Ouch! Western Feminists’ ‘Wounded Attachment’ to the ‘Third World Prostitute

Doezema, Jo (2001): Ouch! Western Feminists’ ‘Wounded Attachment’ to the ‘Third World Prostitute’, Feminist Review [serial online]. Spring 2001;67(67):16-38.

Article available here. (PDF) or here (HTML)

The subject of ‘trafficking in women’ has, since the mid 1980s, received increased international attention. Currently, negotiations are underway at the UN Crimes Commission in Vienna around a new international agreement on trafficking in women (Draft Protocol To Combat International Trafficking In Women And Children Supplementary To The Draft Convention On Transnational Organized CrimeA/AC.254/4/add.3). This new agreement has been the subject of lobbying by feminist anti-trafficking NGOs. The lobby efforts are split into two ‘camps’. One, the Human Rights Caucus, sees prostitution as legitimate labour. The other, represented by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), sees all prostitution as a violation of women’s human rights. While there are some similarities in their representations of the ‘third world trafficking victim’, CATW in particular views ‘third world prostitutes’ as helpless victims in need of rescue. This paper analyses CATW’s position and the writings of its founder, Kathleen Barry. It suggests that CATW’s construction of ‘third world prostitutes’ is part of a wider western feminist impulse to construct a damaged ‘other’ as the main justification for its own interventionist impulses.

The central argument of this paper is that the ‘injured body’ of the ‘third world trafficking victim’ in international feminist debates around trafficking in women serves as a powerful metaphor for advancing certain feminist interests, which cannot be assumed to be those of third world sex workers themselves. The term ‘injured body’ is drawn from Wendy Brown’s States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (1995). In this work, Brown argues that modern identity politics are based on a feeling of ‘injury’ caused by exclusion from the presumed ‘goods’ of the modern liberal state.

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