Friday, October 10, 2008

On prostitution

Sparks has several questions posted in Filipino Voices re my previous defense of prostitution as a profession and I answered her queries briefly in the comments section of her FV post. But first, let me just point out where Im coming from:

As a Christian, I would rather that a man or woman not engage in prostitution as Christians believe that the human body is a temple to the holy spirit of God and since Jesus drove away the money-changers from the temple in Jerusalem, I take it he doesnt approve of using his temple as a venue for commerce. However Christians believe that all are sinners, so in the eyes of God, Im no better than the prostitute, and therefore I have no right to revel in my 'moral superiority'. (Ironically, sparks is an agnostic atheist. But I take it she also is a social democrat and I suppose is amenable to the State having more powers that Im prepared to give it, which I assume includes the power to declare transactions like the one that happens between the hooker and client illegal.)

As a member of society, I live and let live. I have no right to force my beliefs on others who may not share it. I assume that my fellow citizens are free to make their own decisions for themselves and I respect their right to hold views and opinions contrary to my own, and I respect their right to do whatever they please in their own private spaces as long as theyre not doing harm to anybody else. Corollary to this, I expect my rights are respected as well by both the State and my fellow citizens. The State has no right to come between the hooker and her client since no one's rights are being violated in a transaction they both freely agreed to. What is perhaps being violated is the moral sense of those not party to their transaction, and the State has backed these outside parties by making the transaction illegal. I consider that to be an overstepping by the State of the limits to its power in a free society.

I promised an in-depth reply to sparks's post but I think my answers over at FV, and the comments of several others, are enough to respond to the assumptions sparks has as to what prostitution qua prostitution is. I would just like to add that in my original post, I made the claim that 'it is only through some sort of superiority complex that members of society, including feminists ironically, assume that the prostitute is being exploited.' I have no idea whether or not sparks objects to prostitution qua prostitution out of a sense of superiority, and I am assuming she does not absent evidence to the contrary, but if we examine her post (as well as DJB's assumption that the scantily-clad dancers in Eat Bulaga and Wowowee are exploited), we get a sense of that. At best, it is a compassionate sort of superiority, but assumes that these women werent capable of correctly weighing the pros and cons before choosing to go into prostitution. Indeed sparks seems incredulous that any woman would willingly go into prostitution perhaps because she and those in her milieu would never dream of doing that themselves. I wouldnt dream of doing that myself. But that's just me, and I have no right to impose this on others who are capable of making their own judgements.

As a parting shot in my defense of prostitution, I would like to point out that as a general rule, all men in a relationship pay for sex. Maybe not in cash, but all men have to offer something of value to be able to engage in sexual congress. In the case of the professional and the client, the medium of exchange is often cash. In the case of married couples, or sexually active dating couples, the medium of exchange is different. All human relationships are some form of trade agreement. That includes employer-employee, contractor-contractee, teacher-student, husband-wife, boyfriend-girlfriend. Therefore trade is not per se bad. It is only when the trade is between professional hooker and client that the State frowns on the arrangement. Talk about your slippery slope, the slipping illogically stops at the prostitute's freedom to trade her services to a willing client. If trade for sexual favors among amateurs is legal, why is trade between pros and clients illegal? It doesnt make sense.


sparks said...


I do not feel "morally superior" to prostitutes. My post comes from a Marxist feminist analytic, hence framing the discussion on the commodication of both her body and her labour.

In truth, I am still unclear on whether anyone willingly chooses to be a prostitue as opposed to being a carpenter or a cook.

If we assume that human beings by nature "work", and in modern times we must specialise in a certain kind of work and then sell our services in the market, then a prostitute has little value to add to her expertise. To start, she only needs to have her body to sell. Maybe later on she can learn tricks and be more sought after. And after that? When she grows old?

I guess what I am saying is that a prostitute is a special kind of worker - someone whose sells both her service and her body as a commodity.

Is "sex" a fictitious commodity in itself? If so, why do men pay most of the time and not women? Why is the market in sex trade only one-way?

Jego said...

In truth, I am still unclear on whether anyone willingly chooses to be a prostitue as opposed to being a carpenter or a cook.

The return on investment perhaps. The opportunity to make a lot of money in a shorter amount of time. For some people, that is reason enough. The prostitute can be compared to a professional athlete (a boxer, for instance) who uses his body and skills to make a lot of money in a short amount of time knowing that there is a limit to the amount of time that the opportunity to make money in that trade is available. Afterwards, they find some other line of work. Who knows, maybe the prostitute decides to be a cook when she gets older. And even if she does not, and squanders the opportunity to save or otherwise invest, these arent points against prostitution per se, for it happens to pro athletes as well, and yet we dont view professional sports the same way as prostitution. That's not fair.

I dont see prostitution as a commodification of the body. Skills arent a commodity that gets used up by trading in them. Her sex skills dont diminish with every client. Like I said, the body isnt consumed by her clients. Her body remains her own 'property' not her client's and she retains the right to accept or refuse clients. The reason men pay for it most of the time is because of simple high-school economics: the demand for female prostitutes is greater than the demand for male prostitutes. Women have a power over men, and that power is usually sex. That is the power they use to make the men part with their hard-earned cash. As a feminist, you shouldnt begrudge them the use of that power. As to the value their skills give to society, again we can compare them to pro athletes, or actors, or artists, or poets. Aside from that, they are agents for the distribution of wealth from those who have it to those who dont.

sparks said...

I'm still fuzzy with feminism (all strands). I've never picked it up but the new job requires it. Its unwieldy as hell to use as an analytical prop. Ugh. I'll have to think this over.

sparks said...

And to be clear, I did not disagree with your original post. I'm not saying prostitution cannot be any other profession. But there must be some sort of power asymmetry in there somewhere, thus the question of choice. Is it her/his choice? I am still making up my mind.

Jego said...

I think we as a society have to make sure that there are indeed true choices so that the question of 'is it his/her choice' doesnt come up. I'd rather they choose some other profession, but the choice has to be there. So yes, I agree that right now 'Is it his/her choice?' is an important question. My post is actually against the warrant the State has for declaring it illegal.