Spitzer and Prostitution

I find the recent discussions springing up around Eliot Spitzer’s fall from grace to be fascinating. There are two main topics that are getting a lot of attention I want to address:

Spitzer made his name fighting corruption, how funny that he turned out to be corrupt! Hah!

While I know Eliot Spitzer was supposed to be some liberal wet dream, speaking truth to power and all that, he never really struck me as anything other than another politician out to make a name for himself. Granted, it’s awesome that someone finally started holding some criminals hiding behind corporations accountable for their actions, but he’s no Ralph Nader.

That being said, I don’t find this situation a delicious slice of ironic schadenfreude, because as much as conservatives would like to make it so, prostitution does not equal corruption. Now if there were evidence that Spitzer was doing political favors for leaders of the prostitution ring, or paying for the girls our of the public coffers, I would agree to corruption. But he was paying for girls with his own money. While this is illegal, it’s not corrupt. Which brings us to what everyone is really throwing a tizzy about, the moral question.

Prostitution is bad and wrong. there should be a new stronger word for prostitution, like badwrong or badong!

Despite marketing messages to the contrary, sex is still a tremendously taboo subject for most Americans. The discussions around prostitution do much to reflect just how backward we remain with regard to human sexuality in general, and female sexuality in specific.

Put plainly, prostitution laws are about controlling female sexuality. They reflect a “woman as property” mentality where female “virtue” is a chief selling point. Kerry Howley from Reason.com puts it much better than I could:

Of course it’s deplorable that sexually adventurous young women are constantly told they are “degrading themselves” by seeking out various experiences, that every bit of enjoyment eats away at some secret store of purity. This whole tradition–the idea that women need be preserved in glass so as not to “ruin” themselves, lest they diminish their sexual value by “giving it away”–restricts the lived autonomy of women in ways I can’t even begin to articulate.

The morality argument only makes sense if you believe that the sexual act is inherently degrading for women, and acceptable only in wedlock. This is the argument of men who value women principally by their sexual inexperience. While many argue that pornography and prostitution reinforce the idea of women purely as sexual objects, I would argue that this hideous vision of morality does a better job.

While men get off a lot easier in this discussion, they still bear the stigma of being the client of a prostitute. But much of that stigma comes from having sex with an “undesirable” woman, i.e. a woman who’s slept with a lot of men.

There’s no room in this conversation for a reasonable exploration of why married men, who stand much to loose by cheating, still feel compelled to do so. No discussion of how fundamentally broken our relationships are.

A lot of people are also dragging out the arguments about pimps, forced sex slavery, and the other criminal elements that surround prostitution as a black market trade. Little is said about the success or failure of locations where prostitution is legal, and highly regulated.

While I haven’t done the research I’d like to do into the subject, I have a strong suspicion that much of our current attitudes around sexuality are hold-overs from much earlier times, and continue on today in genetic or memetic form.

Strong cases can be made for the societal and survival benefits of 1. choosing young, virginal girls as child bearers, and 2. constraining sexual activity to limited partners (especially on the female side) in a world that does not have a modern understanding of how babies are made and how potentially fatal STDs are spread. Thankfully that is a world we no longer live in. However, in many ways, that is still how we function.

I would speculate that abrahamic religion bears much of the blame not for originating these attitudes, but for codifying them within its system and perpetuating them into modern times. These are memes that we no longer need, in much the same way that we no longer need religious prohibition of shellfish.

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