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Feminist Perspectives on Sex Work

Topic - Sex Work: Prespectives Of Radical And Liberal Feminism

Sex work and Prostitution are defined as the work of a person who provides sex in exchange for money or goods. The free nature of sex work distinguishes it from sexual exploitation, in which a person is coerced into performing sexual activities against their will. Academicians and Feminist scholars have long debated about the sexual domination of women and overall gender inequalities. Recently, a new generation of feminist has redefined the sex work argument and has divided the feminist perspective into two strands: liberal feminism and Radical feminism. Feminists who advocate for gender equality through political and legal reform in the context of liberal democracy are known as liberal feminism or mainstream feminism. In contrast to Liberal Feminism, Radical Feminism calls for a radical societal reorganisation in which male domination is eliminated in all social and economic settings, but also understanding that other social divides such as race, class, and sexual orientation have an equal influence on women's lives (Maxwell & Scott, 2014). The dispute and complications surrounding the sex work from both the liberal and radical feminist perspective will be discussed in detail in this paper. Despite the fact that sex employment can take many different forms, this report will mostly focus on prostitution.

Feminist ideas provide the majority of theoretical frameworks for understanding violence against women. It is the goal of feminist theory to comprehend the unique experiences, perspectives, and ideals of women and girls from a wide range of fields and disciplines (Miriam, 2005). On the subject of prostitution, there are many different perspectives among feminists. Many of these viewpoints can be grouped together to provide a broader perspective on prostitution and sex work, which is generally either critical or supportive. A common assumption in the discussion of prostitution is that all sex workers are women, however there is difference about the way feminist school approach or try to solve the problem for the sex workers. There are some "liberal feminists" who argue that prostitution is just like any other employment choice. ' Prior to making the decision to become a prostitute, women should have the same rights and privileges as those in any other profession (Law, 2019). These feminist theorists are in favour of making prostitution a legal option for those who want it. According to this sex work perspective, this will help governments and business codes to regulate prostitution, protect sex trade employees, and strengthen the capacity to prosecute those who harm them. Prostitution, according to another group of feminists known as "radical feminists," reflects larger systems of gender inequality and oppression, and as a result, women are forced into prostitution rather than choosing it (McVey, Gurrieri & Tyler, 2021). Prostitution is largely opposed by these radical feminists. But these two feminists’ schools aggress on certain perspectives as well. In Women Power and Public Policy (2012), Newman and White claims that feminist perception on prostitution include three key features.: To begin, they condemn the existing legal practise of criminalising women who give sex in return for money. Second, both the feminist prospective believe that in order for sex to be lawful, it must be based on true consent, regardless of whether it is commercial or not. Third, all feminists believe that commercial sex workers are exploited financially and often become targets of assault, and that nothing is done to address these issues. According to Comte (2014) suggests that each feminist theory agrees on the fact that sex work is a social problem and the state should view it from that lens.

Liberal Feminism

As stated above, Scholars and proponents of sexual exploitation or sex trade are frequently separated into two opposing theoretical categories. In the eyes of some, known as the "neo-abolitionists," all forms of prostitution, regardless of whether it is done voluntarily or not, are an oppression of women. Prostitution, according to neo-abolitionists, particularly radical and Marxist feminists, believe that sex work is never totally consensual and so cannot be considered as such. According to Gerassi (2015), in the view of radical feminists, prostitution is a tactic used by men to exploit women and maintain authority over them, and it is a result of the current patriarchal social structure. Those who advocate for the rights of prostitutes contend that prostitution contributes to the perpetuation of harmful gender stereotypes regarding women as merely sexual objects to be exploited by men. Prostitution, according to Joseph, & Black (2012), is not a sexual act in which both partners participate equally, because it places the woman in a subordinate position, making her merely a tool for the client's pleasure. These radical feminists claim that many customers utilise prostitutes because they like the "power trip" and the control they have over the woman during the sexual activity. Radical feminism, in contrast to liberal feminism, believe government and society's patriarchal framework establish a social backdrop for broad support of sexist hierarchies, restricting women from politics, higher education, structured workforces and religious organisations (Levy & Jakobsson, 2013). Additionally, this led to the idea that women had no place in high-status positions in the community, and were therefore restricted to the house. It is a patriarchal entitlement of access to women's bodies that perpetuates the subordination of women to men through sexual trade. As opposed to the liberal perspective, a radical feminist argument raises the difficulties of deeming sex work as a legitimate profession. Sullivan explores the consequences of legalising prostitution in Victoria, Australia, in support of this claim. According to her perspective, sex work hasn't altered the intrinsic violence of the profession; women continue to be raped and traumatised while working, as shown by Sullivan (2018). Sex work and prostitution should be outlawed because of male domination and systemic inequalities between men and women.

However, liberal feminists, including many sex positivists, argue that women have the right to participate in prostitution and other types of sex labour as a way of earning a livelihood or even as a career. They think that individuals should be allowed to decide for themselves how they utilise their bodies. The liberal approach's "focus on the ways in which sexual commerce qualifies as employment" is centred on workers' potential empowerment and human agency. (Beran, 2012). Liberal feminists want to lessen the abuse that prostitutes often endure by reframing prostitution as "legitimate labour" and liberating the profession from its bad associations. Liberals argue that elevating the status of prostitutes in the eyes of the public would lessen the hurt, violence, and prejudice that they face. Liberal Feminists claim that there is no intrinsic reason why sex labour can't be regarded a valuable, professional service since it's not filthy job (Valadier, 2018). In the same way that St James and Alexander stress the detrimental impact of criminalising prostitution, they also underline the fact that prostitutes no longer have the legal right to qualify for 'working benefits' such as health care and sick leave. (Comte, 2014). Reconstructing prostitution as "an essentially honourable profession that accomplishes socially acceptable ends". As with sex positivists, feminists believe that only the woman has the right to define what constitutes an intimate act. There are many professions that can be classified as "intimate," including nursing, gynaecology, and child care, according to former sex worker and activist Maggie McNeil. She also believes that all women, including prostitutes, should have the freedom to decide what activities are considered "intimate" (Beran, 2014). As a result, any requirement or attitude implying that a woman's choice of occupation is inappropriate is dangerous and oppressive.

At the conclusion, it should be emphasised that the raging arguments between feminist ideas have had a significant impact on the rifts that exist inside the legislative frameworks that govern nations all over the globe. No matter how divergent the two feminist schools' views on sex work and how to treat women who work as prostitutes, they both acknowledge the existence of unequal power relations and structures in which males are dominant and overlooked in mainstream politics. 

References

Beran, K (2012) Revisiting the Prostitution Debate: Uniting Liberal and Radical Feminism in Pursuit of Policy Reform. Law and Inequality. 30(19)

Comte, J. (2014). Decriminalization of sex work: Feminist discourses in light of research. Sexuality & Culture, 18(1), 196-217.

Comte, J. (2014). Decriminalization of sex work: Feminist discourses in light of research. Sexuality & Culture, 18(1), 196-217.

Gerassi, L. (2015). A heated debate: Theoretical perspectives of sexual exploitation and sex work. Journal of sociology and social welfare, 42(4), 79.

Joseph, L. J., & Black, P. (2012). Who's the man? Fragile masculinities, consumer masculinities, and the profiles of sex work clients. Men and Masculinities, 15(5), 486-506.

Law, S. A. (2019). In defense of liberal feminism. In Research Handbook on Feminist Jurisprudence. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Levy, J., & Jakobsson, P. (2013). Abolitionist feminism as patriarchal control: Swedish understandings of prostitution and trafficking. Dialectical Anthropology, 37(2), 333-340.

Maxwell, L., & Scott, G. (2014). A review of the role of radical feminist theories in the understanding of rape myth acceptance. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 20(1), 40-54.

McVey, L., Gurrieri, L., & Tyler, M. (2021). The structural oppression of women by markets: the continuum of sexual violence and the online pornography market. Journal of Marketing Management, 37(1-2), 40-67.

Miriam, K. (2005). Stopping the traffic in women: Power, agency and abolition in feminist debates over sex?trafficking. Journal of social philosophy, 36(1), 1-17.

Sullivan, B. (2007). Rape, Prostitution and Consent. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 40(2), 127–142.

Sullivan, C. T. (2018). Majesty in the city: Experiences of an Aboriginal transgender sex worker in Sydney, Australia. Gender, Place & Culture, 25(12), 1681-1702.

Valadier, C. (2018). Migration and sex work through a gender perspective. Contexto Internacional, 40, 501-524.

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