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Infiltrators, Conspiracy Theories, and Pandora’s Box: The Ongoing Feminist Education of a Stripper

January 3, 2009

(a rambling, somewhat incoherent, and REALLY long post)

Growing up, I generally considered myself a feminist, not really knowing what it was, but thinking it sounded like a cool thing to be. I was raised mostly by my father, who was a womanizer, and my abuelita (grandma), who was a Latina traditionalist who thought young single ladies should still be chaperoned while out with single men. In one ear, I had my father telling me how every man only wants what is between my legs (and that it was up to me to not let them get it), while in the other my abuelita insisted that by wearing red nail polish I was somehow communicating to the world that I am a woman of easy virtue. My father ensured that I knew where the Playboy magazines were, and that I should feel free to ask any questions I needed answers to, while my abuelita gave me lectures about how tanning in my bikini in the front yard (we had no back yard) was effectively (and inappropriately) putting my body on exhibit for the whole world to see.

My abuelita was quite an unintended feminist herself. Being from a culture where a mistress was a sign of status and women typically turned their eyes the other way when their husbands took one on, she refused to fall into line – even if it meant raising two sons on her own while engaging in a full-time career in academia. She’d earned a Master’s degree and was working on her PhD at Columbia when she divorced her first husband, and was a full-time professor with a second son when she divorced her last. Mistresses were simply not to be tolerated.

She was very much an elitist, never hesitating to point out how her husbands’ mistresses were of a lower class and “knew all the sexual tricks”. In my own mind, I made a mental note to self: learn all the sexual tricks. Not because I particularly wanted to gain or keep a husband, but because that was clearly one area of expertise in which my otherwise amazing abuelita lacked. And I wanted very much to be just like her, only with all the sexual tricks and none of the stodgy gender traditionalism. I also didn’t get the classism…everything she deemed “low class” always seemed so fascinating to me, from red nail polish to sexual prowess.

When I first heard the term “feminist” at the age of about 12 (probably on TV), it sounded really exotic and sophisticated to me, and I decided that I wanted to be one. I didn’t think about it for several more years, at least not directly. I did find it odd that in history class all the “great” people we read about were always men, and that women, in fact, never really appeared in my history lessons except for the token Betsy Ross-type character here and there. I also found it annoying that when I first heard of Georgia O’Keefe I wasn’t that interested in her work; you see she, being a woman, couldn’t possibly be a real artist. Real artists were men. I caught myself on that pretty quickly, but to have even thought that was alarming. How many young people out there think that and don’t question it? Later, I became a little bewildered that even fields of supposedly “women’s work” –sewing, cosmetics, and cooking – were professionally dominated by men: male designers, makeup artists, hairstylists, and celebrity chefs.

The next time I came across actual feminism was while I was stripping in southern California. A girlfriend of mine and fellow stripper was taking women’s studies at UCI, and was telling me all about how women were historically oppressed. I argued with her pretty vehemently at first, as every night I was all but worshipped by men. So was she, for that matter. But, she explained, the oppression was there in all kinds of ways- and from her explanations I could see why I wasn’t feeling very oppressed, and I felt very fortunate to be in the situation that I was rather than have to deal with a regular job where there were glass ceilings and inherent sexism. My friend gave me a book to read by Catherine MacKinnon, but unfortunately, it wasn’t the exciting, powerful feminism I remembered hearing about as a 12-year-old girl. Rather, it seemed an angry, victim-focused feminism that I wanted no part of. Yes, I could see the reasons for the anger, but I couldn’t see the man-hating. I loved men, and really felt they needed our sympathy more than our hatred. I always saw them as completely at the mercy of women. The hetero men I knew who had what they considered “power” really had nothing more than brute force in their favor, and to me, that was a really insecure, fear-based power. A power like that wasn’t sustainable. But the silly men actually believed they had it made with this kind of power, while at the same time they were so weak when it came to the power of sexuality, wielded by adept women. So I felt sorry for them rather than angry at them most of the time.

The next time I came across formal feminism was at Cal, where I was fortunate to have attended some excellent courses in women’s studies. I was introduced to post-colonialism, global feminism, and deconstructionism in an atmosphere of social justice. I finally “got” what all the fuss was about, and became even more feminist in my thinking. I was shocked at how little women around the world were paid compared to men when looking at how much actual work each did. I admired the challenges that working women from traditional cultures posed for gender relations in their communities, especially the women I studied from Southeast Asia who worked in factories. I saw in them the women I had met from rural Thailand and the Philippines who worked in bars in Bangkok and Tokyo; I considered them some of the most powerful and independent women I knew.

So it felt like a slap in the face to learn that some feminists hated women like us and considered us traitors because we take men’s money in exchange for sexual entertainment. When I researched the women in Thailand and the Philippines, they were never portrayed as the powerful women I met; rather, they were portrayed as sad, hapless victims “moved about” at the whims of men. Well, I couldn’t imagine any of the women I knew being “moved about” anywhere without a fight, unless, of course, they decided it was in their best interest in some way. I have met victims in my life – and these women were in no way victims of any sort (except, of course, of the same thing we are all victims: a patriarchal capitalist system that values work that men do far more than the work that women do).

I only recently discovered sex radical feminism (and am still studying it). I knew something like that had to exist out there somewhere, because I knew I was some sort of feminist, but hardly the kind I had been running into. And despite their insisting to the contrary, I felt very powerful in my feminism, and my work as a stripper buttressed the power I felt. True equality to me meant an elimination of the sexual double standard – that women should be permitted to explore and express their sexuality as freely as men have been able to without being punished for it by rape or sexual harrassment. It also meant the elimination of the power of the whore stigma- that women would no longer be judged based on their sexual choices.

Feminism for most of my life, therefore, had been claimed by those who perhaps had the same interest in reproductive choice, but seemed to be unable to advocate for sexual choice. I wanted to know why. What happened to choice? Why could I choose to become or not become a mother, with all the blessings of my feminist forebears, but could not choose to be a sex worker? Why did my choice suddenly become evidence of false consciousness? I felt deserted by feminism.

In reading various versions of the history of feminism and sexuality, I became suspicious that feminism and the women’s movement, like many other leftist movements during the 60s and 70s, had been infiltrated by those who would like to see it fail or at least be rendered ineffective. Infiltrators were clever sorts who very subtly worked their way into the leadership of a movement, eventually leading the movement into failure. Some infiltrators rendered their chosen movement ineffective by simply advocating for an ineffective path, while others destroyed their chosen movement’s credibility by suggesting violent actions that would bring harsh criticism on them while destroying any existing public sympathy. Feminism, I believe, was a victim of the former, but it went a bit further in that it actually succeeded in co-opting the movement. Yep – to many women it sounded like a great idea to do away with men – who needed ‘em? As preposterous as that might have sounded (and did sound) to those not in the movement, enough women within the movement agreed with this line of thought to actually create a separatist feminism. The problem was that too many women, made very uncomfortable as a result of being emotionally unprepared for the sexual revolution, agreed with my suspected infiltrators.

Out of this separatist feminism came MacKinnon and Dworkin, and the anti-porn movement. Somehow, the clever bastards managed to get the women’s movement into bed with the right wing, something they hadn’t really manage to do with any of the other movements afoot at the time (environmental, animal rights, anti-war, etc.). Thusly, the women’s movement effectively became a bizarre hybridized pawn of the patriarchy, with the full and passionate support of most of its members. After all, isn’t a major part of patriarchy keeping women in their place? What better way than to divide and conquer- to make some women “more equal” than others? The good-girl/bad-girl dichotomy sprang into full action yet again, spurred on – yet again – by women themselves. (More on that later.)

Back to the sexual revolution. None of this infiltration would have been possible, I believe, without the preceding “sexual revolution.” Sexual freedom for women as a result of the Pill came prematurely (no pun intended). For millennia, women’s sexuality had been tied up with their virtue, and that kind of long-term, multi-generational psychobiological conditioning is difficult to de-condition. Women on the whole hadn’t yet learned to enjoy sex for the sake of sex itself, free of the emotional expectations of a Prince Charming Romance, but at the same time, didn’t want to be considered spoiled sports, so played along with it in hopes of achieving that holy grail of sexual equality. Of course, men took full advantage of this lack of preparation, using sex to maintain their power and leadership in the progressive movements while also using it to determine which women had power and influence. As a result, you had a lot of cat-that-ate-the-canary men and a lot of really angry and bitter women. The sexual revolution was, as it turned out for the most part, a feast for men but a relatively unsuccessful experiment in sexual exploration for women.

Women hurt during the sexual revolution by and large, I believe, became the weapons of the right – the “in” for infiltration and subsequent take-over of much of the movement.

During the anti-porn movement, feminists somehow made it an unspeakable thing to be sex positive without appearing to be a pervert or agreeing to the sexual exploitation of women. (Still researching this…)

Back to good-girl/bad-girl feminism. During the stirrings of the sexual revolution, the women’s movement, for the most part, were pretty much in support of sexual freedom for women. This was very exciting, as finally women weren’t beholden to the possibility of unwanted children, which was one of the main reasons for women’s lack of sexual freedom. But unwanted children were also part of the reason that chastity for women was such a strongly entrenched idea. While the “good girl” imperative saved some women from becoming unwed mothers, this conditioning was so successful for so long that women believed it almost unquestioningly. The oppressed have to agree with the oppressor’s viewpoints on some level for them to be successfully oppressed.

Women who were hurt in the sexual revolution were not only hurt by men, but also by the women the men chose – women who they saw as attractive, and women who had come to terms with and were able to enjoy sex without expectations. These women, along with the men, became the targets for the hurt women. But enough of the sexual revolution had happened to make it unacceptable to champion chaste women over sexually autonomous women outright without looking suspect. So, they had to think of another tactic that would be less overt but affect the same results – keeping these sexually autonomous women in their place while punishing the men who loved them. Enter Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon, and the anti-porn movement.

As Orwell illustrated in Animal Farm, the oppressed often turn into the exact kinds of oppressors who oppressed them when given similar positions of power, and thus, feminists became the oppressors of women (with the help of the infiltrators). The traditional female powerbrokers – upper middle-class white women – were being threatened by the myriad sorts of women unleashed with the opening of Pandora’s Box: women of color, queer women, lesbians, women of lower socio-economic classes, and so on (women in these categories often had fewer issues with unfettered sexuality than the upper middle-class white women). The Pandora’s Box of the sexual revolution had to be shut. The anti-porn movement was just the thing! “If women didn’t make themselves sexually available for men – particularly prostitutes and porn stars – then men wouldn’t feel entitled to sexual access to women’s bodies and wouldn’t rape them.” Blaming the victim for her rape- sound familiar? Remember the Contagious Diseases Act of the mid 1800s, and the subsequent social purity movement? Colonialism? My abuelita? Women keeping women in their place…

These feminists carry on this work pretty vehemently, nowhere more evidently today than in anti-sex work activism (or as Laura Agustin calls it, the “rescue industry”).

Anti-sex work feminists (often the same cast of characters as anti-sex feminists) purport to want to save women from what they consider to be inherently degrading work that nobody in their right minds would want to do. But I believe that the truth is that these feminists are terrified that sex workers will take the husbands (and thus livelihoods, resources, or access to power) from “good” women. There is the sense of a real threat, and perhaps a tinge of jealousy. This was showcased very blatantly when a discussion on Pandagon had the anti-sex work feminists – who’d originally expressed their deep concern for the women who were being exploited in sex work – degenerating into insulting those same “exploited women” for “her hundred dollar foot mangling hooker-heels and complimentary cosmetic surgery.” And when asked why this particular feminist hadn’t helped the sex workers she felt so inclined to protect from exploitation, answered, “Maybe the answer has something to do with me earning less than those Manhatten [sic] studio apartment pros who you thrust forward like so much hideously disfiguring plastic boobage…” Oops. Someone let her petticoat show there.

Now that the division between good women and bad women is becoming less acceptable to enforce, these feminists have commandeered the “trafficking” hysteria to use for this purpose, under the guise of altruism. Interestingly, it is still upper-middle class (usually white) women doing this work, which results more often than not in effectively preventing poor (usually brown) women from crossing borders. Claiming to be able to see the big picture of how sex work exploits all women, they oddly don’t see the big picture, and how eliminating sex work as a choice and encouraging draconian measures against sex workers (while doing nothing to improve the geopolitical economic realities of actual women on the ground) leaves the women they claim to want to protect in far worse situations than they would have been if left alone.

Susan (not me), a poster at Laura’s blog, sums it up perfectly with this statement:
“And the thing you must really remember is that when anti-prostitution people use the term ‘sex slavery’, it is not the ‘slavery’ that they are against, it’s the ‘sex’. Because if they were truly concerned about the slavery, they’d be doing a fucking lot more about it than they are now.”

So what became of sex radical feminism? Why did they desert us? My history of feminism education continues…

29 Comments leave one →
  1. Reggie permalink
    January 3, 2009 5:50 am

    Well, that was a rather fascinating read.

    I don’t have any kind of meaningful response right now, but I wanted you to know that that was awesome. I learned some things, and I’m walking away with ideas to mull over.

  2. eroticundulation permalink
    January 3, 2009 3:16 pm

    Thanks, Reggie!🙂

  3. January 3, 2009 6:52 pm

    It took me all day to read this, but I actually did it…which says a lot. I hardly ever read long posts. Thumbs up.

  4. eroticundulation permalink
    January 5, 2009 2:21 pm

    Thanks, RJ! I appreciate you having read through it. I apologize for the length…it kept getting longer as I let it sit on my computer. I have so much more to say on the subject, but figured I would save the rest for another post someday.

  5. January 9, 2009 4:59 pm

    “During the anti-porn movement, feminists somehow made it an unspeakable thing to be sex positive without appearing to be a pervert or agreeing to the sexual exploitation of women.”

    Being anti-porn is not the same as being anti-sex. Pornography (not to be confused with erotica) distributes very limited views of sexuality that are degrading and exploitive. Gail Dines once said that porn is to sex what McDonalds is to food. No one would ever accuse someone of being anti-eating because they opposed McDonalds’ unhealthy menu.

  6. eroticundulation permalink
    January 9, 2009 7:02 pm

    Can you please tell me the difference between erotica and porn?

  7. eghead permalink
    January 11, 2009 11:38 pm

    Your characterization of Dworkin, MacKinnon, and what many unfairly categorize as ‘anti-sex’ feminism is, well, unfair. I disagree with your views regarding sex work, but I do try to understand them and try VERY hard not to misrepresent them. Perhaps you didn’t INTEND to misrepresent the views of women such as myself, but I can’t help but feel disrespected by how you have portrayed my beliefs. It’s late, and I’m tired and semi-incoherent, so I’m hoping someone will have more clarity of thought and more patience to elaborate on what I’m saying. I’ll just leave you with this: please re-read and reconsider some of the ideas you think you disagree with. You may find they really aren’t so disagreeable. After all, in the end we all want what’s best for women, and I think we all agree on what that is (happiness, respect)…we just disagree on how to get there.

    ~peace and love.

  8. January 13, 2009 2:26 pm

    Standing ovation.

    The short history of your sexual and feminist explorations remind me of myself and many other sex workers I know. I think this is why so many women today become sex workers: from a young age we question the status quo and the unsatisfying answers we’re given. That, far more than mere sex, is a motivator to step outside of proper society.

    And now that the sexually-liberated genie is out of the bottle, sex workers are poised to lead the way. Which may be one reason for the vehement actions to put us back in our “place.”

    XX

  9. eroticundulation permalink
    January 14, 2009 4:11 am

    Thank you Amanda. I believe you are absolutely right about why society wishes to put us back in our “place.” You would think that staunch feminists would feel differently than that (well, sex radical feminists do). For millennia sex has been used by men and women to keep other women under wraps (no pun intended).

    It is bizarre when you think about it: sex-negative feminists are upset because they think we’ve “sold out” to the patriarchy somehow. But who has really sold out? Those who admonish women for dressing sexually remind us of Mrs. Beaver- the perfect wife of the patriarchy. How different is she from the feminists who blame sex workers for all rape, harrassment, and assault against women because we allow men to have access to our bodies?

    The idea of sex-negativity is also so very tied up with ideas of racial and class hierarchies: lower-class women are women who do, good girls don’t. The status quo is thus maintained perfectly, with a veneer of feminism added to appear as social justice. But it is all mostly bunk to me.

    Back during colonialism, “proper” women were fair-skinned (a signifier that they could not be confused with either women who worked for a living or the brown women from the colonies) and remained tucked away in country houses (rather than sullied by the cities in which unmarried women worked and lived). Women were responsible for maintaining this separation between proper women and improper women, and they vehemently defended this social order. They were terrified that their husbands were tempted sexually by the women in the cities and the colonies (which they were).

    This directly threatened their livelihoods, granted, but also threatened their social status (inseperable from their livelihoods): if the men who placed them in the countryside, effectively rendering them completely dependent on them, gave the same attentions (resources, affection, and children) to the “other” women, how were they different? How would they remain “better”? How would they retain their livelihoods? They had to enforce the class and racial hierarchies (i.e., throwing brown and poor women under the bus) to save themselves.

    How are those women different than women today who throw us under the bus? If we don’t take on “proper” jobs, and administer our sexuality “properly” (i.e., behave non-threateningly), we’re derided and despised.

    To me, true feminists are those who challenge the status quo, not reinforce it. Few challenge that status quo like sex workers do. They are my unsung sheroes of feminism, and have been throughout history.

  10. eroticundulation permalink
    January 14, 2009 4:28 am

    Thank you for commenting, Eghead. I hope you come back- when you’re not tired and incoherent- to defend your beliefs (presumably similar to those of Dworkin and MacKinnon), because I really want to engage with this. I need a new perspective on these (sex-negative) takes on feminism.

    I do not believe penis-vagina penetrative sex is inherently violence against women. Please explain to me why Dworkin believed it is so, and more importantly, why you or anyone agrees with that.

    Life, at its most basic cellular level, is about reproduction, which cannot naturally happen to humans without sex. Making that out to be a violent, unacceptable thing is no different in consequence than the religious prohibitions against sex due to original sin. See the possibility of infiltration?

    There is something very psychotic about a species which denegrates the very reasons it exists. Each of us is a walking, talking, physical manifestation of an orgasm. None of us would exist without an orgasm having happened. There are over 6 billion people on the planet right now- that is 6 billion orgasms…6 billion instances of violence against women, according to Dworkin.

    You are here because some guy came.😉

  11. January 14, 2009 3:53 pm

    Women policing women’s sexuality seems to rooted in our Western culture. I think our generation is finally trying to uproot it. Not just sex workers, though we are finally finding our voice. Standing outside of society IS freedom and people who have power (anti-sex feminists) don’t like others having freedom.

    Thinking on the whole sex-as-a-class-designator thing reminds me of how Christianity started calling sex animal/base. It seems non-sex was divine. Yet, as you so beatifully put it — we are all products of sex. There is no other way for us to be here. (Even if created in a petri dish, SOMONE had to have an orgasm first.) Creation is divine. Sex is how all living creatures create. Sex IS divine. Those who rail against sex rail against nature and the divine power that created it all.

    That penetration is seen as violence gives men too much credence and power. Instead, I often see penetration as an envelopment, an embrace, a welcoming. Men feel very incomplete without this embrace. Even gay men enjoy penetrative acts. Penetration should be taught as a joining, a connnection. Teaching that it’s violence allows it to be used as a weapon (my $0.02).

    There is a LOT psychotic about our society…

    XX

  12. eg8919 permalink
    January 18, 2009 4:16 pm

    Well, I’m back! Your response to my first comment is, unfortunately, exactly what I’m talking about. Neither Dworkin nor MacKinnon said that all heterosexual sex is rape. I’ve heard this myth so many times, even from my sociology professor. Please check out this article over at snopes that addresses the myth quite well: http://www.snopes.com/quotes/mackinnon.asp

    Next, please stop confusing anti-pornography and anti-sex-work feminists with anti-sex feminists (which is, in all likely-hood, an oxymoron). That’s a complete conflation of terms and totally unfair. I’m not at all anti-sex. I love sex and female sexuality, and that’s why I’m so supportive of this ‘Yes Means Yes’ project. Our society undervalues female sexuality tremendously and one of the ways in which it does that is by commodifying it. All societies do, and most people do too, and I have a fundamental philosophical disagreement with the practice of selling sexuality. This means I disagree with prostitution, pornography, stripping, phone sex lines… pretty much any exchange of sexuality for money. This is an exchange which primarily features women as sellers and men as buyers, which, yes, does say something about patriarchy.

    I respect your decision to engage in sex work, even though I disagree with it. I do think that sex work leads to violence against women, sometimes directly, but mostly by re-enforcing conceptions of female sexuality as a commodity on a broader sociological level. HOWEVER (and this is very important), I don’t blame the sex workers for that. I blame the people who commit such violence. Would it help if women stopped engaging in sex work? Probably, but the responsibility does not lie primarily with them.

    I should also acknowledge that I am not against certain types of sex work in theory, and that in a perfect world, burlesque (which is focused more on the performer’s sexuality rather than the viewer’s) and erotica (which is focused more on sensuality and mutual respect than most porn is) would be fine. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.

    These are just the most basic facts about my ‘type’ of feminism. I don’t want to ramble on too long. I’ll definitely check back to see if you want to keep discussing this, though.

    P.S. I’m definitely not racist or classist, and I exist more because of IVF than my dad’s ability to reach orgasm.

  13. Ellen permalink
    January 19, 2009 11:57 pm

    Women who were hurt in the sexual revolution were not only hurt by men, but also by the women the men chose – women who they saw as attractive, and women who had come to terms with and were able to enjoy sex without expectations. These women, along with the men, became the targets for the hurt women. But enough of the sexual revolution had happened to make it unacceptable to champion chaste women over sexually autonomous women outright without looking suspect. So, they had to think of another tactic that would be less overt but affect the same results – keeping these sexually autonomous women in their place while punishing the men who loved them. Enter Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon, and the anti-porn movement.

    I think you just said Andrea Dworkin was just jealous of women who were getting more. I can’t think of a worse characterization of Dworkin’s work.

  14. eroticundulation permalink
    January 22, 2009 4:17 am

    Eghead, I am so glad you came back! Thank you.

    “Penetrative intercourse, is by its nature, violent.”

    This was the statement I take issue with. I think all of us can agree to her subsequent statements about mutual respect. And Catharine MacKinnon said, “MAN FUCKS WOMAN; Subject, Verb, Object” in her defense of the premise that men objectify women in sex.

    But what would Dworkin have said about women’s fingers penetrating women’s vaginas? Would that be violent as well? What about men’s fingers and penises penetrating men’s anuses? What about anything (tongues, fingers, penises, dildos, lollipops) inside of anyone’s mouths? What about women’s fingers and dildos penetrating a man’s or woman’s anus? All of these are penetrative acts. Where’s the fun in sex if nobody should penetrate anyone’s anything, ever?

    On Mackinnon’s statement, the first time I head it, I laughed out loud. This is because for years I have been the chooser of my sexual partners, and always considered that I fuck them. Besides occasional mutual initiation, I have mostly been the initiator since I lost my virginity (and I knew instinctively before I lost it that I would be a slut). The same would go for most of my friends throughout the years.

    As for commodifying sexuality, I understand your stance, but we’ll have to agree to disagree on that. There are many things that probably shouldn’t be commodified but are, such as childbirth (surrogacy), friendship (counseling), faith (televangelism), etc. But for me, sex is like food, and sometimes I like to cook a nice candle-lit dinner at home for someone special, other times I like to grab a candy bar at 7-11. Sometimes I eat alone, sometimes with that someone special, and sometimes I like to eat with a fun group of people.

    As for sexual services primarily consumed by men and provided by women, I believe the reason for that is simply because men have always had more discretionary income than women. That’s changing, and so is the frequency with which women seek out sexual services. Maybe this means the patriarchy is on its way out? I like to think so, and I certainly do my part to help it along by visiting the male strippers at a local strip club. More and more we see men’s half-naked photos splashed across billboards, signs, and in retail stores (probably one of the only reasons I shop Abercrombie & Fitch!). I do think this trend is creating new power dynamics among genders.

    Also, one only has to look at the plethora of male escorts available for men to know this is not necessarily about the patriarchy, per se, but about the ability to purchase a basic human need (like food, shelter, and water) when one needs it. Sex is a basic human need. If one doesn’t have sex, one will have “wet dreams”, as a body generally must orgasm to remain healthy. While someone wouldn’t necessarily die without orgasming, like someone who doesn’t have shelter, they may not live the happiest, most productive life. Think how much better-off we’d all be if women were also able to access that basic human need in such a way.

    I am glad you don’t hold sex workers accountable for the harm done to women by men. I don’t think there is any proof that sex workers cause this (directly or indirectly). Do people steal staplers because they are sold? Or is the reason one steals a stapler different? That might be a less-than-perfect comparison, but hopefully you’ll get my meaning. (No, I am not reducing women to inanimate objects. I am looking at possible motivations for a harmful act, which presumably isn’t simply because Officemax exists where staplers can be had for a price.)

    I should also acknowledge that I am not against certain types of sex work in theory, and that in a perfect world, burlesque (which is focused more on the performer’s sexuality rather than the viewer’s) and erotica (which is focused more on sensuality and mutual respect than most porn is) would be fine. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.

    I think here we run into universalisms and essentializing. Our views of “sensuality” may be completely different. I know some BDSM people who find the look of pain on another’s face extremely sensual and erotic, and some who love to feel that pain. So who is to determine what the definition of sensual is?

    As for focusing more on the performer’s sexuality than the viewer’s, I personally believe much of sex work is in the same way burlesque is, and I agree it is much more exciting. For instance, my favorite strip clubs to work at were those in which I would get the stage all to myself to perform a show to a song or songs I chose. I hated the more corporate clubs that featured several women on stage at once, dancing to whatever the DJ wanted to play (to me that wasn’t performing, it was merely decorating). But even so, I have worked at the “decoration” clubs and made some fabulous money at them (even though my stage performances weren’t as enjoyable). And I don’t consider anyone less a feminist for working there. I don’t think you do either, but I just wanted to address that.

    As for escorting, my friends who are escorts tell me that for the most part, the role they take is leading the men along by the hand, and they tell me the men are in awe of them. Not all— I believe Mariko (who co-authored our chapter in YMY) would have had different experiences.

    That’s an interesting topic, for sure.

    Thanks again for coming back. I am learning from you, even if we don’t agree.🙂

  15. eroticundulation permalink
    January 22, 2009 4:27 am

    Hi Ellen, and thanks for stopping by! (First, I would like to apologize for misspelling “effect” as “affect” in your quote from me above. I should have caught that before I published my post.)

    I think you just said Andrea Dworkin was just jealous of women who were getting more. I can’t think of a worse characterization of Dworkin’s work.

    No, I didn’t actually say that. I said that when some women discovered they were hurt by certain social processes, it laid the ground for MacKinnon’s and Dworkin’s success. Not that it was entirely a bad thing- without them we wouldn’t have something punishable called “sexual harassment”. I honor and applaud these women for that. But like the moral purity movement that came out of Josephine Butler’s campaign against the Contagious Diseases Act, I believe they went too far.

    I also wasn’t saying that the women who weren’t “getting more” were jealous. Yes, I believe there was a lot of jealousy, but the main harm was that women who had “come to terms with and were able to enjoy sex without expectations” were experiencing privileges in the leftist movements that the other women weren’t. Their “unpreparedness” meant that some were left behind or not given power in those movements.

    I think this is key, because women often hate other women who love sex for exactly that: privilege that they don’t feel sexual women should be entitled to if they aren’t.

  16. January 22, 2009 9:40 am

    This just gets better and better! (And I LOVE eroticundulation!)

    I would like to add that after the end of my long-term relationship last spring, I wanted to find a male escort. In fact, I still do. (I’m picky and don’t have enormous discretionary income — hence I’m still not a client.) The reason? It’s not because I can’t find single men in a bar or on CraigsList, it’s because I have a need I feel is best fulfilled by a professional who will take care of me completely without burdensome demands seeping into my life. I feel such an incredible man deserves my respectful tribute (i.e. money) for his efforts.

    This may be commdifying him — I don’t feel it is. If a man is offering himself (and I can afford him), then I’m quite happy to be a client and play by his rules so that he can give me what I’m seeking. It’s a trade and the agreements are mutual.

    Are there more and more women out there like me? I believe there are. I’m of a generation where sexual freedom was a given. There is still plenty of whore stigma to combat but I’m ready to take the next step in my experiences as an escort and become a client.

    Perhaps 20 years from now there will be a more equal number of men for women as there are women for men. Human beings have needs and there should be no shame or problem with either side consenually sharing (at cost) what they value.

    XX

    PS: I just woke up. This may not be completely cogent.

  17. eroticundulation permalink
    January 22, 2009 12:07 pm

    Wow, thanks, Amanda! I love you too!

    Please let me know if you ever find that professional fellow. I found someone I want to contact when I am next in LA:
    Armand

    There is also this fellow in NY:
    Daniel

    I think it is perfectly logical and acceptable to seek out professionals to help us when we have specific needs. Nobody thinks twice about hiring a mechanic to fix a car, a gardener to maintain the garden, a psychiatrist or counselor to help with a personal problem, or even an astrologer to help with decision making. Why can’t we hire a professional when it comes to sex? I personally think escorts cure far more ED than therapists. And sex therapists also outsource physical hands-on work to sexual surrogates.

    If somebody is single and has a sexual issue, how on earth are they expected to work through it without another human? That’s like learning how to give a massage online.

  18. eghead permalink
    January 22, 2009 11:37 pm

    I don’t agree with everything Dworkin and MacKinnon said, and not everything they said is representative of the anti-sex-work feminist movement. So it’s not necessary for me to defend their points, but I will anyway just to clarify.

    When Dworkin talked about penetration being violent, I don’t think she meant to imply it was an act of violence. She seems to be using ‘violent’ in its secondary sense, as in “acting with or characterized by a strong, uncontrolled, rough force.” That describes, probably ,the majority of penetrative sex. Certainly the majority in pornography, no?

    But I think her larger point– and MacKinnon’s point with the ‘subject, object, verb’ statement– is that sex is often a socially constructed act; society affects how we have sex, and in a sexist (one might say misogynistic) society, this is how sex often is. Also, the most mainstream sex act, and I dare say the most popular, is PIV. That’s why she doesn’t address those other acts; that, and, from a sex-as-social-construct point of view, male-female sex reveals the most about gender relations.

    Neither one is saying that penetrative sex is necessarily bad, nor that women can’t- nor shouldnt- be the ones who do the ‘fucking.’ They are relating what they believe is the norm in society, and I don’t think either of us would disagree that men are mostly the sexual aggressors and penetrative sex is often strong, uncontrolled, and rough. No one is negating your personal experience, just saying that it isn’t the norm.

    This is what I think they meant, though I can’t be sure. I don’t mean to speak for them. Also, I don’t actually agree with either of those statements– they’re too strongly-worded and polemic for my taste. My basic point is that MacKinnon and Dworkin aren’t as crazy as you maybe think they are.

    On to commodification. That’s fine if you believe it’s okay, but please don’t make any analogies. People often do that, and it’s simply a logical fallacy to equate sex with food or even childbearing. Sex is unique in its psychological complexity and is really not like anything else we do. It’s for this same reason that sex crimes are so viciously heinous; they screw with a person psychologically the way nothing else can. (Not saying they’re necessarily worse than other experiences, just unique in the kind and complexity of trauma they cause).

    Yes, the commodification of male sexuality is growing, but it in no way comes close to equaling, in kind or number, the ways in which female sexuality is sold. Noting that there are lots of male escorts available for MEN actually proves my point. It is still the men who are in control, and it is often said that many Gay/Bi/Trans men are feminized in regards to their social status. This is especially true with GBT male sex workers, being bought by men with higher social status. Either way, there just isn’t evidence to suggest male-female sexual commodification are remotely equal or will be any time in the future. Plus, sexualizing males isn’t really the answer to the problem (at least in my opinion).

    In regards to sex workers and violence–
    again, analogies don’t work here. Assaulting a woman is in no way similar to stealing a stapler. What I meant when I said sex work sometimes leads directly to violence is that, by officially selling your body to a man, you give him control. Yes, it is temporary, yes it is (for the most part) neither complete nor actual, but for many men it gives them psychological control. Men with violent tendencies who may otherwise keep themselves in check when society insists women are their equals can lose it when they believe they literally own a woman. It should not be like this. I believe in advocating for sex worker rights to stop this perception. However, so long as a woman’s body is on the auction block, it will be hard to ever do away with such violent incidents.

    Of course I’d never blame the women for being attacked! I have no clue who would do that, but they’re not a feminist– at ALL. It is ALWAYS ALWAYS the attacker’s fault and the blame should remain with him, and the pressure to change should remain with him.

    Yes, we do disagree about sensuality. I think BDSM is harmful, if not psychologically for the participants, then, again, on a broader sociological scale. I don’t believe it is healthy, but I’m not going to tell freely consenting adults what I think they should do. When I say ‘freely consenting’, I do not include sex work. An agreement based on a transaction does not equal true emotional and sexual consent to me.

    Furthermore- and this is a new point I’m making- few sex workers are like you. I am making the assumption that you have freely chosen what you do and you truly like it and it is not damaging to you. Most sex workers, however, get involved in the industry for one or more of the following reasons: 1) Drugs 2)Economic hardship 3)Force and/or coercion 4)they were born into it 5)mental health issues, including an unhealthy view of themselves or their sexuality due to previous abuse or neglect (i.e. trauma re-enactment compulsion.) This means they are not freely consenting, and it also means that sex work is psychologically harmful for them. Since such a huge percentage of sex workers fit into the previous category, it needs to be outlawed. That is my POV.

    One more thing- the problem with any job based on looks is that… looks fade, and they do so reliably, and relatively early in a person’s career. Just one more thing for women to consider before becoming sex workers… if they are choosing freely.

    I’m glad to have this discussion with you, and of course I don’t think you’re less of a feminist

    P.S. One last point to address- escorting is sex work, not just because it is sometimes a cover for prostitution or sometimes leads to propositions for prostitution, but because it is based on the woman’s sexuality. If she weren’t sexually alluring, the man wouldn’t hire her. Yes, this means I consider certain modeling sex work, but that’s a topic for another time.

    P.P.S. As to the very last thing you posted about how to resolve a sexual issue without another human….. find another human. Don’t buy one.

  19. January 23, 2009 12:01 am

    Love your assumptions that sex work is all looks-based (any sex worker can tell you it isn’t — one of the first lessons learned) and that the client is in total control because of the money changing hands. That’s a male fantasy, generally not reality. And love how you aren’t even comfortable with BDSM for free!

    Basically, if someone doesn’t have sex like you want them to, they’re damaged/harmed or causing harm. What a narrow world it would be if we all agreed with you.

    PS: Seeking sexual answers with another human is still all about humans connecting. Money does not change the humanity of either party. That’s a dangerous and sick delusion.

    PPS: Oooh, recommendations!🙂

  20. eroticundulation permalink
    January 23, 2009 1:53 am

    Eghead, thanks again for coming back.

    I am glad you don’t agree with MacKinnon or Dworkin. At least we have somewhat common ground there. I don’t think they are crazy, I just think they took things too far, and too many agreed with them. I think that, in itself, was a huge set back for women in many ways. We have always been oppressed due to our sexuality, and their work has only changed who the oppressor is and why they are oppressing. If pre-Dworkin and MacKinnon I would have felt unable to freely express my sexuality because of socio-religious moralism and unreliable birth control, post- Dworkin and MacKinnon, I feel unable to express my sexuality freely because I might piss off some of my “sisters”. Sigh. Screw ’em all- I just have to live my own life. I die alone, not with them.

    OK- you make a lot of assumptions about sex workers, includng myself. I don’t personally see myself as incredibly unique. May I ask how many you personally know? And if you know them, is it a random acquaintance or is it because you work at some kind of a shelter? If you don’t know many, are you getting your information from “research” done on sex worker populations? Might I inquire as to what research?

    While I was at LSE I saw a panel on sex work with the following panelists:
    Denise Marshal, Director, Eaves Housing for Women
    Professor Liz Kelly, Director, Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University
    Martin Smith, GMB London Region
    Ana-Maria Lopez, GMB London Adult Entertainment Branch

    My professor there urged me to contact Purna Sen to be on the panel, as he thought I would make a great panelist. Being green about the “feminist” divide on sex work, I contacted her and of course, she declined. She said they had plenty of people on the panel already. So they had three anti-sex work panelists, one sex worker panelist, and a guy from the BMG (the British labor union). The three anti-sex work panelists all deal mainly with traumatized and abused women, which will necessarily make their viewpoints biased. It was such a sham. At the end of the panel, during questions and answers, I stood up and spoke about my own experience, explaining that in my 15 years of working, I had never come across the abuses they described. Liz Kelly insisted that my experience must have been unique because all the women she saw had been traumatized by sex work. After I explained that my 15 years had been all over the world, I pointed out the fact that the reason all the women she saw had been traumatized by the sex industry was because she is the director of a child and women abuse studies unit. I am not denying that abuse and trauma happen in sex work. I am simply questioning those who believe it is the norm and not the exception. Happy sex workers don’t make news.

    I wholeheartedly agree that ecorting is sex work, and I wasn’t saying anything to the contrary. I think Brittney Spears is a sex worker too. All make money off their sexuality. But again, I see nothing wrong with that. I think they are smart to capitalize on their goddess-given assets as people with other assets (intellect, athletic ability, etc.) do without censure.

    In regards to seeking sexual help with others…you know, sexual relationships with other humans tend to be complicated by overblown social demands of both parties, leading to more dishonest couplings than honest ones. Men lie to get women into bed. That’s not healthy. When I discovered dancing, I thought through the implications of what I was doing, and at its worst, I reasoned, it could be thought of as a form of prostitution. I reasoned that through, and decided that the act of exchanging sex for money wasn’t bad. I couldn’t think of a single reason it would be bad, except for peripheral issues, like drug abuse, abusive clients, etc. None of those issues were relevant to me (don’t do drugs and the bouncers at my club would protect me if anyone ever tried to harm me- which they never did), so I embraced my work and made it a career. And, I decided, the exchange of sex for money was the clearest, most honest relationship I could imagine. I was 21, and was used to being told any number of bizarre things by boys and men trying to get me into bed. If they’d just handed me some cash, no harm, no foul! So a simple exchange of cash defines the terms for everyone concerned, with no expectations or strings. Just like a therapist.

    Also, to address the assumption that a man has power over you when you are being paid- I believe most sex workers will disagree. Amanda has said elsewhere on this blog that her clients were more often than not shy, and she had to lead them thorugh by the hand. In my own experience in strip clubs, as I have said before here, men were more likely to be the disempowered ones in our exchange. Never underestimate the power women have over men. And if only all women would realize that and stop being so silly, we’d eliminate the patriarchy a helluva lot faster en route to a partnership-based society.

    by officially selling your body to a man, you give him control. Yes, it is temporary, yes it is (for the most part) neither complete nor actual, but for many men it gives them psychological control. Men with violent tendencies who may otherwise keep themselves in check when society insists women are their equals can lose it when they believe they literally own a woman. It should not be like this. I believe in advocating for sex worker rights to stop this perception. However, so long as a woman’s body is on the auction block, it will be hard to ever do away with such violent incidents.

    Only people who simply have no experience with sex work say that women sell their bodies to men who think they own them. This just simply isn’t the case! Sex workers sell services or performances to men who pay to experience them. Violent men will become no less violent if we all stopped working as sex workers.

    And What if men ALL had to pay for sex? What if no woman ever gave it away? Do you really think that suddenly we’d all be raped continuously? That would be the logical conclusion to that line of thinking.

    I have several friends who are sex workers in many areas, some in BDSM/Fetish work. I now regularly ask them how often they get requests for pro-sub work, and so far in my straw poll, they are overwhelmingly telling me that this request is extremely rare. The one I asked yesterday said in the several years she’s been working, she’s only had two requests. All others were straight escort clients or domination requests. She said she gets slews of those. I have a friend who is even advertising as a pro-sub, but hasn’t yet gotten any business for it. She continually gets domination requests, which annoy the hell out of her (“can’t they read??” she asks).

    The more I ask, the more my suspicions that men who wish to dominate are rare in sex work are confirmed. I will keep asking all my friends.

    Yes, looks do reliably fade, as do physical capabilities. So should we advise women and men to rethink entering a career in sports or modeling? I think the answer is to eliminate silly laws and stigma around sex work so people like Amanda can teach sex workers how to properly plan for their financial futures.😉

    Thanks again, eghead, for coming back. I do think this is a productive conversation even if we aren’t changing each other’s minds.🙂

    Amanda, do let me know if you go there before I get to!😀

  21. eghead permalink
    January 25, 2009 2:45 am

    I had to check back here before I went to bed, because I am enjoying this exchange– I’ve never been able to discuss these issues with a pro-sex-feminist before directly. I do appreciate you taking the time to reply. It’s late though, so I’ll give a more thorough response tomorrow. I just felt the need to reply to Amanda–

    I’m being very respectful here, and I’m sorry if you think I’m trying to be patronizing or something; I’m not. I’d appreciate it if you treated me with the same respect. I said neither that sex work is “all looks-based” nor that the client is in “total control”. Painting me as some sort of repressed or evil feminist may make it easier for you to rebut me, but it also makes your rebuttal irrelevant– the person you’re arguing with isn’t there! The rest of your comments aren’t even worth responding to directly. Please re-read what I wrote before if you don’t understand why.

    G’night.

  22. eghead permalink
    January 25, 2009 2:46 am

    P.S. I use the term pro-sex because I realize it’s how you identify yourself/ves. Doesn’t mean I want to be known as ‘anti-sex’!

  23. eroticundulation permalink
    January 25, 2009 6:28 pm

    Hi again, eghead! I look forward to your next post.

    I was rereading your post, and came up with more thoughts:

    Sex is unique in its psychological complexity and is really not like anything else we do. It’s for this same reason that sex crimes are so viciously heinous; they screw with a person psychologically the way nothing else can. (Not saying they’re necessarily worse than other experiences, just unique in the kind and complexity of trauma they cause).

    Yes, it is unique. But eating is nothing like listening to music or seeing a therapist either, so all things we do that heavily involve our senses and our psyche are necessarily unique. As you pointed out above, sexual crimes are heinous, but not necessarily worse than parental beating. I would argue that parental beating and other physical abuse from parents screw with a person psychologically, and are unique in the kind and complexity of trauma they cause as well.

    Furthermore, I would also argue that sex itself is overly complicated in our society, and those complications make it burdensome for too many people. The people for whom sex is burdensome, in turn, do not understand people like Amanda and me, for whom sex is indeed as complicated as eating food or playing a sport. The burdens of complicated sex give more power to those of us who are not sexually complicated in a sexual exchange (and unfortunately, most people for whom sex is not complicated are men- I address this next).

    Yes, the commodification of male sexuality is growing, but it in no way comes close to equaling, in kind or number, the ways in which female sexuality is sold.

    That’s because since about 3700 BCE women’s sexuality has been under attack on moral, religious and public health grounds. Previous to that, there is vast evidence that societies in many areas were arranged matrifocally with lots of sex for the sake of it, and sacred sex, and a focus on creativity and life-affirming ways rather than destruction and death. To thoroughly disempower women and the matrifocal arrangement, invading patrifocal societies (more focused on destruction and the power of death) had to systematically denigrate sexuality and lovingness. This was done through changing the female gods and heroines of myths and folklore to male gods and heros, and eventually by deeming women carnal creatures with whom coupling meant deviating from godliness, and in numerous other ways. So for 5700 years, women have had to watch their sexual Ps and Qs, while men have had very little sexual censure.

    In our own time, mothers teach daughters to only have sex with someone they love, completely ignoring the fact that a 14-year-old girl is going to be clueless as to the difference between feelings of love and feelings of sexual arousal. So she will think she loves a boy (or convince herself she does) in order to give herself permission to be sexual with him. Meanwhile, the boy is taught very little about sex, save for an enlightened parent who may mention using condoms. He goes into the world with his goddess-given libido, but learns he has to lie to girls to get sex. When he’s accomplished his goal of getting into her panties, off he goes to find someone else. Meanwhile, she’s devastated because the relationship turned out to be nothing like she imagined (concocted in her mind). (Imagine how different things would look if women were taught about the pleasures of sex and that it doesn’t always have to happen with someone you love, but it could be someone you merely like— male or female— with whom you share mutual respect, and who makes you wet!)
    After being sexually repressed for so long, we can’t be expected to suddenly blossom into sexually free butterflies with the advent of the Pill. We need to get used to our sexual freedom. And we need to keep demanding equal pay for equal work! Then, once we get used to our sexual freedom and have discretionary income, we can take more advantage of sexual services available to us. Porn for women, after all is the biggest growth sector in that industry. That has to say something.

    What I meant when I said sex work sometimes leads directly to violence is that, by officially selling your body to a man, you give him control.

    We do not sell our bodies. We still have them when we walk away.😉

    for many men it gives them psychological control.

    Can you show me evidence of this? Because in my own and my friends’ experiences, this is very far from the truth. We have psychological control.

    Men with violent tendencies who may otherwise keep themselves in check when society insists women are their equals can lose it when they believe they literally own a woman.

    But men do not think this in sex work contexts, at least not anywhere I have performed it. I speak from my own experience, but also from the fact that I have met and shared rooms and work space with hundreds of women in various parts of the business over the years.

    Yes, we do disagree about sensuality. I think BDSM is harmful, if not psychologically for the participants, then, again, on a broader sociological scale. I don’t believe it is healthy, but I’m not going to tell freely consenting adults what I think they should do. When I say ‘freely consenting’, I do not include sex work. An agreement based on a transaction does not equal true emotional and sexual consent to me.

    To be a sex worker, one consents to the work it entails, as much as one consents to serving patrons at a restaurant if one takes a job as a waitress. But in sex work, in most instances, the workers get to choose their patrons. I never had to dance for someone I didn’t want to. And Amanda never had to have sex with someone she didn’t want to.

    But here I will ask you this: in our society, how often do women have true emotional and sexual consent to having sex with someone? How often, for instance, do women have sex with a man just to keep him around? How often do women’s own senses of inferiority to men demand that they make constrained sexual choices, or even marriage choices (i.e., settling for someone because they believe nobody else will love them)? I guarantee you that it is far more often than sex workers have to have unconsensual sex with someone. I can also guarantee you that the men they marry feel more ownership of those women than any sex worker patron in the US feels.

    Furthermore- and this is a new point I’m making- few sex workers are like you. I am making the assumption that you have freely chosen what you do and you truly like it and it is not damaging to you. Most sex workers, however, get involved in the industry for one or more of the following reasons: 1) Drugs 2)Economic hardship 3)Force and/or coercion 4)they were born into it 5)mental health issues, including an unhealthy view of themselves or their sexuality due to previous abuse or neglect (i.e. trauma re-enactment compulsion.) This means they are not freely consenting, and it also means that sex work is psychologically harmful for them. Since such a huge percentage of sex workers fit into the previous category, it needs to be outlawed. That is my POV.

    I actually became a sex worker because I desperately needed the money. I was working three jobs at the time- I was a hostess at an upscale restaurant, a make-up salesperson at a department store, and a waitress at another restaurant. All of those jobs put together didn’t cover my $375/month apartment and living expenses. I never had electricity (my neighbor connected me to his by an extension cord because he was worried that my candles would set fire to the place), and I was on the verge of getting evicted from my apartment. So was it a free choice? Is taking any job truly a free choice?

    Once in the job, however, I fell in love with it. It was the best possible job I could imagine. If I were to invent a perfect job for myself, that would have been it.

    Going back to the numbers of women in sex work who do not— according to your definition— freely choose it, I ask again how you have this assumption.

    Also, many cleaning people and factory workers would rather choose other forms of work. Barbara Ehrenreich showed how dehumanizing housekeeping can be, and there are all kinds of research on how repetitive tasks demanded from factory workers can be physically and mentally harmful. Should we outlaw those jobs? Criminalizing the worker only makes them a criminal. It does not solve any of their psychological issues- it only adds to them.

    And how is sex work more harmful than other jobs? I know professors and lecturers who feel overworked and exploited, moreso than many sex workers have ever felt. As for psychological harm, I believe dentists have the highest rates of suicide of any profession. Should that be outlawed?

    In defense of Amanda, she’s not being disrespectful. She’s being short, and there is a difference. I can’t blame her, because we sex workers always seem to be on the defense when it comes to the rest of the world, so it is even more exhausting when we have to be on the defense against feminists (with whom we often identify, until we get slapped down by them, and then feel betrayed by them.). And you did say that sex work is looks-based, not making the distinction between all or some, leaving the reader to presume you meant all:

    One more thing- the problem with any job based on looks is that… looks fade, and they do so reliably, and relatively early in a person’s career. Just one more thing for women to consider before becoming sex workers… if they are choosing freely.

    So to ask Amanda’s statement as a question: From a philosophical stance- do you think that if someone doesn’t have sex like your vision of how it should be done (and please expound on that if you wouldn’t mind- we know you don’t like transactional sex or power play) that they’re damaged/harmed or causing harm?

    Again, I look forward to your next post! I am also enjoying this exchange because we are actually having a great conversation. I hope it leads to clarity and demystification of each other’s position. Please don’t take offense at Amanda’s tone- it isn’t personal. Just know that you’ll likely get this from sex workers who feel beleaguered by people we feel should be supporting us- or at the very least- not dismissing us.

    And Amanda, in defense of eghead, she did say “I don’t believe it is healthy, but I’m not going to tell freely consenting adults what I think they should do.”

    (of course, eghead, you then threw in, “When I say ‘freely consenting’, I do not include sex work. An agreement based on a transaction does not equal true emotional and sexual consent to me,” which is very insulting to us. It negates our agency and infantilizes us.)

  24. eghead permalink
    January 25, 2009 9:43 pm

    **Please note- I use the female as the default sex worker and the male as the default customer because this is mostly how it is, and I’d like to save some space with all the he/she’s. I do acknowledge, however, that the genders are sometimes reversed

    Ok, I’m back!

    First and foremost, I think I need to address the issue of proof. This seems to be the root conflict between pro- and anti- sex-work feminists: who has the right proof to support her views. Each accuses the other of not having the right ‘experience,’ of using the wrong sample pools or only looking at data that supports her views, etc, etc. I want to devote my life to sex-work research in order to help resolve such evidence-based disputes. I want to help collect such definitive, non-biased, broad-reaching data. I’m not looking to support my own agenda, either; I just want the truth, whatever that may be, and I want to use it to help women however I can. At present, I’m still an undergrad, so, no, I haven’t done any research myself. My stance on sex work at this point comes from what I’ve read, and, to some extent, from first-hand experience. I am open to contradictory evidence and ideas, and my views are always evolving.

    Having said that, I don’t think proof/experience/data should be the big conflict it is. Here’s why:

    Only one of the two major arguments against sex work is rooted in contested evidence. This is the sociological argument, the one that says that sex work harms women as a whole, indirectly. This is what Dworkin and MacKinnon were most famously concerned with. They and I both agree that allowing for the commodification– and often manipulation– of our sexuality through sex work negatively affects women’s standing in society. It’s for this reason I fundamentally, philosophically oppose sex work. If I come across more convincing evidence to the contrary, I am certainly open to changing my mind. However, I believe in the sociological ramifications of every action. I think we constantly need to consider how our actions influence society, because society will, in turn, influence individuals. This is why Dworkin and MacKinnon’s imposition on your sexuality (IMHO) is a good thing– they’re trying to get you to worry about how your sexuality might affect your ‘sisters.’ I guess we disagree about what the impact of sex work is… or, it seems, whether or not that’s even a necessary thing to think about.

    For me, it is necessary to think about, because it directly ties into the second major argument against sex work. This second argument is what I think we can both agree on. It doesn’t need any exact evidence– it’s obvious. It’s only the link between the two that needs more definitive proof, but I’ll get back to that in a second. For now, let’s look purely at reason #2: Sex work harms certain individual women psychologically. We should therefore be against sex work in those cases (not ‘anti-sex-work’ per se, but anti-certain-sex-work).

    The women I’m referring to here are those who ‘choose’ sex work only in the most narrow sense of the word– desperate women who see the sex industry as an option of last resort. These are mentally ill women, drug-addicted women, impoverished women (and, of course, men– to an extent). We’re talking about the world’s most vulnerable and socio-economically disadvantaged people. They become sex workers because they feel they have to, not because they really want to (I can’t stress this enough). Every time they have sex, then, they are not psychologically consenting. They are raped, repeatedly, several times a day. It is not akin to working a minimum wage job in a factory, however dangerous. It is akin to being raped to survive.

    The reason I say we don’t need specific evidence is that we all know a good portion of sex workers fall into that category. It doesn’t matter exactly how many; it’s too many. Their sex work negatively affects them, and we can all agree on that. Where things start getting controversial is when we make the link between sex-workers who choose the work willingly and women who are essentially forced into it, the link between the ‘indirect’ sociological impact and the ‘direct’ psychological impact of sex work. Here’s the link: by willingly engaging in sex work, you portray it for your customers as a choice. It IS your choice. But it is not a choice for many women, and it is often impossible for a customer to make the distinction between who really wants to be doing it and who doesn’t. Encouraging him to patronize the sex industry is encouraging him to patronize the entire sex industry. People should not patronize the sex industry because they can never tell who doesn’t want to be involved in it.

    It’s important to note I’m not talking about trafficked women anywhere in here. That’s because it’s possible to combat trafficking. It’s very difficult to combat what is essentially ‘self-trafficking’. We can form outreach groups to help women out of the sex industry who feel they have no other options– in fact, it’s something I support. But it’s not a solution. The only solution is to refuse to help these women be raped by refusing to patronize them and refusing to encourage others to patronize them… while simultaneously offering them a way out.

    I am not saying you are personally responsible for the pain and suffering these women endure. I’m saying that, philosophically, I believe we are all responsible unless we are actively combatting the problem. In my opinion, working to increase the stigma of patronizing sex workers is actively combatting the problem. I am not trying to repress your sexuality. Rather, I am in favor of such social pressures– be they from Christian conservatives or anti-sex-work feminists– because they prevent all of the mentally ill, addicted, and impoverished women who are essentially forced into sex work from being even more widely patronized. Any time a man reconsiders having sex with a prostitute- for whatever reason- it may mean one less rape. That’s a huge victory, in my mind. I’m sorry that your career is a casualty of that.

    Until our world is in such a state that all sex workers are truly willing participants, sex work is not something I can in any way support. Even then, I wouldn’t support it for fear of the sociological implications of selling sexuality, but that’s kind of a different matter, one that certainly does require research. Right now, the reason why everyone should be anti-sex-work is to discourage rape.

    I hope this finally clears up my position. We can certainly still disagree, of course. I know I didn’t answer all of your specific objections, and this post will no doubt generate more. I just hope you can see that I am coming from a place of concern– and logic– and not a twisted, crazy anti-all-sex agenda. If you want to continue the discussion, please feel free to e-mail me: eg8919@yahoo.com Otherwise, I think I’ll leave it at that; I’m gonna be hella-busy these next few weeks.

    Peace and love

  25. eghead permalink
    January 25, 2009 9:50 pm

    I posted that before realizing you posted again! I hope it addresses some of your questions, though I realize it leaves some open. If you do want to continue, again, feel free to e-mail me.

  26. eroticundulation permalink
    January 26, 2009 2:58 am

    Hi eghead, thanks for the post. I am going to put this here, because I think it is a good thing to keep on this blog, but I will also probably email you to connect privately as well. I am interested in your desire to research sex work, and perhaps we could do something together along those lines.

    I do wish you’d post answers to some of the questions I raised, because I will only find myself asking them again.

    But I have to say that I hope you rethink your position. I completely understand where you are coming from, and I get that you are a caring, loving woman who is concerned about her sisters. But you’ve also got to realize that your stance is very simplistic, and ineffective. To save the few you would disempower the many. This does nobody any good.

    According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, “each day, more than 600 families call [them] to escape from family violence.”
    And according to the CDC in 2005*, “Each year, IPV [intimate partner violence] results in an estimated 1,200 deaths and 2 million injuries among women and nearly 600,000 injuries among men.” And the Bureau of Justice stated that “On the average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.”

    Liz Claiborne Inc. Teen Relationship Abuse Survey 2006, said:

    1 in 4 teens (24%) reported feeling pressure to date; 14% said they would do almost anything to keep a boyfriend or girlfriend.
    Fully one-third of 16-18s (33%)—and 31% of teens who have been in a serious relationship—reported that sex is expected.
    Almost half of teens who have been in a relationship (47%)—and 55% of those who describe theirs as serious—have done something that compromised their own values in order to please their partner.
    3 out of 5 (61%) said that they’ve had a boyfriend or girlfriend who made them feel bad or embarrassed about themselves.
    30% reported worrying about their personal physical safety in a relationship.
    20% of those who have been in a serious relationship have been hit, slapped, or pushed by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

    So according to these statistics and your viewpoint, we should be outlawing relationships between men and women period. Of course, that’s not practical. So why pick on sex workers?

    Not only that, but what you’re saying is that some psychologically damaged and vulnerable people do sex work, which further damages them psychologically, so it should be outlawed. So by your logic, because most suicides in a given profession are committed by dentists, dentistry should be outlawed before sex work. Or is rape more of a concern to you than suicide? Remember- many dentists are women. Not to mention the fact that prostitution has been illegal in most of the country for around 100 years, but it still happens.

    The early prohibitionists tried to prevent alcoholism and drunken abuse by outlawing alcohol, and look how far they got. A winery does not an alcoholic make.

    Wouldn’t it be better, in your opinion, to work on increasing better-paid economic opportunities for women than trying to eliminate sex work? I ask again: Why pick on us?

    * All the other statistics quoted I found here, too, unless linked elsewhere.

  27. eroticundulation permalink
    January 26, 2009 3:10 am

    One more thing:

    Nothing will change as long as women are not free to express their sexuality as they want to- including selling sexual services if and when they choose.

  28. June 19, 2009 4:21 am

    interesting article!.. thankls for sharing. really nice blog too😀

  29. malena permalink
    June 25, 2011 12:48 pm

    Once again, very late to the party, but I now understand what you meant about giving sex for free promoting male entitlement to a woman’s body when I read what you wrote about men lying to bed women. I can definitely see how prostitute-client relationships can be more honest and a better experience for both parties because of the money involved.

    I guess this did not occur to me initially because I’m not the kind of woman a guy has to lie to so he can have sex with me. I’m your “easy” woman – I’ll sleep with a man if he appeals to me and/or if I’m very horny. LOL. I can usually see through men’s lies, and I get better with experience. If a man lies and he still appeals to me? I’ll sleep with him anyway. But he must know that I want his body and not his promises. And just as you discovered that the sex worker-client relationship can actually be honest and respectful, I have discovered through promiscuity that good men actually exist.😀 Okay, I’m rambling now. I just thought I’d share. Once again, I enjoy reading this blog. And the comments.🙂

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