By Eric Adriaans
Recently, there has been some debate among several well-known opinion-holders…namely Heather Mallick, Jackson Doughart, and Veronica Abbass … all on the subject of a recent prostitution bill. In their public dialogue, it seems to me that some people are talking past one another.
Prostitution is a complex issue well beyond my knowledge or expertise (probably also outside of the expertise of all of these opinion holders) – but there are some basic and fundamental attitudes that I think any non-expert can approach.
The word entitlement caught my attention as one of these basic concepts in this debate. Introduced by Heather Mallick, “male entitlement” appears to be a concept which gets people going. So, what does entitlement mean? I think entitlement refers to the concept that something is guaranteed to someone. So, interpreting Heather Mallick’s comments, I think she’s saying that prostitution emphasizes, in a very egregious way, that there are still men who think they have a guarantee of sexual access to women – and, by extension, that men still think they have a right to participate in oppressing women.
Doughart appears to think that Mallick’s position is problematic because “she by definition cannot empathize with the great many men who are depressed, anxious, and unwanted by women, and who, in a very small minority, seek the attention of prostitutes on account of their loneliness, not a desire to oppress women.” I’m not sure which “definition” Doughart is talking about, but probably not the definition of entitlement.
Is Doughart talking about the definition of empathize?
On the Public Health Agency of Canada website, I learned that “one in 7 adults (13.4%) identified symptoms that met the criteria for a mood disorder at some point in their lifetime, including 12.2% for depression and 2.4% for bipolar disorder. Studies have consistently documented higher rates of depression among women than among men: the female-to-male ratio averages 2:1.” It does lead me to the conclusion that any randomly selected woman is about twice as likely to “empathize” with issues of depression and mental health as any randomly selected man … so perhaps Doughart shouldn’t be referring to the definition of empathize.
Perhaps Doughart’s point is that some men are “unwanted by women.” Indeed, in Doughart’s article, he writes that he objects to “Mallick’s heartlessness and disregard for the legitimate sorrow of men who are diffident or otherwise unskilled in social relations with women.”
What I understand from Doughart is that he thinks men who don’t know how to talk to women (or perhaps more accurately, girls) or who have faced rejection by women are rather sad, and somehow, Doughart thinks this sadness justifies men’s use of the sex trade. Well, that and Doughart’s ear, apparently.
If that is the case, Doughart appears to be substantiating the observations of people like Mallick who identify “entitlement” as a real factor in the sex trade. How does one person’s sadness obligate another person (or category of persons) to participate in something as complex and problematic as prostitution?
It seems to me these sad fellows would be doing everyone a favour if they spent some time solving the real problem – their own lack of social skills and attractiveness to women. All this assuming any of us actually believe Doughart’s argument; personally, I think his argument is hogwash.
I am very skeptical of the notion that men-who-don’t-know-how-to-talk-to-girls, even “in a very small minority” as Doughart puts it, are the primary group out on the streets buying sex. Instead, it seems much more probable that “a great many” johns do indeed know how to talk to girls – right to the extent of knowing how to offer them money for sex. Not exactly timid would be my observation. It seems to me that Doughart and his friends (sad or otherwise) just don’t want to be accountable for their own actions and attitudes.
I’m also skeptical of the notion that the “legitimate sorrow” Doughart is proposing creates a legitimate entitlement to sex trade workers or generates a lack of accountability for the effects of the sex trade. People are accountable for the effects of their actions whether they intended them or not. Doughart’s suggestion that purchasing sex is “not a desire to oppress women” is obtuse – or, since his comments are directed mostly at women – maybe he just doesn’t know how to talk to girls.
What troubles me is that people like Doughart ignore something called “accountability.” Do people like Doughart think that a lack of empathy for “johns” makes those “johns” less accountable for their role in the sex trade?
I think it’s important to note that Doughart criticizes Mallick’s “empathy” and “sympathy” but not her understanding. Doughart seems to think that women are supposed to, what? . . . connect with the sexual longings of Doughart’s many sad, diffident friends? Isn’t that kind of attitude the whole point about the perceived male entitlement to sex? Are women supposed to be complicit in perpetuating the attitude that men aren’t responsible for their own actions?
I suspect that Mallick and Abbass understand the situation pretty well. I suspect most women understand the situation about twice as often as men, too.
Take Doughart’s line of thinking for a bit of a walk and see where you end up . . . I’m pretty sure you’ll conclude that the notion that people shouldn’t be held accountable for the outcomes of their actions, even if they didn’t intend those outcomes, is very problematic indeed.