Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How do class and race affect different women's approaches to sex work?

The best agencies and the wealthiest clients are far far far less likely to hire black women in most cities in America, even if these clients are black. It should not be at all surprising to anybody that the sort of men who are completely susceptible to messages that they absolutely need to be sleeping with a stereotypically beautiful woman half their age would also absorb messages that black women are less "classy" and therefore work to avoid them. In effect, the "awesome" and "empowerfulling" sex work that many white women wax poetic about in their flimsy rationalizations is simply not accessible to most working-class black and hispanic women because the industry is inherently racist and classist.

However, the same women who claim to be feminists, fighting for the right to "do what they want with their bodies" over the objections of privileged white men seem to be willing to completely overlook the privilege from which they operate and the racism of the system they are supporting when they support the sex industry.

Ladies, here's a newsflash: Black, latino, and other women who aren't white or from one of the asian countries that allows male hobbyists to play into some sort of orientalist fantasy (Indonesians are not sexually exciting but Japanese are, for some reason), don't have the same access to your "awesome" "empowerfulling" sex work. They are far far far more likely to have to work for abusive pimps, in dirty massage parlors, on street corners, and for far far far less money.

For a privileged sex worker to complain the stories of sex workers who are overtly abused are widely over-reported is just not true. The majority of female sex workers in the world, according to any reliable study, do not want to be sex workers. To insist that these women do not exist is to silence those whose class/race/other have caused them to have a different viewpoint from you, and doing this is bigotry. For a privileged sex worker to assert that only a quarter of women in sex work are overtly abused and that this number is somehow not terribly relevant, as a group of pro-sex work advocates recently did in their letter to the UN, is completely inexcusable because what it really says is that 25% sexual slavery is okay. And it leads me to wonder if it's okay because it's not happening to the people writing these letters, the privileged. It leads me to wonder if these women just care a little bit less about the sort of person who ends up in lower end sex work.

There is always going to be higher and lower end sex work. This is one of the rules of capitalist systems. If there is an expensive and high-quality version on the market, there will also be an inexpensive and low-quality one. Companies like Whole Foods cannot comprise the entire grocery sector, but somehow "sex workers' rights" advocates fail to empathize with the human beings who would end up working in the prostitution equivalent of a Wal-Mart, and I'm rather sure that on some level it's because these other women don't look/sound/act enough like them.

Somehow, these "sex worker activists" seem to feel that their struggle to be allowed to be sex workers because they should always be allowed to do whatever they feel like even if it is obviously hurting them or even if it hurts other women is somehow far far more important than the struggle of underprivileged women to avoid sex slavery and gain basic human rights. This conviction that your problems somehow trump those of everybody else's, no matter how horrific the problems of others may be compared to your own, is the very definition of privilege, and it needs to end now. Arguing that people need to stop making you feel bad about your "work" at the expense of a focus on ending sexual slavery is ridiculous, and can only make sense to the privileged sex worker, the unconscious bigot.

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