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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.
For more info on this topic check out WASP’s 2014 Manifesto.
For further international perspective on the socialist feminist struggle, take a look at our website for the ROSA Movement.
by Phemelo Motseokae
Part of Karl’s Korner, featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication
Warning: Spoilers Below
Hustlers (2019), a film based on a true story, gives audiences a view of the multi-billion dollar strip club industry. Similar to other enterprises under capitalism in the USA, strip clubs treat dancers as independent contractors. Strippers keep a relatively small portion of the money ‘rained’ on them during the show while club owners take a big cut. Despite ongoing and sometimes organised resistance from these workers, this status also denies them access to pension and medical benefits or even protections for injury at the workplace.
In the film, Destiny (Constance Wu), a young single parent joins a strip club, in a desperate attempt to take care of her daughter and grandmother. Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), also a single mother teaches Destiny dance skills
and takes her under her wing. In the dried-up aftermath of the 2008 recession, Destiny tries to return to stripping after a break and finds that Russian immigrants have been hired for much less pay. In her desperation, some man tricks Destiny to get slightly closer and stroke him for $300, only to leave her humiliated with $20.
Ramona comes up with a plan to earn more money and have more say over their lives. A group of these dancers use their sex appeal to drug and scam their sleazy Wall Street clients.
In the film, Ramona and Destiny remind each other of their power, financial wellness and dignity. Ramona says to Destiny, “Motherhood is an illness”. Ramona’s maternal attitude towards women gives her pleasure in robbing these men, turning her oppression into liberating revenge. When they’re finally busted, Destiny betrays Ramona in order to remain with her daughter; Ramona says again “Motherhood is an illness”. We may very well say “capitalism is an illness”. Poverty often traps us in ”moral” dilemmas. Even the idea that opening a business as a way out of poverty leads us to a contradictory binary that capitalism forces us into: sell your labour cheaply and suffer, or exploit others and succeed. In Hustlers strippers are disassociating a piece of themselves for survival, and in trying to embrace their experience and profit from it, they end up harming others.
With the pending global recession, strip clubs, prostitution and transactional sex in other forms can only be expected to rise among poor women. WASP has consistently explained that to win real freedom for all oppressed layers of society, we must link these struggles up with the mass dissatisfaction among the working class. We must struggle in solidarity for a socialist society that will bring a new social order to end this oppression once and for all.