Leanne Battersby’s recent storyline in Coronation Street has been excellent. It’s done a very good job of criticizing the material conditions of prostitution without basing that on a stigmatization of prostitutes. The economic criticism of prostitution is too often expressed as horror that economic conditions force women so low; but it’s hard to disentangle that from the marginalization of prostitutes which, as Coronation Street has been pointing out, is precisely part of the economic problem of prostitution.
But now the story has moved on to Janice, and with it, the writers seem to be putting forward the radical feminist position that the economic conditions that make prostitution exploitative are generalized in bourgeois heterosexual relationships. As Irigaray writes, quoting Engels’s materialism against Freud’s essentialism,
As well as being an undeclared work contract, the marriage contract will also have disguised a purchase agreement for the body and sex of the wife, “who only differs from the ordinary courtesan in that she does not let out her body on piecework as a wage worker, but sells it once and for all into slavery…. Monogamy and prostitution are indeed contradictions, but inseparable contradictions, poles of the same state of society.” In fact these two poles are joined together in traditional monogamous marriage, a legal form of prostitution that is not declared as such and therefore, no doubt by negation, produces moralism.
Or, as Fourier puts it, in his customary manner that treats dialectics as a kind of cosmic joke, “Isn’t a girl a commodity displayed for sale to whoever wants to negotiate her purchase and exclusive ownership? … As in grammar two negatives make an affirmative, so one can say that in matrimonial morality two prostitutions pass for a virtue.”