Feministe Feedback – Is sex work anti-feminist?

Feministe Feeback

A pertinent one this week: Feminism and sex work.

My partner (male) asked me recently how one can be both a feminist and a sex worker. He feels that women who offer sex work (in addition to men that use the service) promote the sexual objectification and commodification of women, which feminists are (generally) against. He agrees with me that sex work is not inherently bad, and that men buying sex are more of an influence than women selling it, but he still thinks that if more women stopped selling sex, there would be some improvement in attitudes towards women. So he thinks that feminists shouldn’t be sex workers.

Notably, when he talks about “women”, he’s not talking about women who provide sex work because they have no other reasonable options or because they’ve been forced or coerced into it. He’s talking more about me and my feminist friends, many of which have dabbled in sex work at some point during college. Although we often did it because of our student debts, we had the privilege of doing it with more autonomy, personal control, and safety than most women in the sex industry. Also, he’s only talking about hetero cisgendered sex work.

I disagree with him — I don’t think there’s an inherent ideological or moral contradiction in being a feminist and sex worker. But I’m having a hard time explaining why. Or maybe I’m wrong. Could Feministe weigh in?

Obviously sex workers can be feminists because there are sex workers who are feminists. I’m not big on playing occupational Feminist Police, and as far as I can tell, sex workers have long been on the margins of society. They’ve been shamed and they’ve pushed the sexual envelope, and in some ways they’ve been at the forefront of challenging the patriarchal model of women and family. Sex workers — those who do it voluntarily, without coercion — are the most obvious “whore” side of the virgin/whore dynamic. And by voicing their opinions and telling their stories, they break that dynamic down by adding a complex, human face to it, and by refusing to be shamed or bullied into proper feminine submission.

And there certainly isn’t an inherent contradiction between being a sex worker and a feminist — or if there is, there are also inherent contradictions between being a feminist and doing approximately 9,000 things I regularly do (wear make-up, date men, shave, etc etc) and if that’s the case, I think we can all give up our Feminist Cards right now. Not everything a feminist woman does has to be feminist in and of itself. That said, there are arguments that voluntary sex work can be a feminist act. I don’t know that I buy those arguments, but they’re there. I’m not sure if it even matters if sex work is a feminist act or not; I think what matters, from a feminist perspective, is making sure that exploitation and harm is reduced as much as possible. And I think that requires listening to what sex workers need.

Thoughts on strategies for how to discuss feminism and sex work?

98 comments for “Feministe Feedback – Is sex work anti-feminist?

  1. March 13, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Interesting how Mr. Idea Man puts the burden of ending sex work on women who are sex workers, not men who buy sex. Surely if men quit going to strip bars, there would be nowhere for feminist strippers to work?

    I’d bet an expensive G-string that this guy is covering up his bourgeoise disapproval of sex work by wrapping it in “sisterhood”. It’s not really any different than people who proclaim that it’s not all right for a mother to work outside the home unless she “has to” in order to be the breadwinner; otherwise she’s just selfish and doing something she doesn’t really have to do.

  2. MarkWayne
    March 13, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    “I prefer sucking prick is the fucking short of it.” –Trixie The Whore

  3. March 13, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    A partial solution to this quandary is to examine the dearth of male sex workers. Why are only men’s sexual desires catered to? If the sex trade wasn’t centered around women, then feminists wouldn’t tear their hair out over how it affects women and only women.

    Obviously, this line of thought only works on a very abstract level – we’re not going to see any widespread shifts in the sex trade any time soon. But to me, that’s how you get down to the logic behind why we perceive sex work as the subjugation of one gender to another, instead of a transaction. Saying that women should just stop doing it doesn’t really get at the root of the problem.

  4. March 13, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    Sex work as an industry is an easy scapegoat for cultural misogyny, the first sexist gender signals we see and internalize as young children don’t come from porn or prostitutes. Objectifying women (and the ‘feminine,’ and non-white people/culture) happens through advertising, children’s entertainment, sports culture, religious communities, etc. far before people start “dabbling” in college.

    And why do we fixate on sex as the site of women’s commodification, and not, say, the capitalist economy? As I wrote today on my college blog, I think the problem is the exploitation, not the occupation.

  5. March 13, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Jeebus Fucking Hell.

    Okay, now I am REALLY pissed-the-fuck-off

    That’s an offensive fucking question to even ASK. I seriously can’t believe that a blog that calls itself feminist would have the audacity, intolerance and downright hate to have such a question as a title.

    Really, I love this blog. But this post really has me fucking considering never coming back.

    And no, I’m not a sex worker, but some of my friends are.

    Way to go guys. Not.

    Fuck.

  6. March 13, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Btw, I’m not saying we shouldn’t discuss strategies to explain that OF COURSE sex workers can be feminists … but just that I am really disappointed in the serious lack of tact when it comes to the title of the post, and the obvious glaring ommission of comment around the quote.

    I’m really disappointed, seriously.

  7. sophonisba
    March 13, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    I think “sex work” as it currently exists and is performed by women for men is generally anti-feminist, or at the very least non-feminist. (Theoretical hypothetical conceptual sex work may differ, and no doubt does.) However, I think men telling women how to be feminist in this particular area are ten million times more anti-feminist than any stripper or prostitute I’ve ever met, and they can fuck right off.

    He agrees with me that sex work is not inherently bad, and that men buying sex are more of an influence than women selling it, but he still thinks that if more women stopped selling sex, there would be some improvement in attitudes towards women.

    Whose attitudes towards women? His?

  8. March 13, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    Jeebus Fucking Hell.

    Okay, now I am REALLY pissed-the-fuck-off

    That’s an offensive fucking question to even ASK. I seriously can’t believe that a blog that calls itself feminist would have the audacity, intolerance and downright hate to have such a question as a title.

    Really, I love this blog. But this post really has me fucking considering never coming back.

    And no, I’m not a sex worker, but some of my friends are.

    Way to go guys. Not.

    Fuck.

    See, I thought it was obvious enough that sex workers can be (and many are) feminists. The question was posed, and I tried to summarize it in the headline. I figured regular readers knew my position on it, so I didn’t feel the need to reiterate. But I see what you’re saying, so I’ll re-adjust the headline.

  9. sophonisba
    March 13, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    I just want to underline that question, Anonymous Feministe Reader. Ask him that. Whose attitudes towards women will improve when there are no more whores to abuse? Because if he is going to come out and admit that he would respect women more if they’d stop selling sex, then the mask is off, and you know what you’re dealing with. If he’s going to fob it off on hypothetical Others, he’s only a blowhard, and maybe he can be drawn closer to actual feminism someday.

  10. March 13, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Btw, I’m not saying we shouldn’t discuss strategies to explain that OF COURSE sex workers can be feminists … but just that I am really disappointed in the serious lack of tact when it comes to the title of the post, and the obvious glaring ommission of comment around the quote.

    I try not to comment on the Feministe Feedback stuff (at least, not beyond prefacing the question) because I don’t want to set the tone for the discussion. But per your concern, I’m adding some commentary now.

  11. March 13, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    Jill –

    Thanks hon, much appreciated … I just saw the headline on my RSS feed and I literally sat there for a couple seconds staring, and then possibly spat a tack a tad. I know you don’t normally comment on such feedback, but I really think this is possibly one exception.

    I mean, any sex worker that comes to this blog is going to think you’re actually considering the option that they could NOT be a feminist as being a seriously possible one otherwise.

    But, as I said above, much appreciated hon.

  12. March 14, 2008 at 12:01 am

    Thanks, Sarah. You’re right — I put the post up quickly and wasn’t really thinking about it. I appreciate your feedback. The new headline isn’t great, but hopefully it’s more to the point without being as insulting. If you can think of something better, let me know! I’d rather not start the post by pissing everyone off :-)

  13. March 14, 2008 at 12:05 am

    It’s not just about the reduction of harm. It’s about women being able to make conscious choices that enable them to control their own lives. Feminist sex workers may be adopting the philosophy that their bodies belong to them (sound familiar?) and that they can do with them what they wish. Or perhaps they are spitting in the eye of male-oriented objectification and choosing how their bodies are seen. Or, better yet, perhaps they recognize that the world is a complicated place and each of us has to choose the right path for each of us.

  14. March 14, 2008 at 12:10 am

    I’d rather not start the post by pissing everyone off :-)

    lol, well, my solution is to think it’s not important to wonder if you are pissing people off, but rather to consider WHO you are pissing off … pissing the right people off rocks, after all :)

    But regardless, you making the change reminds me why I do come to this blog Jill.

  15. March 14, 2008 at 12:18 am

    Girl Detective: There actually is no dearth of male sex workers, though they do tend to mostly cater to other men. All the talk of sex work in the mainstream media paints it as a woman-only industry, when in reality you will find people of all genders performing erotic labor. It’s definitely worth noting that clients are overwhelmingly male in most cases–though its also important to know that there are exceptions.

    sophonisba: I totally appreciate your overall point, but I also wanna say that I think capitalism is anti-feminist or at least non-feminist in general. Under patriarchy most form of labor involve contradictions with feminist politics and could be argued to reinforce sexist exploitation. What about domestic work, waitressing, the entertainment industry, etc…I think certain dynamics may be more explicit and (and to some, upsetting and scary) in sex work, but are not endemic to it, they’re woven into the fabric of the broader economy. Sex work is an easy scapegoat for avoiding bigger systemic oppression.

  16. March 14, 2008 at 12:37 am

    Girl Detective: There actually is no dearth of male sex workers, though they do tend to mostly cater to other men.

    Yes. Sorry – I didn’t think about that. (I will say that I’ve been on a long, long quest to get good straight girl porn, and have found almost nothing.)

    All the talk of sex work in the mainstream media paints it as a woman-only industry, when in reality you will find people of all genders performing erotic labor.

    I wonder if media portrayal is actually part of this problem – as long as the media reinforces the idea of sex work as a strictly female field, people (like me) don’t see any traces of its diversity, and the discussion continues to revolve around whether women should or shouldn’t do it.

  17. March 14, 2008 at 12:49 am

    I agree with what Katie Loncke and Constintina said.

    Also, here’s a multiple-choice question for y’all. Please note that I don’t necessarily believe any of the answers:

    How come the overwhelming majority of customers who buy sex are male?

    a) because men want way more sex than women, for whatever social and/or biological reason. The disparity means they can’t get enough as a group, so some of them decide to buy it;

    b) because there’s less of a stigma on men buying sex than on women buying sex — a woman who wants to buy sex would be far more dirty and disgusting than a man, and far more regarded as a total loser who can’t get sex for free, since women supposedly have it easier in the “finding sex” department than men. If this stigma were to go away, then there would be more female sex customers;

    c) because you have to have a certain amount of entitlement, or interest in having power in a sexual situation, to want to buy sex from someone as a service, and women overwhelmingly lack that kind of entitlement or interest for whatever social and/or biological reason;

    d) because the supply is actually creating the demand;

    e) more than one of the above;

    f) or some other reason, fill in the blank.

  18. MarkWayne
    March 14, 2008 at 1:11 am

    I don’t think this is a tough one to puzzle out — even for a male.

    A person’s body is theirs to do with as they please. (Ridiculous counterexamples were someone else gets hurt obviously off-topic.) If I choose to make money by charging skate-punks (because I dig skate-punks) $5/jump to use my torso as a skate ramp, who can stop me?

    If a woman chooses to use her body to make money, it is her undeniable, inalienable right. In saying this I’m assuming the choice is made freely. But here’s my point: it’s impossible to judge whether choices are “made freely” in general in a vast majority of cases. And, further, the individual is the ultimate authority as to whether they have “chosen freely.”

    The part I have trouble getting my head around — in the intersection of a subsistence-threat society where food, shelter, clothing, education, [add your “basic human need here”], etc. are kept under lock-and-key and woman are generally subjugated, repressed, and oppressed by men, can we really make a complete determination of “choosing freely” even in specific, case-by-case terms? This seems pretty difficult.

    So I’ll forget about generalizations altogether and consider a hypothetical. Take Spitzer’s case, for example. Imagine Christine(sp?) would say she “freely chose” to be a prostitute. But she was also thinking about getting out. In this speculative scenario, what role does the power that Spitzer has simply by being titled “governor” play in the dynamic of Christine’s decision? Even if he didn’t explicitly make this power overt (yah, right), would her decision be influenced by just the title? Is her choice freely made in this case?

    I don’t think the real issue is whether a woman can choose sex work in a way that’s consistent with feminism. Of course she can. It’s whether she can, having done this, choose to leave it when she wants. On a whim. Without hesitation or fear.

    I can only see one definitive way of simplifying the issue. It’ll be really easy to do: make sure everyone’s freakin needs are met. Then women won’t have to fuck for food. Or to pay-off their goddamn student loans.

    [When I reflect on the fact that we live in a country where there are such things as “student loans” I get alternatively pissed-off or drunk. But that’s another topic.]

  19. jerry
    March 14, 2008 at 1:16 am

    I certainly think one can be a feminist and a sex worker. (And in general, I think that sex work should be decriminalized, if not legalized, regulated, and taxed.)

    I have my doubts about this one particular individual however based on what she has said about herself and her own actions.

    I am not speaking about women at the margins of society. I am speaking ONLY about the woman who wrote in and her friends. These women are in college and providing sex work to get rid of college debts.

    And she says the problem is more the men that buy than her that sells.

    She is a very privileged individual. Lots of people still do not go to college. Lots of women cannot participate in sex work because of various body issues of their own making and of society’s making.

    She is basically as complicit as the cigarette companies that target high school kids to make new smokers. She is as complicit as the credit card companies that target college students. But we do not say that cigarette smokers are causing the problem. Or that credit card users are the sole cause of the problem.

    There are other ways to pay for college debts. Ways that other students, men and women, avail themselves of. There are also community colleges, and state colleges that are much more affordable. And there are students that take jobs quickly in any industry or their intended industry and then pay for college as they can. (That was my choice — it took longer, but I left college with very manageable college debts.)

    It is incredibly obnoxious for her to be in her privileged position, to be agreeing that sex work is problematic, and then to blame the buyers for the problems and never examine her own behavior.

    This is not to take any blame away from any man regarding any issue regarding sex work. It is purely to acknowledge that this woman has chosen to be part of the problem and not part of the solution, and then to pretend she has no complicity.

    Also Jill, I am a bit surprised at your own statement which includes this problematic clause: or if there is, there are also inherent contradictions between being a feminist and doing approximately 9,000 things I regularly do (wear make-up, date men, shave, etc etc)

    Do you really believe there is an inherent contradiction in being a feminist and dating men? If so, why? I believe there is NO contradiction of any sort in being a feminist and dating men and I am puzzled why you would write that.

  20. Ivy
    March 14, 2008 at 1:17 am

    It’s possible that I’ll be sticking my foot in my mouth here, but isn’t it far more likely that women who are doing sex work are doing it because it pays more than some other job, rather than for some ideological reason?

    I ask this because I, a college student, qualify to work at Hooters. Or a strip club. But I don’t work at either of those places; I worked as a gardener for a bit and have enormous student debt. And I prefer it that way because I don’t really want a bunch of people who aren’t my fiancée looking at me without my being able to give them a dirty look for doing so.

    Now, this is not to say that a couple of years ago when I hurting badly financially, I did not briefly consider it, despite my ideology to the contrary. However, I think that if I were not self-conscious, it is possible that I might give it more than a passing thought.

    So, in my desire to not be a sex worker (or anything resembling), I have had economic hardship. Not everyone is in the fortunate position I am in so they can avoid that, and McDonald’s just really doesn’t cut it. Thus my wondering if it’s not so much a “this is my body to do with what I please” as “this pays the bills better than anything else.”

    Obviously, this probably does not apply to everyone who chooses to be a sex worker or similar, but perhaps if a better effort were made a) fund higher education, and b) encourage women to participate in higher education, then fewer women who ordinarily would not do so might turn to sex work?

  21. March 14, 2008 at 2:24 am

    And I prefer it that way because I don’t really want a bunch of people who aren’t my fiancée looking at me without my being able to give them a dirty look for doing so.

    Without disagreeing with most of your most, Ivy, my experience as a sex worker was that the only difference between the shit I put up with in ‘real life’ and the shit I put up with at work was that I got paid for it at work. And if I didn’t like the way somebody looked at me, I didn’t have to settle for giving them a dirty look. I could have Mongo the Bouncer escort them out.

    sophonisba got it in one. And given that the Anonymous Feminist Poster quoted originally mentions that she herself ‘dabbled in the sex industry’, I can’t help but wonder how much of his attitude is trying to shut her down as a feminist–sorry, honey, you were a stripper so you betrayed the sisterhood, don’t go calling me on my male-privilege bullshit routine because you’re in no position to talk.

  22. March 14, 2008 at 2:32 am

    I think most people would agree that more options that paid a living wage for more people, especially for people who have few options due to any number of reasons, is a very good thing.

    I guess the sex-work question is — in the absence of that, should the goal be to eliminate this type of job so that people who choose it are forced to make a different choice. In other words, reduce the number of available choices so that more people work at McDonald’s or work as a gardener. Is that a desirable outcome? Some religious organizations think so — in some parts of the world they rescue women from brothels, then lock them up and force them to learn how to sew, so that they can get jobs in sweatshops. The idea is that anything, even a sweatshop job, is “better” (however you measure that) than selling sex.

    As for this:

    A person’s body is theirs to do with as they please. (Ridiculous counterexamples were someone else gets hurt obviously off-topic.) If I choose to make money by charging skate-punks (because I dig skate-punks) $5/jump to use my torso as a skate ramp, who can stop me?

    The police can in fact stop you — or more precisely, if they think it’s a good idea they can stop the skate punks from running over you with a skateboard by charging them with assault. It doesn’t matter if they paid you or you agree; you can’t pay someone to murder you either, not without them being liable for the murder. Again, these aren’t just ridiculous counterexamples because this is in fact an ethical and legal principle that really is used to restrict these and other activities. It’s also the justification — which I don’t necessarily agree with — for restricting people from selling their body to use for sex, for pregnancy, for organ harvesting, etc. The idea is that all those things harm the seller somehow, to an impermissible degree — and that we should prevent people from taking money for self-harm.

  23. March 14, 2008 at 2:57 am

    Many women are forced into prostitution or get into it out of desperation. Other women choose it as one of many professions they could pursue because it can pay well, because one can set one’s own schedule, because they enjoy aspects of it, etc.

    I worry when I see people assuming that ALL prostitutes are victims — because that suggests that NO WOMAN could POSSIBLY choose freely to be a sex worker. Which is antisex silliness. Having sex for money need not be any more horrifying than cleaning toilets for money — and if cleaning toilets for money could pay hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour, you bet your ass some people would choose it as a career.

    Of course, the occupational conditions of most sex workers are abysmal. Because they’re off the radar, they’re underpowered and exploitable. In which case, they need allies, not pitying saviors.

  24. denelian
    March 14, 2008 at 3:10 am

    the problem isn’t prostitution; it is how we, as a society, view prostitutes.

    i have no clue why, as a person selling their bodies in so many other ways is heroic (surrogate motherhood, as one or a firefighter, selling his/her physical prowess…)

    no, i take it back, do know WHY, i just don’t get it. why is “virginity” a commondity, and one that only applies to women? who the HELL wants to sleep with a virgin?
    when a father sells his daughter’s virginity, he is praised for finding a husband for a daughter, but if a woman sells her OWN virginity, she is a whore.

    yay patriarchy! yet another reason to take my pain meds…

  25. Lorelei
    March 14, 2008 at 3:37 am

    i don’t see why ‘well a lot of people do it because they’re short on cash and not really for ideological reasons’ is extremely relevant in the conversation (note: people being forced into sex work IS very relevant; i’m talking about something different here). i mean, i can’t think of many people who work in retail or waiting tables who are doing it for ideological reasons — hell, most people i know with *careers* are not doing it for ideological reasons. they’re doing it because they don’t wanna be broke, and for them, the pros outweigh the cons.

    uh, basically i’m ringing in with Hot Tramp’s point. i don’t understand this great need to go ‘OMG, THE WIMMINZ ARE DOING IT BECAUSE THE POOR DEARS HAVE TO!’ yeah, a lot of them do. and some of them don’t. and some of them need to and don’t mind or even like doing it, man.

    christ it is 3:30AM. i hope that came out OK. that is, i don’t want anyone going YOU ARE AN ANTIFEMINIST IMBECILE again for some remarks i made while trying to post while very tired. if my comment confuses you, i will clarify. :)

  26. sophonisba
    March 14, 2008 at 4:17 am

    What about domestic work, waitressing, the entertainment industry, etc…I

    Oh, I am all too aware of how degrading and often sexist e.g. retail is.

    And yet, when’s the last time some sexist guy who was mad at you called you a dirty fucking waitress?

    When’s the last time some sexist knob breathed heavily in your ear and said, come on, take it, you actress?

    When’s the last time someone assaulting you said, hey, you were asking for it, you janitor?

    So yeah, not so much the same, misogyny-wise.

  27. sophonisba
    March 14, 2008 at 4:25 am

    Having sex for money need not be any more horrifying than cleaning toilets for money

    Dude. Most people, whether they do it for a living of not, would be very happy if they got so rich they never had to clean a toilet ever again.

    If it’s really comparable, and prostitutes feel the same way about fucking…don’t you think that sucks for them? Like, a lot?

    Cleaning toilet is an unavoidable necessity of life, and if it’s your job, that’s why you put up with it. You don’t go home after a long day of toilet-cleaning
    and clean the toilet with your boyfriend just for kicks.

    Sex isn’t supposed to be like that. Sex is supposed to belong to you, it’s everyone’s birthright to do with as they please. Now obviously, this means prostitutes shouldn’t be harassed or prosecuted, since they are having sex as they please–theoretically–but if your job makes you associate sex with nasty work, that’s fucked up. You could, I suppose, compare it to chefs who don’t want to cook when they get home and off the clock, but even chefs don’t hate and have to be paid for eating.

  28. March 14, 2008 at 6:58 am

    Hi

    I’m part of an Norwegian womens group which has worked rather agressivly for making the “buying” of sexual services illegal. So it shouln’t be surprising that I think of the sex-industry as an inheretly bad thing in our sosciety. Nor that I belive that the large disporportioned over weight of women in the trade are victims of it.

    Now maybe I’ve just spent one to many nights reding through reports on trafficing and exploitation and as a result has grown rather calloused, but I’m having a harder and harder time with being open minded about the women who make money out of this business out of their own free will, claiming it doesn’t hurt them in the least…

    Don’t these people stop and ask themselves whence this marked from which they are profiting from came?

    Sometimes I really hate the direction my mind is taking. I really wanted to be an open minded and accepting person. I really wanted to be able to understand if not sympathise with people from all walks of life. But it’s shifting on me, the greys are deviding into blacks and whites. Maybe I hurt myself with researching this, but in the end it didn’t change the world, it only opened my eyes to it.

    I really despice those who profit from the suffering of the weak.

  29. March 14, 2008 at 7:23 am

    they need allies, not pitying saviors

    This is a good point. And while good will and trust aren’t all that warranted these days, I’ll count myself as the former and hope to be taken that way.

  30. March 14, 2008 at 8:09 am

    I am a male sex worker and because of these two identities I am hated by most of feminist here in France where I live at moment.
    It’s sad cause as sex workers we have developed feminist tools in our culture and way of life.
    I dont think many women are successful in imposing condoms even for oral sex.
    I dont think there are many women who dare to stand on streets and public places during nights without men.
    I dont think many women speak before the sexual contract to impose their conditions.
    I dont think many women demand to be paid for services they give to men.
    I dont think many women fight against the whore stigma that concern all of us.
    I dont think many women educate men.
    Sex workers do. We are feminist even if we’re excluded of feminist movement.

  31. March 14, 2008 at 8:12 am

    You could, I suppose, compare it to chefs who don’t want to cook when they get home and off the clock, but even chefs don’t hate and have to be paid for eating.

    I know someone who ended up quitting his job as a food critic because of this, actually. The big difference, of course, is that being a food critic is a highly valued job that’s not stigmatized in the least, is well-paid, is a job market that’s easy to exit, is not really a market where there’s more demand than supply or a huge power differential, etc. So there wasn’t really any problem there. As a related matter, we also wouldn’t consider his job to be “inherently degrading” even though it did result in his pleasure in eating being sapped by the fact that his job required him to turn it into a commercial activity that wasn’t really under his control.

  32. Betty Boondoggle
    March 14, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Is sex work anti-feminist?

    Yes. Which, notice, is not the same thing as saying sex workers are anti-feminist. As is pointed out in the piece, we all do anti-feminist things countless times a day. Such is survival in a patriarchical world. Of course sex workers can be, and are, feminists. Of course they can do whatever they like with what’s theirs as they like.

    But sex work is entirely predicated on the objectification and commodificiation of human flesh, and has no small amount of bigotry fueling it. That’s anti-feminist.

    I can’t remember who said it, but I agreed with it when I heard it: “Just because a woman makes a decision, doesn’t make it a feminist decision”.

    they need allies, not pitying saviors

    Totally. I’ve found this to be troublesome though as I’ve been pretty heartily attacked for saying varients on what I just said above. It feels like if one doesn’t agree it’s all hunky-dory, then anything else you may do is irrelevant. That’s unfair. I don’t pity those that choose it freely, I just wouldn’t make the same choice. Big deal. Why does that automatically mean I’m looking down on them, or being paternalistic?

    With my background, I’ve seen a lot of terrible things happen to sex workers. I can’t help that this has made me more uncomfortable with the industry and more worried* about the workers than someone without that experience. I don’t see why that automatically means I’m an enemy.

    Whatever personal feelings are on the subject though, it should not prevent working together to ensure safety and protect the interests of sex workers. That’s feminist.

    * – I do understand what’s paternalistic about using the word “worried”, however, I can’t think of a better word to use.

  33. William
    March 14, 2008 at 8:51 am

    I had the same instinctual reaction about sex work and feminism that the reader’s husband had (how on earth can these two things go together) all the way up until I sat down and really thought about it (mostly in the context of arguing why prohibition is a bad idea). What changed my mind was the idea of context. Feminism (and most identity-based activist thought) depends pretty heavily on context. For example, an angry white guy using the word bitch to describe a woman and a feminist using the word to describe herself are two very different things even if they’re using it to highlight similar characteristics. One is using the word to hurt, the other to empower and reclaim. I think that idea of context is particularly useful when discussing prostitution because it is such a stigmatized thing.

    Ultimately I see prostitution as kind of neutral. I mean, if you don’t see sex as bad, and you don’t see capitalism as bad, it’s hard to find some inherent reason why the two shouldn’t be able to go together. The question of commodification of women’s bodies doesn’t really work for me either, because we use our bodies as commodities every day. The only reason we see sex work as somehow different from other physical labor is because of the social context we put it in. It seems to me that those kinds of gender-based social contexts are what feminism exists to question.

    I think the biggest problem with prostitution today is that its illegal. The woman who originally e-mailed made the comment that her and her friends had been able to dabble in sex work that was safer because they had the means and opportunity to do so. The same is true of the kinds of women people like Spitzer hired, they are able to command a better fee for their time and dictate the terms of the work far better than someone stuck working on a corner for a pimp. Thats really only the case because prostitution is illegal and people with little power to begin with have no recourse.

  34. tinfoil hattie
    March 14, 2008 at 9:32 am

    In wondering whether sex work is feminist, ask yourself why men will pay women more to be fucked and/or spit on, pissed on, ejaculated on, verbally abused, sodomized, etc. than they will for just about any other job women do — the exceptions being, of course, high paid jobs such as surgeon, business exec, etc.

    I would posit that men pay more for “sex work” because being fucked is the most valuable thing a woman can do for men.

  35. March 14, 2008 at 9:36 am

    As for this:

    A person’s body is theirs to do with as they please. (Ridiculous counterexamples were someone else gets hurt obviously off-topic.) If I choose to make money by charging skate-punks (because I dig skate-punks) $5/jump to use my torso as a skate ramp, who can stop me?

    The police can in fact stop you — or more precisely, if they think it’s a good idea they can stop the skate punks from running over you with a skateboard by charging them with assault.

    This is confusing. I was saying that a human being’s person is theirs to do with as they please. Seemingly self-evident statement. Wrongful intervention against this right by any asshole holding a gun, cop or otherwise, is always possible but doesn’t speak to this claim. [Incidentally, I’m opposed to firearms altogether, legal or otherwise. That includes “law enforcement.”] I’m guessing your point is — well, no, I have no idea. You seem to be arguing by extension that the cops can charge sex worker’s clients with crimes. Halle-freakin-lujah. We’d like to see more of that. Ain’t gonna happen here though.

    It doesn’t matter if they paid you or you agree; you can’t pay someone to murder you either, not without them being liable for the murder.

    Well, shucks. It’s a law. It must be right.

    Sorry. Couldn’t resist. But why argue from the perspective of existing law? If I choose freely to die, that’s my right. Of course, if we didn’t live in our Fuck-You Society of Psychic Toxicity, there would be solid communities filled with people to talk those of us desperate enough to consider it off their cliff (or, at the end of need, teams of mental health specialists who were supported handsomely by the state).

    If I can’t do it myself and I verbally and coherently repeatedly request assistance, who is the state to stop it? This is an example of state control in its most ridiculous form. And we shouldn’t accept it. If the state has no say in woman’s reproductive decisions — and they surely do not — to not bring or bring a new life to term, then by what dint of circumstance do they have the right to stop someone wishing to end their own? I can’t see it.

    Again, these aren’t just ridiculous counterexamples because this is in fact an ethical and legal principle that really is used to restrict these and other activities. It’s also the justification — which I don’t necessarily agree with — for restricting people from selling their body to use for sex, for pregnancy, for organ harvesting, etc. The idea is that all those things harm the seller somehow, to an impermissible degree — and that we should prevent people from taking money for self-harm.

    And it’s a lame justification, as you seem to accede. There no measure of “permissible” harm, in general. I think we shouldn’t let males wear neck ties to work because they’ve been shown to reduce blood supply to the brain. And with all that blood already going to their dicks, there’s little enough oxygen to spare.

  36. March 14, 2008 at 9:44 am

    But sex work is entirely predicated on the objectification and commodificiation of human flesh, and has no small amount of bigotry fueling it. That’s anti-feminist.

    If you’ll forgive one of those “hypothetical scenarios” for a moment, since although I realize they have little to do with reality and real problems I think they can sometimes help pinpoint what we think ethical problems are:

    Is the problem that sex work is bigotry-fueled? Because that’s the motivation driving a practice, not the practice itself; in other words do there exist forms of sex work which are not bigotry-fueled, and could those be the model for a better world of sex work?

    Or is the problem about “objectification and commodification of human flesh?” This is much more of an inherent problem (unless you think motivation to buy sex is inherently tied to bigotry). So for instance, right now there are quite a lot of male sex workers in addition to female sex workers, but the customers are overwhelmingly male. If this gender imbalance in consumption changed, and there were an equal number of women buying sex from men (for instance) would sex work still be a problem? If the underlying issue is objectification and commodification, then I expect the answer is yes.

    The next question (as usual) is, is there something that inherently, and for ALL people, makes sex work different and more problematic as a type of labor than other forms of labor where we rent our bodies out to corporations who want to use our hands, our eyes, our backs, our legs, our taste buds, etc? What does the dividing line consist of and why? Or, if it’s not different, then should we be looking at problems with all kinds of labor and exploitative practices, bigotry, lack of power and choice, etc?

  37. March 14, 2008 at 9:48 am

    tinfoil hattie — would you say your answer to my multiple choice question in #17 is “c” then?

  38. March 14, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Apparently, I’ve gone back to the “moderated” queue?

  39. fishboots
    March 14, 2008 at 10:37 am

    My problem with sex-work lies in those that do it “freely” are the lucky few. There are too many women in the world being sold into, or forced into prostitution to survive, and this so this my body-my choice attititude is really a wonderfully privileged view to have. Now, do I look down on people that are sex-workers… no. Am I going to argue mightily when they insist that the real problem is the patriarchy’s view of sex workers that is the problem, not sex work in and of itself… hell yes.

    The problem with sex work isn’t the view of sex workers, it is the view of women as commodities and that it is a situation forced upon women in order to survive in many instances. Until women are in a situation where they can make that choice freely, without all of the fucked up shit that the patriarchy shoves down our throats daily, without the fear that your children are going to die if you don’t…. until then a sex worker is feeding the fucking beast. Unfair of me? Probably. Would I ever do sex work to survive? Yes. Do I pity sex workers… some of them. Do I think sex workers can be feminist? Yes. Do I think sex work can be feminist? Resounding Hell no. Too many women suffer. I am sorry.

    If you want to be a sex worker, that is your goal in life, that is your business and your right. I cannot believe, however, that that is a feminist choice. It is a choice you made to be happy. Now, perhaps my thinking is wrong, but that does not qualify it as feminism. That is more youism. Perhaps a feministy kind of choice in our current society, but really it just benifits you.

    Maybe the problem lies in my definition of feminism.

    I must reinerate, my problem with sex work is the a) amount of coersion that is placed upon women to make the decision and b) the amount of suffering that women face in that livelyhood. Until these factors are minimized, I cannot see it as beneficial to women, even if it is entered into freely and positively by a select few.

  40. Sniper
    March 14, 2008 at 10:40 am

    why is “virginity” a commondity, and one that only applies to women? who the HELL wants to sleep with a virgin?

    Presumably someone who loves and/or is attracted to him or her. I’m not trying to derail the discussion here, but I’d like to point out, once again, the women are stigmatized no matter how much sex they have … or don’t have. Too little, you’re an anti-sex prude. Too much, you’re a slut. What we do with our bodies is a public concern no matter how “respectable” we are.

  41. March 14, 2008 at 10:53 am

    My feelings on the matter are, no, sex-work is not, in no way, at all intrinsically anti-feminist.

    I can easily conceive of a cultural context in which women have control over their bodies, sexualities and reproduction, selling their skills in sex and pleasure as an immensely powerful and strong thing.

    Now, do we have that cultural context in our society? No, we don’t. We are a deeply misogynistic and patriarchal society, and so, for the most part, the performance of sex work is one that gets twisted and used, instead of as a wonderful strong professional, as one that tends to enslave and position women as property.

    However, note I said ‘tend’. This doesn’t have to be the case. I admire and have personally loved strong feminist women who have done and do sex work. And their being feminists IS strongly bound up in their sex-work, and vice-versa. They have the power and strength of character to take and perform employed skills that can otherwise in our culture destroy lives, and turn it into a empowered womanhood that I can only but admire.

    Furthermore, even given the status of our society in terms of its misogyny, we HAVE to see women making the choice to enter sex-work, when it is an informed and considered choice, as a perfectly viable, valid and sense making choice given the options in our culture. There is no magical dividing line between the wearing of makeup, the wearing of heels, or hell the taking of a male partner’s last name in heterosexual marriage, and sex-work in our culture. They are all gendered negotiations in the context of an oppressive system, and to claim otherwise is not just infantalising, it’s the height of hypocracy.

    Is an athlete really any difference on an intrinsic level, selling the performance and skill and work of their bodies for money? Or is only different in that our culture makes it so?

    The problem here isn’t sex-work, it’s the culture and society that sex-work exists in. We should be focusing on the oppressive systemic structural productions and reproductions of misogyny and patriarchy, along with racism, homophobia, classism, nationalism, etc. We should not be focusing on the consequences of those structural arrangements as though it is those antecedent effects that are the root of the problem. Such is short-sighted and ill-informed.

    Rather, it is the system that we should be focusing on. Any other option is to merely fall into the disastrous ‘false-consciousness’ trap of second-wave feminism, or the neo-colonialism of the imposition of western forms of ‘correct’ feminist performance. These women aren’t allies of us, these women ARE us. They are and can be feminists, and seeing them merely as simplistic victims does nothing for us, for them, or for changing the system that oppresses us all.

  42. March 14, 2008 at 11:17 am

    I can easily conceive of a cultural context in which women have control over their bodies, sexualities and reproduction, selling their skills in sex and pleasure as an immensely powerful and strong thing.

    Now, do we have that cultural context in our society? No, we don’t. We are a deeply misogynistic and patriarchal society, and so, for the most part, the performance of sex work is one that gets twisted and used, instead of as a wonderful strong professional, as one that tends to enslave and position women as property.

    However, note I said ‘tend’. This doesn’t have to be the case. I admire and have personally loved strong feminist women who have done and do sex work. And their being feminists IS strongly bound up in their sex-work, and vice-versa. They have the power and strength of character to take and perform employed skills that can otherwise in our culture destroy lives, and turn it into a empowered womanhood that I can only but admire.

    This is powerful. And a much more articulate and clear statement of what I was clumsily mucking around above.

  43. March 14, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the post about surrogate motherhood and this post appeared on the same day. Both jobs are about selling your body for someone else to use (yes, simplistic, but keep going).

    It is possible for a privileged white woman who just loves being pregnant to freely choose being a surrogate for other equally privileged people. But how common is that? And should the fact that those women exist mean that we’re not allowed to mention that most of the women who do the same job are exploited, didn’t choose it freely, and need other options to be realistically available to them?

    It reminds me of an article I read about Cuba about 10 years ago where you had women who were doctors and lawyers doing sex work for tourists in their spare time, because it paid so much better. But, hey, it was their choice to do it, so there’s no problem, right?

  44. JadeWolf
    March 14, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    I agree with much of Jill’s commentary in the post, right up to

    “And there certainly isn’t an inherent contradiction between being a sex worker and a feminist — or if there is, there are also inherent contradictions between being a feminist and doing approximately 9,000 things I regularly do”

    I wouldn’t use the term “inherent contradiction,” but yes, I think that all women, myself included, do many things that are not-feminist (makeup, submissive head tilts, hetero marriage) in order to stay happy, healthy, and sane while living in a Patriarchy. That does not make any of us non-feminists, it makes us human.

  45. March 14, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Holly — I think the answer to the multiple choice “How come the overwhelming majority of customers who buy sex are male?” is (f) some other reason. It’s the willingness and ability to suspend disbelief.

    Women, with some exceptions, are generally not as desirous of non-mutual sexual affection or play. Men are more able to ignore the obvious conclusion that the attention would not come without compensation, or convince themselves that there is a mutual attraction going on.

    One strip club I worked in had female strippers on the first floor and male on the second floor. I spent some time on each floor (more on the first, obviously) so was able to observe some of these dynamics.

    Of course, there are exceptions on both sides.

  46. March 14, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Also — Jill, I liked the post and didn’t find the rhetorical question confusing as to your intent. I must agree with jerry, though — how is “dating men” not feminist? One would need much more info to form that conclusion. For those of us who’ve always paid half the time and made at least half of the decisions, there’s no contradiction.

  47. Gina
    March 14, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Holly@17- I’m not sure I agree with any of the choices, but I’m not sure that my idea is very different from them (this is pre-coffee, so i apologize if i misread any of the choices). Here’s how it seems to me:

    The partriarchal view of sex: 1. men want sex. 2. women don’t want sex, so 3. men have to do something to/for women (marry them, pay them, trick them, force them, etc.) to get sex from them.

    So, cultural conditioning? My theory.

  48. March 14, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Holly, I’m going to go with “c,” at least for how our society functions. Someday, when we are truly post-patriarchy and are living in a misogyny, racism, classism free world, sex work will just be what it is with no value judgements, no harm, and the people who choose to partake will be no different than those who choose to do anything else. But, we live in this world, and in this one, sex-work (not the workers) is anti-feminist and does make things worse for women, and completely exists because of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies.

  49. Betty Boondoggle
    March 14, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    is there something that inherently, and for ALL people, makes sex work different and more problematic as a type of labor than other forms of labor where we rent our bodies out to corporations who want to use our hands, our eyes, our backs, our legs, our taste buds, etc?

    I don’t deal in absolutes – “for ALL people” is not something I, personally, can quantify. however, personally, I think Tinfoil Hettie in #34 answered this nicely.

  50. Betty Boondoggle
    March 14, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Is the problem that sex work is bigotry-fueled? Because that’s the motivation driving a practice, not the practice itself; in other words do there exist forms of sex work which are not bigotry-fueled, and could those be the model for a better world of sex work?

    I think it’s more cyclical. Bigotry motivates the practice which motivates more bigotry.

    To answer the last question – yes, as Sarah in Chicago illustrated it doesn’t *have* to be an anti-feminist line of work, but in a violently misogynistic patriarchical society, it is.

    Post revolution, the very question would be meaningless. But we’re not there yet.

  51. March 14, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    as Sarah in Chicago illustrated it doesn’t *have* to be an anti-feminist line of work, but in a violently misogynistic patriarchical society, it is.

    Ah, that’s not quite what I said, Betty.

    I said it TENDS to be, not that it “is” or has to be. I don’t think all sex work is anti-feminist in our current culture in the slightest.

  52. Betty Boondoggle
    March 14, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I said it TENDS to be, not that it “is” or has to be.

    Duly noted. Sorry for misrepresenting what you said.

    I don’t think all sex work is anti-feminist in our current culture in the slightest.

    I freely admit my bias in this respect. I’ve only ever seen the bad and the worse aspects and results, so my sample is highly skewed.

    Can you give me an example of what you consider feminist sex work, or at least not-anti-feminist sex work? (if that’s a derail, and/or you don’t want to discuss it, that’s fine. I’ll give you my e-mail address if you want to discuss off thread, if you like).

  53. March 14, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    and in some ways they’ve been at the forefront of challenging the patriarchal model of women and family.

    I don’t see how. Prostitution has always existed as this way for men to both have the privilege of having sex when they want while maintaining the “purity” of the marriageable women. Which is to say, virgins get to exist because whores to.

    The sheer percentage of women streamlined into prostitution to preserve the “purity” of “respectable” women has gone down as the patriarchal family breaks down and prostitutes aren’t required to siphon off men’s lusts and protect the patriarchal hierarchy. I’d suggest that one reason politicians go to prostitutes so much is that they’re still stuck in that patriarchal mindset, where you have the “good” women at home and the prostitutes that you reward yourself with on the side. The end result is that feeling of being the big man who gets to have a bevy of women available to represent all sides of him (which means none them are quite full human beings to him).

    Which isn’t to say that it’s anti-feminist to be a sex worker, but it’s certainly not feminist. I’d say it’s unfeminist to use a sex worker, though. If I was dating a guy, and he did that, I’d know immediately what he thinks of her, of me, and probably of all women, and would not be able to continue seeing him.

  54. March 14, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    To clarify: I don’t think the onus is on women to make our jobs more feminist. It’s a society-wide problem, and a girl’s gotta eat. If you can make money off men’s sexism, part of me says more power to you. It can be a bit subversive in that way.

    But the guys who pay for it are sexist, yeah.

  55. March 14, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    How about the guys who pay pro-dommes to step on them, beat them, humiliate them, etc? There is a whoooole lot of that around here, and I’ve been close enough to it to know that there can still be a “customer is always right” mentality that is gross and annoying even for dommes who are generally very much in control of their work. But if guys get off on that, it’s paying for sex, no? (And professional domming is generally considered sex work.)

    I don’t really know if I could say that being a pro domme is “inherently feminist.” I think that kind of line of reasoning is sort of suspect — trying to figure out which jobs are more feminist than other jobs, when most jobs are kind of tangential to feminism and gender. Pro dommes, whose clientele are also overwhelmingly male, certainly are part of overturning common gendered expectations about who should have power over who in sexual situations. There’s all kinds of sex being sold out there, even if a whole lot of it is crappy and reinforces patriarchal rape culture. But you know — even though the exceptions are (of course) exceptional and therefore not useful in terms of talking about what the real problems are, they’re useful in figuring out what kind of rules or principles we’re trying to steer by.

    Another example — I just talked with a friend who is both an attorney who represents sex workers and trains them in legal skills, and also a former sex worker herself. She has a list of what constitutes a good john, according to her. I’ll post it:

    I’ve had good johns, back when I was doing sketchy things for money. (I never broke the law though, in case the ethics committee is reading. I was careful about that.) But yeah.

    I’ve had good johns.
    A good john respects boundaries.
    A good john treats sex workers well—values their services and them as a person and a professional.
    A good john is usually someone who is not ashamed of their own desires.
    A good john thinks that the sex worker has as much value as he does.
    A good john does not touch the sex worker without her permission in ways that he or she does not consent to—and corrects mistakes when asked to.
    A good john pays in the manner and amount asked to.
    The good johns I’ve had have been interested in an economic and sexual transaction.
    I’ve had johns that I can talk to and tell them stuff about myself, while maintaining my boundaries and safety.

    Even if the vast majority of johns are not “good johns,” even if they’re an exception — the exception certainly ought to say something about the rule, right? Like, is buying sex inherently misogynistic or sexist? Or is it that it is misogynistic and sexist in most cases, maybe because of the context in which it takes place? You can’t totally divorce context from principle (at least that’s not my belief) but questions like this are still useful. What about gay guys that pay other guys for sex? Gender is not exactly in the equation there.

    I guess my thought on the subject is:

    sex + money + power differential under capitalism = not entirely free choice, caught up and complicit in oppressive systems, and therefore problematic

    But this is also true of labor in general. It’s just that sex is way more personal and squicky and crosses some kind of personal, bodily boundary that triggers alarm bells for many peolpe.

  56. March 14, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Well, without going into too much detail Betty (I’m up to my eyeballs grading my undergrads’ exams right now … I shouldn’t even be posting here, but ah well *smile*) I’ll touch on things briefly.

    But, without going into specific examples (because, honestly, not being a sex worker myself, I don’t feel comfortable speaking for them), I can argue from a theoretical basis, in that sex work is just another negotiation of gender performance in amongst an oppressive gendered system. So long as the decision to engage in such is one that is informed and considered, then making a choice from a range of options that are imperfect due to the system we are embedded in would seem to be perfect reasonable and feminist.

    ie an enactment of female sexuality and embodiment that in resistance to contemporary narratives of masculine ownership of, and access to, such where it is the woman’s actions that are privileged and focused on. That to me is a highly feminist engagement with gendered sexualities.

    Also, at a more highly theoretical level, I don’t think we can draw some abstract line in the sand about what acts of women within a patriarchal system are ALL anti-feminist and which are not. This is not to say that we can’t make judgements, but rather to say that such judgements must be made on the basis of each case. As I said above, there not much of a difference theoretically between wearing lipstick and sex work if you come down to it.

    Further, to generalise to all from even a majority of experiences strikes me as itself anti-feminist. Who are we in our privileged positions to tell sex-working women without knowledge of what it is they are personally doing that it is anti-feminist regardless of what they do?

    It is such appropriation of voice and denial of agency that is precisely the kind of thing that we are supposed to avoid.

  57. March 14, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Women, with some exceptions, are generally not as desirous of non-mutual sexual affection or play.

    Which is a fancier way of saying Men Got Needs. And which completely ignores the power and money differential between men and women, as a group, in our culture. Put it this way: imagine that you waved a magic wand and changed the world such that women had the same interest in ‘non-mutual sexual affection’ as men. Do you think that women would seek out paid sex as much as men? That women who sought out paid sex would be regarded exactly the same way as men who did?

  58. Betty Boondoggle
    March 14, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Who are we in our privileged positions to tell sex-working women without knowledge of what it is they are personally doing that it is anti-feminist regardless of what they do?

    Who are we in our privileged positions to tell sex-working women without knowledge of what it is they are personally doing that it is anti-feminist regardless of what they do?

    While I understand what you’re saying (and while I don’t necessarily disagree), this feels to me to effectively cut off all discussion on the topic. It seems to render feminism without structure as it suggests that there is nothing feminists can decide is anti-feminist, collectively. What I mean is, in my first post I answered with a resolute “yes” – because that is my opinion. That is not the same thing as me using my non-sex worker privilege to decide for someone else – I certainly didn’t say “and anyone who disagrees is [insert insult here]”. Esp not what it was also clearly stated that we all do anti-feminist things countless times a day.

    My point is not as clear as I’d like it to be. Forgive my inarticulate-ness. I’m struggling here.

  59. March 14, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    this feels to me to effectively cut off all discussion on the topic. It seems to render feminism without structure as it suggests that there is nothing feminists can decide is anti-feminist, collectively.

    Not quite hon, you’re falling into the “cultural relativism allows no cultural judgements to be made” falsehood.

    What I’m arguing here is that to decide, as feminists, that an act, regardless of detail, regardless of context, is anti-feminist, is to merely replace one oppressive structure with another.

    Now, does that preclude the assessment of the detail and context of a particular act being judged as to whether or not it is feminist? Not in the slightest, but one must recognise such things as location, consent, etc, etc of the particular thing. We can even speak in generalities and tendencies, but we can’t speak for all. To argue otherwise is to infantilise the women we speak of.

    That is not the same thing as me using my non-sex worker privilege to decide for someone else.

    I would politely disagree hon. You, as a non-sex-worker, are making a decision, for all sex-workers, through the statement of your opinion, about what sex-work is all about, regardless of detail. Which, as a non-sex-worker, has more social credence than that of a sex-worker.

  60. March 14, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Oh, and I probably wasn’t as clear above at #59 as I would like to be, so sorry … I blame grading undergraduate exams … :)

  61. Betty Boondoggle
    March 14, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    You, as a non-sex-worker, are making a decision, for all sex-workers, through the statement of your opinion, about what sex-work is all about, regardless of detail.

    I disagree. My stating my opinion is not me telling other women anything. I haven’t decided anything for anyone other than me. I suppose all opinions should start with that caveat.

    you’re falling into the “cultural relativism allows no cultural judgements to be made” falsehood.

    Okay, you’re beginning to swing way above my head here. Put more simply, are you saying that statements like “sex work is anti-feminist” are wrong as it ignores detail, and that its the details that determine the difference?

    How can that be when, as we’re not sex workers, it’s an exercise in privilege to weigh the details?

  62. March 14, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Okay, you’re beginning to swing way above my head here.

    Sorry Betty, I know when I slip into this stuff I often slip into academic mode. I apologise, and will try to mediate my language … if I do it again, please forgive me.

    I am saying that to speak for the group (and when you generalise to the entire group, that is what you are doing) without being a member of that group, is wrong. THAT would be an exercise in privilege, as your privilege as a non-sex-worker allows you to do so.

    How do you feel about ex-gay groups hon and the narratives that come therefrom?

  63. Thomas, TSID
    March 14, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Holly, interesting that you raise the issue of pro-dommes. I am a sadomasochist, and mostly a bottom, but I won’t be “that guy.” For me the notion of entitlement to buy the services of what (for me) is a deeply intimate shared experience is … too uncomfortable. I would feel exploitive bottoming to someone I was paying.

    I don’t think it’s my place to weigh in on women doing sex work, certainly not to judge. I have no such reticence regarding men. I think men ought not to pay other people to be sexual. Any other people. I didn’t always feel so strongly about it, but I’ve become very against the male mindset that we may or ought to have sex partners who would not be interested in the encounter for the shared experience alone.

    (I’ve seen one account by a former sex worker who stopped doing sex work as a real income source because she couldn’t make a living doing only those things she was comfortable with, but who still occasionally has done a client session specifically because, she says, she gets a thrill out of getting paid for doing the sort of scenes she would do even if she were not being paid. Once we’re talking about an experience the sex worker would be interested in even if she were not being paid, then I’m not even sure we’re talking about sex work anymore. I think it’s a necessary condition of sex work that it be something the sex worker would not do but for payment. Otherwise, the payment part is akin to roleplay, even if the check clears.)

  64. Thomas, TSID
    March 14, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Sarah, about ex-gays, I think this is one of those areas where the procudural “who can speak” rule is acting as a substitute for the substantive reaction to what they say.

    I don’t share the experience of being queer. However, there are plenty of ex-BDSMers in the world, some of them feminists who say nasty, nasty things about me and folks like me. Those people piss me off because they’re wrong about me. But I can’t really say they are not (to borrow a legal term of art) “members of the class they seek to represent.” I don’t want to say they can’t speak for me because they’ve quit, but that those of us who do BDSM somehow can speak for the group — Trinity and I are both active sadomasochists, but she does not speak for my nor I for her.

  65. Betty Boondoggle
    March 14, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    I am saying that to speak for the group (and when you generalise to the entire group, that is what you are doing) without being a member of that group, is wrong.

    And on turns the light bulb, shining on my blind spot. That goes a long way to explain why I’ve gotten some of the response that I’ve gotten. I thought it was clear it wasn’t my intention as I also stated I’m well aware of my skewed sample. It wasn’t what I intended to do, so if I modify my original post with “For me, yes”, does that mitigate?

    THAT would be an exercise in privilege, as your privilege as a non-sex-worker allows you to do so.

    Agreed about the privilege. So . . . doesn’t that mean discussion isn’t possible? I don’t mean no discussion about sex work at all, I mean sex work vis a vis feminism.

    If its the details about something that determine its state of being feminist or anti-feminist, and I’m not part of that group, isn’t weighing out the details as feminist or anti-feminist still an exercise in privilege?

    I’m not trying to be thick as a brick, I’m just not seeing how this gels.

  66. Hector B.
    March 14, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Does the type of sex work matter at all? From my naive perspective, a stripper is different from a “happy ending” masseuse who is different from someone who just does blow jobs, and so on.

    And there are male sex workers: an older friend of mine told me he used to periodically get blown by the shoe shiner in his office building, back in the 50s. He was a married father of two, and not gay as far as I could tell.

  67. Danakitty
    March 14, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    I think this question is way too broad and not targeted to the actual issue.

    A better question would be: What parts of sex work are anti-feminist or harmful to women, and how can we fix that?

    Take stripping for example. I believe a woman (or man) has a right to strip for money if she wants to and I believe a man (or woman) has a right to pay to watch. Usually, the “just watch, don’t touch” rule applies.

    So if we were to dissect the anti-feminist nature of stripping, the things you’d find are:
    1. Men touching women against their will
    2. Stalking women (many are afraid to take public transportation or will drive a different route to get home every day)
    3. Any other form of extending the fantasy into a woman’s private life (i.e., the time after she stops stripping, gets off work, any other time when she is not costumed and performing.)

    I think if you want to objectify a stripper when she’s being a stripper… sure, go for it. It’s no different than believing an actor is the character he/she is playing. Indulge in the fantasy for the moment, but then when the fantasy is over, let it be over!

    Furthermore, the men need to know that it’s not right to objectify any women who are not putting themselves in that position. They don’t have the right to abuse their spouse, their girlfriend, female friends, and so on.

    I mean, compare to violent video games. You have the right to fantasize and pretend to kill people, but you don’t have the right to do so in real life. The important part is educating and forcing people to accept the rules of real life.

    I don’t believe the objectification of men or women is going to end anytime soon. But by creating boundaries, we can stop forced prostitution and rape and the process of taking more from women than they want to give.

  68. March 14, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    I

    if its the details about something that determine its state of being feminist or anti-feminist, and I’m not part of that group, isn’t weighing out the details as feminist or anti-feminist still an exercise in privilege?

    No, we can certainly weigh out the details when it comes to looking at the specifics of a particular case of sex-work, just as we do tendencies amongst the wider population, or sub-group samples within such.

    However, what we must do is recognise our own standpoints when we do such, particularly our privileged standpoints. Again, as I said above, cultural relativism does not preclude the ability to investigate cultural practices, it just requires of us an acknowledgement of from where we are located when making such investigations and not pretend some mythical objectivity.

    But more than that, I really REALLY do not like the idea of generalising to an entire group. Of saying things like “all” and making descriptions that cover every case, without exception. On a basic level I find that highly suspect, and particularly colonialist when it is done by someone from outside the group. For one thing, it’s just an insanely bad argument to make, because all someone needs to do is find one exception, and your argument is blown. And for another, it denies agency to everyone within that group, and that disturbs me ethically. Moreover, THAT’S what will shut off discussion more than anything, and will alienate a whole group of women from the feminist cause by effectively re-victimising them again, if they have even been victimised in the first place.

    And then, on a more specific basis, I simply don’t think its the case that all sex-work is anti-feminist, even given our culture.

  69. March 14, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    I think my above reply answers your point too, Thomas.

    And I’m sorry to do this guys, but I really need to focus on grading these exams, as boring as they are. So, I’m going to have to bow out of this discussion. My apologies, RL is a hard mistress.

    Betty, as per usual, you rock hon :)

  70. tinfoil hattie
    March 14, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    tinfoil hattie — would you say your answer to my multiple choice question in #17 is “c” then?

    No.

  71. March 14, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Mythago: “[Women, with some exceptions, are generally not as desirous of non-mutual sexual affection or play] is a fancier way of saying Men Got Needs.”

    Not at all. It’s a fancier way of saying women don’t tend to find faked behavior as convincing or enticing.

    “And which completely ignores the power and money differential between men and women, as a group, in our culture.”

    Nope. That’s certainly an issue, but it’s irrelevant to my theory which presupposes that women have less (not zero) inclination to pay for play for reasons other than monetary.

    “Put it this way: imagine that you waved a magic wand and changed the world such that women had the same interest in ‘non-mutual sexual affection’ as men. Do you think that women would seek out paid sex as much as men? That women who sought out paid sex would be regarded exactly the same way as men who did?”

    That’s a more complicated query than you appear to be aware. For women to have the same interest, a number of other factors would also change. Human beings are dynamic, the tendencies all interrelate.

    Part of (not the only factor in) why men are able to get past the mutuality easier is that there is a general sense that controlling money is an aphrodisiac. So if women were as likely to get past mutuality, it would likely be in part related to our being as likely to control money. If you live in the same world I do, you know that this is not actually the case. So your little hypothetical rests on an unlikely premise.

  72. March 14, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    That’s certainly an issue, but it’s irrelevant to my theory

    So your theory doesn’t take those issues into account, is what you’re saying?

    And I thought it was women who were supposed to find money an aphrodisiac.

  73. Ivy
    March 14, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Fair enough, Mythago at #21, on Mongo the Bouncer. I think my larger point was that I prefer to be my own bouncer, and that’s why I chose not to do anything where I couldn’t be. I have been known to bypass the dirty look and go for the facepunch previously, which is why I would fail as a waitress.

    This is mostly related: reading through the comments I saw several statements about how hetero marriage and/or dating men is/can be sort of (or a lot) anti-feminist. As a raging homo, I want to know, why? If you are attracted to men and love one in particular and it makes you happy, then how is that anti-feminist? I think it’s just as unreasonable to say that all feminist women should be gay as it is to say that all Christian women should be straight.

    Is it because of the patriarchal history of marriage? That makes a little sense if it’s true, but I (and my fiancée with two e’s) rather feel that marriage is what you decide to make it. Therefore, our ‘illegal’ Texas marriage (which could be a blog post of its own) is perfectly real in our viewpoint, if not to the law.

    I had a point. And I believe that it is that if you are a woman who likes men, it isn’t anti-feminist to date them, love them, and marry them, as long as they are feminists too, right?

  74. Medicine Man
    March 14, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    There is a lot to digest in this thread. Speaking as a person who is not a woman, sex worker, john, or even that knowledgeable on the subject (whew, I qualified the crap out of that), I would say that there is nothing intrinsically anti-feminist about sex work; however, I would say that in practice a lot of sex work is exploitive and therefore anti-feminist. This statement is *not* to be confused with a value judgment on the people who supply sexual services. If I were interested in making those judgments, I would have to consider the circumstances and nature of their work.

    ***

    Anyhow, I’m chasing a thought that I’m not sure I’ll be able to articulate clearly. I think that a lot of the confusion surrounding sex work arises from our society’s lopsided concept of sexuality, especially male vs female. I don’t believe that biologically women are more prone to monogamy than men or possessing less sex drive. I think that socially women are taught to regard their sex drive as flaw and are encouraged to trade their “virtue” for monogamy. Men, on the other hand, are encouraged to be monogamous but are expected to be horny and untrustworthy to some extent. While not reflected by biological fact, these memes are common and as old as dirt. In an environment where at least a bare majority of people buy in to these concepts of gender sexuality, a natural imbalance in available partners arises, perhaps explaining a sex industry geared exclusively towards men.

    Actually, what I’m saying isn’t that out there. Most industries that touch upon gender identity and sexual privilege end up skewed in the same direction as prostitution. Or am I just chasing my tail?

  75. March 14, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Mythago, good point. Perhaps a better way of stating it is that money and power are certainly involved, in that they are inhibitors to women having as much spending power. However, I don’t think that if they were more equally distributed we would then see a balance in sex spending. I think it will remain less likely that women will want to suspend disbelief in the way men like to do — speaking of course in averages.

    This is, of course, a compliment to women — paying for someone to act out something intimate strikes me as a kind of fakery that is not involved in paying for other kinds of services. Of course, it’s certainly legitimate to put on the act and get paid for it — I certainly did. So, that’s no criticism of sex workers. But when you go to the bank, the grocery store, the hair salon, wherever, you don’t expect that the worker is emotionally involved or attracted — it’s a job. And yet, the strip club customer or other sex work buyer often does expect or assume this kind of involvement. And on rare occasions, it’s forthcoming — but not often.

    Why is this? I haven’t really thought it all the way out. Possibly because there is status and youth that mainstream media accords to men (and not women) from sexual conquest, even where it’s paid for. And it is this status and youth that is at the heart of what is being sought.

    After a bunch of field work, I’ve seen some unfathomable examples of ability to turn off rationality from men — the belief that having money and perceived power over a sex worker will serve as an aphrodisiac for her. You are correct that in some cases women are more likely to find money an aphrodisiac (which also has to do with power balance and patriarchy). But there typically has to be some level of physical attraction and perceived status for this to really work. Sex workers are not going to find a wallet in itself an attractor. Yet men (again, on average) are more likely than women to believe this could be the case — in THEIR case.

    There are many underlying variables, and those you mention are certainly entangled with all of this.

  76. marchday
    March 14, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    don’t you find the use of “hon” to be…a bit condescending? it’s very difficult to even read the rest of the comment when i see that word pop in.

  77. March 14, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    Well, I just use ‘hon’ as an affection, to make things less formal, so no, I don’t think it’s condescending. Course, if you take it suchly, than I can’t stop you, but then that becomes your problem, not mine. If you want to read the rest of the comment, get over it *shrug*

    I know Betty from other forums and like her a lot from our previous conversations, and I’ve had a couple discussions with Jill, so with them, I have no compunction unless they say otherwise.

  78. March 15, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Medicine Man #74 wrote:

    I don’t believe that biologically women are more prone to monogamy than men or possessing less sex drive. I think that socially women are taught to regard their sex drive as flaw and are encouraged to trade their “virtue” for monogamy. Men, on the other hand, are encouraged to be monogamous but are expected to be horny and untrustworthy to some extent.

    While I tend to believe (probably wrongly) there must be some element of truth in this formulation, I think that “biological” considerations fall under the category of `speculation about things we can never know.’ How would we assess the validity of this formulation? In terms of the oversimplified dichotomy of `social conditioning versus genetic trait,’ it seems that by trying to isolate “biology” you’re attempting to isolate one part of the totality and identify its properties. This might not be possible but even if you could do it, what’s the use?

    Agreeing with your latter points, different genders are socially conditioned with regard to sexuality in completely disparate and often disasterous ways. (I’m accounting for the fact that gender constitues a spectrum and this spectrum is refracted even by children through adult perceptions, actions, and reactions.) And that this does play a role — usually negative — in the way sex workers are treated by the society in general.

  79. tinfoil hattie
    March 15, 2008 at 10:33 am

    sarah in chicago, should I just get over it and not take offense when I hear men addressing other women as babe, hon, sweetie, and worse — because some of those women “like it”? Or at least they haven’t said “otherwise,” so the men are not obligated to examine their behavior as potentially offensive when someone finds it so?

  80. March 15, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Well, I just use ‘hon’ as an affection, to make things less formal, so no, I don’t think it’s condescending. Course, if you take it suchly, than I can’t stop you, but then that becomes your problem, not mine. If you want to read the rest of the comment, get over it *shrug*

    Sorry to get all meta, Sarah, but you know, it’s one thing to say “here’s why that was not meant in the way you think it was,” and another to say “too bad, it’s your problem and get over it”. It is not unusual at all to use affectionate terms sarcastically or to belittle the other person; I’m sure you too have been on the receiving end of obnoxious men calling you “honey” or “sweetheart” as a put-down.

    octagalore, it may be that there would still be a gap; I just doubt it would be as vast a gap as we see now. But you point out that men who go to strip bars or hire prostitutes want to believe the woman has reciprocal feelings; if men weren’t as fussy about the mutuality of the experience, why would they care? (Obviously many don’t, but as I’m sure you know from experience, a lot of them are very, very invested in believing “she likes me too”.) I don’t think that human desire is a whole lot different for men than for women: wanting to be found attractive, wanting to be seen as important.

  81. kittenINFINITE
    March 15, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Although we often did it because of our student debts, we had the privilege of doing it with more autonomy, personal control, and safety than most women in the sex industry

    And there is the stigma…

    It is a virus among the industry, to say “those poor OTHER girls!” Have we yet to consider that autonomy and personal control can be established in all forms of sex work, no matter the class, color, street-based vs. indoors, pimp or not? Try to tell a girl on the street with a pimp she is not in control of her situation… see what they have to say.

    When we give all sex workers their own voice to say “I am in control” no matter our own opinion of their status of empowerment, well, then we are feminists for real.

  82. Oh
    March 15, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    their own voice to say “I am in control” no matter our own opinion of their status of empowerment, well, then we are feminists for real

    You know, when laws prevented women from voting, there were plenty of women who would say it didn’t matter, because they were in control of influencing how their husbands would vote.

    People maintain their agency in all kinds of situations, and, yes, it’s not respectful to look at people as objects of pity in any situation. At the same time, however, it’s important to note when structural and individual circumstances prevent a person from being able to exercise as much agency or control.

    Even if a person in that situation chooses not to look at things in that light, it is perfectly legitimate–and necessary for social change–to note how badly the deck has been stacked against her.

  83. March 15, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    tinfoil hattie & mythago –

    Honestly, since neither of the two people whom I used the term ‘hon’ towards even commented on such, given the fact that they know me, and hence know it’s what I do, rather than it being a device of belittling, what someone else for whom the comments were not intended nor directed to thought of my use of the term really doesn’t play into my thoughts in the slightest … hence, they can get over their own problem, or not, no skin off my nose either way.

    Yes, I have often been on the receiving end of such demeaning use of affectations from men in feminist and/or progressive online spaces. Hell, given the fun times I’ve had in many flame-wars with misogynists and bigots of various stripes, I’d be kinda surprised if I hadn’t been. But that’s the important point; ie I was on the ‘end’ of such, it was directed at me. What someone coming to the discussion thinks of my use of such, really matters about an ounce of nothing, to be honest.

    I have never claimed to be a nice person, but in this case, I actually am.

  84. Ehauser
    March 15, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    “Feminist sex workers may be adopting the philosophy that their bodies belong to them (sound familiar?) and that they can do with them what they wish. ”

    Is a contradicition in terms. George Bush can call himself a feminist but that doesn’t make him one.

    There is a fundamental error in liberal feminist thinking the a woman doing whatever she wants = feminism. I used to believe that and I was really wong. Feminist have “practice” which is to make choice that confront patriarchy. It really doesn’t make much difference how much freedom we have while live in a rape culver and swimmin in an ocean of misogyny.

  85. Ehauser
    March 15, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Moderation please scratch that last post (spelling)

    “Feminist sex workers may be adopting the philosophy that their bodies belong to them (sound familiar?) and that they can do with them what they wish. ”

    “Feminist sex worker” is a contradicition in terms. George Bush can call himself a feminist but that doesn’t make him one.

    There is a fundamental error in liberal feminist thinking the a woman doing whatever she wants = feminism. I used to believe that and I was really wong. Feminist have “practice” which is to make choices that confront patriarchy. It really doesn’t make much difference how much freedom we have while live in a rape culture and swimming in an ocean of misogyny.

    Our bodies should never be commoditized positioning us to be used as we’ve have always been used.

  86. tinfoil hattie
    March 16, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Go, Ehauser.

  87. yyzian
    March 17, 2008 at 2:09 am

    I can’t put my mind around why questions like “is sex work anti-feminist” sound wrong, but playing word substitution games might help me explain it.

    Is sex work anti-feminist?
    Is sex work anti-capitalist?
    Is sex work anti-communist?
    Is sex work anti-socialist?
    Is sex work anti-liberal?
    Is sex work anti-conservative?
    Is sex work anti-religious?

    What kind of sex work, what kind of feminist? Do you mean Betty Dodson holding workshops and teaching women how to have orgasms? I don’t think the question “is sex work anti-feminist” covers that one.

    I’d rather ask other questions, some more blatantly value-driven than others. I’ll use Jane as a name here, to personalize a bit.

    Does this work increase Jane’s ability to acquire food?
    Does this work increase Jane’s ability to acquire housing?
    Does this work increase Jane’s ability to acquire clothing?
    Does this work increase Jane’s dignity?
    Does this work increase Jane’s social standing?
    Does this work improve Jane’s health?
    Does this work improve Jane’s economic independence?
    Does this work increase Jane’s literacy?
    Does this work decrease Jane’s risk of being subjected to (non-consensual) violent acts?
    Does this work decrease Jane’s exposure to (her clients’) communicable diseases?
    Does this work increase Jane’s ability to sleep well at night?
    Does this work increase Jane’s opportunity for leisure time?

    This feels a bit like trying to figure out what a tooth was like by tonguing the socket. I’m feeling all around the issue itself, but I’m definitely not touching it.

  88. March 17, 2008 at 4:38 am

    yzian, customers aren’t paying lots more for fetish activities if they skip fetish-specific providers. that’s another myth. prices are surprisingly fixed, even when things get kinda freaky, and the ceiling is not very high.

    but that is a digression. i think sexwork can be defined as feminist intrinsically, and that worrying about its feministicness is a distraction.

  89. Schmorgluck
    March 17, 2008 at 7:10 am

    Difficult topic. To Holly’s questionary in #17, I’d tend to go to answer c), based of what I’ve read in various places. But I think octogalore’s “suspension of disbelief” proposition is valid too. Of course, I can only speculate about it.

    Honestly, I do think sex-work as a whole is a strong tool of the patriarcal system, independantly of the individual motivations and choices of sex-workers. This is not to say it couldn’t be otherwise in a different context, but we are speaking of this reality. I mean, it must have some kind of social utility to keep existing, right? I tend to suspect it’s to keep a social order in place. I can’t imagine anything else.

    The main problem I have when trying to think of sex-work is that I can’t help turning my mind to the patrons and their motivations. And the main point is, I don’t really get any of it. I simply can’t imagine what drives them.

    What in the world makes them so different from me? I don’t understand, at all. This puzzles me to no end.

  90. Betty Boondoggle
    March 17, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    This says some of the things I wanted to say, far better:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/blader03122008.html

  91. yyzian
    March 17, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    One of my points was that since feminism is defined and not represented (what’s socialism versus what’s the speed of light in a vacuum), the question seems more like whether somebody’s understanding of a particular form of work accords with a particular theoretical construct.

    I’d go for the notion that activities which increase female classes’ autonomy and dignity are more likely to be feminist, while activities that perpetuate the notion of woman as the other class and thus inherently exploitable are less likely to be feminist. Then it’s a matter of playing word substitution games until you have your sets of feminist and anti-feminist.

    Still, as I have sometimes said in other contexts, we have to live in the world. I’ll settle for something that will make things better than they are, as long as the process iterates.

  92. AW
    March 17, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    I don’t think feminism is compatible with sex work because even if the woman freely chooses to sell her body, isn’t she still commodifying her sexuality? Isn’t that exactly what feminists have been fighting against? Women act under the umbrella of “choice feminism” (the idea that even if something counteracts feminism, it is alright as long as the woman made the choice), as if it’s the end all, be all. But I thought that the one thing that would surely advance women’s progress was the idea that we are more than just sexual objects; we are more than boobs, beauty, and ass. Isn’t prostitution simply propagating the notion that female power comes from sexual power?

  93. katy
    March 19, 2008 at 9:44 am

    You can still be a feminist and be a sex-worker, but as long as you do, you need to realize that your work is anti-feminist. People can have a job that is anti-feminist and be feminists, but it’s all a process that takes some people longer to travel. If you are a sincere feminist, you’ll eventually realize that sex work promotes inequality for all people, not just women. It doesn’t matter if the sex worker is a feminist and has a say in her job and has some sort of control over the situation, the fact is, she’s doing something that reduces her to an object. There’s no way around it. Prostitution exists as long as any people are unequal. Whatever your reason for being in the field voluntarily, you’re still saying it’s okay for men to have access to a woman whenever they want.

    And more importantly, the fact is, the prostitutes that choose this work are a very small minority and get out sooner than others. The vast majority of sex workers are coerced, kidnapped, trafficked, abused, left for dead, and most of them are children when they start. THAT is the point! That it doesn’t matter if you got lucky and found a service to work for that will protect you somehow, and your clients happen to be rich and don’t like hookers with bruises on their face. prostitution is a problem for the entire world that doesn’t necessarily have the luxury of ordering you like furniture from the internet, they just go get some little girl and pay their slave owner the money. She doesn’t get the money!!! Prostitution is a MAN’S business. Men make money off of women. No matter how much of a feminist one certain high-class hooker is, it doesn’t change the fact that the industry she works for is inherently wrong and unequal and her fellow workers are being used as slaves.

    I can’t believe the amount of inconsideration for the rest of the world when I see all these American women whose mothers and grandmothers fought for us to be treated equal, take a big fat dump on all that work and take a big fat dump on all the women all over the world who don’t have the priveledge of living in a country that at least pretends to give a damn about them.
    We will not be equal until prostitution is NOT accepted as a viable option for women and little girls. Yes little girls!! Cause that’s what happens when you have prostitution, you have men that will take your daughters cause they know someone wants them, and they’ll pay a higher price for them. Hey maybe we should do that here!!! Little girls can start their career early so that by the time she’s an adult, maybe she’ll be caught up to her male peers in how much money she’s made. That would really take the pressure off parents trying to save for college. Better yet, why don’t we all just start being hookers so our husbands can stay home with the kids and we can provide for our families. that would be a great “take your daughter to work day” Huh? Oh that’s right, we already do that here, the average age of a prostitute when she starts is 14! I’m sorry but I was still a child when I was 14 and should not have been having sex with old men, and I don’t think anyone else should do that either!

    So yeah, keep being a feminist, please, but don’t think that your our work is done. One day you’ll come to embrace the parts of feminism that seem so inconvenient right now and realize that your present viewpoint was immature and un-evolved. Until then I suggest you all do your research and you’ll find that you’re patriarchy’s accomplice in this matter. Step outside of the “Green Zone” of America and think of the rest of the world for a change.

  94. March 31, 2008 at 9:43 am

    yyzian, I like your questions. I’ll answer with my opinions-from-research-and-personal-knowledge:

    –Does this work increase Jane’s ability to acquire food?
    –Does this work increase Jane’s ability to acquire housing?
    –Does this work increase Jane’s ability to acquire clothing?

    Yes, yes, and yes.

    –Does this work increase Jane’s dignity?

    I’ll say in the case of stripping, I’ve heard more than one yes; in fact more than ten yesses. I’ve also heard some no’s. I was recently privy to a conversation among dancers about what they’d been doing before they got their first dancing gig (common answers: waiting tables, going to college, eating ramen) and almost universally in this conversation — to even my surprise — they said dancing had increased their confidence immensely, and reduced their willingness to put up with patriarchal crap. This conversation’s fresh in my mind; I don’t have the immediate awareness of other areas of sex work to answer for them.

    –Does this work increase Jane’s social standing?

    No. And that’s why we need advocates working day and night to take the stigma out of it. A lot of bad things happen in the closet that don’t happen in the light of day.

    –Does this work improve Jane’s health?

    Yes and no: off the top of my head, exercise, cigarette smoke, injury potential, disease potential, earnings permitting higher health care standards than a typical unskilled job in the US. I’d say it probably comes out in the negative, a little.

    –Does this work improve Jane’s economic independence?

    Yes.

    –Does this work increase Jane’s literacy?

    Not inherently. It’s a common college supporter, but that isn’t a special quality of the work. Slightly to the yes, on this one, simply from the number of women who strip through school.

    –Does this work decrease Jane’s risk of being subjected to (non-consensual) violent acts?

    It decreases AND increases the risk, again going on personal accounts: a lot of women in this country are raised to be too timid to say “no”, and that timidity flies away rather quickly in the environment, but sex workers of all kinds (except possibly PSOs) are liable to be targeted by predators. In the current US situation, I’d say escorting specifically is a net risk raise. I don’t think that’s an inherent property of the work, rather of the way it’s framed in our culture, and the way Jane the escort is dehumanized and forgotten by her detractors on all sides.

    –Does this work decrease Jane’s exposure to (her clients’) communicable diseases?

    This question comes off a little awkward, as *no* job decreases exposure to communicable diseases, and any job working with the public will involve higher exposure. Certainly escorts and porn actors are going to be more at risk for STIs, and that’s a serious risk indeed, one of the biggest concerns for this type of work. I’d say dancers get exposed to as many colds and flus as anyone else who works with the public, say in a retail job, and occasionally contract skin infections due to stage floor work, etc. Teachers (and anyone who works with children) and people in the medical industry get vastly more exposure to these minor ailments. PSOs and skin models probably don’t have much of a chance to catch anything in the course of work.

    –Does this work increase Jane’s ability to sleep well at night?

    That depends heavily on Jane’s character and the boundaries she sets. And also on when Jane is working. Sometimes, indeed often, Jane works all night and sleeps all day, and has to explain this to her neighbors who like to set their six-AM alarm to play Haydn’s Surprise Symphony…

    –Does this work increase Jane’s opportunity for leisure time?

    Almost one hundred percent, unless Jane is supporting a family with multiple children, in which case that opportunity is shot from the get-go.

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