Sex wars revisited: a rhetorical economy of sex industry opposition

Phipps, Alison (2017) Sex wars revisited: a rhetorical economy of sex industry opposition. Journal of International Women's Studies, 18 (4). pp. 306-320. ISSN 1539-8706

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Abstract

This paper attempts to sketch a ‘rhetorical economy’ of feminist opposition to the sex industry, via the case study of debates around Amnesty International’s 2016 policy supporting decriminalisation as the best way to ensure sex workers’ human rights and safety. Drawing on Ahmed’s concept of ‘affective economies’ in which emotions circulate as capital, I explore an emotionally loaded discursive field which is also characterised by specific and calculated rhetorical manoeuvres for political gain. My analysis is situated in what Rentschler and Thrift call the ‘discursive publics’ of contemporary Western feminism, which encompass academic, activist, and public/media discussions. I argue that contemporary feminist opposition to the sex industry is shaped by a ‘sex war’ paradigm which relies on a binary opposition between radical feminist and ‘sex positive’ perspectives. In this framework, sex workers become either helpless victims or privileged promoters of the industry, which leaves little room for discussions of their diverse experiences and their labour rights. As Amnesty’s policy was debated, this allowed opponents of the sex industry to construct sex workers’ rights as ‘men’s rights’, either to purchase sex or to benefit from its sale as third parties or ‘pimps’. These opponents mobilised sex industry ‘survivors’ to dismiss sex worker activists supporting Amnesty’s policy as privileged and unrepresentative, which concealed activists’ experiences of violence and abuse and obscured the fact that decriminalisation is supported by sex workers across the world.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: gender, feminism, sex work, prostitution, Amnesty International, rhetorical economy
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Sociology
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Gender Studies
Subjects: H Social Sciences
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The Family. Marriage. Women
H Social Sciences > HQ The Family. Marriage. Women > HQ1101 Women. Feminism
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
K Law
Depositing User: Alison Phipps
Date Deposited: 03 Apr 2017 14:40
Last Modified: 14 Nov 2017 11:24
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/67246

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