Most of the discussion surrounding a Duke woman’s decision to participate in pornography has focused on the feminist and gendered implications of being involved in a sex work industry, but we have neglected to mention the economic structures that influence such decision-making. The fact of the matter is, when thinking about career options and economic viability, women are forced to operate in a different framework than men.
Women being more likely to enter a sex-related industry is a result of the economic structures in place that make it extremely difficult for women to compete with men in a workplace—especially in industries that are traditionally male-run. Even if you’re a Duke student with every opportunity in the world, as a woman you are never immune to the effects of gender inequality. Not only are we operating within a system that preferences cis-male employees, but we also live in a place where the economy is dependent on low-wage workers who can’t survive off of their income.
It’s a grim reality we are forced to grapple with as Duke women and women in general. Despite our intellect and training, we can’t ignore the facts: Our opportunity is limited. Of course there are the blatant examples of inequality. In 220 years of history, there have been four female Supreme Court justices. There are 20 women in the Senate out of 100. In 2012, women held 913 seats on boards in Fortune 500 companies, out of 5,488 total seats—a marginal increase from the amount in 2005. But outside of highly visible positions, middle and working class women are hit the hardest by gender equality. During the recession, employment for women declined most significantly in manufacturing, financial activities and retail trade. Between June 2009 and June 2011, women lost 70 percent of all public sector jobs. In the manufacturing sector, from June 2009 to June 2013, women lost 113,000 jobs during the recovery, while men gained 94,000. In retail trade, women lost 168,800 jobs while men gained 172,800. In leisure and hospitality, women gained only 6,000 jobs while men gained 120,000. These statistics suggest women are most susceptible to instability in the job market and have largely borne the burden for the recession. We live in a system where white, male CEOs make irresponsible financial decisions and women bare the burden of so-called recovery.
Young women are also impacted by gender disparities. Young female workers (ages 16-24) on average earn 91 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Historically, this reflects a slight improvement, but opportunities for leadership and career advancement remain stagnant.
It’s naïve to think these market changes don’t have an impact on the sex-work industry. According to The Economist, during recession, prostitution has a high elasticity of demand. In the western world, we have seen an increase in the supply of sex-work, but a decreased demand. Women are turning to sex-work in difficult economic times, but no matter the sex-positive spins and talk of female ownership in sex related fields, men are in charge. An oversaturated market with decreased demand has only put women at greater risk. A report from Westminster claimed that an increase in sex-workers and a decrease in demand put women at a much greater risk of violence. The women interviewed for the report also claimed that there has been about a 50 percent reduction in prices over the last few years. Whether we like it or not, at the most basic level, the status quo for sex work is controlled by men. It’s a vicious cycle. They control the demand for sex work, and they control the structures that channel women into prostitution and pornography.
Where is your escape if you’re a single mother, if you’ve lost your job, if you have enormous student loan debt? When I heard about gender disparity in the American workforce, I naively thought this would mean I would have to settle for another high-paying career without a leadership position, but for many women this is not an option. It becomes a question of survival and not a question of agency. Women enrolled at Duke may be able to exercise more control over this decision-making process—we have a formal education, resources, a career center. But when we enter the workforce and when we are faced with the harsh realities of gender inequality, there are more forces that channel us into sex-work than there ever will be for men.
Adrienne Harreveld is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Monday. Send Adrienne a message on Twitter @AdrienneLiege.