Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A free choice to make the 'right' decision?

Remember Sophie Bridger, the young Liberal Democrat candidate in the Inverclyde by-election who made the soon-to-be-MP for the constituency look about two feet tall in one of the TV debates? Well, I just happened to stumble across a blogpost of hers from a few weeks ago, on the subject of the Icelandic bans on strip clubs and the purchase of sex -

“'I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.' It’s hard not to be won over by such emotive words from Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an Icelandic campaigning organisation against sex work. I would love to live in a country without strip clubs, lapdancing or prostitution...

Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that legislation of this nature is illiberal. Whose rights are being infringed by a cheap lapdance? Not the buyer – he’s paying for a service. If the lapdancer is providing that service willingly, and not being coerced into her work, then she’s not having her rights infringed either. There are sex workers who do it because they enjoy it – not because they are being coerced, or to pay for a drug habit. So why should we prevent them from doing their work?

It’s not that simple, of course. People are being forced into prostitution, through trafficking and addiction and that is not acceptable. But criminalising prostitution will just push it underground, putting already vulnerable sex workers in danger...

...Liberalism means letting people make their own decisions. All we can do is ensure that those who engage in sex work do it because they want to, not because they have to. I hope that one day, I will live in a society without prostitution – not because it is illegal, but because women have decided that they are not for sale."

I think the last point is naive and unrealistic - giving people a free choice, but ultimately expecting every last one of them to exercise that free choice in conformity with the values of just one section of society, is a contradiction in terms. Human beings are made differently from each other - and the fact that many people find prostitution incomprehensible or morally objectionable is neither here nor there to the minority of women and men who take the opposite view and make a free choice to become sex workers. By the same token, there are many other much more 'legitimate' jobs that, if we're honest, a lot of us would never dream of doing and wouldn't want members of our families to do - but the idea of wanting those jobs to literally cease to exist on the basis of those subjective feelings is silly.

However, I agree with the main thrust of Sophie's argument. The current Icelandic government is the first majority left-wing administration the country has seen in its history - and it's a great shame that such a welcome development has almost inevitably been accompanied by the customary pigheadedness of the Nordic left in relation to sex work, refusing to see the industry in its true complex form, and instead reducing everything in infantile fashion to 'male exploitation of women'.

UPDATE (12:50pm) : A final little flurry in the Total Politics Awards - this blog has been voted the 95th best political blog in the UK (having failed to make the top 300 last year), and I've been voted the 143rd best political blogger. Thanks again for all your support.


  1. Congratulations on both these accolades, James. International success!!! I'm very happy for you.

    I think that some years ago, Edinburgh allowed brothels to operate in the city. They were regulated and inspected and the workers were checked for STDs on a regular basis. There was also security and so the workers were safe from attack of both viruses and clients.

    What a sensible idea.

    Of course, I'm sure that there were women who operated outside the regulated system, but one would have to ask why!

    Not for nothing is prostitution is called the oldest profession in the world. There is a constant demand for sex, usually from men. And women, long ago, learned how to exploit that demand for their own advantage.

    Good looking (and normally young) people expolit their good looks and sexual attraction in many different jobs... whether it is the obvious modelling, or acting, being a star, or simply by looking their best at interviews for public facing jobs of the more mundane variety.

    Once we get into legislating prostitution out of existence, we enter a bears' den.

    The most important thing to remember is that if you believe in women's rights, you surely believe in the rights of women to decide what to do with their bodies.

    As you say, James, women are not the only ones who are involved in the sex industry. Many successful women want to hire an escort, and that may involve more than the actual "escorting"; and in most cities, including, I imagine Reykjavik, there are rent boys providing sex for gay men.

    I wonder if the legislation works for men's rights too...

  2. I think under the Nordic model, men have the right to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, and that's about it!

    Thanks for your kind words. I don't know if you've noticed, but Munguin's Republic is on the overall UK list as well -

  3. And they say it's a man's world, huh?

    I hadn't noticed that James. It seems I never know about these things till you tell me!!! Thanks.