Prostitution and gender equality
We have, it seems, embarked on a discussion about prostitution. I would like to put forward a few ideas which may seem weird, or downright unrealistic.
This is not a campaign in any way; what happens regarding the prostitution laws will make absolutely no difference to my life. My main intention is to challenge standard ways of thinking about these issues, so that we can all understand better the implications of what the government eventually decides to do.
First of all, let me get some things straight:
I am against the exploitation of the human body, including its objectification as a sexual commodity. I recognize that there is a problem of human trafficking here in Malta, and there is an urgent need to address this. All forms of slavery need to be stopped, of course.
However, there is a difference between trafficking and prostitution. It is possible, if unlikely, that some sex workers are in their trade voluntarily.
Also, there are strong arguments for keeping prostitution legal, since some people, for example the disabled, are unable to obtain sex in any other way. For this reason, Amnesty has argued that prostitution is a human right. If there are arguments for legalizing drugs for the sake of drug addicts, then perhaps there should also be legal prostitution available for the sake of sex addicts.
Even if we wanted to, prostitution would be very hard to eradicate completely. If the government decided to make it illegal (currently, prostitution is legal, per se) without strong enforcement, this is unlikely to make much difference. Malta does not have a very good record when it comes to law enforcement. Prostitutes will continue to operate on the black market, without any protection by the law.
Those were my general points. With regard to the current debate, there is a link, it seems, between prostitution, gentlemen’s clubs and massage parlours. We have heard of backrooms in gentlemen’s clubs where patrons negotiate sex with the dancers. Jokes about ‘happy endings’ in massage parlours have become com- as mentioned above, it is probably within human rights for two consenting and free adults to make their own arrangements and negotiations for sex. Who are we to judge?
We are going to hear a lot about the ‘Nordic Model’ in coming days. Briefly, this decriminalizes sex work but criminalizes their clients. In other words, because the sex worker is seen as a helpless and exploited victim, he or she is not punished. On the other hand, the buyer is seen as the exploiter, and his or her activities are a crime.
I do not think we should automatically assume that all sex workers are victims. Perhaps, compared to the situation he or she was in before, working at a strip club might be seen as an improvement. Yes, to us perhaps their situation is pitiable, but we will not empower them by treating them so condescendingly. Let us instead give them access to medical and social services so that if they want to change their lifestyle, they can find the help they need.
Secondly, by criminalizing his or her clients, we will simply be making the sex worker’s life more difficult. This has happened wherever the Nordic Model was adopted.
Finally, criminalizing the buyer but not the seller seems to me a rather perverse approach. With drugs, it is the exact reverse. The Nordic Model assumes that sex addicts, people who perhaps cannot control their lascivious desires must be stopped through punishment. Given that most sex workers are women and their clients men, it reinforces the idea that women are helpless victims and men their evil predators.
Why don’t we, instead, turn all that around by insisting that we see neon signs and posters depicting naked men wherever there are ones depicting women? We can insist on having beautiful men as well as women handing flyers out in Paceville. As well as making it legal and acceptable for men to ogle women, we can also do the reverse.
I warned you they would be weird ideas. But please do not accept any paternalistic declarations of what is and what is not possible. Markets are created, together with demand. Eventually, with advertising, we can convince women that they might enjoy a strip show, or paid sex.
We have already become trailblazers when it comes to gender equality in marriage. Perhaps it is time we showed the world how to do gender equal sex work too.
Perhaps, even, if we insist strongly on gender equal strip clubs and massage parlours, it might become impossible for these establishments to continue their business, and they might simply pack up and go away.
Or at the very least, confronted with examples of objectified men, male patrons will become less willing to indulge in the sex trade.