Sex trade work is a profession that for a long time has been frowned upon and argued against. More recently, however, liberal feminists consider sex trade work as the sale of sex solely for economic gain. For the purpose of this presentation, I will be arguing how sex trade work is linked to the exploitation of women’s bodies.Feminists against sex trade work see it as a kind of exploitation of women and male dominance over women as well as a form of work that is the result of the patriarchal societal order we currently live in. These feminists argue that sex work has a very negative effect, not only on the workers themselves but on society as well as it promotes stereotypes about women who are already seen as sex objects to be used or abused by men. In one of our readings titled “Exotic Dancing and the Negotiation of Identity”, Wesely argues that “cyclically, the sexualized, fantasy body was used to acquire capital to afford a particular body technology, and this body technology further contributed to the objectification and instrumental use of the body.” (PAGE 259). She describes how many of the strippers she interviewed mentioned having their customers pay for some form of cosmetic surgery, whether it was a boob job or liposuction and the level of ownership that the customer felt towards that part of the woman after doing so.These situations of vulnerability among the women may lead one to wonder why men are not nearly as present as women within this industry. In this instance we are able to draw attention to the fact that this debate is taking place within a society characterized by imbalanced power relations between men and women, particularly in terms of financial and economic resources. These relationships continue to influence the sexuality of men and women and perpetuate the image of men buying sexual services from women. In addition to reinforcing gender stereotypes, sex trade work is thus also seen as an expression of the idea that men have potentially unlimited access to women’s bodies and to sexuality corresponding to their level of economic power. It also conveys the idea that sexual needs are a kind of right vested in every individual male. We see this when we look at what has now been called the “Weinstein effect”. The term refers to a global phenomenon of people who came forward to accuse powerful people that were mostly male of sexual misconduct. The Weinstein effect inspired the hashtag #MeToo which encouraged people to share their repressed experiences of sexual assault. This created a series of accusations in a multitude of industries that caused the rapid expulsion of men in positions of power globally. For feminists against sex trade work, this line of work can therefore be seen as damaging to the advancement of women, human rights and equality between women and men.According to a study published in 2014 by the European Parliament, “it can be said that, in international law ans in the literature, sex work is hardly separated from sexual exploitation and trafficking in human beings”. They argue that sex work “and sexual exploitation are highly gendered issues with in most cases women and girls are selling their body, either by coercion or consent, to men or boys who pay for this service. Accordingly, the majority of those trafficked for sexual exploitation are women and girls”. Sexual exploitation is a lucrative business that enriches a globalized sex industry. The groups most vulnerable to sex trafficking are minors and those involved in the sex industry (i.e. dance clubs, massage parlors, escort services, etc.).As stated by Professor Richard Poulin, if we look at things from an economic point of view, the “goods” provided by sex workers are “doubly valuable because bodies are both a good and a service”. In her text, Wesely states that when looking at what she calls “superficial visible identifiers” that is to say anything that might be considered a form of body technology such as breast augmentation, liposuction, other cosmetic surgery, hair colour or even simply one’s skin colour, “the bodies of women … become depersonalized, dehumanized, and commodified”. This considerably strengthens the system of oppression of women and their enslavement to the pleasure of others, to male pleasure. By reducing women to a commodity that can be bought, sold, rented, appropriated, traded or acquired, sex trade work affects women as a group. It reinforces the archaic equation between women and sex, reducing women to a lower humanity and helping to keep them in a lower status around the world. Horley and Clarke state that “the process of commodification involves turning sexuality, in all its forms, from reproduction to bodies to sex acts, into objects of economic desire for exchange in the market”. They argue that “while sex as a commodity can be used to sell pleasant and benign objects like crimson lipstick through pictures of naked or near-naked bodies, the trouble with commodification of sexuality is that sexuality can become detached from people’s experiences, intentionally exploitative, and downright harmful”. We know that the female body can be seen as an object of exchange, a commodity that contributes to the balance of our economic system. The neoliberal system conceives women’s bodies as a commodity and, therefore, can lead to the desire to abolish the phenomenon of sex trade work.Sexuality is an economic exchange that tends to be maintained within systems where social and material inequalities exist. It is important to give a voice to marginalized and less visible groups like sex workers so that they can overcome the social structures that oppress them. We must reposition the power of dominant paradigms to make room for emerging discourses that claim the right to self-determination. In doing so, the voice of these women can contribute to their social recognition and allow social change to take place.
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