Sex Work and a Catch-22


When I was writing yesterday’s post, asking current and former sex workers to talk about their experiences in the industry and describing my own, I stumbled across an interesting Catch-22… one that I realized makes it harder to talk about my experiences in the industry. This particular Catch-22 has to do with my motivations for getting into sex work: did I do it out of economic necessity, or for personal and sexual pleasure, or for some combination of the two?

The Catch-22 is this: If I say that I became a nude dancer primarily for the money, then I feed into the stereotype of sex workers as victims. I feed into the stereotype that nobody really wants to do sex work, that sex work is always horribly unpleasant at best and abusive or exploitative at worst, and that there is no reason anyone would ever do it other than coercion or desperation.

But if I say that I became a nude dancer primarily for reasons other than money, I get targeted as a dilettante. My experiences in the business gets dismissed as trivial or fake, not the “real” experience of “real,” in-the-trenches sex workers. It’s basically a No True Scotsman fallacy. If you got into the business for any reason other than economic pressure, and/or if you enjoy working as a sex worker, then you’re not a “real” sex worker — since nobody could possibly enjoy anything about working as a sex worker. And if I didn’t feel great economic pressure to get into the business, and felt like I had other choices, then speaking about my own experiences is somehow seen as diminishing the experiences of people who did get into the business out of necessity.

Plus, of course, if I say that sexual pleasure was my primary motivation for getting into the industry, or even a significant part of it, I get dismissed as a slut.

The reality, for me, is that economic pressure and sexual pleasure were both motivating factors. Like I wrote yesterday: For reasons of sexual curiosity and pleasure, I was already interested in working as a nude dancer, and was already seriously considering trying it out. But I didn’t actually do it until I was hit with a biggish debt that I had to pay off. I don’t know if I would have gone through with it if it hadn’t been for that debt. And I don’t know if I would have stuck with it for more than a few weeks. And I know this is true for at least some other sex workers as well. Economic pressure was a factor — just like it is for most jobs, that’s what makes them jobs and not hobbies — but the sex itself was also a factor. If they/we hadn’t had a certain openness and adventuress-ness about sex, many of us wouldn’t have even considered sex work as a solution to our financial problems. As Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden said in her comment on yesterday’s post, “Although I made my choice within constraints, I definitely made a choice.”

But there’s no way to talk about either of these motivations without coming across as either a desperate victim or a selfish, trifling slut.

Realizing this immediately made me think of Natalie Reed’s excellent post on Catches-22, and how every marginalized group has one or more Catches-22 working against them, one or more ways in which nothing they can possibly do will be right. Women are either sluts or prudes; bimbos or ball-busters. Black people are either lazy criminals or “trying to act white.” Trans people are either caricatures of gender stereotypes, or aren’t feminine/ masculine enough and aren’t “really” trans. Atheists are either a hive mind/ echo chamber or are succumbing to divisive rifts and schisms. Poor people are either leeching off the system or “taking our jobs.” Etc. Reed argues — correctly, I think — that these sorts of no-win situations are a hallmark of discrimination, “the most direct and immediately recognizable way of knowing that a given group has been predetermined to be in the wrong regardless of what they do.”

And I would argue that the particulars of any given Catch-22 can reveal a lot about the nature of the marginalization. The “lazy criminal/acting white” Catch-22, for instance, shows that “lazy criminal” is considered the default for black people. The “slut/prude” Catch-22 for women marginalizes any sort of female sexual agency: we get slammed for saying “Yes” to sex to often, and for saying “No” to sex too often, and basically for taking our sexuality into our own hands. Etc.

So back to the topic at hand; This particular Catch-22, I think, serves largely to make sex workers invisible, to make it easy to ignore sex workers and dismiss what we say about our own experience. The myth that nobody would ever do sex work unless they had to is a neat little self-fulfilling circle. “All sex workers are forced into it, either literally or out of economic necessity… and if you didn’t get into it out of economic necessity, you don’t count as a real sex worker, and we can ignore and dismiss your experience… because all sex workers are forced into it, either literally or out of economic necessity.” And, of course, if economic pressure is a factor in getting into the work, then you either don’t have the intelligence or discipline to find another line of work, or you’re a poor helpless victim who needs to be rescued. And again, your experiences can therefore be ignored or dismissed.

Sigh.

Comments

  1. says

    Hope it’s ok to copy/paste a bit from my response on your previous thread which touches on this catch-22 angle:

    So much of the “debate” is about what is the majority experience in prostitution. As if once we determine what the majority experience is, then we can decide on the solution. Such a nice status quo upholding waste of time. The debate is actually about prohibition. Should be about prohibition. No matter what the experience, prohibition ain’t gonna help. If we determine that the majority experience is one of coercion and exploitation – does that justify prohibition? If we determine that the majority experience is coercion and exploitation, all this tells us is that we need to work towards creating more options to help those people.

    ………..

    And I’ll add that we shouldn’t be waiting for any ‘majority experience’ evidence before we start working to offer more options… people need them now either way.

  2. Aliasalpha says

    Economic pressure was a factor — just like it is for most jobs, that’s what makes them jobs and not hobbies

    Seems a perfect retort to me. It’s hard to imagine people who spend 8 hours a day in a cubicle farm doing it because they love it and it brings meaning to their lives, far easier to imagine them doing it to not be broke & thrown out on the street when they can’t pay the rent.

  3. ik says

    THis kind of catch 22 also occurs for outsiders trying to help people discriminated against.

  4. Rilian says

    I worked at McDonald’s because I needed money. It was horribly unpleasant. Some of the customers were abusive. Why is sex work any different?

  5. Rilian says

    If you’re literally forced into it, a more honest term would be sex slave, not sex worker.

  6. J. Goard says

    Seems to me that a lot of this follows straightforwardly from the attempt to apply the comforting binaries of deontological ethics to a messy world full of continua. The tidy little antipoles of “consensual” and “coercive” sure do pack a strong wallop rhetorically, but the reality is that every one of us is desperate for many things, intimidated by many things, easily duped in many ways — and also that we all intimidate, dupe, and exploit desperation in others to at least some extent. Thus…

    Stupid approach to defending sex work: “It’s consensual, not coercive.”

    Reasonable approach to defending sex work: “All of your jobs (and any alternate jobs open to a sex worker) involve some kinds of coersion — and the burden of proof is on those who claim that a certain well-defined category of sex worker experiences significantly more than some reasonable level.”

  7. J. Goard says

    @Rilian:

    There’s my point right there. The world is not merely divided into utterly optionless “slaves” and utterly free-choosing “workers”. Although both extremes exist, they are just that — extremes on a continuum, with huge numbers of people occupying the vast range of conditions in-between. How do we even begin to have a conversation about improving conditions if the first thing we do is try to peg everybody into one of the two extremes?

  8. says

    I hate the term ‘sex slave’ with the heat of a thousand suns. Referring to those who actually are forced with that term seems abusively salacious to me.

    I’ve encountered far too many religious abolitionists who seem to mean ‘a slave to sex’ when they use that term.

  9. says

    I disagree with your assertion that it’s a catch-22. At least a catch-22 in reality.

    I worked an overnight shift at a film processing plant the summer after my freshman year of college. I needed the money to pay bills, rent, tuition. During the college year I worked in a research lab, because I needed money for food and books (and beer). I happened to fall in love with that work and decided to become a scientist, but make no mistake I took it because I needed to survive. Every job I’ve had has been like that. I’ve taken pride in my work and tried to excel in all my jobs, even making pizzas in high school. But ultimately every job I’ve taken including the one I have, has been driven at least in part by needs and requirements of life.

    To say that a sex worker is a victim because they do it for money is a slight to sex workers. They are only a victim if they have no other options or control in ways to earn money. Either that or we are all victims.

  10. julial says

    These catches exist. Why are ghettos so badly maintained? Because they are inhabited by poor people who cannot improve them (landlords may be scum, but in the long term, still can only spend what they take in.) Why do the poor live there? Because the market determined rent is low. Why is the rent low? Because the properties are poorly maintained and undesirable. Rinse and repeat.
    Where are these rules written? They are evolutionarily stable self replicating systems and diffusely spread among all of us in the form of culture.
    So whose fault are they? All of ours. But in an ESS (Nash equilibrium) each of us makes our best play and to change the system many of us would have to employ a strategy which is detrimental for the individual for the system (culture) to change.
    This is not likely. That’s what makes it stable.
    I personally benefit from lots of these no-win situations for others. Sorry if I can’t fix them. Kudos to those who think they can, even if they’re wrong.

  11. Sarah TX says

    I work as an engineer. I make good money selling my skills and expertise. And yet no one tells me that I’m being exploited because I ‘do it for the money.’

    No matter my personal opinion about sex work, it’s undeniable that it’s held to a different standard, and that standard creates a catch-22. There are some engineers I work with who, for various reasons, struggle to make ends meet, who feel they can’t quit their job because they face long unemployment. I actually DO think that’s a form of economic exploitation, but it’s not going to be cured by outlawing engineering. Let’s focus on the factors that lead to the coersion, like lack of single-payer health care, or a living minimum wage.

  12. Jean K says

    Greta, I think your attempt to portray sex work as honorable ignores one huge issue. As far as I understand the business, a huge percentage of clients are married men. So prostitutes are people who help men cheat on their wives. If they don’t actually harm themselves in the process (OK, maybe some don’t), they do harm other women. In the secret service scandal, an interesting tidbit is that most of the men were married. In the Elliot Spitzer scandal, again, the men was married. If you’re really going to portray prostitutes as genuine agents, responsible for themselves, and not as victims, then let’s really see them as responsible. An analogy, should you have trouble seeing the point: take people who make money by writing papers for plagiarism websites. Writing papers for money is not inherently wrong, but they’re enablers of cheating, so this is not an honorable thing to do. No amount of testimony from happy, autonomous prostitutes is going to address this issue–in fact, it just makes it worse. If it’s super-satisfying and remunerative helping married men cheat, that doesn’t make it honorable.

  13. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    To say that a sex worker is a victim because they do it for money is a slight to sex workers. They are only a victim if they have no other options or control in ways to earn money. Either that or we are all victims.

    I believe that’s her point.

  14. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    As far as I understand the business, a huge percentage of clients are married men. So prostitutes are people who help men cheat on their wives. If they don’t actually harm themselves in the process (OK, maybe some don’t), they do harm other women.

    As a man, I resent the suggestion that moral responsibility for my decisions about whether I meet my relationship commitments lie with anyone else who might be involved.

  15. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Also, I think you’re the first person who’s used the word “honorable,” and I also resent the goalpost-moving.

  16. Sensemaker says

    Reed argues — correctly, I think — that these sorts of no-win situations are a hallmark of discrimination, “the most direct and immediately recognizable way of knowing that a given group has been predetermined to be in the wrong regardless of what they do.”

    This is considered a “master supression technique” according to the terminology of social psychologist Berit Ås called double bind

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_suppression_techniques

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_bind

    I could add another example: Jews in Christian Europe were forbidden from participating in most crafts and forbidden to own land. Then they were criticized for refusing to do an honest days work.

    Sensemaker

  17. MatthewL says

    Not so much a catch 22 as damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    Kind of like the choice women have of being good, submissive, servile assessories or bad, assertive, man hating bitches. Though not much of a christian I have always been very fond of Saint Catherine. She broke the damn rack.

  18. GeekGirlsRule says

    (deleted long screed about how much my current job sucks and eats my soul)

    The potential for a job to be abusive is there for any job, not just sex work. And sex work has the potential to be rewarding for people who have the right temperament for it.

    Am I saying everyone should be sex workers? No. No more than everyone should be engineers, or doctors, or master carpenters, or dockworkers. As many sex workers over on the SexWorkersProblems tumblr have said, the worst thing about their job is the way people react to them when they find out what they do/have done. If we can get people to quit being jackasses about that, it’d be a whole lot more pleasant.

    And to the guy who said that prostitutes help married men cheat on their wives… Grow up. Sex workers are not responsible for men cheating, the men who cheat are responsible for men cheating, and if it weren’t with pros, it’d be with someone they met at work/in a bar/their wife’s friends… Cheaters cheat, it isn’t the fault of the sex workers they patronise. No one has any responsibility for the sanctity of your relationship but YOU.

  19. Placibo Domingo says

    On the topic of married men, I’ll bet sex workers have saved more marriages than they’ve broken up. For men whose needs aren’t being met at home, an hour of professional grade lovin’ every once in a while can make the difference between staying sane and breaking up a family. Won’t anybody think of the children!

  20. Greta Christina says

    To say that a sex worker is a victim because they do it for money is a slight to sex workers.

    Lorax @ #9: Yes. That’s exactly my point. There’s a stereotype about sex workers, saying that we only do it out of coercion or economic desperation. If I say that part of my motivation for doing the work was financial — just like part of my motivation for doing any job was financial — I get pegged as a helpless victim, and feed into that stereotype… even though that’s not true or fair.

    Greta, I think your attempt to portray sex work as honorable ignores one huge issue. As far as I understand the business, a huge percentage of clients are married men. So prostitutes are people who help men cheat on their wives.

    Jean K @ #12: First: Yes, many sex work customers are married, and are cheating on their wives. But many of them are not. I don’t know how many, and neither do you. In some cases, sex workers are helping men cheat on their wives — but that’s not an inherent and automatic part of sex work, the way writing papers for cheating students is. (I would also argue that, in many cases, this “cheating” is morally complicated… but that’s another conversation, and I don’t want to enable you in your derailing of the thread.)

    And second, this conversation isn’t about whether sex work is honorable. It’s about whether it’s consensual. Hence, my comment above about thread derailing.

  21. Greta Christina says

    Jews in Christian Europe were forbidden from participating in most crafts and forbidden to own land. Then they were criticized for refusing to do an honest days work.

    Sensemaker @ #16: Yes. And it’s actually even worse than that. Jews in Christian Europe were forbidden from participating in most crafts and forbidden to own land. Then, when they engaged in one of the few lines of employment legally open to them — money lending — they were excoriated for being greedy usurers.

    Which reminds me of another version of this: the way groups of people who are often impoverished get scorned by their more privileged oppressors for being cheap.

  22. Christophe says

    Jean K @ #12: I think we need a new term, which I will call the “Hunt for Harm.” It’s the rhetorical spiraling-out from a particular consensual act to find someone else that is harmed by it, in an attempt to prove that the act isn’t “harmless.”

    Sometimes, this is fair and you don’t have to go far: Someone who drinks and then drives is clearly harming others from this consensual act. But sometimes, the spiral keeps going and going; I’ve heard people argue, with a straight face, that it is perfectly reasonable to criminalize BSDM acts because if you allow them, someone might assault someone else some other time and not be taken seriously.

    The mere fact that, in theory, someone, at some point, could be harmed by a consensual act is not an argument against that entire class of act; it’s an argument for behaving in a way that someone isn’t going to be hurt. I don’t think we need to ban whipping cream because people can get fat off of it; sex workers are not responsible for managing their client’s relationships.

  23. Fishi says

    I am saddened that in all these comments of people talking about how all work is economic coercion, no one picked up Greta’s thread that she enjoyed part of her sex work. Maybe I’m luckier than most, but most of the people I know would say the same thing as Greta — whatever their career is — “I do it for money AND I do it cuz I enjoy it” Sometimes it’s more one than the other but if it’s always just economic coercion that causes you to show up for work, whatever that work is, well then….

  24. Cuttlefish says

    Just as an aside, I find it odd that we seek to find the cause of a choice, when so many things are multiply caused. I could give a dozen reasons why I have worked any one of my jobs, and while all were contributing factors, I cannot say whether any one of them was utterly necessary, let alone sufficient. I don’t carry a control group around with me to be able to answer that sort of thing.

    But, of course, we do seek single causes for credit or blame. *sigh*

  25. C Rowan says

    I don’t want to nurture Jean’s derailing attempt but I think his/her contempt is rooted in the stigma of prostitutes (or sexually liberated women) as sluts– something Greta mentioned as part of the the catch-22. Female sex workers, if they’re not victims, are bad for arousing people on purpose. They betray other women because some of their clients are married men. Am I a bad person for serving drinks to a married man & his mistress? Did I betray that man’s wife for taking his money? Is a hotel manager supposed to eject adulterers from the premises? Is it her/his business? Commerce is wrought w/ people violating another’s morals. Also, slut shaming is extremely sexist to both women and men. It belittles women for liking sex and it suggests men can’t help but think with their cocks. Greta is right when she talks about this catch-22 being a tool of oppression & discrimination. I actually think Jean’s reasoning was an EXAMPLE of that.

  26. says

    Precisely, Greta. There is no way to win in the eyes of society as a sex worker, because that’s precisely what it means to be stigmatized.

    What strikes me is how few people in the anti-sex work camp, whether they identify as feminists or religious, want to talk about economic and labor solutions. It’s rare to actually get a response at all about specific measures such as a proper living wage, universal health care, application of basic work standards regarding hours and safety limits, or many related issues. They refuse to treat the subject as being an occupation even for the sake of argument. In the unusual cases where you get some response, it often takes the form of a blanket dismissal that such measures will not solve the issue or are completely tangential, without any evidence or clear reasoning as to why that would be the case.

    @Jean K:

    What does presumed honor have to do with the legal status? Or with economic and working conditions? You are aware that adultery is far and wide legal in just about every first world nation?

    This seems to be a classic misdirection, as far as I can tell. It is preying on negative social attitudes towards sex and adultery and attempting to smear an already demonized profession with them.

    In order for your argument to have any weight at all, you’re going to first have to demonstrate why prevailing moral attitudes about anything should be the law. So, I’d like you to start by explaining to me why the prohibition of alcohol was really a good thing, a net benefit to society.

    Note that it hasn’t actually been demonstrated that most clients of sex workers are married, let alone married in closed monogamous relationships. You forgot to even consider the possibility of consent, as often happens in this discussion.

  27. C Rowan says

    @ Kagerato- Your response to Jean was much better than mine. I think I’m too miffed. :)

  28. says

    I waited tables for several months after college. I often felt exploited, the work was not what my 7-year-old self pictured of “when I grow up,” some of the customers were assholes and some of them didn’t even pay for my work. Did I do it because I needed the money? Of course I did. I was fresh out of college, had to pay rent and make loan repayments, and I couldn’t get a better deal. It was the most lucrative thing I could find as a raw graduate. So, sure, I was effectively coerced by economic need into doing work that I found exhausting, unrewarding and dehumanizing, and yet I don’t see anyone talking about making it a crime to eat in restaurants.

  29. says

    @JeanK #12
    “Greta, I think your attempt to portray sex work as honorable ignores one huge issue. As far as I understand the business, a huge percentage of clients are married men. So prostitutes are people who help men cheat on their wives.

    1. You say this as if prostitution didn’t exist then cheating wouldn’t exist. If a man wants to cheat on his wife he is going to.

    2. If he does that is not the sex workers responsibility. It is HIS responsibility. He is the one that owes his wife loyalty not the sex worker. This is one of the roots of female oppression I see. It’s this Hera complex blame the woman cheated with instead of the cheater mentality that pits woman against woman. I am also not saying it’s the wife’s fault…it’s HIS fault.

    3. Be that as it may, would you really want sex work to be illegal and made as dangerous for sex workers; who do it either by choice or due to a lack of choices, because of some fear that ones man may cheat on them? Would you really subject sex workers to lives of danger, abuse from police, no legal recourse for theft, rape and sometimes murder because of this? Honestly, I don’t think you do. That would just be an epic priority fail.

    At the end of the day this is about safety for ALL women. A rad fem tried to tell me once that sex workers needed to shut up and tow the like because feminism was about ALL women as a collective. To her this meant sex workers should accept being thrown under the bus for “the greater good of all women.” That isn’t a feminism that is about ALL women. That is about the collective sacrificing for the privileged in the group. This is unacceptable.

  30. Radi says

    Hi Greta, teeny-tiny word usage nitpick here – don’t know if anyone has already pointed this out to you:

    It’s “adventurousness“, not “adventuress-ness”

    Unless of course, your word choice was deliberate :)

  31. Kitty says

    When I lived in Europe, Germany and other nations were very good at trying to make “sex work” a work with protections and rights for the workers. It looked great on paper. Reality was that there was a real issue in Germany with sex workers getting “too old” for their “job” (I never figured it out exactly, but it was felt their age of “retirement” was so much younger than other workers, yet they were claiming benefits because after a certain age they were not getting clients like before). The Easter European nations were flooding the market with younger and more controlled illegal sex workers (they were cheaper, and had taken over the major red light district sidewalks in Brussels when I lived there, poor local and protected Belgium women were not popular with the public). A police officer neighbor of ours sighed, “it’s hard to compete with cheaper and younger, and we can only arrest the girls…ship them home.. and another batch shows up the next night”. You are always going to have a sex industry, and for some of my friends, sex work has allowed them to provide a good life not only for themselves but for their families. It also allows one to earn money, good money like for a down payment for a house or raising children, without the need for spending thousands on a college degree or special training.

  32. says

    I think that the easiest way to escape that bind you find yourself in is to be sex-positive – and to stop singling out your sex-work for scrutiny that you aren’t asked to apply to other fields of work you’ve involved yourself in.

    Pretty much EVERY job you do, you do it for a mixture of pleasure and fulfillment, and the need for money to pay the bills.

    People think you must be a silly slut if you actually enjoyed the work? Fuck ‘em (… or, uhm, don’t fuck ‘em, as the case may be.) When sex is good it’s fucking good. You don’t have to feel less-than, for living by that.

    People think you must be a poor helpless victim if you didn’t enter your work completely for enjoyment, and free of all economic pressure? Shove them. And then ask them if they really like their own jobs, or if they’re just doing them out of financial necessity? And do they feel they have consented meaningfully to their own vocations, if they happen to need the money?

  33. says

    These points have been covered already from somewhat different perspectives, but to add my two cents…

    The Catch-22 is this: If I say that I became a nude dancer primarily for the money, then I feed into the stereotype of sex workers as victims. I feed into the stereotype that nobody really wants to do sex work, that sex work is always horribly unpleasant at best and abusive or exploitative at worst, and that there is no reason anyone would ever do it other than coercion or desperation.

    But you can point out that, say, Warren Buffet may well have gotten into investment in share markets primarily for the money, but that does not suggest that investing in share markets is always horribly unpleasant at best, etc., or that there is no reason anyone would ever do it other than coercion or desperation.
    The same goes for bankers, market analysts, and a very long list.

    Granted, desperation and coercion are far more common in sex work than they are in, say, international investment (is there any of that in international investment?). But that’s beside the point. The oint is that doing something primarily for the money in no way suggest that the activity is usually or always horribly unpleasant at best, etc., or that there is no reason anyone would ever do it other than coercion or desperation.

    An alternative reason would be – for instance, and among multiple reasons for acting – to get a better quality of life by getting more money than in available alternatives, even though the alternatives would in no way be as bad as to count as ‘desperation’.

  34. says

    Almost every job I’ve ever had was NOT because I liked the job, but because of economic pressure, financial necessity, and lack of options due to limited job skills. I sure as hell never enjoyed working at McDonald’s, Rite Aid, or Home Depot. Working with the public SUCKS and I can’t figure out why anyone enjoys it at all. These places have high turnover rates because nobody likes working there, dealing with assholes day-in and day-out.

    Does that mean that being a cashier or a fry cook or other minimum-wage job should be illegal? Or that everyone who works these types of jobs is a miserable slave, forced into it by necessity? Why is it only sex-related jobs that bear this stigma?

    The answer is simple: because it IS sex-related. In our ultra-religious society, many people have hangups about sex–or more specifically, other people’s sex lives. They love telling everyone else what to do with their lives and bodies, when to have sex, and with whom they may have it. The Bible clearly places meddling in other people’s affairs in the same category as murder and thievery:

    1 Peter 4:15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.

    Ah, well, this is just one more scripture for Christians to ignore.

  35. says

    Number 25 nailed it. A lot of the anti-rhetoric is just trying to dress slut-shaming up to look respectable. It’s like sloppy evo-psych taking basic prejudices and finding a way to call them science.

  36. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Jean K @ #12: I think we need a new term, which I will call the “Hunt for Harm.”

    What’s wrong with “grasping at straws?”

  37. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    A rad fem tried to tell me once that sex workers needed to shut up and tow the like because feminism was about ALL women as a collective.

    There’s nothing “radical” about slut-shaming in particular or blowing off the concerns of the marginalized while feeling entitled to their submissive acquiescence in general. It’s really the most pedestrian thing imaginable.

  38. Steamshovelmama says

    I have been a nurse. I now work in a bookshop. In both cases I have extensive contact with people, intimately so as a nurse. I loved nursing and I love my work as a bookseller.

    Why do I do these jobs? Out of love? No way! I may (mostly) enjoy them greatly but the motivation to get out of bed in the morning is economic necessity. Just like 99% of the population.

    As usual, when sex is involved, a whole lot of special pleading comes into play.

  39. says

    At the end of the day this is about safety for ALL women. A rad fem tried to tell me once that sex workers needed to shut up and tow the like because feminism was about ALL women as a collective. To her this meant sex workers should accept being thrown under the bus for “the greater good of all women.” That isn’t a feminism that is about ALL women. That is about the collective sacrificing for the privileged in the group. This is unacceptable.

    Well. That is a very special type of “feminism” right there. If anything, the needs of the most marginalized and most discriminated-against should take priority over the concerns of the more privileged. How it serves “the greater good of all women” to perpetuate the stigmatization of sex workers, I really don’t know.

  40. brucegee1962 says

    A word on the Catch-22 —

    I don’t think this idea of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” applies just to the unprivileged. Men worry about being thought of as either wimps or jerks. Rich people are either uncaring a**holes or else they’re trying to help the poor out of misplaced guilt. And so forth.

    Catch 22’s are used as ammo in just about every debate against a group, because they’re an easy form of rhetorical attack for lazy people.

  41. Dianne says

    if you enjoy working as a sex worker, then you’re not a “real” sex worker

    Not only is this a catch-22, it’s also a standard that is not, as far as I can tell, applied to any other field. High school and college counselors counsel students to find a field they love and go into that. Surgeons tell medical students considering a surgical residency that they should not go into surgery if they DON’T love it (in other words, you’re not a “real surgeon” if you don’t love it. Why should sex work be the only field where loving or even liking your job proves that you’re not a “real” worker?

  42. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    How it serves “the greater good of all women” to perpetuate the stigmatization of sex workers, I really don’t know.

    It doesn’t.

    It does, however, serve the ambitions of people whose problem with kyriarchical structures isn’t the kyriarchy, it’s that they aren’t at the top.

  43. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    I don’t think this idea of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” applies just to the unprivileged.

    No one claimed this. However, one particular case of them applying to the unprivileged IS what we’re talking about….

  44. Larry Clapp says

    > If I say that I became a nude dancer primarily for the money, then I feed into the stereotype of sex workers as victims. [ etc ]

    > But if I say that I became a nude dancer primarily for reasons other than money, I get targeted as a dilettante

    Just to agree: both of these attitudes are such total horseshit. I know programmers that got into computers primarily for the money. Even though they’re good at it and enjoy it. And I somehow can’t buy that all the bag boys, fast food workers, etc are in it as long term careers. (Not to slight those that are!) On the same side of the coin, I’m sure we’ve all heard of doctors and lawyers that got into their professions for the money and only for the money.

    So if you’re working a job *for the money*, well, gosh, *welcome to the world.*

  45. brucegee1962 says

    44. Azkyroth, responding to me, says

    I don’t think this idea of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” applies just to the unprivileged.

    No one claimed this. However, one particular case of them applying to the unprivileged IS what we’re talking about….

    Christina originally wrote:

    Reed argues — correctly, I think — that these sorts of no-win situations are a hallmark of discrimination, “the most direct and immediately recognizable way of knowing that a given group has been predetermined to be in the wrong regardless of what they do.”.

    So I think there WAS a claim that this kind of treatment is unique to the unprivileged, which is what I was responding to.
    Being boxed in like this isn’t a hallmark of discrimination — it’s a hallmark of belonging to any group that is subject to criticism.

  46. says

    @Alyson Miers #40 “Well. That is a very special type of “feminism” right there. If anything, the needs of the most marginalized and most discriminated-against should take priority over the concerns of the more privileged. How it serves “the greater good of all women” to perpetuate the stigmatization of sex workers, I really don’t know.

    Exactly. This is a common response when speaking for sex workers rights within a greater feminist frame work. It seems sex workers rights advocates are a distraction from the focus of le sisterhood. That focus tends to be prescribed by more privileged academics. Unfortunately this has come down to “those types” of feminists championing the Swedish Model and thus the rift between academic feminism and grass roots feminism grows. I could go on and on for days. Don’t get me started :P

  47. ischemgeek says

    @Jean K #12

    As far as I understand the business, a huge percentage of clients are married men. So prostitutes are people who help men cheat on their wives.

    So prostitutes are responsible for other peoples decisions now?

    1) A lot of married people use sex toys to cheat. Does that mean a sex shop owner isn’t running a legitimate business?

    Taking a step away from the sex industry: A lot of married people rent hotel rooms and reserve tables at restaurants to enable their cheating. Does that mean hotel and restaurant work is dishonorable?

    If not, you’ve got a serious double-standard going on there.

    2) Paying someone for sex = cheating? So, paying for something akin to a massage is the same as having a several-years-long affair hidden from your significant other who believes xie is the One and Only in your life? You think that? That’s messed up. One is a business transaction. The other is a deception and abuse of trust that may last for years.

    (on the topic: I have no issue with polyamory. My issue is with those who deceive their loved ones in a hurtful manner)

    If they don’t actually harm themselves in the process (OK, maybe some don’t), they do harm other women.

    Do tell.

    In the secret service scandal, an interesting tidbit is that most of the men were married. In the Elliot Spitzer scandal, again, the men was married.

    Which had nothing to do with the prostitutes. If these men “cheated” with prostitutes (and see above re: my opinions on that classification), they would have “cheated” by having casual sex with others if the prostitutes were unavailable. The prostitutes were simply the easiest way for those men to get no-strings-attached sex, but they weren’t the only way.

    If you’re really going to portray prostitutes as genuine agents, responsible for themselves, and not as victims, then let’s really see them as responsible. An analogy, should you have trouble seeing the point: take people who make money by writing papers for plagiarism websites. Writing papers for money is not inherently wrong, but they’re enablers of cheating, so this is not an honorable thing to do.

    The difference is that adultry is not a crime. Frankly, I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with adultry if your partner knows and consents to it.

    Fraud is both criminal and morally wrong. If you knowingly write a paper for someone to pass of as hir own, you’re aiding and abbetting someone else’s intentional deception for personal gain (which is the definition of fraud) in hir presentation of your work as xie’s own. If you get paid for it, you’re complicit in the fraud. Admittedly, writing papers for someone else is pretty minor, but forging official documents so someone can swindle a pensioner is different only in degree.

    No amount of testimony from happy, autonomous prostitutes is going to address this issue–in fact, it just makes it worse. If it’s super-satisfying and remunerative helping married men cheat, that doesn’t make it honorable.

    Except “helping married men cheat” isn’t what prostitutes do. They have sex. They get paid. Sometimes they just give massages and talk. Sometimes they play games. But in the end, they perform a service (which, on its own, is not illegal – I could have sex with every consenting adult on my street and be breaking no laws), and they get paid for it (which, in my country, is also not illegal – in the height of stupidity, our laws only prohibit communication for prostitution and the operation of a bawdy house, not the act itself). End of story.

    If I take my partner’s credit card and buy something ridiculously expensive that he can’t afford like a Porche, I’m the one who’s responsible. Not the car dealer. Likewise, if someone cheats by visiting a prostitute, xie is responsible. Not hir partner, not the prostitute, xie is. If a person finds hirself unable to abide monogamy, xie should find a partner that is open to polyamory rather than entering into a relationship on the false pretense of monogamy.

  48. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    1) A lot of married people use sex toys to cheat.

    Unless you mean using them with an extramarital partner, this is flat-out crazy.

  49. Rilian says

    Erm, I didn’t know if I should comment on the previous post. If you’ve done sex work one time in your life, for a friend, does that count as being a sex worker?

  50. says

    As someone mentioned above, working at McDonald’s is a soul crushing and demeaning job. I’ve worked in a number of different service industries. Regardless of the industry, customers will treat you like you are a shit stain on their shoe.

    I think it’s very telling that people have a problem with sex work being demeaning. “Oh, it’s so horrible that these women are forced into stripping (or what have you).” No one seems to think it’s horrible when a fifty-something year old has to work at McDonald’s to make ends meet. They just assume s\he must have screwed up in some way earlier in life, and so therefore must deserve it.

    Perhaps it’s because we see people working in non-sex service industries every day. People get fast food, eat at restaurants, go to the mall, go to the post office, etc, all the time, and so therefore have become used to the idea that people actually work in these shitty environments, in which they are treated like trash.

    In my early twenties, I was working at a McDonald’s, and I didn’t get someone’s meal fast enough for them. They asked to speak to a manager, and told them I was “worthless” and that they should fire me. When I tried to explain to the customer that we had been out of ice, and that the extra time was spent getting ice for her beverage, she talked over me and said, “I’m not talking to you! You need to be quiet.”

    This is no where near the worst treatment I’ve gotten in the service industry, and it certainly isn’t the worst I’ve seen other people be treated. And if the above example isn’t indicative of someone treating someone in a demeaning fashion, I’m not sure what is.

    I’m not sure what else to say on the subject, except that maybe it’s out of some sort of jealousy that people talk about sex work being terrible? Perhaps because sex workers make somewhat more money than people in the service industry, that’s where some of the anger and disapproval comes from?

  51. Lucy Montrose says

    I think Kitty @32 makes the best point on this comment thread about sex work, and sadly it has been buried.

    Maybe it’s because it’s so obvious a point that we don’t acknowledge it, but sex work is an occupation where your appearance is paramount. There’s a premium on being under 30 (or even under 25) and conventionally attractive. Hell, one of the most popular genres of porn is the “teenage” genre, because far too many men still think of teenage girls as be the most desirable.
    Now, lookism has unfortunately spread to a lot of different lines of work, in fact anything involving work with the public is subject to appearance pressure. That’s where feminists with a “rescue the sex worker” mindset get wrong.

    Because living up to a beauty ideal has a lot to do with class and privilege. It’s a lot easier to afford, in both time and money, the “investments in your employability” that go with any appearance-focused job if you have more money.

    As Kitty might say, why decrease the stigma on sex work if it’s only going to lead to yet another profession where it really helps to be young, pretty, cheap and docile? Why not go all the way and ensure the best possible workplace culture for sex workers, too? Where sex work can be for 40-somethings-and-older like Greta, there’s a lot less appearance pressure, and– dare I say it– it can be fun?

  52. says

    That’s mostly just true for stripping. Over-forty is also a very popular porn genre and plenty of people in the previous thread said they went into prostitution because they were too chubby to be strippers. Conventionally attractive women have the potential to make more money, but it’s hardly a requirement.

  53. Sensemaker says

    Christina wrote on the subject of double bind: “Which reminds me of another version of this: the way groups of people who are often impoverished get scorned by their more privileged oppressors for being cheap.”

    Slaves were criticized for being lazy. Seriously, how hard would you work for someone who kept you enslaved? Slaves were often prevented or downright forbidden for getting any education and were then criticized for being ignorant.

    Everything I know from the history of oppression seems to indicate that this double bind is indeed a hallmark of oppression.

    Sensemaker

  54. SexPot says

    Thank you so much for bringing these issues into light Greta. It’s so true about these catch-22s. As a black female sex worker, I have been the victim of several. I have been both a prude (22 year old virgin) and am now a slut (slept with 45 men and 3 women so far). I have been both the uptight out of touch Mammy, the oreo, the arrogant smarty-pants black conservative
    (went to Duke), and now that I’m a sex worker and hang out with uneducated blacks, I’m the lazy, ghetto, slave underclass. I do sex work for the money so I’m desperate but because I went to Duke and have other options that pegs me mainly as a dilettante, an amateur, a wannabe, someone who could be doing something else. It’s particularly annoying to meet feminists who claim to be sex-positive and believe that stripping is empowering to women, and then when I express my desire to go full force with it they try to talk me out of it, express shock, say I’m too good for that, say it degrading, and say it’s for dumb asses. I thought it was empowering? Then why can’t I do it? Why should I be the good little girl, little Lisa Simpson, the prude just because I went to Duke while other girls get be goddesses, get the attention, and the glory just because they’re under-privileged? Then all of a sudden “it’s not that glamorous”. (Besides, in this economy, I actually do need the money). That’s that whole Madonna/whore thing, putting women in boxes and not letting them take control of their own lives and their own sexuality like you said.

    You’re right on with the slut/prude thing especially. Women are always either sluts or prudes. If they’re in monogamous relationships they’re good girls (people will often get on your nerves by saying your boyfriend is cheating on you) but anything to the left of that is a slut. Well I’m a proud slut and will remain so for a long time.

    Thanks again! :)

  55. says

    Very few people take any kind of job out of anything other than economic necessity to a certain extent. We all have bills to pay, after all! So the truth is, to say if getting into sex work because we need to pay the bills is any more or less valid than getting into bar work because we need to pay the bills is slightly meaningless. “Economic Necessity” is a red herring.

    I am an Escort, a prostitute, a whore. I didn’t “need” the money… but I didn’t have a job and I had bills to pay and the savings wouldn’t last for ever. I could have done something else… it’s not like I didn’t have options. I chose to do this, and all these years later I am still doing it. Is my experience not valid?

    These so-called Catch 22’s are not real… they only exist in the minds of those who have a preconceived prejudice.

    All work is prostitution… the only difference is which part of you is on sale.

  56. says

    Don’t let the truth get in the way of giving a multi-billion dollar industry good PR I guess? Just say what happened instead of worrying what telling it like it is might make other people think. We are grown ups and can decide what to think, thanks.

    There is not a catch 22 anyway.

    If you weren’t a sex worker out of economic need it isn’t that your experience doesn’t count, it is just that your experience should not be applied to economically desperate women in the sex industry, because economic desperation makes sex workers more vulnerable to exploitation. Is there something that is hard for you to understand about that? Do you think american factory workers can speak for chinese kids who toil in dangerous factories? American factory workers count as factory workers, but it is pretty hard to generalize them when discussing factory workers *as a class* because they are an incredibly privileged minority within that class.

  57. Greta Christina says

    Just say what happened instead of worrying what telling it like it is might make other people think.

    skeptifem @ #60: That’s exactly what I have been doing. I am trying to tell the truth about my experience. I was simply making an observation here that, no matter what I say about it, it is likely going to be received in a way that ignores and dismisses what I say about my own experience, and that feeds into the general ignoring and dismissing of what all sex workers have to say about their experience.

    If you weren’t a sex worker out of economic need it isn’t that your experience doesn’t count, it is just that your experience should not be applied to economically desperate women in the sex industry, because economic desperation makes sex workers more vulnerable to exploitation.

    Please point to the place in this post — or any of my posts about sex work — where I said that my experience should be applied to economically desperate women in the sex industry.

    I don’t think that, and I have never said it. I understand that there are people — not just women, by the way, but people of all genders — who are forced into the industry, either through overt coercion or economic necessity. I understand that this is a terrible and extremely serious problem, and I know that my experience is vastly different from theirs. You and I simply disagree about the best solutions. And you seem to think that, because non-consensual sex work is a serious and terrible problem, therefore people who engage in consensual sex work can and should be ignored.

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