Mary Louise Fellows


A Matter of Prostitution: Becoming Respesctable

Beverly Balos, Mary Louise Fellows

Feminists have achieved significant antiviolence legal reforms in the areas of domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and rape over the past three decades. These reforms, however, have reinforced old borders between the traditional categories of violence and prostitution and have constructed new borders by maintaining the distinction between worthy and unworthy women. Despite these flaws, the law reform efforts have the capacity to transform the legal and social meaning of prostitution. By adopting an approach that transcends consent or coercion and private or public, Professors Fellows and Balos use the concept of respectability to introduce an analytically powerful framework for rethinking prostitution as a paradigm of degradation and as a practice of inequality. First, the authors explain the role these dichotomies play in maintaining social hierarchies through the discourse of respectability. Next, the authors situate the relationship among prostitution, racial and gendered cultural practices, and rights of citizenship within the degradation/respectability framework. The authors use the concept of respectability to critique previous reform efforts and to propose a possible civil rights remedy that is not dependent on the traditional concepts of consent and coercion and individual liberty. In this way, they avoid polarizing the debate and create a genuine opportunity for significant legal reform in the area of prostitution. Ultimately, the authors elaborate a theory of citizenship that undermines the degeneracy/respectability dichotomy and that does not depend on an idea of worthiness.