By Jackson Doughart
Eric Adriaans’s riposte to my “justification” of “men’s use of the sex trade” would be interesting if only it responded in good faith to what I’d actually written, if he attempted to understand what I actually think, or if I had ever actually set out to provide a defence for prostitution. As I directly stated my opposition to prostitution in the original Prince Arthur Herald column, and then quoted from it again in my earlier reply to Veronica Abbass, there is no excuse for him missing it, and hence for embarking on such a mistake-filled endeavour. But just for good measure:
Prostitution laws are one rare issue where I’ve essentially no opinion. I have never even thought of visiting a prostitute, let alone amassed the knowledge or committed the time to adequately consider this complex issue. In general, though, I think that such activities debase sexual relations—the proper preserve of committed, emotionally-invested couples—whatever this might imply for its legality.
And later in the piece:
[Heather Mallick] dismisses the real angst of thousands, perhaps millions of men in this country, almost all of whom don’t go to prostitutes. None of them should, of course. . . . (my emphasis).
This alone should serve as an adequate reply to Mister Adriaans’s pseudo-objective and quote-mined article. One can’t stress enough how dishonest it is for someone to put on the act of being puzzled by, and trying desperately to only understand, one’s stated opinion and rationales, and then to proceed to lecture, with the wrath of a 17th-century New England preacher, about how one’s poorly-understood views are in fact contemptible, malicious, and illogical. “I don’t understand you, sir, but I hate what I do not understand!”
I have a hard time seeing how either my original column or my subsequent reply here at Canadian Atheist was ambiguous enough to require the kind of scrupulous philology to which Adriaans postures. But if it was, he should have made a better effort to understand me as I wished to be understood, not as he wished to misrepresent me for underhanded ideological purposes. When a subject of textual exegesis is alive, it is common practice for the interpreter to contact the author himself, should there be uncertainties in his intended meaning. As I am perfectly easy to find, Mister Adriaans should have done so in this case instead of making the glaring errors that he did, and which any person capable of reading should be able to easily identify. I’d have gladly offered my clarifications.
But in case it might serve some purpose for those who still think that I justify prostitutionon the ground that men are entitled to sex by women — A curious argument this would be, however, for if men are entitled to sex by women, why should they be paying for it? Fruit for thought . . .—here is the most didactic version of my argument:
* * *
The question of whether prostitution should be legal or illegal is an immensely complicated one, not only because of the debate surrounding its moral character but also because of how different—“diverse”, if you like—are regimes of prostitution, and how a single legal arrangement would struggle to deal with them all. Even if we were to agree upon the above, there would be the equally-difficult matter of determining how to assign legal blame for the act in question. Should both parties be at fault? Should only the man be at fault? Should whoever initiates the exchange be at fault? Should only the go-between individual, if there is one,be at fault? And why?
Due to my own lack of personal experience with prostitution, my lack of expertise in the subject, and the lack of time that I’ve spent seriously considering all of the arguments, I am neither interested in providing,nor qualified to provide, a substantial answer. If it were to fall on me to give one perhaps I could take one of the long walks that Mister Adriaans suggests. In any case, I think that the only answer is for all possibilities to be on the table, open to argument but not free from criticism. And just because I don’t profess to offer a complete solution to all of this doesn’t mean that I can’t criticize a bad or bigoted argument when I see one, which is what happened when I read Mrs Mallick’s Toronto Star piece and subsequently responded with my own.
To Mrs Mallick and her co-thinkers, there is positively no difficulty or complexity at all in this question. Female prostitutes (they seem impervious to the existence of male prostitutes servicing female “julies”, which is very much a real phenomenon) are not autonomous persons with agency and responsibility but, in fact, slaves who are bought and sold by evil men. Johns are monsters who desire to own women, as a slave-owner desires to own slaves, and whose relationship to the prostitute is one of power and domination with no limit on behaviour, not of an exchange between two autonomous and willing persons who can set rules on what happens. And critically, the origin of prostitution in male domination over, and owning of, women is not only the preserve of—to use Mallick’s phrase—“the pathetic men who buy sex” but also the masculine condition as a whole.Hence her decrying of “male entitlement”. So it is straightforward to them that johns carry total, 100 percent, blame for acts of prostitution because they are men. In their view, prostitution (i.e.contemporary female slavery, on their formulation) would not exist if men weren’t inherently propertarian over women.
Now, the technical position that the feminists put forward—that johns but not prostitutes should be subject to legal sanction—would be a potentially reasonable and considerable one, if it were supported by a rational, non-hysterical, and non-exaggerated argument. But this particular argument is not one of those. It is first of all a bigoted one that makes an assumptive stereotype about all men—a straightforward wrong—which also happens to be untrue. Most men—in our society at least—reject prostitution andhave nothing to do with it. And almost all men do not see women as property, or as the fit subject for trade and use in satisfying anyof their wishes. Belief in the contrary, which today’s feminists espouse (check out the syllabus for a Gender Studies course, if you don’t believe me) is misandry—the hatred of men—whose expression would itself be subject to sanction if only it were directed at any other group.
That’s the easy bit. The harder bit is Mallick’s treatment of the men who actually visit prostitutes. Now, I have no doubt that among all men who have done this, there exist some who have pretty revolting views about women, and I’d venture to guess that within some varieties of prostitution, this kind of horrible person is probably more commonly found. But Mallick thinks that all men who visit prostitutes are of these characteristics. I can speak to the falsity of this because I know a small number of men who have experienceswith prostitution and who certainly do not fit this description. And the mere existence of some of these people proves that I am right and Mallick wrong, for it is she who argues that the issue is simple and not complex. I do not.
My case against her—I won’t go on much longer—is that she is incurious and even dismissive of the reasons for which otherwise well-meaning and morally-conscious men are tempted to visit prostitutes. In fact, she practically laughs in their faces. This is, I think, cruel and heartless, and above all evidence of the misandry which I attribute to her. It’s all very well to say that men who go their whole lives without any success in attracting female attention should just focus on being more confident. Perhaps they should. But there is no reason for which legitimately-depressed people, rife with feelings of loneliness and angst, should be deprived of our due sympathy. Could you imagine how people like Heather Mallick would react if some high-minded male newspaper columnist said that women depressed due to lifelong infertility were “pathetic”? They would say “Mister So-and-so clearly has no empathy”—definition: ability to understand and identify with the feelings of others—“for women in such a difficult position.”
And such is true of Heather Mallick, and her willing water carriers on this web site, who either cannot, or make no effort to understand how being obviously unwanted by women is a blow right to the center of the male sense-of-self. Does that angst give such men an “entitlement” to sex from women? Of course not. What it gives them an entitlement to is the sympathy of otherwise bright people, who are raised in a society that teaches them compassion and charity, and who really ought to know better. It gives them the entitlement of leniency for temptations whose fulfillment is wrong, butto which they are only led because of desperation, not malice. And it gives them an entitlement—though I would prefer to call it a right—not to be misrepresented as monsters comparable to slave owners, for acts which they clearly do not pursue on account of monstrous intentions.
So there you have it: my case for “male entitlement”, though perhaps not the kind you might think. At the very least, if Eric Adriaans butchers my opinion in the future, he can’t say it wasn’t set out plainly for him.