Sunday, 2 March 2014

Money for sex, sex for money.

Time for a little self-disclosure.

Women, has a man ever offered you money to have sex with him?

It happened to me, twice.

About 10 years ago I was heading home after working late.  My Sandy Hill neighbourhood features some dilapidated buildings offering single rooms for rent to students and other transients.  There's also city-sponsored lodgings and transition housing.  Two men schlepping a 24 walked past me, one of them trying to engage me in conversation, for the purpose of checking out whether I'd like to "party" with them.  When I expressed my lack of interest in them or their plans, the other man offered me money as an incentive.

I walked into the lobby of an apartment building and waited 30 minutes before I felt it was safe to go to my own house where I lived alone since my daughter had graduated.

When I was young and silly, I crashed a private party with a friend of mine. It was the 80s; the theme was Movie Stars and Hookers. The two of us - decked out in tatty Rocky Horror Show duds - dropped into a Victorian era townhouse in Ottawa, checked out the activities and left after an hour.  Yes, there was "free" food, booze and blow - but as I suspected, those came with an invisible price tag.

I had heard about the party from an acquaintance at work, which is probably how The Lobbyist found me.  Out of the blue, I got an invitation, via the colleague, to have lunch with a man who had co-hosted the event.  Intrigued, I accepted and thus caught a glimpse of a most unsavoury side of politics.

He offered employment; attached to the impressive salary were ambiguous tasks and responsibilities that could be described as networking and maintaining favourable private relations with Important Men.

I declined.

Now, radical feminists and abolitionists believe that all "good" women should be offended by men who offer payment for sex.  I wasn't offended, I simply didn't want to engage in that kind of work.  Nor do I wish to be employed as a registered nurse, a zoo-keeper, a short-order cook or an early childhood educator although I have benevolently taken on some of the chores involved in the work these professionals do, as part of my commitment and willingness to care for those I love.

Was I concerned for my personal safety?  Of course.  In the first case, I didn't want those two men to know where I lived.  As for the second offer ... Sex work is work.  Like being a professional athlete, there are physical risks involved.  

In the 80s, the feminist therapist Dr Helen Kaplan, "a pioneer in the field of sex therapy and founder of the country's first clinic for sexual disorders established at a medical school", advanced a savvy comparative analysis of the working conditions of prostitutes and professional athletes.  When religious moralizing and weepy calls to rescue victimized fallen women are removed from the equation, professional sex-work and sports-playing are remarkably similar.

Truthfully, there are disgusting men that most women would never fuck for love or money but are compelled and coerced to do so by religious, political or social reasons.  Fear of economic reprisals as well as the threat of emotional and physical abuse are also factors.  

These "clients" are called husbands.  I hasten to add, those particular husbands who feel entitled, by virtue of marriage, to use their wives as flesh-holes.

And, à propos de rien, are Toronto taxpayers footing the bill for Rob Ford's trip to attend the Academy Awards?  Since the Mascot Mayor won't be "eating at home", will his sponsor Jimmy Kimmel pick up the tab for Rob and his entourage's entertainment suite in Hollywood?

Also, read this and this about the Harper government's attempts to re-criminalize prostitution.


Námo Mandos said...

This is something I've never entirely been able to make up my mind on, possibly because my first exposure to feminist writing was via Andrea Dworkin and fellow-travellers. I suppose I'm not even remotely qualified to judge whether an...unenthusiastic wife and a trafficked prostitute are in comparable situations. I just know that a large part of the sex work/prostitution equation---possibly not all of it---is the demand side: the expectation on behalf of some men of immediate access to the female body unmediated and unameliorated by any social obligation other than a small amount of money, and the kind of entitlement feedback loop to which it contributes.

That's not an argument against decriminalization as such, but it's not clear to me that from the demand side, sex work is really analogous to other physical occupations.

deBeauxOs said...

There are many ways to view sex work.

The enslavement and trafficking of people in all areas of human activity is one urgent concern that desperately needs objective and compassionate examination, without religious moralizing and demonizing.

I'm still awaiting a thorough, accessible study of the capitalist commodification of sexuality which compares the travails of sex workers, lap dancers and porn performers with those of other work: professional, trades, arts, etc. while taking into account MASSIVE international economic injustices and corporate corruption.

deBeauxOs said...

If you're familiar with Dworkin's work, you may know that of her partner John Stoltenberg, whose interest in how masculinity is constructed and how that serves a purpose, hinted at the origins of men's expectations of being sexually serviced by women, hence the "demand".

Námo Mandos said...

I am aware of Stoltenberg, although I didn't directly read much of his work. And actually my reading of Dworkin was a heck of a long time ago now, so not all of it is in my head anymore, I must admit.

I'm still awaiting a thorough, accessible study of the capitalist commodification of sexuality which compares the travails of sex workers, lap dancers and porn performers with those of other work: professional, trades, arts, etc. while taking into account MASSIVE international economic injustices and corporate corruption.

This really is the key question: how comparable is sex work to all other forms of work. I have heard people refer to their (!!!) office jobs seriously as being analogous to prostitution. I agree that there is a little frisson of degradation whenever one works to another's benefit to put food on the table (especially when it is not one's favorite activity) -- the question is the extent to which different classes of labour really are different.

You're probably very aware of how often this issue blows up on the blogosphere. The "radical" abolitionist side views prostitution as having an effect on all women as a group, at least insofar as it is highly gendered and we don't live in a world with an equal number of male prostitutes catering to women.

deBeauxOs said...

Not only in the blogosphere. In real life too. There are fiercely-held views in all feminist communities about what to do about sex work.

It always ends in recriminations and tears and divisions.

Niles said...

Legalize sex work. Unionize sex work. Stop the silencing of people criminalized into serving the sexual pleasures of cilents who wish to maintain a society where they can control others' sexuality and morality without blowback on their hypocrisy.

Simultaneously, break poverty and the marginalization of adults and youth pushed into surviving through the one material asset available, their bodies.

Level it until sex work is a safe choice and not an alternative to dying.

deBeauxOs said...

Also, the professional training, accreditation and registration of sex work should be administered by those who have worked as providers.

Union fees will pay for the self-monitoring by the members of the profession who can also work as performers or with therapists.

All areas of human activity can be degraded if the bodies or minds of those thus employed are commodified and exploited.

Sex is a worthy, useful human activity, whether the outcome is recreational or procreational. It becomes a site for social and political control when religious ideology is promoted as a justification for the pathological and systemic abuse and exploitation of one group of people by another.

Post a Comment