Last night, a close friend told me he had been reading my posts about decriminalizing sex work. “I’m sympathetic,” he said, “and I want to agree with you. But I just keep thinking, ‘what if it were my daughter?’ That’s, like, every father’s worst nightmare.”
My friend doesn’t have a daughter, to be clear. He’s also one of the most sexually liberal people I know. But while his attitude does discourage me, it doesn’t surprise me. This is the sexist culture we live in—one where a man who I know has had sex with at least three different women in the past week can literally imagine nothing worse for his hypothetical daughter than getting paid to have sex.
Damon Linker trots out similar sentiment at The Week today. Using his apparent mind-reading powers, he asserts that no one could honestly be okay with having a child in porn:
People may say they see nothing wrong with or even admire (Miriam Weeks’) decision to become a porn actress, but it isn’t unambiguously true. And our ease of self-deception on the matter tells us something important about the superficiality of the moral libertarianism sweeping the nation.
How do I know that nearly everyone who claims moral indifference or admiration for Weeks is engaging in self-deception? Because I conducted a little thought experiment. I urge you to try it. Ask yourself how you would feel if Weeks — porn star Belle Knox — was your daughter.
I submit that virtually every honest person — those with children of their own, as well as those who merely possess a functional moral imagination — will admit to being appalled at the thought.
Linker knows that nearly everyone must feel appalled because… he thought about it and was appalled? That’s some pretty shaky logic. (By the reverse, I conducted a thought experiment and am not appalled ergo everyone wants porn star daughters!) It also preemptively dismisses disagreement—anyone who says they are not appalled is just not being honest.
Under that rubric, I’m not even sure what sense it makes to argue, but nonetheless: I would not be appalled to have Weeks as my daughter. I would be proud to have raised a young woman of intelligence, confidence, academic commitment, libertarian leanings, a strong feminist streak, and a way with words. I would worry about a daughter doing porn—but not because of the porn itself. I would worry about the way she might be treated by people outside the industry. I would worry that she might experience sexual violence not on set, but at the hands of people who think porn stars and prostitutes don’t deserve the same bodily integrity as “good” women. And my heart would break to think of her other accomplishments being dismissed by people intent on defining a women’s worth by how many people with which she’s had sex.
I would sure as shit rather have a porn star daughter (or son) than one who thinks, as Linker does, that being in porn makes someone “low, base, and degraded.”
I think I get this viewpoint from my very Catholic, sex-negative, virgin-until-marriage mother. She taught me that we’re all created equal, that only God can judge, and everyone, everyone, is deserving of charity and respect. (The God part didn’t resonate so much with me, but you win some, you lose some.) I’m also reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from a book called Das Energi:
Don’t ever think you know what’s right for the other person. He might start thinking he knows what’s right for you
There’s nothing wrong with having certain expectations for your children—most parents want to see their kids live up to their fullest potential and achieve certain markers of normative success. All else being equal, I’d rather my own hypothetical daughter choose, say, engineering over becoming a Burger King cashier or a brothel worker, because the former seems to offer more security and room for advancement. But here’s the crux of the matter: Our best laid plans mean jack.
“It’s fine that you wouldn’t want your daughter having sex for money,” I told my friend yesterday, “but say she does anyway, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Would you want her to have to stand out on the street, get in cars with totally unvetted strangers, be arrested, get a criminal record? Or would you want her to be able to work in a safe environment? And go to the police if something bad happened? And not get thrown in jail?”
Decriminalizing prostitution is a means of harm reduction.
It’s the same argument people make about marijuana: You don’t have to get high, or even approve of people getting high, to think we shouldn’t be locking people for up it. Proponents of decriminalization aren’t asking you to become pro prostitution, to encourage your kids to go into sex work, or even to abandon thinking it’s morally wrong, if that’s what you think. Plenty of people think premarital sex in general is wrong, but they probably don’t think it should be illegal. All we’re asking is for you to consider that criminalizing prostitution does more harm than good. If — gasp! horror! disgust! — your daughter did happen to become a sex worker, wouldn’t you want to make it as safe and non-ruinous for her as possible?
Thoughts? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.