sex work: fantasies as commodities, consent, and emotional labor
October 6, 2014 2:10 PM   Subscribe

"In my experience, the reminder that the sexual fantasy isn’t real, that the women who perform availability aren’t ACTUALLY available, that we aren’t ACTUALLY clamouring to be sexualized by men, that we control when the fantasy starts and stops, and that our performance is just that, a performance that requires compensation… well, some men find that hard to swallow."

Tits & Sass - “Getting Away” With Hating It: Consent in the Context of Sex Work
As an adult human being, I assume responsibility for my own best interests. Sometimes I decide those interests are best served by freely consenting to unwanted sex... My enthusiasm around work is rarely about the sex itself—though it sometimes can be, if the chemistry is right—but rather about the payment I’ll have afterwards. Maybe 20% of the time I truly hate the sex, 20% of the time I like it, and the other 60% is tolerating it, not minding one way or another but certainly not feeling overwhelmed with enjoyment. I show up willing; I don’t show up wanting. [...]

Then again, pretending is a substantial part of what I’m hired for and I usually oblige. Faking sexual pleasure makes my job easier. It makes clients happier, it makes them come faster, and it makes them more likely to see me again. Win/win/win. Every now and then, though, it’s one of my duties that I can’t or won’t complete. In fact, the clients who I have the hardest time doing my job with are the ones who make the biggest deal out of having my enthusiastic consent...

Explicit instructions that I be enthusiastic on top of being willing is one of the worst parts of the job for me. It’s the closest I ever come to feeling humiliated while working, because my enthusiasm in this case isn’t about me at all; it’s about their egos and their need to feel desired. But I’m a real human being, and my personal, authentic desires deserve better than to be exploited by a man I’ve just met. It’s easier for me to fake enjoyment with a man who assumes it, since I feel we’re both implicitly joining in on the fantasy that he’s bought. The man who must make it explicit, who needs me to initiate every time, who has to be told I want him—he’s the one who asks too much.
also at Tits & Sass -
*Is The Customer Always Right? On Professionalism and Boundaries, Part 1
*Is The Client Always Right?: On Professionalism and Boundaries, Part 2

Ravishly - Melissa Petro: Sex Work Isn't Consensual Or Exploitative—It Can Be Both

Boston Review: On the Job: Debating Sex Work (a review of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant)
To Grant, the empowered sex worker is just as fantastic as the victimized whore. She argues that we need to dispel fantasies of prostitution altogether, to resist seeing sex workers as either wholly exploited or wholly empowered by the work they do. Sex workers, as workers in any field, like certain things about their jobs and dislike other things. Sex workers should have, with everyone else, the ability to voice a complicated and ambivalent relationship to their labors. “There must,” Grant writes, “be room for them to identify, publicly and collectively, what they wish to change about how they are treated as workers without being told that the only solution is for them to exit the industry.” They must be able to talk about their working conditions honestly and openly, without having to fit their experiences into someone else’s fantasy of prostitution, and without fearing police surveillance and incarceration in response.
The Awl - "Do What You Love"—Oh, But Not That! On Recognizing Sex Work As Work (an interview with Melissa Gira Grant)

Tangled Wilderness - Luna Celeste: Grin and Bare It All: Against Liberal Conceptions of Sex Work
It’s the paradox of the self-employed radical sex worker to simultaneously resent and anticipate male sexual entitlement, to both privately condemn the objectification of women and perform/present in ways that are meant to encourage that same logic of objectification at work. My desire isn’t for a world full of hip alternative strip clubs, run by “sex-positive” or “radical” bosses, populated by Chomsky-quoting customers whose desire for “authenticity” necessitates an increasingly emotionally-invasive performance of enthusiastic consent. I want an end to all patriarchal-capitalist institutions that mediate our feelings of alienation from our own bodies and loved ones, and I don’t imagine that they can be reformed in any meaningful way that fosters mutually-healing, non-market human interactions. In order to avoid the pitfalls of reformist thinking that falls short of challenging these institutions themselves (or conversely, succumbing to a mentality that ignores those most affected by these institutions in favor of a counterproductive ideology that presupposes a false sense of class-cohesion), we need analysis of sex work, and labor generally, that is born from a synthesis of various anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist feminisms. This synthesis of thought must acknowledge that the cycle of “caring” can often play out in oppressive, destructive ways within inherently flawed institutions and systems, particularly with regard to marginalized, precarious laborers. “Helping” as a means to exert social power over us “for our own good” or the good of women as a class serves and strengthens the carceral/surveillance State and justifies its continued existence. We must additionally look beyond sex-positive leftist rhetoric around consent, consumption, and sex workers’ “rights,” to a more totalizing critique of capitalism and the sex industry.
Brown Political Review - Fracking, Stripping, Speaking: The Politics of Sex Work

Katherine Frank - Exploring the Motivations and Fantasies of Strip Club Customers in Relation to Legal Regulations (PDF link)

Harlotry (Cathryn Berarovich) -
*The Surprising Misandry That Comes From Being A Sex Worker: "It’s frustrating to not be able to tell my clients that the world does not revolve around them, especially since I sometimes feel as if I’m reinforcing their privilege by selling them an hour or two during which the world really does revolve around them."
*Why I Desperately Need Honesty In A World Where I Have To Lie Every Day: "In any service relationship, not least of all a relationship between a sex worker and a client, the exchange of money places a burden on the service worker to at least halfway pretend that they’d be providing the service whether or not they were being paid. A good waiter will pretend to genuinely care for the comfort of the people at his tables so as to get a superior tip, a good sex worker will pretend to genuinely want to suck, fuck, pinch, or poke her clients so as to encourage the client to return to her. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the waiter or the sex worker hates their job, it simply means they wouldn’t work for free."

Leigh Alanna (Tumblr header image might be considered NSFW) - reacting to an excerpt of "The Managed Heart" by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Put another way: as a society, we believe, very fundamentally, that we have an absolute right to the emotional inner life of *some* members of our society. Specifically, those in the working class and those living in poverty, and most especially the women in those groups. We resent paying for emotional labor, both because we expect it to be provided for free from those groups, and because we demand that, above and beyond this first ridiculous request, that it not be classed as work being done at all, because for the consumer, this cheapens the experience, whether it’s one of care, sexual interest, or enthusiasm...

This is why mainstream media has only two narratives for sex workers: the completely dissociated, terrorized coerced victim, and the “getting paid for orgasms!” empowered courtesan. Both are examples of workers who aren’t willfully managing their emotions, and are providing both their clients and the prurient onlookers (oh, sorry, helpful rescuers, my mistake) with the “really real” truth of their private emotional experiences. Both are identical cases, where the worker in question keeps nothing back for themself, does not shut the viewer out of any portion of themself that the viewer might casually want access to, whether for sexual gratification or ‘empathetic’ catharsis.
more by Leigh Alanna -
*thoughts on "are hobbyists allies?"
*"The demand that you share your private emotional experience with a client is always and foremost a tool of oppression."
posted by flex (127 comments total) 168 users marked this as a favorite
 
awesome post but if someone has a tag fetish.......
posted by lalochezia at 2:26 PM on October 6, 2014 [8 favorites]


oh this is a great and thorough post. i look forward to combing through it all.
posted by nadawi at 2:30 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah this is excellent. It always amazes me how little complexity many people allow into their viewpoints on sex work. They have no trouble realizing that someone working an office job or a service job in a non-sexwork industry might have complicated and ambiguous feelings about their work but somehow when it comes to sex work all that nuance disappears.
posted by Justinian at 2:48 PM on October 6, 2014 [8 favorites]


That's for sure. Those first three paragraphs quoted from Tits & Sass perfectly describe most jobs I've had as a working adult. Just replace "sex" with whatever those employers paid me to do. It's accurate right down to the employer demanding enthusiasm, and the humiliation of having to pretend you are glad that they are fucking you over.
posted by Longtime Listener at 2:58 PM on October 6, 2014 [33 favorites]


I also like the intersection of this post with the other FPP today about "enthusiastic consent". The author makes (from the second link in this instance) some excellent points. Which is one reason I like the term "active consent" rather than "enthusiastic". It gets the same idea across (that lack of a no isn't the same as yes) but without some of the baggage.

It's good when FPPs complement each other like this. Like Theme Days.
posted by Justinian at 3:15 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


The comic strip gets it wrong, as does so much of online feminism.

The men who say awful things about sex workers and act entitled to them do not actually feel or think that they are entitled. They are frustrated and feel insecure, because they are unable to get sex and affection absent social coercion. This makes them angry at women, who they feel have all the power.

So they *act* entitled, when in fact they *feel* helpless and powerless. This distinction matters, because these men need do not need to be blogged at for the umteenth time that they are privileged and shouldn't feel so entitled. What they need to learn is that they will only get genuine, rewarding female attention if they show women the same respect they would expect to be shown. Men who realize this quickly find that once women *like* them, they don't need to feel so helpless and powerless, and the urge to be an sex-worker hating jerk typically fades.

The urge to yell "don't be so entitled!" is completely unintelligible to these sorts of asshole males, and only induces heel-digging and more misogyny. But in my experience, they're surprisingly open minded when shown an alternate way to behave.
posted by andrewpcone at 4:46 PM on October 6, 2014 [10 favorites]


Isn't the very definition of "feeling entitled" to something being frustrated when you can't get it?
posted by bashos_frog at 4:53 PM on October 6, 2014 [34 favorites]


So they *act* entitled, when in fact they *feel* helpless and powerless. This distinction matters, because what these men need do not need to be blogged at for the umteenth time that they are privileged and shouldn't feel so entitled.

Entitlement is still entitlement, regardless of what's driving the underlying motivation.

A few years ago I was at a panel discussion where one of the presenters (I forgot if she disclosed any personal sex work history or not) talked about her current research being focused on trying to get sex work activism's focus less on the "sex" and more of the "work" - in other words, making it a labor rights movement. A lot of what she said is reflected up there - on how there is no space for ambiguity, no space to criticize elements of the industry without throwing the entire thing under the bus, no space for mixed feelings. Having the focus be on labor allows for attention to be given to their specific working rights - such as safety, protection from entrapment, ability to be paid a air wage, unionising, and so on - rather than get caught up in the philosophical questions around sex.
posted by divabat at 4:53 PM on October 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


bashos_frog: No, it's not. I can want something without feeling entitled to it. If that want persists, it becomes frustrating.

I don't have a lot of money. That frustrates me. A lot. I do not in any way feel *entitled* to more money. I just don't like that fact that I currently have less than I want.
posted by andrewpcone at 4:55 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


To clarify: I'm not frustrated that I can't get a Ferrari, but I am frustrated when I can't get decent service in a restaurant. That's because I'm entitled to good service, as part of the deal I have with the restaurant.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:56 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


As soon as my internet is reconnected and I can read on a larger screen, I will be digging into these links. The excerpts look great, nuanced and thought provoking.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:00 PM on October 6, 2014


Bashos_frog: It seems you're speaking from a position of a lot of comfort. When you're desperately poor (I'm not now, but have been), you are frustrated as fuck, ceaselessly and mercilessly so.

But the last thing you feel is entitled. In fact, you feel totally worthless, and barely entitled to even exist. You feel like you must be a total piece of shit, and that you should probably just die.

In this state, you are emotionally suggestible, and prone to childish lashing out. When an ideology comes along that says "you are entitled to EVARYTHING EVAR," it's promise of relief is so seductive that it's hard not to cling to it and shout whatever bullshit it hands you, no matter how stupid or vile.

That is what is happening with guys who say horrible things about sex work. To focus on the "entitlement" aspect misses the point, and suggests strategies that are pointless at best, and most likely counterproductive. We should see these people for what they are: men with broken narratives about women that *simultaneously* hurt and oppress women, AND preclude men from having satisfying relationships.
posted by andrewpcone at 5:02 PM on October 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm glad we decided to never again do that thing where we take really interesting and smart essays by women about consent and agency and feminism, and make the discussion all about how they could totes be reaching the misogynist dudes if they just used different terms and a better tone.

Right?
posted by Dip Flash at 5:31 PM on October 6, 2014 [82 favorites]


There are good and bad times to shout at people. I'm arguing this is a bad one. You obviously don't want to consider that, so you've decided to pull the tone-argument-argument so that we don't *actually* talk about how to solve problems, but instead play the same damn "I'm a better feminist than you" game.

The men mentioned in the article can be reached. You can reach them and help change their behavior. If you have any interest in doing so, have the courage and attention span to observe and consider what actually accomplishes that goal.

At the very least, don't derail people who do so.
posted by andrewpcone at 5:37 PM on October 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm glad we decided to never again do that thing where we take really interesting and smart essays by women about consent and agency and feminism, and make the discussion all about how they could totes be reaching the misogynist dudes if they just used different terms and a better tone.

Totally. If there's one thing that progressives fully understand, it's that the delivery of a message is absolutely divorced from its effectiveness. We should all just post tiny variations on "this is an effective presentation and I am totally against what the author is against" so that we don't sound like oppressors.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:41 PM on October 6, 2014 [9 favorites]


andrewpcone, there are certainly men who are lashing out at sex workers angrily, out of frustration and insecurity, when they say insulting things.

There are also men who refer to sex workers in an insulting manner just out of dismissiveness and yes, privilege. Blithe, unexamined, privilege which is reinforced as totally normal behavior. They're not embittered men who are incapable of relationships, they're "normal," "nice" guys with girlfriends or wives at home who just never stopped to think that those women on stage might be "normal," "nice" women.
posted by desuetude at 5:49 PM on October 6, 2014 [14 favorites]


But the last thing you feel is entitled. In fact, you feel totally worthless, and barely entitled to even exist. You feel like you must be a total piece of shit, and that you should probably just die.

I've been poor and I've been a frustrated man. This is totally wrong. If your psychological response to not having a lot of resources (whether financial or social or sexual) is "I'm totally worthless, I should probably die," then this does in fact spring from entitlement. If you actually just accepted that this was the natural order of things, that for whatever reason your lot in life was to not get that much stuff, then you might not be thrilled but there would certainly be no need for self-loathing.

There's no "shouting" in the comic strip or in any of the other links I've clicked through. People are just telling it like it is. Male egos are fragile because for a variety of complex reasons, men feel entitled to tons of shit, often things that are not reasonable for them to expect.
posted by leopard at 5:49 PM on October 6, 2014 [24 favorites]


At the very least, don't derail people who do so.

Are we allowed to derail to talking about the poor men who can't have sex for free, so let's explain their worldview in exhaustive and sympathetic detail as if we weren't all sickeningly familiar with their mindset?

If so I think we have that one nailed down.
posted by winna at 6:06 PM on October 6, 2014 [13 favorites]


so we meet again, metafilter. vex and I have been really surprised how this comic has gotten around, but we're glad it's generating so much productive discussion!
posted by robot-hugs at 6:21 PM on October 6, 2014 [31 favorites]


I am so loving the first Tits & Sass link, and I'm excited to read her other pieces.

A friend sent me the Robot Hugs comic the other day, expecting me to be all "Yay, feminism!", I think? And I wasn't. I tend to find "all sex work is empowering" theories or narratives to be lacking, and I tend to find "all sex work is violence" theories or narratives to be lacking. I like Charlotte Shane's and similar takes, along the lines of "It's a job, parts of it are exploitative, parts of it aren't," and those which seek to better working conditions for sex workers.

In my mind, in an ideal world, sex work wouldn't exist, or possibly sex work would be evenly split among genders (both clients and workers). Given the current gendered nature of the work, I have a hard time not seeing a lot of patriarchy underlying the entire concept. But my ideal world does not currently exist, and sex workers who do currently exist should have the right to be treated fairly -- financially, emotionally, physically, and otherwise -- so I support efforts in that direction.
posted by jaguar at 6:44 PM on October 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


Ha! That was bad timing. I do like Robot Hugs in general.
posted by jaguar at 6:44 PM on October 6, 2014


I saw this strip a couple days ago, and and it's an excellent "X for Dummies"-style explanation. I do hope it's generating productive discussion somewhere, if not here.
posted by uosuaq at 6:55 PM on October 6, 2014


The Katherine Frank paper was interesting.

Sex work always seemed mysterious to me -- how do people pretend the fantasy is real, and how on the flip-side, do they make the fantasy real without emotionally comprising themselves? It seems to me that kink (e.g. prodom) would be easier, as you're typically playing some kind of role anyway and perhaps more focused on the acts performed, but the aftercare feels problematic.

The paper is also distinguished in that it actually asks rather than guessing based on what people think is going on in other people's heads. There is a tendency in a lot of these kinds of discussions to fall back on easy descriptions ("men have fragile egos" "men are emotional and clingy") that sound like they could apply to anyone, and some pets.
posted by smidgen at 6:55 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


how do people pretend the fantasy is real

The same way people pretend anything else is real, I assume. I'm sure a lot of the people who wait tables, ring up my groceries, or do any other service profession actually hate their jobs and are not having a particularly good time. But we both pretend otherwise.
posted by Justinian at 7:20 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


I should say that we pretend otherwise at the time with people in service professions, as in when I'm eating at a restaurant or getting my hair cut or whatever. They smile, I smile, everybody is happy, great. Even if they hate their jobs and I am having a shit day.

But outside of that context it is important to recognize that people may be hating their jobs or suffering poor conditions and supporting reasonable policies to improve those conditions. Just as I support reasonable conditions to protect sex workers, including supporting legalization so that they may enjoy the full protections of the law which every other type of worker enjoys.
posted by Justinian at 7:23 PM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


There would seem to be a qualitative difference between pretending to be happy working at AppleBee's and pretending to enjoy something as emotionally fraught as sex. But then, perhaps for some people, sex isn't that emotionally fraught -- which again, I don't understand... but there it is.
posted by smidgen at 7:38 PM on October 6, 2014


Maybe you just don't understand how incredibly seriously I take my baby back ribs.
posted by Justinian at 7:53 PM on October 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


I'm glad we decided to never again do that thing where we take really interesting and smart essays by women about consent and agency and feminism, and make the discussion all about how they could totes be reaching the misogynist dudes if they just used different terms and a better tone.

Hi, random dunderhead guy here.

Aren't you supposed to tailor your message to be understandable to your target audience?
posted by Angleton at 7:57 PM on October 6, 2014




These were some pretty interesting essays. I'm looking forward to getting through the rest of them when I get home.

(It does remind me of my time working in porn publishing, where the kinky folks were all mostly people who would have been doing the same stuff on the weekends — and often were — and were just filming it, whereas the mainstream folks seemed like they were much more in the just-need-to-make-rent rut.)
posted by klangklangston at 8:18 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Aren't you supposed to tailor your message to be understandable to your target audience?

The what-about-the-men crowd can derail anything, so tailoring a message to them is aiming for a moving goalpost.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:03 PM on October 6, 2014 [19 favorites]


This is a masterful post. Thanks for putting it together.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:06 PM on October 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


Aren't you supposed to tailor your message to be understandable to your target audience?

THIS...IS...SPAMETAFILTER!

*kicks Angleton into a perfectly circular, nicely-paved, seemingly bottomless hole that we apparently keep there for just this purpose*
posted by uosuaq at 9:14 PM on October 6, 2014


To be fair Dip Flash, the essays were ALSO about misogynist men!
posted by zscore at 9:23 PM on October 6, 2014


The what-about-the-men crowd can derail anything, so tailoring a message to them is aiming for a moving goalpost.

Fair enough I guess (I honestly don't follow this kind of thing) but doesn't that just mean meaningful communication is impossible and, if so, why bother? Does the other side feel the same way?

*kicks Angleton into a perfectly circular, nicely-paved, seemingly bottomless hole that we apparently keep there for just this purpose*

Jokes on you! I like the cool and quiet down in the darkness. It's my happy place.
posted by Angleton at 9:25 PM on October 6, 2014


Okay, the problem with the "they're not bad, just lonely!' arguement is that it applies to the liberty of action of non-sex workers. Sluts like me deal with the same nonsense, and it's not pitiable, it's *frightening*. This is a symptom of controlling people- they are social cannibals. They might be hungry, but fuck'em, that ain't my problem.

I mean, there are some mental illnesses, borderline personality disorder in particular, that are marked by defective boundaries on the part of the sufferer. Persons with BPD typically offload responsibility for their own happiness onto others. The resulting emotional vampirism encourages destructive relationships and unstable levels of all good/all bad intensity. In the case of dudes feeling entitled to you it's a similar lack of boundaries- they fail to respect you as a separate whole person, just the thing that was supposed to make them happy.

I don't sell my body, but I still deal with stupid through to scary like this- (mostly) men who see me as denying them their due by being desireable but autonomous.

The nicest whine that I need to "give them a chance" while I risk the worst violating me, purely by being present. And these people, although a minority of men and women, demand I obey them in whatever capacity, from smiling and appreciating them to becoming their sexually available thrall.

And dare I express my sexual autonomy at all, for example dressing non-chastely or letting it be known I like sex- or expressing an interest in a partner and the predatory nonsense only intensifies.

I know it's not *nice* to put it this way, and my tone could be sweeter, but you know what? Imagine how you'd feel to be commanded to grin like an idiot, be impressed precisely the way someone insisted, spread 'em like it was your idea but according to someone else's standards and let them have unfiltered access to your vulnerabilities. You'd tell them to fuck off too, right?
posted by Phalene at 10:08 PM on October 6, 2014 [17 favorites]


The men who say awful things about sex workers and act entitled to them do not actually feel or think that they are entitled. They are frustrated and feel insecure, because they are unable to get sex and affection absent social coercion. This makes them angry at women, who they feel have all the power.

This is a poor premise from line one. The set of men who procure the services of sex workers is not at all limited to men who are unable to get sexual attention and affection in other ways. "Men who say awful things about sex workers" is not even close to limited to this category. Taken literally the latter is probably a very large majority of men, in fact.

Aren't you supposed to tailor your message to be understandable to your target audience?

Who do you think is the target audience of what, and why do you think that?
posted by atoxyl at 11:10 PM on October 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


I want an end to all patriarchal-capitalist institutions that mediate our feelings of alienation from our own bodies and loved ones, and I don’t imagine that they can be reformed in any meaningful way that fosters mutually-healing, non-market human interactions. In order to avoid the pitfalls of reformist thinking that falls short of challenging these institutions themselves (or conversely, succumbing to a mentality that ignores those most affected by these institutions in favor of a counterproductive ideology that presupposes a false sense of class-cohesion), we need analysis of sex work, and labor generally, that is born from a synthesis of various anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist feminisms.

Stuff like this is exactly why I didn't go with my original plan to be an academic.
posted by sfkiddo at 12:31 AM on October 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've heard the same "gross stripper" story told multiple times by the same guy (summary: stripper leaves brown streak on friend's pant leg) for different audiences, and the nuance and commentary changes the point of the story each time:
  • For other guys: Mostly a gross-out story in the tradition of "smell this moldy sock from my gym bag!"
  • For women on some occasions: I'm not a loser who needs to pay to see naked females; I'm better than that.
  • For women on other occasions: Don't feel threatened; I went, but I didn't enjoy it; this kind of woman is not an attractive woman.
The female audiences seemed to be just as important to the (male) teller as the male audiences. I suspect that is (or should be) the case with these discussions in general, despite the inevitable "but what about your [assume-the-only-important-audience-is-male] audience?" reaction in the discussion. The negative attitudes of other women might not be constantly, directly in the faces of sex workers like male attitudes are, but they also play a role in the dehumanization of sex workers.
posted by clawsoon at 2:34 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would argue that we DO expect this from other service workers. We DO expect therapists to listen to our problems outside of work, and we DO get weirded out when we see actors in "real life", and we most certainly DO get offended when we think that our waiters aren't actually thrilled to be giving us food. (As a teacher, I find it fascinating how many of my students are shocked/appalled that I have a life, live with my boyfriend, and swear. I teach adults).

The difference is that it's about sex, which makes it more emotionally fraught.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:59 AM on October 7, 2014 [11 favorites]


we most certainly DO get offended when we think that our waiters aren't actually thrilled to be giving us food.

Who's "we"?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:25 AM on October 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


If you have any interest in [reaching the men who do this], have the courage and attention span to observe and consider what actually accomplishes that goal. At the very least, don't derail people who do so.

This is kind of the equivalent of "if you're living in Tibet and you want to be nice to the American visitors, have the courage to learn English so you can meet any in case they show up". Which completely absolves the visiting Americans of any responsibility of trying to learn Tibetan themselves.

This article isn't trying to "reach out" to the men who feel entitled. It's alerting them to the fact that entitlement is an issue in the first place. To use my own analogy, it isn't trying to find help for the Tibetan visitor, it's trying to alert them in the first place that "hey, they don't speak English in Tibet".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:55 AM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'll admit that I prefer the various service employees I encounter during the day to seem cheerful, or to at least not bring in their "real life" issues to work. But I don't think anyone ever asks a waitress "You *really* enjoyed that, right? Bringing me the calamari was genuinely satisfying to you, better than your experience of bringing that guy his steak, right?"
posted by leopard at 7:24 AM on October 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


This disconnect of not wanting to care about the lives of service people or workers is a huge part of what I think it shitty about the world. Many of us really would prefer not to care about other people. That sucks.

You add that to a vulnerable part of life like sex and the dehumanizing way we EXPECT to treat and use each other-- even when the person we are using is being injured and needs humanitarian aid or financial support or resources for a genuine crisis in their life (or say SOMETIME OFF because they are ill, mentally ill, traumatized, coping with grief etc) and we don't want to be bothered to know, because then we would have that uncomfortable feeling that we should care, and we can't shake it easily because we know deep down, that it is what's right to do.

Living without integrity and making the truth of compassion within you disappear or pretending it doesn't exist-- the American Dream! Let others suffer and forget while they slave away into their own destruction. Just don't take those messy illnesses or family members dying, or domestic abuse situations, or death of dreams make it's way into your minimum wage shit job that doesn't even pay the bills or it will make people uncomfortable.

This shit, this dehumanized way of interacting with people coupled with a capatalistic and merciless system that is how we as INDIVIDUALS are CHOOSING... actively participating in creating suffering because we don't want to face it when it's in front of us, or that we need to play a role in fixing it both at the level of the larger support structures and at the community level of people right in front of us.

We don't have community life in our ... non-communities because we expect to not give a shit about the people right in front of us. And then wonder whey our communities are fractured and disconnected and inequality is thriving. It's because we have no values to each other and we want it that way. Yeah freedom! Freedom to leave the suffering behind and sneer about how inconvenient seeing their suffering is!

We should care about the people who grow and make our food, we should care about the people who make our clothes and our homes, we should care about the people serve us and make life as we know it better. We should want to know if they are ok, or what their needs are and we should be part of making sure those needs are addressed. And we sure as shit should care about people who we seek sexual satisfaction from. I recognize we take great pride in our nation that supports greed hate and disconnection and allows such things to thrive, but we will never successfully combat injustice or suffering unless we start realizing that we have a duty to live with values that reflect the human beings around us, and our role as a part within a whole.

It's so funny because people have this expectation that they have a RIGHT to the goods and services of others just because they have money, and those people have some sort of obligation to treat them like royality to recieve their cash, but they don't have the same assumption that they should treat others like royalty, whether they have cash or not. And yet the idea of love SHOULD be stronger than just based on someone's financial situation. We want love and care services, based out of genuine love because it is what makes life worth living, but while we want the love to be "real" not just a lie we believe because we are paying people for it, we live without that integrity to those around us... to GIVE real love... not based on money. To care for people financially simply because they need it and not because we can take something from them.

Cash does not prove you deserve something or that you should be treated like royalty. But we have created an entire culture of people who believe it does, not only because they get away with it, but because those values thrive at every level of our culture. To the point that people believe cash entitles them romance and love and sexual servitude without any obligation to the person you're taking that out of. Legalization will not fix this in itself, it's a deeper problem than just that and it absolutely needs to change.
posted by xarnop at 8:05 AM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think that most of us want to care about other people.

I think, though, that most of us have reached a nadir of frustration with systematic inequality, which makes it nearly impossible to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. And, as a result, we've hardened ourselves, because what else can you do?

None of us (unless there are some 1%ers reading MetaFilter) seem to have any ability whatsoever to force companies to pay a living wage, or to force society to provide basic healthcare, etcetera, etcetera.

And we're smart enough to realize that those things are enormously more effective in improving peoples' lives than just "caring". Emotional investment with no hope of meaningful change is exhausting. Because you know that this person you care about is going to go on having a shitty life after you leave.

For many of us, the best we can do is be kind to others and hope that SOMEHOW corporate America and the privileged will, for reasons that passeth all understanding, suddenly start viewing everyone as worthy of basic human dignity.

And we've seen how likely THAT is to happen.

It's not that we don't care. It's that we can't do a goddamned thing to change a thoroughly rigged game, and you can only take so much of that before you either go insane or check out.
posted by scrump at 8:48 AM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


Andrewpcone:

The problem with telling men that they can totes have the ladies if they just act better is that it's another way of reinforcing their entitlement. "You can have the girl, just perform Step A!"

Some of these men are completely unattractive in many ways, and no veneer will make up for that. They may never be honestly desired, and they need to accept and be okay with that and find some other way to live their lives without ladies.
posted by corb at 8:54 AM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


"It's not that we don't care. It's that we can't do a goddamned thing to change a thoroughly rigged game"

I don't think this is true. I think even if we're all poor if we actually stepped up to the plate to build communities that support each other we could combat this more effectively. The problem is people choosing to build these values and focus the little efforts they can afford toward building this.

I.e. changing the value that we have to have service with a smile, that "how are you" actually means "I don't give a fuck, smile and say something nice"... etc.

And I think that people have more than you give credit. It doesn't take a 1%er to have financial resources that go toward building up healthy communities, or to network and participate in building them with other community members. We're all limited but it's not all or nothing.

Just because we can't do everything, doesn't mean we should do nothing. Or that we literally have to harded our hearts to everyone around us and actually expect they smile when they are in excruciating pain just to please us while eat our fricking eggs, or get a fucking blow job for that matter.
posted by xarnop at 9:03 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of tribal communities that just decided everyone would eat no matter who did the hunting or gathering. I still think we could build up small communities around us with these values and work to build that into our larger structures as well. We act like government is forcing us to not care about each other and I'm not sure that we are participating in living out disconnected merciless values ourselves. Uniting and working together can be a great strategy to address poverty, it's not off the table as a strategy communities could build up amongst themselves.
posted by xarnop at 9:11 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


we most certainly DO get offended when we think that our waiters aren't actually thrilled to be giving us food.

Who's "we"?


Heh, got me there. The unwashed masses, I suppose. That was unattractive of me. *shame*

My students do seem to think of me as a robot that powers down in her office after class, though.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:12 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


flex! You are peerless and I cannot applaud your efforts enough. This might be my favorite FPP of all time. I've been digging into each link with immense interest and pleasure, although I can't read a single one of them at work. Meaningful, nuanced critiques of the leftist "sex-positive" viewpoint are, imo, desperately needed and this post has them in spades. The robot-hugs and Leigh Alanna links in particular are exemplary. What says the hivemind?

The comic strip gets it wrong, as does so much of online feminism.

Oh no.

...these men need do not need to be blogged at for the umteenth time that they are privileged and shouldn't feel so entitled. What they need to learn is that they will only get genuine, rewarding female attention if they show women the same respect they would expect to be shown. Men who realize this quickly find that once women *like* them, they don't need to feel so helpless and powerless, and the urge to be an sex-worker hating jerk typically fades.

No, what they need to learn is that there is literally nothing they or anyone can do in order to reliably extract attention and affection from anyone else. What they need to learn is that they are literally never owed anything by anyone -- no matter how nice they are, no matter how respectful they are, no matter how much women *like* them.

There are countless men who very sincerely believe themselves to be perfectly upstanding gentlemen when their actions, as viewed by anyone but them, indicate that they are actually misogynistic as all get-out. These same men will deny their internalized misogyny to the ends of the earth, all while blithely continuing to label themselves as prototypical Nice Guys and insisting that women who do not provide them with the sexual favors they believe they have done/said/cared enough to deserve -- read: feel they are entitled to -- are frigid bitches, crazy, and/or lesbians. Ask how I found out. Ask how I've been finding out for the past, oh, 25 years.

Women are people, straight up. We are not puzzle boxes or ATMs that will automatically dispense units of attention or affection once you figure out the right PIN to enter.

Trying to teach men to be nice to women specifically in order to be rewarded with attention and eventual extraction of the Sex TreatsTM that are waiting inside us all, as opposed to teaching them to be nice to us because we're HUMAN and it's good to be nice to your fellow humans, does absolutely nothing to disabuse them of the notion that as long as a woman continues to deny you her Sex TreatTM, there's still an amount of wheedling, complimenting, and/or convincing left to be done.

The urge to yell "don't be so entitled!" is completely unintelligible to these sorts of asshole males, and only induces heel-digging and more misogyny. But in my experience, they're surprisingly open minded when shown an alternate way to behave.

Oh, that's nice. See, in my experience, "these sorts of asshole males" adamantly refuse to listen to anyone who isn't a) a man who is consciously or subconsciously invested in maintaining the patriarchal standards and privileges to which he has long grown accustomed or b) a woman who is seamlessly and relentlessly deferential to a). So I wonder what it is about you and me that has led to us having very, very different experiences in this arena...

Aren't you supposed to tailor your message to be understandable to your target audience?

I realize that men are raised from birth to universalize their lives and experiences, but men are not always the target audience for every piece of writing, even when those pieces of writing appear to be about men. Sometimes women enjoy speaking and writing about our experiences on the receiving end of male entitlement and patriarchal oppression because it helps us realize that we are not alone in our experiences, and that other women can and do suffer under the same bizarre standards. Sometimes we're not trying to change minds or win hearts at all. Sometimes we're talking about our lives and experiences, and men's thoughts, feelings, and opinions on the matter have absolutely no relevance whatsoever. Sometimes, like in this post.
posted by divined by radio at 9:38 AM on October 7, 2014 [36 favorites]


But I don't think anyone ever asks a waitress "You *really* enjoyed that, right? Bringing me the calamari was genuinely satisfying to you, better than your experience of bringing that guy his steak, right?"

Because she wasn't nude, and you weren't engaged in the most intimate of human acts, aside from surgery or childbirth or murder.

Sex works sells a fantasy which - momentarily - fulfills a need hard-wired into the human soul, the need to touch and feel desired. And then we say - flip the switch bub, none of this was real and it's only because you had the cash. But the need was real. And I suspect that fosters more resentment than the waitress who feigns interest in whether your steak was actually cooked to your liking or not.
posted by kgasmart at 10:08 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I do agree with you kgsmart, but it also brings to light something about the way we talk about "hard-wired needs" as being important or therefore valid.

The need for food, shelter, and social status, and emotional support without having to hand out sex to receive them are also hardwired into the "human soul" and somehow we discard peoples needs for these things even though they are hardwired needs and probably even more essential for basic survival than sex.

So the fact that men see these feelings they have as NEEDS that MUST be attended to, but whether the sex worker has reliable food or shelter, or the means to care for her children or her health, is not their business is a huge imbalance in how we look at the validity of needs.

Many women (and men) are hard wired to feel vulnerable and need long term care and commitment in sexual relationships and the woman is expected to discard all of her own needs and feelings to supply the man with orgasms and then disappear regardless of how much repeatedly doing that damages her. But going without food or shelter is even more destructive than going without sex because it can lead to death, disease, permanent disability and damage to functioning that may cripple later attempts to meet survival needs.

The fact that men can overlook all those extremely compelling needs in a woman and still be thinking "but I have NEEDS! For SEX!" is a symbol of a very sick way of thinking all too common in our culture. Women have needs too. Pressing compelling needs that are even more important than a man's need for orgasming using the body of another. Women have needs to be held and wanted and cared for, and our culture tends to focus on sexual needs as somehow more pressing and valid and "biologically based" than any other powerful types of emotional needs.

(I'm talking with the terms men and women simply because these are the dynamics that are common to the ways we often treat people and behave by gender, not because I actually think things must be contained within each gender in this way or that the concept of gender isn't so fluid as to be frustrating to use as binary terms to begin with).

It's just so frustrating that we can see sex as a "biological need" when there is no more proof of that then there is proof that my need to have a male protector and provider be present in my life as a long termlife partner is hardwired and therefore primal and real. I think there are such a thing as needs that exist beyond cultural training but they are intermixed with our ideologies and social conditioning and we need to be willing to challenge what we think about them and who we treat as having a valid type of need. Needing medical care, emotional support for a crisis, housing or food, education and training to gain better employment, or resources to maintain social status and health, these are extremely pressing needs in a way that orgasming while someone pretends to like you is not actually a survival need however much it might feel like it at the time.

The system is designed to provide sexual service and emotional servitude to those with power because those with power have the means to command it be so. They don't HAVE to command they get a blowjob for helping someone else flourish financially, they just are ABLE to abuse their power in the situation to get what they want (not NEED) so they do. Then call it a need to feel better about the horrific abuse of power going on.
posted by xarnop at 11:16 AM on October 7, 2014 [9 favorites]


Sex works sells a fantasy which - momentarily - fulfills a need hard-wired into the human soul, the need to touch and feel desired.

There are needs and there are needs. The need for sex/contact is on a different scale from the need for food. Meaning: you may suffer as a result of not having sex, but you won't actually die the way you would if you were deprived of food.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:24 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


And another thing - when people speak of the "needs" men have when it comes to sex, no one seems to bring up the point that if this is a human "need", then there are plenty of women who are also similarly deprived but none of these needy men seem to be going after the women who are similarly needy - they are instead targeting women who are just fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:26 AM on October 7, 2014 [14 favorites]


The need for human contact and at least some interaction is pretty fundamental. Sure, you won't die in 4 minutes like going without oxygen or 4 days like going without water but that's a pretty high bar which essentially every other need in life can't pass. I do think it's fair to say that men and women (as you point out) have a need for physical contact which, in going without, leads to an unhealthy life and in the long term can cause very real harm.

Failing to be satisfied with that aspect of one's life is no justification for being awful to other people any more than going without any other need for some time would justify it. But there's no need to downplay the very real human need either to make that point I think.
posted by Justinian at 11:53 AM on October 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Nice post! I am still working my way through all the links, but this really leaped out at me so I thought I would share it with the thread.

Amanda wrote
I wish more people viewed boundaries as the healthy things they are. Instead, girls seem to be brainwashed by hobbyists that “boundaries” are bad things and get in the way of fun. Everyone’s boundaries are going to be very different, of course, but no one should be in this business without having some. A downside of sex work is that it usually takes a bad experience for you to discover boundaries you didn’t know you had. The flip side of that is you get the opportunity to take these lessons to real life, where there are huge benefits to having firm boundaries and a sense of self.
posted by misha at 12:08 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


But there's no need to downplay the very real human need either to make that point I think.

The point is that this need is typically played up in arguments like this.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:08 PM on October 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


The level of need is extremely relevant when discussing survival sex work (which is only one type of sex work) but a very common form of in a community without a safety net that is providing the needed resources for people to flourish in a healthy way. And the idea that purchasers who are exploiting vulnerable people who don't have access to BASIC survival needs and claiming they are doing it because "sex is a biological need" are completely missing the level of power imbalance and ignorance involved in making these two forms of "need" equivalent in a trade dynamic like this.

To me, the needs of those who ARE caught in a form of survival sex work due to a lack of support networks and resources, need to be a big part of the discussion which the "empowered sex worker" narrative leaves out and in a capitalist country like the US, the pressing financial needs of struggling people are going to be up there in a lists of reasons people are choosing sex work. The person who finds that sex work is their desired career (and who may be do it for a living and to survive but chose it out of many options and feels ok about it) is certainly worthy of recognition as a part of sex worker activism but I have literally been in conversations where women who were talking about how damaged sex work left them were shouted down by people who didn't want that story to make sex work look bad, or saying hurtful things like "Why should anyone care if you made bad choices for yourselves, you learned it doesn't work for you now don't say anything bad about sex work"

And it's really frustrating to watch. I would prioritize the needs of the very vulnerable and those who feel trapped FIRST personally, over the needs of what choice sex workers are wanting advocacy for. I love this post because it contains writings from all over the spectrum and sex worker voices which are all very needed from the huge multitude of individual feelings that make up sex work advocacy and voices making their way to the general community.
posted by xarnop at 12:21 PM on October 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


Because she wasn't nude, and you weren't engaged in the most intimate of human acts, aside from surgery or childbirth or murder.

Sex works sells a fantasy which - momentarily - fulfills a need hard-wired into the human soul, the need to touch and feel desired. And then we say - flip the switch bub, none of this was real and it's only because you had the cash. But the need was real. And I suspect that fosters more resentment than the waitress who feigns interest in whether your steak was actually cooked to your liking or not.


All this talk about "need" and "touch" and "intimate" seems to dance around the issue that men are generally very concerned with the physical attractiveness of the sex workers that provide them services. But I guess it'd be harder to avoid the issues of entitlement if we mentioned that.
posted by leopard at 12:33 PM on October 7, 2014 [9 favorites]


And it's really frustrating to watch. I would prioritize the needs of the very vulnerable and those who feel trapped FIRST personally

I agree with this completely, just as I think we should prioritize the needs of (for example) those Amazon warehouse workers in awful sweatshop conditions over the needs of Jeff Bezos. Unfortunately I think many people draw precisely and exactly the wrong conclusions about how to go about doing that.

"These harsh laws and penalties are making life horribly difficult for the most vulnerable, therefore the only reasonable thing is to make the laws and penalties even harsher and to enforce them more broadly. Surely that will work!"
posted by Justinian at 12:35 PM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


All this talk about "need" and "touch" and "intimate" seems to dance around the issue that men are generally very concerned with the physical attractiveness of the sex workers that provide them services.

Is there any factual reason to believe people are more concerned with physical attractiveness of sex workers than with romantic partners? I'm not sure that's obvious to me.
posted by Justinian at 12:38 PM on October 7, 2014


I think they prioritize them equally, but it makes it obvious it's not just about "A need for sex/emotional intimacy" and more about "a need for sex that makes me feel good about myself by being with a very attractive person who normally would not go out with me."
posted by corb at 12:40 PM on October 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Just to be clear, that's not where I was going with it!!! I agree with you that is a horrifically horrific norm in how our culture deals with "helping" sex workers. Ugh. I am 100% behind decriminalization on sex worker end. Commercializing and making completely legal given the way commercial businesses are handled concerns me, but I don't have a firm position on full legalization, I would want the decisions about that to prioritize those who are vulnerable.
posted by xarnop at 12:41 PM on October 7, 2014


In general I'm pretty skeptical about "decriminalization" of, well, anything. It always strikes me as combining some of the bad aspects of both prohibition and legalization without all of the benefits. But that's probably something for another time.
posted by Justinian at 12:49 PM on October 7, 2014


I'm not sure I see how having attractiveness as major component of ones sexual desire cheapens the need for emotional intimacy as well. They are intertwined. Life is not a fairy tale.
posted by smidgen at 1:07 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter if men are more superficial in a sex work context. My point was that this whole line of discussion seemed to be designed to keep people from acknowledging the obvious role of male entitlement. Even more perniciously, it was suggested that male resentment stems from sad pathetic loneliness, and not from a value system in which a man's status is intimately tied to the power that he has over women.
posted by leopard at 1:09 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Xarnop, I hear you, and don't disagree so much with what you are saying in your last comment, but I think we probably would come at the problem in very different directions.

I feel that many, maybe even a majority of the problems sex workers have in America stem from the hypocrisy with which their profession is viewed here. We both fetishize and pathologize sex, building up even the first sexual encounter we have as this ultimate experience, while simultaneously looking askance at sex that doesn't fall within narrowly defined parameters. My kink is fine, yours is not, etc. Transactional sex does not fall within those parameters. Providers of sex for money are seen as trashy, predatory, or damaged. Clients are seen as pathetic, exploitative or creepy.

Because we are not accepting of their work, in the sense of recognizing and legalizing their profession, sex workers are less likely to be empowered here, or even just accepted as contributing members of society. Devaluing them in that way makes their work more difficult and disallows them protections that would add to their safety and security, perpetuating the cycle.

In my ideal world--and one of the women says as much, I think it was from Harlotry--sex work would be as accepted as any other profession, and sex workers would be viewed much the same as plumbers or construction workers are. Sex workers provide a valuable service, some are better than others, and they charge by the job (also, no one tries to convince a construction worker to stick around after his shift's over because the caulk is just so great to work with, or complains to their plumber that she didn't provide the Full Bathroom Experience).
posted by misha at 1:10 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wish to purchase a ticket to live in your world, misha.
posted by Justinian at 1:14 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Smidgen, of course emotional intimacy is important to people. It just doesn't explain why a man will tell a woman to smile and then explode with a "fuck you, you ugly bitch" if she blows him off, or why men make derogatory comments about strippers.
posted by leopard at 1:14 PM on October 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


It doesn't matter if men are more superficial in a sex work context. My point was that this whole line of discussion seemed to be designed to keep people from acknowledging the obvious role of male entitlement. Even more perniciously, it was suggested that male resentment stems from sad pathetic loneliness, and not from a value system in which a man's status is intimately tied to the power that he has over women.

This is what's known as a difference of opinion. People are entitled to have them.
posted by misha at 1:17 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's just your opinion, man.

Always a good signal of a strong argument.
posted by leopard at 1:19 PM on October 7, 2014


It does explain part of it, but it is not sufficient to explain it all (as you're saying). Those men have to be entitled *and* be seeking something they feel they are entitled to. If it was just one of the other, it wouldn't make sense.

Anyway, I was just disagreeing with the particular point that somehow requiring some level of physical attractiveness means that (aha!) there isn't *really* any emotional intimacy sought after all -- which is really just too simple.
posted by smidgen at 1:21 PM on October 7, 2014


@scrump
This 1%er told the penultimate ceo of Target several years ago at a shareholders meeting that holidays( the one in question being thanksgiving ) were for families, not business. IMO, if he'd bothered to listen to me the security breach would have been far less severe.
posted by brujita at 1:22 PM on October 7, 2014


This is what's known as a difference of opinion. People are entitled to have them.

Some opinions are stronger than others.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:22 PM on October 7, 2014


leopard: You understand that you're making assertions too, not arguments? I mean, I don't necessarily agree with the other side but it's not like you're not doing the same thing.
posted by Justinian at 1:22 PM on October 7, 2014


No Justinian, I don't understand, was your last comment an assertion or an argument? Please translate it into mathematical logic and then get back to me. Until then I'll reserve my "right" to mock "everyone's entitled to their opinion" as a lame rhetorical move.
posted by leopard at 1:36 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


[Let's let the back-and-forth go and return to the subject, please. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad at 1:49 PM on October 7, 2014


Failing to be satisfied with that aspect of one's life is no justification for being awful to other people any more than going without any other need for some time would justify it. But there's no need to downplay the very real human need either to make that point I think.

I entirely agree with this and will even go so far as to say it would be unfair (to sex workers) to dismiss the idea that what they do could actually be important. But a.) we've got links right here that address this from actual experience and b.) trying to figure out exactly what it is the clients need vs want doesn't begin to address why the people who provide it get treated like shit or what *their* needs are or very much at all really.
posted by atoxyl at 1:53 PM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think that whole "waitresses don't have to put up with this crap" line of reasoning really does not fly. I am routinely polite to service people and, when I am a regular somewhere, they roll out the red carpet -- because a lot of people treat anyone in any service industry like absolute shit. I mean this is very well documented and an awful lot of people comment on this (anywhere but this thread, apparently). No, they don't have to put up with "You enjoyed delivering my steak more, didn't you?" but, seriously, service industry people are routinely treated in a really crappy fashion.

That doesn't at all mean it is okay for sex workers to be treated like shit. But acting like waitresses are respected (or something) sounds totally out of touch with reality to me.
posted by Michele in California at 4:56 PM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


There was an FPP a while back describing how employees at a boutique (or chain?) in New York City were essentially mandated to be super happy and forced to "enjoy it" in many of the ways described in the links. Like you got fired if you let the mask slip for an instant. This thread reminds me of that; it really sounded like an awful and disheartening way to have to work.
posted by Justinian at 5:02 PM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


it was suggested that male resentment stems from sad pathetic loneliness, and not from a value system in which a man's status is intimately tied to the power that he has over women

Could be both, surely. If you wanted to get all deep about it, you could even argue that being born into the entitled class and winding up without the things you're supposed to be entitled to can lead to sad pathetic loneliness because of the ingrained expectations. A vicious circle.
posted by uosuaq at 5:12 PM on October 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think the Tits and Sass interviews on professionalism touch on MiC's point about waitresses and other emotional laborers getting treated like crap too - with just a question of degrees of awfulness. From part 2:
" The sex industry is patriarchy turned up to 11, but patriarchy is still like a 9 everywhere else."
posted by janell at 7:15 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think one of the issues being brought up here not just for sex-workers - who don't owe their clients anything more than their purchased labor and don't owe us anything at all - but for all of us is the issue of being in a society which demands compliance to a norm and sincerity in that compliance simultaneously.

A lot of employees who serve the public have appalling experiences with people who are entitled, rude, and sometimes even violent. Not Always Right and Customers Suck are full of examples of people - customers and employers - who expect not only enthusiastic service but also the appearance of sincere enthusiastic service.

At it's fundamentals, it's about the people in a position of power wanting the illusion that helping them and doing things for them is the deepest wish of the hearts of anyone who serves them. It's a common sexist trope (the heart-of-gold-prostitute who gives the main character in a form of fiction a 'freebie' or the wife who is deeply thrilled to wash the laundry of her husband because it allows her to bask in his holy dirt) and a racist one (the cheerful black man who loves being a slave, the black woman who loves her master's children more than her own) which attempts to disguise the inequality by reassuring those in charge that the people who serve them want to, which means it is just that they are in charge.

This shows up most starkly in the more intimate forms of service like sex work, where those in charge are at their most vulnerable, and is an interesting counterpoint in a variety of Upstairs/Downstairs style dramas from England, where the attempts at difference and the illusion of benevolence by the employers had to be laid on more thickly because how entwined the lives of employers and servants was. Gosford Park plays with this a little through the roles of the Americans, one of which attempts to be on both sides without understanding both why the sides exist and how he is himself reenacting the same odious entitlement when he attempts to rape one woman and attempts to seduce another because he expects every woman who gets near him must want to have sex with him.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:43 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


There was an FPP a while back describing how employees at a boutique (or chain?) in New York City were essentially mandated to be super happy and forced to "enjoy it" in many of the ways described in the links. Like you got fired if you let the mask slip for an instant.

At first I thought that might be the thread on SoulCycle, but scanning it, no. Was it about some sandwich chain? That seems right, but I've been trying to remember the name for five minutes with no luck.

Ah hah! Found it — it was about Pret a Manger.
posted by Lexica at 10:01 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


"There was an FPP a while back describing how employees at a boutique (or chain?) in New York City were essentially mandated to be super happy and forced to "enjoy it" in many of the ways described in the links. Like you got fired if you let the mask slip for an instant. This thread reminds me of that; it really sounded like an awful and disheartening way to have to work."

One of the reasons why I would like to reduce the number of sex workers is because I think that it suffers from a magnification of a lot of the problems of capitalism and exploitation. As such, I tend to think that all of the policies that reduce unemployment generally would be the best way of getting people who don't want to be sex workers out of sex work — my placard would read "Take the 'job' out of blowjobs."
posted by klangklangston at 10:49 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ah hah! Found it — it was about Pret a Manger.

That's the one! Not New York though. Guess I misremembered.

"You're such a goooood customer! Everything is wonderful! Don't send me to the cornfield!"
posted by Justinian at 11:31 PM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


As such, I tend to think that all of the policies that reduce unemployment generally would be the best way of getting people who don't want to be sex workers out of sex work — my placard would read "Take the 'job' out of blowjobs."

A lot of sex worker rights activists I know are trying to pull the focus back onto the "job" part - labor rights.
posted by divabat at 7:42 AM on October 8, 2014


A lot of sex worker rights activists I know are trying to pull the focus back onto the "job" part - labor rights.

Right, but as has been pointed out, the ostensibly non-sexual parts of the service economy aren't any better about demanding affective labor. Hetero sex work, if not all sex work, stands at a nexus of multiple types of entitlement -- patriarchal, racist, and classist -- and talking through the exploitation of sex workers reveals continuities between forms of male privilege and sexual entitlement and other exploitative labor practices.

But I tend to think, personally, that it's perhaps impossible to commodify desire at all without feeding into those mechanisms. Whether I imagine a society in which male identity is not predicated on the exploitation of women as objects of male desire or I imagine a service economy in which the client no longer lays claim to the worker's affect, I cannot be sure that this is not so radical a shift that it simply makes sex work incoherent at its core.

Is there a sex-work utopia, and if so, what is the nature of the work done, the service consumed, the client experience? If access to and direction of a "feminized" (in the patriarchal sense) body is not what is bought and sold -- if the provider's labor and the client's experience can be detached from those norms entirely -- what is bought and sold in sex work? And if they can't be detached entirely, then what is (hetero) sex work, at its core?
posted by kewb at 8:56 AM on October 8, 2014


I don't think merely reducing unemployment will take the job out of blowjob. I think one of the reasons women wind up doing sex work is because it tends to be relatively well paid work, open to women without any special training or education. This is part of why young women go into it and part of why divorcees with children go into it: Because you can actually support yourself and, if necessary, your children in spite of circumstances that preclude most pink collar ghetto work from providing adequate support in the immediate future when you need it most.

I don't think you will see serious reductions in heterosexual sex work until you see serious gains in women making good money, much more comparable to a male wage, in other fields. Until that happens, the reality is that for most heterosexual women, you can either help cover your bills by servicing one man regularly (husband, boyfriend) or by selling your sexual services to many.

So we need to make some serious inroads on the glass ceiling crap, which I think is mostly rooted in the fact that heterosexual men mostly do not want to really talk to heterosexual (or even bisexual) women unless they are hoping to stick their dick in her. And that de facto excludes an awful lot of women from getting the information, social contacts, etc. they need in order to move ahead in their careers in a way that would put them on equal financial footing with men of similar education and ability.

If you really want to take the job out of blowjob, try working on that. Unemployment can stay roughly the same, but if more women make money like a man, you will see fewer women selling their bodies to pay rent.
posted by Michele in California at 9:54 AM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


The terms, when speaking of sex workers, “selling their bodies”/ “selling themselves” need to die in a fire. [...] When something is bought or sold, it implies direct ownership. You buy a car, you own it. You buy a pair of shoes, you own them. Yes, in some unfortunate cases, some sex workers are owned, literally, but by in large, that is not truly the case. What ever other reasons, conditions or motivations rest behind a woman or mans involvement in sex work, be it stripping or erotic massage or porn or nude modeling or prostitution, they are not owned. They are not bought. They are not selling themselves. They are providing a service, which does not result in ownership. I also think often, whether intentional or not, when people use such terminology “you are selling yourself”, there is a level of shock tactics involved. Such terms imply slavery…that the sex worker, regardless of his or her conditions, level of autonomy, or choices is, merely via the terminology, property. A slave. The whole of their being a commodity, which is bought and sold. And that is demeaning. Truth is, sex workers are not property, or slaves, or the whole of their being a commodity. They are not bought or owned, and they are not selling themselves, they are selling a service. They are not even truly selling their bodies or sexuality. If anything, they are renting them out for a fee.
- Ren, Feministe
posted by divabat at 10:25 AM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Truth is, sex workers are not property, or slaves, or the whole of their being a commodity. They are not bought or owned, and they are not selling themselves, they are selling a service. They are not even truly selling their bodies or sexuality. If anything, they are renting them out for a fee.
Well, yes, but this does not necessarily take us into a problem-free zone even if everyone's on board with the idea.

To the best of my perhaps limited understanding, the problem in many of the above articles is that contemporary progressives, sex work appears to fall into a double bind.

Asking someone to perform sex without enthusiastic consent is sexual assault, which is of course deeply unethical (to put it in comically detached terms).To weaken this standard reinforces male entitlement to the bodies of women, and thus reinforces a fundamental social situation of injustice with gross consequences for everyone.
But we also agree that a client requiring affective labor -- i.e., enthusiasm -- from a worker is deeply unethical (to put it in comically detached terms).

However, we also have therapeutic and performance work, whole classes of affective labor where laborers volunteer to simulate forms of affect or engage in physical activities in order to enable another to have a physical and, usually, affective experience. (The boundaries between physical and affective experience are quite arguable, of course.)

Sex work falls into one or both of these two categories depending on the kind of sex work it is and, in a more just society, the voluntary choice of the sex worker. So initially it seems we might say that the sex worker is like a psychiatrist, who provides a bounded therapeutic service that implies no "debt" or "entitlement" to the client buying those services. Sexual surrogates fall into this category, as do may other sex workers who engage in actual intercourse. Or the sex worker is like an actor or acrobat, someone who sells their ability to simulate affect or physically perform feats better than most people, enabling the creation of an equally bounded fantasy space outside of which no obligations exist.

And like all workers, the just situation would that no undue leverage, no overt or covert coercion, ought to intervene in the client-provider relationship that is supposed to govern service work. The articles here chalk up instances where clients violate those ethical-professional boundaries to existing ethical deformations in our society, most of them with deeply rooted causes.

For the more utopian advocates of sex work, the argument is that turning sex -- at least some forms of sex and sexual expression -- into work, the idea is that some portion of sexuality can be freed from gendered norms and patriarchy by turning sex into a profession and demanding that professional or economic norms, not gendered norms, govern sexual expression. Additionally, this might even place sexual enjoyment outside the problematic structures of hetero-sex or class-society sex. If (some? all?) sexual expression is service/performative labor, then there's a space for the satisfaction of sex-as-drive and another space for sex-as-intimacy, both free of the imposition of bullshit power relationships.

Taken as an immediate, real possibility, of course, this transformation of sex into labor runs into serious problems on its own, of course, as the more unsavory elements of the later Foucault demonstrate. That whole warped bit about treating rape as a civil crime subject to financial damages is basically about turning sex into a commodity and thus rescuing it from heterosexist normativity...somehow. (That odious Pennsylvania judge who was censured back in the 90s for ruling that the gang-rape of a sex worker as "theft of services" was not pursuing a Foucauldian line; she was just a horrible human being and a warning about the prejudices deeply ingrained American court system.) And we can see not only how the Foucauldian line not only trivializes the affective consequences of sexual violence, but also sneakily reimposes class hierarchies: no one wants to see the financial and gender injustices already visible in the court system further imposed on sexual justice. And no one wants to see non-labor forms of sex treated just like labor violations either, not the way our courts treat labor violations.

So it's pragmatically shored up with with a modified commitment to consent, one in which contemporary labor ethics -- the prohibition on the demand for the worker's affective commitment -- are alloyed to a modified take on the sexual-consent argument. So sex retains a kind of "special" status in which demanding sexual labor or expression from a sex worker is still sexual assault and not just the equivalent of say, extracting unpaid overtime from a day laborer on a construction site or a coder in a cubicle.

But the problem is that those same deeply rooted causes inevitably structure not only client expectations, but even the nature of the experience or fantasy being provided as a service; the service itself remains contiguous with the rest of society, and so the fantasy is one of access to a desired object, not the achievement of intimacy. In fact, the argument against imposing an "enthusiastic consent" standard on sex work relies on the notion that engaging a sex worker cannot be predicated on the demand for affective labor because that demand (qua demand) is always unjust.

So the argument is that the sex worker is reversing the power hierarchy by rejecting the client demand for affective labor and imposing boundaries -- read here as the assertion of bodily autonomy -- on the temporality, physicality, and affect of hetero-sexed fantasies or drives. The hetero female sex worker both negotiates the maintenance of professional boundaries that guarantee her sexual-bodily/affective autonomy and turning what has been normalized as unpaid labor into paid labor. By turning sexual labor into the sale of a performance, into service industry, heterosexist hierarchies are suspended and a conditional gender/sex egalitarianism is achieved.

It doesn't matter if the fantasy stems from those unjust power relations, the argument goes, so long as the performativity of sex work carves out a space where those relations are disarmed and put to play, even inverted. It's the BDSM-as-antipower argument. The hetero female sex worker is desired without reciprocating that desire, and instead pursues asymmetric desires of her own; the hetero male client is in her power, is her object. Alternatively, we can be neoliberals rather than left-libertarians and say that professional services render clients and providers as perfect equals, mere economic actors whose positions are structurally equal because they take place within the confines of a fair and voluntary negotiation.

So to escape the double-bind, we have to buy into some of the ideology that one or the other principle in it is meant to oppose. Either we imagine that a pure market relation is possible, and can thus disarm classist exploitation and the demand for affective labor; or we imagine a hetero sex in which the usually asymmetric power relations may be inverted so long as heterofeminine embodiment or the female body as male-gaze object are decoupled from heterofeminine affectivity and sexual pleasure or desire. His desire, his sex is not hers to precisely the extent that she does not desire him back, does not experience the relation as sexual intimacy but rather as a sex that is not herself. She masters sex by "having" none.

But then the performance ends, or the transaction finishes. And we are back in the unjust world again. Should that world become just, the client fantasy that the sex worker puts to play and the performativity of sex work itself become, respectively, unworkable and unnecessary. Where the unjust power relation is real, the performative work of the hetero sex worker is necessary and empowering; but this means that the continued existence of hetero sex work casts other hetero sex as unpaid labor in an unjust situation. It relies, in fact, on conditions in which sex is always-already decoupled from affective mutuality, gender equality before power relations, or reciprocal desire except in the limited, conditional "Bubble" of the serviced hertero-male fantasy.
posted by kewb at 12:03 PM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


"A lot of sex worker rights activists I know are trying to pull the focus back onto the "job" part - labor rights."

Right, which was part of my point. To analogize, there are plenty of people who are baristas who don't want to be baristas. I would rather be a customer of a barista that wants to be a barista, that enjoys being a barista and that has as little coercion as possible toward them becoming a barista. While I know a couple friends who are way into coffee and who would still want to work as baristas if all their other needs were covered, that's not true of the majority of baristas I know. That is a labor problem, one that deals with lack of other employment, lack of differentiation between high skill and low skill baristas, and (in a way that it's not analogous to sex work) for many customers the actual human is superfluous to consuming the coffee commodity — the job could be automated and lose very little for a huge number of baristas. Choosing to be a barista is a totally legitimate choice, but many people aren't choosing to become baristas positively, they're choosing to not be unemployed or broke.

I understand the critiques of "do what you love" neoliberal aspirational identity-employment, but from the population that I work with, there's pretty clear delineations about what subsets of sex work are chosen positively and which are least-worst options that inflict real harm. I have a real problem with how the "work" part plays out, and decreasing the need of many less-than-voluntary sex workers to engage in that sort of work is important to me — and as far as I have seen, things like making sure that low income people get free health care or that low-skill workers have other options to both get skills and have general labor demand rise, have a real positive impact on removing what I see as unjust coercion.
posted by klangklangston at 12:20 PM on October 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Until that happens, the reality is that for most heterosexual women, you can either help cover your bills by servicing one man regularly (husband, boyfriend) or by selling your sexual services to many.

This seems, to me, to be a rather cynical view, given that most women aren't sex workers and there is a threshold of compensation for non-sex work, above which, even 0.77 of it is going to sustain you without having to sell sexual services in one way or another.
posted by smidgen at 12:26 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


And if they can't be detached entirely, then what is (hetero) sex work, at its core?


I have a real problem with this kind of analysis -- the idea of a "double-bind" and so forth. It rejects the complexity of the real world in favor of simplistic models. As soon as you say you're in a "bind", then what it says to me is that your model does not actually apply here. Also, you're attempting to be specific about "hetero", but not about "work".

So, while I believe that the model of the patriarchal society has to feed into sex work (seems self-evident given the gender relations), sex work obviously can exist without it. Trying to make it the whole story smacks a little bit of taking two things that make one feel uncomfortable and smashing them together to make them fit.

Fulfillment of frustrated sexual desires does not require a patriarchal framework. I don't like the parenthetical (hetero) -- as if the existence of homosexual sex work is somehow exempt or different. In fact, it's actually that parenthetical that seems to answer your question. There are many reasons to pay for sexual experiences, and a lot of them have nothing to do with being entitled to a woman. The same way paying for a non-sexual massage doesn't mean I feel entitled to human touch in general.
posted by smidgen at 1:20 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


So women should only aspire to be "sustained" and nothing more? They shouldn't lust after the freedom and shiny toys that men tend to have so much more of? If they are not suffering absolute poverty (such as not getting enough to eat) then, hey, relative poverty (having less than other people around them) should in no way influence their lifestyle choices?

I still see evidence that men worry about making enough money to attract a mate but women typically do not.

I have been trying to do some googling, which does indicate the gender wage gap is apparently less than it used to be in the U.S., but I can't seem to readily figure out things I would like to know, such as "what percent of employed women work in jobs that could be classified as sex work?" (I imagine those stats will be very hard to determine, if only because prostitution is illegal in most U.S. states, but possibly also for other reasons), "how many single women live alone in home on their own versus how many single men do so?", "How much more does a husband typically make than his wife?", "How many women are staying in a less than blissful relationship in part because they can't afford to leave?" and so forth.

A lot of those would be really hard to answer in some kind of rigorous, provable, reliable-stats-from-some-very-well-designed-study kind of way. But I would be thrilled to see some actual hard data, assuming it can be found. Until then, I am likely to keep my "cynical" view. It is based on many years of reading on the subject and talking to actual human beings and observing very consistently that the income a man brings to the table is frequently a big part of why a woman is hesitant to leave a less than happy relationship. Also, based on a lot of reading and talking with people, heterosexual relationships tend to skew towards meeting his sexual needs/preferences over hers. (And the existence of this bias does seem to come up fairly regularly in discussion on mefi, so I hope that isn't deemed some shocking or cynical thing to note.)
posted by Michele in California at 1:27 PM on October 8, 2014


There seems to be a lot more available information on the demographics and numbers of men who have employed the services of sex workers than on the demographics and numbers of sex workers themselves. That seems really weird. You'd think that data would go hand in hand.

Of course given that estimates of the fraction of the male population of the United States who have employed the services of a prostitute appear to range from a low of around 15% to a high of around 70% I'm not sure how useful the numbers would be anyway. When your error bars encompass more than half of the entire male population of the country it doesn't actually tell us anything except that the actual number is "a lot".
posted by Justinian at 1:54 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


So women should only aspire to be "sustained" and nothing more?

I obviously did not say that -- please don't put words in my mouth -- I'm not interested in being your punching bag.

We were very explicitly talking about the threshold for autonomy ("help cover your bills", "selling their bodies to pay rent.").

income a man brings to the table is frequently a big part of why a woman is hesitant to leave a less than happy relationship

Good point, and I've seen the same thing (unfortunately).

I still take issue with the analogy to coerced sex work for better pay though -- is this because she can't find a job at the proper wage, or because she's not used to finding one at all? I think, in this particular case, the idea of the man as provider does more damage than the wage gap. It's easy to let society convince you that you do not need to work ('cause working sucks :-)), but once you've bought into that -- you end up digging a rather deep hole for yourself. Just to be clear, this isn't about blaming the woman, it's about whether it's the wages or being out of the job market entirely that's damaging her (and maybe the wages in turn?).

Again, I don't think this is analogous to being forced to do sex work because all your other options pay less. That's why comparing being trapped in a relationship vs sex-for-hire felt kind of cynical to me.
posted by smidgen at 2:26 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have a real problem with this kind of analysis -- the idea of a "double-bind" and so forth. It rejects the complexity of the real world in favor of simplistic models. As soon as you say you're in a "bind", then what it says to me is that your model does not actually apply here. Also, you're attempting to be specific about "hetero", but not about "work".

I'm sticking to hetero because the articles are primarily about problems surrounding heterosexual men and entitlement issues in a heterosexual dynamic, and I think the social dynamics around homosexual sex work can be quite different than those around heterosexual sex work. I think other people could say much more about that than I could, and that's perhaps a conversation worth having...just not one where I'd feel even vaguely qualified to be more than an interested listener/reader. Maybe this one is the same and I'm just missing that.

I also thought I was being specific about "service economy" work; that's where the unjust demand for the worker to fake or have a feeling is strongest, and if sex work can be analogized usefully as any other kind of work, service work and performance -- both of which I mentioned -- seem like the obvious options. Maybe I wasn't clear, or maybe your argument is that service work is like all other work, or that sex work shouldn't be analogized as service work? Are you saying sex work can't be thought about even analogically, just as what it is?

But the double bind...that really does seem to me to be at least part of the issue the linked articles discuss. I'm not sure why you think the idea of a "double bind" is simplistic or unreal somehow. People and activities surely can and do get caught between good, but opposing ethical principles in ways we can't solve by just suspending or tossing out the principles involved. And I don't have a better term than "double bind" for that situation.

Anyway, where I get stuck is that the enthusiastic consent standard is supposed to be a practical, real one. So is the problem we run into if the employer demands that the worker pretend to love the job; or the service worker, the client. A lot of the problems the sex workers in the above articles discuss are specifically about being asked to play the role of cheerfully initiating sex because that's what the client thinks he's paying for (and it seems to always be a "he" asking a "she" in those particular, problematic instances).

So is enthusiastic consent a ground-floor element of a sexual experience with another person? Is sex work worth suspending that principle? Does saying we can sometimes suspend that principle open any doors we don't want to open? We have to say that sex work is a messy reality where the enthusiastic consent idea doesn't apply...but then surely we have to give reasons, not only for why sex work doesn't fit with that idea but also about why sex work wouldn't fall into the category of things that we want the standard to screen out entirely. And if the reason is that paying to have a sexual experience is not about enthusiastic consent, then surely we have to think through the ethics of pursuing a sexual experience that doesn't rely on enthusiastic consent from another participant is all about.

So there's some kind of question about how we create a generally working framework that everyone understands, and about how or if sex work fits into that framework.
Around sex work, we seem to get either a market actors/professionalism kind of argument where the whole thing ought to be a rational transaction with clear boundaries, or a sex-worker empowerment argument wherein sex work is totally about undermining or reversing existing gender hierarchies. Let's treat sex work like a thing that happens in the world and has to do with other ideas and social forces and stuff, rather than as this weird mix of flipping between seeing the world as a bunch of atomistic individualism on the one hand and seeing it as unjustly structured by a set of gender/sex binaries on the other.

There are many reasons to pay for sexual experiences, and a lot of them have nothing to do with being entitled to a woman.

I agree with this, and I didn't think I had written otherwise. But I don't know that you can pay for a sexual experience without imagining that you are entitled to a sexual experience of some kind. That's pretty much what it means to pay for a service, isn't it? For your money, you are entitled to an agreed-upon service. So the question I'm asking is, "Is this kind of labor with these particular clients and providers in this broader social context workable, or does it inevitably get creepy and/or complicit?" Or maybe, "Does this model of 'it-ought-to-be-so' sex work address or get around issues of male entitlement, or is it ultimately complicit with male entitlement?"

Yeah, there are other kinds of sex work where these questions might not come up, or where different questions might come up. But I don't see quite how that makes these questions go away.
posted by kewb at 2:42 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wasn't interested in making you my punching bag, which is part of why it got framed as a question. I did make some effort to state my disagreement with you as neutrally as possible, in spite of your negative framing of my comment (calling it "cynical"). I don't see why "help cover your bills" has to be interpreted as subsistence level of survival. So I don't agree that "we" were very explicitly talking about that. That was how you interpreted my above remark.

FWIW, I happen to be a former homemaker and divorced. Before becoming a homemaker, I was one of the top three students of my graduating class with an abundance of academic accolades including a national merit scholarship to one of the big name colleges in my home state and I was STAR student of my graduating class (in other words, I had the highest SAT score of my class and was also in the top 10% grade-wise).

When I was getting divorced, I had several women inform me I could not "afford" to get divorced, in part because I was quite ill at the time. My feeling was that, in every case, they were really saying more about themselves than about me. So I sort of informally did my own private little study here. For a time, one of those women sent me incredibly scathingly nasty divorce humor, which I refused to respond to or acknowledge in any way until she finally stopped. She was not leaving her husband and was trying to tell me it was a good marriage or something and appeared to be trying to project onto me her obvious, deep, vehement bitterness towards men and marriage.

Having been a full-time mom for a long time, I don't agree men as providers is some inherently bad thing. I think it is much more complicated than that.

Again, I don't think this is analogous to being forced to do sex work because all your other options pay less. That's why comparing being trapped in a relationship vs sex-for-hire felt kind of cynical to me.

Have you heard of the movie "The burning bed"? The wife spent years trying to go to school, make a better life for herself, etc. which her husband kept sabotaging. After being forced to service her abusive husband one night under particularly emotionally stressful circumstances, she murdered him in his sleep by (IIRC) tying him to the bed and setting it on fire. Just because a woman is married to a man or originally got together with him voluntarily with some expectation of a mutually caring relationship does not mean it can't become pretty objectionable to service him.

I happen to like men and sex, quite a lot. But I was molested and raped as a child, so a) I am not as naïve as many people seem to think and b) I worked damn hard to get to a point of actually liking both men and sex. I fairly often run into situations where my comments on the facts as I understand them make other people intensely uncomfortable. You are hardly the first person to assume me to be "cynical" (or bitter or any number of other negative things). I don't think your assessment is accurate. Instead, I think that for many women, yes, servicing a man they once loved is not only as bad as being forced to do sex work, it's actually worse -- because they used to love him, before things went utterly to hell, and now they hate him and cannot admit it (because he would hurt them for it) and cannot escape.
posted by Michele in California at 3:11 PM on October 8, 2014


So is enthusiastic consent a ground-floor element of a sexual experience with another person?

We talked about this in the other thread; The "enthusiastic consent" thing is a way of thinking about sex and not an easily delineated checklist that must be run down in order for sex not to be horrible or exploitive. It's a way to get people to consider the difference between "not saying no" and "saying yes". But it doesn't mean that someone can never choose to say yes without being all gung-ho YES YES YES about it. Arguing otherwise would be denying people agency. Sometimes maybe I am tired or not all that into sex but, hey, sure lets give it a try even if I'm not feeling it all that much right this minute. That's not exactly enthusiastic consent but it certainly can be active consent and my choice.

You can legitimately consent to sex - actively consent I mean - without being really enthusiastic about it or really into it at all. I'm guessing most people in this thread have done that at some point and done so in a non exploitative way. Usually in the context of a long term relationship, sure, but the principle should still stand.

I think you're kind of confusing the map with the territory if you see what I mean? It's a way to try to get people to think about rape culture.
posted by Justinian at 3:40 PM on October 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


I don't see why "help cover your bills" has to be interpreted as subsistence level of survival.

I think a reasonable person would understand it as such in context. Especially with the other quote about making rent. But, whatever...

[...] in spite of your negative framing of my comment (calling it "cynical")

I didn't say you were a horrible negative person, I just said the comment that most heterosexual women's alternatives for covering their bills were servicing their husband or being sex workers was cynical -- and I stand by that.

ave you heard of the movie "The burning bed"?

Unless I'm a really poor judge, most marriages are not quite that extreme in nature. This example is far cry from "most".

I don't agree men as providers is some inherently bad thing.

Hrmm.. I would be interested in hearing your perspective on this. To clarify what I'm talking about, I'm just talking about the expectation. To me, it feels like that expectation imbalances the relationship at the outset, so instead of negotiating shared responsibilities and being aware of them, one accepts this imbalance in roles without question. This ends up penalizing the woman more than the man.

You are hardly the first person to assume me to be "cynical" (or bitter or any number of other negative things)

I was referring to the statement. Everyone says cynical things (that could be correct!), it isn't about the person. I do not know you, and honestly could give a rats ass about you (beyond basic human compassion). I have no idea whether you are generally cynical or not, and do not care.
posted by smidgen at 4:16 PM on October 8, 2014


Hey, given our general lack of history and getting off on the wrong foot, I would appreciate it if you do not cuss at me. K?

Hrmm.. I would be interested in hearing your perspective on this. To clarify what I'm talking about, I'm just talking about the expectation. To me, it feels like that expectation imbalances the relationship at the outset, so instead of negotiating shared responsibilities and being aware of them, one accepts this imbalance in roles without question. This ends up penalizing the woman more than the man.


Sooner or later, most women have babies, whether they intend to or not. (Many of those who can't readily get pregnant, go to great lengths to have a baby or they adopt. This seems to be a stronger drive for women than men. IIRC, about 80% of women pass on their genes but only about 50% of men.) Pregnancy is often unexpectedly hard. Due to pregnancy and breastfeeding, it just usually makes more sense for the woman to do the homemaker/full time parent thing if there is to be one -- or, alternately, to work part-time or otherwise scale back their career in order to put time and effort into raising kids. Kids have more illness and accidents when in daycare than if they are home with a full-time parent. In short, there are lots of reasons to think the world would be a better place if parents were given more support for spending time with their kids and raising them themselves instead of the incentives we currently have of actively encouraging mothers to get jobs whether they want them or not. And many women do wish they could be home with the kids, at least when they are little, but feel that is just not feasible.

I did the homemaker/full-time mom thing for a lot of years. My sons and I discuss this a lot, and we generally had more stuff and a better quality of life than other families around us while living on one income when most of these other families had two. I did a lot of cooking from scratch, shopping sales and so on, plus I had the enormous advantage that my mother sews and thus provided most of their clothes for a long time for next to nothing (she could produce a pair of kiddie pants for, say, $1 worth of material off the clearance rack and an hour of her time). So I grew up in this really old fashioned family where mom was kind of expected to stay home and that was supported by the extended family. This also allowed my sister to spend about five years as a full time mom, temporarily leaving a well-paid, prestigious career, to which she later returned.

While doing the full-time mom thing, I was able to give back to the extended family in ways that money could not have adequately covered. For example, I flew out and took care of my sister's infant for a month one summer after her maternity leave had run out but before she could leave the job. The baby had been early and she had good reason to not want to put such a vulnerable baby in a daycare situation.

For a time, I had friends in middle-eastern countries and I heard stories from both men and women about the social expectations there concerning how much support mom's are given. One American friend who was living in a middle eastern country was in the hospital, I guess having her own baby, when a lady there had triplets. The triplets were cooed over like stars and there was a constant stream of visitors to see them. She made some off the cuff remark about how it was great that everyone was so thrilled, but won't it be a huge burden for the mom when she goes home from the hospital and has to take care of three babies all alone? And the reaction she got spoke volumes. For one, she was told that the mom was NEVER going to alone with three babies. That simply would not happen. For another, just the tone of voice with which her remark was met made it clear to her that Americans are, in the eyes of the people she was speaking to, crazy and barbaric and don't know how to treat mom's and babies.

I was also emotionally attached for a time to an older middle eastern man who told me that American attitudes towards divorce were far too cavalier. I had been married two decades and was going through a divorce which by American standards was very old-fashioned and conservative in terms of giving me and my sons support . He seemed to not quite approve of the manner in which I was getting divorced, even though he definitely wanted out of his own marriage. The last time I spoke to him, he still had not filed for divorce, apparently because he still could not do so in manner that he deemed to be sufficiently honorable and proper.

He told me that where he is from, divorce is viewed as breaking the extended family, not just the nuclear family. So his parents, her parents, their siblings and so on would all disapprove, not just the kids. Second, his wife had been a homemaker a long and was the mother of his children and he was unwilling to, in his eyes, "abandon" her. He felt that due to her having been a homemaker a long time and having born and raised his kids, he still owed her support. It would be callous and cruel and morally wrong to just kick her to the curb and say "hey, get a job" when she had been out of the job market so long.

So there are cultures where being a mom and homemaker is treated differently than in the U.S. and there are some significant positives to that. I think we will never entirely escape the "man as provider" aspect of heterosexual relationships because it is rooted in the reality that women are the one's who get pregnant and breastfeed and that comes with an inherent high cost to her.

Women who do not desire children or who did the career thing first and lived "like a man" seem to pay an even higher price than women who did want children and thus arranged their lives around the idea that they needed a decent man in their life and he needed to be the primary source of income. I think those biological realities are what drive this social expectation. As long as humans reproduce sexually, I expect those realities to have a strong influence on what works and what does not for trying to achieve decent quality of life for not just women but also men and children.

When I was in my twenties and reading a lot of books about women's issues, I concluded that women in Europe were far better off than women in the U.S. because in America, women's rights activists took the American position of "don't tread on me" or "get the fuck out of my way" but, in Europe, instead of bitching about "respect" and "get out of my way, I can too do that job," women fought for maternity leave, daycare and so forth -- they fought for additional support for the very real and unavoidable burden that bearing and raising kids is for women. You see lower levels of divorce in Europe, more family friendly benefits not tied to poverty and more involvement of the extended family in raising the kids. This frees European women up to pursue careers after having kids in a way that you typically do not see in the U.S. The de facto burden of having kids is less for them, so they have more time and energy to put into their careers.

Anyway, that is no doubt very rambly and I apologize for that. Given the general atmosphere of this thread and that this is essentially off topic, you are welcome to memail me if you want to discuss it further.
posted by Michele in California at 4:52 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Arguing otherwise would be denying people agency. Sometimes maybe I am tired or not all that into sex but, hey, sure lets give it a try even if I'm not feeling it all that much right this minute. That's not exactly enthusiastic consent but it certainly can be active consent and my choice.

I'm not sure that's quite the same thing as sex work, especially since you have to contextualize it as something that mostly happens within a long-term relationship. For one thing, in a relationship context having sex even though you're tired or not that aroused is still often about the emotional work in the relationship...but the issue in the articles above is that sex work shouldn't be emotional labor as well as sexual labor.

In a short-term relationship or, let's say, a first date, few people would argue that a situation where the woman isn't that interested in sex with a guy but has sex with him anyway to "give it a try" is an especially good outcome. Nor would we read a long-term relationship in which a woman repeatedly ":gave sex a try" with her male partner despite being tired or aroused. It wouldn't be seen as an act of agency on her part; people would ask about why she was tired, bring up the question of gaslighting, and point out that long-term patterns where someone feels like they have to sexually service a partner for the sake of the relationship are all about women's sexual subordination.

The sex work argument, then, would seem to be that women choose to have sex as economic actors, not as relationship partners, and that it only works when a sex worker is not profoundly economically disadvantaged -- when they don't "have to choose" sex work, -- and when the client doesn't make any demand other than "provide me this very narrowly agreed-upon sexual service."

And we also need straight dude clients or rich clients who don't think that their money entitles them to sexual services from women just because some women provide sexual experiences, performances, and services for money.

So again, I'm not sure you really can, in actual practice, sever sex-as-service-industry from the larger patterns of entitlement that create rape culture. The sex worker as an individual economic and sexual actor may have agency, though in our screwed-up world this still depends on having a good workplace, being versed enough in all of this to know how to safeguard oneself as a sex worker and how to remain within the bounds as a client, and having a legal system that doesn't regard sex workers as lesser than other kinds of workers.

Sex workers have to deal with many of the very worst effects of rape culture. But at the same time sex work means downplaying a concept that, as you point out, is all about getting creepy dudes to at least think about rape culture in the first place. But in a culture that wasn't a rape culture, how many straight men would seek to have sex with a woman with whom there was no mutual emotional or sexual desire? In a society where economic advantage weren't routinely read as entitlement, would receiving sexual services from someone be just fine as long as you have enough money and keep it professional?

The problem isn't on the sex worker side, it's on the client side. But there's no real way to read a client's mind or be sure that even a well-behaved client isn't immediately or retroactively understanding the experience as a ratification of sexual or economic entitlement ideas that the larger culture works very hard at pushing. And in a culture like ours, the number of clients who've genuinely got all that shit out of their heads is not going to be very large.

My argument, finicky as it might be, is that the conditions that would make a straight dude seek out sex work are more often dubious than not. That makes me deeply suspicious of the buyer side of the enterprise in the same way I might be skeptical of most straight-dude porn consumers while still agreeing that porn actors get to choose what they do for a living and what they do with their bodies.

I don't know that the argument for sex work has a particularly good way of responding to sex-negative arguments about rape culture. And I'm not sure about how well it works as a practical matter to foster a dynamic in which the provider views sex entirely or primarily as labor while the client views sex primarily as desire. The "desire" side seems too entangled with too much that's problematic. Any woman should be able to choose sex work; I don't know if many straight men ought to hire a female sex worker.
posted by kewb at 3:46 AM on October 9, 2014


There seems to be a lot more available information on the demographics and numbers of men who have employed the services of sex workers than on the demographics and numbers of sex workers themselves. That seems really weird. You'd think that data would go hand in hand.

Is that actually correct? It's not my field, but sex workers have been studied and examined and policed by institutions, reformers, and some researchers for a long time, while johns mostly haven't. Sex workers get arrested and go to jail all the time, while johns rarely do. There are many ethnographies of sex work, but few that I am aware of that focus on the buyers. Public health outreach has targeted sex workers for decades, but has much less commonly focused on reaching the johns. Et cetera.

That said, it wouldn't surprise me that the entire field of sex work is poorly understood -- the most visible and accessible pieces are well studied (e.g. brothel workers in countries where it is either legalized or tacitly tolerated), leaving enormous swaths of the field less studied because of difficulties of access, safety concerns, or ethical issues. Sex work is also a field with extremely porous boundaries and where people drop in and out of the work, as well as engaging in activities that are hard to define -- there is a huge spectrum of exchange sex where a person might get something out of it but that wouldn't necessarily qualify under a definition of sex work, and where the person themselves might well not self identify as being engaged in sex work.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:44 AM on October 9, 2014


My argument, finicky as it might be, is that the conditions that would make a straight dude seek out sex work are more often dubious than not. That makes me deeply suspicious of the buyer side of the enterprise in the same way I might be skeptical of most straight-dude porn consumers while still agreeing that porn actors get to choose what they do for a living and what they do with their bodies.

That's the problem that I see with your case, kewb. Your argument is well stated, but relies almost entirely on your extremely biased conjecture, which honestly is not borne out by what research has been done on sex workers and their clients. You strongly tie your condemnation of sex work (and by extension sex workers) into heterosexuality and rape culture, in a way which presupposes that being a heterosexual male makes it practically impossible to ethically engage a sex worker. You speak in abstracts, and admit yourself you have no practical knowledge or experience or even anecdotal data which supports your position, so you are essentially using your own prejudices to support a theoretical and philosophical argument against heterosexual men and female sex workers.

I would be interested to know where your perception of the average hetero male hiring a sex worker comes from. I think you would do well to look into the reality versus your perception.

[For instance, there are many complex and varied reasons why these men seek out sex workers that are not in line with your opinion of them as a monolithic entity with 'dubious' motivation. We find that only a small percentage of men employ sex workers with any consistency, that the average client who does is young, highly educated and with a greater awareness of and wariness regarding rape culture than you give them credit for. Otherwise socially and professionally successful men hire these women because they simply get a thrill from engaging in illicit behavior.Then there are those who, when not in a long term relationship but in a situation where finding a romantic partner has been made more difficult due to temporary situations-- say, working a demanding schedule, spending long periods of time away from their home country, etc.-- decide to pay for sex rather than hook up with someone because they feel it is actually more honest and ethical given their circumstances.]
posted by misha at 10:43 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Any woman should be able to choose sex work; I don't know if many straight men ought to hire a female sex worker.

I like this formulation, and that's part of the problem I had with the Robot Hugs cartoon presentation of empowerment. Individually, it may be very empowering to point out that performing as a sexualized object is work and deserves to be compensated, but the act still reinforces the societal idea that women are sexualized objects.
posted by jaguar at 11:40 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is that actually correct? It's not my field, but sex workers have been studied and examined and policed by institutions, reformers, and some researchers for a long time, while johns mostly haven't.

I dunno, you could try your google-fu. It may be better than mine.

in a way which presupposes that being a heterosexual male makes it practically impossible to ethically engage a sex worker

I agree with you. kewb's whole argument rests on a theoretical basis that may have little basis in fact. The data I've seen indicates that men who have engaged the services of a prostitute are either no more likely or actually less likely to have committed sexual assaults or the like than the population of men as a whole.
posted by Justinian at 12:03 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


"sex work" is not a euphemism for straight-up prostitution.

If I attempt to answer kewb's question about a non-patriarchal version of sex work, I envision a healthy interaction to be where the professional's role is closer to a masseuse, maybe an actor, and possibly an educator than a sex toy. A bunch of the articles above were written by pro dommes, which is approaching this kind of category.

One motivation not mentioned for men to visit sex workers is to have experiences they have no access to normally -- and for kink sex work I think this is probably motivation #1. I think the idea of "the thrill" being a motivation is kind of vapid, and I suspect that would fall apart under further investigation.

But.. I'm just guessing. :-)
posted by smidgen at 12:12 PM on October 9, 2014


Could be, smidgen, but that's what the researchers say the motivation was.

One novel way to approach this that some countries are trying, and which I like the concept of, is to classify assaults on sex workers as hate crimes. That way we address the stigma and the dangers sew workers face directly.
posted by misha at 12:24 PM on October 9, 2014


Wait, I should be clearer there--the thrill of engaging in an illicit act is what clients and sex workers reported to researchers was the motivation for a not insignificant portion of the respondents.
posted by misha at 12:27 PM on October 9, 2014


reported to which researchers? I'm not disputing you or anything, but I think I missed the reference. :-)
posted by smidgen at 12:35 PM on October 9, 2014


"Not insignificant" is a pretty slippery phrase as well. The data I've seen puts the fraction of men for whom the illicit nature is a motivating factor at under 10%. I'm not sure I'd call that significant compared to the other much larger motivating factors. See for example Men Who Buy Sex by Farley, Bindel, and Golding.

The biggest reason found in this study was, to put it simply, because the men wanted to have sex and it was a way to have sex. That accounted for one third of the set. Other major reasons included a desire for variety, an unfulfilling current sexual relationship, being able to find women of specific physical characteristics, and convenience. Those groups accounted for an additional 56% for a total of 88% of the sample. The thrill of breaking the law only accounted for 8% of the sample, with 3% reporting a sex addiction and 2% reporting peer pressure.

That's just one small study obviously but its consistent with what I've read elsewhere.
posted by Justinian at 1:45 PM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


AARGH stupid OS 8 freezes ARE YOU KIDDING ME APPLE?! Now I have to rewrite this whole comment. Grar. Sorry, condensed version:

I based my comments primarily on these:

Demographics on clients of sex workers (specifically limited to prostitution), by country.

Ordinary or Peculiar Men?
Comparing the Customers of Prostitutes With a Nationally Representative Sample of Men

Martin A. Monto1
Christine Milrod1
1University of Portland, OR, USA

[Abstract:
Using the nationally representative General Social Survey (GSS), this study demonstrates that prostitution seeking is relatively uncommon. Only about 14% of men in the United States report having ever paid for sex, and only 1% report having done so during the previous year. Furthermore, this study dissects whether customers are ordinary or peculiar by comparing a new sample of active customers who solicit sex on the Internet with an older sample of arrested customers, a sample of customers from the GSS, and a nationally representative sample of noncustomers. The customers of Internet sexual service providers differed greatly from men in general and also from other customers. The remaining samples of customers differed slightly from noncustomers in general. We argue for a balanced perspective that recognizes the significant variety among customers. There is no evidence of a peculiar quality that differentiates customers in general from men who have not paid for sex.]

Also, here's a pretty good article on why some disabled men hire sex workers.

I have pages and pages of notes from Research for Sex Work and the efforts being done internationally (they put out publications each year), with perspectives of sex workers, including why they do what they do, concerns they have, stigmatization, what works and what doesn't, etc, plus more studies, etc. I forget what else. Too much for this thread. Really educational, though, and dispels a lot of myths; I found the education worthwhile.

If anyone is interested, feel free to Memail and I'll send you the whole kit and kaboodle.
posted by misha at 3:42 PM on October 9, 2014


Any woman should be able to choose sex work; I don't know if many straight men ought to hire a female sex worker.

I like this formulation, and that's part of the problem I had with the Robot Hugs cartoon presentation of empowerment. Individually, it may be very empowering to point out that performing as a sexualized object is work and deserves to be compensated, but the act still reinforces the societal idea that women are sexualized objects.


Jaguar, it sounds like you and kewb are abolitionists, then, is that right? I am still not entirely sure what your opinion is, honestly, from a practical, policy-making perspective.

It seems like you are both saying that heterosexual men just can't be trusted with sex workers, so ideally sex work should just disappear. Or the heterosexual men could disappear, I guess. But I doubt that is what you mean to say. So, what would be your approach?
posted by misha at 4:04 PM on October 9, 2014


but the act still reinforces the societal idea that women are sexualized objects.

This is the same argument used against trans women, for conforming into society's idea of women and supposedly assuming that women look or act a certain way (when a lot of times the conforming is because they would be refused care or help otherwise).

This is the same argument used against femme or feminine women, because they are "selling out" to the patriarchy.

This is the same argument used against performers, artists, musicians, actors, and so on who employ sexuality in their persona or work even if they are not technically sex workers (see the thread on Beyonce's Time cover).

A variant of this argument is used to denigrate people of colour and immigrants for conforming too closely to the stereotypes of their race or nationality, blaming any harm they receive as a racialised minority on "not assimilating".

That swathes of people assume that women are there as sexualized objects is not the fault of women for whom this is part of their profession or identity. There is a really subtle victim-blaming that happens here, putting the focus on the wrong side. The focus should be on everyone else (mostly men, but it's not limited to them) that would rather see women as stereotypical objects rather than respect them - even sex workers! - as people with their own agency.
posted by divabat at 4:42 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Jaguar, it sounds like you and kewb are abolitionists, then, is that right? I am still not entirely sure what your opinion is, honestly, from a practical, policy-making perspective.

As I said earlier: Yes, in an ideal world, I don't think sex work would exist, or, if it did, workers and clients would be equally distributed among genders; as it stands, the gendered nature of the work makes it hard for me to divorce it from patriarchal structures.

That swathes of people assume that women are there as sexualized objects is not the fault of women for whom this is part of their profession or identity. There is a really subtle victim-blaming that happens here, putting the focus on the wrong side. The focus should be on everyone else (mostly men, but it's not limited to them) that would rather see women as stereotypical objects rather than respect them - even sex workers! - as people with their own agency.

divabat, those are awesome points and I agree, mostly. I guess I'm not trying (which doesn't mean I'm succeeding) to not blame victims, but I think it gets into individual vs. societal/collective impact. I want to make it clear I support any individual sex worker, and I think they deserve (as I've said) financial, emotional, and physical safety and respect. But I think it is worthwhile to look at how one's actions reinforce the status quo, and -- if one has the luxury of making a choice, which is not true of all sex workers -- understand that interplay. I see it as similar to the whole "changing name on marriage" thing -- any one individual woman doing so is fine, but as a whole, the prevalence is reinforcing a patriarchal status quo. Which is not any one name-changing woman's fault, but I'm going to have a hard time accepting an explanation that she's doing so because she's a feminist.

Women are so discriminated against and hated worldwide that I don't have any problem with women taking advantage of the few advantages they have, like being valued for sex. But I do have a problem with claiming that doing so is a feminist act. (And I realize that there are entire schools of thought that disagree with me, and I don't think any feminist who disagrees with me is a bad person or suffering from false consciousness. I just can't personally reconcile my views to accept that claim.)
posted by jaguar at 5:27 PM on October 9, 2014


But I think it is worthwhile to look at how one's actions reinforce the status quo, and -- if one has the luxury of making a choice, which is not true of all sex workers -- understand that interplay.

That was badly worded, sorry; that sounded like some sex workers don't have the capacity to understand their own work. Should have been: But I think it is worthwhile to look at how one's actions reinforce the status quo, and -- if one has the luxury of making a choice, which is not true of all sex workers -- acknowledge how one's actions may be problematic and own that you're either ok with that interplay or change your career.
posted by jaguar at 5:30 PM on October 9, 2014


My position might best be summed up as follows: a heterosexual man who wants to hire a sex worker had better have done a lot of introspection first.

Beyond that, I would agree entirely that sex workers should be viewed culturally and legally like any other worker or any other person should ideally be viewed, that sex work should be decriminalized, and that sex work should be destigmatized on the worker end, and on the "good" client end as well. (The entitled asshole clients should be stigmatized and condemned if they refuse to "get it.")

However, I also think that as a practical matter sex work today is still work in a society that treats a lot of workers like shit, a legal system that treats sex workers like shit, and a culture that narrates female agency regarding sex in shitty ways. The changes to those things will probably not come from sex work itself, but from bigger and more radical social and cultural changes. Those changes will improve the conditions for sex work, but they will also change sex work because they will change both sex and work in general. The burden of the work of change should of course be borne by the people who objectify, exploit, and demean others or attempt to revoke or infringe upon their autonomy along the lines of gender, sexual identity, class, culture, and ethnicity.

I also think that sex work by definition still involves connecting the fulfillment of sexual desires to financial status in ways that would probably only be solved by a type of general social welfare that will simply not happen in our current political system. This does not mean that sex workers do not deserve compensation, or are wrong for working for compensation. Sex work is legitimate labor for the same reasons that acting, massage therapy, and so forth are legitimate labor.

But as someone who supports the "death of work" idea in general, the transactional nature of sex work is a problem for me in the same ways as transactions for services are generally. When I talk about the place for the sex worker's desire, I'm thinking "sex" and "sexual desire" and "financial desire" in terms of the worker's desire and embodiment in a labor situation.

What I think is that any hetero male client of a female sex worker -- by which I mean the heterozexual male client of a domme, a female stripper or exotic dancer, or, yes, a female prostitute or escort who sometimes provides sex -- needs to be able to ask and answer some very tough questions with certainty before entering that client-service provider relationship.

In my own personal experience, I find that ninety-nine times in a hundred, a hetero guy who claims to suffer from sexual frustration turns out to be an entitled creeper. The ninety-ninth time, it's the honest kinkster or the in-between-relationships fellow or the well-adjusted single, and sure, sex work should, can, and will be mutually safe, perfectly legal, properly compensated, and appropriately boundaried.

I hope we can agree that the culture we have now is a lot more complex and problematic than the "sex work is empowerment and inverts the male/female power dynamic" narrative floated in a few places above would suggest. (The major example I respond to is the Robot Hugs cartoon, which I would note is *not* about prostitution.) That particular narrative strikes me as one that overlooks a lot of things, and is mostly what I was responding to. I think of this stuff more in terms of structures as in terms of individual action.. I am not sure that it is an improvement to move from sexually fetishizing people or their bodies or their bodily performances to commodity fetishizing those things.

A lot of the narratives around sex work strike me as disguised "perfect market" arguments where individual autonomy overcomes structural issues. That's never about fault in or blame for the oppressed, but it does mean that the situation of oppression can continue to encompass an act or a social relation or a transaction sometimes regardless of individual choices or even individual empowerment. No oppressed person can be held responsible for fixing the situation that oppresses them, or even for making a personally empowering choice within that situation. You can and should be held responsible for changing any situation or any assumption that leads you to oppress someone else, or to desire to oppress someone else.

This is not the same thing as saying that a lot of disconnected, atomized, and personally empowering choices can overturn that system. Changes to shitty male entitlement or shitty class entitlement will not happen through heterosexual men engaging sex workers, not least because it is not and must not be considered the responsibility of the sex worker as a person or *as a sex worker* to accomplish that.
posted by kewb at 6:08 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Basically, sex workers should be free to make their own choices without being mistreated or asked to justify themselves; however, the argument that being a client or a service provider of sex work inherently fulfills or mobilizes a particular politics is debatable.
posted by kewb at 6:11 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Is that actually correct? It's not my field, but sex workers have been studied and examined and policed by institutions, reformers, and some researchers for a long time, while johns mostly haven't. Sex workers get arrested and go to jail all the time, while johns rarely do. There are many ethnographies of sex work, but few that I am aware of that focus on the buyers. Public health outreach has targeted sex workers for decades, but has much less commonly focused on reaching the johns. Et cetera."

Interesting article here on sex worker demographics.

From googling around, I would say that almost all of the studies that I saw of sex workers suffered from tiny sample sizes and pretty obvious sampling biases (e.g. population contact coming from criminal justice or workers seeking out health services, rather than including people who weren't being arrested or seeking out e.g. addiction counseling). I can look into it further (when I'm less busy), but my understanding of the LGBT numbers that we've got is that they also come from pretty small sample sizes. Gingerbeer could probably give better info overall, since she works in public health in SF.
posted by klangklangston at 6:26 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


The article klang links to is awesome. And I assuredly believe that in spite of the fact that it confirms and repeats so many of my firm beliefs about this topic rather than simply because it agrees with those beliefs. Assuredly.
posted by Justinian at 7:02 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


On how the argument that changing your name post-marriage is always anti-feminist is actually problematic in many ways

Asides from that tiny derail:

In an ideal world, I would earn a fair bit of money as a female sex worker catering exclusively to women. I've got this semi-fantasy of being a pro-domme or financial domme that solely caters to white straight guys who need to absolve themselves of their privilege. I did seriously look into being a sugar baby at one point.

Yes, in an ideal world I would likely choose sex work as an option.

I've done erotic performance art (mostly in art-related situations, but there's been some pieces that blurred the line). I've done a bit of porn and a bit of camgirling. I'm pretty comfortable with open sexuality and am a bit of an exhibitionist - so yay for times where I can use that to earn some money, especially when I am failing to find a job elsewhere.

I did try to work at strip clubs or topless bars, but I would never be hired because I don't look at all the type and I am a little too lazy to femme up. In an ideal world my looks wouldn't matter so much. I could get up on stage, shake my ass and panties off, get paid - regardless of how I look. I know there's some market for it - I have done burlesque for a number of years and a lot of people in the audience are generally pretty appreciative. It's mostly the manager-types that are more picky.

And then there's the attendant issues of how society doesn't really encourage women to find sexual satisfaction in a paid setting. I have paid for different kinds of sex work before, and it's generally went well - there wasn't any stigma of a female customer. And I have heard of a fair few queer women who wish there were more avenues for anonymous sex or bathhouses or all the stuff that gay men seem to have in droves for women. But the few attempts people make at doing that have died because the market isn't sustainable - because of that stigma, the need to keep those desires hidden.

An "ideal world" that posits that no one would ever want to do sex work, ever, would really stunt people like me. I know I'm not the only one who would go into sex work - whether enthusiastically or "hey, it's a job" or whatever - if we were in a world where sex workers had full rights and it wasn't criminalised and it wasn't so stigmatised. If it was OK to fulfil some of our desires and fantasies in a professional, somewhat commercial setting, rather than having to try and get lucky through dating. If it was OK to have an anonymous session, you don't need to know the other person beyond that encounter, and that's fine.

Right now that world isn't quite this one, but people make do anyway. My art is sometimes (though not lately) an outlet for that. Other people do go into sex work, keeping all the caveats in mind. You have projects like the Lusty Lady and the indie strip nights that provide a small sense of community and alternative ethics. It's a work in progress.
posted by divabat at 9:07 PM on October 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


Well, right, that's why I'm holding open the possibility that I'm wrong and sex work is not dependent on the patriarchy and could exist outside that framework. I just think it's dishonest to ignore that framework in the meantime, even while supporting any actions that move sex workers toward more autonomy.
posted by jaguar at 9:19 PM on October 9, 2014


I just think it's dishonest to ignore that framework in the meantime, even while supporting any actions that move sex workers toward more autonomy.

I don't think any of us who are pro-sex-work are ignoring the framework at all.
posted by divabat at 9:34 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think everyone is, but I do think some are. The Robot Hugs cartoon seems to be. The Charlotte Shane pieces seem to not be. I think there's definitely an ongoing debate.
posted by jaguar at 10:09 PM on October 9, 2014


And then there's the attendant issues of how society doesn't really encourage women to find sexual satisfaction in a paid setting. I have paid for different kinds of sex work before, and it's generally went well - there wasn't any stigma of a female customer. And I have heard of a fair few queer women who wish there were more avenues for anonymous sex or bathhouses or all the stuff that gay men seem to have in droves for women. But the few attempts people make at doing that have died because the market isn't sustainable - because of that stigma, the need to keep those desires hidden.

An "ideal world" that posits that no one would ever want to do sex work, ever, would really stunt people like me. I know I'm not the only one who would go into sex work - whether enthusiastically or "hey, it's a job" or whatever - if we were in a world where sex workers had full rights and it wasn't criminalised and it wasn't so stigmatised. If it was OK to fulfil some of our desires and fantasies in a professional, somewhat commercial setting, rather than having to try and get lucky through dating. If it was OK to have an anonymous session, you don't need to know the other person beyond that encounter, and that's fine.


Not that you need me or anyone to say it, but everything you're saying here is awesome and very much How It Should Be. I certainly agree with the premise that anyone who would be a shithead in the context of sex work is someone who'd be a shithead in the context of sex period. But certainly some people are not "unlucky" in dating; they're just shitheads who tell themselves they're just unlucky. And sex, race, and class are still linked in many unfortunate ways outside sex work that such shitheads will definitely try to replicate within the client-provider relationship, too.

So a lot of the work in or around sex work will, practically, be client screening. However, saying that can really easily shift a bunch of the burden of changing things onto sex workers; it's unfair to ask the sex work profession to police the creepers this way when they aren't causing the problem. .

But you're also getting at something else: the market isn't the same for different kinds of sexual expression. Anecdotally. it's much harder to find clients as a pro sub than as a pro dom/me, for instance. I would guess that the exhibitionist/audience thing would be marketized the same way; that is , exhibitionists get paid and voyeurs pay. So certain kinds of sexual roles or desires seem to align with the client or the provider side, and that may well have to be thought in terms of what both gendered and class hierarchies do to sexual desire and sexual performance.

Destigmatizing sexuality and sex work does a lot of good, and I support it wholeheartedly. But I could still see sex work turning into something like the music industry, where we get all kinds of problems around compensation for performance, and this in an industry with a fair bit of unionization.

If supporting strong unionization or collective ownership aren't part and parcel of creating a world where we all make sure that sex work works then we're just going to reproduce the same shitty conditions within it. Strip clubs have amateur nights, too, for example; that strikes me as a way to reduce the economic power of professionals in t he same way that underpaid internships reduce the economic power of workers. The porn industry, too, has a lot of problems because workers' rights aren't really respected in a lot of quarters. (Every industry has these problems, but in sex work we end up talking in terms of sexual assault when this happens, not just in terms of "mere" economic exploitation.)

Again, though, any reform in sex work is likely going to happen as part of a larger set of labor reforms. The fight for sex workers' rights in the near term is everyone's fight. But in the long term, the perfect world is perhaps the one where you can pursue sex along professional, even anonymous terms without either side having to worry about "the market" at all.

The kinds of sex work you're talking about are the kinds that are probably most practically easy to disentangle from the big problems, and the kinds that do the most, well, work to improve people's situations in an often bigoted, still patriarchal world. So yes, let's fix this now if we can by demanding legal and labor rights for sex workers and pushing back against stigmatization in the professional and the personal realms of sex. None that means we can't keep working on fixing the other stuff together.

I'm skeptical of how far we can take the whole "Performativity is politics" angle, but I hope that's not the same thing as saying that I don't support the fight for the rights and dignity of sex workers.
posted by kewb at 5:04 AM on October 10, 2014


jaguar: I took the Robot-Hugs comic to be focused on how to not treat sex workers you're hiring with disrespect, not necessarily an intersectional analysis on sex work. That doesn't mean the parties involved in making the comic aren't aware of the context.
posted by divabat at 8:49 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


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