Sex Work

Gloria Steinem Believes in 'Bodily Integrity,' Just Not for Sex Workers

Feminist icon holds human rights in the highest regard-as long as they're for the right kind of people.


Jewish Women's Archive/Flickr

In a recent interview with Time magazine, feminist icon Gloria Steinem—currently promoting a new travel memoir—says that the biggest threat to reproductive rights today is "patriarchy… the very definition (of which) is that men control women's bodies in order to control reproduction." In contrast, Steinem says she believes that "it's a simple human right for each of us to control our own physical selves." Luckily, she thinks that "we're moving toward a principle you might call bodily integrity, that is, the power of the government stops at our skins—for men and women."

It's a nice sentiment—but alas, Steinem's concept of human rights and bodily integrity only applies to certain people. Steinem has been an outspoken proponent against sex workers' right to bodily integrity.

Over the summer, Steinem was one of a group of Hollywood celebrities and high-profile feminists condemning the human-rights group Amnesty International for its support of completely decriminalizalizing prostitution. In 2014, Steinem said it was wrong to use the term "sex work," a preferred term of many women who willingly work in the sex trade, because prostitution is merely "commercial rape"—a "body invasion" that is "not like any other work." Never mind that a lot of grown women choose to be sex workers and do not experience prostitution as commercialized rape; that's how Steinem sees it, and so pity the poor sex worker who thinks she gets to define her own experience.

Steinem goes on, when asked about police brutality, to suggest that we don't pay enough attention to police brutality against women and should address this topic more often. Yes, let's—starting, perhaps, with all the crimes cops commit against female sex workers? Crimes they're very likely to get away with because under a system of criminalization police wield so much coercive power over these women.

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  1. People have a fundamental human right to make the choices of which I approve. Also, what would otherwise be consensual is inherently coercive when money changes hands because of the bad juju of commerce.

    1. See, since almost all prostitution is either hetero males renting females or gay males renting males, prostitution is inherently patriarchal, which is enough taint to warrant making it illegal. Except for cops, who must engage in it to keep it under control.

      The few females renting males or other females have obviously been corrupted by the male majority patriarchy and therefore inadmissible.

      1. “enough taint to warrant making it illegal”


      2. I particularly like how we use the language of property (“rent”) to describe a straightforward service transaction.

        Nobody talks about renting a dentist or a lawyer or a mechanic. But for hookers? You either “buy” them or “rent” them.

        1. The whole concept of prostitution being any different from any other occupation seems so bizarre to me. I’m a computer programmer; my employer rents my brain and experience. Ditch diggers rent their muscle. Everybody rents out their body in one form or another to survive. Sex and money individually taint people’s minds, but the combinations sends brains into spasms that can only be likened to how men think with their small head when a female is involved.

          I knew a guy who was married to a prostitute, which I could not do, but he had no problem with it, and I had no problem with him having no problem with it. I can’t imagine being married to a politician or actor or traveling saleswoman either, but I don’t want to make those occupations illegal, not even politician (I want to get rid of government which grants politicians power, but that’s another story).

          1. I knew a guy who was married to a prostitute, which I could not do, but he had no problem with it

            Was she still in the business after they got married?

            1. I think so, but don’t know. Never met her.

              1. It’s one thing to be a suitcase pimp, but a whole set of luggage pimp?


          2. Say ‘taint’. Say ‘taint’ again!

            1. ‘Taint funny, McGee.

          3. Well, whether or not it is completely rational, I think people will always think of prostitution as different from other work because it involves sex and for most people sex is a very intimate and personal thing.

            Under the law it shouldn’t be any different from any other profession. But I think it will always be popularly considered to be something different.

            1. The best legal equivalent is massage therapist – the legitimate sort. They provide very personal services and often work on old, fat and just plain gross people.

              1. Same goes for healthcare workers of various sorts.

                I think that the other big reason why prostitution will always be seen as a different sort of thing is that the vast majority of it involves men hiring women, or other men. So there will probably always be the appearance, at least, of some kind of gender disparity.

          4. Mr. Repair, I still think the use of the word “rent” to describe a sale of services is a category error.

            You do not become your employer’s or client’s property, in any sense of the term, when you take a job. Its that simple.

            1. I agree, when it comes to American English, anyway.

              But I think that the use of the word “rent” applied to prostitutes is largely a reaction to the use of “buy” in the same context. E.g. “they aren’t selling their bodies, they are renting them.” Of course “hiring them to provide sexual services” is more accurate and dignified.

            2. “Mr. Repair, I still think the use of the word “rent” to describe a sale of services is a category error.

              You do not become your employer’s or client’s property, in any sense of the term, when you take a job. Its that simple”

              Too simple, Dean. When you rent a car, it doesn’t become your property either.

  2. Commercial Rape and Body Invasion. Good band names.

    1. I was about to say Doctor Whom’s “bad juju of commerce” would be a nice name for a tongue-in-cheek libertarian nerd-rock quintet.

      1. Need a drummer?

  3. I am a strong proponent of the wave of feminism that believes that only the right kind of people should be able to have control over their own bodies.

  4. Also, I was not bored by this article.

    1. She didn’t mention pimps either.

      1. Ain’t no boredom like a pimp’s boredom.

        1. A pimp’s boredom is different from that of a square.

          1. Indeed, based on last night’s exchange, we know that a pimp’s boredom contains less argumentum ad hominem and special pleading than a square’s.

  5. Gloria says “it’s a simple human right for each of us to control our own physical selves.”

    And yet Gloria supports Hillary Clinton for president who would continue to wage war on women who smoke weed.

    1. Judging from the Hillary supporters in my personal circle, they support her because she isn’t Jeb Bush.

      1. There are still people who think Jeb! has a chance?
        Where’s Turd been, anyway?

    2. And if we’re truly “moving toward a principle you might call bodily integrity, that is, the power of the government stops at our skins?for men and women,” then I wonder why any Democrat would support raising the smoking age to 21.

      Seems like the discussion we should be having is whether to lower the drinking age to 18.

  6. Cognitive dissonance? From a leftist? Well, I never.

  7. Steinem is off her rocker. Here’s her explanation for the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton among women:

    Steinem describes herself as “blindsided by the hostility” toward Clinton from some white liberal women during her first run for Senate. Eventually, Steinem developed an idea about where that animus came from. “If Hillary had a husband who regarded her as an equal?who had always said this country got ‘two presidents for the price of one’?it only dramatised their own lack of power and respect,” she writes. “After one long night and a lot of wine, one woman told me that Hillary’s marriage made her aware of just how unequal hers was.”

    There are a lot of theories out there about the very real resistance to Clinton among women who, on the demographic surface, should be her base. This, however, is the first time I’ve seen it suggested that they wish their husbands would be more like Bill Clinton.

    And what about those women who condemned Clinton for remaining with a husband who humiliated her? “It turned out that many of them had suffered a faithless husband, too, but lacked the ability or the will to leave,” writes Steinem. “They wanted Hillary to punish a powerful man in public on their behalf.”

    Yup. No other possible reason a women would dislike a lying, conniving, felon like Hillary Clinton.

    1. “blindsided by the hostility”

      +1 Ghost of Pauline Kael

      1. Kael’s famous quote may have shown more self-awareness than she’s given credit for.

        1. I’m not 100% sure, but it actually sounds like self-mocking irony.

          1. Its all in the tone, which text does not convey well.

    2. Hillary’s marriage made her aware of just how unequal hers was

      How odd, that somebody whose marriage is notably marked by serial infidelity and the unfailing elevation of the husband’s career over the wife’s is regarded as a model of equality by “white liberal women”.

      1. If I had to guess, I’d say Steinem simply regards this as an “open marriage,” which is totally a Good Thing because smash monogamy or something.

        1. Why the shock quotes, Eddie. Open marriage is a thing for a lot of people.

          1. OK, open marriage then. Sheesh.

            And I don’t even *have* a rabbit hutch!

    3. That article is fucking insane. The writer laments that Hillary’s campaign indicates that the only way for a woman to attain power in America is to marry it? No. The only way for Hillary to attain power is to marry it, because Hillary is so extremely banal and possesses such an odious persona that, even in a political system which tends to reward corrupt powermongers, she had no hope of attaining it on her own.

    4. SugarFree: It was Gloria Steinem sipping wine and eating cheese with her circle of friends. I’m guessing the statistical sampling was questionable.

    5. Steinem’s thoughts aren’t stupid, but incomplete, and inconsistent. She doesn’t account for solidarity. And her first reason requires that the Clinton’s marriage is “equal”, the second reason requires that the marriage is unequal.

      A more likely explanation is that women see Clinton as hypocritical.

  8. “the biggest threat to reproductive rights today is “patriarchy… the very definition (of which) is that men control women’s bodies in order to control reproduction.””

    Yeah, consider patriarchs like Lila Rose and Charmaine Yoest.

    1. Charmaine? Who would name their kid after toilet paper? There’s the patriarchy problem in a nutshell.

      1. “You Americans name your daughters after nice qualities that you want them to have, like Hope and Charity and Chastity. If we did that in Australia, we’d have girls with names like Hugefuckintits.”

    2. Wow, these patriarchs must be wearing really elaborate disguises.

      And again.

      1. Oops, the first link was botched, let’s try this.

        Brainwashed by the patriarchy, every one of them.

        What horrible Stepford Wives/Handmaid’s Tale conspiracy is responsible for all these women not agreeing with Gloria Steinem?

    3. OMG, even the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade has been replaced by a patriarchal pod-person!

      Have those horrible male chauvinists no shame?

    4. Thank God that there are crusading feminists out there willing to fight against all those bearded patriarchs!

    5. Very disappointed with the content of “live action”.

  9. Gloria Steinem Believes in ‘Bodily Integrity,’

    No, she doesn’t. She’s a Marxian.

    Steinem’s concept of human rights and bodily integrity only applies to certain people. Steinem has been an outspoken proponent against sex workers’ right to bodily integrity.

    Her inconsistency is perfectly explainable when you consider that her ethics are based on the argument that whatever limits the “patriarchy” is right, which means that sex-for-hire (which in her view does not limit the “patriarchy”) cannot be right.

    1. Gloria Steinem Believes in ‘Bodily Integrity,’

      No, she doesn’t. She’s a Marxian.

      I believe that’s why “Bodily Integrity” was in scare quotes…

  10. In a recent interview with Time magazine, feminist icon Gloria Steinem?currently promoting a new travel memoir?says that the biggest threat to reproductive rights today is “patriarchy… the very definition (of which) is that men control women’s bodies in order to control reproduction.”

    All this time I spend operating and maintaining my marionette like control over vaginas is starting to interfere with my orphan coal mining business.

    1. alas since NPR has uncovered(only partially) my masterful ruse of disguising tea parties as a honey trap for selecting and brainwashing potential sheeple I may get a chance to focus on my true passion after-all.

    2. And what about your white privilege cotton plantations, your misogynistic video game studios and your heteronormative magazine, movie and cinema production companies? We white men are so busy oppressing every conceivable group that I just can’t find the time to oppress ALL the people I’d like to. There has to be a better way…

      1. Automation.

  11. Wait. So you’re telling me Gloria Steinem is not dead yet? Hold on. *click click click*
    Well neither is Abe Vigoda. So uh, carry on.

  12. If western society was built and dominated by white heterosexual males (patriarchs) they’re sure doing a piss poor job of oppressing their women considering that no societies in human history have been more tolerant, more inclusive and preferential towards women than these patriarchal rape culture societies.

    1. We’re better than the Nazis, so what are these skirts complaining about?

    2. I don’t know, the legal status of women in Ancient Egypt was pretty good. Women, without the need for a male guardian, could own property, sign contracts, sue, serve on juries, and witness documents. It’s also worth nothing that for the Ancient Egyptians, marriage was a completely private institution, with no state involvement; however, property acquired after a marriage was considered to be jointly-held. Likewise, divorce could be initiated by either party; furthermore, whereas, the Greeks and Romans tolerated married men visiting prostitutes and keeping concubines (of either gender), the Egyptians defined adultery as infidelity by either party.

      Then Islam happened.

      1. Then Islam happened.

        And everything got better?

      2. I think a few things happened in between.

        1. Blame mary and the 1500 character limit.

  13. So only men should be able to sell their sex services? How about the formerly man-gendered now transgendered? How about flouncy, dolled-up catamites?

    Steinem is really lobbying for chasing the XX competition from the market.

  14. Tell Congress It’s Time to Increase Our Public Transportation Infrastructure

    Somebody’s ad dollars were wasted. Gotta block this shit on my phone.

  15. Progressives have become the new prudes, social conservatives, and moral majority.

    It isn’t just sex, either. It’s gambling, eating bad things, using bad language, etc., etc.

    Being okay with gay people getting married doesn’t make you a freedom loving liberal.

    1. It’s not new. Progressives have always been the vanguard.

      1. Horseshoe politics of the religious-right-and-radfems variety has been going on for a while, although we’re supposed to pretend not to notice.

      2. They define themselves against that kind of moralizing, though.

        If we blew up that illusion, it would do libertarians a lot of good.

        Progressives think they’re fighting the moral majority and social conservatives. They market themselves as fighting against those who would use the government to impose their morality on the rest of us.

        Blow it up! The progressives are a bunch of prudes.

        1. Progressives think they’re fighting the moral majority and social conservatives.

          You look around this place, and a lot of libertarians also believe that socons are the main enemy.

          I disagree. SoCons may or may not be theocrats in waiting (its a mixed bag), but progressives are all totalitarians, straight up.

          1. Yeah, I dunno. I think most libertarians lean conservative than liberal (using the “American” definition for both of those terms, BTW) because we realise how bloody impossible it is to implement all the bullshit the socons want, but it’s not that hard for the government to make it impossible to make a living. And you can’t do shit without money.

            1. No, it’s because egalitarianism is inherently totalitarian (things that are not totally the same are not the same), whereas conservative moralism is not not an all-encompassing philosophy but merely a combination of some preferences.

  16. Too many women are all for using the state to eliminate sexualities competition. Laws against prostitution, age of consent, etc…

    1. are they really though? How do you know that they aren’t “advancing” an agenda at the leisure of the men that “secretly” control their bodies? There is no limit to the patriarchies corrupting influence of power.

  17. Before the last couple of years, I have to admit I didn’t think much about prostitution besides a general “Of course it should be legal” idea. It was reading ENB and Maggie McNeill that got me thinking more about it (and the important difference between “legalizing” sex work and “decriminalizing” it).

    When the left speaks out against sex work, I don’t think it’s about eliminating “competition”, as it were. They just don’t like it and can’t imagine how anyone would choose that (and since that’s “true”, every sex worker must have been forced into it!), and if anyone’s good about the cognitive dissonance required to think “If we just get more government involvement in this ‘issue’, it’ll be solved!”, it’s the left.

    If sex work were decriminalized, sex workers would be able to get a helluva lot more information about their clients and be able to weed out the bad ones. The current legal status of sex work (even under the idiotic “Swedish Model”) means that the only men that are willing to buy sex are the ones already willing to break the law, which leads to more violence against sex workers. And I honest-to-goodness believe that women like Steinem don’t mind violence against sex workers, because they’re not respectable women and because it might scare some other women away from sex work.

    1. Yay! I am very glad ENB is on board to write about these issues; it was a neglected topic here at Reason even though legal prostitution is of course a longtime libertarian position.

      1. Shut up, cosmo hispter girl. All this talk of “sex work” is mind-numblying boring and ancillary to the Founder’s vision of an non-interventionist project of ordered liberty. I’m not gay, but Raimondo is, so I can insult you as his proxy.

        Oh, and death to the devil state of Israel.

        1. As a filthy left-hander, I don’t really use pencils.

        2. And here I am using the classic Mirado Black Warrior.

          1. There should really be a quiz “Name of a Type of Pencil or Sex Toy?”

    2. “When the left speaks out against sex work, I don’t think it’s about eliminating “competition”, as it were.”

      It’s in part about competition. If men have more options to get sex, there’s more pressure on their girlfriends to “give” them sex. Anything that gives men more power over women or that reduces women’s power over men is seen as objectifying women. So indeed the idea is to increase the price of sex as much as possible. I think implicit is the idea that long term relationships between men and women are desirable and that men exchange goods for sex in these romantic relationships and want sex more (often than women). Prostitutes have a much higher sex drive than normal women, which means these are two groups with conflicting interests. Majoritarian feminism is going to protect normals women at the cost of prostitutes.

      1. *normal[]

        Interesting to observe that feminism is as oppressive as what I criticizes. It’s as corruptible by power (Acton) and as open to rent-seeking, and the tyranny of the strong/majority. You can catch a glimpse of that in the battle of the factions, and the hierarchies of intersectionality.

  18. Also, you know…

    Sometimes it seems like these leftist feminists are going against nature itself. The fact is that sex itself is naturally an aggressive act to some extent. It involves penetration. That’s the mechanics of it. Of course, it’s an act that can be and is pleasurable to women, and women can be and are sexually aggressive. But to some extent, men will always be seen as selfish aggressors–because the act itself involves penetration and is aggressive.

    Also, look at how testosterone works. If you have insufficient testosterone, you can’t get an erection, but that’s only part of it. You also lose your desire to have sex, and you lose what they commonly describe as “self-confidence”. Testosterone is what makes men aggressive.

    I’m as much against rape as anybody, but the feminism I see espoused by some of these feminists just reeks of misandry. There’s a difference between criticizing some men for the way they act or criticizing the culture, on the one hand, and criticizing men for being men on the other. And when we’re talking about the sex act itself being naturally aggressive because of penetration or the effects of testosterone, we’re not talking about the culture or the way men choose to act. We’re talking about what constitutes manhood.

    1. There cannot be consensual sex for pay, why? If the problem isn’t that the prostitute didn’t consent, then what’s the problem? It must be that the physical act itself is aggressive and the effects of testosterone make men both desire sex and to be aggressive. That’s misandry. That’s like hating women because of what makes them women.

      1. No consensual sex for pay. Are you some kind of Grunch?

        1. The term “grunch” was apparently coined by Dorothea Salo.

          While I’m not sure I’d actually want to grunch her, I notice that she’s against DMCA abuse by copyright owners.

          1. Comments are closed. Wonder why. As for digital repository, I want video.

    2. “Sometimes it seems like these leftist feminists are going against nature itself. ”

      Correct. You got it in your first sentence.

      “we’re not talking about the culture or the way men choose to act.”

      Incorrect. That’s precisely what feminists are talking about.

      1. “That’s precisely what feminists are talking about.”


        If they don’t care whether men are obtaining consent first, then their problem is not with the way men act.

        I don’t know if it’s willfull obtuseness with you, truman, of if you just never saw the the argument/contradiction sketch on MP’s Flying Circus…

        But you and Tulpa should go bowling.

        1. “If they don’t care whether men are obtaining consent first”

          They do care. Unconsenting sex is called rape.

          “I don’t know if it’s willfull obtuseness with you”

          This might hurt, but I think it’s your difficulty in expressing yourself that is the problem here. As I pointed out, you are correct in pointing out that feminists want to “go against nature.” I suspect you think this in itself is worthy of condemnation, but haven’t bothered to say so, as it’s so plainly obviously a bad thing to go against nature, even though it’s aggressive towards women.

          1. “They do care. Unconsenting sex is called rape.”

            Feminists like Steinem care about consent? Oh, I’m sorry. I assumed you’d read the fucking article.

            “It’s a nice sentiment?but alas, Steinem’s concept of human rights and bodily integrity only applies to certain people. Steinem has been an outspoken proponent against sex workers’ right to bodily integrity.”

            Steinem doesn’t think prostitutes should be free to consent to sex. That’s why she opposes sex workers’ right to bodily integrity.

            That’s what the whole article is about, you oaf!

            1. I may have neglected to shut off a tag, there. I’m just sayin.

            2. ” I assumed you’d read the fucking article.”

              A mistake. I rarely read the articles here. This one didn’t interest me. I never referred to Gloria or her opinions in my comments and neither did you until now.

              1. The only reason you would criticize what other people say about the topic of the thread, without knowing the topic of the thread–and then bragging about not knowing the topic of the thread? Is if you’re a stupid asshole.


                This thread is about Steinem. My comments were in response to Steinem. I quoted a part of the article that was about Steinem. And you’re a stupid asshole.

                1. OK, Ken.


                  What have we learned about the usefulness/futility interacting with the disconnected-from-reality, goalpost-shifting -rather-than -ever-admit -he-said -anything-stupid, Mark Trueman?

                  I’ll give you a hint: the answer is contained in the aphorism regarding wrestling in the mud with a pig.

                  1. “What have we learned…”

                    That Tories like Ken fault women for not accepting the hand nature dealt them? I suspected so much in my first comment here and nothing has persuaded me otherwise.

                    “disconnected-from-reality, goalpost-shifting ”

                    In games, goal-posts don’t shift. In reality, they shift all the time. Sorry if you are not quite up to my standards, and have trouble keeping up with me.

                    “Mark Trueman?”

                    Not named Mark, not even Marx. Try the Great Helmsman, Mao. Now you can shit your pants over the name Mao for a while if you like.

                2. “without knowing the topic of the thread”

                  But your comment was about the intrinsic violence of the sex act. If it was about Gloria’s opinions, I missed that part.

                  ” And you’re a stupid asshole.”

                  We’ve known this since I started posting here over a year ago.

  19. Steinem is a has-been, a has been an obvious hack for decades. Why give a fuck what she thinks about anything?

    1. Would you rather hear more about Lena Dunham?

      1. Sure, sign up to her newsletter. It’s called Dummy.

  20. Sales are commercial theft.
    Hiring is commercial slavery.
    Renting homes is commercial trespass.

  21. I hate to keep telling you this, Ms. Nolan-Brown, but none of this should surprise you in the least bit. As I’ve said, feminists, by and large, don’t have a problem with laws against prostitution. Only with the idea of women getting prosecuted under such laws. To the extent that the purchasers of prostitution services are men, feminists are largely happy to support laws against prostitution, just as long as it’s the purchaser and purchaser only who are prosecuted. If it were ever to become common for women to become the purchasers of prostitution services, most feminists would favor some other restructuring of the law – probably to one that openly singles out men.

    Sorry, modern feminism really isn’t consistent with libertarianism. It’s an out-and-out power play for an identity group. It isn’t really about any particular principle other than more power for its members. It’s sad to see so many people whose ideas seem to be rooted in individualism fall for believing that they have an affinity with it.

    1. “Yeah, but she *promised* to quit beating me! She’s really sorry, and you should see these ‘A Woman’s Place is in the Senate’ bumper stickers she got me!”

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  23. At least Steinem et al are more consistent about “false consciousness” than “sex-positive” feminists. The latter simply claim that whatever they like sexually is not a matter of false consciousness. Given theories of oppression – which they agree with otherwise – sex positive feminists are likely to have “false preferences”. If “the partriarchy” pursues conflicting goals (female sexual purity, no prostitution and sexual availability, prostitution) it’s not oppressive but ineffective. Oppression requires a monopoly.

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