives them to it. Odd that it is men who make the laws that are so intolerant of the very behavior that they are driven to engage in. There is much science to back up the claim that men are literally led around by their gonads. Helpless to the wants of their little-brain’s desires. It certainly was my experience with men. My observation of the husbands of friends and coworkers.

And it is mostly men who control the industries that continue to market women in the advertising and entertainment industries as objects. So completely has internet porn taken over the zeitgeist, that almost every image depicted of “woman,” is of a woman so far removed from the reality of the normal range possible for women, that she is almost a separate species, one we cannot join. And we, the consumers of this icon, are willing to carve ourselves up with the help of our plastic surgeons, so we can bear to even glimpse ourselves in the mirror for more than a second or two without a shudder. Too fat, too old, too ugly to keep your mate. And he is ever driven, and always will be, to mate wherever and whenever he can, even in the anonymous stalls of men’s rooms in airports. Which is fine, I guess, if you don’t take your six year old son into the airport stall with you when Larry Craig, or Pastor Haggard is trolling. So let’s free the men’s rooms and legalize prostitution for both men and women. But, if it wasn’t a crime would it still be as exciting?

So, once again, I come down on the side of having some expectation that if you hold any position that calls for you to take an oath to uphold the law, don’t get caught breaking it. If no one gets injured as you break the law, and you don’t get caught, I say it’s nobody's business but your own. In the meantime I’ll keep voting to change the laws to reflect our realities. And sex workers of both sexes should work in legal, safe, taxed and represented industries that they control. Sex Workers of the World, Unite!


Stella said...

Utah, everything you wrote.

This is so astute: So completely has internet porn taken over the zeitgeist, that almost every image depicted of “woman,” is of a woman so far removed from the reality of the normal range possible for women, that she is almost a separate species, one we cannot join. And we, the consumers of this icon, are willing to carve ourselves up with the help of our plastic surgeons...

In addition to internet port, this comment reflects mainstream media and Mad Avenue entirely. Starving one's self also diminishes their mental capacity. If a woman is naturally thin, then great. But that's probably—what?—5% of women? One of the most critical reason men think women are not as bright is because we are concentrating so hard on starving ourselves that we can only think of our physical image, rather than our mental and spiritual presence.

Now that I've completely digressed as I was raising my fist in the air and saying, "Right on, Utah!" I agree completely that sex workers should unionize, prostitution should be legal, and workers in the adult industry should be covered by government funding paid for by taxes on their earnings.

A job's a job, right?

Utah Savage said...

Thank you Stella, from one passionate liberal to another.

Stella said...

Just glad I found your blog. REALLY glad.


Boris said...

I make no bones about it. I love women. Especially strong, toned women. Their age is immaterial.

K McKiernan said...

This post and Stella's reply really hit on what consumes my thoughts the most. I care about plenty, but the complicated nature of gender constructions and what women are told to do and be... and how I, too, succumb to the notions... well, it touches a deep cord.

I read the post and replies and wanted to react right away, but I sat dumbfounded as 9 million thoughts flooded me. Prostitution has always been very difficult for me. And, I am not sure how to say succinctly what I want to say on the subject.

So, I lay awake last night and couldn't stop thinking about it. This morning, the same.

My mind is still a flood of contradictory, complicated thoughts, and I am not sure I will do my position or feelings justice, but I will try.

First, Stella and Utah are so completely on target about the way images in our society... from commercials, mag ads, television, movies, video games, pornography, and even something as simple as fashion... they all create a world women cannot win in. Its ironic... we play in the game THEY set up. They make us feel inadequate and we beg for more products etc, none of which can ever give us the unattainable image THEY set up/create/construct for us. We depress ourselves, oppress ourselves, starve ourselves, carve on ourselves, hate ourselves. Its sad and I hate to admit it affects me. I am a smart woman, and it still has a grasp. Every single day, it has a grasp.

The construct for women is to be desirable. I could write a long essay on just this point, but the fact is really simple. We place all our worth in being desirable, so if we fail to be desirable by societal standards, we feel "worth" less. Our worth is entirely wrapped up in our sexual potential, and our sexuality really provides the only real power to wield in our society--albeit one fucked up one... based on a commodity where men get to pick and choose.

So... its not a huge jump to see where I am going with how I feel about prostitution. I get all the arguments that legalizing will make it safer, cleaner, more lucrative for women. Its hard as hell to not want something that will do that, but I keep coming back to the fact that I cannot advocate for something I deplore with ever fiber of who I am.

The concept of a man tooting a horn and a young girl running to get to him first and suck his dick for $20 bucks makes me ... words do not describe. Women do not prostitute themselves because they like it. They do it out of desperation or out of psychological conditioning. Why can't anyone ever try to get at the root of a problem, help it to not exist at all, instead of just sighing and saying... well, it exists, so let's just approve of it so that even though it degrades women, at least they are not beaten while doing it. Wrongheaded.

I do not want any woman who turns to prostitution because our society disregarded her to think we condone what is happening to her. I do not want her to think WE think its all she is worth. At least, I do not want her to think IIII think it is ok to have men dump all over her.

And, yes, I get it ladies... women "service" men in all walks of life WITHOUT getting paid, so some would ask why do I not want some to get paid? There are all sorts of issues/dilemmas/problems with all sorts of relationships and certainly there is with the institution of marriage, but those are separate issues for another time.

The bottom line for me is: I think legalizing prostitution legitimizes it. And I will NOT legitimize an action which demeans/degrades/dehumanizes women and sets us up for further negative effects to our culture we cannot... at this time... foresee.

Think of it... as technology expands and we lose intimacy to isolation in our notebooks, ipods, etc, and as pornographic images saturate and interpersonal relationships disintegrate, men can just turn to prostitution... And the vicious cycle will repeat.

Where will we all be in 50, 100, or more years from now? Women... chunks of meat everywhere we look. What construction will there be for women? Porn star and Prostitute. Nice options. Nice LEGITIMATE options.

K McKiernan said...

And one more thing since the last got too long (apologies).

Utah, you go on and on about power imbalances with respect to Bill Clinton. I just want you to think about the power imbalances that are created by prostitution.

Men have money, women have the product they want to buy, right? Is all even? All fair? Hardly. There is no larger contributor to power imbalances than cold hard cash. Those who have money can manage to get just about anything they want while those who do not have it, have to... sell their bodies.. sell their bodies to fight in wars concocted by those WITH THE FUCKING money, sell their bodies to men who want what they want when they fucking want it.

If you are so against the fact that Bill Clinton... who had the power of the presidency, having sexual relations with Monica, then you should be against prosititution as well. There is no level field here.

Sex with a prostitute (in my opinion) is not consensual. Sure, there are a few hookers who make $5000 bucks and we could have an argument there as well, but the bulk of prostitutes are women who run to cars, broke down hotels, and kneel down in back alleys. They want to survive... survive a world that "men" obliterated for them.

Men have the power (money), and women will bend to their will to get it.

Sounds like a power imbalance to me. You should be in the front row in the fight against it.

Utah Savage said...

Ladies, start your engines now!
K, the reason you have those sad, sordid images of prostitution is precisely because men have control of the commodity that is women's bodies. It's because it is illegal. It's because we give up control and power to men who make the laws, the rules by which we play. Prostitution is after all the "oldest profession" but a profession where men have all the power. Do you think a woman would give a blow job so cheaply if the union she belongs to is run by women in the same profession? There would be safer working conditions, better standard of living, benefits, and rules that govern the work place. and the work place would not be a briefly parked car or an alley.

K, it sounds to me like you are conflicted about this issue for moralistic reasons, but confused about where the morality issue goes. Where does it come from. Childhood, church? Only you can answer that one, but I encourage you to take a closer look and feel free to express it here.

As to Bubba and the intern: Monica may have been of legal age, but her position in the White House was the lowliest, least powerful, least entitled to say not to Bubba, or to understand her own crush/passion for the big guy. Do you remember how childish she sounded on those tape recorded conversations with Linda Tripp? If Bill had chosen instead to romp around the Oval Office with his press secretary or his secretary, I would not have been so pissed off at him. But he always chose fairly powerless young women to have his trysts with. If when asked about it in the legal proceedings, when he was testifying and under oath, "Yes, I did have sex with that woman." I might feel differently about the whole sordid mess. It was the stupid choices, one after another, the stonewalling attitude, the Us against the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy aspect of the Clinton presidency that turned me off to that potential dynasty.

MadMike said...

I venture most carefully into these troubled waters but I do have a few observations. I do not speak to the morality or lack thereof but to the paradigm itself based on my professional experience.

During my long career in law enforcement I had occasion to arrest and interview a lot of prostitutes, both those who plied their trade in the back alleys and those who did so in the corporate halls of power and influence. As one would expect, violence, disease, drugs and etc. was quite rampant in the former venue. In the latter venue, however, money ruled and there was little crime and virtually no disease.

The women who wandered the dark streets were truly driven to it, whether by the need to feed their children or by the need to feed their habit or the habits of those they loved. When they were arrested they were taken out of circulation which resulted in a loss of income and more often than not a beating by their pimp.

Those ladies who served Wall Street, the politicians and the corporate executives did so because they enjoyed the life style it gave them. They lived in fancy apartments, drove fancy cars, and wanted for little. When I asked them why they did what they did they often told me the reasons were obvious: money. Most did not feel used and abused as women, telling me instead they believed they provided a service that in reality served both they and their clients.

Clearly the two different paradigms speak to the cultural divide in our society. The poor provided a service, but did not receive the same benefit and often did so at great personal risk, self-serving or not. The rich became so by providing the same service but to an upscale clientèle which offered a safer and more comfortable environment.

If we agree that prostitution needs to be legalized, or at the least decriminalized then we must agree that it applies across the board and that both classes are equal. Legalization would be a huge advantage for the poor as it would bring it into the daylight where it could be scrutinized and maintained by the many services available. I suspect the level of violence would drop precipitously as would the rate of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. For those who serve the wealthy I don't know there would be much of a difference in their day to day operation as discretion has always been the key to their success.

I support the legalization of prostitution as I support the legalization of gambling and certain types of drug use but I do not say this behavior is without victims. This behavior is inevitable. Human beings will indulge themselves, one way or another. If this indulgence takes place in the dark we cannot see it and we cannot help those who need our help. We are blind to those needs. We need to be able to see the victims and those they serve so that maybe one day there will be fewer of them. Peace....

Utah Savage said...

Madmike you are the most fearless and intelligent of men--and it's not because I agree with you. You alone among the regular male readers of this blog have the courage to take us on, so to speak. But it is your unique perspective as a lawman, to tell it like it is. Thank you very much for adding your voice to this post.

Big Yellow Forehead said...

Utah, first, I'd like to thank you for your positive comments on my blog.

Secondly, I'd like to add to this debate. How do we define prostitution? And if we use the traditional definition of sex for money, how would gold diggers be any different? Gold digging is not illegal, last time I checked. Aren't prostitution laws based mainly on religious principles? Why else should prostitution be illegal?

These are questions that are commonly asked when getting hooked into the hooker debate. Just curious as to how your readers would respond.

K McKiernan said...


I feel like you patted me on the head a little with that comment. I am not religious... never have been. I am an atheist.

Is my quandary a moral one? Hmmm... perhaps if caring about women's bodies and lives is a moral issue, then yes, I have problems with prostitution on moral grounds. But really, I think most humanist issues are moral. I have taught a class theme on redefining moral values, and I think we should think about the constructs of what is moral. For example: I believe feeding our hungry, housing our homeless, and providing healthcare to all is a moral issue.

Get me? My issues with prostitution are rooted in good old fashion humanity... and what I believe to be true feminism. I actually want human beings respected not trashed.

Mike has made some really good points about taking it out of the dark and into the light. I really agree with decriminalizing for women, but I am not ready to do so for men. People would say women are the suppliers... its on them to stop. I think its the men who are the suppliers--they have the currency that so many women need and so many younger women are being trained to think they need. We could get into the issues of the well paid prostitute, but for me, there reasons are not quite as simple as even they believe. Psychological issues and constructions of our own value are deep and most are not even aware of why they do what they do.

Legitimizing prostitution teaches young girls that as long as you are paid really well and kept clean and healthy, its ok that you are looked at as a mere sex object/sex toy. You mean nothing except how you can best serve and please a man.

Just because we wrap it up in the lingo of psuedo-feminism, a sort of new age feminism... just because we act like sexual empowerment is true empowerment, does not make using women any better for women. Until we look at gender constructions differently, women will always be a commodity bought and sold by and for men. Sure, a few women will own a part in the business, but don't be naive, it only perpetuates our inferiority.

Utah when you say that legalizing will make it unionized and run by, in whose dream world? Men will continue to keep their hands in and on the crotch. Look at The Bunny Ranch. It is legal there and who takes half of all the money they bring in? A man. Duh.

Sounds like with legalization, it will just make it so some poor guy won't get blown but the rich guy still will. The rich guy will fork over his wad of cash to--most likely--a man and then give his other wad to the woman now treated oh-so-much-better by the legalization you all are begging for.

And let's not fool ourselves. There will be all sorts of women: underage, ugly, fat, heroin addicted, etc, who will not be covered by unions or be hired by the cleanly run establishments. So... before we feel bad for the guy who can't get sucked off for a measly $20, he still will. Now, WE might get to watch the lewd act right there on the sidewalk since they don't have to hide in alleys anymore.

As long as we view this in the shortsighted legalize or not terms, women will continue to be looked at as objects to fuck. Pure and simple. Safer objects to fuck... but objects nonetheless.

Please people, think long term.

Stella said...

K, you are a priceless, brilliant person, not merely smart. Generally, both men and women are unnerved by intelligent, strong women. I will not play dumb for their comfort.

I may get back to the gym for my health, but never to starve myself. We are sold useless "beauty" products that do nothing except empty our wallets. Besides, who defines "beauty"? And what makes whoever "they" are more right than you and me?

To throw a monkey wrench in the thread, when we discuss prostitution, why do we discuss women only? Men also work as prostitutes. K, are they as powerless as women who "choose" that profession? This Google book excerpt provides a psychological study from in 1992 and various Questia books are available that address this issue. I haven't read them, but there they are.

K, this Andrea Dworkin article from 1993 might interest you.

Could I work in the "oldest profession," K? Absolutely not. You're on the mark: at issue is women's inequity and objectivism in our society. That, to me, is the larger issue under which prostitution falls, which indeed stems from gender inequity.

Utah Savage said...

K, I am not patronizing you. On the contrary, I greatly value your beliefs and opinions. But on this issue we disagree. There will always be prostitution. It is men who made the laws, men who enforce the laws, men who prosecute the laws and men who impose the sentences. it is only the prostitute who goes to jail. Not the johns, not the pimps, not the organized syndicates who run much of the "adult" industry.

Really, what I hoped we might focus on is the zeitgeist. The image of woman as perfect size 2, perfectly coiffed, made up, air-brushed to perfection and marketed to us all--men and women alike. If you are a normal sized woman with a family and a job, more than likely you spend way too much money and time trying to measure up to this impossible, and virtually manufactured creation. Do we, as women living in this culture, have trouble meeting our own gaze in the mirror when we brush our teeth, without hating what we see. It is this female self hatred that I really wanted to address. I would like us to claim and own our power. I would like us to be happy with the skin we're in. Does this mean I'd like to have a female president? Yes, it certainly does. But not Hillary. Hillary is a man in a hot pink suit.

Stella said...

Mike, your comment is so reasoned, informed, and thoughtful. Thank you for providing a perspective from an ex-peace officer on this issue.

Certainly, there are "two different paradigms." You stated the same rationale for legalization that I believe: level of violence would drop precipitously as would the rate of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

I very much appreciate you sharing your knowledge on this topic.

Vigilante said...

Here's all I got to say on the subject.

K McKiernan said...

Thanks for the link. I think it goes toward my point that we have no idea the sort of cultural effects of legalizing prostitution. We have to think long term.

What next... little princess poo will do a video clip about how what she really wants to be when she grows up is be a girl who sucks a mean cock and has money to throw out the windows?


K McKiernan said...

Oh, and I meant to thank you, Stella, for all your links. Soon, I will look through all of them. I do have two of Dworkin's books.

I appreciate you taking the time to send me material!

Stella said...

Vig, you and K make good points to counter the idea of legalizing prostitution. K, I don't like the idea of women being constrained to becoming prostitutes as their only employment options, either.

The Star Spangled Haggis video demonstrates that children are far more aware than we realized. In that case, why are mothers buying those botox-looking Brat dolls and anorexic Barbies for their young girls?

I often see commercials for children's toys that do nothing but define roles for little boys and girls, which concerns me greatly. How often do we see little girls playing with building sets or little boys having their own My Little Pony?

Is this, perhaps, part of the problem, that we define gender roles at such an early age? I do support legalization of prostitution, but to ameliorate this problem, I suggest we start a lot earlier.

Maybe parents should buy their daughters a chemistry set, construction toys, and encourage her in sports, if she shows the talent. Perhaps I'm off the mark. It's just a thought.

K McKiernan said...


You are NOT off the mark. Bratz toys, are undoubtedly (in my opinion) a by product of pornography and our lust for cosmetic surgery. And, sadly, they perpetuate both as well. That is the weird thing about imagery in our culture... it reflects, creates, and perpetuates.

Its a side note, but why do people think nearly all women under a certain age completely shave beneath their panties (if they even wear panties vs thongs)... its from a saturation and easy stream of pornography. No real evaluative point here... just an interesting example of the influence.

So yeah, I detest Bratz dolls... Have you ever caught the series Dr. 90210 where they show all the women who come in for double Ds or "designer" vaginas? And the more people get it done... the more we see them get done or see them then reflected into pop culture, the more women feel "not good enough" and then they, too start to contemplate "getting work done."

Do you know all over the USA, parents are giving their 18 year old girls "boobs" for graduation gifts? I had a student write a paper on it last quarter (that and the Bratz doll thing). Its alarming.

I do what I can with my daughter... but it is WEIRD the mind she has on her own already. I think its what she sees constantly everywhere she looks. She will come in in the morning and beg for makeup... she is 5. I do wear makeup, but its a 5 min job... I hardly wear anything, and its not a mask I MUST have.

I took her to get her very first haircut yesterday, and she saw the nail polish and wanted her nails done, she saw a woman getting her hair colored, and she wanted her hair colored.

One day at Best Buy, there was a 20 year old girl with more makeup on than I own. It was revoltingly bad. Literally, she looked like a clown. And my daughter said, "oh, you look soooo pretty." I about died.

When she hears music, she starts striking poses and dances better than Britney Spears used to. Its weird... and I am very protective of what she sees--or so I thought.

I really think its about saturation. Women and young girls cannot see ANY single image of power for themselves that does not involve beauty and sex.

I think Vigilante made a good point about The Brave One (we talked a bit about it in our Pop Culture Conference paper).... women with guns or with brute strength... women usurping male roles... is sometimes fun to see because it levels the playing field. There really is only so much power we really have as sex objects... its a faulty premise of power because it is too beholden to the whims of the one "buying."

I am all over the map here. Sorry so tangental.

But yes.. toys are certainly part of the sexual saturation in our culture today.

Utah Savage said...

So, to get back on topic, how does legalizing prostitution add to the problem of the beauty myth, Barbie nation and internet porn, Britany, Paris, et al? Barbie is about the same age as Playboy. Throughout all this time period, prostitution has been illegal. Maybe it's time we all reread The Beauty Myth.