Since the American “Sex Wars” were fought in the 80’s between different strands of feminism, feminists have been arguing about how to interpret the issue of prostitution. The positions taken differ in points of departure, analytical focus, epistemological claims and of course in suggested solutions. This article examines this heated debate, as articulated within the Western context during the last some twenty years, suggesting a way of structuring it. Using distinctions such as analytical-empirical, pragmatic-idealistic and fragmented-coherent, I discuss how the different approaches to the issue of prostitution are phrased. In the article, I discuss six key points of conflict.
1. Is prostitution understood as a) purely an act or b) also as a gendered institution, with an impact on society as a whole?
2. Who is visible in the discussion about “prostitution”? a) Women in prostitution, who are made equivalent with prostitution, or b) the buying men, who are seen as key actors in prostitution?
3. How is “the whore” interpreted? As a) an empirical figure, embodiedby the sex working woman, breaking gendered norms, or as b) a gendered filter of interpretation through which women are measured and constructed as women, manifesting gendered norms?
4. How is prostitution understood? “Per se”/in idealistic terms or as it manifests it self/in a pragmatic terms? In other words, is prostitution a) taken to be impossible to abolish but possible to reform, as to become what it really is – sex work – or is it b) seen as important to make fundamental changes in society, which can’t come about as long as prostitution is accepted?
5. What is seen as negotiated in the prostitution contract? Is it a) sex that is bought and sold, or is it b) women’s sexual but non reproductive bodies, i.e. women’s accessibility for men?
6. Is prostitution taken as a) a postulate, laying ground for how we should define politics and policy, or b) as a practice that can and should be challenged and politically contested.
2012. no 3, 101-123 p.