Contemporary Western Feminist Perspectives on Prostitution

Alison Jaggar
University of Colorado, Boulder
This paper contrasts two prominent positions in contemporary Western feminist discourse about prostitution. The first is radical feminism, which emerged in the early 1970s; the second is libertarian feminism, which emerged in the late 1980s. The paper analyses the underlying assumptions and public policy recommendation of each position; it argues that each illuminates important aspects of the situations of some prostitutes but ignores or denies others. An approach to prostitution capable of providing an adequate guide to public policy must be less dogmatic or “essentialist” than either radical or libertarian feminism; it should investigate how the sex trade operates in specific locations and the varying meanings it has in different cultural, contexts. Such investigations must be feminist not only in their commitment to ending the subordination of women but also in their respect for choices made by women who already must often endure not only exploitation but also stigmatization, discrimination and exclusion. In this paper, I sketch two prominent positions in contemporary Western feminist discourse about prostitution, discuss the strengths and inadequacies of each, and conclude by indicating an approach—as opposed to a substantive analysis—that I find more promising.
Keywords Women  Womens rights movement  Prostitution  Child abuse & neglect  Crime  Sexuality  Civil rights
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