Tag Archives: feminists

“Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self”, by Kajsa Ekis Ekman – book review

This review is of “Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self”, by Kajsa Ekis Ekman, (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1742198767/).

In “Being and Being Bought” Eckman argues that prostitution entails the exploitation of women by men. Women are (in Ekman’s view) “prostituted” (the word being used by her to denote the lack of free agency of those engaged in the world’s oldest profession).

Ekman contends that many of those who are “prostituted” develop a “split self”. The “prostituted” woman attempts to convince herself that she is “selling sex” rather than her very self. However for Ekman the act of selling sex can not be separated from the person (the “prostituted” woman who is doing the selling, for they are one and the same. Sex does not walk around the market place selling itself, for it has no existence independent of the “prostituted” woman. Likewise, Ekman contends one can not sell one’s body without selling oneself. Consequently the customers of “prostituted” persons are not merely buying a “sexual service” they are purchasing a living being.

Ekman gives the example of a woman engaged in the sex industry who, on returning home in the evening drew away from her partner thinking (at some level) that he was a customer. Both the woman and her partner where shaken by the experience which, for Ekman demonstrates the malign effects of prostitution on “prostituted” women.

Ekman is a left-wing Feminist, but she attacks those Feminists (some of whom are on the left) who argue that prostitution should be viewed as “sex work”. In no other work, Ekman argues, would the rate of violence and deaths suffered by “prostituted” women be tolerated. Women engaged in prostitution suffer, according to Ekman, from the kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered by the armed forces. Again in no other industry/line of work would this be tolerated (outside of the military). For Ekman the unionisation of “prostituted” women promulgated by Feminists on the left who are “pro prostitution” (to use Ekman’s words) is no answer to the “exploitation” which, she believes constitutes a fundamental component of prostitution. Indeed she argues that very few of those engaged in prostitution are, in fact members of unions.

For Ekman those on the left who oppose the criminalisation of sex buyers are in an unholy alliance with right-wing free market proponents who argue that there is nothing wrong with consenting adults selling sexual services in the market place.

Eckman argues in favour of criminalising those who pay for sex as (in her view) prostitution is essentially exploitative and it is the buyers of sex (not the “prostituted” women who drive demand. Therefore the selling of sex should remain legal but the buying of it prohibited as is the case in Sweden, Norway, France and Canada (please note that when Ekman’s book was first published the buying of sex was not criminalised in France, Canada or the Republic of Ireland, these bans came in at a later date).

Ekman does accept that “a minority” of prostitutes may genuinely enjoy what they do. She puts this number at around 9 percent. However, in her view this “minority” should not prevent the needful measure of outlawing the purchase of sex from being taken. Sex purchase bans have, in Ekman’s view greatly reduced the demand for “prostituted” women.

A number of arguments have been advanced against the perspectives contained in “Being and Being Bought” including by many engaged in (or working with those engaged in) prostitution. It is contended that the sex purchase bans have made the lives of sex workers more dangerous. Prior to their introduction, it is argued that those selling sex could pick and choose their clients. If they didn’t like the look of a particular man they could reject him and accept a client who was more to their liking. However the sex purchase ban has, in the view of some prostitutes driven away the “nice” clients who are fearful of prosecution, leaving the sex worker (who needs money) with little option other than to accept “dodgy” punters (the latter not being put off by sex purchase bans).

It is also contended that while street prostitution has declined this has far more to do with the growth of online prostitution than with the introduction of sex purchase bans. Prostitution still takes place behind the closed doors of massage parlours and in private homes out of sight of the authorities.

It is further argued that clients are increasingly nervous so are reluctant to go to the homes of prostitutes for fear of being arrested by the police. Consequently they make arrangements to pick up prostitutes and take them to their own homes which is more dangerous for the prostitute as she is on unfamiliarity territory. Nervous clients are also more likely to behave in unpredictable ways.

Ekman gives the example of the owner of an escort agency who says that he never discusses sex over the phone, however both the client and the woman going to visit him know perfectly well that escorting almost always entails sex. Just how (short of banning all escort services) could one prevent escort prostitution? Even if the authorities where to monitor the communications of all escort businesses, if no sexual services are discussed either over the phone or the internet, then just how are the police to prove that sex is being bought? The answer is with considerable difficulty and probably not at all.

There is, of course also the argument of individual liberty (I.E. the view that the state has no business in involving itself in what “consenting adults” do in private). For the state to poke it’s nose into such matters is, in the view of the libertarian (with a small and a large l) illiberal and should be opposed by all those who care about individual freedom.

Ekman’s view that most prostitutes are deeply traumatised by the experience of prostitution or (as she puts it) by being “prostituted” is also contested by many with knowledge of the “industry”. Opponents of Ekman’s view contend prostitution is just a way of paying the bills as with most other kinds of work. It may well not be a woman’s first choice of occupation, however Ekman greatly exaggerates the unhappiness suffered by most prostitutes. Yes they may well “clock watch” waiting for the end of a sexual encounter, but many other workers look at the clock in offices up and down the land willing the end of the working day. Its Also argued that large numbers of sex workers do take pride in their work, for example some escorts speak of the pleasure they derive from bringing companionship (and other things) to the lonely and the disabled.

Whatever one’s view of prostitution “prostituted” persons may be, “Being and Being Bought” is a thought provoking read and I recommend it to you.

The Prostitution Debate

Feminist Times has an interesting debate regarding the adoption of the Nordic Model under which the selling of sexual services is decriminalised while the purchasers are criminalised, being subject, on conviction to a fine and/or imprisonment. Essentially proponents of the Nordic model argue that prostitution is, almost always not a free choice and the state should discourage prostitution’s damaging effects by targeting those who sustain the industry (I.E. the buyers of sex). Supporters of the Nordic approach state that prostitution has decreased following the introduction of prohibitions on the purchase of sex.

Opponents of the Nordic model dispute the view that most women engaged in prostitution are unwilling victims of pimps and traffickers. The majority of prostitutes are, they contend voluntarily selling sex. Criminalising clients would, they believe lead to the selling of sex being driven underground and women being forced into the arms of pimps.

For the radical feminist perspective, in support of the Nordic Model please visit http://www.feministtimes.com/prostitution-harms-women-radfem-uk-the-nordic-model/. For the opposing perspective please go to http://www.feministtimes.com/comeback-why-the-nordic-model-harms-women/.

As an author the motivations of those engaged in prostitution fascinate me. Prostitution is a highly complex issue and the reasons why people (mainly but not exclusively women) engage in it are many and various. In my story, “Samantha” Sam is forced by her brutal pimp, Barry to become a prostitute. In contrast, in “The First Time” Becky, a graduate with a first class degree in English literature becomes an escort in order to clear her debts.


For details of “Samantha” and “The First Time” please visit http://newauthoronline.com/about/.

Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self | By Kajsa Ekis Ekman

Publication of the below should not be taken as an endorsement by me of the views expressed by either Ekman or the reviewer. The book expounds a particular perspective and I would advise that you read it and draw your own conclusions. I am blind and the book is only available in print in the United Kingdom. I have contacted the publisher requesting that it be made available in an accessible format (for example as a Kindle title with text to speech enabled) so that I can read Ekman’s work.




Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self | By Kajsa Ekis Ekman | Spinifex Press (January 1, 2014) | Paperback: 223 pages | $21.31

ISBN: 1742198767


The mantra “my body, my choice” has a long association with radical feminism. The term has become synonymous with what we perceive to be the feminist view

of all things related to human sexuality, and gender relations. Within the feminist movement, even to dialogue with the idea that there may be legitimate

restrictions to choice and the unrestrained use of our bodies is the great feminist heresy.


So, to read a book that begins to challenge the view that one has complete license over the body is refreshing, to say the least. Kajsa Ekman, a radical

feminist herself, tackles the hotly debated topics of prostitution and surrogacy, arguing that neither “choice” has helped the feminist cause; she is not

convinced that either choice is truly free, good, or empowering.


While intellectuals and advocates alike argue that women should be able to use their bodies in anyway they see fit, Ekman objects. The idea that prostitution

and surrogacy could be likened to any other contractual relationship is misguided, she argues. Underneath the romanticized narrative of the empowered prostitute

and the benevolent surrogate lies the simple truth that these acts exploit and commercialize not only women’s bodies, but their very being.


How prostitution became “work”


In 1999 Sweden made it illegal to buy sexual services, but not to sell them. Pimping and operating a brothel also became illegal. Sweden practically stood

alone in its strategy to curb prostitution based on it’s own investigation into the inner workings of the industry and the lived conditions of prostituted

people. The Swedish inquiry into prostitution discovered, first hand, that women in the industry were not liberated at all, but on the whole were subject

to violence, engaged in high rates of drug use, and had a death rate 40 times the average of the general population. What is more, researchers established

a very clear link between legalized prostitution and the trafficking of human persons.


One would think that these findings were confronting enough not to be pushed aside. Strangely, instead of drawing on and learning from the Swedish experiment,

countries began to fall like dominoes when it came to the legalization of prostitution. While the raw realities of the prostitution industry were well

documented, politicians ignored the facts and were swayed by the fashionable mantra that all choices are equal. From there they made the leap to treating

this form of modern day slavery as professional work.


Ekman’s explanation of how this happened is intriguing.


At the beginning of the twenty-first century, trade unions became the magic bullet for the problems besetting prostitution. Advocates claimed that these

could be remedied by regulation of the “industry”. Talk of worker rights appealed to the Left as it suggested that prostitutes would organize for fair

conditions. In practice, Ekman argues, this was a ploy to legitimize prostitution. The term “trade union” was introduced to coax people into thinking of

it in terms of work, and to hide the lived realities of prostitutes themselves.


Ekman doesn’t mince words: “It shifts the discussion from being about what prostitution is – inequality between men and women, the fulfillment of men’s

sexual demands, and the vulnerability of women who were sexually abused as children (to name just one reason why women are in prostitution) – to a conversation

about work, salaries, unemployment benefits, work conditions, union organizing.” (p. 70). We are thus led to believe that, while prostitution is not for

the faint-hearted, it is in no way dehumanizing or dangerous.


Her argument is reinforced by the fact that sex workers of the world didn’t actually unite, and neither did their organizations focus on work conditions.

Ekman spent two years travelling to meet with representatives from various European organizations. She discovered that what both trade unions for sex workers

and prostitute support groups had in common was that membership did not actually comprise prostitutes, yet they all presented themselves as representatives

of prostituted people. Ekman gives example after example of how these unions did not engage in industrial disputes, or seek to address the atrocious work

conditions that prostitutes are subject to on a daily basis. The violence, the rape, the economic exploitation by their pimps were never on the agenda;

instead, the unions, by and large, were made up of researchers, politicians, lobbyists and social workers.


The voice of the prostitute herself is relegated to the sidelines and the real purpose of trade unions for sex work becomes startlingly clear; they have

only one real function: to legitimize prostitution as work and ultimately create the image of a strong woman who can separate what she does from who she


“Happy hookers”?


Ekman tackles the glaring problems associated with the narrative of the “happy hooker” used by prostitution advocates to promote legalization and social

legitimacy. Post-modern intellectuals have created a romanticized view of prostitution under the claim that all sex is equal and empowering. The prostitute

is a businesswoman and an entrepreneur, never a victim of violence and rape, let alone death! Post-modernity has made the topic of sex taboo in the sense

that, since all sexual acts are empowering, all challengers are merely prudish and anti-sex.


block quote

“Nothing is said about what prostitution is, why it exists, or how it works. Instead, we have heard a contemporary saga of progress, a romantic tale of

how an old, decaying tradition long tried to keep people down and tell them how they should live – until some brave individuals rebelled in order to gain

the right to live the way that they wanted, standing up for freedom and sexuality.” (p.80)

block quote end


A common theme in Ekman’s research is that academics, advocates and politicians alike claim to speak for the prostitute but rarely take the time to acquaint

themselves with the stories of a wide range of prostituted women. They claim to present the authentic voice of these women but do not. With all the talk

of sexual empowerment and high-class escorts who get paid to have sex, the lived reality of prostitution – based on facts and statistics – is replaced

with a glamorized version of the prostitute’s story.


Take, for example, the research of Petra Osttergren. Her work is held up as an exemplar for documenting the experiences of prostituted women. While Osttergren

does focus on the experiences of women in the trade, her sources are telling: she interviews twelve women, all because of the positive experiences that

they have had. In turn, she relegates any women with negative experiences to the sidelines, silencing her and the statistics confirming that her “work

conditions” are not to be revered, let alone envied.


When all notions of victimhood are forgotten, however, so too are the perpetrators. Those who buy sex are excluded from this story, along with the violence

that they inflict. Everything becomes defensible within a relativistic narrative; even child prostitution and sexual trafficking become justifiable.


For example, social anthropologist Heather Montgomery comes to some disturbing conclusions based on her observation of children in prostitution in Thailand.

She documents their plight in one Thai village where at least 40 of the 65 children under the age of 15 have worked in prostitution. And yet she concludes:

“The children that I knew did have ‘a sense of control’ and to deny them this is to deny the skillful way that they used the very small amount of control

they do have. The search for victims of child abuse sometimes obscures the acknowledgement of children’s agency.”


While she recounts the effect on these children in the form of bruises, STDs and drug use, she refuses to pass judgment: ‘I do not believe that Western

models of psychology can be applied directly to children in other countries and still be useful.” Thus, even children are no longer victims, and the men

who prey on them are automatically exempt from their transgressions.


Surrogacy: prostitution’s twin sister?


Like prostitution, the hiring of wombs has become a booming trade in recent years. Although it is currently legal only in the USA, Ukraine and India, many

countries (such as Ekman’s native Sweden) are considering whether surrogacy should be legalized. This is partly the motivation for Ekman’s book – she wants

to draw out many of the ethically dubious theoretical and practical assumptions that cannot be separated from the act of surrogacy itself.


One might struggle, initially, to see the link between prostitution and surrogacy but Ekman does a good job of highlighting key similarities between the

two industries. Essentially, what binds the two together is that in both instances the human person is reduced to a body that can be bought and sold like

any other item on the free market. Ekman states:


block quote

“[T]oday’s prostitution is not limited to sexuality. It has expanded into other parts of the woman’s body. For thirty years now, we have seen a trade in

pregnancy. A reproductive type of prostitution has arisen in which women are inseminated and made pregnant in exchange for money. They are paid to bear

children of others and they give away these children shortly after the birth.” (p.121).

block quote end


The story of surrogacy, she argues, resembles that of the sex worker; pregnancy, too, can be work. As with prostitution, there is little critical reflection

on exactly how surrogacy happens, and the consequences of it. Surrogacy, too, is glamorized, in this case within a narrative of benevolence and service;

surrogacy becomes progressive and selfless instead of dehumanizing and degrading.


What lies beneath the façade of creating happy families, Ekman argues, is an extremely lucrative industry that trades in the human person – not just women

but babies as well. In India thousands of children have been born in this way – in 2006 analysts estimated the value of the Indian surrogacy industry to

be around 449 Million USD.


India is a perfect location for (typically) westerners seeking surrogates. Third-world surrogates come at a cheap price for first-world earners; Indian

women receive between $2500 and $6500, which could be up to 10 years’ salary for a peasant woman in India. These women are made to stay at clinics throughout

the duration of their pregnancy where their every move and mouthful is supervised, and where they are administered painful injections and medicines without

much say in the matter.


Another conveniently neglected point is that many of these women are coerced by their husbands or families to become surrogates. This adds yet another layer

to the abysmally unjust transaction that is occurring; “free choice” and “consent” can now be bought at a very cheap price. Ultimately, the human person

becomes a commodity, and in this case, those who are more economically advantaged are given free reign to exploit those who go without; one person’s desires

trump another’s right to be valued by virtue of their dignity as a human person.


Anyone can now have a baby, whether they are childless, infertile, heterosexual or homosexual, old or young. In fact, if one so pleases, she can outsource

her bodily hardship for less than the minimum wage, and have her own biological baby without having to go through pregnancy or labour! If pregnancy can

be conceived of as just a service, it begs the question, what is the product in this commercial exchange? The product can only be the child, says Ekman.

“The woman bears and births, and hands the product over. At the same moment that she gives up the child, she receives payment. Why is this not considered

human trafficking?” (p. 147-148)


Rights, needs and human dignity


One of the most perceptive points of this book is that both surrogacy and prostitution — and I dare to say this is true of other moral issues of our time

— are legitimized through the claim that they are human rights. It is a man’s right to have access to sex whenever he wants it or claims to need it. It

is a right of infertile and gay couples – or even those too busy working to get pregnant — to have children. In truth, human rights derive from basic

human needs – in the first place, survival – and not simply from desires, even noble ones such as wanting a child, especially when they infringe the rights

of others.


Ekman claims, correctly, that we never have the right to buy another’s very self to satisfy a personal desire. In her straight-talking analysis she spells

out exactly what is happening in these two situations: the human person becomes a commodity and is reduced to a mere body, an empty vessel used and disposed

of once their own desires have been fulfilled.


As a feminist myself (of a different variety to Ekman, might I add), I found this book an extremely powerful critique of these two industries; the author

is rigorous in the empirical data she collects, and she knits it nicely into an easily digestible piece. I did, however, find some of her theoretical considerations

not as palatable. Ekman’s work is essentially written through the lens of a Marxist feminism, which tends to make her forget the agency of the human person:

their ability to be virtuous and transcend imperfection and injustice, their ability to change and their ability to grow.


This applies also to the faceless perpetrator, whom Ekman never addresses. What is it that contributes to his (or her) downfall? Do they have the capacity

to change, and if so how does this change come about?


I am aware that these questions might take another thoroughly researched book to answer, but they are important questions to ask in the context of building

a thorough defense of the rights of women, and ultimately a defense of the rights of the human person.


Pauline Cooper-Ioelu is an academic in the area of educational innovation at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She has an interest in radical histories

including trade unionism and feminism.


(For the original article which is freely available under a Creative Commons License please go to http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/being_and_being_bought).