Mon, Jul 06, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Gender dominates the sex industry

By Chi Hui-jung

The sex industry has been a hot topic of debate recently. Perhaps the most popular view, based on the notion that the sex industry is a necessary evil rooted in human nature, is that it should be deregulated and decriminalized. This view is questionable. On the surface, sexual transactions seem to be a fair trade in which one person wants the service and the other is willing to provide it. A closer look, however, reveals an important element of gender domination that should not be overlooked.

Many people say that the sex trade has existed since ancient times. Those who urge the business to be decriminalized or legalized are unaware of the implicit chauvinism of indulging this so-called necessary evil in men while ignoring the possibility that it may put disadvantaged women into an even worse situation.

Statistics for supply and demand for sexual services in various countries show that the providers are mostly women who are forced to “choose” to sell their bodies to survive. Even in the Netherlands, where the sex industry operates openly, men account for just 10 percent of sex workers, and most provide services to other men.

On the other hand, most of the people paying for such services are men. What they want is entertainment for themselves or guests, and an outlet for sexual desire. To put it simply, women do it for survival, and men do it for lust. Is this “necessary evil” a male evil or a female one?

Taiwanese society should not be so indulgent of men’s behavior while remaining oblivious to the hardships faced by the women involved.

I find it very hard to understand why some women’s groups in Taiwan believe that legalizing the sex industry is the only way to give prostitutes the power to demand that their clients wear condoms, and that this will erase the issue of gender domination. Merely demanding that clients wear condoms will not solve the industry’s fundamental gender domination problem, because it will not change the main problem — that women choose the industry as a way of surviving while men continue to use it to satisfy their desires.

I believe the real reasons for the industry’s existence is the state’s inability to offer better welfare to disadvantaged women and society’s indulgence of men. This is not fair trade and the trade that does take place is different from other forms of normal labor. The social costs of health issues and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases means the sex industry is potentially even more harmful to women than drug use.

I am afraid the implicit gender domination will be overlooked if mainstream thinking advocates total legalization and decriminalization of the industry just because a few brave women unwilling to change occupations and wanting to be professional, licensed prostitutes have stepped forward.

I hope everyone will see the sex industry from the gender perspective and consider ways to downsize it, as this is the only way to fundamentally solve the serious problems of disadvantaged women.

National policy should offer disadvantaged women more resources, employment opportunities and welfare benefits. This would greatly decrease the attraction to enter the sex industry. Society must also take a different view of male indulgence. More sex and gender education is necessary to effectively decrease demand.

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