Beyond Dichotomies of Victimization versus Agency: Bringing in Gendered Spatial Subject Positions Related to Intimacy

Authored by: Marlene Spanger

The Routledge Research Companion to Geographies of Sex and Sexualities

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472455482
eBook ISBN: 9781315613000
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043331


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Men and women selling sexual services have been articulated as ‘victims of trafficking’, ‘modern female slaves’, or alternatively as ‘empowered women’ or ‘entrepreneurs’ both in the media and in the public debates emanating from feminist scholarly studies on prostitution (Davidson, 1998; Chapkis, 2002; Agustín, 2007; Doezema, 2010). In particular, feminist scholars (Agustin, 2005; Doezema, 2010), cooperating closely with sex-worker rights activists draw attention to sex workers’ labour rights as another feminist strategy for deconstructing both the whore stigma and the modern female slavery stigma. Another body of literature understands the sale of sexual services as a structural and symbolic result of a patriarchal society always limited by particular social, political and economic conditions, which subordinate women selling sexual services. Despite the different voices and views on sex sale, they all spring from a dichotomous thinking that refers to a question of victimization versus agency, prostitution versus sex work or trafficking versus labour migration. This conceptual framework was established during the 1980s and since then has dominated international political debates on human trafficking, migrant-related prostitution and global sex work (Kempadoo et al., 2005; Doezema, 1998). The dichotomous thinking also permeates the scholarly field of sex commerce. Third, a number of scholars propose approaches that overcome this dichotomous thinking (see Cheng, 2010; Sanders, 2008; Nencel, 2001; Trautner, 2005). This chapter can be situated within this third way by demonstrating how attention to spatial performances of sexuality and gender is a relevant perspective within studies of commercial sex and intimacy. In particular, I am inspired by Butler’s theory on gender performativity and how this theory can be applied within studies on spatial relations.

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