Open the Door: Feminist Philosophy

I’ve managed to tell a tale or two from two classes on my anthropology and philosophy days, but no stories from my other two classes made it to the blog before classes ended. I apologize. Over the last four months, I have opened my philosophy days with feminism. From Simone de Beauvoir to Gloria Anzaldúa and Michel Foucault, my class surveyed three waves of feminism through their theorists. Whew! Much of my efforts (for this class) since Spring Break have revolved around a research presentation and paper, which comprised of 45% of my grade when combined. I chose to investigate sex trafficking and sexual slavery, in large part because of friends I met in Egypt and at camp.

Commonly referred to as “sex trafficking,” there are two connected components that make this an issue: sexual slavery and human trafficking. Though ubiquitous and global in scope, women, men, and children are domestically trafficked near to home as well. Human trafficking is clandestinely moving people from region to region – think “smuggling”. Any instance in which someone is forced to perform sexual acts without directly receiving some form of compensation is sexual slavery. Feminists started fighting against the combination in the late 1880s, only when sex trafficking threatened white women on a large scale. Though the general reaction to the international sex economy is wholly negative, the modern range exists between complete abolition to legitimizing women’s rights to commodify their bodies and motivations range from religious scriptures to ending male domination.

Here’s a sampling of philosophical theorists, as related to the international sex economy. Michel Foucault described power as existing in relationships of unequal status: the more powerful person (owner/purchaser of human commodities) will do anything to retain that power over the less powerful person (the human commodity). After a while, the person at the receiving end of exploitation will internalize their lack of power and, just a little bit, relinquish claims to power. Judith Butler explained gender as a performance: we are expected to behave in certain ways according to how the broader community perceives us, and we behave thus until we internalize and unconsciously reproduce those assumed behaviors. For the human commodity, sex is inherently a performance of their perceived gender and identity – dehumanized property. Marilyn Frye likened oppression to a multi-bar cage, where the victim has no available exit. The victims of the international sex economy are oppressed through the interlocking economic depression, lack of education and marketable skills, gendered power differences, cultural beliefs, HIV/AIDS myths, and publicized opportunities through migration. 

Feminism doesn’t mean living as a political lesbian to protest male domination in heterosexual relationships, economic positions, or in academia; feminism is far more concerned about changing power differentials to offer equal opportunities to all interested parties (women have historically been excluded more frequently than men). How do you contribute to upsetting the power status quo?


About landje03

A passionate outdoor educator, I hold a degree in anthropology. While not a salaried academic, I pursue various thoughts stemming from my experiences and their intersections with others' experiences. I also love to start conversations, so comment if anything tickles your fancy.
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