August 18, 2009
Feminists have a long history of ambivalence about working girls. I mean, “independent contractors.” It’s an issue that ties them into philosophical knots.
On the one hand, independent contractors are bad because their business involves gratification of male desire, treatment of women as objects for pleasure, and sometimes brutal physical abuse, sexual disease and even murder. They also dress in heteronormative high heels and hot pants, and wear too much lipstick. That suggests independent contractors are tools of patriarchal oppression.
On the other hand, independent contractors stand for female empowerment. They do make money and there is nothing that warms the heart of a feminist more, or inspires her to wax more eloquently about equality and freedom, than a bit of hard cold cash. Prostitution, to the extent that it is a professional field for women, is good. That’s why feminists have openly campaigned for the legalization of independent contractors.
Generally, however, the average feminist takes a stand similar to the one displayed by Oprah yesterday in her interview with Brooke Taylor. She was alternately bemused, curious, mildly concerned, and mildly repulsed. Altogether, Oprah’s attitude was distant, as if all this was part of a world to which she would never belong. “So strange [male organs] don’t bother you?” the interviewer asked with a smile. How does Brooke go to work when she doesn’t feel like sex? Oprah appeared to think prostitutes are aroused by their clients.
In a world lit by feminist lights, prostitution is destined to become more common. That’s because the feminist, either male or female, can never muster true condemnation or even genuine concern. The idea that what a woman does with her body defines her life’s meaning and spiritual destiny is foreign to the neutered feminist mind.
The conflict you describe between feminists over the sex issue is indeed an old one. Here is what the great Allan Bloom says about it in The Closing of the American Mind:
“The sexual revolution marched under the banner of freedom; feminism under that of equality. Although they went arm in arm for a while, their differences eventually put them at odds with each other, as Tocqueville said freedom and equality would always be. This is manifest in the squabble over pornography, which pits liberated sexual desire against feminist resentment about stereotyping. We are presented with the amusing spectacle of pornography clad in armor borrowed from the heroic struggles for freedom of speech, and using Miltonic rhetoric, doing battle with feminism, newly draped in the robes of community morality, using arguments associated with conservatives who defend traditional sex roles, and also defying an authoritative tradition in which it was taboo to suggest any relation between what a person reads and sees and his sexual practices. In the background stand the liberals, wringing their hands in confusion because they wish to favor both sides and cannot.”
But I think you are wrong to say,
“The idea that what a woman does with her body defines her life’s meaning and spiritual destiny is foreign to the neutered feminist mind.”
I believe that, to the contrary, that both the sexual liberationist brand of feminism and gay activism hold sexual desire to be sacred and essential to one’s identity and that this is why they view any attempt to encourage continence by social and religious authorities to be tantamount to racial oppression.
It is not the physical act itself that is sacred to a liberal, but the desire. The body is an instrument for the self and its desires. Therefore it doesn’t matter whether a woman has sex with a man she knows or a man she doesn’t know, whether she is married or not married; as long as the act is voluntary and self-willed, it is ethical and good.
In the traditional view, the woman’s body itself is spiritually significant and a physical act is not judged solely by its service to the self. It is what a woman does, not just what she desires, that defines her. A woman’s essence is harmed by casual or illicit sex even if she wants it and enjoys it or is paid for it. Lucretia, in an extreme example of this view, killed herself when she was raped; her body defiled, she too was essentially dead. The body is en-souled and the soul is embodied.
The culture war is largely about this. A chasm divides those who conceive of the body as an expressive instrument of self and those who see the physical and the supraphysical as bound. To a liberal, someone who is old and no longer wishes to live should be allowed to kill himself. The body is meaningless without the desire to live. On the other side are those who say the body is sacred even when the mind is inactive and has no volitions whatsoever.
Posted by Laura Wood in Popular culture