Home > feminism, inequality, politics, racism / white privilege > Sex work as a choice people make in trying to survive capitalism within a sexist, cissexist, racist society.

Sex work as a choice people make in trying to survive capitalism within a sexist, cissexist, racist society.

I would have to think hard to count how many of my friends either do now, or have done, at some point done sex work. and almost all of them are nervous about letting people know because of how judgemental folks attitudes towards their mode of surviving capitalism, sexism, cissexism[0], racism and other intersectional[1] oppressions are. there’s so much shame around it :( so much whorephobia. stereotypes of sex workers as naive, immoral, vapid, stupid, vulnerable, unable to make decisions about their own bodies. as if every person surviving capitalism doesn’t have to make hard choices and compromises about what they do with their time, energy, mind and body in order to pay their rent and bills. and for many this is literally the best choice for them. does the person cleaning toilets get same judgements?

I felt it strongly around the comments about that ukip leader’s racist girlfriend. so many of the articles and comments seemed to centre, and be titilated, that she worked as a glamour model. because that brought in people’s prejudices and stereotypes. here’s an easy exercise – be honest with yourself, and imagine a glamour model or other sex worker. think about what you think they are like, what their background is, education level, interests, knowledge of current affairs and politics. their sexuality and how (outside of work) consent to sex would be likely for them.

now know me. think about what qualities you think i value in friends. and take i have upwards of 30-50 friends who i know to do sex work now or in the past. there is huge variety in the sex work my friends do, but a lot of it is that most stigmatised as “street prostitution”[2] and it definitely includes “models”.

and all these interesting, smart, wise, clued up people who are my friends have taken the decision that for them sex work is the best way to survive capitalism and all the intersectional[1] oppressions.

i mean i wipe people’s bottoms for a living – does that seem any better? ;p

To survive in capitalism means having to have some level of income. And we all make compromises about what we do with our time, bodies and brains in order to get that income. None of us would keep working in the way we do if we got a windfall. We’d probably still want to do something meaningful, and maybe that would mean volunteering somewhere. But it would be different to what we do for work right now. Because we are forced at some level to do that work because we need to pay the bills. We make a choice (ideally) from within what society offers us in the way of work. Many of us have multiple options, and from within that we choose based on the payoff (wages) vs the hours, arduousness, how interesting the work is, how much it fits in with the rest of our life etc etc. For some people the best choice for them is sex work. That gives them the best payoff, and they maintain some degree of freedom and ability to control how and when they work. They are choosing between all the work options they personally have and deciding that sex work is the best out of those options.

Think that sex work is degrading? First off, why? Is sex innately degrading to those on receiving end (ie mostly women or men who “bottom” for other men)? And anyway lots of people’s jobs involve tasks society has deemed degrading. What about cleaning other people’s toilets? Or the way service sector workers are treated?

Feel that nobody would choose sex work as it is dangerous and harmful to sex workers? In that case why would anyone ever choose to work in “forestry, farming and fishing” which has highest incidence of workplace injuries in uk[3]?

Sex workers must be stupid? Brooke Magnanti (Belle de Jour) is an easy counter example[4] as someone who started in sex work to support themselves through their PhD. Or countless of my friends. Again, who do you think I have as friends? There are countless sex workers within that population.

What all of the people I know who are sex workers have in common is that none of them are white, cis, middle class men. Almost everyone I know who is a white, cis, middle class man has a reasonably paid job that he chose to do from amongst many *career* options. And note that even the fact that he got to have a career is notable – that implies some level of interest. Do you think your supermarket checkout assistant chose that because they’re super fascinated by the price of groceries? How many middle class, white, cis men do you see cleaning toilets or stacking shelves for their working lives?

Can you accept that because of how intersectional oppressions operate within our current society, many people don’t have huge numbers of awesome, tempting job options to choose from? And within that, sex work might actually be the best choice for them?

So given all that, can you become aware of your prejudices about sex workers? About who they are and what they’re like? And then think about how that prejudice, if unexamined and unchallenged, might spill out into comments you might make about sex workers. And then how this could project shame and judgement onto sex workers, when actually they’ve just found the best way they know to survive within capitalism and a sexist, racist, cissexist society.

 

[0] how society is set up to take the gender of those who are not trans (ie you, if you’re not trans) as more real and valid than a trans person. and therefore all the shit that trans people have to go through. its similar to how sexism treats all women.

[1] intersectionality is how one person is affected by all the different oppressions within society – class, racism, sexism etc. so for some oppression they might be privileged, but they might be oppressed by another one. for example a working class, white, man who uses a wheelchair is oppressed because he’s working class and disabled, but is still better than a black woman in the exact same situation. but worse off than a middle class man in a wheelchair.

[2] though mostly they don’t do it on the streets anymore due to how the internet has changed how sex workers meet their clients

[3] http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/industry/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_de_Jour_(writer)#Career

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  1. carmenspen
    March 1, 2018 at 1:43 am

    I agreed with everything you said but I noticed that you kept bringing up low wage customer service jobs in comparison to how society views the two. The thing is society has negative views on janitors, cashiers, and other low skilled manual labor jobs. While they consider these jobs to be more legitimate than prostitution/sex work they are still looked down on. No one considers low wage workers to be intelligent people capable of making up their own minds. We live in an elitist society. I think it is elitism that most other oppressions stem from.

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