The 'subject' of prostitution: Interpreting the discursive, symbolic and material position of sex/work in feminist thoery

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Abstract

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.
LanguageEnglish
Pages343-355
Number of pages12
JournalFeminist Theory
Volume5
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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prostitution
patriarchy
domination
privilege
sexuality
writer
interpretation

Keywords

  • prostitution
  • sex work
  • violence
  • identity
  • feminism

Cite this

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abstract = "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.",
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