Feminism has traditionally opposed prostitution, but in recent years, third wave feminists have departed from their second wave sisters. Second wave feminism takes a radical approach and claims that prostitution is a misogynist system, but third wave feminists claim that legalizing this industry will protect prostitutes from arrest, decrease the stigma against them and deregulate people’s career and moral choices. In my opinion, second wave feminism is correct because prostitution has misogynistic implications for prostitutes and women as a whole.
One of the biggest tenants of third wave feminism is individual choice. Third wavers support the legalization of prostitution under the guise of “your body, your choice,” but I’d argue it isn’t a choice at all for the majority of prostituted women. The majority of women who enter prostitution do so because of abuse, poverty, addiction, exploitation, or trafficking, according to The Guardian.
For instance, in central Ohio, many prostitutes are there because of the opioid epidemic. Often, they lose their jobs and turn to prostitution to fund their addiction and get by. Many are beaten or raped by customers, according to WOSU.
As for the women who are in a position to choose it freely, they are usually white and middle class and not representative of the majority of prostitutes. Even then, their choice supports an industry in which women are abused, rendering it a bad one. For a movement that seeks to condemn “white feminism,” it’s ironic that it supports an industry that disproportionately harms poor women of color.
Many third wave feminists argue that prostitution is necessary because there must be a way for men to take out their sexual frustrations, and that without prostitutes domestic violence and sexual abuse will increase. However, it’s sexist to imply that there should be a class of women available to be abused so that others don’t have to be. The more logical approach is to focus on stopping domestic and sexual violence from their source: abusive men.
Legalizing prostitution is also hypocritical of third wave feminists because it directly conflicts with the idea of consent. If a man has to pay a woman to get her to have sex with him, and the only reason she agrees is because she is in desperate need of money, did she really consent?
On the other hand, I don’t support a conservative approach to this issue either; I’m equally frustrated with our current approach to prostitution. Legally, a prostituted woman is just as guilty as a pimp or a buyer. If a prostitute is assaulted while working she would not be able to call the police, as she will get arrested.
This approach is unfair because who propagate a misogynistic system, like buyers and pimps, should be the ones coming under fire, not the victims. Only buyers and pimps should be criminalized, and prostitutes themselves should be decriminalized. That way, the demand is decreased while those most vulnerable have the opportunity to escape.
This method is called the Nordic model and was first implemented in Sweden in 1999. Since then, the number of Swedish prostitutes has dropped by two-thirds, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, in places where prostitution is legal conditions for women as a whole have worsened. For instance, 70 prostitutes were killed in Germany last year, according to the Vancouver Sun.
Third wave feminists need to understand that prostitution will never be a pro-woman industry. The fact that it is women selling and men buying is evidence of that. Legalizing prostitution will effectively legalize female oppression and betray those who feminism claims to help.