Not For Sale: Gender Studies Program Works to Decommercialize America's Notions of Sex

Feminists, methodists and men align in fight against human trafficking

Norma Ramos understands the forces that commonly push girls and women to prostitution. Ramos directs the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and spoke on campus as a fall forum lecturer upon the invitation of Nebraska Wesleyan’s Gender Studies Program. Calling herself “a survivor of the foster system,” Ramos told a packed Olin Lecture Hall audience, “Foster children are often already emotionally homeless. And there is a huge connection between homelessness and prostitution.”

We deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sex, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality.

More difficult for Ramos to fathom was what pushes so many more men to become johns, or sex buyers. “What is happening to their sexuality?” she asked Nebraska Wesleyan students. What occurs between a boy’s birth and his associating sex with violence? How does he grow to see women and girls as objects available for purchase and subjugation?

These questions reveal why we cannot view prostitution as exclusively a women’s issue. To do so is to pretend that demand has nothing to do with supply, or that feminism’s aims are somehow far removed from the daily realities of family, work and church.

Gerise Herndon, director of Nebraska Wesleyan’s Gender Studies Program, is eager for society to stop pretending. She argues for the need to bring more men to the table in dealing with the realities of sex trafficking. Herndon said, “Ramos’ shocking revelation that most boys first see pornography between the ages of 8 and 10 demonstrates a serious need to educate boys about positive models of masculinity and healthy sexual relationships.”

And men must provide those models.

Yet, erroneous stereotypes make many men uncomfortable actively identifying themselves as feminists, even when their positions on major issues like pay discrepancies and human trafficking perfectly overlap.

Effective partnerships require that these stereotypes be overcome. In fact, when the two strongest partners in the effort to stop sex trafficking come together, they create an almost comical clash of erroneous stereotypes.

Feminazi, meet the church lady.

That our culture’s images of feminists and Christians are so far removed from one another is proof of the too divisive nature of our discourse. In reality, there is absolutely no daylight between feminism and Methodism on the subject of human trafficking.

“The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church” reads, “We deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sex, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality.”

It’s helpful to recognize the common aims of those who primarily identify themselves as feminists and those who primarily identify themselves as Methodists (and to acknowledge the scores of people who proudly call themselves both). Likewise, it’s helpful to see the common harm that America’s commercialized notions of sex have on both women and men.

While pornography and prostitution are explicitly harmful to women, the harm they do to men and boys is also real, if often overlooked. The attitudes that lead males to buy pornography and sex don’t exactly lead them toward happiness and satisfying relationships. Said Ramos, “Men need to take their sexuality back from the porn industry.” It’s something men must do for themselves every bit as much as for their mothers, sisters, partners and daughters.

Ramos argued that men and women must also erase any notion of prostitution’s perceived naturalness as the world’s so-called “oldest profession.”

“I call prostitution ‘the world’s oldest oppression,’” Ramos said. “Pimping is the world’s oldest profession.”

Men need to take their sexuality back from the porn industry.

Even the vocabulary we use to describe prostitution needs scrutinizing, Ramos said. “You’ll notice I say ‘prostituted woman’ and not ‘prostitute.’ Prostitute is not a noun. You cannot be what someone does to you.”

Herndon said these realities make gender studies at NWU especially important. “We provide a place to critically analyze sexualities…. Gender studies can unearth influences that dull our awareness of the full humanity of our partners. Studying gender can develop understanding of the complexities of sex and relationships.”

This work does more than simply inform students on a complex topic. It puts students—male and female, Methodist and feminist—in better position to be happy, to recognize and pursue fulfilling relationships, and to fight the world’s oldest oppression.

Prostitute is not a noun. You cannot be what someone does to you.

Calling all men

  1. Challenge the glamorization of pimps in our culture.
  2. Confront the belief that prostitution is a victimless crime.
  3. Stop patronizing strip clubs.
  4. Don’t consume pornography.
  5. Tackle male chauvinism and sexism online.
  6. Talk to men and boys about men’s issues in male spaces.
  7. Support anti-human trafficking policies.
  8. Support the creation of “john schools” that seek to rehabilitate sex buyers.
  9. Raise sons and mentor boys to challenge oppression.

Learn about pornography’s impact on relationships at:  stoppornculture.org.

And find research on the effects of sex buying at:  prostitutionresearch.com.