This is the third and final post in a series of responses (starting here) to an opinion piece by Melissa Farley and Norma Ramos arguing that the customers of prostitutes are sexual predators and should be punished as such. The article made me angry, and I’m trying to explain why.
The equation of slavery and prostitution appears several places in the piece I’m responding to and in other writings by Melissa Farley and others at her website Prostitution Research and Education. For example, here’s a summary of an article by Janice Raymond:
This article discusses how prostitution is exempted from other kinds of violence and human rights violations, how prostitution is legitimized by distinctions between “forced” and “consenting” prostitution.
Maybe I’ve spent too much time among the libertarians, but reading that excerpt literally makes me sick and angry. I can feel my gut churning. With that one sentence, Farley is casually dismissing the most fundamental concept of libertarian philosophy: The distinction between choice and coercion.
This is the crux of why I hate Farley and Ramos’ article: They want us to believe there is no difference between letting someone do something and forcing them to do that same thing. It’s a disturbing bit of moral blindness that leads to public policy madness. If we blithely dismiss the difference between freedom and force, there’s no limit to the insane implications.
For example, since road construction is a dangerous job, and since many construction workers lack a college education, are we to conclude that construction work is immoral—“roads built on the blood of dead workers” and so on—and that making a distinction between “forced” and “consenting” construction work is a way of excusing reckless disregard for the welfare of men?
Or how about the men who serve in our army? That’s a very dangerous job, and it’s well known that soldiers are disproportionately minorities and poor people. Is it a lie then to say we have a “volunteer” army, since clearly no normal person would “volunteer” to be shot at?
Thinking about military service should remind us of one more evil consequence of confusing choice and coercion: We can make that mistake in reverse. That’s why fools like Congressman Charles Rangel argue in favor of military conscription on the grounds that letting minorities and poor people volunteer for the military in disproportionate numbers is somehow unfair. As if forcing people into the military could ever be more moral than letting them volunteer.
I don’t know how people think that way, because it seems so simple to me: Unless someone is mentally incompetent or a child, you can’t harm them by increasing their choices or help them by taking choices away.
By ignoring the difference between force and freedom, there’s no limit to what Farley and Ramos could define as a crime, simply because they don’t like other people’s life choices.
I assume they sincerely want to help women live better lives, and they believe they can do so by preventing women from choosing prostitution. However, by ignoring the difference between sex slavery and voluntary sex work, Farley and Ramos are disrespecting the choices these women made. They are showing utter contempt for the way some women choose to live their lives.
In this, Farley and Ramos have a lot of company.
Many people in the world want to “protect” women from their own choices. For years, women were not allowed to choose to be police officers or fire fighters…or doctors or lawyers. For years they were not allowed to choose to fight in our nation’s military forces. In Saudi Arabia, women aren’t allowed to choose to drive cars, or leave home on their own, or show their faces to the world.
Where do you draw the line? I doubt that Farley and Ramos want to go as far as the Saudis to protect feminine virtue, but what exactly do they want to stop women from doing? If they don’t want woman to trade sexual intercourse for money, then how do they feel about massage parlors where the women only give hand jobs? How about strip clubs? Are they bad too? Does it make a difference if it’s lap dancing or air dancing? If stripping is too much, how about dancers who wear bikinis? How about Hooters waitresses?
If it’s the money that matters, what about nude beaches? What if it’s a private nude beach that allows women in for free but charges men? I assume Farley and Ramos oppose pornography, but how about artistic photography of nude women? What if it’s not so artistic? Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler? Or is Hustler going too far? If I’m photographing a nude model just for fun, am I exploiting her? Or am I only exploiting her if I “buy” her by offering her money to pose?
That would be a strange definition of exploitation—you’re only exploiting someone if you pay them—but then I gather Farley and Ramos are okay with women having sex, just not getting paid for it. What if a man buys a woman a nice gift after sex? What if she insists on it? What if he leaves her money to buy her own gift?
I suspect Farley and Ramos would accuse me of posing all these questions not to get answers but just to muddy the waters and draw attention away from the more important issue of protecting women.
I guess there’s some truth to that, because I don’t really need to know how Farley and Ramos would answer all my questions. You see, I already have my own answers, which are far more respectful to woman than what Farley and Ramos have written. It’s easy to have all the answers, because it’s the same answer to every question: Let the woman decide.