Friday, January 16, 2009

Auctioning virginity: clever capitalism, or condoning female exploitation?

by Elizabeth Winkler

Earlier this week, a brief post was made about 22-year-old Natalie Dylan‘s decision to auction off her virginity to the highest bidder (right now the top bid is at at $3.8M) This is certainly a compelling and controversial story, and one that I think warrants a closer look in our feminist discussions. Questions of choice, autonomy, self-worth, and commoditization of the female body, among others, all play an interesting role in determining what exactly this decision means for contemporary female identity.

Because this stems from a personal, independent choice, is hers a ‘feminist’ decision? Or is the rhetoric around the idea of ‘choice’ simply being manipulated to conceal a decision that is in fact rooted in (and continues to fuel) antiquated, misogynistic ideas about female purity? Is she valuing/respecting herself and her body with such a decision? Or is she simply a clever girl playing into the ‘sex economy,’ providing a commodity that is already in demand anyway? Does the fact that she’s using the money for education in any way redeem her actions? Or does her aim to get a masters in ‘marriage and family therapy,’ of all things, just render her even more absurd?

While I cannot condone Dylan’s choice to sell herself, the fact remains that the system would exist – and would remain unchanged – even if refused to do so. In a way, one can say that she is taking a system that has traditionally exploited women and turned it on its head, manipulating it to her advantage. After all, this one-night-stand will render her completely financially independent. What was it Virginia Woolf said about 5,000-a-year and a room of one’s own?

Or can we charge Dylan with aggravating and promoting an inhumane and harmful system – one that might be turned to her personal advantage, but that remains an earthly inferno for other prostitutes, as well as for women across the world who want to be valued for something more than their bra size? In this light, hers becomes a selfish act. Auctioning her virginity rather explicitly condones prostitution: is she simultaneous condoning the enslavement and abuse of less fortunate women, or simply ignoring it?

After several recent posts about sex slavery, forced prostitution and the abuse and mutilation of young girls, it’s hard to digest this entirely separate ‘genre’ of prostitution. One wonders if this sort of trivialization of prostitution in fact somehow discredits or disregards the horrific experiences of girls who did not choose to sell their bodies. How can we group the blinded, mutilated and tortured 14-year-old of Nicholas Kristof’s articles this well-off, educated and independent woman under the same category? Both acts qualify as prostitution, and yet there is something so entirely disparate in their experience that we seem in want of more adequate terminology for understanding and distinguishing one from the other.


At February 12, 2009 at 2:43 PM , Blogger H. O. Lorette said...

You are very wrong. If you really want women to own their sexuality, you shouldn't criticize when they choose to use it in a safe and empowering way. Clearly your oppinions speak to an antiquated double standard. It's as if you would say, "Females should have the right to express their sexuality as they see fit." but at the same time expect that the same females give in to feminest pressures that you and your compatriots would foist upon them. What you really mean is, "Females should be free to express their sexuality as I SEE FIT."
Similarly, your reference to sexual slavery is superflous and irrelevent. Sexual slavery is coerced, and this woman is choosing to have sex in a relitively safe envioremnt free from outside pressures. I applaud her for empowering herself to do so. Their is no international sisterhood of women whom this woman's personal choice somehow damages. She should be free to make her consensual and safe choice free from patronizing on behalf of the likes of you.

At February 12, 2009 at 5:40 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

Lorette, it's nice of you to post, but next time you want to vent anger and ignorance, please do it where appropriate.

You did not address any of the points Elizabeth made and you did not answer any of the questions she brought up.

And to address your points, it's not entirely clear that using sex in the way she is using is empowering, and moreover, some would argue that it is necessarily degrading to the person, whether or not she made the choice and whether or not it is a safe one. The sad truth remains that you and your ilk constantly paint contemporary conservative sexuality as an antiquated, patriarchal imposition. In fact, at least from my perspective, conservative sexuality is very hands-off in its suggestions, merely expressing concern for women today and offering an intellectual bedrock for those who come to realize that selling one's body in any way necessarily treats them as an object, a means and not an end.

Continuing with your incredibly flawed comment, you show that you do not understand the argument Ms. Winkler was trying to put forth when she alluded to sex slavery. I cannot really put it in better words than she did, so this one is your own fault. OF COURSE, Dylan is not a sex slave, why would anyone argue that? Elizabeth merely points out that her use of "prostitution" (not scare quotes), no matter how safe and free, may "discredit or devalue the horrific experiences of girls who DID NOT choose to sell their bodies" (my emphasis). The quotes were there because I wanted to further stress the disconnect Elizabeth perceives between Dylan's prostitution and the kind that isn't so, as you would put it, applaud-able and whether this disconnect harms those in the latter case.

Finally, and this is not a problem with prostitution alone, is that individual choices, when aggregated, do in fact affect the lives of people around those individuals, perhaps even on an international scale. This is called culture and society. I thought it would be obvious, but apparently we can all live in a dream world where our actions don't affect anyone but ourselves. It is certainly not absurd to think that with every woman who devalues herself by engaging in prostitution it will allow for more and more of a society that looks at women as objects, and perhaps not only sexual objects, but as means to a patriarchal end (After all, who do you think is buying this virginity? A lesbian? C'mon!). You must stop believing that one can act without consequences. They are there, and they are, in fact, affecting all of us around you. It's just you who choose to ignore them and us.


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