I missed Maggie McNeill’s last Friday the 13th roundup, and it was the only one this year, but there’s something I want to get off my chest about a type of argument that really annoys me, and I figure she won’t mind.
The problem, as it so often is for us libertarians, is the lack of respect for freedom of choice. Here’s the recent Twitter exchange that triggered this post, beginning with Miss Lorelei Rivers discussing sex work:
"Sex work" is intrinsically dangerous, intrinsically exploitative, intrinsically misogynistic.
— Francois Tremblay (@TPrimeDirective) June 1, 2016
Great… now listen to the 90% of women in your "work" who want to leave, who have PTSD, or are not as privileged as you are.
— Francois Tremblay (@TPrimeDirective) June 1, 2016
In case that doesn’t look right, here are the important bits:
Francois Tremblay: “Sex work” is intrinsically dangerous, intrinsically exploitative, intrinsically misogynistic.
Miss Lorelei Rivers: I disagree completely with this statement – and unlike you, I actually am a sex worker.
Francois Tremblay: Great… now listen to the 90% of women in your “work” who want to leave, who have PTSD, or are not as privileged as you are.
I’ll leave the validity of the 90% statistic (and the prevalence and causes of PTSD among sex workers) to someone more qualified. Worrying too much about the details could make us miss a more important point: Why should Lorelei Rivers give a shit what other sex worker want?
There is certainly nothing wrong if Lorelei Rivers wants to know the needs and desires of other sex workers. Maybe she’s just a good person who has empathy for others. But she shouldn’t have to care what other sex workers want. That is, her right to go about her business should not depend on how other people feel about it, and that includes other sex workers. If 99.9999% of sex workers want to quit and find a different line of work, but Lorelei Rivers prefers to keep doing what she’s doing, what possible justification can there be to stop her?
Because we live in a democracy, it may seem reasonable to worry about what the majority wants, but the desires of the majority are a distraction from the real issue, which is personal choice. It’s true that sometimes we have to make collective decisions — usually when making different individual choices would cause irreconcilable conflicts — so we depend on majority rule to tell us that stealing is illegal, and that we should drive on the right side of the road. But we can make our own choices about where to live, and whether to drink Pepsi or Coke.
Choice of employment, including employment as a sex worker, is a Pepsi or Coke kind of thing. In a free society, if some women want to be sex workers and others don’t, there’s no reason they can’t both get what they want.
The second example is even worse:
Again, the relevant portions:
Meghan Murphy: [Amnesty International] is a human rights org. Prostitution exists in fundamental opposition to women’s humans rights.
— and yet this prominent human rights organizations disagrees with you —
Miss Lorelei Rivers: Sex workers are humans who also deserve rights – including the right to make choices about their bodies and work.
Meghan Murphy: Women deserve REAL choices. Also, men should make the CHOICE not to pay vulnerable women for sexual access.
Lorelei Rivers has it right: People deserve the right to make their own choices, including the right to sell sexual services, and anyone who takes away that choice (whether through the U.S. model of jailing sex workers, or through the Nordic model of jailing the the people who pay them) is not respectful of their rights.
I don’t know what Meghan Murphy is trying to get at by claiming sex work is not a “real” choice. Usually when people try to dismiss someone else’s choice by saying it’s not “real,” they mean one of two things, and both of them are bullshit.
First, Meghan Murphy might mean that a woman’s choice to be a sex worker isn’t “real” because the women is deluded, or suffering from “false consciousness,” or is otherwise making a mistake. This raises the obvious question of why anyone should believe that Meghan Murphy is better at understanding Lorelei Rivers’ life than Lorelei Rivers is. There’s also the problem that claiming a choice isn’t “real” isn’t an argument. It’s an attempt to hide the fact that you don’t have an argument.
Second, Meghan Murphy might mean that a woman’s choice to be a sex worker isn’t “real” because many women who choose sex work are trapped in such dire circumstances (economic or otherwise) that sex work is the only way out. This actually makes a certain amount sense. Women who engage in sex work to save themselves from dire situations are like people who jump from a fourth story window to escape a burning building: The jump is a choice, but it’s a choice that is forced upon them by circumstances.
Of course, all our choices are constrained by our circumstances, so there’s a certain amount of special pleading in assuming that the choice to do sex work is qualitatively different from the choice to do something like construction work or nursing.
Even if we assume that sex work is special, there’s a bigger problem: When we see people jumping from a fourth floor window to escape a fire, our response should not be to stop them by boarding up the window! Similarly, if women are engaging in sex work out of desperation, it is presumptuous and possibly even dangerous to force them to stop.
(I’m sure sex work prohibitionists would point out that they’re providing exit services for sex workers — the equivalent of installing additional fire escapes in the burning building — but in that case, why bother boarding up the windows? If your exit services are getting women out of sex work, then why the need to criminalize it? If it’s because women are rejecting your exit services and staying in sex work, then perhaps you need to rethink how you’re “helping,” because it’s obviously not working.)
Then, of course, there’s the problem that some sex workers insist they aren’t desperate. I don’t know Lorelei Rivers, but I do know Maggie McNeill a bit, and I’m pretty confident she could be successful at a lot of other jobs besides sex work. But that’s not what she wants to do.
Which brings me back around to the prohibitionist’s pointless claim that sex workers like Maggie McNeill are highly privileged, and that most sex workers would rather quit. But so what? Why should Maggie McNeill give a shit what other sex workers want?