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by Phemelo Motseokae
Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication
Capitalism works by turning everything in the world into commodities. In the sex industry – strip clubs, pornography, prostitution – commodification is extended to women’s bodies and, as such, their very beings. Commodification is also reflected in the tendency for sexual relations generally to take a transactional form, with men buying the power over women whether as wives, asides or one-night-stands. Indirectly, the images and text that dominate the media feed into this by objectifying women’s bodies and sexuality.
Many feminists today pose the question of the sex industry mostly on an individual level, focusing on the right not to be stigmatised, but to be accepted and affirmed. It is a true yet one-sided view. WASP argues that “selling sex” should not be criminal, but at the same time we say prostitution and the sex industry should be fought and abolished. Unlike in wage labour where workers create commodities using tools or their intellectual labour, prostitution turns womens’ bodies into commodities themselves. Almost universally, women in these circumstances report that their minds and feelings shut down to various degrees, which has a severe impact on their mental health. Mental health problems such as post traumatic stress and substance abuse rates are high among women who turn to prostitution in a desperate bid to survive. Vulnerable members of the LGBTQI communities are often forced into prostitution after being rejected by families and their communities. While some women report that prostitution is their choice, the vast majority of women who turn to this work are trafficked or coerced by circumstance and face brutal conditions, violent victimisation and psychological harm. Far from “empowering”, prostitution and the sex industry more broadly represent the ultimate forms of commodification and dehumanisation, and also play a role in reinforcing sexism throughout society.
We need to fight for a system where all can do fulfilling work and be full human beings. The 2008 economic recession undermined the liberal feminist notion of women’s liberation through gradual improvements within the capitalist system. Today, it is undeniable that capitalism has failed to liberate women – in fact re-creates and profits from women’s oppression. Capitalism denies healthcare, childcare and shelters for women esccaping abuse. Unpaid work, through the family unit, means a women’s time is largely spent on socially necessary tasks of caring for the old and sick, and raising children. We can socialize housework and stop burying women’s talents under tons of dishes and raising children. Women are also largely confined to precarious, low-paid jobs, creating super-profits for the bosses. It is capitalism that gains from this sexism and exploitation.
With this class perspective, we link solutions to broader economic and structural change that can free women from the narrow confines of capitalism and its ideologues.