December 18, 2009
The day after the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers
Recently I overheard a conversation in which a woman stated that because she’s a feminist, she opposes prostitution. Another woman chimed in, stating that she, too, opposes prostitution, and that no woman ever chooses to be a prostitute. Those were actually the words she used: “no woman, ever.” She went on to say that a woman might become a prostitute voluntarily to try to escape poverty or what have you, but that that’s not really a free choice.
I thought of that conversation today as I reflected on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, which was yesterday. I agree with Jos of Feministing when she says that the notion that “sex work cannot really be a chosen profession, regardless of what sex workers themselves might think . . . leads to the continued criminalization of sex workers rather than efforts to make it a safer, non-exploitative job.”
Also, quite frankly, I think convincing oneself that no woman would actually choose to be a prostitute—and nevermind how that framing erases prostitutes who aren’t women, and sex workers who aren’t prostitutes—ultimately enables one toward seeing sex workers as less than human, “disposable persons,” as Michael from Sex in the Public Square put it yesterday. He used the phrase in a paragraph wherein he makes some important points:
We also need to consider the way violence against sex workers is customarily framed as situational or predatory, or how when sex workers are the victims the job and not the person becomes privileged, and the crime becomes portrayed as just another disposable person. What is not conveyed by such reporting is how it is the state itself that becomes the agent of violence, creating the structural factors that shape and facilitate the observed violence. Similarly the agents of social control, policing and criminal justice, are the major determinants of much of the violence. We must also realise that the agents of social control are just tools by which society disciplines subdominant cultures and that equally destructive is the violence of stigmatisation.
The memorial Radical Vixen participated in yesterday sounds like an excellent way not only to memorialize fallen sex workers, but also to focus on their humanity. I recommend checking that particular piece out, as well as the writing she’s done in the past and will do in the future about her fellow sex workers.
(I’m a bit concerned, though, that all of us are sort of preaching to the converted. How might we go about getting this message out to the public at large? How do we go about changing the dominant culture?)