28 August, 2009

Brazillian Prostitutes Doing Something Special

This article made me smile. It's about a group of prostitutes in Rio who are running their own fashion label called Daspu. The inspiration behind it is an activist called Gabriela Leite, who says, "When my hooker girlfriends parade pretty and proud, they are speaking about themselves and become revolutionaries." Why did I smile? Because it was just so damned heartwarming that these people were taking control and fighting back, even in a small way.

Prostitutes get a pretty raw deal from society. Not only is their work degrading and unpleasant, dangerous and unrewarding, but they are then vilified for providing a service that is in high demand. The Daspu 'revolutionaries' made me stop and think about prostitution and its role in our society.

Ideally, prostitution would disappear forever. It is inherently degrading to women to sell their bodies for money. It is a service that only men with no empathy, men who can only see women as objects could buy. But there are a great many men like that. Perhaps most men are like that. So, while women possess bodies and men lack sensitivity, while we live in societies where the means of a decent living are denied some while being lavished on others, while we allow that goods can be traded for services, prostitution will continue.

Probably the best we can do in an imperfect world is to educate men to have more regard for women, educate women to value themselves more highly, and do what we can to protect women who turn to prostitution. This last, essentially, means legalising prostitution. It is complete and utter hypocrisy not to. Legalised prostitution helps protect vulnerable women from exploiters (again, usually men), it helps protect their health, it can help them move beyond prostitution into other kinds of work, it can help keep them away from drugs, and it helps keep prostitutes away from the society of criminals.


Anonymous said...

Hi Graham

I disagree that it is "inherently degrading for women to sell their bodies for money". Granted, many women turn to prostitution for less-than-ideal reasons: lack of money, perceived "easy money", low self-esteem etc.

But some women do it because they want to. They can provide a service that others want and they can pretty much put whatever price tag they want on that. The reality of business is that if you have something other people want, they will pay you for it.

I'm not necessarily arguing that prostitution should be legalised but I think we try to make it too personal. Sex sells. And these women have figured that out. Do we really have the right to judge them for that and to say that they are degrading themselves without fully understanding the situation that has led each woman into prostitution? What if we assume that each prostitute is actually an intelligent, rational woman who, for reasons unknown to us, has chosen to sell her body for money? It puts quite a different slant on the situation.


graywave said...

"What if we assume that each prostitute is actually an intelligent, rational woman who, for reasons unknown to us, has chosen to sell her body for money?"

Kylie, That sounds dangerously like economic rationalism! By that kind of argument, we could end up leaving it all to the market to decide.

While I'm happy to concede that it may be true that for some women, prostitution may be a rational career choice, for the great majority it is not. Research seems to show that the average age of commencement of a 'career' in prostitutuion is 13 or 14 years. In extreme cases there is the 'white slave' trade and the huge sex tourism market in Asia - often involving very young girls.

I also stick to my position that prostitution is degrading, that it is essentially "male masturbation in a female body" as one feminist author put it.

Actually, for a summary of the feminist viewpoint and some chilling research findings, take a look at this site. Even though the site quotes some extreme all-sex-is-rape type feminists like Andrea Dworkin, I have to say I am very much in agreement with its general premise. It includes this chilling quotation:

""[In the past, we had a women's] movement which understood that the choice to be beaten by one man for economic survival was not a real choice, despite the appearance of consent a marriage contract might provide. ...Yet now we are supposed to believe, in the name of feminism, that the choice to be fucked by hundreds of men for economic survival must be affirmed as a real choice, and if the woman signs a model release there is no coercion there." (Catharine A. MacKinnon, "Liberalism and the Death of Feminism," in Dorchen Leidholdt and Janice Raymond (eds), The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, 1990, Teachers College Press, New York.)"

Of course the feminist position is (generally) that legalising prostitution merely sanctions "human rights violotions" against women. It's hard to argue with this, but, as I say in the post, while we live in a society where such trades are possible, decriminalisation, regulation, protection, and education are the best we can do for the women and children involved.

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