on sex work

I'd like to first point out that these are just my opinions, and that they are coming from a place of solidarity and not of experience. I am not trying to speak for sex-workers - I am only trying to start a conversation! I think it's necessary to actively think about these things in order to make any real shift in consciousness.

Sex Work is Real Work

We are constantly bombarded with the message that sex workers are troubled. Watching day-time television I have witnessed Dr. Phil repeatedly demonize sex work and those who participate in it. It’s dirty, and dangerous; they must have suffered as a child or lacked a fatherly figure. The two-dimensional stereotype attached to sex-work is ignorant and perpetuates a culture of violence against innocent people who are just doing their job (which there is and likely always will be a market for, I might add).
There may be risks that come with a line of work which often requires secrecy and vulnerability (to some extent), but to assume that sex workers must be emotionally damaged or lack self-respect is dangerous. Stripping human beings of their agency as makers of their own lives actively victimizes them and encourages hatred of sex workers and all those who support the line of work. Where there is hatred, there is violence – more frightening, there is violence that is ignored by the public or dismissed as just “what they were getting themselves into.”
And these consequences reach farther than just those who practice sex work. During the American election debates surrounding government subsidized contraception, Rush Limbaugh said that a woman who wants the government to pay for her birth-control is a slut and a prostitute in that she is trying to be paid to have sex (by the taxpayers). Limbaugh used the stigma surrounding sex work to undermine women’s voices – he capitalized on the demonization of prostitution in order to silence those women trying to gain equal opportunities in the work force. But women deserve their voices to be heard – and we deserve to make our own choices without fear of having them used against us violently or politically. Sex work is work. It’s real work. It’s a way to make a living, sometimes and for many people, it is a way out of the poverty trap into which they were born.
That is not to say that sex work is always a “last resort” or that it is only ever for the money. I am hopeful that society may be moving in a direction which recognizes sex workers as people whose jobs are not all tragic. Strippers, prostitutes and porn-stars alike often enjoy their work - as can be seen in the film Magic Mike (sex-workers that like their job?! Who knew!) But the stigma attached to (particularly female) sex workers is still the butt of endless jokes and ridicule without enough representation (I can’t think of any female sex-worker film characters that are portrayed as more than a one-dimensional stereotype). 
Recognizing sex work as real respectable work is going to take a real shift in our public consciousness. It requires us to think before we make problematic comments or assumptions. It requires a more diverse and accurate portrayal of sex-workers in media, and less stigmatization on shitty day-time talk shows. Sex workers must be granted the right to demand space in society to define their own lives and experiences – they should be the ones discussing their work, not some pseudo-psychiatrist who has never walked mile in their heels before. The sexualisation of female bodies means that all women are seen as “whores” (Rush Limbaugh). This is problematic for two reasons: firstly, women are more than their bodies, and secondly, whores must no longer be viewed as lesser women or persons. When sex work is the chosen work of an autonomous person that is reason enough to respect it.


22 comments:

  1. PREACH. i had such a long and circular argument with my (male) flatmate the other day about this, bc he didn't understand my argument that so long as sex workers are blamed, objectified and treated as subhuman, attitudes towards sexuality will remain fucked up and men and women will never be treated as equal. x

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  3. AMEN to that! I am totally sharing this with my friends.

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  4. <3<3<3 I hope you got 100% for this.

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    1. eeeep! Isabel, you sweetheart. I actually wrote this for a magazine my friend created (I have a feminist column hehe)! But I've got my first Women's Studies class this term - wish me luck!

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  5. glitter tears rushing down my face from joy right now. you rule celia!

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  6. Hey babe, if you would be interested- we would love to feature this piece (or something similar) in the next issue of YIR mag (facebook.com/youthinrevoltmag). Please e-mail us on youthinrevoltmag@live.com.au if you're up for it xox

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  7. It's like in tv shows how they are constantly referring to rich men with dead hookers, strippers, postitutes as a joke. But in reality it dehumanizes it just the same as a rape joke. It makes it a trivial event and somehow "laughable"

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  9. I really enjoyed this piece, I wish more people were as insightful as you.

    I've been trying to connect with feminists in Russia and in attempt to do so I joined a few groups on the Russian Facebook - and all was fine until they started talking about sex work and talking about how it should be criminalised everywhere, and how it is 'degrading to women'. That it started out as sexism and should thus be terminated. It was really difficult to discuss the matter because I was victimised when I tried to have a conversation and was compared to a 'slavery advocate'. I wish the stigma of sex work to be gone and people to realise that we cannot afford utopian laws in a non-utopian world where paying for sex exists. I think it's a little like being pro-life - it's like, of course, I'd rather not have to have an abortion, but I am put in a situation where I would much rather have one. I'd like to live in a world where sex isn't payed for, but in this world I'd rather be payed for my abilities.

    I'd also like to live in a socialist utopia and not have to pay for clothes! But yeah, that's not the reality we have.

    I may have drew some parallels I didn't intend in my writing just now.

    Anyway - great piece. I wish there was no need in it, though. :(

    xxx

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  10. I think in the above video, you mentioned you had grown up in a family where you didn't talk about sex - I totally did as well. When I was young, I thought part of my confidence as a girl was that I didn't feel the need to show off my body to feel good about myself. I didn't realize, though, that I secretly didn't feel like I even *could* show off my body if I wanted to. It had been planted in my mind as taboo. Fortunately, I've come to realize what a beautiful thing it is when a woman feels completely free to show off her body and use it however she pleases and yes, even get paid for it! And, of course, the same goes for every gender.

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  11. Nice blog -- clear, logical thinking. Women also see male prostitutes. Your boundaries are defined. PUA tactics -- little boundaries there when a girl can 10 years later have you charged for rape -- take away your bank account, career etc. It happens quite a bit.
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  12. Immediately brought to mind this: http://disgustinghuman.tumblr.com/post/44417853700

    I haven't seen many episodes of Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, but there is at least one example of a positive portrayal of a female sex worker! There are a lot of flaws with the show but if it opens up more conversations about sex work beyond "prostitution is dirty/dangerous/for lower class women/blabla sexist bullshit" then it's progress. Hopefully it can pave the way for more female sex worker characters in media beyond two dimensional stereotypes!
    Side note: it's interesting that when the show first started in the UK, many feminists attacked it, saying it glamorized prostitution and it was unrealistic to portray a sex worker who enjoyed her job. Sigh.

    To add my two cents, I've been a remote sex worker in various forms for almost eight years now, and I think it's fantastic that people are trying to break down the negative stigma that comes with sex work. I've never been able to wrap my head around the fact that when a girl is harassed by a guy [or group of guys, as the case is so often] for "looking like a whore," that the root of the problem is seen as the whores themselves instead of the culture that insists sex workers don't deserve your respect. It's an incredibly backwards way of thinking, so to see feminists speaking up against it is amazing, thank you.

    One more thing: there is an Irish campaign called Turn Off The Blue Light than ran an incredible ad campaign featuring "normal" women who detailed their "normal" lives, who also happened to be sex workers. I don't know if they used real sex workers in their ads [I can imagine that outing that work on a national level might lead to some dangerous circumstances for those women, so I could understand why they might have chosen to go with models instead of sex workers] but even so, it was incredibly effective.
    http://www.turnoffthebluelight.ie/

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    1. Oh yeah that's a good example! I haven't seen it in a while but it was mostly positive from what I remember! I really hope there will be more female sex worker characters portrayed in a humanizing light.
      I feel like people have just accepted this idea that sex work is gross, or shameful...or sad. It's all we're told through mainstream media. And the fact that some feminists don't see that is unfortunate. Cause what is feminism if not seeing people for who they are a person? And sex workers are persons and deserve respect as such.
      That is really amazing!! Thank you for sharing that with me :)xx

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    2. Secret Diary was based off the blog of real life sex worker Belle Du Jour: http://belledejour-uk.blogspot.com/
      If I'm not mistaken, the end of the TV series was Belle giving up her job for a boyfriend and a "normal" life, which is kind of disappointing. I'd like to see more media where people in that profession are accepted as being happy with their jobs and their lives, and they don't need to be "saved" from it. Ugh.

      The IUSW is a great hub for resources and statistics, and includes an excellent section for "sex work friends" as well. It's a UK-based website but they provide a lot of useful information to people in any country. I definitely recommend checking it out!
      http://www.iusw.org/

      Also, ew sorry for the barrage of links.

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  13. Wonderful article, Celia! I think you might enjoy the film After Porn Ends. It details the lives of many former sex workers and portrays them exactly as they are--as humans.I found it to be rather respectfully done however there was of course the one professor they interviewed who insists all sex workers are troubled and that its "the easiest job", completely marginalizing all the struggles--including social repercussions--that sex workers face. The industry may be flawed, sexist and harsh but the people working in the industry are human and deserve to be respected.

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