If our masters' tools will not dismantle our masters' houses, can we hope to live in their houses ourselves? There is an argument current among gay men and some lesbians, that queers are now becoming entrepreneurs and consumers of the sex trade rather than its workers (or raw materials), thus changing their position in the free-market model. The existence of lesbian strip shows, gay porn videos, sex clubs, and so forth, is cited as evidence of liberation. This is an error, and a common one.
It has often been claimed that the vulgarisation of privilege is the same thing as liberation€that is, the extension of the rights and privileges, tastes and habits of the very wealthy to the masses. Engels himself fell into this trap: What is good for the ruling class should be good for the whole of the society with which the ruling class identifies itself.
The oversimplification here should be immediately obvious. The goodness or badness of an activity, taste, or habit depends not on who usually gets to indulge in it, but on itself: what it is, what it costs, who pays for it. Many things available to rich people (like decent health care) are good and should be available to everyone. Some other things available to rich people (like snuff films) are bad and should not be available to anyone. Some things available to rich people (or nations) can only remain available so long as other people or nations are kept in want and misery, and therefore can never be extended to everyone.
The argument over pornography and prostitution tends to fall along these lines as well. At one time only the wealthy could regularly afford expensive and illicit items like drugs and pornography, and the use of prostitutes; only the independently wealthy could afford to support the reputation for loose living that would have ruined a common person socially and financially. The arguments we are hearing from sexual liberation spokespeople often imply that this imbalance should be redressed: we have the right to a Playboy under every bed and a whore in every garage.
There is only one problem with this. The nature of pornography and of prostitution is the use of women and children for male sexual entertainment. This presupposes a population of women and children either willing to be so used, or sufficiently vulnerable to economic pressure or violence that they can be coerced into service. It also presupposes an outlook on the part of the consumer, that this service is his natural right and privilege. This outlook came very easily to the old-world aristocrat, who had servants to pour his wine, remove his boots, polish his silverware, run his bath, and so on. Sexual service was a logical extension of all the other personal services he required and received.
The modern bourgeois or proletarian, however, does not expect a valet, maid, cook, and butler (unless he expects his wife to be all this and more, which is less unusual than we might wish). He is still, however, encouraged in the fantasy that women (and children) are his naturally-decreed sexual servants. If he has enough spare cash, he can prove this theory by going out and renting one.
What does it mean to extend this fantasy to gays, lesbians, women in general? For gay men it means little change; gay and straight men with money have had access to male prostitutes and paid companions, mostly younger men, for centuries. For women (both lesbian and straight) the situation is a bit different. Women are the infantry of the sex industry, not its customers. If women become customers, who will be their servants? The answer seems obvious: poorer women and men, probably mostly people of colour (a disproportionate number of prostitutes world-wide are women of colour).
Do we believe that a widening of the population which may expect to own or rent servants (sexual or otherwise) is a progressive or democratic trend? This is nothing but an illusion, and a mockery of democracy. It can only mean the substitution of class for caste. My personal ideal of feminism is not one in which women of the ruling class have equal power with men of the ruling class, while poor men and women go to hell together. This is, however, because my idea of feminism requires a general commitment to social justice and human dignity. A liberation which sets some women free to humiliate and exploit others is no liberation.