I don't often write about sex work. I think it's an area of feminism that is best left to people with more knowledge. I remember when I first started thinking critically about feminist issues, I read a piece where a woman was discussing how too often feminists talk about sex work without actually talking to sex workers or listening. I don't want to fall into that space, and I hope I don't. But I need to write about this, because my blood is boiling.
Earlier this week, I shared an example of horrendousness at my Tumblr project. Some douche had posted, "If somebody rapes a prostitute, is it considered rape or shoplifting?" I felt that this kind of comment spoke for itself as problematic, but apparently I was wrong. One of the people who reblogged the post wrote that it "is a valid legal question...though he's still a dick."
I went to the guy's page and saw that he's an 18 year old, so I thought, "Oh hey, maybe an honest mistake. I have it in me to try to correct this one..." And needless to say, despite the best efforts of myself and some other feminists, his comments spun out of control. At one point, when told that he was dehumanizing prostitutes by asking this question, he wrote:
I’ll tell you what’s dehumanizing: their jobs. They don’t sell themselves as advisors, counselors, or anything of the sort. Generally, they’re paid to perform sexual acts. Some are so desensitized that they barely care. But does the main body of their buyers care about the prostitute’s well-being or mental state? No. They’re used, generally, for sex.The statements here are just so upsetting to me and I can't stop thinking about them. What a shining example of the continued stigma that society places on sex workers. This young man here didn't come to these revelations on his own. He was raised in a culture that transmitted these deeply misogynistic messages to him. He truly believes that sex workers (a majority of which are women) are used like objects...that their lives are reckless and despondent and wretched.
Now far be it from me to suggest that all women who enter sex work do so freely and are empowered by it. Most of us know that the system of sex work prohibition we have in the US often creates toxic situations where young women are not freely choosing their lots in life. I think that there is a way that discussion can be had without condescending or concern trolling...and ladies and gents, the way he went about it is not that way. I mean, when is it ever helpful to frame discussions about sex workers as items? And what about all the women who choose sex work freely, find it empowering, and are happy with their lives? How can you have a non-misogynistic discussion about sex work if you automatically assume that it is something no one would ever choose and you silence women who share their experience?
It's no surprise that I'm utterly over the way society tries to police women's bodies. But there are certainly a few issues where this trend is most frustrating. The dehumanization and stigmatization of sex workers is toward the top of the list. I mean--questions like the one above and dead hooker "jokes" are a thing! People really buy into these ideas because sex workers are so devalued that their lives are seen as disposable. A woman who owns and utilizes her sexuality is apparently worthless and should be scorned.
It disgusts me. I'm not sure what else I can say.
Why Feminists Should Listen to Sex Workers
Studying Down: Thoughts on Sex Work, Steinem, and Self-Representation