The e-mails have been pouring in after our post on an article in the U.K. Telegraph about Germany’s new unemployment-insurance reform act that obliges women to take jobs at brothels or risk cutting off benefits–since prostitution is legal in Germany. (See Not That There’s Anything Wrong With…Being Forced to Work as a Prostitute, Feb. 1.) I noted ironically that the feminist establishment can’t complain because it considers prostitution as a form of empowerment for women. 

A.M.’s response is the most provocative:

“Despite evidence that the forced-prostitution story may indeed be false, I still feel the need to respond.

“Who, exactly, in the ‘feminist establishment’ says that prostitution or other sex work (like stripping) is empowering? Are you sure that’s what MOST in this supposed establishment think? Where is your supporting evidence? Sure, libertarian feminists argue for the legalization of prostitution. But radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin wanted to keep it illegal AND ban all other ‘sex work’ (including pornography). Are Dworkin and her pal Catherine McKinnon not part of the feminist establishment, even though their work is widely read in Women’s Studies programs? Is McKinnon exempt because she worked with Ronald Reagan’s Meese Commission to ban porn?”

The forced-prostitution story “false”? The Telegraph is a respectable London newspaper–and there’s no evidence that Clare Chapman, who reported the story for the Telegraph, is the Jayson Blair of Brit journalism. True enough, no German woman seems yet to have had her unemployment benefits actually yanked under the month-old law for refusing to work in a brothel, but Chapman provides ample evidence that young woman have been sent out on red-light interviews and that the law contains explicit sanctions for refusing to take available work. And there’s something decidedly creepy about brothel owners and porn producers having access to the personal records of every 23-year-old woman who files for unemployment insurance.

And yes, A.M., you’re right that some feminists, such as Dworkin and McKinnon, oppose porn and prostitution as exploitative of women, and they’ve got a point–although they’ve larded up their argument with a man-hating victimological ideology that regards nearly all sex as rape. But type “sex worker feminism” into Google, and you’ll see a huge amount of feminist pride in the world’s oldest profession. Or go see The Vagina Monologues (easy to do, since nearly every college women’s studies department stages the play on Valentine’s Day). One of the champ monologuists is a lawyer-turned-ho who rants on and on about how much more fun she has taking off her briefs than writing briefs. The idea seems to be that prostitution is a great way to get back at Men Our Enemies by making them pay.

And here’s L.M.:

“Weren’t social programs originally started in part to protect women from having to prostitute themselves? In fairness, I suppose some men as well will have to become prostitutes or lose their unemployment benefits. Before there were any unemployment benefits, people used to look to family, friends, churches, private charities and their savings when times were tough. Oh well, awful as new policy is, maybe it will get a lot of people off the dole and into, hopefully, respectable jobs.”

Good points. Social programs used to try to get women off the streets, not put them on the streets. And as you say, the harshness of the new law could jolt some Germans used to living on the welfare-state dole into making a serious effort to find honest jobs. Perhaps the brothel is the new workhouse.

And here’s H.M.:

“I am shocked and appalled. ’Legalization, or what we call state-sponsored prostitution, has become so normalized in EU countries that brothels in Germany and elsewhere gain enormous acceptance by, for example, raising money for charity through throwing open their doors to the public and holding pornographic art exhibitions and displaying their wares….

“’But the impact of the sex industry’s expansion doesn’t stop with legal legitimation of prostitution through state approval. The state is also called upon to fund the training of prostitutes to service, for example, disabled men and to insure that state-employed caretakers of these men take the men to brothels and help to physically facilitate their sex acts with women in prostitution where they are not able to engage in intercourse themselves. As one critic has written: “If sex is viewed as a human right needing state support, one could legitimately claim he belongs to an oppressed minority as an unattractive, desperate male. What about the lonely pensioner who can’t find a companion, or can’t afford Viagra? Should the state subsidise the fulfillment of his sexual appetites too?”‘”

Good heavens! I’m not sure if this is quite happening yet, even in Europe. But it’s certainly the logical consequence of a system in which prostitution is just another profession and sex just another bodily need, like food. Socialism meets moral libertarianism.

Correction: You’ll notice that we’ve placed quotation marks around the bulk of H.M.’s letter. That’s because, as he informs us, he was quoting from a speech by Janice G. Raymond, “The Impact of the Sex Industry in the European Union,” delivered at a public hearing titled “The Impact of the Sex Industry in the E.U.” of the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Opportunities and subsequently published on Jan. 19, 2004, by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.

When I edited H.M.’s original letter, I inadvertently omitted for a few days both the quotation marks and the attribution. My apologies to Ms. Raymond and also to H.M.

Finally, reader N.C. writes an appreciative e-mail on another subject:
“Last night I saw and listened to [IWF president] Nancy [Photenhauer]…on MSNBC. She was certainly fantastic in all respects: on subject, poised, a true representative of what the IWF is all about. If possible, please let us know if she appears again as a spokeswomen for the IWF.”

We love Nancy, too, and she’s in the media all the time. To catch her next appearance, and to learn about other IWF folks’ upcoming media gigs, as well as our book panels and other events, sign up for our e-mail newsletter (click here or go to our home page)