Feminist Perspective of the Sex Industry Essay

Total Length: 2777 words ( 9 double-spaced pages)

Total Sources: 9

Page 1 of 9

Prostitution and Feminism: Questions for a Modern Society

In answer to the question of whether prostitution is just another line of work, the most comprehensive and simplest answer is to say, no, it is not. The reason for this is that there are too many complexities associated with prostitution -- not just ethical and moral issues -- but also social, legal, economic, political, safety, and theoretical issues that color the sex industry. True, one could argue that any field of labor or industry could be discussed using the same terms, but the issue with prostitution is that it is a term that can be used without being properly defined. As Hallie Rose Liberto points out, when feminists discuss prostitution, they are discussing much more than the sex trade: they are discussing women's rights, women's alienation, women's health, and women's equality.[footnoteRef:1] Because the issue is those so charged with underlying meanings, at this point in time, it would be incorrect to hold that prostitution is just another line of work. This paper will show why the legalistic interpretations of prostitution only mask over the actual nature of the trade. Prostitution may be viewed positively by some women and some feminists, who prefer to think of it as just another line of work -- but the grim reality of the trade is that even with regulation it remains taboo. [1: Hallie Rose Liberto, "Normalizing Prostitution versus Normalizing the Alienability of Sexual Rights: A Response to Scott A. Anderson." Ethics, vol. 120, no. 1 (October, 2009), 139.]

To suppose that prostitution is just another line of work is to compare the sex industry to any other type of labor. While no labor industry is really free of exploitation (and certainly not the sex industry) or free of danger (all work has its risks), prostitution is a type of work that carries with it both attendant taboos (illicit sex, immorality) which remain a part of many cultures both East and West. Even feminists disagree about how prostitution should be viewed -- with some arguing that it injures women and others focusing more on the moral aspect of the work and rejecting the taboos that are commonly associated with it, arguing that prostitutes should be treated as any other type of laborer. Indeed, in countries like Germany, prostitution is legal and sex workers are tested by the state just as any other industry is monitored for safety sake. Recently, a member of Germany's Green Party even asserted that the state should pay for sex for individuals who feel they are not getting enough or are deprived, since sex is a natural act and one that is healthy for people. Clearly, prostitution comes with many risks, and not every woman who engages in prostitution is there of her own volition. Even if one dismisses the moral questions regarding prostitution, prostitution cannot be considered as just another line of work simply because of the controversies that surround it.

To say that prostitution is just another line of work would be like saying gun running is just another line of work: there are oftentimes severely injured parties involved in the trade that go unseen and unnoticed. Normalizing prostitution, as Scott Anderson describes, would require a change in the current cultures of many Western states, Eastern and Middle Eastern states.[footnoteRef:2] Germany is one of the few countries in the West (the others are the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Hungary and Latvia) to embrace the idea of normalization of prostitution by not just decriminalizing but by legalizing and it and regulating it. Decriminalization is the concept of lessening the punitive responses to an offense (marijuana usage, for instance, is currently being decriminalized in some states in the U.S.), while legalization means that the offense is no longer to be considered as such and persons may engage in it lawfully. For a culture to embrace legalization is one step towards normalization -- however, in many nations throughout the world, there exist competing cultures. Even in the West, it is clear that a traditional culture represented by conservative values and morals (based on religious foundations) exists alongside a modern culture represented by liberal values and new moral codes (based on modern philosophical foundations, such as ideas concerning the self and the will to power).

Stuck Writing Your "Feminist Perspective of the Sex Industry" Essay?

Legalization, from Anderson's point of view, would help to move a country's culture more towards acceptance of prostitution and normalization of the line of work so that the associated taboo was no longer an issue. [2: Scott A. Anderson, "Prostitution and Sexual Autonomy: Making Sense of the Prohibition of Prostitution." Ethics, vol. 112, no. 4 (July, 2002), 749.]

This conception of prostitution, however, is somewhat simplistic. To believe that the taboo is the only negative variable attendant with prostitution is to miss an entire range of issues that attend the industry and can potentially harm women in more ways than that of social stigmatization. Hallie Rose Liberto argues that Anderson's sense of prostitution is incomplete and that there are actually two types of prostitution: "sexual-rights-alienating prostitution and sexual-rights-preserving prostitution."[footnoteRef:3] [3: Hallie Rose Liberto, "Normalizing Prostitution versus Normalizing the Alienability of Sexual Rights: A Response to Scott A. Anderson." Ethics, vol. 120, no. 1 (October, 2009), 139.]

From a feminist perspective, a woman taking ownership of her body and using her sexuality for financial or personal gain aligns with feminist thought. Yet, while sex work is legal in parts of the world (even in some counties in the U.S.), the taboo of "being a prostitute" still exists -- but this could be because the rest of society does not identify with feminist thought and thus views sex work from a moralist perspective that is more fundamentally rooted in the theological/philosophical worldviews of the past (Christian, Muslim, Confucian, etc.). In other words, prostitution could be seen as just another line of work by feminists who promote the idea of taking ownership of one's sexuality -- but at the same time it could be viewed as degrading to women for various reasons that will be explored in the following pages. Indeed, the feminist perspective does not offer a clear answer as to how prostitution should be viewed, as prostitution itself is a complicated issue with some women taking to it out of a sense of empowerment and others rather finding themselves subjected to it out of necessity or even slavery.

The issue regarding prostitution that must be considered is the matter of sexual liberation versus sexual exploitation.[footnoteRef:4] Is the woman in that role because she chooses to be there and is benefiting from it? Or is the woman in that role because she is the object of the "male gaze" and thus reduced to a level of subservience to the male desire for sexual pleasure? As Laura Mulvey points out, it is really a question of will and control -- which is essentially what serves as the center of feminist perspective.[footnoteRef:5] Feminism is about the empowerment of women. It grew out of the work of Betty Friedan in the 1960s: she rejected the modern conception of woman as a Mary Tyler More type of "housewife" -- a playful, dutiful, prim and proper doll keeping the house clean while waiting for the man to come home from work and then tending to his needs with dinner and possibly sex.[footnoteRef:6] Her view of woman in this sense was that of a woman in a harem -- a slave girl. Feminism rose in opposition to such a conception of woman. The founder of Ms. Magazine Gloria Steinhem promoted the idea that women should take ownership of their own bodies, that they should celebrate their sexuality and acknowledge its power, influence and effects. Steinhem rejoiced in the idea of women being able to talk openly about such controversial matters as having abortions because doing so showed that they were in control of their own bodies and that they….....

Show More ⇣

     Open the full completed essay and source list


     Order a one-of-a-kind custom essay on this topic


Anderson, "Prostitution and Sexual Autonomy: Making Sense of the Prohibition of Prostitution." Ethics, vol. 112, no. 4 (July, 2002): 748-780.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. NY: Norton, 2001.

Hume, D., Sidun, N. "Human trafficking of women and girls: Characteristics, commonalities, and complexities." Women and Therapy, vol. 40, no. 1-2 (2017): 7-11.

Jones, E. Michael. Libido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Political Control. St. Augstine Press, 2000.

Liberto, Hallie Rose. "Normalizing Prostitution versus Normalizing the Alienability of Sexual Rights: A Response to Scott A. Anderson." Ethics, vol. 120, no. 1 (October, 2009): 138-145.

Mostow, Joshua. Gender and Power in the Japanese Visual Field (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003.

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Screen, vol. 16., no. 3 (1975), 6-18.

Steinhem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. NY: Henry Holt, 1984.

sample essay writing service

Cite This Resource:

Latest APA Format (6th edition)

Copy Reference
"Feminist Perspective Of The Sex Industry" (2017, January 18) Retrieved October 24, 2021, from

Latest MLA Format (8th edition)

Copy Reference
"Feminist Perspective Of The Sex Industry" 18 January 2017. Web.24 October. 2021. <

Latest Chicago Format (16th edition)

Copy Reference
"Feminist Perspective Of The Sex Industry", 18 January 2017, Accessed.24 October. 2021,