1980s >> 1981 >> no-924-august-1981

What’s Wrong With Prostitution?

Do you consider that prostitution would be a good job for your daughter? The pay can be good but the career prospects are poor. She’d meet lots of people, but the hours would be anti-social. There’s a small risk of being murdered—but Popes, Princes and Presidents share the same occupational hazard so she’d be in good company. She would provide a valuable service breaking in the youngsters and catering for some peculiar personal preferences. There’s plenty of variety in the job—unlike most of the usual jobs for women, like typing and shop assisting. No—you would not put your daughter on the streets because you see prostitution as sordid and shameful. As St. Paul wrote (Corinthians VII) “It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife  . . . for it is better to marry than to burn.”

A prostitute is a living denial of the set of values carefully instilled in us from childhood. Sex is for making babies. “Daddy put a seed in mummy’s tummy”. How about that for a whole set of attitudes and prejudices neatly encapsulated? A caring parent explaining the facts of life often gets the reaction “You and daddy did that three times!” followed by “why don’t you do it again and we can have a baby brother?” The caring parent—if she doesn’t duck out of the responsibility at this stage—is faced some time later with trying to explain contraception, abortion, extra-marital sex, VD, prostitution, pornography and rape, and has to add a whole new dimension, which is necessarily negative, to the “making babies” bit.

Do you want your daughter to marry? We all want affection, companionship and sex. Our society’s approved provision for these needs is marriage—a formal, legal, sacred union of one man with one woman for life. We are taught from childhood to seek happiness in one exclusive relationship, and when we go into this full of expectation and are disappointed, we feel ashamed rather than cheated. For this reason much of the pain, loneliness and frustration which is the reality of marriage to many people is covered up and denied. The prescribed “Happy ever after” package handed out by society is a lucky dip—often dreary but bearable, sometimes full of cruelty and pain, seldom fulfilling, and never completely satisfying.

In real life the handsome princes turn into toads—pathetic frustrated toads—some of them capable of extreme cruelty and violence. There are not, as is popularly imagined, all unemployed drunken labourers or immigrants with different marital practices than ours. A wife who is beaten by her “respectable, educated husband, is no less trapped in her three-bedroom semi than a West Indian wife, supposedly accepting her customary beatings in her one room slum. A battered wife hides her bruises and smothers her screams to avoid the embarrassment of revealing her failure. When, in desperation, she leaves, she can lose everything—even her children. If a wife leaves her husband to escape his cruelty, she discovers the Catch 22 situation of a system geared to protection of men’s rights. She may have to put her children into “care” or leave them behind, and then fend for herself. Her husband’s assault, if not actually tolerated by the legal system, can result in his being bound over, fined or put on probation, given a endless chances to undertake to reform even after years of perpetual violence. He may even given custody of their children.

Convention allows a man to treat a woman he “owns” as he pleases. This extends to women bought for his temporary use—the prostitute whose function is to provide sexual relief where a wife is unavailable or unwilling. Their very existence is an embarrassment to the system—pointing to its inadequacy, hanging out its dirty washing. They are regarded as less than human and expendable. Peter Sutcliffe butchered eight prostitutes, merely thrilling and titillating the readers of trashy papers. Only when he murdered an “innocent” victim were the news-reading public directed to be outraged.

Socialists are optimists. We insist that the mess that is human society to-day can be changed if we all decide to change it. We made it, no demented divine power ordered it from above, so we can think it out and get it right. We assert that all the problems which need resolving are part of the property society that began in a simple way 10,000 years ago with the agricultural revolution. This is too short a time for evolution by natural selection to have advanced at all. Before then, from the early hominids twelve million years ago to modern people (homo sapiens) 50,000 years ago, the human race was evolving genetically. The characteristics which made them successful, and which are part of our genetic code to-day, were the ability to organise into co-operating groups, dividing their labour to get sufficient for their groups, and deliberately sharing it out. It is probable that the females, being perpetually sexually receptive, helped to keep the protecting, hunting males in the group, making sex a vital aspect of social relationships them as now.

The human brain developed the capacity to react and respond to the complex demands of social organisation and co-operative hunting. There is no reason to suppose that a hunting animal has a single gene for aggression—implying a natural hostility even towards its own kind. Other co-operating hunters, like man’s best friend in its wild state, direct their aggression only at their prey and are gentle towards all the members of their own group. Ten thousand years ago some of our own kind stopped wandering, settled and farmed, grew crops and herded animals. The notion of ownership and property began at this point with the need to build defences and keep out pilferers. The males, being larger and more mobile, did the protecting and the females became part of the property being protected, and thereby were reduced to the level of the ox and ass.

Consideration of our remote past has limited value—Socialists do not advocate a return to the simple life except for those who would like it. Learning from and building on others’ experience is vitally necessary to our survival. We depend almost completely on other people’s skills and knowledge, each of us contributes our little bit of effort and expertise to the joint endeavour. However, just as we are capable of learning and communicating, so we can analyse and criticise. We can probe to the root of the problems that beset us, below the network of daily irritations and frustrations until pattern of causation is discovered. The cause is ownership and control, property—the fence around the settlement 10,000 years ago. A simple division between owners and “protected” exists today, but to no useful purpose. The owners have long since delegated even the protecting to workers and sit securely, fattened parasites, while we meekly teach our children that this is how life is and must inevitably be.

The suffering and abuse of women is inseparable the social system in which we live. Prostitution in, for example, Hulme in Manchester, is a product of the system that builds slums in the skies where vandalism and muggings , alcoholism and drug dependence are part of the tawdry and squalid lives of the poor. A girl who kept the favour of a violent father by accepting his advances, leaving home for the big city to find work in hotels drifted naturally into prostitution. Though she is offensive to “respectable” conforming people, she provides a service which is human and valuable to emotional misfits who use her.

The rest of us, pushing pens and pressing buttons in our pointless, meaningless jobs, perpetuate our frustration, which we carry home and take out on our tired, boring, penny-pinching partners. Women, like some other groups in the working class, have a double struggle—to improve their position in relation to men, and with all workers, to hold their position in the quicksand of the wages system. There is a difference of degree only between the housewife and the prostitute. Both are victims of the cockeyed algebra of the market system—the more personal the service, the less pay and status.

There is little value in diagnosis without a cure, but the cure has to come from awareness of the cause of the disease. It has to come through growing dissatisfaction, leading to questioning and consciousness. The worker, the wife, the prostitute, all innocent but jointly responsible for their continuing exploitation, must resist and rebel. The cure is far simpler than the disease. We will dismiss all manifestations of poverty and control—wages, money, law and state—take down all the fences and establish one world where all the human race will share the good things that we have learned to make. Freed from the dictates of the law and the confines of convention, relationships between men and women will find harmony. Marriage and prostitution will have no meaning when people may work together, live together, love together in any way they choose.

Chris Marsh

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