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The Swedish Model and its discontents

July 4, 2009

This law is decidedly UNfeminist. One can’t watch this video and think the Swedes are progressive. It is so regressive! Imagine substituting “sex work” for “acting”. Or any other job. How dehumanizing and infantilizing. Is the answer really to shut women up? Honestly. Does anyone still believe that?

“We want to save you! And if you dont appreciate it you will be punished!”

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Lavode permalink
    July 24, 2009 5:23 pm

    The current Swedish government is conservative, and this isn’t the only thing that’s changed for the worse since they were elected in 2006. Hopefully, feminism and social equality will be back on the agenda after our next election (in 2010).

  2. Christine permalink
    August 21, 2009 2:37 pm

    “This law is decidedly UNfeminist”

    Oh, thank you for clearing THAT up. That is good to know since the law was introduced buy the social democrats and opposed by the conservative party. Then it was FEMINISTS who fought for the law while CONSERVATIVE MEN -who saw it as their god given right to have sex whenever they wanted- opposed it. I mean what would TEH POOOR MENZ do when there were no sex workers available to satisfy their urgent needs?! Sadly for the men the law passed anyway, and now it is illegal for the POOR MENZ to walk down to red light district and buy what they want.

    The purpose of the law was not to save women who couldn’t think for themselves, but to change men’s attitudes towards women’s bodies. Women’s bodies should no longer be objects that men could buy for money.

    It is interseting BTW how discussion around sex work seldom evolves about the clients, and why they find it ok to buy consent to sex.

    /Christine
    Swedish feminist
    Ps. I hope that you very soon also let the other side -namely the many, many feminists that supported the law, share their views

  3. EGhead permalink
    September 14, 2009 9:54 pm

    You– and the woman in this video– are speaking from a very privileged point of view. I don’t believe that all sex workers are ‘victims’– there are women who freely choose it. However, you– and this woman, and the ‘pro-sex’ feminist movement in general– are willing to throw countless more women under the bus for the privileged few to continue to do what they like. The ‘pro-sex’ movement is largely made up of the race- and class- and neurotypically-privileged, who seem to be forgetting that patriarchy is not the only system of oppression and that others have to contend with forces like racism, classism, and poverty, not to mention the powerful force that is mental illness. The majority of sex workers do what they do because sex work is their last option (or they feel it is their last option… which is the same thing). When women have sex because they have no other option, that’s called rape. There are countless numbers of women out there who will never be interviewed who are being raped, and this ridiculously privileged view (that the right to choose sex work outweighs the rights of many more women not to be raped) is perpetuating the institution that enables such rapes to occur. Don’t misunderstand that last sentence; the blame for rape rests entirely with the rapists. But perpetuating an activity, an INSTITUTION, that thrives on the rape of women is completely unethical, and doing so makes one guilty in the same way we’re all guilty when we ignore others’ problems and the privileges that allow us to do so. That is the opposite of feminism.

    I’m going to pre-empt a few possible arguments right now. Helping the women who don’t want to be there get out is NOT enough. The system has to be radically changed, and punishing the real criminals (the rapists) is a good first step. Secondly, sex work is in no way comparable to other undesired jobs like flipping burgers and stocking shelves unless… you believe those activities are equivalent to rape. So don’t even go there.

  4. EGhead permalink
    September 14, 2009 10:08 pm

    I’m going to come clean and say that I do have a personal stake in this matter. When I was younger, a combination of abuse and mental illness drove me to sex work, and I will never fully recover from the experience. I was violated, I was raped– because I went into sex work solely because I thought I HAD to. I’m still angry at myself for thinking this way, though I know it’s not my fault. Mostly, I’m angry at the men who helped me hurt myself– no, who hurt me, period.

    And I’m also angry at all of the women out there who don’t realize that their voluntary participation in this system helped make my abuse possible; because if every woman who freely chose sex work chose another career, patronizing a sex worker would then unequivocally have to be a crime. And not a crime like ‘soliciting,’ a crime like rape. There would be far fewer men out there committing these rapes if we actually called them such and actually punished them as such. Meaning, the men would go to jail for a long time and the women would be understood as victims and not criminals.

    Sweden is taking the first step towards this scenario. It makes me furious that a site that is against rape would bash it.

  5. EGhead permalink
    September 14, 2009 10:23 pm

    I’m also going to pre-empt the ‘then we would have to outlaw sex, because of the people who might not be consenting.’ This is way off, firstly because I think we can all get by without the sex industry, but we obviously cannot get by without sex. It’s also way off because it refuses to acknowledge the driving principle of the sex industry. This is where it gets philosophical. Reducing women– or female sexuality, if you prefer– to a commodity will always result in those women being mistreated, no matter how much progress we make in protecting sex workers from abusive pimps and clients. Regular sex also doesn’t have the monetary incentive and therefore is not exploitative of the underprivileged in a way that is close to sex work.

    Responding to this with examples like ‘some women get married and have sex because they’re poor’ are missing the point. I’m not arguing that such a situation isn’t awful, or isn’t sexual assault, or that we don’t need to work on dismantling the forces that create that situation. I’m saying that the sex industry is a much more concrete institution of oppression than poverty or any of the -isms, and there are abundantly clear steps we can take to delegitimize its power. And Sweden is taking a first step.

  6. Azira permalink
    September 30, 2009 3:50 pm

    The most basic idea behind the law–the abolition of an institution that is frequently harmful to its subscribers and supports a decidedly anti-feminist view of women’s bodies as chattel (notice that even Jacobsson admits that there is little dialog concerning male sex workers)–is a good one. No woman should ever feel that having sex is her last option to avoid a terrible situation, whether that situation is physical harm, harassment, abuse, or going without basic needs. Whether or not voluntary sex work is good/bad/ugly is an intricate debate, but involuntary sex work at least is definitely A Bad Thing.

    However, outlawing sex work entirely is completely the wrong way to go about solving the problem. Instead of targeting those who exploit sex workers, whether they be pimps or clients, it casts a broad net over anyone involved in the business. This means that the woman who is barely surviving via sex work will have her livelihood taken away with no alternatives offered. She may lose her home or children, as in the example described in the video. These women who are in the business of selling sex because it is a last resort are the ones who need the most help transitioning into a life with a non-sex-based occupation, but they’re the ones most likely to be hurt by the law. They end up denied the only way of surviving they could think of, and there’s no one there to offer them counseling, education, or even basic human needs like food and shelter, all of which were the factors that sent them into undesired prostitution in the first place.

    In addition, a law like this essentially demonizes those who participate in the sex industry–not only those who wrongfully profit from it, but those who are victims. They are all turned into criminals, or else pitiful people in denial about their situations–views which conveniently also make it harder to get a “real” job, or any social respect. It is not enough to recognize someone as a victim of a crime if one’s treatment of the victim is to go “Oh, that poor thing, how sad,” and do nothing else. Pity is beyond useless, it is degrading.

    If sex workers truly are the victims of their institution, how is punishing them going to help anything? Sweden might do well to examine how the laws can be made more effective, as long as by “effective” they mean “actually benefiting society instead of perpetuating stigma and unemployment/homelessness/abusive situations”.

  7. Politics Student permalink
    February 26, 2012 11:38 am

    If sex workers truly are the victims of their institution, how is punishing them going to help anything?

    That is exactly it. The law does not punish the women who sell sex. It punishes the men who buy it. The man is the social problem, not the woman.

    The alternative is to legalise or to completely prohibit both buying and selling. In the first instance, more women in vulnerable positions would be likely to consider it because it is arguably a well paid alternative to other low skill jobs. For me, this would be very bad for women as a social group and especially poor women of low educational achievement. A financially troubled woman would be a potential prey for any man who wanted to take advantage of her situation, as if this does not happen already. And in the second case, trafficked women and others who are coerced or pressured into prostitution, would enter the criminal justice system. Not a great place to be if you are already emotionally troubled.

    This woman is basically saying: “I like selling sex and I want to continue doing it because I do not personally suffer from what I am doing, the hell with anyone else”. Then in the next breath she mentions all the dangerous clients. Sorry if I don’t sympathise with her position, which is basically that she wants to make easy money at the detriment of others.

  8. eroticundulation permalink
    February 26, 2012 11:21 pm

    First, EGhead, I am so very sorry you experienced what you did. Nobody should ever have to be traumatized by sex work. Ever.

    I believe the root of this trauma was more the the fact that you thought you had to do it, and the reason for that (rather than the objective transactional nature of the job), leading to your feeling that anything that happened to you felt forced. And if it was forced, ten times worse!

    There is no worse feeling than feeling trapped in any situation, and the extremely personal nature of sex work would compound that feeling. I am sorry for your experience, and I send you healing vibes.

    See my second post to Azira below.

    EGhead: And I’m also angry at all of the women out there who don’t realize that their voluntary participation in this system helped make my abuse possible;

    That’s not fair. I am sad you think that way, but in no way are any of us responsible for how someone else treated you. The whole concept of the Slut Walk movement was about this: wearing a short skirt/provocative dress, being a sexually active woman/sex worker, etc. are NOT to be blamed for violence against women. The perpetrators of the violence are solely to blame. As a friend of mine once said, stop teaching women how not to get raped, and start teaching men not to rape.

    Azira:The most basic idea behind the law–the abolition of an institution that is frequently harmful to its subscribers and supports a decidedly anti-feminist view of women’s bodies as chattel (notice that even Jacobsson admits that there is little dialog concerning male sex workers)–is a good one.

    Azira, I liked the rest of your post, but I do take issue with the above quoted part. There is no solid evidence that the institution is “frequently harmful to its subscribers”. There is plenty of evidence that it is frequently harmful to female sex workers interviewed in homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, drug rehabilitation centers, prisons, and NGO sponsored “helping” projects. Arguably, the sex workers in these situations have suffered significantly more- and more types- of trauma than the average sex worker. Of course, it is also very difficult to assess what an “average sex worker” is. Nobody knows because those who don’t get into trouble with the law or take part in the services described above will never (or rarely) be counted in a study.

    Furthermore, the only way sex work supports the idea of women as chattel is if you subscribe to the idea that sex workers actually sell their bodies. We do not. We sell our sexual services. We get to keep our bodies and take them home with us afterward.😉

    No woman should ever feel that having sex is her last option to avoid a terrible situation, whether that situation is physical harm, harassment, abuse, or going without basic needs.

    Absolutely. And decriminalization would help to make this less the case across the board. That’s because if it were decriminalized, we could have classes and trainings about the job that would make everyone safer and more aware of what the work entails, without worrying that we’ll get a felony charge for pandering. So far, only a few places exist where someone can find good, current information on sex work, such as Amanda Brooks’s books and blog. It is very hard to come by these resources under a criminalized (or partially criminalized, even) system, so someone desperate to try it out for whatever reason has to work initially on their own assumptions about the work (which are often misinformed by bad journalism, bad stereotypes, and whore stigma). If it were decriminalized, we could help by saying “do it this way and not that way”.

    Politics Student:The law does not punish the women who sell sex. It punishes the men who buy it. The man is the social problem, not the woman.

    But it does punish the women. Maybe not by putting them in prison, but by forcing “rehabilitation” on them and by making their “non-illegal” job extremely difficult to do profitably. And by establishing that the state knows better what is best for women than women do.

    The alternative is to legalise or to completely prohibit both buying and selling.

    No- there is another alternative, and that is full decriminalization. And this is what it looks like.

    A financially troubled woman would be a potential prey for any man who wanted to take advantage of her situation, as if this does not happen already.

    (emphasis mine)

    You’ve just pointed out that this does already happen. So under full decriminalization, this is more likely to be addressed, such as with classes and training. But even if some financially (or otherwise) troubled women get taken advantage of, they would still have the ability to call for help without worrying about getting arrested or not being taken seriously.

  9. March 12, 2013 9:57 pm

    Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    The Dutch now discuss the Swedish model. But there is strong opposition to it, for instance by Hendrik Wagenaar.

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