One Giant Leap for Womankind

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The title is an exaggeration – this doesn’t apply to the majority of women (and we should be glad for that), but it applies to the underlying misogyny that can affect any woman at any point in her life. It’s using sex as a means to dehumanize, for perverse reasons of power.

I’ve fallen far behind in catching up with Boardwalk Empire and I don’t know when, or if, I’m going to get back on that track. But the theme of the show – of the era of Prohibition in the United States of America and the way it enabled criminals and made alcohol problems worse – is relevant to this, just as it’s relevant to anti-drug laws. If you ban taboo behaviour you put it in the same arena as outright criminal, like violence and extortion and child abuse. Legalized alcohol means the industry is visible and can be regulated for quality control, and age restrictions can be imposed. If drugs were legalized the income made from them could be taxed, and the purchasing of them could also be taxed to contribute to social programs or law enforcement to control the damage substance use can inflict.

Now onto sex work. “Legalize. Unionize. Regulate. Tax.” I translated my stance on this to those four words a few years ago, as both what should change and in what order. The Supreme Court of Canada ruling against existing laws enforceable in the sex trade gives the Canadian government one year to revamp them into ways that aren’t contrary to the legal framework of Canada including its guaranteed freedoms and human rights codes.

First of all: brothels are illegal. Brothels are organized and contained environments in which the sex trade can be facilitated, and they can provide safer environments both for clients and for professionals. If brothels are legalized in the first step, the workers in them can unionize to ensure that they have a say in the conditions of their work. Their union can also work in conjunction with the brothel employers to provide benefits and services crucially needed by people currently involved in the illicit sex trade – addictions services, legal counsel to go through effective avenues of getting abusive people out of their lives, and family care services among many more useful resources to workers in the industry. Brothels are centralized and can be more easily regulated. Both clients and workers can be required to go through screening processes for health reasons to minimize risks that are hugely present in the illegal sex trade. Age limits can be better enforced when adults can work there legally. And prices can be controlled as well – much like with alcohol and cigarettes (and marijuana and perhaps other drugs if our governments get any sense knocked into them over the next five or ten years), imposing a vice tax on the services can generate valuable revenue to fund law enforcement against what will still be illegal. Sex crime enforcement can be better funded and focused on what are serious problems – child abuse, sexual assault, enslavement, human trafficking, and the rest of the array of crimes that are illegal in their own right outside of regulated sex work.

The world’s oldest profession is a tool of misogyny if it is illegal. Women’s sexuality is governed by the taboo, yet men can participate in these activities without any emasculation because much like in having a faithful wife and chaste daughters it is controlling the body and sexuality of a female as a practice of male power. That women’s groups are speaking against this ruling is surprising to me: feminists should unite in giving dignity to all women and not chastising those who by choice or necessity make their living from sexual services and skills. Male prostitutes can also assert their dignity when their practice is legitimized under the law. They often have the same problems of drug abuse and mental illness brought about by their own persecutions – perhaps by sexuality, by race, or by family abuse. They too are victims of the patriarchy, of being dominated by other men as a means of emasculation and establishment of power.

Lastly, and I will try to keep this contained into a few sentences as it’s a giant issue deeply and complexly woven into Canadian society and elsewhere in the colonized world, there is the contribution this can make to racial equality as well. Sex workers are disproportionately people of colour, of groups subjugated to dehumanizing abuse on a grand unspoken scheme. This is not by things inherent in their own cultures separate from the white supremacy that colonialism imposed. Part of the unionizing and regulating of a legal sex trade should involve supporting ways out of the business for people who never wished to work there. When it’s still illegal and conducted through organized crime, sex workers are prisoners; and much like in actual prisons, it’s very racially skewed. Support equality for sex workers. Support equality for all.

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