Sex and Prosperity

September 5, 2019

‘Nothing we can do will make the world more free, fair and prosperous than giving women control over their own bodies’

Women’s bodies are one of the biggest political battlegrounds of our time. What should in many ways be personal – a woman’s body – is instead political.

The assault ranges from the recent clampdown on family planning in the United States (and its global gag rule prohibiting funding for international family-planning organisations that discuss or offer abortion), to new repressive restrictions on clothing, including ‘burqa bans’, or new laws in a growing number of European countries that aim to abolish women’s ability to monetise their bodies. Everyone, it seems, has a view on what women should or shouldn’t be doing with their own bodies.

That is a point I make when protesting naked. When I’m met with criticism and verbal abuse, my response is simple: if you don’t like women’s bodies featuring in the public sphere, then I’m not the one you need to get angry with. If women’s bodies weren’t political, I wouldn’t be spending my time giving naked talks to draw attention to the bleak reality. Blame politicians. Even better, blame the voters who vote for them.

The redoubled attack on women’s bodily autonomy comes, paradoxically, at a time when feminism is increasingly popular. In part, the expanding appeal of feminism might be a response to the evident regression. But feminists are not entirely blameless. A vein of feminism lies at the heart of some of the growing restrictions on women’s bodily freedom.

Some ‘feminists’, for example, like to argue that one cannot be feminist while showing off too much of your body; others argue that you cannot be feminist while covering too much of your body. Both see clothing restrictions as empowering to women. Women’s ability to choose seems not to feature; the claim that we are all ‘socially conditioned’ apparently makes it irrelevant.

The greatest of the ‘feminist’ attacks on women’s freedom comes in the form of the ‘Nordic Model’ feminists. They have, in effect, made it harder and more dangerous for women who choose to make money from their bodies. While monetising your brain is to be celebrated, monetising your body is, apparently, to be denigrated, even criminalised – if not on the selling side, then on the buying side.

While we can all agree that those forced into sex work should be helped to exit – and those doing the forcing brought to justice – many others are simultaneously being denied the right to make their own choices about whether or not to charge for access to their vagina (by women who are, of course, free to charge for the use of their brains). The intellectual elitism and hypocrisy are apparent, and society’s discomfort with sex – never mind sex work – allows those leading the attack to claim the moral high ground.

This attack on women’s bodily freedoms is deeply worrying – particularly when women themselves are participating as opposed to resisting. Women’s freedom is central to making our societies more prosperous, more equal and more environmentally sustainable. Any attempt to undermine that freedom, no matter how well-intentioned, will make for a poorer and more unequal world.

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