Revolution#124, March 23,2008
The Spitzer Scandal
The Morality We Need—and Don’t Need
The exposure of New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer as a repeat client of a prostitution ring and his subsequent resignation on March 12 kicked off a media frenzy. Who pulled the strings on this scandal and why they did it now is still not fully known. But one very revealing thing in all the media reports was the comment by the young woman Ashley Alexandra Dupre (now known to the world as “Kristen”) who gave an interview to the New York Times in which she said, “I just don’t want to be thought of as a monster.”
Why should this young, 22-year-old woman be considered the “monster” here? What’s truly monstrous is a world where millions of young girls and women each day across the planet are trafficked and prostituted, literally bought and sold as commodities, their lives distorted and twisted into sexual subordination and degradation, and cut short by cruelty and violence. What’s truly monstrous is the notion that men can purchase the right to treat women as sexual objects and commodities—in essence, that they can purchase the humanity of women. Yet all the media frenzy has barely, if at all, questioned the existence of prostitution; in fact, it is assumed to be just one of those “realities of life.”
“Boys will be boys,” as more than one pundit said. If “boys will be boys,” then what do “girls” have to be and do? Well, what they have to be in this society is subordinate to men, and among the things they have to do is to have their sexuality controlled by men. In feudal societies, women were (and still are) literally sold as wives. In capitalist society, their sexuality is still controlled—and it’s also commodified. Whether justified by pseudoscientific appeals to “human nature” or by religious mythology like the story of Eve’s transgression in the Garden of Eden, this is nothing more or less than a concentrated example of the oppression of women.
To very roughly sketch this out, this oppression arose with the division of society into classes several thousand years ago; before that people lived in hunter and gathering societies where relations between the sexes were more egalitarian. But especially with the rise of agriculture, private property arose—and men typically dominated this new form, based on their prior role in the division of labor. (Men’s experience in forming hunting bands, tending flocks, etc., put them in a position to dominate the new forms of stable agriculture carried out by many individuals.) The need to preserve and pass along the newly emerging forms of private property meant that men had to know who their children were, and this brought with it restrictions on female sexuality. Not only did the fruits of women’s labor become alienable property controlled by men, but their most essential role became institutionalized as breeders. Prostitution went along with this: a preserve of privileged sexuality “on the side,” reserved to men.
And still today, from birth, female children are treated as the property of their parents, and their father in particular. (Even if the mother does most of the work, father still “knows best”—to quote the old tv “comedy” from the ’50s.) Millions of girls a year are abused, molested, or raped within their families—and are taught in many ways short of that that their worth depends on their desirability by other men. Women are symbolically “given away” by their fathers in the marriage ceremony, at which time they become the symbolic property of their husbands. From birth on, relations between women and men in this society are influenced and conditioned by the overall framework of social relations in which the oppression of women is an integral and fundamental part.
This has varied in form down through history and across the planet today, depending on the kind of society, but all we can say is: who wants to live in a society with these kinds of relations? And who wants to live in a world with this kind of morality? And what kind of society is it where one half of the society is subjugated and oppressed by the other—on whatever justification?
Prostitution: A Sharp Concentration of Women’s Oppression
Prostitution is a sharp concentration of this oppressive social relation. This “oldest profession” developed alongside and is integrally linked with the first division of society into classes and the development of the patriarchal family and attendant family values that justified and enforced male control over women and children. Today, the term “oldest profession” smacks of prostitution being just another career choice, bolstered by media accounts of how “high-end” prostitutes make thousands of dollars nightly. Refuting this easy-money view of a prostitute’s life, one study of San Francisco prostitutes showed that 82 percent had been physically assaulted, 55 percent of these by customers. And 68 percent reported having been raped since becoming a prostitute and most of these had been raped more than five times.
In addition, Melissa Farley and Victor Malarek, authors of books on sex trafficking and prostitution, wrote in the New York Times that “most women in prostitution, including those working for escort services, have been sexually abused as children, studies show. Incest sets young women up for prostitution—by letting them know what they’re worth and what’s expected of them. Other forces that channel women into escort prostitution are economic hardship and racism.” A telephone operator at the prostitution ring Spitzer used complained that one of the women had cut sessions with clients short so she could pick up her children at school.
A Different Morality…And A Different World
What does it say about this society that women have to resort to this degradation and danger?
But things don’t have to be this way.
We can envision a whole different world where the liberation of women is a key component part of the emancipation of all of humanity and where the liberation of women helps advance all of society. Where girls and boys are both brought up in ways where they are treated as fully human from the get, free from gender stereotypes and not the property of anyone. Where commodity relations—and the mentality it engenders—do not stamp and condition everything, including how men treat women and how women come to view themselves. Where rape and abuse of women are things of the past and people wonder how anyone could have forced themself on another in what should be a joyous and beautiful act. Where the emancipation of humanity carries with it, among other things, new values and sexual relationships between people that are based not on objectification but the mutual flourishing of one another, in the context of an entire society of freely associating human beings transforming nature and their own social relations in liberating, non-oppressive ways.
This is a vision of a society where people would truly want to live, and we have a program and a morality based on getting to that society. This includes both how we struggle with and treat each other now, and what we fight for among the people. We try to cultivate a genuine and ongoing openness to new ideas and continually interrogate ourselves as well as others about our approach and analysis, drawing people into the process of identifying and grappling with problems of the revolution, all for the purpose of more deeply understanding the truth and changing the world.
In his book Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality but not Traditional Morality, Bob Avakian says:
“Communist principles include, as decisive aspects, the goal of overcoming all inequality between men and women and between different peoples and nations. The communist viewpoint and methodology makes clear that the oppression of women is inextricably bound up with the division of society into classes and all the exploitation and oppression that has accompanied this for thousands of years, and that the abolition of this exploitation and oppression and of class distinctions themselves is inextricably bound up with the emancipation of women. In other words, the emancipation of women is a vital part of the “4 Alls,”* and all aspects of sexual and family relations must be evaluated essentially in terms of how they relate to this emancipation. Communist morality supports those things that advance the fight for that emancipation and opposes everything that debases women and reinforces their oppression in any way—including both ‘end of the empire’ sexual decadence and ‘traditional morality,’ the degradation of pornography and the degradation of the bible.”
This is a world to aspire to and fight for; and a morality to live and spread, now.
* The “4 Alls” refers to a statement by Marx, in The Class Struggles in France, 1848-50, that the dictatorship of the proletariat represents the necessary transit to the abolition of all class distinctions (or class distinctions generally); of all the production relations on which these class distinctions rest; of all the social relations that correspond to these production relations; and to the revolutionizing of all ideas that correspond to those social relations. The “two radical ruptures” refers to the statement by Marx and Engels, in “The Communist Manifesto,” that the communist revolution involves the radical rupture with traditional property relations and traditional ideas.[back]
For an in-depth analysis of the roots of women’s oppression, and how communist revolution will emancipate women, go to bobavakian.net, click on “7 Talks,” then on “Question and Answer Session with Concluding Remarks,” and listen to “Question Seventeen.”
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.