Opinions & Editorials

Sex work is work

By Waleed Majid

Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual violence. Reader discretion is advised.

Sex work is work and is identical to every form of labor. There is a relationship between an owner (pimps, porn CEOs) and the worker (typically women). The worker is commodified, producing for the customer at a cost. The revenue goes to the owners and some is subtracted to pay the worker. 

Indeed, sex work is work, no different than coal miners and accountants. Therefore, we must analyze it as such. Work is simply exploitative because it relies on the commercialization of the human body in exchange for money. Sex work is work. Therefore, sex work is exploitative. 

The problem lies in people separating sex work as a special, “liberating” form of labor as soon as abuse and exploitation is brought up. The problem surfaces when Western liberal feminism “girlbossifies” the sex trade and reduces this complex issue into a matter of choice, rather than something connected with the prison systems, the rape, kidnapping, killing of prostitutes and the reinforcement of hierarchical gender relations. 

In mainstream pornography, women are beaten, bruised, cut, tortured, degraded, humiliated and endure unspeakable abuse for a wage. Many are drugged and tied, suffering for the sake of the heterosexuality of men. 

“Oh yes!” Serving the desires of perverted men does not uphold patriarchal notions of how humans should express their sexuality. 

“Oh yes!” Women being humiliated and objectified on camera is certainly liberating! But as fellow writer Grace Hamilton puts it in her incredible article “Porn is Not Liberation,” porn is “the dehumanization of the female body for profit.” 

But, this truth is found in all of the sex industry. Most of it centers around women and femininity as the object of pleasure, as toys for the gratification of men. But all of it is inherently harmful. 

The sex industry — like any other industry — is dependent on merchandising those it abuses and expands itself through other avenues. Because of this, we should not ignore the forms it takes, nor the vastness of its reach. 

We must be truthful and admit that the sex trade globally includes the trafficking of children and caters to devils’ perversions and the video consumption of these vomit-inducing acts. It then becomes obvious: The sex industry is violent and predatory because it commodifies sexuality, turning it into a thing of business. “Sex sells.” And to the owners of our sexuality, sex must be sold at any costs, through pornography, trafficking and the physical sale of bodies for sex.

I hear the voices of condemnation harmonizing,  the songs of Westerners who can’t imagine a world where labor does not exist to be exploited. But sex work is work. Therefore, I see no problem in considering its functions globally under our capitalist system. Like all work, it must outsource and find cheap, illegal labor in order to keep itself thriving. Truly, sex work is work. 

One would say that I can’t speak on behalf of those employed by the sex trade. That the bad experiences of some don’t represent the majority. If so, then can you say the same about coal mining and factory work? Undoubtedly, that is not appropriate, because you’d be diverting from the abuses that this form of wage labor holds. So, I find no reason why I should not relate the labor of the Bangladeshi prostitute to an American one. 

All manual work is outsourced and will necessarily be abused. So, I find, reason why to exclude sex work from this function. Ask yourself: “Does the sex worker who is living large speak for the abused children and women who are forced into the trade?” 

One would say I am against women’s bodily autonomy or a woman’s right to her empowerment. I say I have no concern at all for what an individual woman does with her body. But a question that arises from that concern is how do you know that all prostitutes choose to be so? Because there are women who force themselves to do this in order to survive and to keep their children alive. There are women who are groomed from a young age to become sex workers and some that are trafficked. 

You must also take into consideration that just because it’s someone’s choice does not automatically make it liberating. If you are being threatened with the risk of starvation and homelessness and you must sell yourself in order to survive, is it really a matter of choice? It baffles me how one can see the abuses that women in this industry endure and say that the solution is keeping the industry alive and well, but just making it “ethical.” 

Finally, one would say that I have no place in this discussion. That due to my male identity, I have no say in this issue. For which I say, you are absolutely correct. As a man it is impossible for me to even be a feminist due to my lack of the woman’s experience. But your mistake is believing that I see it only as a gendered issue. This is also an issue of capitalism, one that illuminates how necessary it is to destroy money and wage labor, as these are direct contributors to the sex trade. In that, I forfeit the concept of gender in order to defend my sisters in humanity and to criticize the trade of women,  and I will continue to do so. 

I don’t need to be a woman to advocate for the abolition of wage labor, nor to say that education, housing, food and medicine must be made accessible to prevent women from being forced to be tools of men’s abuses. I don’t need womanhood to say that the female body must be decommodified and that sexuality should be freed from capitalism. I only need to be human. 

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