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Paris Hilton: Spokeswoman For The Commodity Model

January 9, 2009

I’m reacting to what Jill wrote about what Paris Hilton said:

“I’ve only ever done it with a couple of people. People make up stories, but mostly I just kiss. I think it’s important to play hard to get. Nobody wants the fake Prada bag – they want the brand new bag that no one can get and is the most expensive. If you give it up to a guy he won’t respect you. He’ll want you much more if he can’t have you.”

As Jill noted,

There is a sweet irony in Paris becoming something of an abstinence-only spokeswoman. Her Prada bag fits right in with the peppermint patties, roses, band-aids, and cups of spit used to represent women’s bodies in abstinence-only classrooms, where we teach kids not only that having sex makes you a big dirty whore, but we have to trick men into marriage by tempting them with an expensive, brand-new hymen in a vacuum-sealed vadge — a vadge that can be all theirs for a one-time payment of a big diamond ring (at no less than three months’ salary).

(Links omitted)

This is not the first time Hilton has talked like this. I recall around 2005 she said something similar about encouraging her younger sister not to have sex, complete with Fendi bag analogy. I can’t find it now, but then at least she managed not to mangle the analogy, comparing a new bag that nobody could get to last year’s that everyone (in her social circle) already had.

I make a lot of use of the analogies between sex and property in my Yes Means Yes essay, “Toward A Performance Model of Sex.” I say:

We live in a culture where sex is not so much an act as a thing: a substance that can be given, bought, sold, or stolen, that has a value and a supply-and-demand curve. In this “commodity model,” sex is like a ticket; women have it and men try to get it … This model pervades casual converstaion about sex: Women “give it up,” men “get some.

YMY at p. 30.

As Jill notes, Hilton’s handbag analogy sounds a lot like the abstinence movement analogies, where women get used up. As I wrote:

This view … makes sense only if the property is not a fully renewable resource. A cow keeps giving milk. But the abstinence proponents tell us that a woman’s commodity is not as valuable later as it will be when she first offers it: Like olive oil, the “extra virgin” is worth a lot more, and the stuff from the later pressings is of an inferior grade.

YMY at p. 31.

The interesting thing about the abstinence line of thinking is that, if they really buy their own line (instead of being misogynists pushing it to clamp down control on female sexuality, which is surely true of a lot of folks), then they see themselves as advocates for women: they are urging women to make the best possible trade. I expect this is where Hilton’s head is at. She has no place in her head for women’s sexual agency; just for women’s sexuality and its place in the market. What she says may be the best world she can imagine.

(Readers familiar with the essay, or the comment thread at Feministing that generated it, know that I propose instead that the better model for sex is as a collaborative performance, like music or dance — the participants learn from each other and get better, rather than being lessened. This model has a number of consequences which are, in my view, all positive, such as eliminating heterocentrist, penetrocentric and cis-sexist assumptions.)

Part of what leads me to think this is where Hilton’s head is at, is her remark to the Rolling Stone that “My boyfriends always tell me I’m not sexual … Sexy, but not sexual.” Well, there you go. It’s all in service of men’s desires, not her own. If that’s how she is, can it be surprising that she buys a model of the world where sex is a woman’s product and stock in trade rather than a way of interacting in service of her own desires?

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2009 11:42 am

    This is a completely random comment, I know, but cows only continue giving milk if one continues milking them, just as a woman will (generally) continue to lactate as long as the child is nursing.

    I’m not sure how this works for your metaphor, mind.

  2. John permalink
    January 9, 2009 12:35 pm


    just read this after writing my comment to your antioch post – my impression is that your post with respect to the no-means-no, shifting the burden of consent issue is precisely this – you seem to think of female and males sexuality along the exact same lines Paris Hilton does even though you argue the opposite (unless I completely read you wrong).

    “It’s all in service of men’s desires, not her own. If that’s how she is, can it be surprising that she buys a model of the world where sex is a woman’s product and stock in trade rather than a way of interacting in service of her own desires?”

    You do realise that you’re assuming a lot about her desires that you don’t really know about, don’t you?

  3. January 9, 2009 1:06 pm

    Eh, neither here nor there. The important thing is that the abstinence lobby wants women to believe that they will be “used up,” which is even more an anti-sex notion than the old saw about free milk and buying the cow.

  4. January 9, 2009 1:37 pm

    No, John, I’m taking her at her word. I’m interpreting her quotes.

    In fact, you completely misread me. Having read your comment on the Antioch thread, I am not surprised. My entire essay is about why the way Paris Hilton sees the world is wrong, and different model is right. If you missed that, you are either incapable of or averse to reading what I actually wrote.

  5. eroticundulation permalink
    January 9, 2009 6:59 pm

    It all comes back to whore stigma, which is part-and-parcel of the commodity model of sex. All women, whether or not they take money for sex, are terrified of the whore stigma. Only when women’s sexuality is truly free from this will we all be free, regardless of gender.

    We (women) all have a knee-jerk reaction to whore stigma. As soon as someone even remotely accuses a woman of sexual transgression, she immediately comes up with evidence of her not being a slut, such as “I’ve only ever done it with a couple of people.” It is so sad that we have to come with disclaimers for our sexuality! Ugh. Why can’t Paris revel in her sexuality?

    Thomas, you’re still my favorite new hero.

  6. earlgreyrooibos permalink
    January 10, 2009 5:43 pm

    This is a completely random comment, I know, but cows only continue giving milk if one continues milking them

    In my experience, if one does not continue to milk the cow, the cow goes out and buys a vibrator and milks herself. 😉

  7. eroticundulation permalink
    January 10, 2009 6:36 pm

    I LOVE it!!!! 😀


  1. An Example of the Commodity Model of Sex « Damned Hippie

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