Sarah and Steve recently highlighted a range of views that libertarians can hold regarding pornography. Their point was that libertarians all hold that pornography should not be illegal, but people might disagree about the further question of whether pornography is good or bad. I liked their post so I thought I’d end my blogging break by continuing this conversation and highlighting some good online conversations about this topic.
First up, Maggie McNeill is blogging at the Washington Post now! I first saw McNeill’s work in a Cato Unbound symposium a few months ago. The Cato essay by McNeill is really insightful, but the best part of it is her responses to critics. In both forums, McNeill debunks myths about prostitution that keep resurfacing and tries to trace their origins. I hadn’t realized the extent that the feminist case against prostitution relied on discredited empirical assertions. McNeil not only carefully refutes each empirical consideration against the decriminalization of sex work, she convincingly explains why many of the problems that are often associated with prostitution are caused by criminalization and not the work itself. Seriously, anyone interested in this topic even a little should read her essays and check out her blog.
Another blog I would recommend is Tits and Sass, a group blog run by brilliant, witty, insightful sex workers about their industry. I first started reading the blog while researching the ethics of licensing requirements (every wonder why Portland has so many strip clubs?), but when I peeked into the archives I found some really great discussions not only about labor law and politics, but also about consent, feminism, police power, stigmatization, and emotional labor. They also run book reviews and some pretty sharp media criticism.
In addition to the political posts, Tits and Sass also covers other industry topics, such as music, manicures, workplace politics and advertising, and some of those posts are pretty entertaining. I wish more people who wrote in favor of prohibiting or limiting access to prostitution would read these posts as well, in part because they illustrate that sex work is, well, work. A lot of these women are entrepreneurs, and these posts show that sex-work is as much a creative and challenging industry as other kinds of work, if not more. These posts also show that philosophers who cite work’s formative role in the development of the moral powers would do well to look at the skills that sex workers must develop to succeed in their industry—which involves running a small business that requires specialization as an entertainer, therapist, accountant, and advertiser.
I’m highlighting these conversations because both McNeill’s essays and the posts at Tits and Sass bring a perspective that I think is missing from a lot of debates about sex work. McNeill especially calls on us to be attentive to the actual lived experience of sex workers, and she is well equipped with the empirical support that is needed to make her case. The bloggers at Tits and Sass illustrate McNeill’s point that sex work merits the same kind of legal treatment as most other kinds of work, and a lot more respect than it currently gets.
Like most feminists, I do think that the influence of patriarchy in the labor market is a huge injustice, but policies that legislate what female workers can do with their bodies only contribute to that injustice. I also think it’s a problem that some people need to do work they abhor because their other options are truly terrible. But this can be said of many forms of work (see e.g. Matt’s work on sweatshops) and it only harms workers when well-intentioned advocates try to take those jobs off the table.