How To Make Language And Eliminate People

There are many rude words for women who exchange sex for cash on the barrelhead, and also many euphemisms. In shorter supply than either are entirely neutral terms that can be used in sociology and so forth. Consequently, the name we choose for these women and their business activities indicates whether we wish on the one hand to see them decriminalised, legalised, treated as a respectable occupation, or on the other hand to see them eliminated, either directly or through the criminalisation of their customers.

One feminist faction endeavours to treat prostitution as being a gainful occupation, whence the expression “sex workers”. Already in the name there inheres a claim that they should have decent working conditions, as regards pay, benefits, safety and working environment. In the Netherlands you write “prostitute” on your tax return, pay your taxes and get a pension, sick pay and disability benefits. In line with this usage is the preferred term of the more literate and gentlemanly British punters, namely “service provider”, comparing the lady to a telecoms company. It is therefore a reasonable inference that anyone calling someone else a “sex worker” considers that she should be allowed to conduct her business in peace, and contrariwise.

The opposite feminist faction, in my country a state-backed orthodoxy, will have nothing to do with such an appellation. At the same time they cannot use any disrespectful words for the girl herself, who both qua Woman and qua Official Victim of Men is above reproach; in the languages of the countries where such ideologues are strongest, it is noteworthy that the local cognate of “prostitute” is actually a passive participle. Consequently, there are no prostitutes, only women who are being prostituted, by never-challenged implication being coercively prostituted by men. This narrative entirely eliminates the possibility that a woman may voluntarily enter the profession by answering an advertisement in the papers, or be recruited by her best girlfriend; such a situation is excluded by the language and thus – at any rate according to Sapir/Whorf and George Orwell – literally unthinkable. These feminists fulfil their contempt quota, however, by never calling the men anything other than, in the local language, “whore-customers”, and by never writing about them other than as faceless, sadistic and even homicidal subhumans about whose lives and motives – and even about whose treatment of their service providers – it is wholly unnecessary to enquire.

Among this second faction it is forbidden to use the words “work”, or “service” or to use any phraseology other than “buying and selling of women’s bodies”. Members of this faction would not, of course, speak with such outrage about a hairdresser selling her fingers or a singer selling her voice or an accountant selling her brain. “Selling” generally means an exchange of property, ownership and title, and I doubt that many punters have come back from a night on the town with an extra body or three. For where would they keep them?

In the real world, of course, it is not the body that is sold but services performed with the aid of the body – and the services in question very much involve fingers, voice and brain. This linguistic approach is therefore by no means a neutral terminology, but an extreme rhetorical strategy intended to make “buying and selling of bodies” the only permitted public discourse and thereby the only permitted way of thinking.

It has never been said better than by Spider Robinson: “If you don’t believe it’s moral to pay someone to pretend to care about you, you have no business flying first-class. Or going to a bar, or a hairdresser, or a psychiatrist.” Men go to brothels, women go for facials and aromatherapy. Both get the illusion of being cared for. Perhaps we should criminalise beauty parlours.

It is true that prostitutes have always been spoken of as “selling their bodies”, but it is doubtful whether this is their own first choice of label; for example, among themselves they have traditionally called it The Game, The Life or Working. Moreover, this feminist faction’s trope is almost always in the passive voice: the emphasis is not on the women who are “selling” their own bodies, but on the men who are “buying” them. The agent of the selling is left vague. For example, during the 2006 World Cup in Germany a Swedish official spoke, in the lofty bureaucratic passive, about those “who come from a country where women are not regarded as saleable goods”.

The implication is that men are doing not only the buying but also the selling; that is, that some men (for in this paradigm it is always pimps and never madams, no matter what the actual facts of the matter) are selling women’s bodies to other men. Which is indeed what is happening in the mafia trafficking of involuntary prostitutes from Eastern Europe; one male gangster is selling a consignment of female goods to another male gangster. The faction’s vocabulary is meant not only to draw attention to this evil, but further to assert that the business takes no other form, and thus to assimilate every possible form of commercial sex to chattel slavery. The trope of “buying women” is used for both the gangster’s taking delivery of a vanload of chained slaves and for the customer’s purchase of sexual services – even from native, free and voluntary labour – with the result that the customer automatically becomes guilty of the purchase of slaves and so truly deserves to go to prison. In my country, he may even be considered guilty of terrorist offences.

Conversely, the way in which women are spoken of as being sold, in the passive, renders invisible the native-born or otherwise non-trafficked woman who decides to sell sexual services of her own will. This woman no longer has a voice, she is not an agent or a subject, she is now a faceless victim, merely a body that somebody else is selling to yet another somebody else. And yet they complain that customers “objectify” and “dehumanise” the women!

Posted on January 6, 2012 at 12:30 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE NAME OF THE GAME, The Ultimate Crime?

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