Saturday, April 28, 2012

Weekend web readin', special edition: sex work

From Skepchick, Guest Post: IGN Agrees, Women are Whores
Money quote:
There aren’t many words more denigrating to women than ‘whore’. It’s the one that summons mental images of domestic violence, of the worst sort of reduction to a sexual object. That Deadwood smack of ‘disposable, beatable hole’ makes me physically cringe. When I see ‘attention whore’, I grit my teeth, but plain old whore? You can’t call a woman much worse. 
So when is it appropriate to use it? I know! As a punchline in a parody video to replace a horse! You know that Old Spice commercial from a few years back that everyone had forgotten about by now? Ends with “I’m on a horse”. Ripe for parody! It works out beautifully because not only does ‘whore’ sound exactly like ‘horse’, but women and horses are roughly equal! Especially funny is getting the woman on all fours in a supplicant position and sitting on her like she’s your sex worker. Sorry, whore.
From Greta Christina's Blog, "Feminists have made sex workers' lives so much more difficult": A Guest Post from Sarah van Brussel
Money quote:
During the conference I had the opportunity to talk to sex worker activists who work on human rights issues from all over the world. One thing I kept hearing over and over again was how feminists have made sex workers’ work so much more difficult. I usually wear my ‘feminist badge’ with pride, but this shocked and shamed me. An activists from the Turkish organisation Kadin Kapisi said that when she became a sex worker activist she expected to be fighting with fundamentalists, traditionalists, bigots and other conservative people, but instead she spends most of her time fighting feminists and socialists. An activist from the English Collective of Prostitutes said it even more succinctly: “we live in fear of raids and ‘rescue’”. The experience of speaking directly with sex workers has made me even more determined to be the best ally I can be. 
I know these activists women and men as incredibly passionate, smart and above all brave people, and it fills me with rage when people like Taslima Nasreen dismiss them as victims and deny them their agency. 
One of the highlights of the AWID Forum for me was the launch of the first fund led by and for sex workers, the Red Umbrella Fund (Mama Cash is administratively hosting the Fund). The mission of this new fund is to “strengthen and ensure the sustainability of the sex worker rights movement by catalyzing new funding specifically for sex worker-led organisations and national, regional and global networks.”
From Feministe, Why the Sex Positive Movement is Bad for Sex Workers
Money quote:
Emphasizing sex and pleasure harms the sex workers who aren’t firmly in the self-defined population of being sex positive and sexually educated, by unintentionally shaming them for not being enthusiastic participants in the sex they have at work. When engaging in the trade or sale of sex is helping an individual to meet their basic physiological needs, they often do not have the personal resources to channel energy into making the experience of transactional sex perfectly pleasurable for either themselves or their client. Not every sexual experience, whether paid or not, has to be perfectly erotic. This is an unreasonable expectation, and one that makes it more difficult for people who have negative experiences to speak openly about their truths with sex work or sexuality more generally. 
The “‘poor abused whores’ lobby” spews plenty of toxic garbage about the experiences of people coerced into the sex industry and their preferred (unattainable, abolitionist) solutions, often without letting people with those experiences speak for themselves. However, if feminist sex positive sex workers also silence these voices, we are not contributing as positively to the cause of sex workers’ rights as we want to believe. 
“Happy Hooker” vs “Exploited Victim”: Defeating the Dichotomy 
In the media trainings I do, I ask the participants to come up with a main message that, if they had two minutes, they want their audience to receive. They then need to back up this message with two or three talking points, one sentence statements that can be evidence-based, use logic or other rhetorical devices to give the audience a different perspective. Every time I have done the training, someone is eager to express the message that sex workers are average people with many dimensions: we are mothers, brothers, taxpayers, neighbors, pet enthusiasts, gourmet cooks, etc. Inevitably, one of the supporting talking points they come up with is, “You wouldn’t be able to distinguish me from anyone else you walk by; I’m not a street worker or a junkie.” But some sex workers – maybe not sex workers in your immediate circle – are street workers and junkies, and we cannot throw them under the bus as we have been doing. To define oneself as essentially normal, in opposition to drug-using, street based workers, is to imply that they are not as worthy as rights as those of us who fit better into society. Furthermore, when we define ourselves in opposition to what we view as negative portrayals of sex work, we silence people who have had these experiences, and we communicate to them that they are not welcome in our community.
From Greta Christina's Blog (again), Sex Work and a Catch-22 
Money quote:
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.

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