Recently, feminist blogger Meghan Murphy wrote a piece on sex, consent and libertarianism. Her post comes in response to accusations against well-known photographer Terry Richardson, who is currently accused of sexually harassing and assaulting young models. Whether he is guilty or not is not for me to say, but I do want to address one particular issue. Her problems with libertarianism are the same ideals I firmly believe in — that people should have choices. The concern of Murphy’s that I will focus on is whether or not making a choice is giving consent.

Murphy says:

The reason for this is that if we make individual freedom the epitome of liberation, we cannot and will not address the systemic oppression of entire groups of people. Because under libertarianism my choice trumps all. Even if said choice might marginalize, oppress, or otherwise negatively impact another. You can forget about ideas like affirmative action, universal daycare, and affordable housing if you want to roll with the libertarians and the situation of women and other minorities simply will not change without addressing systemic inequalities. The hard work and personal choices of individuals will not create an equitable society, as evidenced by America.”

Emphasis is her own.

She brings up an interesting and valid point concerning systemic oppression. By not seeing how something might disproportionately effect some people, you miss the wider picture. I don’t think either approach is inherently wrong — sure, how we “fix” the problem may be different, but I’ll concede that it’s important to discuss systemic oppression (if it exists), even within libertarianism. This doesn’t make libertarianism incompatible with feminism — if anything, they both can bring something to the table.

It’s also why I want to distinguish between three types of women who work in the sex industry: women who actively choose to do such work, women who may not have many options and thus merely consent such work, and women who are forced to do such work.

I am not against sex work itself, as there shouldn’t be any problems with women choosing to actively engage in sex work. Those, like Belle Knox and others, are being active participants. They want to do it. Here, I don’t see any problems with their choices. These type of choices — women being in control of what they do and how they do it — is something libertarians and feminists should celebrate. Women are free to engage in sex work if it is of their own choosing, and they are free to determine who they engage with.

But, earlier in her article, Murphy says:

Lots of people agree to things for a variety of reasons — women who are poor sometimes “agree” to perform sexual acts on men because they have no other choice/need the money — is that an “ethical” situation because she “consented?”

A woman’s choice to engage in sexual acts for money is still ethical because I don’t assign a negative or positive value to consensual sex work. It is a different, less pleasant, choice than not having one at all. And I agree with TOL writer Erin Whiting, when she says sex work shouldn’t be seen as degrading because, “no choice a person makes to support themselves or their families without harming others is degrading.” There are other situations we face where we don’t have many choices but we consent to do them because we must. And honestly, I’m not sure if that’s what’s at play in the situations with models. When I think of poor women who have limited choices, I don’t think modeling is the first choice to be thought of here — especially when said models work with a well-known celebrity photographer.

However, I am all for finding ways to give women more options — or power to make better choices — than the ones they have. Libertarians may not agree with some feminists on how to get there, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care to do anything. In fact, there is nothing wrong with discussing women and sex, sexuality, pornography or prostitution in order to find ways to improve the situations of those specific women who straddle the line of having to make a difficult choice.