Debbie Cameron takes a crucial have a look at the linguistic framing of present debates on prostitution.

Let’s begin with a query. Are you pro-sex or anti-sex?

Maybe you’re considering: ‘in fact I’m not anti-sex, who the hell could be towards intercourse?’

Or perhaps you’re considering: ‘Hang on a minute, aren’t these phrases a bit loaded?’

And in fact, they’re. But that comes with the territory. It’s within the nature of political arguments to be performed in loaded language. The proverbial ‘battle for hearts and minds’ is at all times, amongst different issues, a disagreement.

‘Pro-sex’ (or ‘intercourse constructive’) and ‘anti-sex’ are shorthand labels for political positions on a set of points (together with pornography and prostitution) which have divided feminists for the reason that nineteenth century. ‘Anti-sex’ is what the ‘pro-sex’ camp name the folks on the opposite aspect of the argument: it’s not what the opposite aspect name themselves. (Because who the hell could be towards intercourse?)

But the competing phrases in a political argument aren’t at all times simple opposites like ‘pro-/anti-sex’. In debates on abortion, the opposing camps are mostly labelled ‘pro-choice’ (supporting girls’s proper to decide on whether or not to proceed or terminate a being pregnant) and ‘pro-life’ (defending the sanctity of human life and the rights of unborn kids). Each aspect has chosen a label that fits its personal argument, and each have been comparatively profitable in getting others, together with the media, to respect their terminological preferences.

There’s extra to those preferences than simply the phrases themselves. As the linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff explains, ‘each phrase is outlined relative to a conceptual framework’. For occasion,

If you will have one thing like “revolt,” that means a inhabitants that’s being dominated unfairly, or assumes it’s being dominated unfairly, and that they’re throwing off their rulers, which might be thought of a great factor.

So when the folks in a suburban avenue complain concerning the council’s new parking restrictions and the native newspaper stories this underneath the headline ‘Residents in parking revolt’, that implicitly directs us to evaluate their motion in constructive phrases, as in the event that they have been downtrodden peasants courageously resisting tyranny. If as a substitute the paper had referred to as it a ‘parking squabble’, that might body the residents’ grievance as trivial and petty.

The energy of framing to form perceptions of a difficulty is what makes the selection of phrases tactically essential. Lakoff has written extensively about the way in which this works in arguments between conservatives and progressives within the USA. One of the circumstances he examines is the argument about reducing taxes for the rich—or because the conservatives who favour this measure put it, providing them ‘tax aid’. Progressives oppose tax cuts, however additionally they use the time period ‘tax aid’, and in Lakoff’s view that’s a tactical mistake. The phrase ‘aid’ frames paying tax as a painful affliction—a body that displays the conservative view and so offers them a bonus within the argument. When the progressives declare themselves ‘towards tax aid’, they’re accepting reasonably than difficult the conservative view of tax as an insupportable burden. And when tax is framed as a burden, the politician who gives ‘aid’ will probably be extra common than the one who doesn’t.

What Lakoff thinks the progressives ought to do is body the difficulty another way. Like, ‘paying taxes is paying your dues to your nation’. If wealthy folks take delight of their capability to pay the hefty subscriptions charged by unique nation golf equipment, they need to even be proud to pay for his or her membership of what so lots of them wish to name ‘the best nation on earth’. More usually, he argues that whoever controls the framing of a difficulty stands a greater probability of profitable the argument. It’s a mistake to just accept phrases which have been chosen by your opponents to serve their very own pursuits, and to allow them to outline your place for you.

In the case of abortion feminists haven’t fallen into that lure. But on different points, particularly points which feminists are divided on, the scenario is reasonably totally different.

Prostitution/intercourse work: framing the controversy

The present debate on what to do about prostitution (or ‘intercourse work’—totally different phrases, totally different frames) is a working example. On this difficulty there are two competing arguments which each declare to be progressive. The first is that industrial intercourse needs to be legally obtainable in the identical means as different private providers: the state ought to deal with the (primarily feminine) purveyors and the (overwhelmingly male) customers as equal, autonomous brokers, and shouldn’t restrict their freedom by making the shopping for or promoting of intercourse a criminal offense. Wanting much less state interference and fewer restrictions on free commerce is a place usually related to the political proper, however within the case of the intercourse commerce it’s extra frequent on the left. It’s additionally the place taken by some feminists.

Other feminists, nonetheless, view prostitution as a basically exploitative establishment which depends upon and reproduces inequality between women and men. From that perspective there’s nothing ‘progressive’ (or as Jeremy Corbyn lately put it, ‘civilized’), about making it extra simply accessible and extra socially acceptable. Supporters of this argument do agree with the opposing camp that the state ought to cease punishing prostitutes. What they favour is the ‘Nordic mannequin’ (so referred to as as a result of it was pioneered in Scandinavia, although it has lately additionally been adopted in France), wherein the regulation defines buying intercourse as a criminal offense, and it’s the client reasonably than the vendor who’s penalized.

This second group of feminists has struggled to current itself as ‘progressive’ and to withstand being labelled ‘conservative’ by the primary group. In Britain final August, a YouGov ballot discovered that almost all of respondents thought ‘consensual intercourse work’ needs to be authorized—although the general majority in favour wasn’t giant (round 54%), and there was a major distinction between women and men. A transparent majority (65%) of males have been in favour, with solely 15% opposed; most ladies, in contrast, have been both opposed (27%) or undecided (30%), with 43% in favour.

The explanation why folks maintain the views they do are prone to be a number of and complicated; however one related consideration often is the means language has been used on this debate. Feminist opponents of prostitution have arguably carried out the identical factor Lakoff criticizes progressives within the US for doing within the argument about tax aid: they’ve accepted phrases that favour the opposite aspect. In explicit, they’ve accepted that what they’re arguing about is most aptly described because the ‘decriminalization’ of prostitution.

One speedy downside with that is that it’s complicated. In actuality, either side need to decriminalize the promoting of intercourse: the purpose they disagree on is whether or not shopping for intercourse needs to be authorized. Sometimes, campaigners for the Nordic mannequin attempt to get round this confusion by explaining that what they oppose is ‘full’ decriminalization (that means, of consumers and sellers alike). How nicely this works depends upon how conscious the viewers is of the main points of the competing authorized proposals (for many who will not be deeply engaged with the controversy, the distinction between ‘decriminalization’ and ‘full decriminalization’ might be obscure). But in any case, there’s a extra common difficulty about the way in which the time period ‘decriminalization’ frames the query being debated.

Whenever there’s a proposal to ‘decriminalize’ one thing, the implication is that its present standing as a criminal offense is bigoted and unjust. The incontrovertible fact that it has been ‘criminalized’–made into a criminal offense–is both a mirrored image of conservative social attitudes from which most individuals have now moved on, or else an expression of the state’s want to regulate its residents, particularly these it perceives as a menace to the present order (e.g. youth, the poor, and members of ethnic or sexual minorities). This was the argument that led to the decriminalizing (underneath sure situations) of abortion and intercourse between males within the late Nineteen Sixties. These have been/are stated to be ‘victimless crimes’, acts which don’t hurt others, and which due to this fact shouldn’t be forbidden or punished.

For folks on the political left, who delight themselves on their tolerant social attitudes and their resistance to authoritarianism and injustice, the time period ‘decriminalization’ works like ‘revolt’ in Lakoff’s instance: it frames the proposal in constructive phrases, because the clearly ‘progressive’ factor to do. Conversely, the label ‘anti-decriminalization’ frames the folks it’s utilized to as the alternative of progressive. The label says nothing about their political motives; it merely means that they’re standing in the way in which of change, and so endorsing a right-wing ‘regulation and order’ agenda. In truth, feminist critics of prostitution reject the normal conservative case towards it (that it flouts the non secular/ethical norm prohibiting extra-marital intercourse, and that the ladies concerned in it are ‘soiled’); however they don’t imagine it’s ‘victimless’ or innocent. However, the ‘pro-versus-anti-decriminalization’ body does nothing to assist feminists get that argument throughout.

Could feminist opponents of prostitution take Lakoff’s recommendation, and use totally different phrases to place the difficulty in a special body? Some campaigners do name themselves ‘abolitionists’, thus inserting themselves within the custom of earlier struggles to abolish slavery. Another attainable reframing is recommended by the author Rae Story, a former prostitute who now describes herself as a ‘sex-industry crucial feminist’. Discussing the help lately expressed for decriminalization by the left-wing Labour chief Jeremy Corbyn, Story feedback on the paradox of a dedicated socialist taking this place. The intercourse {industry} is run on capitalist ideas: the argument for ‘full decriminalization’  is, she says,

in impact an argument for the total industrialisation of prostitution. It opens the way in which for companies to have the ability to leverage their wealth to construct giant brothels and chains, thus consolidating potential {industry} earnings and hiving them off into smaller and smaller numbers of arms.

This isn’t simply wild hypothesis: the proliferation of mega-brothels run on super-exploitative, neoliberal strains is what has occurred in Germany for the reason that intercourse {industry} there was decriminalized.  Would leftists discover the trigger so clearly progressive if it have been described as ‘the industrialization of prostitution’, or in different phrases which activate a ‘neoliberal capitalism’ body, like ‘deregulation’ and ‘free market’? Would individuals who affiliate ‘decriminalization’ with campaigns for social justice really feel the identical a few marketing campaign for ‘legalized brothels’?

But being labelled ‘anti-decriminalization’ isn’t the one downside for feminist opponents of prostitution. Another downside is the framing of their place as ‘anti-sex’.

From prudes to pearl-clutchers: the rhetoric of ‘anti-sex’

Attitudes to intercourse are a serious dividing line between trendy conservative and progressive ideologies. Whereas conservatives see intercourse as a socially disruptive pressure which should be regulated and contained, progressives regard it as constructive and socially liberating. Because of this, anybody who expresses concern about any form of sexual behaviour is liable to be described by progressives as ‘anti-sex’, that means conservative, moralistic, illiberal and prudish.

Feminists of my era have been listening to this accusation for almost 50 years—initially it got here from anti-feminist males, and now it typically comes from youthful feminists, who preserve that feminine sexual company and pleasure weren’t a part of the second-wave agenda. In actuality, these have been key questions for the Women’s Liberation Movement of the Nineteen Seventies. One of the most-read texts produced by the early WLM was Anne Koedt’s ‘The fable of the vaginal orgasm’ (1970):  after observing that ladies had been ‘outlined sexually when it comes to what pleases males’, Koedt asserted that it was time for them to insist on their very own proper to sexual pleasure:

We should start to demand that if sure sexual positions now outlined as “customary” will not be mutually conducive to orgasm, they not be outlined as customary.

What Koedt and her contemporaries have been towards wasn’t intercourse, it was males dictating the phrases for intercourse. And males dictated the phrases simply as certainly within the ‘progressive’ counter-culture of the Nineteen Sixties as they did in essentially the most conservative household houses. The phrases themselves have been totally different, however males’s entitlement to set them was the identical. And feminists had had sufficient of that.

Unsurprisingly, some males have been lower than delighted by the prospect of sisters doing it for themselves—defining their very own wishes, making their very own calls for, saying no to intercourse they didn’t need (and in some circumstances, to heterosex typically). That form of feminine company wasn’t what males had in thoughts after they talked about sexual ‘liberation’. (An apter phrase than ‘company’ might need been ‘availability’.) Calling feminists ‘uptight’, ‘frigid’ or ‘prudes’ was a means of dismissing the problem feminism posed to conventional, male-centred concepts about intercourse. Terms like ‘anti-sex’ and ‘pearl-clutching’ do the identical job at present. The vocabulary has modified, however the framing is similar.

On some points, feminists have succeeded in altering the body. 50 years in the past, for example, you can be labelled ‘uptight’ for expressing concern about rape. Today you’ll be able to disapprove of rape with out being labelled ‘anti-sex’, as a result of rape has been reframed as an act of violence reasonably than intercourse. But feminist criticisms of prostitution haven’t had the identical influence. On this matter we nonetheless hear all of the previous arguments about males’s sexual wants, and even the declare that if prostituted girls didn’t present an ‘outlet’, the remainder of the feminine inhabitants could be at larger danger of rape. We additionally hear a more recent set of arguments concerning the ‘empowering’ nature of economic intercourse work for girls. Feminists who disagree are referred to as ‘whorephobic’, and accused of denying different girls company and selection.

Of course, feminists have contested these arguments and accusations; they haven’t simply retreated into silence. But Lakoff would say that partaking in debate with an opponent on their phrases, utilizing their most popular language, is a much less efficient technique than redefining the difficulty in your individual phrases. If you need to change the image, change the body.

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