Radical feminism and the 2nd wave feminism consider prostitution
and pornography (prostitution registered on film, tape or paper) crimes against women. In patriarchy, female sexuality is recommended as submissive, and women have to be submissive all the time, and their sexuality is simply a romantic reflection of their forced submission. Andrea Dworkin and other 2nd wave feminists tried to ban pornography, outlining its effects on male sexual behavior.
Now radical feminists (as few as they are today) oppose legalizing prostitution, against the strong lobby of pimps and other males in the sex industry. But some prostituted women remonstrate to radical feminists that they forget about marriage and heterosexual relationships, which means the same, i.e. selling yourself. Prostitution is not worse than marriage and dating, the only difference is the social stigma, they say..
It’s true, nobody can condemn prostitution without condemning the legal prostitution, supported by state and church, patriarchal institutions, i.e. marriage. Radical feminism is about smashing patriarchy and patriarchal relationships, institutions, etc. In patriarchy, women are born slaves, they are meant to be men’s servants and sex slaves. Women were sold like cattle and they still are in some traditional patriarchal societies. Most of them were sold into marriage by their own fathers, as still happens in Afghanistan, for example. In such societies prostitution is banned, as described in the Bible, although prostituted women were mentioned in this book of the Jewish people. There were free prostituted women, who sold themselves, no pimp was mentioned. But in other ancient societies, like Greece or India, women used to pay a kind of protection tax in order to marry, and its name was dowry. The institution of dowry survived until recently in the West and still survive in India. Poor women couldn’t marry, and they often became prostitutes, as in Victorian England, but also all over Europe. A woman should have paid for her safety and respectability, her place in society. Marriage was only for some women, the others got no protection, no status.
But in ancient Greece prostitution was everywhere and in every form. There were the courtesans, intelligent, educated and wealthy women, able to have free relationships with men, but there were also poor prostitutes and porneia, female slaves bought for brothels in Pericles’ Athens. So democracy and female sex slavery were in good relationships, as we see, since the beginning of democracy.
The idea is patriarchy has different positions toward prostitution in different places, but none of these positions had anything with women’s wellness, but with different ways of sharing and exploiting them. Marriage means a woman for every man, although the wealthiest men could afford more (up to 10% of them), and this institution was invented in order to pacify men, warriors, by providing them women. When a woman is sold, she’s a slave, she has no rights, she can be beaten, killed, nobody cares. But when women pay for being married, as in the West, they have a little more rights. And history confirms this idea. So, if a woman has a little economic agency, by her family or herself, her situation is a little better. And in some cases, her agency is to become a courtesan. A wealthy woman, even a courtesan, has some power and freedom. In this case, going into prostitution was a chance for a woman. And it could be entirely her decision. It was an option in some patriarchal societies, but not in all, as I already mentioned. Money or wealth, in fact women access to property, had liberating effects. But where women had no access to property, this was not possible, as it wasn’t in the case of slaves.
Transferring this analysis to the present situation, things look a little different. Most women have no wealth by themselves, men earn more than women. Most of them engage in relationships with men for money. Most of them are in fact forced into prostitution. And there are “the most prostituted” women, those who don’t pretend something else. They simply are the most sincere of all women. They don’t pretend they like their partners, to sexually satisfy them, to have them around. The only think they like in these men is money. If they had their own money, they wouldn’t sleep with these men. But would do married women? No. Prostituted women risk more than most married women, although in some cases, being married to a man who is dangerous for prostitutes is riskier, they are forced into worse business with men, but at least their conscience is cleaner and freer, they have not to pretend all the time. Maybe men hate so much prostitutes and are violent toward them, not only because they can, just because prostituted women are vulnerable, nobody cares about them, but also because these women tell them the truth, they confront them. Married women lied to them, are more submissive in this respect, they flatter them, they make them believe they are better than really are, and some women don’t feel only sick or contempt for them, as prostituted women openly show it.
No, radical feminism doesn’t praise marriage, its interest for prostitution is only a fact of emergency, prostituted women need protection now, but marriage is the same crime as prostitution, in fact, another face of the same crime. And some married women are in even a bigger physical danger then prostituted women. Although prostitution is a consequence of marriage, marriage is now a form of prostitution and it was during the history of patriarchy. In some societies, it was forced prostitution, in others, women had a kind of agency in selling themselves. So, marriage should be condemned like prostitution. And there are some initiative in this respect.