I’m a member of the Libertarian Party. A short articulation of why is “my body, my choice.” One might reasonably assume I’m referring to one’s right to choose regarding abortion or recreational drug use, and I do support both, but to claim that is the whole story would be a superficial reading of my commitment to liberty. “My body, my choice” as a maxim must extend to the choice to sell one’s own sexual services. Otherwise, it is a shallow refrain with little meaning and less impact.
It is perplexing when pro-choice advocates, with whom I largely agree, have boo to say regarding an individual’s natural right to sell their own body as a commodity. Or, even worse, when they reject that right.
Consider the positon of feminist scholar Andrea Dworkin. Regarding abortion, Dworkin claims the state has a duty to provide the legal option to terminate any pregnancy; she asserts abortion is, in fact, a civil right. This argument turns on two claims, one more controversial than the other.
The first claim is that because terminating a pregnancy is a medical procedure which only women can undergo, denying abortive services violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. The second, more provocative claim, is that the patriarchal culture in which we live and which is supported by the state, conditions toxic gender roles; men are trained and conditioned to be sexually dominant and women, against their own self-interest, to find pleasure in submission. Thus, Dworkin concludes sex is always a coercive act and becoming pregnant can never be interpreted as a free choice. Additionally, the state ought to be considered complicit in every unwanted pregnancy. Drawing again from the 14th amendment and a state’s obligation to promote gender equality, the state must provide legal means by which those pregnancies can be terminated.
Now, one can reasonably reject the premise that all sex is coercive and still recognize the fundamental right of individuals to bodily autonomy. Dworkin rightly points out the state is largely responsible for the systemic oppression and patriarchy in our society. However, when it comes to the question of whether a woman-or any individual-should be free from government reprisal for prostitution, she gives the state a pass.
Even though she argues the state must provide legal means of abortion, she contends prostitution ought to remain illegal and this puzzles me. Dworkin, a powerful communicator and writer of feminist ideas, seems to ignore the danger her theoretical arguments present to real sex workers, most of whom are women. Because the sexual marketplace remains illicit, prostitutes are left without the legal redress of monetary and physical damages incurred in their line of work. Not only are these individuals deprived of legal protections, their workplace itself is made exponentially more dangerous because it exists in the shadows.
Furthermore, those who argue for the continued prohibition of prostitution don’t seem to recognize that individuals with felony records are unlikely to break free from poverty and oppression. Having a felony diminishes the likelihood of obtaining employment and with no other means to support themselves or loved ones, individuals (again, mostly women) return to the sex trade, perpetually trapped.
Liberty is the solution to these problems, not institutionalized paternalism. The Libertarian Party recognizes, as Dworkin did, the state is culpable for perpetuating a cycle of oppression. But, by supporting an individual’s liberty to engage in the sex market with a legal safety net, the Libertarian
Party stands taller than those who simply want the freedom to terminate pregnancies or use drugs. The Libertarian Party is working to liberate those women forced into sexual slavery and to encourage voluntary individual entrepreneurship. That’s why I am a Libertarian.