Wednesday 1 May 2013

Sex Work as a Feminist Statement

Happy Beltane everyone! I've been away from the blog the last couple of months setting up my new healing centre, focussing on developing my client practice and how to integrate that with my other health and wellbeing work. Those who know me, know I'm an ardent juicing proponent, and I'm slowly moving towards a more raw food diet. All of these aspects of my life have been flying around needing my attention, hence a slow trickle through the blog. I've also been giving more talks on sex work, its relationship to feminism and sexuality in general, which I really enjoy. For me it's a crucial part of spreading the word about sex work, of taking the real voices of sex workers further into the community and going some way to shattering judgment and prejudice.

I've never professed to be an academic. I've never claimed to be an expert on anything. In fact, it's fair to say that I have a tendency to mistrusting anything or anyone who presents themselves as being somehow more able to express an opinion on something based upon pure theory as opposed to life skills or experience, and a great suspicion of anyone laying claim to the mantle 'guru'. In my time as a drug publications researcher and support worker, coming across many drug workers with absolutely no experience of what it really feels like to live under the omnipresent shadow of addiction, I came to understand very clearly that it's important to listen to the voices of those who know how it feels to live something. If you want to know how it feels to live with addiction, ask an addict. If you want to know how it feels to run a marathon, ask a long distance runner. If you want to know how it feels to build a shopping mall, ask a construction worker, and if you want to know what it feels like to sell sex, ask a sex worker. That would be logical right? That would make sense wouldn't it? So why are sex workers so consistently and routinely omitted from any serious debate and discussion around health, social and law reform that directly impacts them? Why are they so deliberately ignored, and told they are deluded if they dare to suggest they not only choose their work but have opinions on it?

Explain it to me would you.

Most objections I hear seem to come from the basic premise "but no woman would ever choose to do that would she" and here I find the concept of choice really quite fascinating. Of course we may well choose to engage in sex for money, why not? Why do we still get so stuck on the idea that something that can be immensely pleasurable can at the same time make us some money? Why is it okay to trade our time, skills, expertise in other areas, but not our bodies, and who gets to decide that morals, which are generally entirely subjective, suddenly hold court over our capacity to make a self determined good living. Note the key words there "self" and "determined". We're not talking about coercion, non consensual or trafficking here, we're talking about free will, about independent agency and the right that all people have to say YES to things as much as they have the right to say NO. So why is it still so damn tricky to speak out and say "I choose to earn a living exchanging sex for money." Is that so different from the other ways we may trade sex and our bodies for progress, favours, approval, security, things of value etc etc?

I recently came across a job description. The job title was 'Awesomeness Arranger' and was followed by an equally vacuous, extremely patronising and quite frankly outrageously sexist job description which included things like "a masters degree in making people smile", and "a degree in bubliness" as preferred qualifications. It also offered 'totally rad badges' as perks, and stated that 'girls' must not make duck faces, engage in unnecessary high pitched laughter or have bangs or small pet dogs. You get the jist.

By contract, I read this job description:
High hourly rate, flexible scheduling, a sexually safe work environment with carefully chosen and monitored staff. High standards of customer behaviour, a safe place to discover your sexuality and a supportive working environment.

The first was for a burrito chain, the second for a well know and highly regarded strip club, the first of its kind to become unionised by the women and men who who worked there with the support of those who ran the place. Which would you choose?

No job is ever all good, most are a mix of good days, bad days, dull days, frustrating days and inspiring days. Some more leaning toward the bad end, some the good, but the point is that it's important to focus upon working conditions just like any other job. We need to be focussing on what makes a job safe and healthy, and how can we operate within the law as far as is possible in accordance with the individual laws of each country and/or state.

"Prostitution is not a monolith. Each woman experiences the profession differently."

Again, just like any other job. Imagine this: I dislike the international trade in sweat shop labour, how it serves large conglomerates at the expense of real humanitarian consideration. Would I try to ban clothes? No! I'd look at improving the conditions, pay rates, breaks, work environment of those producing the clothes. We all need income, and as the song goes 'it's not what you do it's the way that you do it, that's what gets results'! Sex workers are still consistently ignored. As a marginalised group, can you imagine any other marginalised group being as constructively excluded from any debate around how to make things better for that group without consultation? Again - no.

And as Gail Pheterson puts it so well "the stigmatisation of prostitution and sex work underlies the social control of women"- I am most inclined to agree. My body, my choice.

My one plea if you're reading this; keep your heart open, your mind open and keep listening, and maybe slowly we will see change for the positive in this profession. Sex is the final frontier, it's where our fears, shame, anxiety, guilt and judgment can all find a cosy nesting place if we let them. So let's not let them any longer. Speak out and be heard. Listen and reflect, and above all have fun and stay safe.

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