Photo by Jeff Greenberg

Misogyny by any other name

When the overwhelming majority of individuals are horrifically abused, as in the sex trade, we typically call for such industries to be abolished

Artillery Row

A breaking story in The Times has revealed that Durham University has decided to join the University of Leicester in seeking to achieve the accolade of So Open-Minded Their Brains Have Fallen Out, with the revelation that the former has initiated a “training course” for students involved in the “Adult Sex Industry”. This follows a recent media storm around the University of Leicester’s own Sex Work Tool Kit, which was widely condemned as being tone deaf, useless, and entirely ignorant of the reality of the commercial sex industry.

Durham’s approach smacks of privileged academic pontification

Durham’s own training was justified on the basis that “[it is] important to ensure students can be safe and make informed choices” following what has been described as an “emerging trend” of students becoming involved with the sex trade. Now of course, few would argue that we should deter efforts to protect women and girls — an overwhelming number of whom have no other options — from the horrors of the sex trade. Indeed, individuals exploited in the sex trade should never be discriminated against, or face legal repercussions for a circumstance in which they are forced into.

But Durham’s approach smacks of the privileged academic pontification replete amongst so many sex trade apologists, with one training session advertised as “an interactive course that explores the challenges student sex workers can face”. It bears thinking about whether such “challenges” include discussions around the stratospheric rates of physical and sexual abuse, rape, PTSD and death faced by many women within the sex industry. One would think not. The fact of the matter is, using such obscurantist language as “making safe and informed choices” fundamentally misrepresents and misunderstands the reality of what many of these young women will face once they are fully immersed in the sex trade.

If somebody has to engage in sexual activity because they would otherwise face destitution and poverty, this cannot be said to be a situation in which the individual’s consent is predicated on their being able to “[agree] by choice, and [they have] the freedom and capacity to make that choice”. Do you know what we call it when a woman has sex without the freedom and capacity to make the choice to do so? That’s right, Woke Blokes, we call it rape.

Sex trade courses normalise the exploitation

It doesn’t matter how many risks are flagged in courses focused on making “safe and informed choices”; the damage is already done. At the very entry point into the sex trade because of a lack of economic independence or autonomy, the ability to freely consent has been vitiated. The proof of this exists at every level of the sex industry: from the woman prostituted by a pimp on the street who “agrees” to allow the punter not to wear a condom in exchange for a higher fee to stave off homelessness, to the young student on OnlyFans who is coerced into increasingly degrading “performances” that they never had any intention of allowing at the outset in order to maintain subscription fees, the reality is the same.

The trajectory continues as it always has; the free-market gig economy of the modern-day sex trade means these women will be chewed up and spat out as soon as they reach breaking point. It doesn’t matter how many “challenges” have been outlined at the beginning; the reality is unyielding.

The effect of such courses is to normalise the exploitation faced by a growing number of women and girls, and to reframe it as “work” that can be entered into as consequence-free as any other form of “labour”. As the responses to Diane Abbott MP’s tweets highlight, this is an opportunity men will jump on, thinking it demonstrates their oh-so-progressive Leftist credentials, when in fact all it does is demonstrate that being ceaselessly brain-dead is now apparently a social contagion where the symptoms involve having a long beard and glasses, coupled with your pronouns in your Twitter bio.

Take, for example, the response to Abbott by Adam Smith of The Independent, a man who shares a name with the revered Scottish economist and author of Wealth of Nations, but whose inability to espouse on issues of political economy is so stark that his name almost seems like a cruel joke by his parents. Smith trots out the typically banal rejoinder that “sex work is as legitimate labour as any other kind of work”.

Why is that same courtesy not extended to women?

This condensing down of anything done in exchange for money as “work” is as materially facile as it is economically meaningless. For example, I simply would not park up next to Lewis Hamilton at a Grand Prix and say “my Vauxhall Corsa is as legitimate as your Mercedes”, would I. The disparity between the two would very quickly be shown up based on the differing material realities experienced by the drivers of each car.

Of course, no Discourse du Jour would be complete without perennial irritant Femi Oluwole sticking his EU flag-adorned oar in, offering such illuminating insight as “This outdated view is analogous to abstinence only and prohibition”. Whilst I would of course defer to Femi on issues of abstinence, self-imposed or otherwise, and his expertise therein, perhaps he should sit this one out given his defence of Durham implied that experiences of “degradation, endangerment, and exploitation” can be combated with simple “preventative tools”.

On top of this, and aside from the fact the sex trade doesn’t even function in an economically comparable way to other forms of labour, when faced with a situation in which the overwhelming majority of individuals are horrifically abused and exploited, we typically call for such industries to be abolished. We don’t go on marches screaming “DECRIMINALISE SWEATSHOP LABOUR!!!”; “INDENTURED SERVITUDE IS REAL SERVITUDE!!!”; “CHILD MINERS NEED WORKERS’ RIGHTS!!!” We recognise the fundamentally and inherently deplorable nature of such industries, and seek to facilitate the exit of those involved, whilst tackling the material root causes that drive such individuals into participating in the first place.

Why is that same courtesy not extended to women either in, or in danger of entering, the sex trade? Could it be…no…surely not…misogyny? A twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan himself.

Durham University need to recognise that any efforts to encourage “safe and informed choices” when entering the sex trade are doomed to fail on two fronts: firstly, the very lack of economic independence the necessitates entry into the sex trade precludes safe and informed choices. The two are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive.

Secondly, if the University, and its crowd of male Leftist (not to mention misogynist) supporters, truly care about the safety of women who must resort to entering the industry, it should be incumbent upon them to do everything within their power to facilitate the exit of individuals who are able to, and to provide them with the support necessary to ensure they aren’t left facing a “choice” between destitution or entering the sex trade. As sex trade survivor Rachel Moran once said, “When a woman is poor and hungry, the human thing to do is to put food in her mouth, not your dick,” because the choice between destitution and prostitution really is no choice at all.

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