Men who buy sex are neither “perverts”, as described by Justice Minister Peter MacKay, nor “pathetic,” as described by my usually astute Star columnist colleague Heather Mallick, oft- and self-professed feminist.
I’m a feminist, have always been a feminist, will forever remain a feminist, though no longer find it necessary to bleat and brandish that term as if firing off an F-word fusillade. It’s in my bones, my DNA, my O-positive blood type and every word I’ve ever committed to paper. What I’m most adamantly not is a feminist evangelical who will find concordance and compatibility with preachy prudes, whether the REAL Women subset of Stepford Wives or the do-gooder Agony Aunts pushing condoms and exit strategy, each end of the ideological spectrum stiff and unyielding and witheringly judgmental.
Where doctrinaire feminist meets evangelical moralist is a squishy, fetid place; the underbelly domain of male-on-female coercion and extortion where sex outside of conventional relationships always has a long slithery tail.
Lord save us from the unholy alliance of liberals and illiberals.
Why does sex — the arranging for it, the negotiating of it, the supply and demand economics that drive it — turn even clear-minded thinkers into starchy puritans?
I will not demean men who purchase sexual services as pathetic perverts, smugly assuming they’re either deviant — wanting sex doesn’t make a person creepy — or hapless losers incapable of striking up a “buy ya a drink?” conversation with a potential leg-over partner.
Some men indeed possess not even a modicum of social skills, thus are incapable of successfully navigating the meat-market, nor the online dating version thereof. Some are frankly repulsive and would find themselves frustratingly celibate if not for the ministrations of an undiscriminating prostitute. Some seek sexual adventure outside their existing relationships. Some are completely paralyzed by the social and religious mores in which they were raised, segregated from the exotica of women. And some simply prefer the direct-to-business shortcut of a sex-for-cash transaction, whether as a quick grunt in a back alley or thousand-dollar hookup with an escort service call girl.
It doesn’t make them corrupt or depraved. It makes them entirely normal: eager for sex — a basic human compulsion — willing to pay for it and harmless, unless in the pursuit of carnal congress they commit an act of quantifiable harm, which is something other than the agreed-upon sexual engagement.
In MacKay World — the World According to Canada’s Anal Conservative Government — men clients are all aberrant, which is why the Tories have introduced a stupidly unrealistic bill that obdurately ignores the none-too-gentle nudging of this country’s top court when it kiboshed the existing prostitution laws last December.
In Mallick World, the men are all pitiful and the women are invariably victims of gender inequality, in need of protection via infantilizing legislation that criminalizes the purchase of sex: The John Sanction.
Bill C-36 is an act of regression, foolishly formatted, reactionary rather than progressive and harm-reduction focused, as the Supreme Court was so clearly encouraging when it unanimously knocked down anti-prostitution laws prohibiting brothels, living off the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients, ruling the legislation was too broad and “grossly disproportionate.”
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote: “Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisance, but not at the cost of health, safety and live of prostitutes,” further noting that “it is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money.”
The Conservatives’ proposed crackdown bill would make it a crime to buy sex for money. It will criminalize the purchase of sex, prohibit advertising, target those who might benefit from prostitution — you might call them pimps, many prostitutes call them boyfriends and managers, though actually cohabiting with a lover puts that person at risk of being charged with pimping even if he is not in any way involved with the prostitution activity — and outlaw the sale of sex near schools and any other place where children might reasonably gather, which could reasonably be everywhere.
Sex workers were appalled but not surprised when MacKay unveiled the spectacularly wrong-minded bill, pointing out — as they did again on Saturday, during rallies across the country — that the legislation would actually make sex workers less safe, pushing them outside, into isolated city areas, rendering them easier prey to predators.
The so-called Nordic Model that inspired Bill-36 — Sweden’s Violence Against Women Act, which was actually largely written by a University of British Columbia law graduate — is deeply flawed and irrational at its core, punishing men who buy sex but not the women who sell sex. Neither merits punishment.
It codifies paternalistic attitudes toward women, projecting the very real issues surrounding sexual enslavement of illegal immigrants — which clearly needs to be aggressively investigated and prosecuted — onto every woman who makes a choice to enter the sex work field. It espouses, indeed enshrines, the view that all prostitutes are irresponsible individuals dragged into the business against their will, against their better judgment, and only because other options have been denied.
This is sometimes true and sometimes bollocks.
Prostitution is only inherently exploitative if you accept the premise that doing it for free is righteous and doing it for money is vulgar.
The rigidity of this posture recalls late feminist radical Andrea Dworkin, who famously held that all heterosexual sex — penetration with a penis — is rape “Violence is a synonym for intercourse. The penetration is taken to be a use, not an abuse, a normal use; it is appropriate to enter her, to push into (violate) the boundaries of her body . . .”
Canada doesn’t need an anti-prostitution bill. It needs to decriminalize prostitution, which is what sex trade workers have been demanding as cases wound their way to the Supreme Court.
The Supremes gave Ottawa a year to come up with a reasonable piece of legislation.
This isn’t it.
This is what comes of the moralizing right getting into bed with the scolding left.
It will not survive a constitutional challenge. But in the mean time, sex workers and sex clients get screwed.