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Empty Vessels; On pregnancy and sex work

The similarity between the policing of reproductive and sex workers rights is obvious to anyone not blinded by whorephobia. On the most basic level, its not about whether you think sex work/abortion is wonderful, empowering, a good thing, but about whether you think everyone deserves bodily autonomy. Once you decide whether bodily autonomy is universal or not, your next decision is, should people who do a certain thing with their bodies be entitled to safety and a harm reduction approach, or should we punish them because we morally disapprove of the thing that they are doing.

You do not need to “like” abortions or sex work to conclude that the only humane, decent approach is to make both as safe as possible. We know that criminalizing either doesnt wish them out of existence, it just makes them more dangerous. Wanting a world without abortion or sex work is as useful an approach as wanting a world without Donald Trump. You might have fun imagining it, but it doesnt change the reality.

Those who conclude that bodily autonomy is not universal, that some people do not deserve the right to chose what is done with, by and to their bodies, tend to focus on people with wombs an awful lot. Having a womb has of course historically been seen a reason to label someone as mentally ill, it was the ultimate “other” organ, the proof that some bodies were naturally inferior. Wombs mattered however, as they produced the next generation of workers for capitalist patriarchy, and thus a whole host of myths, prejudices and stereotypes have been laden onto them.

Once the womb is filled it is assumed in many ways to be public property, any person who has been visibly pregnant will tell you of the touches, the invasion of body space, and boundary crossing questions. Complete strangers will ask intimate questions, advise you, and criticise you in equal measure, because the womb has stripped away your individuality, and you have been transformed into a mere vessel of a baby carrier.

Very oddly (given the rarity of immaculate conceptions) the pregnant state is also considered a sexless state. Historically sex was seen as in some way damaging to the fetus, and perhaps because the filled womb meant the point of sex (from a patriarchal view) was over, pregnancy meant celibacy. Of course as anyone who has been pregnant can tell you, it can have a huge impact on the libido in the other direction. In amongst the morning sickness, the piles, the bad back, the swollen ankles, there is horniness, and desire. Its also one of natures little ironies that sex is recommended, assuming consent and ability, to begin labour. I, like millions of others, have spent the last night before entering the labour ward being entered, a repeat performance of the act 9 months earlier which caused me to be horny, grumpy, swollen, and yes, probably wondering if I should have got my partner to come in my face. (Pregnancy really does lead to mood swings).

So, pregnant people can, do, and will have sex.

Explain therefore why its considered necessary to ban them from sex work? Explain the revulsion from some quarters at the very idea of a pregnant sex worker?

The explanation is a head on collision of beliefs in who deserves to have bodily autonomy, who is given the right to make choices of what happens to their body. Those who would deny sex worker rights would also deny pregnant people autonomy, because both are seen as incapable of making choices about their lives. There is certainly a gendered nature to this, the infantilization of cis women under capitalism reaches its peak when a cis woman is either pregnant or a sex worker. Should she be both then the response of society is to condemn, to assume in some inexplicable way that she needs protection from her own choices.

In the response to pregnant sex workers we see the anti abortion lobby expose their view of cis women as mere empty vessels, wombs waiting to be filled, who have no other purpose or reason for existing. These vessels must remain sexless, pure and chaste, waiting only, on sufferance for the sperm which gives their existence meaning. Then after spending 9 months engaged only in activities which meet patriarchal approval, they give birth, reaching their conclusion, their climax, before being returned to the status of waiting handmaiden.

This assumption of an inability to make rational choices, of somehow being a danger to their child, extends onto sex workers once they have given birth. There is a strong belief that a sex worker who is also a birth parent will be incapable of being a good parent. The Australian Salvation Army recently used this belief to raise funds. The concept of mother is so bound up in our consciousness with sexless unless for the production of more babies that we seem unable to comprehend that a mother can also be someone who has sex for non baby making purposes. Indeed the prejudice against sex working mothers is so strong that I can only conclude that Klein must be right, we carry within us a fear of the idea of our mothers having sex, a fear which motivates hatred and a visceral disgust.

Denying others the right to bodily autonomy based on a disgust response is nothing new if you are a sex worker. Denying others the right to bodily autonomy because they have a womb is nothing new either. In the response to pregnant sex workers you see exactly how patriarchy would control all it considers lesser, if it is not challenged and constantly fought against.






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This entry was posted on June 8, 2016 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

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