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.