As many of you know, it’s President’s Day. In most years, that’s just a day off from school or work, as well as a formal acknowledgement of America’s history. It’s our indirect way of appreciating the ideals of American democracy and the people who made it possible.
Many others have already said it, but it still holds true. America is very divided. That’s not an opinion. It’s backed up by real numbers. Half of Americans hate each other, based on their political ideology. There’s no respectful disagreements. There’s just a growing us-versus-them mentality and it’s incredibly toxic.
Since a new president was sworn in last month, there have been a lot of talk about unity and healing. That talk hasn’t resulted in much, in the grand scheme of things. Many Americans still hate each other. They also still refuse to accept that a President they didn’t like or vote for won the election.
How do we come back from that?
How do we heal from that?
How do we ever get to a point where we can just get along again?
I honestly don’t know. I wish I did. I really do. As a proud American who loves his country as much as any patriotic American, I want to see us do better. I want to see us transcend our flaws, of which there are many, and become more akin to the vision that our founders set out to create.
I don’t expect it to start today. I don’t expect it to start tomorrow, either. However, I believe in making the effort.
Maybe today is a day when we can all start trying. Even if you didn’t vote for the current President, don’t let that stop you from making America the best it can possibly be. Look forward to the future and not to the past. See your fellow Americans as fellow Americans and not an insurgent army.
I know that’s asking a lot. I also understand there are some people who truly cannot be reached. They will not be satisfied until America, as we know it, is destroyed and rebuilt in their own perverse image. Those people are an extreme minority, but they often talk the loudest and resort to violence most readily.
Let’s not let them derail the vision for a better America.
Let’s not let them keep us divided.
We’re Americans. We are lucky beyond measure to be born in this great land. In our country, a President is not a King, but they are those tasked with carrying America forward. They’ll continue to do their part. That’s why we elected them. Now, on this President’s Day, let’s do ours.
It’s a sad fact of life. Certain movies, TV shows, songs, toys, and products just don’t age well. For every timeless classic, like “Citizen Kane” or Mozart operas or Betty White, there’s an “All In The Family” or “Gone With The Wind.” That’s not to say these pieces of popular media are bad or should be censored. They just have a cringy impact in today’s climate.
I love classics as much as the next guy, but even I can’t deny that the lyrics for songs like “Brown Sugar” or “Under My Thumb” by the Rolling Stones have some distressing connotations. I don’t judge anyone who still enjoys those songs or loves the Rolling Stones. Let’s just acknowledge that times change, societies change, and certain media just doesn’t fit anymore.
That being said, it’s also possible for something to age a little too well. Again, I’m not just talking about Keanu Reeves or Betty White. Every now and then, you revisit an old movie, show, or song that doesn’t just fit right into the current cultural climate. It almost fits too well.
That’s how I felt recently while going over some old music. I was updating my workout playlist when I came across some old songs I had from Rage Against The Machine, a band I hadn’t followed closely since high school. In re-listening to some of those songs, I realized two things.
One, they still rock. They rock every bit as much as they did when I was a teenager.
Two, their music has aged way too well in the current political climate.
Now, if you know anything about this band, the kind of music they play, and what they stand for, you’re probably not surprised. Rage Against The Machine is not subtle. Their music is very political. It always has been, going back to their formative years in the mid-1990s.
They’re anti-authoritarian, revolution-heavy act that you don’t see much outside the heyday of the hippie era in the 1960s. As a teenager, I didn’t appreciate that kind of political rhetoric in music. At the time, the only politics I cared about involved how many snow days we were allowed at school.
Now, having grown up and become painfully aware of the current state of politics, I find myself appreciating Rage Against The Machine even more. I know it’s a couple decades too late, but it’s still profound. Just listening to the songs I have, I feel like they could’ve come out today and be just as relevant.
The best example that I came across just happens to be my favorite Rage Against The Machine song of all time, “Sleep Now In The Fire.” When I hear this song, it blows my mind that it came out in 1999. It feels so long ago, but it still rings so true.
Even the music video, which I remember seeing on MTV regularly, has aged remarkably well. I would argue it aged too well. Just see for yourself.
To anyone born after the year 2000, please take a moment to appreciate what the band did here. They defied a decision made by New York City. They played on the steps of the Wall Street Stock Exchange for this video. That could not happen today. In a world after September 11, 2001, they wouldn’t get off with a fine or a warning. They’d go to prison.
Then, there are the lyrics. Just take a moment and read over these lyrics. How much more relevant are they now compared to 1999?
Yeah The world is my expense The cost of my desire Jesus blessed me with its future And I protect it with fire So raise your fists and march around Just don’t take what you need I’ll jail and bury those committed And smother the rest in greed Crawl with me into tomorrow Or I’ll drag you to your grave I’m deep inside your children They’ll betray you in my name
[Chorus] Hey, hey Sleep now in the fire Hey, hey Sleep now in the fire
[Verse 2] The lie is my expense The scope of my desire The party blessed me with its future And I protect it with fire
[Pre-Chorus] I am the Niña, the Pinta, the Santa Maria The noose and the rapist, the fields’ overseer The agents of orange, the priests of Hiroshima The cost of my desire Sleep now in the fire
[Chorus] Hey, hey Sleep now in the fire Hey, hey, hey Sleep now in the fire
[Verse 3] For it’s the end of history It’s caged and frozen still There is no other pill to take So swallow the one that makes you ill
[Pre-Chorus] The Niña, the Pinta, the Santa Maria The noose and the rapist, the fields’ overseer The agents of orange, the priests of Hiroshima The cost of my desire Sleep now in the fire Yeah
It’s downright eerie. The whole song is about how the rich, powerful, and well-connected can get away with anything. They lie, cheat, and steal with impunity. They’ll pay lip service to revolution and change, but never hesitate to throw people in a fire if they get out of line.
It feels like a perfectly dystopian indictment of the current political rhetoric. People on both sides of the political spectrum, liberal and conservative, jealously protect their power and influence. They’ll tell people what they think they want to hear, stoking hatred and fear, all while enjoying the fruits of their position.
Regardless of your politics, you can’t help but appreciate this kind of hard-hitting message. It feels like we’re always at the mercy of the rich and powerful. They play political games. We’re just brought along for the ride.
Rage Against The Machine was making music about this long before the internet, social media, and cable news made those politics so hateful. They dared to rage against a corrupt system before it became a common tool of political theater.
In addition, I’ve tried to focus on the bigger picture. That’s often necessary because debating gender politics can get frustratingly personal. I can make a perfectly reasonable argument on an issue like abortion, but that argument will get overshadowed by the fact that I’m a straight male. When it comes to something so divisive, the big picture is often the only one you can scrutinize.
I’m going to try talk about gender politics again and I’m going to get into a few specifics. I understand that’s risky. I also expect more than one person to disagree with my point, if not outright resent it. I’ll take that chance because I feel like this is a point worth making within the current political climate.
On top of gender politics, which covers a great many areas from media depictions to social issues, I’m going to explore it in the context of prostitution. It’s another issue I’ve scrutinized on both a legal and societal level. In this case, they’re intertwined in certain aspects that have major implications.
For those concerned with men’s issues, the issue rarely comes up. When I’ve asked about it on places like Reddit, most adopt the libertarian stance. It shouldn’t be illegal and it’s not the business of the government to prosecute consensual sexual behavior. There are a few who oppose it for other reasons, but there isn’t the same divide as there is in other men’s issues.
That could change very soon and, unlike other recent controversies involving gender, it could have serious legal implications. That’s because for the first time in generations, the legality of prostitution is a serious issue during a major election cycle. More than four presidential candidates have gone on record as saying they favor decriminalization of sex work. For such a taboo issue, that’s pretty remarkable.
Some have likened it to the recent successes surrounding the decriminalization of marijuana. Others contend that recent crackdowns on sex workers have added greater urgency to confront this issue. Whatever the source, prostitution is finally becoming a relevant issue and gender politics is sure to be part of it. Unfortunately, that may not be a good thing.
To understand why, it’s necessary to understand what happens when lawyers and the law enter a debate. This isn’t like the anti-harassment movement that seeks to help victims of exploitation in the entertainment industry. This deals in real-world legal issues that have decades of complicated precedent. Changing the law is going to have impacts that go far beyond any trending hashtags.
Gender politics is sure to affect these issues. It already has, to some extent. In recent years, prostitution has become intertwined with transgender rights because it’s not uncommon for transgender women resort to sex work for survival. Keeping prostitution illegal puts an already-vulnerable population at even greater risk of exploitation.
This is where the gender politics surrounding prostitution could either get slightly better or significantly worse. In a perfect exchange, the dynamics are simple. Two consenting adults agree on an exchange of money for sex. They carry out the act, exchange the money, and that’s the end of it. Both are satisfied, relatively speaking. There’s no further need for conflict.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Even in a world where prostitution laws are as equitable as possible, there are plenty of complications. Say, for instance, the two consenting adults agree to the exchange, but one fails or refuses to deliver on their part. Maybe a prostitute could suddenly change her mind about a client. Maybe a client feels the service did not warrant the payment.
How is this resolved?
What happens when someone tries to take a sex worker to court or vice versa?
How does the court or the police go about handling these issues in a way that protects the privacy and welfare of both parties? Is it even possible?
These are all relevant questions and gender politics can only complicate the answer. At the moment, most sex workers cannot go to the police or seek legal recourse when a client becomes abusive or uncooperative. If prostitution is decriminalized, then not only do they have recourse. They have leverage. To appreciate that leverage, consider the following scenario.
A married man with a steady job and several children is going through some serious issues with his wife. As a result, he seeks the intimate comfort with a female sex worker. They engage in multiple exchanges and, by the letter of the law, their actions are legal.
Then, one day, the sex worker incurs an unexpected debt she can’t pay. As a result, she finds out the married man is wealthy and asks for help. When he refuses, she threatens to go the police and claim that he was violent with her during one of their encounters. It’s not true, but filing a report will expose his activities to his family and likely ruin his life.
Very little in this scenario is outright illegal. The sex worker could get into a lot of trouble for filing a false report, but even if she cannot prove her case, the law allows her to pursue a recourse for a client who wrongs her and even if she doesn’t prevail, the client could still suffer incur significant damages.
It’s not just men who are vulnerable, either. Even if sex work is completely decriminalized and those who participate are safe from prosecution, it can still be used against them in entirely legal ways. To illustrate, consider this scenario.
A young woman gets accepted into a prestigious university, but is unable to pay all her expenses, despite having taken out multiple loans. She decides to get into sex work to make extra money, which helps her pay her way through college. She ultimately graduates with honors, gets a great job at a good company, and leaves sex work altogether.
Years later, someone she knew from college joins the company. They knew she did sex work on the side, but don’t bring it up. Then, they’re both up for a promotion and to get an edge, her associate reveals to the whole office that she did sex work. To prove it, this person provides an ad she used that they just happened to have saved.
The woman is humiliated and outraged. On top of that, she doesn’t get the promotion. She is so angry that she tries to sue the company and the person who revealed her past for damages. She also threatens to quit, but knowledge of her past is already public and even though her work was completely legal, it dissuades others from hiring her.
This issue isn’t entirely fictitious. In 2013, a California woman was fired from her teaching job after it was discovered that she’d worked in porn years ago. Even though what she did was perfectly legal, she lost her job and the appeal to get it back. With decriminalized sex work, this could become even more common.
In a world of decriminalized prostitution, those who seek the services of prostitutes are suddenly vulnerable in entirely new ways. A sex worker who need not fear arrest for their activities has a greater ability to expose their activities and use it against them. It doesn’t matter if it’s out of desperation or spite. The leverage is there.
The same applies to those who participate in sex work. Like it or not, there is still a heavy stigma for anyone who works in the sex industry. Even if prostitution is decriminalized, the stigma may still linger. If clients no longer fear arrest, then what’s to stop them from using that stigma against sex workers?
Whether you’re a man, woman, or transgender, these are major complications that have significant implications for everyone. They could ultimately widen the many divides within gender politics. Sex workers and clients alike could face significant, unwanted scrutiny that could trigger a whole host of new debates that nobody is ready for.
These issues aside, I’m still of the opinion that decriminalizing prostitution is preferable to prohibition. History shows time and again that prohibition does more harm than good. We cannot completely remove the harm, but at the very least, we can mitigate it.