Sorry, Sex Workers.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

As an essayist, you take aim at certain people, and find others get caught in the line of fire.  So it was when I wrote my essay, You Weren’t “Nice,” You Idiot, You Were BORING, which fired (correctly) at the sort of idiot who subsumes his entire personality in an attempt to get laid and then bitterly blames all women when his magnificently terrible plan backfires.  And in it, I said this:

You never respected those women the way you claim. If you did, you wouldn’t be writing vitriolic essays years later on what stupid whores they were.
Sorry, buddy. You were the stupid whore. You sacrificed your self-esteem, your opinions, and your labor, masquerading as someone you weren’t in a vain attempt to entice a client into your boudoir… and you couldn’t even manage to do that.

To which some people correctly pointed out that whoah, yeah, you’re using the language that those guys use, but that language is pretty mean to sex workers.
Aaaaand guilty.
So just to be clear: I’m sex-positive.  I’ve got lots of friends who do sex work of one sort or another, whether that’s camgirling or pro-Dommeing or even stripping (which is the source of an endless debate on whether stripping counts as “sex work,” but hey, for me it’s sexish work).  And for me, what they do is just another job – society places the accent on the “sex,” but I personally plop that accent firmly on the “work.”  Many love it, some are lukewarm on it but like the money, and some are looking for a better employer or a different line of work altogether.
As far as I’m concerned, yes, they’re selling their body, but so is the guy who scrubs toilets at McDonald’s, and often for less money.  I’m only really worried if someone’s stuck in a job they consider to be personally humiliating – to which the obvious rejoinder is “But sex work is inherently degrading!” to which I reply, “…and standing behind the McDonald’s counter while customers flick fries at you is empowering?”
To me, a lot of work is degrading.  It’s just that society only gives a crap if it’s degrading in a way that we disagree with.  If your boss at your “traditional” job yells and belittles you, and tells you that you should be grateful just to have a job, now go read the telemarketing script to angry customers in an attempt to rip them off, well, hey, that’s fine.  That dude’s a job creator!  He’s bringing lightness and profit to the world!  You should thank him for your paycheck!
But if someone decides to make money by taking their top off, whether they personally enjoy that or not, then suddenly that’s a horrible despicable thing that should be stopped.
Nah. I’m against workers feeling degraded, and I think pillorying sex work often obscures the very real problem that workers can be – and are routinely! – degraded in non-sexual ways.  And those workers, regardless of their career, should feel free to get out of those humiliations.
To me, if you’re okay with what you do, and nobody’s getting hurt, then I’m cool – and I think society should be, too.
(Which is why I’m not okay with the involuntary sex workers, of whom there are an unfortunate percentage out there, and as such I support whatever laws we as a society can create to quash this sort of abuse.  But I think, much like drug laws, that driving the process underground with humiliation and illegality merely encourages the process.  We can disagree in good faith on “What sort of laws/environment makes for the safest possible place for sex workers to function,” of course, but my end goal is that nobody’s enslaved to any job that they do not want.)
That said, I wouldn’t recommend sex work as a career to most people.  I liken it to professional football – it’s a body-based job where you can rake in a lot of money early on in your career, but chances that you’ll be earning that same cash in your mid-fifties is slim.*  (Not non-existent – fuck yeah, Nina Hartley! – but slim.)  If you are smart enough to get in, save a stockpile of cash, and transition out to another (possibly related) career so you’re set for life, then I say go for it – but between society’s shaming of sex work and the number of people who can’t plan financially, that’s often difficult to do.  It’s not bad work, but it takes considerable jiggering to make a career of it, if that distinction can be made.
Regardless, when I wrote “You were a stupid whore,” I intended to place the emphasis on the word “stupid” – as in, “You made all of these sacrifices in an attempt to sell yourself, and you sacrificed the wrong things.”  But thanks to surfing a lot of anti-sex-worker sentiment, what may have come across to a lot of people was the word “stupid whore,” as if whoring itself was so awful that the only people who would get involved in it were stupid.
Nah.  I know a lot of very smart women who sell their body on a regular basis.  I’m proud to know them.  And I’m sorry I tarred y’all with a bad brush.
* – Some would also say that, like football, the risk of a career-ending injury for sex workers is unacceptably high.  That depends on the type of work.  Not all sex workers engage in sexual contact – a lot of Dommes barely touch their clients, and many camgirls don’t come within a thousand miles of their clients.  So that parallel can be accurate, but is not invariably accurate.

1 Comment

  1. Matt
    Apr 29, 2014

    Intelligent, bold thinking. Well-delivered piece… I guess I’ve got nothing but a firm “thank you” for this fine read.

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