Saturday, March 19, 2011

Whores and Other Feminists

Whores and Other Feminists edited by Jill Nagle
Weight: 12 oz
Method of Disposal: Selling

This book was much better than my last attempt to read about feminism and the sex industry. I started reading this book about 4 years ago, on a plane going to Chicago, and I finally finished it about 4 months ago. The second time I picked it up I could not put it down. I have been very reluctant to get rid of it. There were definitely segments of the book that I found less than impressive and some that really irritated me but, for the most part, I was smitten. I still want so much more, but I recommend that you put this on your reading list, amongst others. There isn’t enough written on the topic by people in the industry, but the genre seems to be growing all the time. Side note: I am still sad you are gone, Spread Magazine.
I will break the book down as quickly as possible. After the preface, introduction, and acknowledgements you are put into the world of the peep show and how it feels for one woman to work within it. Then, you meet a feminist who loves to write pornographic stories. The third piece is Cosi Fabian describing why she is “proud—and happy—to be called ‘whore’” (53). Ann Renee has a short piece about wanting “to fuck the world.” Nina Hartley writes about porn and the adult entertainment industry. She talks to us about her exploration of sex and how important having a good sex life can be. She is an adventurer and a teacher. Annie Sprinkle offers a valuable and short chapter on how to fight of sex worker burn out syndrome.

And then we are on to part 2, and it just gets better. This section gets more into a larger-scale portrait of sex work. It gets into the structures, legal, social, and in pop culture. In “Love for Sale” Eve Pendleton writes, accurately, that “sex workers provide a powerful indictment of gender roles by demanding payment for playing them: feminism would be transformed and strengthened by incorporating this analysis” (81). I also agree with Priscilla Alexander who writes, “I believe as long as women are arrested for the crime of being sexually assertive, for standing on the street without a socially acceptable purpose or a male chaperone, I am not free” (84).

The 3rd section is dedicated to “reversal, subversion, and re-vision.” We get to read about male prostitution, BDSM, feminist pornography, the Mustang Ranch, and a butch Gigolette with a wonderful guide to “negotiating your desires.” One of my least favorite pieces was contained in part 3, and it was about the Mustang Ranch. Some things about it rubbed me the wrong way. Monet always wanted to go to the Ranch and so one day a boyfriend brought her. The women at the Ranch were less than welcoming. First, she expresses disappointment that they had to choose from women who were o.k. with a couple, and she “wondered why didn’t get to pick girl from the traditional lineup” (168). She later states that she wishes she could have been treated like a male customer and mentions the lineup again saying she couldn’t take part in the usual “just because some of the girls think eating pussy is gross” (168). She realized “homophobia was alive and well in the desert” (168). Then she talks about wanting to rescue the woman she eventually has her fantasy with. Luckily, that need to rescue is later turned into a need to educate and gain sex worker’s rights. She realizes that sex work is worth everything you might be asked to spend, and she values the experience. The last paragraph of the essay is great. The stuff before it is frustrating. I believe she ran into homophobia at the Ranch, but I think it is perfectly acceptable for a woman not to want to have sex with other women and to claim that as a boundary she is not willing to cross. We should all have a say in who we sleep with so I did not understand her level of irritation and the idea of rescuing disturbed me, but she immediately recovered from that. Overall, I got very little from this particular essay.

The 4th section is about “myth, stigma, and silence.” Stacy Reed exposes common myths about strip clubs and strippers. She writes that she was safer at the clubs than in her own home (186). A fat sex phone operator talks about how she worries about the political implications of what she does and admits to acting thinner over the phone, but she also writes that "Sex work has taught me that I own my body. It has taught me that sex is a choice. That work is a choice. That what is attractive about me is not a lie. That telling stories gives me power. (190). She says, "Sex work is like real life. Only straighter. And thinner" (190). And, ultimately, therein lies the problem with sex work. It is not better than the rest of the world. It is a part of it. Sexism, racism, ableism become a part of it because they are a part of larger society. Sex work and pornography do not create those problems, but they can be infiltrated by them--just like everything else.

Then we hear from a sex-positive dike writer. That is followed by a discussion about women of color in sex work, which exposes the racism that is not escaped by working in a “fringe” job. 6 women have a discussion about what it is like to work in the industry, and they are all from different backgrounds and have different experiences. In chapter 22, an ex-LAPD officer left her job after 10 years and becomes involved with sex work. She was burnt out and horrified by the abuses she saw other officers committing, some officers were even busted having sex with minors as young as 10 years old (213). After becoming a call girl, she would get arrested and experience the fear of being detained first hand. She was working on a book to expose the abuses within the LAPD, and that made a lot of people unhappy with her. She ends her essay with this statement, “I am one prostitute that no one and nothing can silence—not eighteen months in prison, not the women of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, not an apathetic media, and certainly not the police!” (216). I, for one, am glad to hear it.

The 4th section ends with another piece by Monet where she describes being outside of the industry and then inside of it. She talks about the importance of words. Specifically, “slut” and “whore.” She writes, “If we as feminists use these words to stigmatize some women—any women—then we are part of the problem. We must embrace these labels or we will continue to be controlled by them. One need not be a sex worker to experience being a bad girl; one can simply refuse to wear the label of the good girl, and let people assume she is sexually experienced, forward, and promiscuous, even if she is not” (222). Agreed.

The final section is on “Activism, Intervention, and Alliance.” The Scarlet Harlot tells us about her invention of the term “sex work.” Lyndall Maccowan interviews Denise Turner about organizing and worker demands in a massage parlor. We are then led into the scary world of Men Against Pornography and what it means to be a sex-positive male feminist. Teri Goodson writes about being a part of NOW despite the stigma that surrounds sex work in the organization and Siobhan Brooks writes about racism at the lusty lady, a petition, and her push for change. Joan Kennedy Taylor discusses the Sex Wars and a woman’s right to pornography.

All of this is followed by an appendix of “organizations for sex worker support, advocacy, education, and professional advancement” (259). It is dated information, and I could not find all of the groups that were listed. I was particularly sad about not being able to track down the Atlanta based group. Plenty of the groups are still around though, so you should take a look and find other, new ones. As you can tell, with this break down, this book covers a lot of ground in under 300 pages. It is well worth your time. There is a lot to learn!

There is so much talk, lately, about sex trafficking and child slavery. Movies, books, sting/bust shows, radio interviews, and new legislation can be found at every turn. It is important to protect children from being kidnapped and sold for sex. That is one of the more deplorable things you hear about, and it must be combated. But let’s make sure we do not conflate that issue with the adult, consensual, selling of sex. The sex industry is an umbrella for all types of people and all sorts of work. It is complicated, but the one thing we know is that people need more protections and more respect. We also know that sex workers are human beings, with lives, friends, and family members. They are not separate entities who deserve abuse, arrest, and contempt.

Check out this shit:

Let’s do something about it. Any ideas?

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