MedhamNicole Medham is a third year law student at Columbia Law School and has these thoughts about a recent 20/20 episode that caught her attention when the authors of Freakonomics were interviewed about the what and why of various implications of feminism:

Last Friday’s edition of ABC’s 20/20 featured the authors of the bestseller Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, who were promoting the sequel to their best seller SuperFreakonomics.  During the hour long broadcast, some time was spent on the authors’ controversial views of the women’s liberation movement.  Essentially, Levitt and Dubner argue that the principal beneficiaries of the liberation movement were not female teachers or financiers, but high end prostitutes.   To that end, both men say that those who seek to “save” women from prostitution should ask and determine why women are responding to the market and becoming [high end] prostitutes in the first place.  Additionally, the authors argue that the invention of hormonal birth control gave women more control over their future occupations; therefore, instead of having to choose an occupation like a teacher which would allow for flexibility to enter and leave the work force, they could choose to become doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc.  Because of this, Levitt and Dubner claim that the talent level of school teachers has fallen, thus leading to the seeming overall failure of the country’s public school system.

Let’s take on the prostitution issue first.  Of course to some anti-prostitution advocates, there is no need to question why women choose prostitution, as it is invariably a result of the sexist and patriarchal society we live in.  FreakonomicsYet, I can’t help but think that Dubner and Levitt are right in that this is question that must be asked in order to make any needed changes.  In order to solve anything, one must get to the root of why the “problem” is occurring in the first place.  The women who have supposedly benefitted aren’t the stereotypical prostitute one thinks of that sets up shop on a dingy poorly lit street corner.  These are often [well] educated, well versed women who had fairly stable upbringings.  In fact, the woman profiled on 20/20 actually had a husband, children, and stable job, all of which she left to become a [high end] prostitute, due to her claims of boredom.  So  why would someone like that and the other well educated and well traveled women not want to put their brains to use in an arguably more productive way toward society and choose to sell their bodies instead?

Maybe these women are just more frank and upfront about how some relationships involving sex works.  Arguably, what these women are doing is no different than women (or men for that matter) who date people solely for money and other material benefits.  Even in popular culture, there are some marriages that have taken place where money seems to be the only answer why a particular couple was together.   And, marrying for financial gain is a historical facet of the institution of marriage.  In those cases, however, the monetary transactions take place in a socially acceptable form of a relationship.   In any event, the fact that the woman profiled on the show made $5000 a week for 10 hours of work speaks volumes, though it may speak different things for different listeners.   But, just maybe it says that she’s smarter than many other women out there.

Dubner and Levitt’s next hypothesis argues that hormonal birth control led to truly talented women leaving the teaching profession thus leading to a decline in gifted teachers in this nation’s public school system.  First and foremost, correlation does not imply causation.  To be sure, the seven and a half minute segment didn’t really delve into the authors’ method s of reasoning and argumentation.  Thus, I’d be interested to see how they made that leap.  For the sake of argument, let’s say that they are right—that control over reproduction gave women more occupational choices and power.   How does it go from that to implicitly putting the blame on women for the failing public school system?  That’s a pretty big leap, I’d say.  Why not look at the affects of the pay these teachers receive, the environment in which some of them would have to teach had they not chosen other fields, or the affect of various federal government regulations that have left many educators frustrated?  Moreover, why not take into account the fact that men can be just as effective as teachers and that they aren’t courted as heavily into that profession. Like I said, without knowing their methodology, it’s kind of hard to argue against them.  But, from what was shown on 20/20, their reasoning is tenuous at best.


  1. Freak-ish Feminism: The “Perilous” Results of the Women’s Liberation Movement http://ff.im/-aLS29

  2. Gender & Sexuality Law Blog » Blog Archive » Freak-ish Feminism …: So why would someone like that and the.. http://bit.ly/3MJFRO

  3. Freak-ish Feminism: The “Perilous” Results of the Women’s Liberation Movement http://ff.im/-aLS29

  4. is this really the result of feminism?? http://bit.ly/1Ga5zV

  5. Interesting post, thank you 😉

  6. When you have an invention as revolutionary as the birth control pill, there will be very profound social changes. It wouldn’t surprise me though if the pool of talent among teachers — for whatever reason — has dropped over time. If in fact the talent pool has dropped, there must be a reason. Finding the reason is not the same as assigning blame.

    As to whether feminism has been a boon to the high-end prostitution business, I’d have to investigate that claim further, but I leave it as an open possibility.

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