Tag Archives: third wave feminism

Abortion, Prostitution, And The Indirect (But Powerful) Link Between Them

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When it comes to conflict between genders, there are many factors driving it. Chief among them is the unavoidable ignorance that comes with men not knowing what it’s like to be a woman and women not knowing what it’s like to be a man. Add those who identify as transgender into the mix and there’s a massive disparity in understanding.

While I consider that limited understanding to be the primary driving force behind gender-driven conflicts, there’s another force that is a close second. It has less to do with how people relate to one another and more to do with who determines the accessibility and availability of sex.

As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, this issue is more relevant to me than others. However, after a few notable news stories, one involving prostitution and another involving abortion, the issue is now relevant to everyone and that’s why I feel it’s worth talking about.

The concept of sex being this tangible commodity that certain people control is already bound to cause plenty of consternation among people from every part of the political spectrum, but for logistical purposes, this is how we treat sex in a modern context. It’s no longer something we do for survival or for the passing on of property.

Like food, sex has developed a more diverse role in the modern world. We treat it as a tangible asset that we must manage. Like any asset, though, there are logistics to it and those who do the managing wield a great deal of power. Why else would pimps be so glorified in popular culture?

Who actually wields that power, though, depends on the political affiliation of who you talk to. If you ask someone who is liberal, feminist, or left-leaning, they will claim that the power is held primarily by rich old men who try to manage sex by punishing those who do it in ways they don’t like.

Ask someone who is conservative, traditional, and right-leaning, and they’ll probably say the power is held by radical feminists and their submissive male allies who wield the power of sexual management. They’re just as convinced as those opposing them that they’re right. It’s difficult to convince them otherwise and I’m not going to try. That’s not the purpose of this article.

My goal here is to point out a connection from which the conflict has evolved. Given recent events in the political world, that evolution is likely to continue and not in a direction that benefits either side in the long run. To understand that connection, I need to dig a little deeper into the unspoken, but powerful link between abortion and prostitution.

I know that just talking about one of these issues is abound to send peoples’ passions into overdrive. I’ve discussed abortion before. I’ve discussed prostitution as well. I haven’t really touched on the link between them because they’re tied up in different political domains, but have enough similarities affect one another.

Prostitution is commonly known as the world’s oldest profession and for good reason. It only ever makes the news when there’s a scandal or a legal upheaval. For once, there has been an uptick in the latter rather than the former. It began with new laws that made it more difficult for prostitutes to operate online. In some respects, these efforts are the byproduct of a trend that has been going on since the early 2000s.

Most industrialized countries in the world accept, to some degree, that it’s impossible to stamp out prostitution completely. As a result, there have been more elaborate efforts to reduce it that don’t rely entirely on blanket prohibition. Currently, the most popular approach is known as the Swedish model.

In this setup, it’s legal for someone to sell sex, but it remains illegal to buy it. It’s akin to making it legal to set up a lemonade stand, but illegal to buy lemonade. While that sounds absurd on paper, the intent of the law is somewhat clever. It’s a means to criminalize the buyer of sex to give the seller more leverage. Since the seller is often assumed to be an exploited woman, it’s viewed as an equalizer of sorts.

Granted, the assumption that those selling sex are always exploited women is flawed, as an estimated 20 percent of prostitutes are men. There are people in the world who enter the business willingly, just as there are people who willingly work in coal mines.

There’s also plenty of data that indicates that the Swedish model doesn’t have the desired effect. There’s also no evidence that it has reduced human trafficking, either. That hasn’t stopped it from spreading to other countries. In the process, it has had another effect that goes beyond the issue of prostitution.

Essentially, this approach to combating prostitution places more power in the hands of women with respect to managing sexuality. Since they make up the majority of the prostitutes in the world and men are the primary clients, this dynamic ensures they have more leverage. They can, under this model, decide whether or not their client becomes a criminal. That’s a lot of leverage and not the kinky kind.

This is where the link to abortion comes into play. It’s an indirect link, but it utilizes the same dynamics. In countries where abortion is legal, the women wield a significant amount of power in terms of sexual decision-making. In the context of abortion, they can decide how the consequences of sex play out.

Women can, in this dynamic, decide whether or not to have a child if she becomes pregnant. Whether or not the father wants to child is irrelevant. The woman can abort the child against the father’s wishes. She can even have the child against his wishes, in which case he would be on the hook for child support for 18 years.

Again, that’s a lot of power for one gender to wield. That’s not to say it isn’t understandable. Women are the ones who bear children. They’re the one whose bodies undergo the 9-month rigor that is pregnancy. It’s totally logical that women would have more leverage in this situation because they’re putting themselves at greater risk.

However, and I know this is where I’ll upset a few people, there comes a point where that leverage can become excessive. There are cases where men lose their money and their freedom because of what a woman chooses. There’s no way for them to opt out of their parental responsibilities. That hasn’t stopped some from attempting to create a legal mechanism for that choice, but to date those efforts have not been successful.

Within this context, it shouldn’t be that surprising that abortion rights are steadily eroding. In the United States, it’s looking more likely with recent upheavals in the Supreme Court that this erosion will accelerate. Some are already claiming that we’re on our way to becoming the kind of oppressive society depicted in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

While most of those concerns are overly apocalyptic, I think part of that effort is tied directly to who wields the power in the sexual landscape. Women are poised to gain more of that power as prostitution laws in the mold of the Swedish model spread. They’ve also gained even more leverage socially through the anti-harassment movement.

From the perspective of men, who cannot turn off their sex drives, women already wield so much authority in matters of sex. They’re the ones more likely to get paid to do it. They get to decide when and where it happens. They get to decide whether or not a sex act was consensual. They don’t even face the same stigma or consequences when sex crimes does occur and are granted greater protections by the law.

That perspective is not going to sway most women, though. The same women arguing for abortion rights are just as likely to argue for the Swedish model in combating prostitution. It’s a common thread among certain brands sex-negative feminism that see prostitution as an inherently oppressive force for women in every circumstance.

This is where the paths converge and where the fuel for the conflict gets a boost. Whether intentionally or by accident, both prostitution and abortion eventually link back to who wields authority in sexual matters. Both sides can claim some form of oppression. Both sides can even be right to a limited extent. By fighting to secure the most leverage though, they inevitably invite more backlash.

I don’t claim to know what the endgame is. I have a feeling that once sex robots enter the picture, and they have to some extent, there will be a major upheaval in the whole sexual landscape that neither side will be able to confront. Until then, though, the conflict over sexual leverage will continue. In the end, though, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever be truly satisfied.

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What It Means To “Man Up” And Why It’s Changing (For The Worse)

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It wasn’t that long ago that parents and peers emphasized the importance of “manning up” to young boys. There would come a point in a kid’s life where he was encouraged to do more than just grow up. He was expected to push himself in a unique way, fighting and sacrificing for those who couldn’t. Sometimes, those expectations were unreasonable and a little unhealthy, but it was part of the overall gender dynamic.

That dynamic has been changing a great deal over the past several decades. I’m young enough to have grown up during many of those changes, but old enough to remember the old traditions associated with “manning up.” The sheer breadth of that change has been remarkable, but not entirely in a good way.

For the most part, I was never pushed too hard to man up by others. My friends and family encouraged me to push myself, but never to the point where I felt pressure or anxiety. I often ended up pushing myself, whether it involved going to college or moving out of my parents’ house.

That’s not say I didn’t feel any pressure to “man up” at any point in my life. Beyond my friends and family, I was as vulnerable to expectations surrounding masculinity as anyone. Most of the time, those expectations involved little things like stepping up to fix a problem, helping out those who were physically limited, and enduring pain or discomfort in the name of a particular goal.

Overall, I feel as though these expectations were either healthy or benign. Some of those standards could’ve been gender neural. When you see someone in a wheelchair at the grocery store struggling to get something from a shelf, it’s neither masculine nor feminine to help them. That’s just common courtesy.

In recent years, however, the whole notion of “manning up” has gained new a new complications. Some of them are ideological. Some of them are politically motivated. It’s because of these various nuances that I put the term in quotes because its meaning keeps shifting, gaining and losing connotations year by year. At some point, the term itself may become empty.

In contemplating that meaning, I thought briefly about the connotations that term had back when I was a kid. I doubt my interpretation was definitive, but I like to think it captured the spirit of the term. When someone told me to “man up,” this is what I took it to mean.

  • Grow up and mature
  • Take responsibility and solve your own problems
  • Stop whining and start doing something about it
  • Quit being satisfied with mediocrity and push yourself
  • Be stronger and tougher in difficult situations
  • Work hard and endure for the good of others who can’t

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of these same traits associated with superheroes, as espoused by the comic books I read and the cartoons I watched. They might have colored my perspective on masculinity and “manning up,” but I suspect these ideals were still consistent with healthy masculinity. The fact that characters like Wonder Woman and Storm of the X-men had some of these traits was just a bonus.

Now, as I contemplate the meaning of “manning up” in its current context, those don’t seem to have the same prominence they once did. There are also a new host of expectations surrounding the term that are fueled, in part, by identity politics. Some even conflict with others, which adds even more complications.

To get a feel for those complications, I posed a question on Reddit on what “manning up” meant to them. The response somewhat surprised me. Most wouldn’t have found their way into the comic books or cartoons I consumed as a kid, to say the least. They involved ideas such as this.

  • Checking your privileged and making way for those your kind has oppressed
  • Acknowledging the crimes and guilt of your gender, as a whole
  • Sacrificing any advantage or benefits that being a man might have once conferred
  • Subjecting yourself to greater degradation in the name of greater equality
  • Learning about all the ways men have ruined society and the world
  • Accepting that the things men love are unhealthy, damaging, and detrimental

None of these are very positive traits for those being told to “man up.” It’s basically a less overt way to tell them that them being a man is “problematic,” a term that has also gained one too many complications. It’s a term reserved for those who appear to be benefiting too much from being a man who isn’t subject to the rigors of childbirth, rampant sexism, and a long history of exploitation.

Never mind the fact that no one alive to day is directly responsible for the injustices their ancestors committed. They’re also not responsible for the injustices their particular race, gender, or ethnicity committed. It happened in the past. Yes, parts of that past were horrible, but punishing people in the present doesn’t make it less horrific. If anything, it just tries to fight one injustice with another.

This is where the concept of “manning up” really loses whatever positive connotations it once held. It’s a sentiment that many responders to my Reddit question shared. When they contemplate that term, they interpret as someone telling them that they need to endure, suffer, or overlook a particular aspect of their identity.

A few posters went so far as to say the term can be replaced with “serve my interests” and carry the same meaning. While I don’t entirely agree with that notion, I can understand why it would feel that way. Being a man, I sometimes feel like I’m expected to get to the front of the line when the time comes to sacrifice. I won’t go so far as to say I find it oppressive, but it certainly feels like I’m held to a different standard.

Sometimes, that standard can be unreasonable. That was another common theme of the responses I got. The notion of “manning up” denotes operating in a way to avoid a particular stigma that others wouldn’t incur for the same behavior. It’s not always ideological, but the pressure is there.

A man who is too emotional is considered a sissy and has to “man up.” A woman or even a gay man who does this won’t face that stigma.

A man who is reluctant to sacrifice for the well-being of another group is considered selfish and should “man up.” A woman or another minority who show a similar reluctance can do the same, but won’t face the same stigma.

A man who shows his pain when he’s harassed is told to suck it up and “man up.” A woman or minority who is harassed can expect plenty of supporters who will cheer them on. Even if men are subject to more overall harassment, they don’t get any sympathy. They’re told to “man up” while everyone else is allowed to seek social support without much scrutiny.

This, I feel, is the ultimate tragedy of the concept. A term that once use to reflect certain ideals for men has now become an instrument of ridicule. It’s no longer a lesson for boys to learn. It’s a rhetorical shortcut that allows someone to hold an entire group of people to a different standard, one that requires them to go out of their way for someone else.

I don’t doubt that there are instances where it’s good for society that some people go out of their way to help others. For those who are disabled, elderly, or ill, it’s just more just and compassionate to set a different standard for ourselves. We don’t ask someone who is missing a limb or suffering from ALS to “man up.” We go out of our way to help them.

It’s the extent of those instances, however, that seems to be damaging the notion. It’s no longer sufficient to just have a particular ailment or shortcoming. Just being someone who isn’t a man who can claim some sort of injustice, be it historical or contemporary, is sufficient.

I believe that’s a dangerous precedent for men and women, for that matter. It sends the message that in order for there to be more justice and equality, an entire group of people need to sacrifice to an extent where they have to be the villains. They have to come to the table, surrender unconditionally, and admit they were wrong and they were the cause of the problem.

That may not be sentiment of those telling someone to “man up,” but that’s how it’s being interpreted. It’s less a masculine ideal and more a shaming tactic, one that is more likely to incur a backlash rather than get someone to reconsider their understanding of gender roles.

I still feel like there’s a way to recapture the positive elements of “manning up.” Gender dynamics is one of those concepts that’s always evolving. Sometimes, there’s progress. Sometimes, there are setbacks. At the moment, I think masculinity and femininity are going through some growing pains as they adapt to a changing world. That process is likely to involve plenty of conflicts and controversies along the way.

In the long run, though, I think society will find a healthy balance with respect to “manning up.” I think there’s a way to use that notion to bring out the best in men and women alike. It’ll likely take plenty of work, toil, and sacrifice from everyone involved in gender-driven controversies, but it’s definitely worth doing.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, media issues, political correctness, sex in society, sexuality