This week in ‘what were they thinking,’ we look at a news article titled Legalise Prostitution because 21st Century Men Need More Sex Says Think-Tank. (I’m pretending that the awkward title to my post is a direct response to the awkward title to that one).
The subtitle helpfully informs us that ‘Empowerment of women has created a “male sex deficit” which prostitution could usefully fill’.
The assumptions in the claim that ‘Feminism has left modern men starved of sex’ are laughable at best – all of the female-identified feminists I know who shared this article online did so with captions like ‘I must have missed the memo’ – and incredibly dangerous at worst.
First of all, there’s evidence that in some places the sex work industry is declining as a result of the ‘hookup culture’ that’s been lamented by pearl-clutchers for the better part of two decades now, so even the ‘men have access to less consensual sex these days’ argument is potentially flawed.
However, whether men have access to too much sex or not enough, the report’s tone of blame on feminist women for providing less sex to men just doesn’t sit right with me.
See, Hakim does admit that women may be withdrawing from ‘sexual markets and relationships that they perceive to offer unfair bargains’. So she’s basically saying that women are more likely, once ’empowered’ or employed, to have sex because they want to or enjoy it (*gasp*), not because they feel like they have to in order to obtain the social legitimacy and/or economic support that a heterosexual relationship may provide.
However, instead of celebrating this possibility and recognizing that this empowerment is, just maybe, a good thing, she jumps to the conclusion that ‘it is “inevitable” that men will resort to paying for sex as women become more empowered through participation in the workplace’.
So, women having jobs = men hiring sex workers.
This is another one of those cases where patriarchal assumptions are pretty crappy towards everybody. In Hakim’s worldview, not only are men unable to control or manage their sexual desires – often to the point of committing violent crimes and breaking laws – but this isn’t seen as a problem to address.
Instead, it’s presented as a simple fact of life that we have to work around.
If ever there was a time for the #notallmen brigade to come out in full force, this should be it, because that shit is insulting.
Hakim’s claim also reinforces the myth that rape is about sex and unfulfilled desire, not entitlement and power. Men rape women not because they are overpowered by lust, but because they want to exert power over women (this is a vast oversimplification, obvs). They want to take something that they see as rightfully theirs.
If feminism is causing men to have less sex, it’s not because women don’t want sex, it’s because women are becoming more confident and have the language to challenge the idea that men have a right to their bodies.
Hakim doesn’t even consider that maybe men need be taught to control themselves, to rethink their entitlement, or to see women as people beyond their capacity to sexually provide. ‘Teach men not to rape’ isn’t suggested as a way to lower sexual assault rates.
Rather, she claims that we should change entire bodies of law that affect thousands of women’s lives to coddle and placate these men in the hopes that they won’t become criminals.
Furthermore, as was pointed out to me by a friend last night, Hakim’s argument implicitly places having consensual sex with a partner on one side of a line, and ‘solicit a sex worker or rape’ on the other. She seems to equate the two, saying that soliciting a sex worker is the only logical replacement for raping someone. This argument makes me really uneasy, as it potentially reveals Hakim’s actual opinions of sex workers as some kind of human shield protecting better or more worthy women from rape.
That makes me think that Hakim might not be the best person to be suggesting policy that affects these women’s lives. In fact – and this may be a wild idea – maybe we should be listening to the opinions of sex workers themselves.
See, from my point of view, the most egregiously awful thing about this report is the fact that it makes men’s desire and libido the center of the discussion around sex work legislation. While the safety and quality of life of sex workers are mentioned, it’s as an afterthought.
Now, I am not well-versed at all about the arguments surrounding prostitution, sex work, and the benefits and drawbacks of legalization or decriminalization, so I’m not prepared to write about that. However, in a quick Google search it seems that actual sex workers believe that decriminalization would increase protections for sex workers and make trafficking easier to discover.
Whether or not men are getting laid should be last on the list of concerns when deciding whether sex work and/or patronizing sex workers should be legal.
For me, while I do think there are plenty of legitimate arguments to be made supporting the idea of decriminalized sex work, Hakim’s use of ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘feminists hate sex’ as the premises for her argument seriously undermine the credibility of her study.