Women in the Public Sphere: Gendered Responsibility -2019

CW: Violence against women/sex workers, femicide

On Tuesday the 13th of August this year, a woman was stabbed to death while at her place of work. Police described the attack as ‘terrifying carnage’ and it was initially speculated that it was perhaps linked to terrorism, which they later clarified was not the case (ABC News, 2019). The attack happened in the early afternoon and was played out quite publicly with a number of eye-witness accounts immediately releasing footage of the ‘rampage’ to social media sites. It wasn’t long before the focus shifted away from the perpetrator and onto the victim whose occupation became sensationalised and central to the discourse emerging from the attack. Michaela Dunn was a sex worker working under the decriminalised model in the state of NSW and was still not safe from misogynistic violence which ultimately took her life. This essay will explore a number of intersecting factors that have converged with Michaela’s death and will interrogate the cultural perception of such an event. I will begin with a discussion on how violence is used to enforce patriarchy and how that links to ideas of appropriating of femininity. Statistics highlighting how prevalent misogyny is within contemporary Australian society rounds out the first section. The next section will analyse the role of discourse and mass media and how the pathologisation of both perpetrator and victim have direct impacts on our cultural understandings of gender roles. An internalised tension between sexual vigilance and the right to feel safe is also discussed in regards to gendered responsibility. The final section will consider the impact of dichotomous understanding of women through the Madonna/whore complex.

In a patriarchal society which is organised in a way that give men the majority of power; they dominate, oppress and exploit (other men and) women as a way of maintaining that power, violence is often employed when there is a direct challenge to that power (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 394). Kane & Schippers have suggested that women are the gatekeepers to heterosexual activity and therefore hold a potential power over men; “men fear women’s ability to use sexual allure as a manipulative tactic to ‘unman’ them” (cited in Bareket et al, 2018, pg. 520). In this regard the stigma that is attached to sex workers makes a little more sense as sex workers directly threaten the patriarchal dominance through their awareness of their sexuality. Double standards are rampant in modern society, especially when it comes to sexuality and sexual practices between the genders. Bareket et al. argue that double standards play a specific role in line with patriarchal ideology and seek to regulate, control, and restrict women’s sexual expression and sexuality (Bareket, 2018, 2018, pp. 520-521). Violence against women is no new phenomenon but the rise in visibility has gained worldwide fame through the recent #metoo movement. The movement highlighted how prevalent misogyny and sexual violence against women really is and along the way created a community of survivors rallying for social change (Me Too, 2019). Vicious attacks on women like the one that tragically took the life of Michaela Dunn could be argued as an attempt at restoring social order to the world (Butler, 2004, pg. 34). Kimmel further argues that “Men’s violence toward women does not happen when men’s power over women is intact and unthreatened; rather, it happens when men’s power breaks down, when his entitlement to that power is threatened and insecure. Violence is restorative, retaliatory.. When that entitlement is aggrieved, they don’t just get mad; they get even” (cited in Everbach, 2018, pg. 17). The aggressive nature of these sorts of attacks place women in a particularly vulnerable position in wider society as Gilchrist et al revealed that “although women are not inherently more fearful of crime in public spaces than are men, women’s fear is strongly associated with the performance of appropriate femininity” (cited in Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 344). The discussion that followed included a number of examples of ‘flawed femininity’ including “walking home alone at night, or drinking too much alcohol” (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 345). Sex workers may be seen as the embodiment of everything anti-feminine, the perfect example of inappropriate femininity.

Given the precarious nature of sex work in much of the globe it is difficult to obtain true figures surrounding attacks and murders of (predominately female) sex workers. Often seen as the most vulnerable in society, it has been suggested that the more labels attached to a woman, the less she is seen as a full human in the eyes of others; nobody cares much when a ‘street-based, ‘homeless’, ‘drug-addicted’, ‘trans’, ‘woman-of-colour’ goes missing, or even worse, is murdered (Fox & Wykes, 2015). The statistics around violence against women in Australia are slightly easier to gather and prove that gendered violence is a patriarchal epidemic deserving of attention and scrutiny. According to Our Watch a woman in Australia is murdered on average once a week by either a current or former partner; a third of all Australian women have experienced physical violence; a fifth of Australian women have experienced some form of sexual violence; almost 10% of Australian women have experienced violence at the hands of a stranger; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were experiencing violence at 3.1 times the rate of non-Indigenous women (Our Watch, 2019). When incidents such as the murder of Michaela Dunn occurs it is a stark reminder of the value that women hold in society, and that female sexuality does not hold the same respect and value as male sexuality.

In an article by news.com.au the main problem represented in the reporting is that violence and murder are a part of the job if you are working within the sex industry. The article has a number of quotes from a prominent sex worker who goes by the name of Jessie-Lee Pierce who states; “I’m not shocked by it [Michaela’s murder], but it saddens me because I think violence and murder are a part of our job” (cited in Graham, 2019). The words expressed by Jessie-Lee are an example of internalised whorephobia and highlights the gendered responsibility that women are expected to carry while navigating through society. Her words appeal to many anti-sex-work radical feminists whose ideology rests on the idea that sex workers “become the victims of regular sexual objectification, exploitation, and violence; and that, by participating in this kind of industry, sex workers become co-perpetrators of these crimes” (Miano, 2017). This perception is highly damaging as it places the blame on women working within the industry and frames it as though sex workers are responsible for any violence inflicted on them. The mass media then plays its part by exacerbating and reproducing these narratives further excusing the behaviour by men. The discourse surrounding sex work, bodily autonomy, as well as questions surrounding appropriate forms of labour always have a gendered focus and the responsibility of men is a constant silence throughout these public discussions. One of the ways that the media perpetuate the gendered nature of public sexual discourse in regards to violence is in the way that perpetrators are presented to the public. A number of scholars have argued that violent men are represented in one of two dichotomous ways; on the one hand we see media representations of vicious ‘monsters’ and ‘assholes’; and on the other we have presentations of ‘normal’ men who are facing a misunderstanding or even a full fabrication (Quadara, 2014; Fanghanel & Lim, 2015). By pathologising the perpetrator as an irrational abject figure, the concept of risk is externalised and the ‘asshole’ functions as the source of danger relieving ‘society’ of the responsibility to manage similar issues of safekeeping, public danger and security. The role of governmentality becomes apparent here as motivations behind these abject attacks are individualised and are not seen as a symptom of wider rape culture. Instead, these figures become anomalies and a scapegoat for which other (good) men publicly condemn the attack while shouting “not all men!”. The lived effects of the invisibility of these ‘normal’ men results in what we now have come to consider as rape culture, feminist writer Clementine Ford argues in her book; “[rape culture] characterises a society in which the impact of sexual violence is not only minimised but the definition of what constitutes ‘real’ sexual assault is considered up for public debate and scrutiny. It enforces and codifies the language of victim-blaming and perpetrator excusing” (Ford, 2018, pg. 293). Consider the statistics from the ABS Personal Safety survey 2016; over half a million women (553,700) experienced sexual assault by a male they knew (87%), with only 1 woman out of every 10 reporting the incident to police (ABS, 2017). Perpetrators are created through the legal discourse, that is, their performativity needs to be verified in order to be legally labelled as ‘perpetrator’. The failure of so many cases to be reported (and subsequently of those that are reported but fail to reach a conviction) truly defines the rape culture we currently live in.

It is clear through the reporting that emerged after Michaela’s murder that discourse and language are extremely telling of the gendered inequalities in wider society. In many of the articles in the days that followed much of the focus was on the ‘heroic’ men who stopped the perpetrator once he was out in the streets; “social media has been full of praise for the men, and Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said they were ‘the highest order or heroes’” (ABC News, 2019). Some within the sex worker community have spoken out about the dominance of the ‘hero’ angle in the media, suggesting that the overshadowing of Michaela’s death highlights the disposable nature of the ‘prostitute’ in society; “her job does not make her a lurid story” (McGowan, 2019). Speaking in regards to the media framing of two particular incidents in Melbourne a number of years ago Jane Gilmore argues that “women are not people in the eyes of the news, at least not the way men are. Women are tits and arse, they’re glamorous or fat, they’re wives or mothers or stupid or demanding or nagging or annoying or sweet or pretty. Men on the other hand, are fully-rounded, complex people- as long as they’re not too womanlike” (Gilmore, 2019). Simone de Beauvoir argued that society needs prostitutes as scapegoats; “the existence of a caste of ‘lost women’ makes it possible to treat ‘the virtuous woman’ with the most chivalric respect” (de Beauvoir, 1949, pg. 613). The explicitly titled; “’She was a whole person’: Michaela Dunn’s murder and its impact on Sydney’s sex workers” further alludes to the point that women within the sex industry are less-than-whole beings, with society focusing on the sexual dimension of the work as the question of morality trumps all questions surrounding rights and autonomy (McGowan, 2019; Mac & Smith, 2018, pg. 25).

For many women, an internalised tension is always in play in regards to personal safety and/or freedoms. On one hand woman believe they should have the freedom to wear/say/do what they please within public spaces without fearing for their safety, yet on the other they are equally aware of their personal obligation to be safe in public spaces. This vigilance of personal safety is extremely gendered and emerges through particular discourses which are further perpetuated through mass media. Fanghanel & Lim argue that the representation of women within the public realm as problematic stems from the 19th century construction of gendered public and private spaces (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 342). They argue that the public domain was seen as the man’s place while the private domestic sphere was expected to be inhabited by women. The sexual vigilance women face serves to solve the ‘problem’ of women in public spaces and is an example of victim-blaming discourse, a key component to wider rape culture. At the beginning of the 20th century women were increasing their presence on the labour market and scholars have suggested that the discourse surrounding trafficking of (predominately white) women “helped to draw the literal and figurative borders of the ‘nation’, and became a way to police (especially) female and non-white sexuality more broadly” (Laite, 2017, pg. 38). The anti-trafficking discourses which began to emerge around this time put emphasis on the anti-exploitation of particular bodies within sexual labour paradigms. However as a number of scholars have suggested this perspective was carefully calculated to ignore certain intersections of work and sexual labour, specifically for women, as their unpaid labour was still crucial to the workings of the capitalist system (Laite, 2017, pg. 42). The moral panic that was created at this time helped distract the public away from the inherent exploitations built into the capitalist system and stressed the “moral over the monetary” when discussing the plight of the sexually fallen women who had ended up in the sex industry (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). For many women had consensually chosen to step into the field of sex work as a way of gaining financial freedom at a time when there were very limited (paid) employment opportunities, in line with de Beauvoir’s argument that equality is not a possibility without women’s economic freedom from men (de Beauvoir, 1949). Although the unemployment rate for women in Australia is a considerably low 5.2%, women are still seen as imposing on the public male domain and remain ‘responsible’ vigilant subjects within wider society (Australian Government, 2019).

Fanghanel & Lim have argued that the ‘safekeeping’ that women are expected to perform in their everyday lives is an extremely gendered experience and links back to the performativity of gender (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 344). As one of Butler’s core ideas she argues that “it is important to distinguish performance from performativity: the former presumes a subject, but the latter contests the very notion of a subject” (Butler cited in Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 392). In other words it is through the performance that we are constituted as subjects and that doing brings into being that which it names. For women in society are also often portrayed as a dichotomous entity embodying either the virgin or the whore (Brownmiller cited in Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 343). Stemming from psychoanalytic theory, Freud coined the term Madonna-whore complex to stipulate a hindrance that some heterosexual men face when engaging with the opposite sex (Bareket et al. 2018, pp. 519-520). Freud’s understanding of the Madonna/whore complex stems from his psychoanalytic training and disregards all social and cultural aspects arguing instead that the root causes lie in the unresolved sensual feelings towards the mother. The Madonna-whore complex speaks to the way women are expected to perform (in)appropriate femininity represented by both the Madonna (good, chaste & pure) or the whore (bad, seductive & promiscuous). These polarizing perceptions have long existed and can be traced back to the ancient Greeks which has, over time, permeated outside of the Western context (Pomeroy, 1975; Bareket, 2018, pg. 519). Coming back to the original argument presented by Fanghanel & Lim, what they suggest is that within media discourses, the types of women who are attacked are presented as not performing the right kind of femininity. In the case of Michaela Dunn she was quite literally a whore, an aspect of her life which was sensationalised throughout the media as a way of dehumanising her to the public. It highlights the way in which we organise and stratify different sexualities and reveals how society punishes or rewards certain kinds of intimacies. Mechanisms for holding accountability through governmentality are more apparent from this perspective. Pathologisation of Michaela as the ‘whore’ not performing the right kind of femininity and the condemnation from those even within her own community speaks to the way women are expected to be in society. The ‘safekeeping’ advice women are confronted with on a daily basis comes from a number of sources including other women. Coming back to the article posted on news.com.au Jessie-Lee also implies that particular websites attract “sick” clients and that advertising on higher end websites, instead of the classifieds page Michaela was advertising on, could have had a potentially different outcome (Graham, 2019). Jessie-Lee fails to condemn the behaviour of the murderer, maintaining her position that violence is a part of sex work and even ended the article with tips for other workers to “eliminate as much risk as possible” (Graham, 2019).

This essay has attempted to highlight that the way in which mass media, and increasingly social media, frames particular events and the importance of language to perceptions. Michaela Dunn’s death was overshadowed by the pathologisation of her killer, as well as the sensationalism of her job choice. Women who are sexual continue to be demonised by society, an interesting paradox given that women are socialised to recognise themselves as sexual objects yet are highly punished when they recognise and attempt to capitalise off of that very same sexuality.


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Has Modernity Afforded Women More Sexual Freedom? -2019

The perpetuation of historical myths surrounding female sexuality has transcended into the modern through a collective imaginary. Jasanoff suggests that often the line between real and imagined realities is blurred and “observed facts of nature are refracted through collective desires for logic and order, producing authoritative representations of how the world works- as well as how it should work” (Jasanoff, 2015, pg. 6). The collective imagination of citizens within a patriarchal society dominated by a threat of violence is inevitably going to internalise the expectations of their social role and perform their expected identity to the best of their ability. Female sexuality throughout time has been suppressed and far too often is accepted as biological fact, rather than understanding it through a cultural or social lens. Some scholars have argued that this suppression is “one of the most remarkable psychological interventions in Western cultural history” (Baumeister & Twenge, 2002, pg. 166). My main argument in this essay is that modernity has not brought sexual liberation to women, and from a Foucauldian perspective the fact that much of the sexism and suppression of sexuality is happening subtly makes it all the more hard to resist. This essay will interrogate some pivotal moments that are at the intersection of discourse, power and sex. I begin this essay with a discussion on the historical construction of the division of labour and what that meant for social gender roles at the beginning of modernity. Next I will focus on the dominance of science and the legacy that remains from a number of influences at the time. A discussion on some of Foucault’s ideas, specifically that of discourse and the use of some examples within that paradigm will be explored, which have helped shape our understandings of modern day sex work. Braidottis understanding of humanism is also referred to and discussed in regards to the silent dominance of such a problematic term. The final part of the essay will have a look at Foucault’s understanding of biopower and how that is employed in the modern context. The sexual revolution of the 60s as well as the recent #metoo movements will be discussed in regards to female subjectivity to argue my point that women are no more sexually free than pre-modernity.

In regards to sexuality, the female body has historically been imposed with external meaning stemming from a patriarchal gaze. The 18th century saw many social and cultural changes stemming from rising capitalism which shifted the importance of existing institutions such as marriage and the family. The rise of capitalism brought about structural changes in which production moved outside of the home and individuals were expected to sell their labour for a wage. Some scholars have suggested that new understandings of gendered roles during rising modernity were understood through the separation of paid and unpaid labour; women were responsible for the reproduction of labour while men were responsible for wage work and financially supporting the family unit (Tilly & Scott cited in Dempsey & Lindsay, 2014, pg. 19). Marriage as an institution was dramatically changed towards the end of the 18th century when the idea of romantic love made its debut within the wider society (Giddens, 1993, pg. 39). Romance within marriage was a modern phenomenon; previously marriages were based on economic development rather than passion and love. “The complex of ideas associated with romantic love for the first time associated love with freedom, both being seen as normatively desirable states” (Giddens, 1993, pg. 40). This connection between love and freedom was able to distract society from existing economic aspects of marriage, focusing more on the social and pushing the economic into the background. In early modernity, women would alternate between productive (paid) and reproductive (unpaid) labour, it was near impossible to do the both simultaneously (Dempsey & Lindsay, 2014, pg. 21). Simone de Beauvoir recognised this separation of paid and unpaid labour as a key site for the subordination of women, she argued that without economic autonomy from men; “she remains a vassal, imprisoned in her condition” (de Beauvoir, 1948, pg. 721). She was speaking at a time when women were entering into the labour force at rates higher than ever before, afforded more civil liberties than generations of women before her. Suppressing female sexuality was an important patriarchal tool that helped women understand their role in society as passive, secondary citizens. The way in which women came to embody themselves was dependent on the meaning given to them by patriarchy and men which has taken different forms over time. De Beauvoir also argued that the biological condition of women was not a handicap in itself; rather the negative meaning is imposed from the oppressive and hostile society externally. From her phenomenological perspective she also recognised that cultural and social changes happen over time, and that there was still a considerable amount of work to be done before women would lose the cultural marker of ‘other’.

There have been a number of significant influences in regards to the way we understand modern gender, sex and sexuality. It was the 19th century that saw a push towards scientific understanding to discover truths about the world, as science was coming to be accepted as the highest order of fact. Foucault suggests that it is considered a form of knowledge that is immune to different political and historical conditions, potentially considered an ahistorical platform of knowledge production. Foucault recognised this blind acceptance of ‘science’ and considered himself to be ‘anti-science’, challenging the epistemological privilege that was attached to scientific understandings within dominating discourses. While the leaders of this dominating discourse are commonly institutions such as governments, or entire industries such as the medical or legal fields, Foucault recognised that an analysis of all practices including the ordinary experiences of communication, or discourse, hold vital information to understanding sexualities over time. One of the key issues that plagued gendered understandings of early modernity was a penchant for looking back through history in an attempt at understanding the role of women, rather than looking at the possibilities afforded to women, especially in the context of new technological developments. Freud is sometimes seen as a victim of the failed recognition of historical changes, accepting the universal ‘man as default’ that society had thus far dictated. Feminist critics such as Kate Millet argued that: “the effect of Freud’s work, that of his followers, and still more of his popularizers, was to rationalize the invidious relationship between the sexes, to ratify traditional roles, and to validate temperamental differences” (Millet cited in Bullogh, 1980, pg. 68). The legacy that Freud left behind is extremely influential in the way we understand the human psyche and many of his theories were left unchallenged for much of the 20th century. Freud accepted the narrative passed down throughout history that women are “not in control of their biological processes, and this led them to be victims of penis envy” (Freud cited in Bullogh, 1980, pg. 68). The discourse surrounding the role of women for much of the newly industrialised contexts leading into the beginning of the 20th century focused on the biological lacking of women, regardless of the social context and ignorant of new technological advances. The idiom of co-production seems applicable here as a recognition for the inseparability of the way we represent and know the world and the ways in which we choose to live in it. Jasanoff argues that “knowledge and its material embodiments are at once products of social work and constitutive of forms of social life; society cannot function without knowledge any more than knowledge can exist without appropriate social supports” (Jasanoff, 2015, pg. 3). Jasanoff’s point here is that knowledge, specifically scientific knowledge, cannot be constructed as separate from the social and as a result implicates political motives, biases and basic misunderstandings within the order of knowledge. Freud’s scientific understanding of the female psyche was biased on his understandings of the role of women in society passed down through a collective imaginary. For this reason it is important to trace back through history to understand the social construction of the role of women leading into modernity. Luckily, Foucault has done that for us.

In his 3-part (unfinished) series on the history of sexuality, Foucault explores different understandings of sex and sexuality across time and in a number of contexts. Foucault himself understood the importance of context and was not afraid to change his opinions or views given new information or ideas. He recognised the lack of interrogation surrounding sexualities, specifically from a humanities perspective, and dissected different discourses to better understand the social construction of how we currently understand sexualities. Focusing on discourse, Foucault recognised that from the 17th century there were two main perspectives or ‘orders of knowledge’ surrounding sex: reproductive biology and the medicalised perspective (Foucault, 1978, pg. 54). Within the medical discourse specifically, Foucault noted that doctors began to view their patients from a medical gaze, dehumanising their patients and seeing them as a set of organs rather than a person. When looking at discourse, Foucault argues it is important to not just look at what has been said or discussed, but to look at the concepts and ideas that are silent, that exist on the margins. The continuation of particular discourses perpetuate into contemporary times as Holland et al. conducting research on adolescent girls in the 90’s discovered; “The topic of sexual activity set both the young women and the interviews limits on how they could talk about sex, since the dominant culture has no acceptable language for discussing sex in ways which are not clinical, obscene or childish” (Holland et al. 1994, pg. 24). These contrasting discourses helped to shape the understanding of monogamous, heteronormative sex as the natural and correct form of human sexuality. The basis for the push towards monogamous heterosexual sex lies in the need for reproducing labour for the capitalist system, as previously discussed. The 17th century is an important turning point in regards to sexuality as Foucault suggests the rise of regulated sexualities coincides with the rise of the capitalist system and the industrial revolution. The way in which sexuality was repressed actually made way for new sexualities and understandings of sex, and changed the dynamic of power in regards to the way that sex was talked about. Foucault proposed that the secret nature of pushing sex into the private sphere gave power to different institutions and the discourses they employed, recognising that power was not always centralised and that there were both positive and negative power dynamics. Within certain discourses, such as the legal and medical fields, a binary of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours emerged. The notion of ‘perversion’ was able to flourish outside of these discourses but owe their creation to the repression within particular institutions. The medicalisation of sex meant that the experts on sexuality were the doctors and professors who had been socialised in much the same way as Freud, and the gender bias inherent throughout history was legitimated through ‘scientific’ understandings of sex and sexuality. Another legitimating discourse that was extremely influential to our current understandings of womens labour and sexuality stems from the way in which sex trafficking was framed at the beginning of the 20th century. With more women entering into the labour force than ever before a new threat was perceived and discussed in the public sphere. In 1927 the League of Nations created a new committee in order to undertake research investigating the exploitation of women within the entertainment industry. Many girls aged 15-25 were travelling internationally for the purposes of work and the League of Nations believed that these women were at high risk of being duped or coerced into the sex industry. What the advisory committee found was that there was a direct link between the exploitative nature of women’s (licit) work and a susceptibility to the sex industry (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). Put simply, the economic inequalities between the genders was the driving factor for many women seeking a living wage turning to the sex industry (consensually) as a means of surviving. However, while the committee recognised the economic basis as the catalyst for many women turning to sex work, their report focused on the moral rather than the economic; “Though members of the Traffic Committee bemoaned the influence of women’s low wages and subsequent poverty, they emphasised the moral over the monetary” (Boris cited in Laite, 2017, pg. 48). This is one of the many examples throughout history that highlights the power that is held in discourse. As Foucault argues, we can see that the materiality of this particular discourse has been produced within a particular social order where women were not seen to hold sexual agency or autonomy of their bodies. The morality discourse surrounding female sexuality continues to persist and women today are still stigmatised for taking ownership of their bodies and sexuality. Those who hold the power within the social order are the producers of the discourse and within this discursive order they legitimate knowledge through their own definition completely discounting those who are silenced or repressed.

The concept of humanism is also important in understanding the historical construction of suppressed female sexuality. Humanism stemmed from the enlightenment and opened a new way of living through a more secular separation from God. The Enlightenment period signalled the beginning of a new modern world highlighting a number of ideas that persist into our contemporary society. Some of these ideas include: reason and rationality (as the basis for organising knowledge); empiricism (observing and collecting information through the senses); scientific understanding of the natural and social worlds; universalism and a search for general universal laws; progression of humans (improving the human condition was possible); individualism (all knowledge comes from within); tolerance of other religions or doctrines; freedom (we are born with choices); and secularisation (in conjuncture with tolerance) (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 15). Stemming from Western Europe these hegemonic understandings of what it meant to be human privileged the (white, cis) male who embodies much of the above and is understood as ‘intrinsically moral’ (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 13). The narrative of ‘male as default’ has its roots in ancient Greek scripture but the ideology of humanism was adapted in the 20th century by Europeans who saw themselves at the forefront of modern human civilisations. As Braidotti suggests; “This Eurocentric paradigm implies the dialectics of self and other, and the binary logic of identity and otherness as respectively the motor for and the cultural logic of universal Humanism” (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 15). In this respect ‘otherness’ is represented by those who fall outside that default status; sexualised (women, non-binary etc.), racialised (non-white), and naturalised (the environment and natural) others. Given that reason and rationality are afforded to the default human, the ‘others’ are inherently seen as irrational, and inferior and are “reduced to the less than human status of disposable bodies” (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 15). The humanist paradigm has always prioritised the masculine worldview ignoring the subjectivity and agency of those that fell into the category of ‘other’ and although debates around post-humanism have been circulating since the 1960s, remnants of humanism are still present in our contemporary society. For example a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine found that women were less likely than men to be resuscitated by CPR in public because women have breasts (Prasad, 2019). The way in which society has sexualised the female body as well as the use of ‘neutral’ (male) mannequins for training purposes has resulted in a 23% gendered gap in the odds of survival when needing CPR. In similar vein, Jenny Valentish’s book about substance abuse outlines the gendered bias that still persists in much academic and medical research where researchers are constantly told that (female) gender-specific research is pointless; “it [would be] a waste of time to address anything to do with women because men are in the majority and that’s where the focus should be” (Copeland cited in Valentish, 2017, pg. 271). Here we see the masculine view that only the majority is important, re-centring the idea of humanism. Valentish also discusses the fact that in many medical and physiological studies, menstruating women are seen to be an anomaly and are excluded from participating in the studies (Valentish, 2017, pg. 273). This in itself has resulted in a number of drug-related deaths in women, clarifying Braidotti’s point on disposable bodies. Humanism is so pervasive in our society, that for much of society it remains unseen, making it difficult to recognise and resist.

Women and those considered ‘other’ as disposable beings can be analysed through the tactics of suppressed sexuality. Women, and their sexualities, have been suppressed as a way of upholding patriarchal values through the threat of, or actual violence. The origins of patriarchy have been debated but for the sake of this essay I will be using the term patriarchy as defined by Christ who suggests that “patriarchy is a system of male dominance in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality with the intent of passing property to male heirs.. [It is] rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, and in which men who are heroes of war are permitted to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people” (Christ, 2016, pg. 218-220). The legitimisation of violence stems from prehistoric times when war was common and threats to power and resources held by men resulted in an assertion of violence. Sovereign power continued the legacy of legitimated violence and it wasn’t until the Enlightenment period that Sovereign power conceded to the role of State authorities. It is the shift from Sovereign repressive power to a more normalising invisible form of power that marked a new understanding of the role of self-governance and subjectivity in modernity. Foucault differentiated between the Sovereign “right to take life or let live” and the modern State power that exercises “the right to make live and to let die” (Foucault, 1978). The publicity of such harsh punishments in pre-modern times made for an awareness of the power dynamics existent in society. With modernity came a new dynamic of State power in which the prison was born and punishment moved away from the public eye. Moving into a more subtle form of power, Foucault argues this normalising power seeks to control bodies under the guise of ‘protection of life’, in direct opposition to the previous power dynamic. Foucault’s terminology for this form of power is biopower which literally means having power over another body; “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations” (Foucault, 1976, p. 140). The connection between biopower and self-governance is strong and the role of self-surveillance in modern societies is confusing understandings of gendered subjectivity, especially in the virtual world and in social media. Hidden State power makes it harder for resistance and I suggest a similar thing is happening in regards to sexism in contemporary times, in part thanks to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s. Lewis suggests there are 3 core components of modern sexism “(1) a belief that sexism is no longer an issue in society and is a thing of the past, (2) negative attitudes towards women who fight for equity and (3) resentment toward women who advocate for affirmative action of gender conscious policies and practices” (Lewis, 2018, 383). The invisibility of contemporary sexism makes it difficult to resist, difficult but not impossible.

The normalisation of biopower has resulted in many misogynistic tendencies being accepted not just by men, but women have also unconsciously internalised many sexist ideas about the world. In a 2002 study, Baumeister and Twenge found that suppression of female sexuality was actually enforced more by other females than by men; however I propose that this suppression has been about protection rather than competition as the article suggests. They found that when women were in power they restricted sexuality more than when men were in power, who they found pushed for a more liberal sexual freedom (Baumeister & Twenge, 2002, 195-96). They argued that female suppression comes from the perspective that sex as a resource in limited supply therefore suppressing other females sexuality increases her own chances of securing the resource. My counter-argument is that the internalisation of misogyny, and the resulting suppression of female sexuality, is a result of the socialisation and conditioning of young women who see harsh consequences for their actions unlike that of the opposite gender. Constant policing of womens bodys in public spaces, (social media, breastfeeding in public, the debate around abortion etc.) have taught women that their bodies are intended to be passive, making embodiment a difficult process. Passivity as a trait of femininity stems from biological understandings as Foucault pointed out. Foucault was particular in discussing generalised sexualities and glossed over specific gender ideas, rarely speaking explicitly about female sexuality. In his essay around pleasure from the second volume of The History of Sexuality, Foucault recognised the language that has been employed in regards to what constitutes as sex: penetration. He argues that penetrative sexual relations are always a specific power dynamic in which the person who is participating in the penetration act holds the power over the submissive subject. Again this understanding stems from the humanist approach that recognises sex to involve a phallic object, therefore excluding women as active participants. Women in this paradigm are understood as biologically submissive and Foucault saw no reason to question the ‘nature’ of the role of women; “As for the woman’s passivity, it did denote an inferiority of nature and condition; but there was no reason to criticize it as a behaviour, precisely because it was in conformity with what nature intended and with what the law prescribed” (Foucault, 1984, pg. 2015). From the Foucauldian perspective suppression of female sexuality was a given due to their biological role of passive receiver. In his discussion Foucault outlines examples from the Ancient Greeks in which boys were sometimes seen as sexual objects. As a passive receiver of sexual penetration the receiver is viewed as an object; specifically an object of desire and/or pleasure, and the idea that one would enjoy the role of passive receiver contradicts the understandings of masculinity and dominance that the penetrator represents. The inferiority of the person who played the passive role was only called into question when the ‘objects’ were boys. In this example Foucault discussed the incompatibility of wanting and enjoying being the object of pleasure and the self-discovery that was necessary in order for the boy to become a man. In the context of women, this speaks to gendered understanding of subjectivity; the ideals of the feminine are in contrast to the ideals of the ‘human’, as previously discussed.

Modernity brought about many social and cultural changes and beginning towards the end of the 19th century was what is now considered the first wave of feminism in the West. This first wave movement was sparked by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, strong abolitionists fighting for the women’s right to vote, which was actually sparked through racism: black men were given the right to vote in 1870, offending these upper-class white women who believed they should have the right to vote before the former slaves (Grady, 2018). While suffrage was the main goal for these first wavers, they also recognised the lack of equality in areas such as education, property ownership and employment rights. Securing the right to vote in the early twentieth century seemed to end the first feminist wave, not because equality had been achieved, rather the goals of the feminist movement had been fractured and the movement failed to unite in their primary goals. But it wasn’t a simple shift in the public understanding of women’s role in society; many psychologists at the time including supporters of Freud suggested that “political feminism [is defined] as an evil which by encouraging women in their drives for economic independence and into denying the need for male protection were attempting to remove the beneficial ‘economic drives’ that were such a bulwark to marriage and family” (Bullogh, 1980, pg. 68). Given that sex was understood through the medicalised discourse during this time period the opinions of these ‘experts’ were minimally challenged until the second wave of feminism. The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s brought about new understandings of the existing gender order. Spurred by the release of The Feminine Mystique (Betty Friedan) as well as the re-release of de Beauvoir’s iconic The Second Sex (1948) a new wave of feminist activists began (or continued) fighting towards an end to discrimination based off perceived biological differences (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 406). It was during this period that the anti-humanist sentiment began its discourse; Braidotti argues that this occurred as a response to “the many failed political experiments of the twentieth century. Fascism and the Holocaust on the one hand, Communism and the Gulag on the other” (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 17). Both these political ideologies were a stark departure from the humanism of Europe; Fascism represented a ruthless rejection of human reason while Communism was seen as the winners of the Second World War and the ideology came to be emblematic of the defeat of fascism across Europe. Criticisms against both patriarchy and capitalism were strong during this time as the public pushed against religious, legal, medical, familial and political restrictions of the past. Hekma & Giami posits that it was at this time that “the holy triangle of marriage, reproduction and heterosexuality as foundations for sex was broke, and love and pleasure became its essential reference points” (Hekma & Giami, 2014, pg. 10). New technologies, new forms of media and rising globalisation all contributed to the sexual revolution which allowed women greater autonomy over their own bodies. During this sexual revolution the notion of equality was a driving factor with women pushing for the same sexual subjectivity afforded to men. While many changes occur, my main argument here is that the sexual liberation women believed they achieved was actually a new realm for patriarchy to conquer. We can see the impact of that through the recent #metoo movement. The #metoo movement became a global talking point in 2017; however the initial origins of the movement date back to 2006. The popularity of the movement in 2017 was sparked by a tweet shared by actress Alyssa Milano that stated: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet”. The response was overwhelming and within 24 hours there were over 11,000 retweets and 30,000 responses, continuing to grow in the weeks and months that followed (Haynes, 2017). For many modern women sexual harassment is commonplace and normal, so much so that this movement was unprecedented in its global reach emphasising the universal nature of patriarchal sexism. An article in The Times suggested that the liberation movement of the 60s was understood as an open sexual availability of all women; “The only sexual rule today is ‘consent’, and men have been taught that women are potentially always sexually available because that is what ‘liberation’ means” (Quinn cited in Badham, 2018). The images produced by the media during this time underwent a dramatic change and rode the wave of sexual liberation all the way into the 21st century. The increase of sexualised media had a gendered aspect and there were more images and cultural objects being produced that had direct impacts on the public perception of women in society (Hekma & Giami, 2014, pg. 12). Since the mid 20th century, the media has played a significant role in the socialisation process. The #metoo movement was attempting to highlight the prevalence of rape culture within our society, the silent biopower controlling the way bodies operate in the social world. Social commentator Clementine Ford suggests “Rape culture doesn’t refer to a system in which sexual violence is being overtly encouraged or taught. Rather, it characterises a society in which the impact of sexual violence is not only minimised but the definition of what constitutes ‘real’ sexual assault is considered up for public debate and scrutiny” (Ford, 2018, pg. 293). There are countless examples stemming from a number of different contexts around the world that exemplify this rape culture, and the rise of social media has allowed for a conversation to occur. Resistance is coming from both sides; those who have been marginalised are standing up and speaking out, while those who continue to hold the power are not willing to give it up without a fight.


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Morality vs. Human Rights: Understanding Cultural Policy and Sex Work-2018

The importance of everyday life is vital to developing a sound cultural policy. Everyday life of everyone in the community should be valued but it is clear that this is not the case. Government policy is heavily influenced by economic values and it is for this reason most governments expect “outcomes for their investment” (Victorian Government cited in Caust, 2003, pg. 52). This economic paradigm often favours the arts over other cultural products within cultural policy and Boaden and Ashton suggest that this is due to the arts being the “easiest cultural area to manage” (Boaden & Ashton, 2015, pg. 21). With the rise of globalisation and information technologies the global markets underwent a rapid change and the approach to cultural products and services has resulted in aspects of our culture losing government support and/or funding. Given the ambiguous nature of the term ‘culture’, competing definitions of culture have made cultural policy even more complex as funding decisions are informed across different cultural forms including: “everyday lived culture, lifestyle culture, elite culture, alternative culture and subculture” (Craik et al. 2003, pg. 29). However, if cultural policy is dominated by an economic paradigm, aspects of culture that are not seen to have the capacity to generate a financial return may be ignored. Human sexuality is an intrinsic part of everyday life yet it is almost never discussed from a policy perspective. The link between sexuality and citizenship is much stronger than is often assumed, and the way in which societies are organised frequently support the ‘normalcy’ of heterosexuality and monogamy. This essay will explore the link between sexuality and citizenship, specifically looking at sex workers and the sex industry. It will focus on the moral and ethical considerations that dominate the public and policy discourse. Cultural planning and mapping will be discussed in regards to its exclusivity and the invisibility of certain groups of people in order to maintain the status quo of society. There are a number of ways in which sex work can be viewed and these paradigms will be discussed in relation to their influence over policy. The final part of the essay will discuss the best legal framework for the sex industry to be safe for all involved and will look at New Zealand as a brief case study that highlights the possibility of a model in which the rights of workers are prioritised.

The concepts of both cultural planning and mapping are vital to developing strategies and policies for sustainable development of the community, ensuring that cultural diversity is not lost or compromised. Cultural planning may be described as “strategic and integrated use of cultural resources in urban and community development” (Mercer cited in Boaden & Ashton, 2015, pg. 22). In other words, community development should be based on a number of processes that attempt to understand the human needs of a community while assessing the resources that enhance the development and participation of citizens within cultural life. Cultural mapping is a key part of this process and is best described as an assessment of existing cultural resources, with an emphasis on community engagement that measure both tangible and non-tangible cultural artefacts (Boaden & Ashton, 2015, pg. 23-24). Historically much of the cultural planning that has occurred in Australia has largely focused on facility provision and arts facilities, ignoring large sections of community culture, namely those that fall outside the ‘arts’ domain. It may be argued that there are aspects of our community we choose to ignore from the cultural perspective and this results in a lack of inclusion during policy development. The privileging of certain aspects of culture within cultural policies is a form of ‘hegemony’ in which “the dominant culture uses education, philosophy, religion, aesthetics and art to make its dominance appear normal and natural to the heterogeneous groups that constitute society” (Miller and Yudice cited in Mulcahy, 2006, pg. 320). This hegemonic dominance of society offers different understandings of male and female sexualities, based on biological assumptions rather than “a consequence of social differences in how female and male sexuality are constructed” (Hekma & Giami, 2014, pg. 13). This asserts the fact that under patriarchal society, male dominance within all social structures appears to be innate and natural rather than socially constructed.

The assumed hegemony of society is damaging to minorities who are often overlooked in the cultural mapping process. One of the biggest issues with cultural mapping lies in the silencing of certain peoples voices; often marginalised people are ignored, especially when they are functioning outside of legal frameworks. Sex workers in much of the world certainly fall into this category and have far too much to risk working under criminal systems where speaking out could put their lives in danger. Sex workers aren’t unique to this silencing technique as drug users, homeless people, migrant workers and the elderly are often ignored and overlooked when community development is underway. Individual freedoms can justifiably be denied to a member of the community who does not conform to social norms and heteronormativitiy, such as sex workers, and many western politicians rely on biological essentialism to further their argument surrounding what is ‘natural’ to continue denying an individual’s rights and freedoms. Given that much of human sexuality takes place in the private sphere, it is often overlooked from a policy perspective. However Weeks suggests that sexuality may be considered “the magnetic core that lies at the heart of the national political and cultural agenda” (Weeks cited in Hubbard, 2001, pg. 53). Arguing that sexuality is often used as a political tool in order to demonise ‘bad citizens’, such as queers, ‘perverts’, sex workers and other minority sexualities further establishing heterosexuality as the norm.

In many contexts there is a level of shame and taboo that surrounds sexual discourses that are driven by historical and religious understandings of sexuality. As discussed the ‘natural’ understanding of sex as a tool to reinforce hegemonic heterosexuality encourages citizens to participate in accepted forms of sexuality which include heterosexual, monogamous, pro-creative sex. Sex workers, specifically female workers, actively challenge patriarchal ideals and expectations as they embrace and capitalise on their sexuality, and it is for this reason sex workers are so heavily vilified. When the sex industry is discussed in the public sphere it often creates a ‘moral panic’ in which a debate around the ethics of sex work is discussed among cultural ‘experts’ or ‘commentators’. Ethical and moral questions are not unique to policy debates surrounding sex work, as historically we have seen similar discussions that weigh up between science/facts and ethics/morals; including HIV prevention, stem-cell research and needle exchange programs (Weitzer, 2010, pg. 53). These examples of contentious issues have all been topics in which the status quo of society is threatened, and a moral panic had been employed to ‘fix’ the problem. By giving priority to morals over rights, we ultimately deny full citizenship to certain people. In this case it applies to those who deviate away from heteronormative ideals through a lack of sexual citizenship:
“Sexual citizenship refers to the transformation of public life into a domain that is no longer dominated by male heterosexuals, but that is based in gender and sexual diversity. The goal is a society in which diverse people can take responsibility for their own sexual lives” (Hekma cited in Meyer, 2018).
Once we comprehend that much of our understanding of human, specifically female, sexuality is based on social constructs rather than these ‘natural’ assumptions we take for granted, we can then remove the moral and ethical questions and focus on the safety of all members within in a society.

Far too often sex work is used synonymously with sex trafficking and this is one of the most problematic issues when it comes to discussing sex work. Exploitation is often discussed in regards to the sex industry yet it never applies to any other industry, especially those that thrive on paying their employees minimum wage (hospitality, retail etc). Many negative assumptions are put forward by oppression theorists (discussed below) who dominate public conversations about the sex industry. Cohen’s ‘moral panic’ model; which attempts to engage the state to ‘fix’ a potential problem brought about by a particular group or event which is seen as a threat to the status quo of society, is often employed when sex trafficking (or work) is brought to the public’s attention (Homan, 2011, pg. 2). The role of these periodic moral panics, which are often perpetuated by media and the authorities, function to “reassert [the state’s] right to power.. [which] supports the view that questions of sexual morality are prominent in definitions of citizenship” (Hubbard, 2001, pg. 53). What Hubbard implies here is that those who do not conform to a ‘moral sexuality’ are ultimately denied their rights and are not seen (or treated) as full citizens in regards to benefits and political recognition.

When we focus on sex work discourse several paradigms occur. The first paradigm is the oppression paradigm, often the most dominant discourse that permeates the public realm. The oppression paradigm sees all forms of sex work as the “quintessential expression of patriarchal gender relations” (Weitzer, 2009, pg. 54). This view is ignorant of different factors that may be in play such as the type of sexual commerce, agency of the worker, national situation, historical time period etc. Radical advocates go further and suggest that violence against women, subjugation and exploitation are an inevitable and a core part of the sex industry with some oppression academics arguing that “when men use women in prostitution, they are expressing a pure hatred for the female body” (Dworkin cited in Weitzer, 2010, pg. 54). For many oppression theorists there is a general understanding that under patriarchy, there is no way that a woman can choose to be a sex worker freely and all workers are victims who need to be saved. Through this perspective research is often skewed and biased to further the author’s own personal perspective on the subject. They frequently engage in ‘prescientific reasoning’ which is described as “conclusions formed in the absence of evidence or lacking in the critical ingredient of falsibility” (Popper cited in Weitzer, 2010, pg. 15), often presenting their central arguments to be undeniable absolute truths. Frequently oppression theorists will focus their research on workers who fall into the lower rungs of the ‘whorearchy’ (see image 1), often ‘survival’ workers, which produce warped conclusions. There are a number of reasons the oppression paradigm is extremely problematic in its perspective, most obviously it completely discounts the voices of the workers. By making sex workers voices not heard you create an invisible demographic of people within a society. There is a general understanding in Western societies that “all individuals are apparently equal in the eyes of the law and the state” (McDowell cited in Hubbard, 2001, pg. 53), and Hubbard suggests that heteronormativity is accepted as the norm and those who ‘transgress sexual and spatial order” (Hubbard, 2001, pg. 58) are disciplined, in this case silenced, which then reinforces hegemonic heterosexuality and sexual monogamy.

The opposite end of the discourse spectrum would be the empowerment paradigm which holds that sex workers have agency to make decisions for themselves and see sex work as another service provided within the neoliberal free market. Supporters of the empowerment paradigm push against prohibitionist laws and suggest that much of the social stigma is due to the illegal nature of sex work (Oselin & Weitzer, 2013, pg. 454). While not as extreme as the oppression theorists in their perspective that all women are victims, or in this case empowered, supporters of the empowerment paradigm can sometimes fail to recognise that there may be a level of subordination involved in some forms of consensual sex work, arguing that “there is nothing inherent in sex work that would prevent it from being organised for mutual gain to all parties” (Weitzer cited in Social Spaces and #SexWork: An Essay, 2013). What this paradigm largely ignores are the varied complexities that exist within the sex industry and that not all workers feel empowered by their jobs. It is true that some sex workers feel empowered through their work, yet the idea of empowerment and work as intersecting concepts only seems to apply to the sex industry. Another issue with the empowerment perspective is that it highlights one of the biggest issue in the industry; not recognising sex work as work. If we fail to see this work as a job, like any other job, the idea of empowerment (and consequently degradation) are often central to the morality debate, which begs bigger questions surrounding how we view both sex and sexuality, specifically in women.

If the oppression paradigm is situated on one end of the spectrum and the empowerment paradigm is at the other, the polymorphous paradigm would sit somewhere in between the two. The polymorphous paradigm holds that “there is a constellation of occupational arrangements, power relations, and worker experiences” that exist within sex work (Weitzer, 2010, pg. 55). The other two are quite radical in their ideologies, whereas the polymorphous paradigm has a level of flexibility and understands there are a number of complexities to consider on a more individualised basis. From the polymorphous perspective there is an even consideration between subordination and agency; it recognises that both subordination and agency may be at play at different stages in a sex workers career. Both the empowerment and the polymorphous paradigms understand that sex worker rights are human rights and advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work.

There are a number of different legal frameworks under which sex work can operate around the world. The first is most strongly influenced by the oppression theorists, which is full illegality of full service sex work (prostitution). This undeniably has the most negative impact not just on the workers directly, but the social stigma and general discourse in the wider public. This is where skewed research depicting the worst examples of sex work are used to stereotype workers and treat them as representative of the whole demographic of workers. While prohibition is pushed by anti-sex work activists, it is clear prohibition won’t solve the problem. Studies have shown that violence against sex workers actually increases in places where there is a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards full service sex work (Sanders & Campbell, 2007, pg. 4). Under an illegal framework organised crime is given the conditions to thrive without regulation. Studies suggest that decriminalisation or legalisation leads to a more transparent industry which makes it tougher for criminals to succeed in their illegal activities. Lupton suggests that most of the dangers that sex workers face within illegal contexts are not inherent parts of sex work, rather, the lack of access to material resources is the key cause of these added vulnerabilities (Lupton cited in Sanders & Campbell, 2007, pg. 12). Again this suggests that more vulnerable women lacking in social and economic capital would find it the hardest to access the necessary resources for their ongoing safety. Much like the discourse around female safety in greater society, the onus on safety is often placed on the worker (predominately female), being held responsible for personal risk avoidance. This reactive approach highlights the ignorance of many state Governments that put morals ahead of human rights, advocating that if women were not in the sex industry this violence would not occur. The ignorance towards safety of all citizens, and the personal responsibility most workers face further establishes the patriarchal dominance that permeates western societies and confirms the hegemony that many government policies wish to further cement.

Another framework under which the sex industry can operate is legalisation, in which strict rules and licensing are created by the state in order to regulate and control the industry. The Nordic Model is an interesting interpretation of a legalised framework that decriminalises the sale of sex, while simultaneously making it a criminal offence to purchase sex. It was first adopted in Sweden in 1999 as a reaction to oppression theorists dominating the national sex work discourse (Levy & Jakobsson, 2014, pg. 2). Legalisation brings about a binary within the industry; of legal and illegal practices. Anybody participating in sex work outside the often restrictive ‘legal’ guidelines are still subject to criminal punishment and it fails to protect many within an already marginalised minority (Green, 2015). This is due to many regulations favouring sex workers within the higher rungs of the whorearchy, who generally have the most access to the resources they need. In places where sex work is legalised there are often many abuses of power, predominately from police who manipulate workers with threats and coercion (Murphy, 2015). Many prohibitionist’s are actively against any form of legalisation or decriminalisation from a moral perspective as they believe that it “symbolically gives an official stamp of approval to a vile institution and creates what they call a prostitution culture, in which commercial sexual transactions are rendered acceptable” (Weitzer, 2010, pg. 22). But this moral standpoint actually enforces the lack of respect for human autonomy and agency, arguing that if for whatever reason you end up in the sex industry you are not morally worthy of protections that the rest of society have access to. Reaffirming that citizens who fail to conform to the moral sexuality deemed ‘normal’ by the government results in ‘second-class citizen’ status as perceived not just by the state but also by other ‘first-class citizens’ who have conformed to the state expectations, also known as social stigma (Hubbard, 2010, pg. 53).

Human rights organisation such as Amnesty International support decriminalisation of sex work who, unlike many cultural planners, actually engaged in a dialogue with current and former sex workers before reaching this conclusion. Decriminalisation is the final legal framework and is the framework which is supported by an overwhelming majority of sex workers and their allies (SWOP, 2018). In 2003, New Zealand was the first country in the world to decriminalise sex work. New Zealand is an excellent case study for a well-developed cultural policy that enables sex workers to work freely and have access to the same legal and employment rights as the rest of the population (Abel, 2014, pg. 581). While the process towards decriminalisation in New Zealand was not without is hurdles the State understood the need to prioritise the human rights of all workers/citizens ahead of the moral and ethical considerations. The push towards decriminalisation came from a sex-worker led group formed in 1987 known as the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) who have been receiving funding from the NZ Government since 1988. All of the arguments presented by the NZPC were evidence-based and “public health and human rights arguments were central to the passing of the PRA [Prostitution Reform Act]” (Abel, 2014, pg. 14). Since decriminalisation passed in New Zealand several reviews have been undertaken and have found that the positives have outweighed the negatives in all aspects of the updated policy. Because sex workers in New Zealand have full rights, crimes against sex workers are taken seriously by the police and the State, and a number of convictions of crimes against sex workers have been processed through the New Zealand judicial system.

Regardless of which side of the morality fence you sit, we need to view sex workers (and other minorities within the community) as human beings deserving of the same human rights as everyone else in society. Throughout this essay it is clear that there is a huge resistance to members of the community who threaten the status quo, especially women in control of their sexuality. From the policy perspective, morality and ethics are given too much weight within public debates which is extremely damaging to many people within our communities. This is especially true when there is an obvious lack of evidence to support these moral judgements. These negative public discourses on sex work stemming from oppression theorists, does nothing to eradicate the true harms that do exist and as discussed has been proven to further perpetuate violence and stigma against (female) sex workers. From the economic perspective, decriminalising sex work would allow for sex workers to contribute to the local economy and takes much of the power away from criminals who understand the demand for sexual services. By decriminalising compared to legalising, governments are able to take away criminal punishments without being seen as ‘encouraging’ the growth of the sex industry.

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Gendered Sexual Shame: The Jezebel Club in the Handmaid’s Tale-2018

This essay aims to explore the gendered nature of sexual shame. I argue that female sexuality is a direct threat to patriarchal values and that as a result of that threat women are sexually shamed more so than men. I will be using the ‘Jezebel Club’ as an object of reference to highlight my argument. I will begin with a brief description of the Jezebel Club which will be followed by a discussion around oppression of women and how that impacts the sex work industry. Next I take a look at the basis for patriarchal systems and briefly analyse the notion of nature and biology as the explanation behind patriarchy. In this section biology is also discussed in regards to gendered sexuality. The importance of women’s reproductive role is also vital to the discussion in regards to male power. I also investigate the significance of religion and the male gaze over history and how that has impacted our cultural understandings of gender. The final parts of the essay will focus on the value of different forms of capital and who has access to this capital as well as a discussion around shame and the link between shame and the body.

In The Handmaids Tale, all women are repressed or oppressed no matter where they sit within the Gilead hierarchical society. While the Handmaids tale was written in the 1980’s it seems more than relevant to certain contexts within our globalised contemporary society. Foucault warns that repressing desire actually results in a production of it (Taylor, 2009, pg. 21), and religion has long been an institution of repression not only of desire but of sexuality as a whole. At the core of Gilead society is an ultra conservative Christian understanding of the world, in which sex is a tool for reproduction and not a site for pleasure or desire. While discussing sex trafficking in Asia, Brown proposes that the more repressed and male-dominated a society is, the higher the levels of prostitution, trafficking and abuse, specifically of vulnerable women. “There is a beautifully neat symmetry: strict sexual codes and rigorously male-dominated societies are mirrored by widespread systems of sexual slavery” (Brown, 2000, pg. 25). We can see a perfect example of this in the Jezebel Club in the Handmaids Tale. The vulnerable, otherwise untouchable, women who have deviated from the strict gender roles assigned to them have the ‘choice’ of ‘working’ in the Jezebel Club, or to be cast away to the colonies (and ultimately to their death).

An explanation behind this ‘neat symmetry’ is that patriarchy involves male domination not only over women, but over each other. To show any sort of vulnerabilities would be a sign of weakness and therefore result in being ‘less’ of a man which then leads to insecurities surrounding their status among other men. By having access over an objectified ‘whore’ creates the fantasy for these insecure men about their ability to dominate within society. While this explanation works for the real world, it’s not so clear in Gilead. It is quite apparent that patriarchy is operating within the Gilead society, but the level at which that patriarchy is operating is not highlighted in either the TV show or the book. Rather, Atwood focuses on the roles of women within this dystopian society.

One of the key things to note here is that the women who ‘work’ in the Jezebel Club have not really chosen that line of work. While the women did make a choice, they were choosing between their death (the colonies) or to be repeatedly raped but remain alive (Jezebel). Instead of receiving payment for their services, these women are paid in their survival. The Jezebel club symbolises the ultimate paradox of the Gilead society highlighting the gendered sexual double-standards between the sexes. The justification of such a place within a totalitarian society comes down to the argument of ‘nature’. The commander declares:
“Nature demands variety, for men. It stands to reason, its part of the pro-creational strategy. It’s nature’s plan. Women know that instinctively. Why did they buy so many different clothes in the old days? To trick men into thinking they were several different women. A new one for each day.”
-The Commander (Attwood, 1985, pg. 237)
While this essay focuses on the social side of things we may also note that biology does have a role to play in this. Brown argues that
“[Domination over women and other men] is a biologically driven need and its goal is to enhance reproductive success. This need makes power, domination and sex inextricably linked” (Brown, 2000, pg. 129)
When Brown discusses biology she is referring to the contentious notion that sexual interactions are supposed to increase a person’s capacity to continue their genetic lineage onto their offspring. While men have been encouraged to ‘spread their seed’; Brown suggests that biologically speaking, women are vying for a mate who can provide protection for both herself and her offspring while also possessing ‘an enticing gene bank’ (Brown, 2000, pg. 128). From a biological perspective then, it actually doesn’t make much sense for either of these gender roles to perpetuate; men do not have the capacity to care for the amount of children he is capable of producing, and the ideal mate for a woman may not embody all of the attributes to produce idyllic children for women. This biological debate completely ignores women’s sexuality and agency. If nature only intended for men to enjoy sexual pleasure why would women have an organ such as the clitoris? As discussed a little later a woman in control of her sexuality is a threat to patriarchy and we can see many examples throughout history of sexual oppression of women, such as the ‘hysterical woman’ and religious head coverings. But the biological debate continues, and I argue that the cultural understanding of these biological gender roles have been key to ingraining these gender norms.

While gender is socially constructed, we cannot deny there are biological differences between men and women. Sexuality is quite controversial when analysing the nature vs. nurture debate and it is still unclear as to whether sexuality is a naturally occurring biological function or if our socialisation is the key to our sexualities. Regardless, attempting to repress something as prominent as sexuality is bound to have consequences. The repression of female sexuality in particular certainly isn’t a new trend; women are child-bearers, they provide life. In order for men to hold complete power they must also hold the power of reproduction: women. In the context of Gilead fertile women are a rarity, and Attwood proposes that “.. ruling classes always make sure they get the best and rarest of desirable goods and services..” (Atwood, 2012). In Gilead this means the Handmaids are property in which the ruling class get to ‘own’ the women, which I argue is just the amplified version of the reproductive rights debate happening in many places around the world. Religion is central to the reproductive rights debate and is key to understanding how Gilead came into power. In an interview with Attwood in regards to her novel she states that in order for the coup of the United States to occur (which resulted in the take-over by the Gilead elite) the ruling class had to use religion as the premise of their take over. Had they used socialism or communism the US would’ve outright rejected it. Instead they had to base their claim on already existing ideas from the 17th century, prior to the Enlightenment period when there was still a heavy bias against women and before the separation of church and state. She also stated that restricting sexual freedoms also impacted the rise of the conservative powers (Atwood cited in Mead, 2017).

The role of religion in current society is less influential than previously throughout history, but it has impacted Western culture a great deal. One of the things religion has perpetuated over time is the binary understanding of femininity between the virgin/whore. This dichotomy of femininity not only exists within the Christian faith, but many religions resulting in this as a cultural understanding of women. The understanding of women as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in terms of their sexuality and/or sexual history still continues today which directly influences gendered understandings of shame surrounding sex and sexuality. Foucault suggests that the Christian approach to sex is one that attempts to eliminate pleasure and/or desire; “Acts have to become something neutral; you have to act only to produce children, or to fulfil your conjugal duty” (Foucault cited in Taylor, 2009, pg. 22). Women who fulfil their ‘role’ as childbearer/mother are seen as ‘good’ women; women who have deviated from this ‘good woman’ role are seen as ‘bad’ and stigma is then attached to these women. Ignoring pleasure and desire, as well as individual agency, makes shaming women for their sexuality easier. If sex only has one purpose (to procreate) then any deviancy outside of that is wrong and immoral and women should be ashamed. The importance of religion reinforces patriarchal understandings, as Christ states: “Patriarchy is an integral system of interlocking oppressions, enforced through violence, and legitimated by religions” (Christ, 2016, pg. 223). Therefore women who attempt to control their own sexuality are directly threatening the patriarchal system.

In the case of the Handmaids Tale the only place where we see sex and sexuality functioning outside of procreation is within the Jezebel Club. It highlights the dichotomy of the virgin/whore role of women even within the most conservative societies, as discussed previously. Prior to marriage, women were ‘their own property’ and could have sex with whomever they chose resulting in children being born with no absolute confirmation of who was the father. The concept of marriage was created so that men would know who their offspring were, so that they could pass on their property and wealth to their own progeny. Marriage not only provided a guarantee (should the woman remain faithful) of genetic lineage the woman also became the property of the man. Hence why the term for a married woman is ‘Mrs’ or ‘Mr(‘)s’, as in she is the property of Mr. In the context of The Handmaids Tale, women as property is extremely evident as the main character’s name is Ofred, literally ‘Of Fred’ named after her ‘owner’. Not only are the handmaids considered property but all women are the property of men including the wives and the girls in the Jezebel club.

Through different forms of art over time we can see that historically women have been represented through the lens of heterosexual men as sexual objects existing for their pleasure; “the male gaze”. The performance of the male gaze has become so ingrained in our understandings of gender and sexuality that women have been conditioned to internalise certain values as dictated by patriarchy. The impact of the male gaze in a patriarchal society is important because of the cultural implications over history. Evans & Gamman suggested that Colonial Europeans who were viewing other cultures, such as Asian or Arab, could not be seen “as it is, but through their own eyes” (Evans & Gamman, 1995, pg. 17). The same could be applied to our understanding of society through the male perspective. I argue that because history has been dominated by men we all view society from the male standpoint. This has led to internalised misogyny and self-surveillance of women.

In a patriarchal society men hold the ultimate power because of the valued capital they possess. Bourdieu recognises a number of forms of capital which include: economic (property, wealth etc.), cultural (knowledge, artistic taste etc.) and social (social networks and obligations etc.) (Bourdieu, 1986). It appears that sexuality, especially female sexuality has extremely high value, just as those who formed Gilead understood, yet when we speak of capital, even cultural capital; sexuality or reproductive abilities don’t come into the discussion. Much of the historical gendered conditioning has led us to a place where different social positions hold different power in regards to the forms of capital they can and may possess. Bourdieu suggested that “women are not typically capital-accumulating subjects. Rather they are ‘capital bearing objects’ whose value accrues to the primary group to which they belong (eg. her husband, the family)” (Bourdieu cited in Thorpe, 2009, pg. 493). For women who choose to use their bodies to accumulate economic wealth in order to hold more valued capital, threatens the concept of the patriarchal system. It is important to note here that this is not applicable to the women in the Jezebel club as they have limited agency to make the choice of working in the club.

Berger proposes that perspective is based on who holds the most capital suggesting that “It reduced everything to the equality of objects. Everything became exchangeable because everything became a commodity” (Berger cited in Evans & Gamman, 1995, pg. 17). As men are the ones who traditionally hold most of the capital their perspective has a higher value. It appears that to capitalise off sexuality is only acceptable when men are profiting. We see this in the Jezebel Club (although not explicitly stated) it is safe to assume that the women in the club are not receiving any compensation for their services aside from allowing the women to live. The commodification of the body, or even of women doesn’t allow much of a differentiation between a wife and a prostitute according to Simone de Beauvoir. In her book ‘The Second Sex’, she has a whole chapter dedicated to ‘Prostitutes and Hetaeras’ where she states: “For both [the prostitute and the wife] the sexual act is a service; the latter is engaged for life by one man, the former has several clients who pay her per item” (de Beauvoir, 1949, pg. 614). This highlights that within a patriarchal society we are all objects exchanging our own capital (in this example emotional labour and sex) in exchange for economic gains. When women attempt to gain their economic freedom through the commodification of their own body’s they are shamed for it. The basis of this shaming stems from the historical and cultural interpretations of patriarchy.

The body as a site of shame (discussed below) is interesting in the context of the Handmaid’s Tale as we can see that women’s bodys have a different value to men. Female bodies in Gilead are seen as ‘national property’ and different women have different roles to play within the hierarchy. The self-surveillance and internalised misogyny mentioned before is exemplified in the role of the ‘Aunt’s’. Their role within Gilead is to brainwash the incoming Handmaid’s (& other women) to conform to their new gender role within the new society. The Aunt’s assist in oppressing female sexuality in several ways including shaming Handmaid Janine for being gang-raped, as well as manipulating the women during the initiation process. As discussed already Christ suggests that violence is used to enforce gender roles and it’s ironic that the Aunt’s are a part of this violence against women “even though the Aunt’s put emphasis on the abuse of the female body in the old time, it is exactly the Aunts that carry out the punishment on their bodies” (Pei-Hsuan Hsieh, 2009, pg. 3). By each woman having their place in society together they form the subordinate part of the society. From the perspective of Foucault the discipline exercised in Gilead “is no longer simply an art of distributing bodies, of extracting time from them and accumulating it, but of composing forces in order to obtain an efficient machine” (Foucault cited in Peir-Hsuan Hsieh, 2009, pg. 10). The society of Gilead is as a machine that operates through surveillance and power relations to enforce the gender roles expected of the citizens.

Many consider shame to be the central ‘affect’ of the self. Probyn suggests that “the distinct nature of affects provides an optic into the complex combinations that characterize the everyday” (Probyn, 2004, pg. 329). In other words affects help form the habitus, both individually and societally. The affect of shame helps shape our own selfhood through reflexive actions “that also seem to force an experience of inter-subjectivity” (Roberts cited in Stark, 2016). Shame is an affect closely linked to the body, and it is a physical reaction to feeling ‘out of place’ (Probyn, 2004, pg. 328). Sexual shame is very closely linked to religion in many different contexts. In the West, even if you weren’t brought up religiously the Western culture has been influenced by religion, mainly Christianity (although gendered sexual shame is common amongst most common religions). The way in which we are socialised and educated encourages us to feel shame about certain sexual feelings we may have. Our social environments automatically incite shame in certain contexts and more often than not it is women who are subjected to sexual shaming more than men. We can see an example of this in the Jezebel Club, and the character of Moira. We know that prior to the rise of Gilead Moira was a lesbian, which is seen as “non-reproductive, [which] is incompatible with the republic, where compulsory heterosexuality is built into the social structure” (Himberg, 2018, pg. 196). Her failed escape attempt resulted her being placed in the Club, and when Ofred catches up with Moira there you can see the shame and defeat Moira experiences by being in that environment. Her shame is contrasted by all the men around her who all appear to be having the time of their lives experiencing no shame. The men aren’t shamed to be in a place like that because as discussed before it is ‘natural’ for men to pursue many women.

Patriarchal values have a long history borne through the value of private property enforced through violence and perpetuated by religion. From the perspective of the male gaze we have come to understand the world through a patriarchal lens which in contemporary society is increasingly being challenged. Binaries are also important here, whether it be the binary of masculine/feminine, the virgin/whore, or even heterosexual/homosexual. Within Gilead reproductive fertility in women is a rare commodity in which the ruling class has been able to control through violence and fear as women have no autonomy or agency regardless of their hierarchal place. Long-standing conditioning has in turn impacted how we understand gender roles in the current society and we continue to see a lot of self-surveillance of women, as well as the entitlement of men over women’s bodies. The role of the Aunts show us how the effects of internalised misogyny can impact a women and the policing of women of other women is also highlighted here. The entitlement men feel over women’s body is very visible at the current time, and we can see discourse beginning to change around how we report domestic violence and violence against women within greater society.

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