It’s wrong to pay for sex–NYC Debate April 21

http://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/Event.aspx?Event=41

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Moderator: John Donvan

Speaking for the motion: Melissa Farley, Catharine A. MacKinnon and Wendy Shalit

Speaking against the motion: Sydney Barrows, Tyler Cowen and Lionel Tiger

Caspary Auditorium Rockefeller University
1230 York Avenue New York City, NY 10065 (66th Street & York Avenue)
tickets $40

There’s also an online poll – VOTE NOW!

Tyler Cowen blogs here

This is a replay of
http://www.intelligencesquared.com/events.php?event=EVT0171
November 11, 2008
It’s wrong to pay for sex
Speakers for the motion:
Professor Raymond Tallis Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester
Joan Smith Feminist novelist, critic and columnist.
Jeremy O’Grady Editor-in-Chief of The Week magazine and co-founder of Intelligence Squared.

Speakers against the motion:
Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon Reader in Psychology and Social Policy, Birkbeck College.
Professor Germaine Greer Australian author and academic, widely regarded as one of the most significant feminists of the 20th Century.
Rod Liddle Associate Editor of The Spectator, columnist for The Sunday Times and former Editor of the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4.

In London, the motion was soundly defeated.

19 Responses

  1. Oh boy. I don’t know if I want to give this one the time of day. There aren’t any sex workers speaking against the motion that I know of. Perhaps the two gentlemen are. Sidney Barrows was a madam, so that’s close enough, I suppose. Maybe.

    It’ll take a certain degree of fortitude to sit though Farley and MacKinnon, though.

  2. Seriously, they couldn’t find anyone better to speak against the motion than these three people? No offense to them, but Barrows, Cowen, and Tiger better be WELL prepared to go up against the Harpies from Hell.

  3. Perhaps we should help them. We can write to Sydney Barrows, at least, to let her know what she’s up against. :)

  4. Actually, I was just at Tyler Cowen’s blog, and he is soliciting suggestions. I recommend everyone go there and offer advice!

  5. It may be too late for this, but are any sex workers in NYC interested in contacted the organizers and asking to be added to the panel? Though there will be a madam on the panel and many madams have been sex workers (or still are), I think it would be good to also have a sex worker who isn’t a madam, because realisticaly speaking, many sex workers do not have other sex workers working for them. Furthermore, I have no doubt that the opponents going to try to discredit a madam by calling her a “pimp.”

  6. Actually, I reread the list of speakers on both sides and this seems like a very elitist conference. Thus, I seriously doubt that any sex workers would be welcome to speak in the debate unless they have a college degree (especially an advanced degree), they wrote a book that has been pubished, or if they have a faculty positition at a university. Sex workers who exchange sex for payment and don’t fit this criteria probably wouldn’t be welcome, even though the debate is about exchanging sex for payment.

  7. It is not so much elitist as it has a specific purpose. The purpose is high debate- a game, more or less-engaging the traditional skills of debate and rhetoric and meant to showcase the participants’ intellects. If you look at previous debates, you can see that the events are intellectual sparring matches more than an event meant to change anything in terms of policy. However, points made during such a debate can be used to change policy, so they are worthy of watching.

    I have listened to these debates before, years ago, on NPR while I was living in CA. They are fun and informative, but again, more to show off intellect than to change the world.

  8. I see your point, swop-lv, but I still find these intellectual debates about exchanging sex for payment that exclude sex workers without high academic or writing credentials to be elitist, even though I am an academic (lol). Academic disputes tend to be very philosophical, whereas sex workers tend to focus on more of a practical level-though there is some overlap between these ideological frameworks. For example, much of the academic debate focuses on philosphical discussions about sex work being commodifying, objectifying, patriarchal, etc. However, with sex workers making a living in this industry, the focus tends to be on more practical issues, such as paying bills and living expenses as well as safe and sanitary working conditions. Worker agency also tends to be a major issue among sex workers.
    Also, I find intellectuals who dispute whether survival prostitution is a choice to be especially elitist. This is because if somebody actually works in prostitution or any other industry for survival purposes, they don’t have the time and luxury to be able to focus on whether what they do is a choice. Rather, they focus on it from more of a survival framework, such as getting what they need to pay for a roof over the head and food on the table. When intellectuals can dispute this from a choice based framework, then that’s a real sign of privilege. I think that being both an academic and a sex worker has given me a unique perspective on this.

  9. This article about the previous debate is interesting:

    http://www.guardianweekly.co.uk/?page=editorial&id=818&catID=21

    It mentions an audience member who spoke up about her experience in the sex industry. Maybe this new debate will be opened to the floor as well?

  10. I agree in principle with everything you’re saying– in general. Everyone knows that the “famous” philosophers were privileged people who had the time to think up their philosophies while sipping absinthe and patronizing courtesans, while the less privileged were too busy trying to survive. (But a lot of excellent philosophy has also come from the underclasses–like Jorge Amado from Brazil.)

    But, again, the debate is a game or performance for entertainment. It is a practiced art of academics which depends on a controversial subject to play. There are specific rules and specific tactics that must be learned- a language, if you will. It isn’t so much elite as it is esoteric (which, in a way, anything esoteric could be seen as elitist- even the arts of sex work). And it is for entertainment- not to change policy.

    What I think you’re saying– that sex workers without degrees should be allowed to debate in this type of arena– would be like saying that a Blue Angel pilot should be allowed to play the part of Maverick in Top Gun. While the pilot is a more skilled pilot, he is not a skilled actor, which is what is needed for the movie. Tom Cruise should consult with the pilot to make sure he plays his role well and portrays a realistic Navy fighter pilot. But nobody would pay to go see the pilot in the movie because A) the pilot does not possess the skill set needed to perform well in a movie, B) because of that he probably wouldn’t be very entertaining (at least not in the way that the movie is intended to be), and C) nobody’s ever heard of him.

    Having said all of that, I do find it odd, as Curious Blue pointed out, that Farley, MacKinnon, and Shalit– all engaged academically in the sex work debate– were paired with only one person who would be in an equivalent situation to someone on the other side (Shalit /Barrows: neither have practiced sex work as I understand, but both have written books and both are peripherally involved with sex workers). The other two do not specialize in sex work or feminism. More appropriate might be someone like Laura Agustin, Martha Nussbaum, Jo Dezema, or even Amber Hollibaugh– all who are also degreed, published, and engaged academically (or have engaged at some point) with sex work and/or feminism.

    But nonetheless, it should be an interesting debate. The Cowen fellow is an economist specializing in morality issues, and the other fellow is an anthropologist that deals with the nature of men.

    I personally think that our side has the more broad-based, and thus better line-up. ;)

    Having arranged a debate with the lovely Melissa Farley in the past, I have to say she is likely giving the organizers hell; so I would venture to say that the current line-up was probably not their first choice.

    I still encourage anyone who wishes to, to go over to Cowen’s blog and post something to help him prepare.

  11. Considering MacKinnon’s and Fairley’s stated principles of refusing to debate principled opponents of their philosophy (especially female opponents, both out of the idea of giving opponents of their philosophy equal legitimacy and decidedly tilting and biasing the debate their way by deliberately framing the debate as one between male “pimps”/”johns” and their female “madams” versus the rest of “womanhood”), I would think that attempting to place a legitimate sex worker voice in the conversation would result in MacKinnon and Fairley getting decisively cold feet and bolting, screaming — a la Sam Berg at the William and Mary College debate re: Ren Ev and Jill B — of being “set up” by the “pro-prostitution lobby”.

    Given all that, I’d say that this panel would be predictably biased in Fairley’s and MacKinnon’s position…and the addition of a traditionalist erotophobe like Shalit simply reinforces that particular bias.

    Far better to offer a counter protest outside the venue while the main “debate” is going on.

    Anthony

  12. Far better to offer a counter protest outside the venue while the main “debate” is going on.

    Now there’s a thought, Anthony. But maybe handing out fliers might be better.

  13. The antis “won” the debate (swayed the most people) as predicted, but as noted, the debate really was a stacked deck, set up in such away as to make it seem like Farley and MacKinnon were the only ones who were addressing the reality of prostitution.

    Links here:

    http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20090422006404/en
    http://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/Event.aspx?Event=41

  14. The transcripts for the debate are now online:

    http://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/Event.aspx?Event=41

    Sidney Barrows and Tyler Cowen did a fair job, I think.

    Lionel Tiger did a piss-poor job. He wasn’t even trying to win the debate.

    If these three people had done thorough research on Farley and MacKinnon, it would have made the difference.

  15. If your ask the wrong question, you’ll get the wrong answer. Just like the ruling class. How Bourgeoisie!

  16. I know, lets do our own debate, Its wrong for the ruling class to…

  17. I agree with you, Maxine.

    However, if I had been on the panel, I would have mopped the floor with Farley and co. I can’t understand why that didn’t happen, especially after the advice Mr. Cowen received from sex workers.

  18. That haters are a bunch of liars, out right. He probably didn’ t want to mop the floor because he’d be looking too working class in front of such a gentile crowd.

  19. Based on the title, it seems as if the organizers were baised toward the sex work prohibitionists, so that could be why they selected the people they did to argue against MacKinnon and Farley…because they figured these people probably wouldn’t do a very good job. I really think the best people to debate MacKinnon and Farley would be sex workers who are also sex workers’ rights activists. I say this because as sex workers rights activists, we have experience debating the issues with people, whether this experience be online (we’ve done plenty of debating here on Bound Not Gagged), in informal converations, on panels, or so on… Also, sex workers rights activists normally seem much more informed about the issues on a deeper level than people outside of our movement, including academic researchers who aren’t also involved in sex workers’ rights advocacy (not those who are involved).
    Another good option would have been to include at least one panelist from the Sex Workers Project. People such as Melissa Ditmore and Andrea Richie make excellent arguments, particularly on the issues of human trafficking and how harmful it is to use the issue of human trafficking to promote anti-sex worker laws.

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