I have begun reading Rachel Moran’s Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution and have much to say about it. As soon as the text arrived in the mail, I knew I would read it in entirety but also found myself flipping through it and skimming various parts first in order to attain a general understanding of the types of topics Moran was discussing. While I was drawn to many of the subjects she covered, I was particularly intrigued with her analysis of how the male psyche dehumanizes women in prostitution. Moran discussed three distinct types of psychic dehumanization that can transpire. I will discuss these three views briefly here.
The first type of dehumanization Moran discusses is “The view of the prostituted as non-humans…” (105). Moran’s awareness that this mental perception existed was crystallized when she observed men who would look at her “in stupefied astonishment” when she objected to being “roughly manhandled” (105). It was this type of objection to objectification and violence which resulted in the men experiencing a “slow-dawning realisation that this was in fact a human being they were mauling” (105). It is quite telling that the male psyche can be so inundated in the ideology of female objectification that evidence of a woman’s subjectivity (whether it materializes through objection to violence, independent thought, or some other activity which conforms to conventional conceptions of humanity) comes as a complete shock.
The second type of dehumanization Moran discusses is “where a man is conscious of your humanity but willfully chooses to ignore it” (105). Moran argues that this is the most commonly held attitude men maintain regarding prostitutes, and I would take this assessment as a point of departure to argue that this is the patriarchy’s dominant discourse on all women. In her important essay “The Girls And The Grasses,” Lierre Keith discusses both male knowledge of the humanity of women as well as their ongoing willingness to treat these human beings as objects. Specifically, she notes that “They know we aren’t objects, that we have nerves that feel and flesh that bruises” (290). Nevertheless, these knowing males still subject women to various acts of dehumanization, one of which is female genital mutilation (FGM).
As a radical feminist, I can see this diametric opposition (the reality of female subjectivity and the male fantasy of female objectification suppressing that reality) being played out in every sector of society. Beyond the realm of prostitution, I see this necrotic project attaining primacy when pornographic pictures of women are produced. Moran discusses this practice upon noting that:
“I was photographed pornographically. That is a difficult thing for me to write. I have thought about that, about how it would feel for me to look at those pictures now. It would hurt me to see them and to know that others would see them. I know that. But it would also be educational and worthwhile, because I am quite sure I could contort my own face to resemble the dummy image of female sexuality required of me as I shifted from one pose to the next, all the while steeling my mind against an almost tangibly present sense of degradation. I think it might be enlightening for people to see that that face can be matched to these words” (64).
Here, the radical feminist reader can see the necrotic project of female objectification in full effect as female subjects are forced to enact a corporeal modality in which their bodies represent a “dummy image.” This is the object-not-subject, being-not-thinking mode of truncated, synthetic sexuality which the phallus (men) continually coerce women into adopting. I really appreciated this aspect of Moran’s narrative because it illustrates her awareness that this image, although perhaps real, is fictive in the sense that it does not reflect the full range of her being. That fuller range is exemplified through her writing, and the reader who juxtaposes the face from the pornographic images she had to make to the writing she has produced about this reality will indeed be enlightened. The enlightenment is knowing that the patriarchal project is a process of reduction. Within it, women are caught in an ontological web of being what sexist men call “sex” or “sexy.” The web precludes women from independent thought given that they are merely acting out the perverted fantasies of the male psyche. It is a realm of merely being what a man has told you to be (object), not actively thinking about what you could become (subject). Writing, on the other hand, is an enterprise that inverts the perverted male modality as the speaking subject analyzes and interprets the reality imposed upon her. It is a process of moving from nonthinking object to thinking subject.
The third type of dehumanization Moran discusses is men who are caught up in the necrotic act of “indulging their desire to reduce the humanity of women” (105). Moran elaborates on this reality by asserting that it constitutes a process of reducing the woman “to nothing” (106). This process can transpire through a wide range of humiliating sex acts, and I would go on to argue that it also takes place outside of the “sexual” realm. For example, the reduction of women to nothing transpires when their right to exist peacefully within their bodies is denied. This ongoing attack against female bodies can be seen on multiple planes. Lierre Keith discusses it upon noting that “There are entire villages in India where all the women only have one kidney. That’s because their husbands have sold the other one” (292). Here, the humanity associated with having a body is denied women as a specific corporeal component is extracted for the purpose of generating wealth for men. The ongoing fragmentation and removal of female body parts is just one element of the continual war being raged against women. These wars against the female body are a process of reducing subjects to nothing in a cultural context where humanity is defined in terms of being able to exist as a discrete entity without having one’s body disturbed or destroyed by others. Becoming nothing in a society predicated upon this value system is about one’s body existing for the perverse titillation or economic gain of others, and this is the process men put women through via the aforementioned practices.
Moran’s assessments regarding the dehumanization that transpires in prostitution are astute, and I think it is important for radical feminists to draw connections between this specific mode of phallic agency and other androcentric modalities that have gained primacy in contemporary cultures.
Keith, Lierre. “The Girls And The Grasses.” Female Erasure ed. by Ruth Barrett. Tidal Time Publishing, 2016.
Moran, Rachel. Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution. W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.