Marxist Perspective on Sex Work
The rights of sex workers have always been contested, in part because nobody seems to be able to agree on whether or not they produce valid labor. Gender Theorists Catharine MacKinnon, Kathleen Barry, Julie Bindel, and Melissa Farley have been criticized for their static views towards sexually explicit material, and arguments for the criminalization of sex work as a method of protecting women from the inherent abusive nature of the institution. Anti-pornography ordinances in the 1970’s and later the increased interest in human sex trafficking and prostitution are points of conflict among liberal feminists. The new wave of feminist authors critiques the rescue industry which often conflates prostitution with sex trafficking and overlooks the women who willingly migrate towards sex work to earn an income.
Norma Jean Almodovar is a prominent sex work activist and actually worked as a traffic officer for the Los Angeles Police Department for ten years, before quitting and becoming a sex worker. Almodovar argues she “wanted to make a social statement about the moral hypocrisy of our society, a society which seemed completely untroubled by the police corruption that permeated the LAPD, and yet demanded that law enforcement spend a significant portion of its scarce and valuable resources to set-up and arrest women whose sole crime was to accept money from men for acts of sex in which they could otherwise legally engage, even with thousands of men, provided the sex was free”(Almodovar).The rescue industry homogenizes the experiences of all prostitutes by unilaterally viewing all women who engage in prostitution as victims. The need to financially support yourself is universal, and if a woman is comfortable being paid for sex why is prostitution not a reasonable choice?
Not all prostitutes need to be saved.
Laura María Agustín, an anthropologist studying migration, trafficking, and sex work does not doubt that there are cases of forced migration for sex trafficking, but she argues that, "Most of the writing and activism [on trafficking] does not seem to be based on empirical research, even when produced by academics," and criticizes the credibility of the data produced arguing "media reports" and "statistics published with little explanation of methodology or clarity about definitions” (O'Neill). Many of the arguments surrounding sex work advocate for the legalization of the practice on grounds that labor is labor and sex work provides economic mobility to marginalized groups who would otherwise not be able to support themselves. Agustín argues immigrant women “are not "passive victims" instead Agustín argues women turn to sex work as “an intelligible response made by women, men and trans-people to social, economic and political realities” (Daniel-Hughes). Instead of arguing for a shift in the social, economic, and political realities which place these demographics in positions where sex work is the most intelligible response to their environment, Agustin simply advocates for legalization of the practice and provides no further critique of these realities.
Margo St. James makes similar arguments to Agustín for the legalization of prostitution domestically in the US. She made an argument in the 70’s when women were making “57 cents to every man's dollar, and there was a scarcity of career options within and beyond the menial pink-collar job market, St. James was determined to rebrand prostitution as a legitimate and necessary alternative for women” (Fischer).
Even among radical feminists who validate the labor of sex workers, the debate surrounding sex workers seems to be limited by the sense that there are no other alternatives to capitalism and the only solution is to create more forms of capitalist exchange to provide economic mobility to women.
The rising cost of attending university is an example in which lower-income students have the option of turning to sex work, in an attempt to stay in school. A recent independent article found that 1/10 university students in the UK resort to sex work when faced with unexpected school expenses (Petter). Rising tuition costs in the US and Europe place extra financial stress on students. College Board reported that the average tuition cost for a four-year private university in the US has gone from $34,740 up to more than $70,000(Caplinger). According to USA Today, the cost of private university has “outpaced the rate of inflation by more than 3 percentage points” (Caplinger). This gap is in part being filled by students turning to sex work. In the U.S. 40% of sugar babies are university students, and membership to websites like “seekingarrangement” are free for sugar babies who register with an “.edu” email account (BienAime).
Despite a rising number of students turning to sex work to cover the cost of their education there has yet to be any effective change from the universities even though they’re shaping this financial reality for students. Sex work ideally should be a legal and safe option for people, and sex work is a completely reasonable reaction to the absurd cost of school. However students shouldn’t have to make a choice between using sex work to pay for school or not attending school at all. These student using sex work to pay for their education aren’t victims of the sex industry they’re victims of their economic institutions.
Almodovar, Norma Jean. "My Biography." My Biography, www.normajeanalmodovar.com/mybio.html.
Bien-Aime, Taina. "Prostitution as Financial Aid: Three College Students Speak Out." Huffington Post, Oath Inc., 5 Apr. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/prostitution-asfinancial-aid-three-college-students_us_58e5186de4b02c1f72345929?gucounter=1.
Caplinger, Dan. "Rising Cost of College Creating a Financial Hole for Parents, Students: Foolish Take." USA Today, Gannett 2018, 9 June 2018, eu.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/budget-and-spending/2018/06/09/rising-cost-of-college-financial-hole/35439339/. Accessed 30 Sept. 2018.
Coughlan, Sean. "Student tuition fee protest ends with 153 arrests." BBC, 1 Dec. 2010, www.bbc.com/ news/education-11877034. Accessed 30 Sept. 2018.
Daniel-Hughes, Carly. "Evangelical Women Are Shaping Public Attitudes about Sex Work." The Conversation, The Conversation France, theconversation.com/ evangelical-women-areshaping-public-attitudes-about-sex-work-89129.
Fischer, Anne Gray. "Forty Years in the Hustle a Q&A with Margo St. James." Bitch Media, 11 Feb. 2013, www.bitchmedia.org/article/ forty-years-in-the-hustle-sex-work-margo-st-jamesinterview-activism-coyote. Accessed 30 Sept. 2018.
O'Leary, Kevin. "Tuition Hikes: Protests in California and Elsewhere." Times, 21 Nov. 2009, content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1942041,00.html.
O'Neill, Brendan. "The Myth of Trafficking." New Statesman, 27 Mar. 2008, www.newstatesman.com/books/ 2008/03/sex-women-trafficking-agustin.
Petter, Olivia. "More than 10% of Students 'Use Their Bodies' to Pay ForUNIVERSITY Fees When Facing Emergency Costs, Study Claims." Independent, www.independent.co.uk/lifestyle/ students-sell-sex-money-university-fees-costs-photos-online-a8451241.htmlkj2k. Accessed 17 July 2018.