Saturday, January 15, 2005

Re"vamp"ing the Sex Worker Image

Hmm... a primarily second-wave biatch like me (though I know this second wave/third wave thing has been declared obsolete, and I agree) has got to have many thoughts on that article. But my favorite bit is this:
Clearly, the image of the hooker as street worker has changed. These women aren't ashamed of what they're doing and are propelled by a sense of empowerment along with the paycheck... I'm impressed with both their entrepreneurial spirit and the ways they force others to confront their stereotypes about sex workers. These are not people you'd ever know had sex for money unless someone told you. They look like any young, white, femme-y girl, dressed up for a night on the town.
Well gee whiz, thank God there's young, educated, privileged white women who choose empowerment through sex work, replacing the image of the poor, extremely-young immigrant that is trafficked or coerced into it against her will and hence feels "ashamed" (or perhaps just "stripped" of her agency??). That will do a whole lotta good by destigmatizing the workers and the industry -- no more victims; post-feminist era! Let's totally sweep under the rug all the horror that exists in the industry, and let's not analyze what it means for a woman to depend on a man's dollar in a society where women's work is fundamentally undervalued... unless it's sex work.

OK, not all immigrants or women of color who do sex work do so against their will, but this is probably the case in the majority of situations given the economic reality. So what implications does it have when a woman who has other options chooses this occupation to feel "empowered," but the industry as a whole is disempowering to so many other women?

Sometimes I really wonder about this "sex-positive" movement. I believe it's a misnomer, because the way it's often used, it really means "sex industry-positive," which then means "female-commodification-positive." Can I not support women enjoying sex whenever and with whomever, without supporting the marketing of female sexuality for the benefit of the male consumer?

I realize I am overly simplifying an issue that is in reality quite complex and nuanced. Post-modern subject/object deconstruction notwithstanding, the sex industry certainly can also encompass other sexualities with a different, less disturbing, less polarized power dynamic. But the majority of consumers are still straight men who have little respect for the women providing the work. Thus, while I believe in sex workers' rights and decriminalization (because any other way would have a devastating impact on the ability of sex workers to unionize or seek medical care or other services), I am not down with glamorizing the industry. Let's not be so quick to abandon a critical look at an institution that was birthed by the intersection of patriarchy and capitalism.

-gulab jamun
(personal blog here)

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