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For Love or for Money? For some of us, politics is more than just an intellectual exercise — it is lived experience. The sale of sex is at the center of many controversies, particularly within certain sectors of various social movements that regard the activity as a basic violation of human rights and which therefore feel that the persons exercising it should not be protected by labor laws.
For us, as anthropologists, this position is problematic. We do not deny that prostitution was historically constituted, to a large extent, under patriarchal conditions. According to David Graeber, pre-capitalist systems of exchange of women most likely served as a basis for human commoditization through slavery Graeber, And, if recent research with monkeys can serve as a guide, exchanging sex for sustenance is behavior that may even be pre-human Chen, We do not want to naturalize prostitution, but it seems obvious to us that exchanging sex for money or for other means of support is a social behavior that predates capitalism, and even patriarchalism.
In the same way, it seems obvious to us that marriage was and still is, in many cases, a patriarchal institution, an opinion that we share with various wings of the feminist movement. However, we do not know of any groups in the world that seek to criminalize marriage: in fact, the trend in the West seems to be to expand the institution to include homoaffective couples. Apparently, then, marriage is a patriarchal institution that is generally seen as reformable while prostitution is not.
First, far from being the ultimate point of degradation in a woman's life, sex work often compares favorably with other feminized jobs, particularly domestic and service labor. Secondly, sex work is hardly a vocation for most of the people who practice it. It is best understood as a temporarily occupied position in a tripartite economy of makeshifts Hutton, , structured around prostitution, marriage, and jobs of low social status and income, typically feminized.
In other words, sex work is not the worst job in the world, according to the vast majority of our sex working interlocutors. Often, it even appears as that which allows women to exit from other forms of labor, which are understood as more oppressive, more violent, and more objectifying. Basically, prostitution is a place where common sense says no woman should want to be — and yet millions of women have exercised it through the centuries.