Katha Pollitt’s Quality Control


Heather Berg in Jacobin:

Why, under the banner of concern for “the women at the heart of the debate” (represented by a list of predictable tropes of abject sex workers) is Pollitt asking us to consider whether prostitution encourages men to feel entitled to sex without having to charm an unpaid woman in a bar? Because the women at the heart of this debate aren’t sex workers, but secondary consumers who might have to deal with male partners who are rude, socially awkward, or bad in bed.

Unpaid intimacy is a space of work too, and a Marxist feminist dialogue about how paid and unpaid sexual partners might struggle in solidarity would be wonderful. That would, however, require a radical departure from the “you’re not a worker because I don’t like what you produce” line of argument.

It’s rhetoric we’re all too familiar with. Catherine MacKinnon made the question of which women count painfully clear: “One does not have to notice that pornography models are real women to whom something real is being done … The aesthetic of pornography itself, the way it provides what those who consume it want, is itself the evidence.” Pollitt suggests that Gira Grant spends too much time taking easy shots at the “dead gray mare of 1980s anti-porn feminism.” “Was any cause ever so decisively defeated?” she writes.

But one of the more chilling aspects of that cause — the insistence that workers don’t matter, products are the point — is alive and well at The Nation.

I suggest the reverse: the nature of a product is irrelevant to how we should theorize, legislate, or organize the labor involved in producing it. Workers are not socially accountable for whatever may come from their work. To accept otherwise encourages the over-identification with work that management finds so efficient in getting us to do more for less. It allows capital to extract not only time, but also ethical responsibility from workers.

More here.