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Sex wars revisited: A rhetorical economy of sex industry opposition

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Alison Phipps

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Abstract

© 2017 Journal of International Women's Studies. This paper attempts to sketch a 'rhetorical economy' of feminist opposition to the sex industry, via the case study of debates around Amnesty International's 2016 policy supporting decriminalisation as the best way to ensure sex workers' human rights and safety. Drawing on Ahmed's concept of 'affective economies' in which emotions circulate as capital, I explore an emotionally loaded discursive field which is also characterised by specific and calculated rhetorical manoeuvres for political gain. My analysis is situated in what Rentschler and Thrift call the 'discursive publics' of contemporary Western feminism, which encompass academic, activist, and public/media discussions. I argue that contemporary feminist opposition to the sex industry is shaped by a 'sex war' paradigm which relies on a binary opposition between radical feminist and 'sex positive' perspectives. In this framework, sex workers become either helpless victims or privileged promoters of the industry, which leaves little room for discussions of their diverse experiences and their labour rights. As Amnesty's policy was debated, this allowed opponents of the sex industry to construct sex workers' rights as 'men's rights', either to purchase sex or to benefit from its sale as third parties or 'pimps'. These opponents mobilised sex industry 'survivors' to dismiss sex worker activists supporting Amnesty's policy as privileged and unrepresentative, which concealed activists' experiences of violence and abuse and obscured the fact that decriminalisation is supported by sex workers across the world.


Publication metadata

Author(s): Phipps A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of International Women's Studies

Year: 2017

Volume: 18

Issue: 4

Pages: 306-320

Print publication date: 01/08/2017

Acceptance date: 02/04/2016

ISSN (electronic): 1539-8706

Publisher: Bridgewater State College

URL: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol18/iss4/22


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