Much like strippers and adult entertainment workers, off the clock these kinds of people are some of the most real, honest and good people it has ever been my good fortune to meet. As a libertine, egalitarian and humanist I see no problem with what any of these people do for money and in many cases admire them for it.
I listen to them when they talk to me, many of them I would count as friends, accomplices and co-workers. Some are no longer sex workers, some are, some through circumstance, some through explicit choice that this is what they love to do.
Am I to disbelieve the former stripper who laments the loss of the money and the camaraderie with the other girls, now raising her three kids on a shoestring? No. I wish she felt she could go back to it and I wish her community didn’t hate her for what she did years ago.
Am I to look down on or regard as disempowered the ladies who make their money from webcam shows and photosets because of mental or physical illness that limits their options? They’re amongst the bravest, toughest, proudest people I know. They could subsist on benefits and charity – barely – or they could take care of themselves doing something like this, that they often enjoy.
Am I to believe the prostitutes, dominatrices, escorts and others are all coerced or forced? Even when there’s no pimps? Even when there’s other things they could do, being brilliant, intelligent and tough women?’
Am I to believe the former male escort who confided in me that the women who wanted sex – and there were many – were not the kind you might expect but rather the wealthy women who had sacrificed family, relationships, marriages for career?
No, obviously not. This is anecdotal of course, my experience, their experience, but there’s statistics to support them, and principles to hold to.
There are many jobs that many of us would consider shitty, awful jobs. Cleaning toilets or road-sweeping at 3am being a couple of examples. Yet there’s people who swallow their pride and do them for the money they need to live, or the money to make life worth living and we do not look down on them. Many of them end up taking pride in what they do as well, refusing to be looked down on.
There are many jobs that people are trafficked into doing. Winkle picking, agricultural labour, meat packing, casual labour, garden work, scrap collecting for a pittance. We do not shame them, nor do we regard those who do the work properly’ as being worthy only of our contempt or pity.
There are many jobs that people are forced into doing. What else is workfare or prison slavery but free or nearly free labour mandated by the state? A modern plantation culture for the poor and the disenfranchised, the defenceless? Where are the police, smashing down the doors to ASDA or WalMart to arrest the customers and carry off the employees to ‘safe’ accommodation?
Why do we treat sex work, pornography, stripping any differently to the way we do any other job? Is there any rational reason why we should do so?
No, there is not, save the special status and fear of sex that much of society seems to have. Seven veils of moral panic, thinly disguising the prurient interest of the enviously disgusted, terrified of their own sexuality.
Much of this seems to come from modern feminism, the judgemental eyes of women who want choice, but only the choices they approve of. There’s a continuum of this feminist-led or abetted neo-puritanism running through, seemingly everything. From Mary Honeyball’s dishonest and destructive advocacy of the Norwegian Model for sex work, to Gail Dines ludicrous and misguided attacks on pornography. From the ‘extreme porn’ laws to the opt-out internet filter. From spurious prosecutions of internet trolls to rowdy and sometimes violent protests of men’s issues talks. From ‘trigger warnings’ in academia to the undermining of presumed innocence in cases of alleged sex crime. From ‘No More Page Three’ to ‘Lose the Lads Mags’.
There seems to be an attempt to police sexuality, male sexuality, commercial sexuality, in all its forms from games (Sarkeesian) to SF&F (SFWA) to convention and conference policies overreaching their bounds (Ada Initiative, Geekfeminism), to conflating sex work with trafficking and a new slave trade. There’s obstacles to payments, to crowdfunding, to sales, not – seemingly – on any matter of actual need or principle but rather because it’s a vulnerable community to gouge for extra cash and to confiscate funds from. Nor does it even have to be directly related to anything ‘blue’, simply having worked as a sex worker or being one raising funds for something else can be enough to see their money disappear, perhaps never to be recovered.
There’s some peculiar, unholy alliance between the traditional forces of political and social conservatism and the most active, media-present forms of modern feminism. It’s an alliance that seems to make no sense but while the reasons are different the goals are the same. This is the feminism of Tumblr, of Criado-Perez of Watson, the kind that can legitimately be called ‘shrill’ and emotional. Short on facts, long on lies, propaganda and emotional manipulation. Most distressingly, it is a form of feminist that cannot tolerate dissent, even from other women, discounting their lived experiences which are otherwise considered so important.
The price for the women to speak up is to risk being identified, outed and shamed. It is to invite huge amounts of invective, not of the pointless, trolling kind but from journalists, politicians and the general public frothing as they digest the latest lies.
For men, and which I can speak more directly about, it’s assumptions of misogyny, of desperation, of being a pimp or John rather than simply someone taking a side an an argument. If any of that sticks, somehow your opinion is not valid. It’s not as though sex workers are offering discounts for men who speak up on their behalf. It’s just the right thing to do, the best thing for all concerned.
Prohibition simply makes things worse.