Photo: VAMP, Sangli
For many feminists, sex work - or prostitution as they would prefer to call it - symbolises oppression, victimisation and the exploitation of womanhood. These feminists look at the provision of sexual services through the framework of a rigid understanding of patriarchy, viewing it as objectifying women’s bodies, and as the commercialisation of sex. Hence, for feminists, prostitutes are victims of unequal power relations between the sexes. No ‘real’ woman would agree to do sex work, because if she does she is living under the illusion of ‘false consciousness’.
Feminists are not thick-skinned for nothing. They have decades of experience deflecting accusations of being exclusionary, reactionary, hyperactive, overzealous, ugly, man-haters, family-breakers and so on. So criticism in recent years from many quarters that they haven’t taken up certain issues enough (education, sex work, abortion, economic rights) is par for the course.
Agreeing with Meena Seshu’s ideas, I’d like to reflect on a related issue: how is it that the (feminist) notion about sex work as symbolizing the exploitation of womanhood, and the conflation between sex work and sex trafficking has spread globally?
Sex workers are not all victims. Stories from China demonstrate this. Pink Space is a NGO based in China working on sexual rights with people who are oppressed due to their gender or sexuality. At one of the Pink Space meetings, I heard Jin’s story.