Female sex workers should be thought of in same way as male soldiers and boxers, Cambridge academic says

May Bulman
Victoria Bateman said the neglect of the sex trade is ‘a symbol of fact that women are under-represented among economists’: YouTube

An economics lecturer at Cambridge University has spoken out in defence of prostitution, questioning why the sex work industry is “neglected” by economists.

Victoria Bateman insisted that women have as much right as men to earn money from their bodies, arguing that economists were “inconsistent” in their treatment of the “largely female profession” compared with male-dominated occupations such as “soldiering and boxing”.

Writing in the Times Higher Education magazine, Dr Bateman said: “For society to be inconsistent is one thing. For supposedly rational economists to be likewise is another. As a profession, we economists need to be standing up to irrational societal norms.

“The inconsistent treatment of a largely female profession compared with largely male professions is nothing other than sexism under the cover of ‘well-meaning’ paternalism. Those engaging in consensual sex work need to be helped to benefit from markets that work with them rather than against them.

“The neglect of the sex trade is an eloquent symbol of fact that women are under-represented among economists, but it cannot go on. However dismal your view of prostitution, there is no question that this oldest of trades is ripe for study by the dismal science.”

The economist implied it was wrong that the pornography industry, despite generating a revenue larger than many big companies, was not considered as worthy of economic study, only receiving serious attention from gender studies.

“The pornography industry has been estimated to generate more revenue than Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, eBay, Netflix and Apple combined,” Dr Bateman added.

“It has also been expanding, alongside facing significant disruption from changing technology and greater competition. It has the makings of a textbook case study for any serious economics student. However, it is territory that currently receives serious attention only from gender studies.

“The usual justification is that the sale of sex is ‘immoral’ and preys on the most vulnerable in society. But there is a logical inconsistency with the way that we think about consensual prostitution compared with the male-dominated spheres of soldiering and boxing.”

It is not the first time Dr Bateman made a controversial stand. Last summer, the economist arrived naked to a faculty meeting of economists with the words “Brexit leaves Britain naked” written across her stomach and breasts, in protest against the decision to leave the EU.

Dr Bateman said at the time that she had hoped to raise questions about the depiction of women and “challenge the blinkered association between the body and sex”.