This post is based on some notes I contributed to a social media discussion about whether class is relevant to a feminist analysis of the sex trade. Someone suggested I make them more widely available, so I’m posting them here. They are a bit rough – but hopefully they might be of some interest.
Traditionally women’s class was determined by her father’s class, unless she was married and then it was determined by her husband’s. Of course it has changed somewhat now but not entirely. There are still those household surveys that more or less assume that if there’s a man in the household, his position determines the entire household’s economic and social class. This has been institutionalised by Universal Credit, which is paid to the highest wage earner – almost always the man in a straight household with children. This represents a profound defeat for women.
Another thing that is often overlooked is the enormous, huge, mountainous, decades-long workstream performed by the vast majority of women that is unrecognised and unpaid: bearing and raising kids.
As a consequence of this and because bearing and raising kids is not recognised as work and is unpaid, and women are paid less than men (when they are paid), and mothers more so, the majority of mothers must depend on men or the state for financial assistance, or on low status, low paid women, or unpaid family members, to do much of the hard work of child raising and household maintenance.
That women are financially dependent on their husbands and partners skews the power dynamic within the relationship in the man’s favour before they’ve even started. That financial assistance comes at a very high cost for women and children, as Karen Ingala Smith and others have clearly documented.
Financial desperation and exclusion is a significant factor in women and girls ending up in the sex industry. The Sex Industry Kills website, run by some magnificent German women, documents the cost in terms of loss of life when that financial assistance comes from men through prostitution.
Financial assistance provided to mothers by the state now also comes at a huge cost in terms of Kafkaesque hoops to be jumped through, abuse and extreme levels of anxiety to be borne, etc. The stress and repercussions of this inevitably has a cumulative adverse effect on the children in the family, thus perpetuating the disadvantage down through successive generations.
During the establishment of capitalism and the industrial revolution, there was a profound negative shift in women’s status, independence and ability to provide for herself and her children. This was one of the ways that capital was accrued – by defining women’s labour as non-labour so that its economic value could be seamlessly extracted by the new capitalists, in the process known as primitive accumulation. The witch burnings were one way that women were broken and terrorised into conformity with this new oppressive social contract.
Now in this terrifying phase of hyper-capitalist expansion and consolidation, we are witnessing a parallel process in which women are being systematically marginalised from such financial independence they have gained, and new and ever more brutal ways are being invented to extract wealth from our commodification: The industrialisation of the sex industry, obviously, but also of surrogacy, egg farming, breastmilk farming, and the labour of motherhood itself.
The concept of “equal parenting” moves the role and nature of motherhood towards equivalence with an ejaculation. It is now not uncommon for two males to be defined as the natural parents of a child, with the care provided by low-paid female servants. Thus the role and work of motherhood is more easily commodified.
I see the transcult as laying groundwork for all of this – pushing women out of the public arena and replacing them with males who purport to speak as women while furthering the interests of men and the neoliberal capitalist patriarchy. Thus the acceleration of the commodification and dehumanisation of women matches the acceleration of the destruction of the environment and biosphere on which we all depend. This is no accident.
To anyone who thinks that economic and social class are not relevant to feminism and an understanding of the sex industry and what is unfolding on an international scale, I would recommend you pay attention a little more closely.