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The egalitarian, global commodification of s*xuality

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Friday, 14 May 2010

Women, we’ve arrived. We’re equal now with men. The conditions for equality have been met. Am I talking about political, social and financial equality? No.

Access to maternity leave, child care, the opportunity to balance work and family life? No. The ability to live free from harassment and sexual bullying. No.

We know we are empowered because now we can buy men like they buy women. Men can be prostituted to provide sexual services for women. Here is proof of our newly won freedom: we can participate in the sexual objectification of men in the same way we have been objectified through history.


Free from restriction, the sex industry is now open to all. And there’s lots of pseudo-feminist rhetoric to make us all feel good about it. It’s all there in a piece in The Age last month which reads like a free plug for a new male escort service (“She needs more Melbourne-based men and older men, in their late 30s and 40s”).

But just because it’s women doing the buying - and the pimping - doesn’t make it liberating. Being able to trade in human flesh doesn’t mean that emulating the sexual behaviour of men and their sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, is progress.

This move is part of a capitalist celebration of the female sexual consumer who can choose to buy dildos, botox, pole-dancing classes, new breasts, Brazilians, surgically altered and coloured labias - and men. These are the tokens of our emancipation? This is what “freedom of choice” has delivered?

This is a parody of liberation in which women become a mere participant in a mass-marketed orgy of so-called sexual freedom.

I do have some sympathy, however, with the argument that women cannot find men they want to be with intimately. In our pornified culture we are raising men who are callous and insensitive to the needs and desires of women. We knock tenderness out of them with a diet of brutality from the earliest of ages. Boys’ role models are celebrities and sporting figures who see women as conquests, there for the taking.

But buying a man won’t fix that. It is a reflection of distance, disconnection, a lack of intimacy and a subtraction of emotion from sex.


And it’s dishonest to tell women who want something more than a quick $500 f— that they can have “the whole boyfriend experience” - hair stroked, hand held and even a walk in the park with her, her kids and her dog. For a mere $1,200-$1,500 a day. That’s a lot of money for simulated intimacy. That’s a pretend boyfriend, not a real one. How does that “make a woman feel special”?

There’s a similar development in the story of an Australian film-maker who is organising an auction of Australian virgins at a brothel in Nevada. He is offering $20,000 to each virgin candidate, along with the proceeds of the auction (bar 10 per cent cut for the brothel).

Two men have apparently come forward to agree to have their virginity auctioned. (While wanting to take them at their word, we are not informed how the “virginity” of any participant is established. It wouldn’t be the first time reality show contestants have presented themselves as something they’re not.) Alex, 20, says he “wants to meet someone”. Even if that someone is the kind of person willing to bid in US dollars for the use of his body.

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This is an expanded version of a piece first published in the National Times on April 23, 2010.

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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

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