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 A General Overview

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PostSubject: A General Overview   Thu Jul 30, 2009 5:51 pm

Karl Marx once said that “prostitution is only a particular expression of the universal prostitution of the worker”.1 Modern semantics makes reference to prostitution as “selling yourself” in sports, politics or capitalist business ventures. The word is part of our language; the profession firmly entrenched in both our collective memory and progressive culture.2 “The world's oldest profession” is a cliché that phases no one. Yet for most of us, the lives of the women in the actual work of prostitution remains safely tucked away behind shiny stereotypes. We know of prostitution all too well. But do we know any prostitutes?

The more liberal among us theoretically argue for the rights of prostitutes as sex workers. These women choose a career in sex work as one might choose to be a secretary or nurse (with probably lesser pay). The women work in the sex industry, but they are first and foremost workers.3 Prostitutes in Amsterdam rent rooms in public display and pay taxes as other workers do. Activists in San Francisco fight to reverse negative preconceptions in society (e.g. the COYOTE group). 4

In spite of gains in equal status and respect in places like the Netherlands and parts of the western U.S., prostitution is still seen by most as an undesirable career choice for themselves or their daughters. Some prostitutes have rights, true, but the real profession of prostitution is not one most women aim for. In the rich West, activists and progressive prostitutes fight for increased status. They claim that there is no need for protest or discrimination. We all just need to change our attitudes or economic conditions which take away a woman’s choice.5 But in the worldwide scope, these select few are the exception, not the rule.

Critics argue that the prostitute's casual lack of boundaries between the private bedroom – where for most, there is a link with intimacy and emotion – and the public brothel – where one can purchase a blow job or intercourse for a set fee – is the crux of the problem. The sex act becomes a thing to do (if you have the money). The woman becomes a tool to do it with. In the very nature of their work, prostitutes and their surroundings are objectified: an exchange of impersonal sex for impersonal money by an impersonal intermediary.6 One feminist reflects, “The central ideological problem for feminism is that the exchange of money for sex is taken to be the exchange of equivalents. This is a socially created illusion and is central to the commodification of women's bodies as use objects and our subsequent oppression in society”.7


8


Often a woman comes into sex work from a negative context, a background of abuse, poverty, coercion, not fitting in.9 We read the reports of women tricked into sexual slavery from Eastern Europe, transported to sit in plastic chairs by a Spanish road or to dance in a bordello-style nightclub. We hear of little girls sold by their families for food in Thailand or young Filipino women promised work as domestics in big cities like Manila or the Middle East who find themselves instead tricked into servicing men. From one sociologist's lengthy research with prostitutes in London, many women interviewed were young, foreigners, without much money or education. Others were from working or middle-class backgrounds who had left their pasts and “spoke incessantly of social mobility and the success that sex work would bring”.10

Historically, prostitution has long been viewed as an evil of society, a hotbed of disease and death, something to be hidden away. At best, people considered it as a health-inducing drain for excess male sexuality, a sort of lancing of a sexual boil.11 And in spite of advances in rights for sex workers in western countries, the life of a prostitute holds many challenges.

Prostitutes in many countries often face fines, imprisonment, children taken by the state, increased incidence of male violence (from pimps or clients).12 And there is also often a double standard from the law according to gender. Whereas a prostitute might receive a hefty fine for a one-time solicitation or raid from the “vice squad,” the man who circles the streets in his car or visits the brothel often receives warning slaps on the wrist. In the West, clients are punished by jail or a fine for sex with underage prostitutes. Men travel to other places like Thailand specifically for those possibilities.13

On a much more personal level, the prostitute faces the daily job of living a life apart from her work within her environment. As one woman mused, “In so many ways we have to duck and dive because we're not supposed to exist”.14 Women have to fabricate names and occupations upon meeting new people, buying a house or doing taxes. They have to be able to handle confrontation and recognition in public. They work hard making boundaries for themselves: always using a condom at work but not with a loved one; avoiding personal pleasure at work; fictionalizing personal information; distinctions between types of partners.15

Oftentimes though, regardless of background, sex work is something to move out of into a better future. As one prostitute reflected, “I would rather not have anything to do with it but, when you run into difficulties, it's what you know and what gives you the money...It's an awful feeling at the end of the day to think that seven or eight men have just been all over you”.16

For many young women, selling one's body is the last resort in a society where women make less money and have less opportunities through unequal conditions like lower-paying jobs and lack of child support.17 And here perhaps we can claim the real exploitation of prostitutes, that it is all in essence a question of poverty and economics, not of the profession itself. Poverty, economics and power are often interconnected. The rich are powerful. The poor are not. Prostitutes in rich countries (sometimes) have more power and rights than those in poor countries.

Now, depending on location, prostitution as a profession or idea has become more or less accepted. Still, oftentimes the woman herself is looked down on. She still fights stigma, fears exposure and humiliation in front of family and friends. To many, the prostitute is a threat to families and marriage. A blemish on society. In the words of one young prostitute, "For many (people) we are not persons, but prostitutes".18

As in other image related work, prostitutes face much pressure to be young, beautiful and thin. “A way of conserving capital,”one prostitute reflected and then went on to speak of exercise, diet, pills and plastic surgery. Women need their alluring appearance to attract and keep clients.19

In the end though, my thesis rests on two important pins: for most, prostitution is the power dynamic of a woman selling her body to men who use that body anonymously and then discard it. And secondly, in spite of some gains, for most of the world, becoming a prostitute is not a personal goal or advancement in status. It is something to escape from, to get out of, to go back to school in order to gain a “respectable” job.20 Because for most people, this kind of giving requires too much on a personal level (apart from arguments on how it negatively affects society), prostitution remains on the fringe. Very few mothers dream of their little girls growing up to be whores.

Susan Edwards, a lawyer and professor who focuses on sex and gender in her work writes, “There is a growing recognition that prostitution is exploitative, but such a perspective is difficult to sustain when the biggest capitalist enterprises – the media – benefit from the trade in pornography and prostitution and seek to suppress the argument of exploitation and to promote the issue of sexual freedom and choice”.21

With media saturation, pornography is increasingly accessible and the whore becomes anesthetized, almost a caricature. We see the lovable, beautiful girl next door in “Pretty Woman” or weep over the tragic love story of Satine in “Moulin Rouge”. We sing along with the catchy Police song “Roxanne”. Tina Turner offers to be our “private dancer, a dancer for money...any old music will do.”

Real-life prostitute Jasmin says, “When people picture a hooker, they picture a woman with a wig, a lot of make-up, high heels, short skirt, and fishnet pantyhose”.22 A woman can also see the same thing flipping through the latest issue of a high-fashion Vogue spread.

I push this theory even further. Media benefits from allying itself to the sex industry in pushing the “mainstream” woman towards becoming part of it. In movies and videos, the heroines or female sidekicks are young, beautiful and always sexy. Through advertising, a woman sees how she can follow suit - what she needs to look like, who she needs to become: a dewy young sex kitten, the leggy model with a barely-there dress, a laughing beauty with a full bosom and heavy mascara.

23

A woman who builds her identity around sexuality. Women learn well and early on the rules of emotional prostitution.




1. http://www.redflag.org.uk/frontline/13/13sexwork.html
2. Day, 2007, 124.
3. O'Neill, 1997, 4,5.
4. http://www.bayswan.org/COYOTE.html
5. O'Neill, 22-3.
6. Day, 126.
7. O'Neill, 24.
8. http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2632/3771155475_898e3ab797_m.jpg
9. O'Neill, 15.
10. Day, 50.
11. O'Neill, 5-6.
12. O'Neill, 7-8.
13. Edwards, 1997, 64,66.
14. Day, 68.
15. Day, 36-9.
16. Day, 25.
17. O'Neill, 12,15.
18. Desquitado, 1992, 104.
19. Day, 179.
20. Day, 27.
21. Edwards, 69-70.
22. Scrambler, 1997, 105.
23. http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3589/3771615341_3218b61ae5.jpg
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annbow



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PostSubject: an alternative lifestyle   Thu Aug 20, 2009 11:38 pm

I don´t think many women aim for this career, but if a woman chooses to work as a prostitute, she should be respected for that. Sex drives a lot of things in life. If someone wants to go this direction, it´s her choice and she shouldn´t be looked down on for that.
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Nina



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PostSubject: Re: A General Overview   Thu Sep 24, 2009 6:29 pm

annbow wrote:
I don´t think many women aim for this career, but if a woman chooses to work as a prostitute, she should be respected for that. Sex drives a lot of things in life. If someone wants to go this direction, it´s her choice and she shouldn´t be looked down on for that.

I don't think this text is looking down on prostitutes or disrespecting them. And I doubt that most prostitutes really "choose" to do this "work". Most of them are forced into it somehow (not always literally forced, but still forced). Let's not be fooled by thinking that women do this as a career choice or for fun or to have sex.

This is an interesting film: Not For Sale, made by Marie Vermeiren:

http://www.womenlobby.org/site/video_en.asp
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amria05



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PostSubject: Re: A General Overview   Tue Nov 17, 2009 5:59 pm

A relevant story:

http://www.lemondrop.com/2009/11/16/london-call-girl-is-a-scientist-who-had-sex-for-tuition-money/?icid=main|main|dl3|link5|http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lemondrop.com%2F2009%2F11%2F16%2Flondon-call-girl-is-a-scientist-who-had-sex-for-tuition-money%2F

On a different note, I've always found some aspects of the feminist movement confusing. It of course was based on the need for equal treatment of women - in the workplace, in family life, and in society. It seems like it should have been about embracing our femininity and convincing the world that as women, we are valuable because we are as capable as (and in many ways more empowered than) our male counterparts.

However, it seems it turned into women wanting to [/i]be[i] men. Burning bras is just one example. Perhaps demanding sexual liberation was another, if you believe that women have a more emotional response to sex. The media sure seems to think we do and they manipulate and exploit it endlessly. Teaching us emotional prostitution seems to work.

Perhaps it's time for a different kind of feminist movement. If women are inherently different from men (which research, the media, and common sense seem to confirm) then maybe it's time to take back our femininity and fight fire with fire - therefore denying the emotional prostitution the media shoves down our throats.
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