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« Sarah Bakewell on Michel de Montaigne | Main | Noël Carroll on Humour »

March 26, 2011


Faith Interface

I knew that, like most other feminist scholars, Ms MacKinnon's motivating emotional misandrist prejudice would show itself during this interview. Of course, eventually it did.

First of all, by what objective moral standard is Ms MacKinnon referring to when she discusses the moral wrongness of "gender crimes"?

To prove my accusation of misandry incorrect, feminist scholars like Ms MacKinnon should abandon the restricted concept of "male on female gender crime" and recognise what most reasonable human beings of either gender already know.

That is that sex crimes almost always involve a person (gender irrelevant) in a position of power and trust perpetrating sexually criminal behaviour on another person (again gender irrelevant) who is in a position of social or situational disempowerment. This element of the crime is what is ultimately most reprehensible and deserved of punishment.

By definition, by expanding the definition of sex crime to this more over-arching concept of power inequality (rather than simply genger inequality) it would encompass male-on-female sex crimes, but also better recognize the equally as criminal and morally reprehensible crimes of male-on-male, female-on-female and female-on-male (as seen in recent teacher-student crimes).

Gender is only one aspect of human beings. In sex crimes, gender is less relevant than social and situational power differentials.

Roger Morris

NH Baritone

The plural of anecdotes is not data, and thus is not a valid bit of information when describing gender issues worldwide.

Ms. MacKinnon's views on prostitution sound more like a religious screed than a researched and rationed argument. For example, she ostensibly diagnosed someone she has never met with dissociative personality disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). No possible example that runs counter to her conclusion can exist. Really? Any rational assessment of the situation would not allow this kind of hubris.

The same is true when she assumes that all male prostitutes take on the bottom (passive) role. A quick perusal of Craig's list would disprove that canard. And I've known some rent boys, and she shows very little understanding of male prostitution.

I understand the wish to improve the lives of women and reduce the prevalence of rape. But I don't believe that spouting misinformation, particularly misleading statements that can so easily be refuted, wins her cause any support. She turns her false arguments into the issue, and allows those who are so inclined to ignore the victimhood she reportedly wants to reduce.

Matthew of Canberra

I'm a bit surprised not to see more comments. I would have thought that episode would be a bit more controversial :-)

I have no interest in prostitution. I've never partaken, and I can't imagine ever doing so - not on ethical grounds, but because it just seems ridiculous to me. I think a couple of thousands years of history shows that you can either legalize and regulate it, or let it become corrupted and dangerous. But you can't get rid of it.

In some states here in Australia we have legalized and regulated prostitution. In those states there are inspections, rules, regulations, intrusive background checks for proprietors, health checks, immigration inspections (and the odd raid). It does seem to me that a woman could indeed freely decide that the attractions of the fairly sizable fees (a few hundred dollars an hour, I believe) are worth the physical imposition. And provided she has the freedom to leave, I just can't see how that's a form of assault or gender crime.

I'm obviously not in the prostitutes' shoes, but I just can't agree with Catherine's argument that exploitation is a necessary part of prostitution. Yes, it is undoubtedly a very BIG part of it in most parts of the world. But that doesn't mean it's necessary.

And part of her argument rubbed me the wrong way: She argued that, while it might be _possible_ that she could be wrong, _reality_ dictates that she isn't. That sort of argument can be applied to anything - she's basically saying "I'm right and there's nothing you can do about it".

If you pop over to pajamas media, there are a couple of posters there who use the same argument to claim that all criticism of Israel is anti-semitism: Obviously, in theory, it's _possible_ to criticize Israel from a non-racist position, but in _reality_ nobody ever actually does that ... based on their vast experience, of course. It's a bogus argument, but it's impossible to defeat logically.


@Matthew thats not true. You can get rid of it if you follow the Swedish example. Im a bit surprised about your information about Australia, as far as I know you have 4/5 illegal and only 1/5 legal prostitution and you have murder, trafficking, childprostitution, violence, and women who are forced to sell unprotected sex accord. to Dr. Schloenhardt University of Queensland.

The same picture as in the Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand.
In New Zealand the Chinese organised gangs has taken control over the brothels and Soobs.

In contrast to Sweden where the police have full control over prostitution industry. Otherwise to what the prostitution lobby claims the prostitution has not gone underground in Sweden.

Matthew of Canberra


I'll be curious to see some references for that. Making the purchase illegal is an interesting approach - ethically, it makes sense (if you think prostitution is bad). From a "game" perspective it also makes good sense to shift the risk from a very small number of low-power suppliers to a very large number of high-power consumers.

But it also makes it far less likely that customers will ever report having been customers. I can't think of a better way to make it appear that prostitution has disappeared. I'm curious to know how anyone ever gets caught, actually.

A quick google suggests that nobody actually believes prostitution OR sex-trafficking have been eliminated in sweden. Reduced, yes. But not eliminated. And it's worth considering sweden's economic conditions - for example their low GINI index. There aren't any poor people in sweden. There aren't even many relatively poor people in sweden. And there are plenty of other places nearby that sex can be purchased very safely.

Here's the kicker, though - every one of the prostitutes operating in sweden is off the radar. Nobody knows who they are, or what their health status is, or where they're from.

I'm curious to read some more of Dr. Schloenhardt's stuff. And I'm giggling a bit at the suggestion that we have "4/5 illegal and only 1/5 legal prostitution". I'm not sure that's even possible, given the various state laws. In most states, actually being a prostitute just plain isn't illegal. The sticking point might be on whether they register with the police - which, given the history of the NSW and QLD police, I sure as heck wouldn't want to either.

My post was about the states where it's legal, but regulated.

And I completely agree that one of the problems we have here is that women who are trafficked don't get any particular state protection in return for testifying. I don't understand that. Our last government, in particular, was ideologically very opposed to any sort of illegal arrivals (unless they were english-speaking european visa-overstayers), so refused to consider giving witnesses any kind of permanent or long-term residency - the moment the case was concluded, the girls knew they'd be deported. So convicting sex-traffickers wasn't awfully successful. That was sheer idiocy, I agree. I don't know if that's changed.


I found the interview thought provoking, and Ms. MacKinnon's arguments struck me as strong. I found her insights on the way men view prostitution as important, and true. Great work Philosophy Bites.


These interviewers must have the patience of Zen monks! Claiming her opponents have split personalities? Forcing children to be soldiers is a gender crime? It seems that every crime has some gender aspect just waiting to be unearthed. Apparently, people who oppose her are disconnected from reality, but she didn't forget to wrap up with a "I don't prescribe how other people should live or work" after lambasting people acting well within the law.

If you didn't look up her qualifications, you might be confused into thinking that she had some kind of expertise in demographics. It seems whenever the interviewer challenges a statement, they've always forgotten some "fact". I have to give kudos to the interviewers, I don't think I could stand doing that interview myself.

Dan of Deutschland

I'm a bit late on this but I've only just heard this episode. Through much of her gender crime model the reliance on dealing with reality rather than academic theory is emphasised. I took this mean to mean dealing with the world as it actually is rather than how we want it or imagine it to be. However I'm not sure she follows her dictum through. From being sceptical, I was won over to the argument that gender crime is a valid category of human behaviour, but as a model to understand it rather than create rules.

It seemed to me that from proving the model in straightforward cases, such as mass rape and even proving the genderless allegory of the child soldier, she then goes on to stretch the model too far. There are many examples, but perhaps the most clear is her refusal to acknowledge that any woman could freely choose to enter into prostitution. Here she diverges from the real world, there are undoubtably women who enter freely into prostitution under no physical or economic duress (witness the tribulations of the footballers in the tabloids), but she denies in a kind of witch trial argument. If you are witch you will live through the trial so we will kill you anyway; if not then God will judge you in death. If you enter freely into prostitution there must be unseen economic or pyschological duress, if you are forced, we just see the duress! In this way it seems that almost no woman can make any choice free of gender association.

It is a shame, because it makes it all too easy for those with a vested interest to dismiss her entire thesis and further undermine gender equality.

@Anne & Paul.

There are many motives for prostitutes not to register with the authorities in those countries where it is legal. From living next to a brothel as a student in NZ, I could say that chief among them is avoiding tax, just like in any cash based profession. The second would be privacy, many of the women live normal everyday lives outside of 'work' and don't want their alter-egos widely known.

Lastly, creating any market for prostitution legal or illegal will lead to traficking to supply the market. That cannot be the end of such a policy, immigration control and spot inspection of working conditions must also follow. Just like those industries where migrant labour is used at below minimum wage to harvest crops, pick shellfish, etc.

Modern Man

Roger Morris's comment is bizarre and extremist. It is ludicrous (and pathetic ) to attempt to label those in favour of gender equality (which also include men, now, Roger, duh)as misandrist. Are you serously going to try to pretend that men have not enjoyed centuries, if not epochs of special privilege over women, and that men are not responsible for most of the world's brutality?

Intellectually, Mackinnon surpasses Morris,on every level, and by a long way. Her achievements far, far outstrip his. Maybe that's what he cannot bear.

Shakira Washington

Until you have met and spoken to a woman or child - at the most honest level - can you truly understand the oppressive nature of prostitution and trafficking. This whole notion of "legalizing" and then "regulating" prostitution is cute but who gets regulated? Searched? Screened? etc. Again - not the buyer. The stigma ALWAYS falls on the woman. And as a woman who is living within the LGBT community and has a very clear understanding of most why most men participate in the sex industry it to is not glamorous. Most are there for economic reasons because they simply are not accepted into the general society and are unable to find sustainable work.

So yes, it is true that we can not say "all" women and men have no choice in whether they enter the industry, BUT we sure as heck can say the vast majority.

Its always interesting to listen to or hear a bunch of intellectuals debate this issue. Again, until you've talked to someone and truly heard their lived experiences beyond the shielded walls that most people in the industry construct so that they can survive the brutality that they experience or until you've actually had to live that experience - then these discussion are laughable.


I'm not sure how NH Baritone thinks that people cope with having to have sex with people they don't want to, or who they may find physically repulsive, without dissociating. It's a normal human safety mechanism employed, often automatically, by people put is such a position. Many sufferers of abuse do this, and then find it hard to re-integrate the parts of themselves again. Equally people moving into prostitution may find it a short term necessity, but at a long term cost

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