Magazine article The Spectator

'Pimp State: Sex, Money and the Future of Equality', by Kat Banyard - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Pimp State: Sex, Money and the Future of Equality', by Kat Banyard - Review

Article excerpt

The premise of Kat Banyard's Pimp State is a familiar one: sex work -- a phrase the author rejects as pure euphemism -- is formalised sexual exploitation, synonymous with sexual abuse and therefore both 'a cause and a consequence of inequality between men and women'. It follows, then, that if you're in favour of gender equality, or simply a decent human being who disapproves of sexual violence, you must oppose the sale of any and all variations of sex. If you're not part of the solution -- well, you know the rest.

You don't have to be especially interested in feminism to have heard this before. For centuries, institutions, social leaders and ordinary civilians alike have decried the fundamental immorality and socially destructive capacity of pornography, prostitution and everything in between. Banyard is adept in the urgent, enraged, self-righteous rhetoric that this position inspires, and her vehemence has a certain intoxicating momentum. But as was true for so many before her, the message is mired in logical fallacies and light on evidence.

Pimp State is organised around six 'myths': ideas offered as justification for anything short of total war on sex for sale. These offending arguments are often supportive of free speech, labour rights and a harm-reduction approach: 'being paid for sex is regular service work', 'porn is fantasy' and so on. But it's all weaselly sex-work apologism as far as Banyard can tell. Her stance is so uncompromising she won't even allow that marriage often has parallels to more baldly bought intimacy, a key feminist insight since the time of the suffragettes. Nor does she recognise how regularly her complaints could be applied to other professions.

She admits that female strippers, porn stars and escorts enter these professions because they need money. So where would they be in a world in which sex work had been eliminated? Because Banyard is unable seriously to consider the implications of these women's financial needs, we're left to assume that she believes them better off homeless than selling sex.

Banyard's theory is that sex is a uniquely threatening activity for women (she barely acknowledges that men also sell sexual services). When undertaken wrongly, sex is seen to damage a woman's mental and emotional health in a way that no other act can. But what's strikingly absent from the book are conversations with actual sex workers. Banyard speaks to a handful of former porn actors and strippers, but never explains why the voices of working women are absent. …

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