Home » Uncategorized » “when radical feminists talk about lack of choice in the sex industry they are saying that sex workers are all victims who don’t have agency”

“when radical feminists talk about lack of choice in the sex industry they are saying that sex workers are all victims who don’t have agency”

in arguments between radfems and sex workers, sooner or later this line comes up:

“when radical feminists talk about lack of choice in the sex industry they are saying that sex workers are all victims who don’t have agency”

but agency is defined as “the ability to act in the world.” is there some magical realm where victims do not have agency? if that’s the case, then no victims of anything have “agency.”

this (false) accusation speaks to me of a hatred of victims. because not only are sex workers not immune to victimization, but they probably face even more lack of choice (considering it’s sex, that last barrier to complete domination). feminists do not victimize or criminalize sex workers; all they do is point out the existing victimization.

radical feminists also have a problem with the liberal take on “agency” and all the choice politics surrounding it because it turns into victim-blaming by none other than the men supporting the industry: rape victims choose to be raped, sex workers who don’t like what they’re doing can just leave and choose another job, and so on. it also ignores trafficking, considered to be such a very small occurrence or even non-existent that it could never overlap with sex work or make its way into legalized aspects of the sex industry.

but sex industry advocates don’t want anyone to know this, because it’s bad for public relations. all women in the sex industry have choice, or so the story goes. they even go so far as to steal feminist arguments such as “choice is relative” or “choice is a spectrum, not a binary” and pretend they’re their own. then the rare privileged ones can identify as and pretend to speak for those they’re not (the most marginalized women in the sex industry) and play both sides. it’s so insidious how they hate actual victims of any kind.

“To expose the victimization of women by men is to be blamed for creating it and for making women into passive victims. The liberals fail to recognize that women’s victimization can be acknowledged without labeling women passive. Passive and victim do not necessarily go together. It is the liberals who equate victimization with passivity. It is they who devise this equation…. It seems obvious that one can recognize women as victims of surrogacy, pornography, and prostitution without stripping them of agency and without depriving them of some ability to act under oppressive conditions.”

— Janice G. Raymond. “Sexual and Reproductive Liberalism.” The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism. Ed. Dorchen Leidholdt and Janice G. Raymond. Teachers College Press, 1990. 103-111.

14 thoughts on ““when radical feminists talk about lack of choice in the sex industry they are saying that sex workers are all victims who don’t have agency”

      • Yeah, I can see that, in liberal terms. That’s what I’m attacking. The other, related definition has to do with choice and free will and that’s been debunked (as you’ve eloquently done). Either everyone has agency or nobody does. I believe it was Dworkin who said something about how victims have the ability to act in spite of their oppression, not in collusion with it. Because according to liberals, victims = passive and hence not subjects of their experiences. But they’re not; neither are women passive. That line’s been used to enforce gender and dehumanize women.

  1. Well, I think that ties into the whole “victim/survivor/thriver” rhetoric, victim is passive and survivor is active, sort of thing.

    I was going to write an entry about it until I realized that I really have no clue what being a victim/survivor feels like, so I’m not really qualified to talk about it. It seems to me that the whole victim/survivor thing is silly, but I could be totally off the mark about that.

  2. IMO, a victim is someone who has gone through trauma and is either acutely suffering or dead, and a survivor is alive and/or has processed some of the trauma so they don’t feel so utterly powerless; so victim tends to be the preferred term (at least, the more accurate one). Which reminds me: another accusation hurled at radfems is that they only care about dead sex workers and not living ones. Thriver seems like psychobabble I saw listed on a therapy site once. But I’m ranting: I think people who have gone through trauma can use victim or survivor as they see fit. It’s the reason why I very rarely talk about my experiences, because my arguments need to have merit without them. I mean, experiences matter, but to other people they will always be anecdotal. Besides, strangers will inevitably use them against me or pull the “no true Scotsman” (not a good enough victim) fallacy; against any woman, really!

  3. That’s perfectly fine; I’m just concerned that from an external perspective using the term “survivor” instead of “victim” takes our attention away from the people responsible for the harm. “Victim” points to the harm and the perpetrators, “survivor” is more about the person’s subsequent process.

  4. If you change your mind about writing an entry on it, I’d support it. I think you have a pretty good understanding (as with many topics) even if you are not “qualified” to talk about it. Maybe, to add more content, ask around with a few women.

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