I have been called hypocritical for being a feminist who indulges in products of the "sex industry" (i.e. watching and purchasing adult films, collecting adult oriented books, and attending exotic dance clubs).
I want to clarify my position as a sex positive feminist. I would also like to remind people that within feminism, there is rampant disagreement regarding sex and the sex industry. Not all feminists are alike. Stereotypes run rampant in the media. Things like hating men and burning bras. The media enjoys painting a 2-dimensional picture of feminism-- a caricature if you will. It's easy to rule out the positions of a group when they are characterized in the form of a cartoon, something so lacking in complexity that of course we can discount it.
I believe that all capitalist institutions (i.e. businesses) exploit the people who work for them. Exploitation is defined as "use or utilization, esp. for profit." All businesses exploit workers, because they use or utilize them for profit. That is the sole purpose of a business- to make money- and its workers are employed only for that purpose. That is why you see businesses firing people the minute they feel the need to increase profits, make some gains for their stockholders. They do not hire workers because people need jobs. They hire workers because they need them as tools in their money making goals.
The argument that I most often am presented with in regards to the sex industry is that the women within it are being exploited. My answer to that is "Yes, they are but so is the ditch digger, so is the accountant crunching numbers for the big corporation, so is the record store employee clerking for a sole proprietorship."
Unless we remove ourselves from this capitalistic society or unless we find a way to control the means of production (i.e. owning our own businesses), we will be exploited by a business that wants to use us in the production of money for itself. And the thing is, employees are adults who are being exploited with their own consent. You can argue that the women in the sex industry don't have a lot of choice. It would be difficult for them to start their own businesses, because they are often already in lower positions, as a result of their status as women and due to the fact that many of them come from the lower classes. That is true. But, I repeat-- so is the ditch-digger, so is the janitor, so is the Wal-Mart clerk. Not to mention the idea that women from the sex industry being from a lower class is an over-broad generalization. And of course, not all people from the lower classes become sex industry workers. Myself, my father is a janitor and my mother a grocery store clerk and I ended up graduating from law school.
I also often hear the argument that the sex industry is different, because it is tied into our bodies. But so is ditch-digging, so is janitorial work, so are all jobs to the extent that our bodies physically have to be in a particular location at a particular time to do a particular task. And while we could argue that women in the sex industry have less power than women in other professions, I simply do not find that to be true in all cases. We can only look at the facts regarding how Wal-Mart, for example, treats its workers to know that isn't always true. In fact, while the sex industry may be a "low prestige" profession in this nation, it is most often not nearly as low pay as other low prestige occupations such as clerking.
I also hear the argument that the sex industry is degrading. Degrading is defined as "to lower to an inferior level; to lower in grade, rank or status." I can't find any difference between other low prestige occupations in this regard. Sure, the sex industry might cause a woman to be looked down upon as lower in grade, rank, or status. However, our society does not look at the worker at Wal-Mart or the garbage collector with much rank or status and again, those individuals are often paid much less than those in the sex industry. Our judgments are arbitrary and easy to make, especially when we're lucky enough to be ina higher prestige position.
I do have one major problem with the sex industry. At times, people who are patrons of the industry do not treat the women within the industry with much respect. I have heard stories of women being touched inappropriately and without their consent at exotic dance clubs. I have heard stories of women being photographed without their consent at exotic dance clubs. I have heard of women in adult films being called crude names or being otherwise disrespected. I do not feel that women in the sex industry, or in any industry for that matter, should be treated this way. However, I do not find that the problem is one with the sex industry itself but with our society. Our society is sick. Wal-Mart does not treat its workers with respect, nor do many other businesses. Employees are constantly being treated like cattle, disposable at the whim of their employers, with little thought given to the fact that they are living, breathing people with lives.
The way the women in the sex industry are sometimes treated is not a product of the sex industry itself but a product of a society with an unhealthy attitude towards sex and an unhealthy attitude towards women. It is a society that needs to change so that the sex industry, and all other industries for that matter, can become better places to work. If these industries treat their employees with respect, there will still be exploitation, because people with still be being utilized for profit. That is just a simple fact of capitalism. However, it is my hope that our society can improve its attitude towards all employees and at the very least, generally treat people with more respect so that they become better realized individuals. The same would go for patrons of any business- I can only hope that they can learn to respect others and to not treat women within the sex industry, or any industry, as cattle.
Sure, I suppose it could be argued that I should stop going to Wal-Mart if they treat their employees badly, and I suppose some people do. However, in the state of things as they are, with so little choices that extend outside of corporations that treat people poorly, I don't find that to be realistic, although it is certainly an idealistic action to take. Unless I would decide to be a "freegan" and live an anti-consumerist lifestyle in which I would dumpster dive for my meals, I don't feel I could ever be consistent in not patronizing establishments that are sometimes disrespectful. If I found out however, that a corporation or sex industry business was being particularly egregious towards its employees (i.e. violence, coercion, etc), I would stay away from that business. And for my own part, when I patronize any sex industry establishments, I am always respectful. I can only hope that others follow suit and that our society as a whole becomes more respectful.
I also hope that whatever choices women make, they make them of their own volition and that they are educated about the variety of choices they could make. Choice without education about the choices and possibilities is not choice at all- that seems more like going with the "default." I would hope that all people, women and men alike, would make choices regarding their professions with as much education as possible about their choices. It is possible that some women would be better off in an industry outside of the sex industry, because they excel in another area. And if they don't realize that potential, I would find that to be unfortunate. I would find it similarly unfortunate, however, if a ditch-digger excelled strongly in another area (i.e. was even better at something else than ditch-digging) and did not realize his/her potential in that area.