“With a few notable exceptions, people do not get into the sex industry for reasons that have anything to do with desire for sex, any more than a person enters janitorial work out of a love for cleaning. The exchange between worker and customer is a complicated negotiation of need, illusion, denial, boundaries, and specific neuroses; but central to the exchange is cash. By keeping the debate about sex work focused on sex, and not work, the true nature of the issue is obscured. The arguments rage around ideas of obscenity, appropriate and inappropriate sexualities, representations of femininity, notions of morality: Important issues in their own right, but in the context of the sex work debate they function more as a smoke screen that keeps us from confronting what’s really going on. In this framework women are sluts instead of workers, or victims instead of cognizant participants in an economy. The real question here is, why are our options so lame? What are the economic realities that make the sex industry the most viable choice for many people?
That’s where feminism comes in. That’s where outrage becomes appropriate. The wage gap, welfare “reform”, sexist and racist hiring practices, the decline in the real value of the minimum wage, lack of universal access to healthcare or rehab services, and the widening disparity between the rich and poor: These are the things that undermine the social fabric and degrade the status of women more than me tramping around in heels could ever hope to. We have to ask ourselves, what is so compelling about blaming naked women for their own oppression? What kinds of confrontation are women avoiding by interrogating each other rather than actual power structures?”
Janelle Galazia, “Staged”
from Working Sex: Sex Workers Write about a Changing Industry
I didn’t read this as her saying sw was only an option for the desperate but rather all our options are circumscribed and terrible. Unless you get lucky, but for working class people mostly you will be working your whole life, never get out of debt, making less than white men and getting shafted on child care, maternity leave, blah blah blah. Most of our options ARE less than awesome.
And—I’ve been thinking about this for a while and on my phone from bed is not the place to really explore this but just to SAY—I’ve been thinking a lot about the way that both conservatives and certain feminists act like we’re cheating, or trying to get something for nothing, or whatever; you know what I mean, as if it’s not just the nudity or the commodified sexual/ized services that make us shameful, but our rejection of the pitiful incomes, over work, lifetime of debt that comes with “respectable” jobs.
As if a life time in debt and the inability to afford healthcare is innately more noble than the options offered by sex work.
Obviously I’m speaking of attitudes toward sex workers who knowingly and willingly work in the sex industry and not coerced, trafficked, or unwilling workers.
All the rationales for prohibiting prostitution could apply to the work and life experiences of millions of women in many other types of labor, including the military (rape and PTSD, danger), taxi driving (homicide, rape, robbery, danger), law enforcement (from civilian to sworn officers), domestic servitude (rape, danger, slavery), and so many other jobs and circumstances.
In its 2012 Summary Report, the US government claimed that in 2006, there were an estimated 673,000 college women raped. Should those shocking statistics be used to forbid women from obtaining a higher education? Or would those numbers indicate that more must be done to keep college women safe?
“Progressive” prostitution abolitionists contend that “prostitution is violence against women.” The World Health Organization recently reported its findings on violence against women. According to them, 33% of all women worldwide are victims of violence sometime in their life, with 29% of victims of violence suffering at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends. This means hundreds of millions of women are violently victimized by someone in their life — approximately 869,045,564 victims of violence worldwide, based on the world population estimates.
Prostitution abolitionists also hypothesize that “prostitution is like rape” — although anyone who has ever been raped or sexually assaulted may not agree with that assessment. There is no question that being raped is very traumatic. But is prostitution still “like rape” when the prostitute says: “No, that’s not what’s happening?” Denver Colorado Vice Lieutenant Aaron Sanchez says:
“Prostitutes are not friendly. It’s not like you’re talking to a child-abuse victim or a fifteen-year-old sex assault victim who wants to cry out and wants to explain what happened or is just scared. These girls just flat out say, ‘Nope, that’s not what’s happening.’ We have to help them realize they are victims.”
How do cops intend to “help” us realize we are victims? By arresting us? Putting us in jailwhere we are quite likely to be raped by the staff? Or turned into the “sex slaves” of the sheriff in charge of the jail and sent to solitary confinement if we report the rapes? Or take us off the prison grounds to work as prostitutes for those who run the place?
This wave of exhaustion comes over me whenever I accidentally stumble on like some anti-sex work post by someone I like/follow. My brain shudders to a halt, the tired desire to just peace out and never talk to them again warring with stuttering thoughts like
“But you don’t actually know what you’re talking about?”
“You have no personal experience to draw on here, you clearly don’t count many sex workers amongst your acquaintance, I would venture to say you haven’t spent much time researchingwhat you’re saying—but you think it’s oppressive and wrong and must be stopped. Not all opinions are equally valid here, bro.”
Sexual abuse happens in many jobs across the board, I’ve been assaulted by friends and family and threatened with rape by white business men on the street; this notion that the addition of money into the equation somehow makes… I mean what, makes rape more likely? That’s what they’re saying and that’s so funny to me. It’s not the lack of legal protections, it’s not that we live in a misogynist patriarchal racist society, it’s not that women’s bodies are already seen as disposable and not worthy of protection, it’s the money. Trading sex/ualized services for money is the problem here.
What makes sexual abuse MORE LIKELY is being an invisible and criminalized population, being known as a population that people think are basically unrapeable—which is not unrelated to the feminist argument that once money enters the picture rape is inevitable, like they’re both sides of the same fallacious stupid ass coin—and having this backed up by the lack of legal protections, by the way cops laugh at and abuse sex workers and get away with it. And so the answer is to make it more illegal or stigmatized. Of course of course, how could I have been so foolish? (bc I’m a stupid sex worker)
The assumption that trading money for services is somehow more corrosive and coercive when the services are sexual is so offensive. Do we look like Walter White to you, that once money enters the equation all scale, personal preference, and personal ethics get thrown out the window? Do you feel the same concern for the banker whose pay check requires her to foreclose on people’s homes?
Sex workers are willing and able to make judgment calls about what they will and won’t do for money, and what would actually be useful in protecting sex workers from harm is if we weren’t seen as a disposable population that no one gives a shit about, forced underground so that we have no recourse when people violate us.
Plus again with the notion that sex is some deeply private thing that money violates. Like, it’s not? not for everyone anyway. Oh my god I go to work and I flirt with men and I play with their hair and I get paid and then I go home and day dream about making out with my crush like my emotions are not the finite resource here.
“Media handling of these incidents reproduces stigma with variation according to local conditions. The mainstream Swedish press did not mention that Eva-Maree was an escort, because to do so would have seemed to blame her and blacken her name. In the case of a series of murders in Ipswich, England, the media’s relentless talk of prostitutes led the victims’ parents to request they use the term sex workers. A number of dead women on Long Island, NY, were discussed as almost “interchangeable – lost souls who were gone, in a sense, long before they actually disappeared” (Robert Kolker, New York Times, 29 June 2013). A woman murdered recently near Melbourne, Australia, was called “St Kilda prostitute” rather than “sex worker” or even, simply, “woman”, in a place where the concept of sex work is actually on its bumpy way to normalization. I’m talking here about the mainstream, whose online articles are reproduced over and over online, hammering in the clichés.
Editors who append photos to articles on the sex industry use archetypes: women leaning into car windows, sitting on bar stools, standing amidst traffic — legs, stockings and high heels highlighted. Editors do this not because they are too lazy to find other pictures but to show, before you read a word, what the articles are really about: women whose uniform is the outward sign of an inner stain. Similarly, when writers and editors use the clichéd language of a “secret world,” “dark underbelly,” “stolen childhoods,” “seedy streets,” and “forbidden fruit,” they are not simply being sensationalist but pointing to the stigma: Here’s what this news is really about – the disgusting and dangerous but also eternal and thrilling world of whores.”
Last time I’ll quote from this article, promise—”Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores” by Laura Agustin in Jacobin
This is what I enjoy about following her on Facebook—no lurid language in a media story about sex work goes unchallenged
I also really like this part:
Abolitionists talk continuously about prostitution as violence against women, set up projects to rescue sex workers and ignore the dysfunctionality of much that is conceived as “rehabilitation.” Contemporary abolitionism focuses largely on the rescue of women said to be victims of trafficking, targeting the mobile and migrant women I mentioned earlier, who are now completely disappeared in a narrative of female victimhood. Although much of this goes on under a feminist banner, colonialist maternalism describes it better.