No Gods, No Pimps, No Masters

I mentioned here before that Roderick and I would be presenting an essay for the Molinari Society inaugural symposium on feminism and libertarianism. The symposium was excellent; besides a helpful and provoking discussion on our essay, I also got to hear excellent essays by co-panelists Jennifer McKitrick and Elizabeth Brake. Back home, we found that the discussion had spread ahead of us: some of our comments surrounding the essay have already stirred up an engaging, if sometimes frustrating, discussion/contrversy at Liberty & Power, involving folks who had gotten the chance to hear the essay in Boston and others who are still awaiting a look at the text.

What therefore you debate as unknown, this I proclaim to you: I’m glad to announce that a draft-in-progress of our essay, Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved? This is a draft-in-progress of the essay, which we read in abbreviated form in Boston. Comments, questions, applause, and brickbats are all welcome—nay, encouraged.

The current debate arose from something that was actually fairly peripheral to our essay: the kind words we had for Andrea Dworkin in the course of drawing a comparison between her analysis of the relationship between rape culture and militarism and Herbert Spencer’s. And yes, we partly did that because it was fun and provocative, as a tangent, to draw the comparison between the oft-denounced and seldom-read Spencer, and the oft-denounced and seldom-read Dworkin. But while the remarks were mostly tangential, the issues raised in the controversy are important; both because Andrea Dworkin’s worth defending and because the issues under debate all come back either to central points raised in the essay, or else points that probably should have been addressed there. So if you’ve really been dying to find out whether libertarianism and radical feminism are compatible, why radical feminists should be radical individualists, why existing libertarian feminist projects are so often limiting when they come to really existing contemporary feminist efforts, and how putting the feminism back in libertarian feminism will aid both causes but make for some strange attractorstolle, lege.

Fire away.

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  1. Jeanine Ring

    Forgive me, but while I agree vastly with your attends to do justice to feminism and to Ms. Dworkin within libertarian culture, I am very uncomfortable with your equivalence of ‘pimps’ with ‘gods’ and ‘masters’. (well, I’m not an atheist… but that’s not the point)

    A ‘pimp’ is a legal term that can cover anything from straight out coercive private slavery, to exploitive but noncoercive protection, to a mutually beneficial relation similar to that of an actress’ agent- which is actually the term many escorts use in the trade. As a sex worker, I would have no objection to an agent who I know and trust, for the simple reason that I am good at the passion and drama of my profession, but am not particularly good at advertising, negotiating, or seeking business. I quite agree with Magdalene Meretrix’ suggestion in Turning Pro: a Guide to Sex Work for the Ambitious and Intrigued that an intelligent sex worker try to outsource aspects of the Life which they are not good at, and I myself would be glad to outsource management.

    I do understand that this is a different manner from the social construction of the term ‘pimp’- which includes a sense of ownership, authority, and seamy-dishonest personal relations which I have no use for. I could probably agree that ‘pimps’ need to go… in precisely the sense that they are not simply business agents or managers (tho’ I might say precisely the same about capitalist ‘managers’…). Yet in the abscence of further clarification, this slogan suggests an abolitionist stance on pimping which implies an abolitionist stance on prostitution. Something which I, as a feminist who chose prostitution volitionally, and out of genuine desire for the life- although I quite admit under a complimated personal history and social conditions- must protest.

    Patriarchy and sexism have certainly done much to construct and corrupt prostituion- but neither logic nor history shows prostituion as artefacts of patriarchy; in a free and nonpatriarchal society, sexual desire both unfulfilled and for the luxurious and exotic would still exist, and hence prostituion. I think it as sad that prostitution is considered a male-on-female trade, but this is not logically neccesary, and I do know a male libertarian friend who is a colleague in the life, as I have known female clients. Admittedly I am an unusual case, but not so unusual as it might seem. Many prostitutes remember a herstory of prostitution older than patriarchy, the war upon which was in fact inseperable from the conquest of patriarchal morality (as documented in, among other things, the Bible). I consider prostituion to be first and foremost the vocation of cultivating desire through perfection of oneself as an existence as erotic experience- an art, and a craft, like any other, and demanding of its own excellences and disciplines. This is not a conception of prostitution new either to my contemporary coworkers or to history. Ultimately, I agree with a version of Ayn Rand’s claim that desire is a response to value- then sex work is finally about the performance of that value which makes desire possible.

    my regards,

    Jeanine Ring )(*)( stand forth!

  2. Otto M. Kerner

    Umm, what does all of this have to do with God, anyway?

  3. Rad Geek

    Otto: the title is a radical feminist play on the French anarchist slogan ni dieu ni maitre (No gods, no masters). Since it’s just a matter of mangling traditional quotes, I didn’t much intend for it to provoke a debate over God and the State—although I do happen to be both an anarchist and an atheist, and I think that there are interesting and important historical ties between the “freethinking” and anarchist movements, and to accept some traditional anarchist arguments against particular historical varieties of theism. On the other hand, I do think that the “Pie in the sky” critique (to take one example) is way too broad if it’s taken as a universal indictment of religion (or even of Christianity specifically), and (unlike some of the folks I otherwise admire) I don’t think that either theism or religion or Christianity specifically is as such incompatible with anarchism in any strong sense, and specific historical varieties of (for example) Christianity have made very important contributions to struggles for liberty and justice.

    Jeanine: you’re right that there’s a lot going on here that I’m not setting out, and you’re right to press me on it. I have many of the common radical feminist worries about prostitution as an actually existing social institution, but I don’t have any particular settled view about autonomous “sex work” outside of the conditions of patriarchy. That said, I do think that it’s important to put the worries about the actually existing social institution front and center, and to try to do so in a way that both (1) supports and helps women in prostitution in their efforts to survive, while (2) does not glamorize or apologize for the institution or let the pimps take over speaking for the women they exploit.

    Whether this is an “abolitionist” stance towards prostitution or not ends up depending on what you mean. I do think that the actually existing social institution of prostitution that we see today is male-dominated, misogynist, cruelly exploitative, and in some cases extremely violent. (I know that you know more about these aspects than I could ever convey.) In that sense, prostitution as we know it needs to die. But (1) I support complete and immediate decriminalization, both as a libertarian and as a feminist, so any “abolition” I envision is certainly not a matter of legal prohibition; and (2) as I said, my stance on prostitution as we know it translates neither into any kind of blaming of women in prostitution, nor into any settled political stance on “sex work” as it might be independent of patriarchy.

    As for “No Pimps”: It’s true that if “pimping” just meant serving as an agent hired by a person in prostitution to manage some business aspects of the work that he or she doesn’t want to bother with; but of course (as you point out) that is not the situation for which the term “pimp” is commonly employed, and I’d go so far to say that whatever such an agent would be, she or he wouldn’t be a pimp at all, at least not as we use the term today. So whatever the case would be with regard to “sex work” outside of the conditions of male supremacy, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it would be a situation with no pimps, no masters.

    Is my position still problematic? Well, maybe. Most people’s positions are at some point. But that’s the best I can make of it at the moment. I’d be glad to hear more of what you think about it.

— 2007 —

  1. Viviane B

    ‘No gods, no pimps, no masters’ is now on my citation page from Rad Geek :-)

    I like the work you’re doing to promote a self-thinking community of self-respecting people, thanks

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