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Liberals and the "W" Word

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It is perhaps, the worst thing you can call a woman: "prostitute." The scorn we hold for whores, prostitutes, streetwalkers, etc., is not merely for their supposed crass commercialism, but also for their indiscriminateness. In fact, at times the term is used torefermerely to a "loose" woman, with or without the exchange of money. Sure, you could argue that to prostitute oneself might be a generic reference; "prostitute" packs a bigger punch, precisely because of its powerful imagery as a woman to be scorned.

Alan Grayson's recentcriticismof a female Fed advisor as a "K Street prostitute," has generated muchcommentary, leading to hisrecent apology, as well as a New York Times articlereferringto him as a "problem child" and a "wingnut." "I did not intend to use a term that is often, and correctly, seen as disrespectful of women, " Grayson said - to his credit.

The fact that the person to whom Grayson directed his comments was a woman, was a factor in the strong reaction. However, if progressives limit objection to such language only when it is hurled at women, we miss the fact that the language denigrates women, no matter whom it's directed towards.

This latest incident was only one of a host of hurlings of the "w" word - or its synonyms - of late. Howie KleindefendedGrayson's comment, by using the term as often as possible in the Huffington Post. Keith Olbermannreferred toCongressman Paul Brown as a "streetwalker for the insurance industry," for his advocacy of privatizing medicare.

The outrage against the corrupting influence of corporate money on public policy, is admirable. It is also notable that Rachel Maddow repeatedlycriticizescorporate lobbyists, without calling anyone either a prostitute or a streetwalker.

Liberalism is so often reflexively linked to feminism in the public mind, that liberals may sometimes think that sexism is a charge they need not worry about. After all, we believe in reproductive freedom, and we don't tend to mourn women's suffrage, as Ann Coulter and the National Review Online'sJohn Derbyshirehave done. Law professorCatharine A. MacKinnon doesn't let liberalism off the hook so easily. In aspeechlast month at Washington & Lee University, MacKinnon observed:

"the right's position ... is to repress any sexuality of equality and the left's position ... is to liberate any sexuality of inequality."

While she was primarily addressing pornography, she argues that prostitution, pornography and trafficking are all part of the same dimension. The bottom line, is that prostitution isn't a victimless crime - the prostitutes are the victims.

It's easier to see it in the case of child prostitution and trafficking, which Noy Thrupkaewexplores, inTheNation.The forces that keep girls prostituting themselves may not be obvious - rendering simple rescue attempts futile. Given the facts, most would find the results tragic. But in the case of adult prostitution, the tragedy is often obscured.

The websiteProstitution Education and Researchdispels the myth that most prostitutes freely choose, and enjoy their profession.S. M. Bergsimilarly finds that the overwhelming majority of prostitutes wish they could leave, but can't. (She also dismisses the notion that legalized prostitution is safer.)

MacKinnonpoints outthat a high proportion of prostitutes were sexually abused, and/or prostituted, as children; that they are bought and sold by pimps; that they are subjected to horrific violence and abuse, which "subjects its participants to a risk of premature death of forty times the national average."

Laws against prostitution don't actually protect prostitutes, since they are seen as the criminals. The recenthorrificstoryof an inmate, charged with prostitution, who died in custody after being left outside in the hot sun, brings this reality close to home. This leaves them even more at the mercy of pimps. In short, MacKinnon observes that - if they took place outside of a sexual context - the conditions of prostitution would violate laws against indentured servitude.

As in the case of the panic over ACORN'smanufacturedties to prostitution, to perpetuate the image of the prostitute as worthy of our scorn, is to blame the victim.



Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism and (more...)

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It would be prudent to state that the prostitute d... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Nov 10, 2009 at 6:32:37 PM
I believe that saying that someone prostituted the... by Amy Fried, Ph.D. on Tuesday, Nov 10, 2009 at 6:43:15 PM
I agree about the verb but I would also argue that... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Nov 10, 2009 at 7:05:48 PM
The problem still is, that we unleash our disgust ... by Amy Fried, Ph.D. on Wednesday, Nov 11, 2009 at 8:32:30 AM
My mother was horrified when I married a Russian J... by Jason Paz on Tuesday, Nov 10, 2009 at 9:54:02 PM
I'm not sure what your point is, other than to put... by Amy Fried, Ph.D. on Wednesday, Nov 11, 2009 at 9:01:48 AM
according to Guggenheim's Rules of East Room Etiqu... by Allan Wayne on Wednesday, Nov 11, 2009 at 2:20:58 AM
I am a straight male of indeterminate age. I am no... by Doc "Old Codger" McCoy on Wednesday, Nov 11, 2009 at 9:18:56 AM
I don't agree with the picture of empowerment you ... by Amy Fried, Ph.D. on Wednesday, Nov 11, 2009 at 11:31:12 AM