What do you think when you see women prostituting themselves?
Very few people, it seems to me, think, "oh, there goes another happy hooker!"
Nonetheless some people are willing to think: "oh there goes a poor woman who has to carry on a dangerous trade with the threat of violence always in the air; let's help her by making her poverty (of mind and spirit, if not of money) easier..."
In other words, you see a miserable women and instead of asking how can I help her to stop being such a miserable person, by helping her in ways that can help her to change her life, you ask, how can I get the world to recognize she is a victim, with rights, all the while affirming her for what she is, and not making moralistic demands on her.
The collapse of our public discourse into victimology/affirming difference, affirming the marginalized as a-ok just how they are, is leading a group in Vancouver to lobby for legalized brothels. It's not that we don't already have brothels, out in the open, that the governments and police tolerate - there is one in Burnaby in the same strip mall as a community police station. It's just that we call them "massage parlours" which the municipalities license and tax to make it all "respectable". This, notwithstanding that the Criminal Code of Canada still states it is illegal to operate a house of prostitution or to live off the avails of prostitution.
Anyway, apparently there is a class of street prostitute that either doesn't want, or isn't welcome, to work in "massage parlours" or "escort services". Thus they are at risk from whatever evil the men who pick them up off the streets are capable of inflicting. And sometimes that is murder.
A group of people calling themselves "feminists", and reportedly receiving support from politicians like Libby Davies and Mayor Sam Sullivan, have somehow become interested in advocating for the governments to license legal "co-op" brothels for such marginalized women, just in time for Vancouver hosting the 2010 Olympics. As they argue in today's paper:
Many feminists believe that adult sex work in Canada should be completely decriminalized.The op-ed is given the demanding, don't-question-me headline "A 2010 deadline for prostitution".
To that end, Vancouver-based "First" is the only feminist organization in North America advocating the decriminalization of prostitution. First supports the right of sex workers to engage in consensual sex with other adults without being criminalized.
We believe that sex workers have the right to safe working conditions, the right to equal protection and benefit of the law, and the right to have their dignity, autonomy and liberty respected.
Decriminalization means the repeal of all criminal laws relating to adult prostitution. In Canada, prostitution is not technically illegal, but most activities associated with it are criminalized, including soliciting in public and living off the avails of prostitution.
Although decriminalization will not on its own stop the injustices experienced by sex industry workers, First believes that we cannot eliminate violence against sex workers and ensure their equal rights until we address the illegal and stigmatized status of their work.
Oh how heroic and righteous it is to be FIRST, to believe that everything will get better if we take this bold "first" step, if we are first to break new frontiers, to reduce prostitution simply to a question of an unquestionable "right" to sell your soul to the devil... Because we today are much too sophisticated to believe that what people used to refer to as the Satanic has any basis in reality, whatever name or analysis we now give to the unrestricted circulation of human desires. (By the way, true firstness, the true discovery of a sacred sign we can share with others, is an essential part of our humanity; but that just means it is important to work to distinguish it from Gnostic heresy.)
It occurs to me that a useful definition of many of the well-meaning fools who call themselves "feminists" is women who don't really know or believe in the sacredness of human love. In order to think it is ok to prostitute yourself, to treat your body and soul as a commodity, thinking it's just like any other worker who sells part of his or her body and its labour for money, you have to believe that sex and love are not something special, something sacred, reserved for only those who can make a total commitment to their beloved. It's the sign of a society that has made the dating scene for the average youth into a veritable rite of sexuality, where most young women do indeed come to see themselves as beings whose value is largely dependent on their sex appeal, who trade sex for friendship and social status without any great promises attached, who see the purpose of sex largely as pleasure, and as an envied object of conversation to show one's social value to others, and not necessarily as some invitation to a more holistic vision of one's humanity within marriage and family. And there's no sign that this is making anyone particularly happy. In fact, depression and nihilism among young people is epidemic.
Nonetheless, in this confused milieu, it is not surprising that we find women who think that trading in sex is ok; it's what everyone does, it's just natural and so it's healthy, and it's hypocritical to single out street prostitutes for victimization. It's just a form of class discrimination. And so the answer is to validate the hookers' status, to give them a greater stake in the "ownership" of their sexuality. And besides, if you legalize "co-op brothels" for street workers, you are making prostitution safer, making it harder for the violent men or pimps to do their evil.
But what if prostitution is inherently destructive of a person's soul, of the very purpose of their sacred humanity? Then, is there any way you can truly make it safer? Don't you make it more dangerous by making it easier and more secure, on a purely physical basic, for women to prostitute themselves? Say you see a man literally working himself to death, neglecting his family, so he can "retire at 50 and finally be free", or buy the McMansion, or whatever. Do you help him out by making it easier to put in extra long hours, or by suggesting he come to terms with his self- and family-destructive behaviour, behaviour that only a fool would consider a sign of freedom?
If feminists really cared about women, wouldn't they be putting all their energy into finding ways to help women out of prostitution, not making it easier for them to go down that dead-end road?
But how, in this day and age, do we even begin to understand that we have souls and a sacred purpose that can be destroyed?
I am not saying we have to believe in God (our soul exists, has meaning, on the scene of language regardless). But even if we don't, why isn't it evident to people that at the core of women's nature-in-culture is a need to be loved and respected, to be treated as something much more than a sexual commodity, a something more - an undivided, unconditional, and total love and family commitment - that can only be protected when you are not a sexual commodity? Because there are some things that no lover can provide to a woman who is a sexual commodity.
I imagine no adult, not least myself, has not allowed the sexual passions to lead him or her down dead-end roads. It's so ordinary as to be unremarkable. Such failures are not the greatest of sins; they are rather small ones usually, as many a girl trying to remember the difference between the failings of recent boyfriend #12, as compared to #6, can tell you.
But if we forget that there is a road with purpose out there for each of us to find, even if it be a chaste one, and that this road can't be found by simply giving in to the pressure or incentives to treat sex as a commodity and trying to validate that as a choice that is just as good as another, then we have given up as a species that treats its impressive sexual drive as a call to reproduce the species in body and divine spirit, a call to make a total commitment to something or someone.
Freedom depends on a market that is open to the circulation of our desires; it also depends our ability to resist the self-destructive potential of this circulation. No free market exists without a civil society resisting it. Covenant Zone exists to help teach ourselves how and why.
If prostitution were ok, why haven't they yet made it into an Olympic sport?
Maybe that can be the topic for today's Covenant Zone meeting. We meet every Thursday evening to discuss questions like this, in the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library, central branch, in front of Blenz Coffee. Look for the blue scarves, 7-9 pm.