A glimpse at prostitution

DECEMBER 19 – I did some research on prostitution recently and found a website that reviews prostitutes in Malaysia.

For the uninitiated, the website will seem like a confusing mess of acronyms. The reviews, or field reports as they’re called, are filled with acronyms and words like NL, CKT, Capati, PRC, Bakso and Tomyam to describe the prostitute’s ethnicity. The sex worker’s services are listed in another compendium of acronyms like BBBJ, CIM, DATY, FJ and GFE.

NL is short for Nasi Lemak to denote Malay ethnicity. CKT stands for Char Koay Teow, or local Chinese. Capati means local Indian. PRC refers to a China national. Bakso and Tomyam respectively refer to Indonesian and Thai prostitutes.

The johns systematically rate a prostitute’s various services on a scale of 1 to 10. The prostitutes’ numbers are rarely provided on the website.

Instead, men trade prostitutes' numbers like Magic cards. Some even sell the phone numbers at RM50 for three.

The prostitutes’ nicknames are used most of the time. Sometimes though, they’re just referred to with a number.

On Malaysian escort agencies' websites, the sex workers are described like products or food. They are “delivered” like pizza. The women are called “young and fresh.” Some websites also feature photos of them posing in lingerie, a shot of deep cleavage or the curve of an ass.

I believe prostitution should be legalised, if only to protect sex workers from abuse. Prostitutes should have the same occupational and human rights that people enjoy in other jobs. They should have access to health care and a safe working environment. Sex workers should be able to do their jobs free of harassment or exploitation.

Yet, as a feminist, the way sex workers are described and featured on the escort or prostitution review websites evokes a sickly kind of discomfort.

As it is, women struggle to gain the same recognition as men for their skills in a world that places undue emphasis on a woman's physical appearance. We strive to be more than just a pair of breasts or vagina. We fight against being reduced to a sex object without autonomy over our sexuality.

Of course, one can argue that prostitutes control their own bodies in a way that ordinary women do not in romantic or sexual relationships, in which negotiation is often missing and female desire rarely communicated.

There is nothing inherently “dirty” or immoral in sex work. Yet, there is something dehumanising in the basic nature of prostitution. Perhaps it has got to do with the way the flesh trade magnifies male desire and renders women to their genitalia.

Sex workers provide a service, just like lawyers.

Clients, however, don’t treat lawyers like pizza orders. A lawyer's looks aren’t important. In fact, the more years of experience a lawyer has, the better.

Contrast that to a prostitute whose value decreases with age. Some johns even ask for 18-year-olds on escort websites.

At the end of the day, though, women have the right to choose what they want to do with their bodies. If they want to sell it, we should respect their choice and protect their rights, even if the world's oldest profession seems to amplify the objectification of women.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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