Sex Work and Prostitution — Beholders See Different Issues In Past Stories

Sex Work and Prostitution — Beholders See Different Issues In Past Stories

by Mary Lou Greenberg

Women and sex — for pleasure, for money, as an oppression, as a profession — is a theme found throughout the print life (1983-1999) of On The Issues Magazine.

The magazine’s pages featured sharply-contrasting views on prostitution/sex work that reflected and contributed to the ongoing debate within the feminist movement (see articles by anti-pornography advocate and author Andrea Dworkin, writer Sheila Jeffries, prostitutes’ rights activist Carol Leigh). At the same time, articles exposed the cruel trafficking of young women and girls into street-corner hustling or “sex tourism” (see articles by Jan Goodwin, Diane Foley, Andrea D’Asara) and the role of pimps (Kathleen Barry). Rita Nakashima Brock provided a fascinating look at how Christianity has viewed women and prostitution, and its impact on public policy. Phyllis Chesler discussed the case of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who dared kill her johns (and was sentenced to death and executed by the state in 2002 – her story was depicted in the film Monster, starring Charlize Theron). In a provocative essay, On the Issues Publisher Merle Hoffman noted parallel arguments in support of prostitution with those in support of the right of the poor to sell body organs to survive.

A guide to the archival articles:

Transspecies Transplants: Home-Grown Atrocities by Merle Hoffman – Fall 1995

“An organ. however, unlike the sexual functions of prostitutes, is not a renewable resource…”

Pimping: The World’s Oldest Profession by Kathleen Barry – Summer 1995

“Procuring involves tactics for acquiring women and turning them into prostitution; pimping keeps them there. That some women by their definition, choose to prostitute and choose to be with pimps as lovers or husbands is no more a defense of pimping than is a woman’s choice to remain in a marriage with a man who abuses her a defense of that marriage.”

Orgasm Politics: Has it Hijacked the Women’s Movement? by Sheila Jeffries – Spring 1996

“Prostitution and its representation in pornography create an aggressive sexuality requiring the objectification of a woman. She is made into a thing not worthy of the respect due to another equal sentient individual. Prostitution fosters a sexuality in which it is acceptable for the client to take his ‘pleasure’ on and in the body of a woman who dissociates to survive.”

Girls and the Business of Sex One Woman with a Mission by Diane Foley; African Girls at RiskA Half-Million Teen Prostitutes; and The U.S. in Denial by Andrea D’Asaro – Summer 1997

“UNICEF estimates that 300,000 juveniles in the U.S. are involved in prostitution …[but] the number is ‘closer to one million.'”

Casting Stones: The Theology of Prostitution by Rita Nakashima Brock – Summer 1997

“Prostitutes were a necessary evil, according to the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, as they were permitted by God in order to prevent male lust from becoming totally out of control. ‘Sewers,’ he noted, ”are necessary to guarantee the wholesomeness of palaces.’ Otherwise, Aquinas worried, ‘sodomy’ and worse crimes might result…In other words, prostitutes protect the ‘good’ women of the family from the demands of male sin.”

The Making of a Radical Feminist, Interview with Andrea Dworkin by Merle Hoffman – Vol 9 1988

In the course of an extensive interview, Dworkin discusses prostitution: “Here we find one of the few remaining distinctions between Right and Left in this country…The right despises the prostitute, but wants to save her through Christ. There is a recognition of her suffering in one way or another. The Left wants prostitution to be a legitimate way of life for women.”

No Mandatory Testing! A Feminist Prostitute Speaks Out by Carol Leigh – Vol 10 1998

“I urge feminists to examine the prejudices which divide us and exercise greater patience when confronting various attitudes towards prostitution. All women must learn to respect the prostitute’s pride in her identity as she insists that she has ‘chosen’ her life and that she is better off than those who work 9-5 jobs. At the same time, career prostitutes and those concerned with rights to sexual expression must be more sensitive to survivors of incest and forced prostitution.”

The Ultimate Growth Industry: Trafficking in Women and Girls by Jan Goodwin – Fall 1998

“In some cases, sex tours from the U.S. to the Third World are offered as a means by which lonely men can find a mate…[One tour brochure reads:] ‘Had enough of the American bitches who won’t give you the time of day, and are only interested in your bank account? In Asia you’ll meet girls who will treat you with respect and appreciation, unlike their American counterparts.'”

Aileen Wuornos on Trial: Sex, Death and the Double Standard Girls by Phyllis Chesler – Summer 1992

“Do we have different standards for evil, violence and insanity: One for men, another for women? Or is Wuornos simply too evil – for a woman? As such, is her punishment a warning to other women that female violence, including self-defense, will never be glamorized or forgiven, only punished swiftly and terribly?”

Mary Lou Greenberg is Associate Editor of On The Issues Magazine.