Tag Archives: Feminisms


Can there be such a thing as feminist pornography? Many still say no. Echoing decades of anti-pornography feminist literature, Gail Dines told the Daily Beast in 2012 that “anyone willing to feed off women’s bodies and use them as raw materials to make a profit has no right to call themselves feminists.” But many feminists, including those who make porn, disagree. Despite decades of efforts to suppress it, porn is reaching larger audiences than ever. Making porn more politically progressive for those who consume it and making sets safer for performers are critical issues for feminist intervention—and feminist pornographers have chosen to take on both.

What do discourses about prisons, trafficking and “prostitution” have in common? This paper analyses the ideological framework of social movements with respect to the rhetorical deployment of abolitionism. Critical to all of these movements is the concept of abolishing slavery. After tracing “the new abolitionism” of trafficking and prostitution back to the 19th Century Anglo American temperance movement, this paper will address the following: How are these social movements impacted by considerations of (social) class, religious fervor, gender, sexuality, citizenship, race, and ethnicity? Who is speaking for whom and why does it matter, politically and ethically? In what ways are today’s opponents of “prostitution” reproducing yesterday’s slogans of “white slavery”? It is argued that there are some fundamental differences between contemporary anti-prison movements and the anti-sex industry movement. Prisoners’ rights activists focus on the causes of mass incarceration and explore which demands best lead to overall decarceration; penal critics demand excarceration and a complete transformation of the penal system. Those who condemn “prostitution” rely heavily on the prosecution of “pimps” and “johns” with the goal of freeing the girls and women from “sexual slavery.” Finally, the paper will explain in detail why it is misplaced to label the movement against the sex industry as abolitionist rather than, say, prohibitionist.

Scoular, Jane, The Subject of Prostitution (June 20, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Prostitution is often viewed in feminist theory as the sine qua non of the female condition under patriarchy. Frequently cited as ‘the absolute embodiment of patriarchal male privilege’ (Kesler, 2002: 19), the highly gendered nature of commercial sex appears to offer a graphic example of male domination, exercised through the medium of sexuality.

This construction is, however, as convincing as it is problematic. By reviewing the work of Shelia Jeffries, Judith Walkowitz, Gail Pheterson, Shannon Bell, Jo Doezema, Kamala Kempadoo and Jo Phoenix, I aim to illustrate that feminist writers, by assuming different theoretical lenses, offer diverse interpretations of the subject of prostitution – both in terms of women’s subjective positions and as a problem of a particular type. Prostitution therefore rather than having a singular meaning is more usefully viewed as an important crucible for testing the central mainstays of feminist theory. As Donna Guy notes:

Full of apparent contradictions and discrepancies, the history of modern prostitution control offers a dynamic perspective on the private lives of women as well as the public functioning of medicine, patriarchy and the nation state and emphasizes the need to understand how gender and sexuality are interrelated inextricably to race, cultural diversity and economic circumstances. (Guy, 1995: 182)

As this quotation suggests, and as I will demonstrate in the course of this article, there are limitations in viewing prostitution as straightforwardly paradigmatic, given the contingencies and diversity of the structures under which its materializes.

Full text available here.

Cyrus, Norbert. The Concept of Demand in Relation to Trafficking in Human Beings. A Review of Debates since the late 19th Century, DemandAT Working Paper No.2, 2015. 


The 2000 UN Trafficking Protocol has obliged states to discourage demand that fosters exploitation that leads to trafficking. Fifteen years later, there is still no shared understanding of what demand means in the context of debates on trafficking in human beings (THB). The terms “trafficking” and “demand” display a lexical and referential ambiguity. This paper provides a history of the occurrence and usage of the concepts “trafficking” and “demand” in the context of debates on trafficking and explores the different meanings and understandings attached to these terms in past and present debates. The paper covers debates on trafficking in human beings since the 1860s and shows that terminological confusion was and still is a constant feature of these debates. The term abolition referred initially to the abolition of state regulation and not – as it is understood in the present-day debates – to the abolition of prostitution. The term trafficking is introduced in past and present debates with a confusing diversity of meanings, referring to the kidnapping of girls for the purpose of prostitution, fraudulent procurement of unsuspecting women for prostitution abroad, procurement of consenting women for prostitution, abetting of irregular border crossing or fraudulent abetting of irregular migration with the purpose of exploiting migrants after arrival and other issues. The term demand was introduced in past and present debates and has a diversity of meanings. It can refer to the biological drive of males, to a demand generated by a system of state regulation of prostitution, to a demand of brothel owners and pimps, or to a demand of male clients to purchase commercial sexual services. Thus, when the issue of demand is raised in debates of trafficking, the meaning attached to the term in a communication context is usually not clear; and the same speaker can often use the term demand rather metaphorically with changing meanings. The paper shows that terminological confusion is effect and cause of ongoing and unsolved controversies about the legal handling of prostitution. The paper shows how the issue of demand originally entered the UN Trafficking Protocol and how subsequent attempts failed to develop an authoritative definition. Although debates are characterised by terminological ambiguity, even the claim that a definition is a necessity is denied. Conceptual confusion hampers mutual understanding, prevents reasonable dispute and undermines the capacity to develop policy approaches which effectively provide protection from trafficking and exploitation. The paper closes with the observation that the controversy surrounding the meaning of demand in the context of anti-trafficking efforts has the effect of raising attention to deal more directly with the issue of exploitation.

Full article available here. 

In the late 1970s, Carol Leigh (a.k.a. Scarlot Harlot) coined the term “sex work” as a means to best describe the labor she and other workers in commercial sex industries performed. Leigh hoped the term would unite workers, provide an alternative to stigmatized language, and “acknowledg[e] the work we do rather than defin[e] us by our status.”….Continue reading here.

Ola Florin, “A Particular Kind of Violence: Swedish Social Policy Puzzles of a Multipurpose Criminal Law” Sexuality Research and Social Policy, September 2012, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 269-278

This article explores the policy underpinning Sweden’s 1999 ban on purchases of sexual services with a focus on the social and health service sectors and their role vis-à-vis people who sell sex. It argues that the rationale behind the ban is difficult to reconcile with legislation and practices beyond the merit of criminal justice. While an understanding of prostitution as “men’s violence against women” may serve symbolic functions at central policy level, it can hardly guide local implementation without conflicting with core social policy principles. The article concludes that there is a need to address the agency of people who sell sex, since denying or minimizing such agency may be counterproductive to the policy’s own objectives.

Full text available here.


Intimidated from leaving the house [of prostitution], forced to submit her person to the last indignity that can be inflicted upon a woman, here she was a slave as was ever any negro upon Virginian soil.1

On 2 January 1880, Alfred Stace Dyer, a publisher and opponent of state-regulated prostitution, wrote to the Daily News to expose the fact that young English girls were immured in the licensed brothels of the near Continent. With this, the phenomenon of sex trafficking entered popular consciousness in England and the country’s anti-trafficking movement was inaugurated. The domestic campaign against the regulation of prostitution, led by the revered women’s rights activist Josephine Butler, had been the prime force in England’s fight against systematic female sexual exploitation since 1869. The anti-trafficking movement, in contrast, was, and would continue to be, dominated by men.

The leaders of the new movement predicated their rhetoric on distinct concepts of domesticity, masculine duty and nationhood. Configurations of these concepts formed the ideological bedrock of dominant representations of sex trafficking during the first chapter of anti-trafficking activism in England between 1880 and 1912 (the year in which the Criminal Law Amendment (CLA) Bill that was promoted as the country’s first anti-trafficking measure was being debated). Employing variations of the doctrine of social purity, the leaders represented themselves as archetypal ‘fathers’ who, by defending the nation’s daughters from trafficking, were preserving English domesticity, the moral fabric of society and ultimately the welfare of the nation and empire. They promoted the need for other ‘ordinary men’ to follow their lead and help repel what they urged was a profound racial threat to national interests. Amid controversy over the 1912 CLA Bill, certain male activists subverted these notions through discourses that condemned anti-trafficking advocates, and turned ‘the home’ into a contested terrain for the men engaging with the question of sex trafficking. They cast particular organisations that were campaigning against trafficking as the real threat to English womanhood and domesticity, and positioned themselves, the (male) critics of anti-trafficking protest, as the true heads of household and guardians of national interests.

The centrality of concepts of masculine domesticity in dominant discourses of sex trafficking, I argue in this article, had important consequences. It caused a repressive politics of patriarchy to prevail in key portrayals of trafficking that exalted ‘the respectable white English male’ above all others. Specifically, it caused representations that progressively stigmatised the victims of trafficking, marginalised women, and demonised certain ‘foreigners’ to accompany – and detract from – the practical inroads that were made by the country’s anti-trafficking movement throughout the period.