There is a consistent history of feminist criticism of prostitution, from the women's associations against white slavery to modern radical feminist critique. The salient points have been the appalling conditions of the lives of almost all the world's prostitutes, the well-known (if often-denied) connection between poverty, desperation, drugs, and entry into sexual service, and the brutal control and exploitation practised by pimps and power brokers in the sex trade.
Alongside this tradition there has always been a twin countercurrent. There is a Rightist argument that prostitutes are by definition degenerate and vicious criminals and not worth the sympathy or efforts of good women (loving wives or dutiful daughters). And there is the Leftist or libertarian argument that prostitutes are really fun-loving party gals with great senses of humour, who ought to be considered liberated and lucky compared to the uptight bitches who condemn the trade. The wife/whore dichotomy is very illustrative of the non-differences between traditional (male) Right and Left.
Both these positions are clearly born out of male self-interest: the Rightist elite does not want its women meddling about in the seamier side of capitalism and finding out just who is patronizing and profiting from those businesses; it wants to preserve a strong distinction between well bred women used for reproduction of eligible heirs, and bad expendable women kept for cheap entertainment. The Leftist elite simply wants to preserve its access to as many female bodies as possible, and tends to champion non-monogamy, birth control (for women), and the sex trade, more as preconditions for unlimited male sexual recreation than out of any sincere concern for women's liberty. One rhetoric produces the Scarlet Woman, the terrifying seductress of conservative male myth; the other invents the Happy Hooker and the Whore with the Heart of Gold. All of them are dealing in fantasy - the same kinds of fantasy which they all pay hookers to provide.
Rightist and authoritarian regimes have in fact only one morality, which is the preservation of power in the hands of those who now have it. This is the case whether we speak of the rule of the conservative rich over the working class and poor, or the rule of the adult male over the family (a Rightist regime which persists under many socialist governments). All other apparent moral codes are secondary.
The same Third Reich which scathingly condemned the loose morals of the Weimar Republic, particularly the widespread prostitution which degraded German womanhood, made sure that the brothels of occupied France were among the first businesses to resume service after the conquest. We should also note that this same Party operated official brothels within the concentration camps, which were used not only by camp guards and trusties, but (and this for me rates a place among the unthinkable horrors of camp life) by the male prisoners.
Let's take another example. There are highly organised commercial tour services which provide luxury hotel accommodation, guided tours, and local women to male tourists from the US, Germany, and Japan when they visit Third World countries - S.E. Asia, Africa, S. America, the Caribbean nations. The local governments, which often make a public show of deploring immorality and prostitution, grant favoured status to the big corporations who own the hotels and the restaurants and the sex services, who offer the bodies of Third World women as one more tourist attraction.
In the US, the same doublespeak prevails. The Big Money Establishment is mostly Rightist in its policies and publicly defensive of decency, family life and the American Way; it sets itself up in opposition to the alternative or leftist community with its advocacy of sexual liberation, its definition of prostitution as a victimless crime, its open consumption and defence of pornography. Meanwhile, the Big Money and the Rightist government are setting up isolated R&R centers in remote countries for American oil workers, telecommunications crews, soldiers, airmen; and an inevitable result of the establishment of these play zones is the conscription of a large force of young local women to provide sexual and emotional service to the foreign workers. And meanwhile, leftist critics of capital and exploitation are passionately defending major capital enterprises like Playboy and the porn video industry, which routinely realise their enormous profits by the exploitation of naŅive, poor, or coerced labour.
So, though the pundits of contemporary American leftism proclaim that the authoritarian Right is threatened and undermined by loose living, sexuality, free speech (meaning unlimited publication of pornography) and so forth, I do not believe a word of it. The Right operates its whorehouses and blue movie mills privately and quietly, whereas the Left proclaims its right to sexual consumerism openly and loudly. I am not interested in these squabbles between bigger and smaller men over which of them is entitled to how much of what; my concern is for the lives and civil rights of women.
But lesbian sm is a product of gay culture, not corporate US culture. It was spawned in imitation of the prevailing gay male sm scene in the early eighties. Surely I have to admit that gay sex and gay porn are another matter - that homosexuality, at least, is deeply threatening to the patriarchal state. Surely I concede that the solidarity between lesbians and gay men is the natural foundation of queer politics, whatever other side turnings it may take - or do I?