Women’s rights and equality

Victoria Batemen, director of studies, fellow and college lecturer in economics at Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge, argues that making the world more free, fair, and prosperous begins with giving women control over their own bodies to do with as they like, which includes them having the right to wear as much or as little clothing as they like and to do sex work.

Some ‘feminists’, for example, like to argue that one cannot be feminist while showing off too much of your body; others argue that you cannot be feminist while covering too much of your body. Both see clothing restrictions as empowering to women. Women’s ability to choose seems not to feature; the claim that we are all ‘socially conditioned’ apparently makes it irrelevant.

The greatest of the ‘feminist’ attacks on women’s freedom comes in the form of the ‘Nordic Model’ feminists. They have, in effect, made it harder and more dangerous for women who choose to make money from their bodies. While monetising your brain is to be celebrated, monetising your body is, apparently, to be denigrated, even criminalised – if not on the selling side, then on the buying side. While we can all agree that those forced into sex work should be helped to exit – and those doing the forcing brought to justice – many others are simultaneously being denied the right to make their own choices about whether or not to charge for access to their vagina (by women who are, of course, free to charge for the use of their brains). The intellectual elitism and hypocrisy are apparent, and society’s discomfort with sex – never mind sex work – allows those leading the attack to claim the moral high ground.

This attack on women’s bodily freedoms is deeply worrying – particularly when women themselves are participating as opposed to resisting. Women’s freedom is central to making our societies more prosperous, more equal and more environmentally sustainable. Any attempt to undermine that freedom, no matter how well-intentioned, will make for a poorer and more unequal world.

She points to what she says is a key historical fact.

When it comes to explaining the rise of the West, women’s freedom is the elephant in the room.

On the eve of the Industrial Revolution, women in Britain and nearby parts of Europe lived a life that was markedly different to those elsewhere in the world. Though not in the upper echelons of the payscale, it was common for women to engage in paid work, and they were free to decide for themselves whether, whom and when to marry. As a result, some women chose not to marry at all, and the average age at which those who did marry rose to a remarkably modern 25-26 years in the centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution.

The relatively greater degree of women’s freedom in Europe meant that the economy entered its virtuous circle in which higher wages and productivity growth positively fed back on each other.

Inequality is one of the most pressing crises of our time, and we’re tackling it in precisely the wrong way. Rather than restricting the freedom of individuals, we should be increasing it, especially women’s freedom to control and make decisions about their own bodies. Respecting women’s autonomy and personhood will not only help the world’s women, it will create a more equal form of prosperity, one that’s better for the planet.

I too have long felt that one of the best indictors as to how equitable a society is can be seen in how much equality exists between men and women in every sphere of life. It does not matter which way the causal arrow points: whether women’s equality follows from the drive for greater social justice or the other way around, it is the goal of equality that must always be kept in sight.


  1. says

    I have been trying to get myself sterilized for over a year by now. The first person ever to refuse me was a female surgeon who was incredibly rude to me and implied that my desire not to have biological children constitutes a mental illness. That incident was followed by a bunch of other doctors kicking me out of their offices, many of them female.

  2. says

    Overall, statistically, women have tried to police my appearance much more than men. Women have told me that my hairy legs are ugly, no man has ever dared to say that in my face. Women have tried to force me to wear feminine clothing and use make-up. At least in person no man has ever dared to tell me the same shit about how I look ugly without make-up and in pants. Anonymous trolls online, sure, but in person men just never tell me such things. Maybe just because they don’t dare to do so. Maybe it’s just that women assume that they have a special right to police the bodies of people who are female assigned at birth. Never mind that there also exist TERFs, self proclaimed feminists who believe that I don’t have a right to self-identify as a man, use male pronouns, and a male name.

  3. starfleetdudet00 says

    Given that the market for sex work is vastly tilted to commodify women thanks to how men still have a huge economic advantage over women, hearing an economic argument in favor of women’s sex work is problematic to say the least.

  4. says

    Too many people are only concerned about what affects them

    If that was the only problem, women’s freedom wouldn’t be subject to discussion. By choosing to become a sex worker, a woman makes a personal choice that won’t impact anybody else. Same goes for deciding to sterilize herself. Or deciding to live as a trans man. Or deciding to have hairy legs and abstain from using make-up. Those are personal choices that influence nobody else. So why all this policing? Why do some women so desperately want to police the bodies and lifestyles of other women?

    That female surgeon who refused to sterilize me wasn’t merely worried that I might later regret my decision and feel sad about it. He was rude towards me, she spoke in an angry voice, she treated me with open hostility, hatred, contempt, denigration. Me remaining childfree wouldn’t influence her life in any way whatsoever. Yet she still despised me and believed that she has a right to determine what I can or cannot do with my body.

  5. says

    starfleetdudet00 @#4

    Sure, we all want income equality between men and women. In the mean time, while we wait a few more decades for that to finally happen, we definitely should not abuse those women (and men) who do choose to become sex workers. If you bother to listen to sex workers themselves and pay attention to their own voices, it becomes obvious that they don’t want their profession to be criminalized.
    Here are two talks by women who both are sex workers, where they explain how they want the state to regulate their industries:

  6. starfleetdudet00 says


    When women don’t have any other decent work choices available to them but sex work to live it’s not a free choice, it’s one that’s imposed on them. Consider all the women from impoverished countries who are taken in by the sex trade and then coerced into performing sex acts for money, often being asked to perform acts they personally find repugnant but cannot refuse once the john has paid his money. Legalized prostitution also gives cover to and promotes illegal prostitution in places like massage parlors where the line between a service and a sex act is pretty much non-existent. In an ideal world, perhaps it would be fine to have legal prostitution -- but we don’t live in that world. Rather, we live in a world where most of the women doing sex work are doing so against their will after being drawn into prostitution by pimps promising them whatever they had to in order to get them to work for them.

  7. Jazzlet says

    Yeah you mansplain away the decisions that some women freely make to go into sex work. Just because there are people who are imported into the UK to farm marijuana as slaves or to work picking fruit in appalling conditions it doesn’t make it impossible to freely choose to become a farmer or farm worker. Why is that different than sex work?

  8. invivoMark says

    starfleetdude @7:

    Rather, we live in a world where most of the women doing sex work are doing so against their will after being drawn into prostitution by pimps promising them whatever they had to in order to get them to work for them.

    Ahem… I would like to see a reference for this claim!

    “Sex work” covers a huge range of manifestations, from phone sex services to escort services to cam girl(/boy/person) to adult film. Sex workers may become involved in one or many areas of work. Are you certain that you want to stick with your claim that most women involved in sex work -- in any form -- are doing so against their will?

  9. says

    starfleetdudet00 @# 7

    In my comment @# 6 I referenced two videos in which two female sex workers (Valerie Scott and Juno Mac, both of whom chose this job freely) talked about their jobs and why they want sex work to be completely legal. Are you trying to claim that both of these women do not exist? Are you dismissing the voices of actual female sex workers and imagining that you know better? That’s arrogance. It’s not up to you to tell other women what jobs they are allowed to do.

    In an ideal world nobody would have to agree to do any job they dislike. Unfortunately, like you said, we do not live in an ideal world. Literally billions of people are forced to do jobs they dislike.

    If a woman with few career options decides that for her working as a sex worker is better than working for Amazon or Walmart or picking strawberries in some field, then that’s her fucking choice. By forbidding her to do the sex work, you are only making her life worse. If before she could choose between sex work or Walmart, then afterwards she is forced to work for Walmart (even is she hates working for Walmart and considers it ever worse than sex work).

    If you want to help women, fight for equal pay, demand Amazon and Walmart to give their employees fair wages, fight for a social safety net that would make sure poor people are never homeless or hungry. This way fewer women would have to agree to do jobs they don’t like. But don’t you dare banning what for many women constitutes the best employment option available at the time. By spreading the bullshit notion that all sex workers who chose this job voluntarily are just brainwashed fools who don’t know what’s best for them you are just being patronizing and nasty.

    More importantly, you are making the lives of sex workers that much more dangerous. Working in a legal brother with security guards is a pretty safe job. Working illegally in an alley is immensely dangerous—any client can beat up, rape, or even kill a sex worker when she is alone in some remote location.

    By the way, if I had to choose between working for Walmart or being a sex worker, I would choose sex work. Of course, I’m lucky that I don’t have to make such a choice, I have a university degree and better employment options to choose from. But plenty of people aren’t as lucky as I am, and you aren’t doing them any favors by denying them even what little choice they have.

  10. anat says

    Many jobs are dangerous or unpleasant in some way. The way to deal with problems like that is to find ways to make them more safe, not to ban them.

  11. Silentbob says

    @ 1 Andreas Avester

    … implied that my desire not to have biological children constitutes a mental illness.

    This is just prejudice. My partner and I (straight couple) have never reproduced, have no intention of reproducing, and no-one says we’re mentally ill. (There is stigma with being a woman and not having children that my partner has experienced though. Just not that pathologising.)

    With regard to the wider discussion, I believe the correct response to, “some women are forced into prostitution because they have no other choice”, is not, “therefore let’s ban prostitution”, but, “therefore let’s create more choices”. People like starfleetdudet00 ignore that possibility in favour of a predetermined conclusion.

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