Lets Call Sex Work What It Is: Work

Most PopularThere was one group of people who did perform unwaged work in the dungeon: the many male houseboys who would telephone, at least once each day, to ask to come and clean. The women who worked in the dungeon knew that managing these mens slave fantasies was itself a form of work, but when they could just turn them loose on the dishes, the worst they would have to do is check later to see if anything untoward had happened to a glass or fork. It was never meant as a commentary on the years of feminists arguing over the value of housework, but it still could feel deeply gratifying that the houseboys were made to understand their only reward would be the empty sink.Thisthe notes, the bills, the dishesis the look inside a dungeon youll get when you work there, not when youre paying for it.On an opposite coast, there was the college town escort agency run by R., who really was just the one who paid for the ad in the back of the paper each week and the mobile phone that customers would call after seeing the ad. The women who shared the ad and phone line paid R. a share of each half-hour or hour appointment they got through the ad, which meant they didnt need to be around all the time to pick up the phone or give any information about themselves to the newspaper that ran the ad. They just showed up at the motel room or house where theyd meet their customers. Every once in a while a woman would call the phone number, wanting to work with them, and R. would meet with them in a coffee shop. If they decided to work together, shed train them on all of this. Some of the women took turns answering the phone and booking appointments, and after http://free-shemale-webcams.easyxblogs.com - free shemale webcams - they learned how to manage that, theyd end up going off on their own.And there was M., who modeled for a few shemale websites. This was not a term she used to describe herself, but she made most of her money escorting men who were fans of those sites to sex parties held in clubs and other semiprivate venueswhether or not they had sex, which they did sometimes. The websites were ways to advertise herself as a date for hire without having to pay to be featured in online escort ad directories, and when the customers would e-mail her as fans, they could make plans to meet up. M. would make it clear that she would be paid for their meeting as well. A friend of hers was busted when an undercover cop contacted her through an overt online escort ad, made an appointment, and then arrested her in her own apartment, also taking her phone and her laptop. M. wasnt as fearful of having an encounter with police at the club.Ad PolicyAnd there was C., who ran a porn site out of the apartment she shared with her boyfriend. In addition to modeling for her own porn, she also recruited others from the online forums she posted in, or through friends who knew what she did for a living. When a model came to C.s apartment to shoot, the only contact shed have with anyone associated with the porn site was C., who also acted as photographer. C.s work computer was her personal computer; her workplace was her living rooma couch, a photo backdrop, her DVDs and her cats. Sometimes she ran out of money to pay for models and would just shoot herself until more memberships came in. Sometimes fans would ask her to visit them in other cities and pay for her to fly out and shoot models there. The money could be unpredictable. She used to work in a strip club to supplement it.Though these are four of the most visible forms of sex workporn, stripping, domination and escortingand each offers a distinct environment, its not uncommon for workers to draw their incomes from more than one of them. Its about more than maximizing their earning potential; its also a way to negotiate the varying degrees of exposure and surveillance that come with each venue. For every escort who would never give up her privacy by working in a strip club, chancing that someone she knew would come in, theres a stripper who would never give up her privacy by working in porn or having her image posted online, and theres a porn performer who would never have sex for money outside the context of a porn shoot.These are also only anecdotes drawn from sex workers Ive met and worked with over the last ten years in the United States. Each involves some work online and offline. Each caters to customers in a specific way, and with its own conventions: websites sell photo sets and memberships; escort services set up appointments; clubs charge entrance fees and sell drinks; and performers sell stage shows and private dances. Each sell takes its own skills, has its own hustle, its own downsides.However, as distinct as the work and their environments may be and whatever the dangers of lumping them together, there is a political usefulness in calling all of this sex work, while also insisting that it varies considerably over time and place. To do so is to insist that those who do sex work, in all of their workplaces and in varied conditions, deserve the rights and respect accorded to workers in any other industry. The portrait of street-level prostitution, for example, as its on display in media accountsa woman, most often a woman of color, standing in a short skirt and leaning into a car or pacing toward oneis a powerful yet lazily constructed composite. As the lead character of the prostitute imaginary, she becomes a stand-in for all sex workers, a reduction of their work and lives to one fantasy of a body and its particular and limited performance for public consumption. Sex workers bodies are rarely presented or understood as much more than interchangeable symbolsfor urban decay, for misogyny, for exploitationeven when invoked by those who claim some sympathy, who want to question stereotypes, who want to help. GET A DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTION
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Subscribe The character isnt even representative of all the street-soliciting sex workers she stands in for. When considering the practice of street-based sex work, sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein observes, it is important to recognize the extent to which the practices and meanings of sexual labor varied in the different prostitution strolls that she studied, even in the same city. Some of this sex work can be more accurately described as trade or barter, Bernstein writes, self-organized, occasional exchanges that generally took place within womens own homes and communities. She distinguishes this from the sexual labor of career streetwalkers, in which commercial sexual exchange was conceptualized as work that resided in the public display of the body. You find this echoed in the research of Chicagos Young Womens Empowerment Project, a grassroots organization made up of women and girls of color who have been or who currently are involved in the sex trade. Theyve adopted the descriptor sex trades and street economies to recognize that, for their community, trading sex for what they need to survive isnt necessarily understood as their work, and that it occurs alongside other informal labor, such as hair braiding or babysitting.The sex industry is varied and porous throughout. Consider its other most visible outpost in America: the legal brothels of rural Nevada in the few counties where prostitution was never fully criminalized, and where strict regulation and isolation are employed to make it tolerable to the public. There, according to The State of Sex, a recent study conducted by Barbara G. Brents, Crystal Jackson and Kathryn Hausbeck, one-third of brothel workers had never done any other kind of sex work before, but rather came to it directly from non-sexual service work. Three-quarters of those they interviewed move between straight work and sex work. Selling sex, they write, is often one form of labor among a variety of jobs.When we say that sex work is service work, we dont say that just to sanitize or elevate the status of sex workers, but also to make plain that the same workers who are performing sex work are also performing nonsexual service work. In her study of Rust Belt strippers published in Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy, and the State in Global Perspective, Susan Dewey observed that the vast majority of the dancersall but oneat one club in upstate New York had worked outside the sex industry, and many had left intermittently for low-wage, service-sector work elsewhere before returning with the recognition that they preferred the topless bar with its possibility of periodic windfalls from customers. For the dancers who Dewey surveyed, it was the work outside of the sex industry that was exploitative, exclusionary, and without hope for social mobility or financial stability.Ad PolicyOpponents of the sex industry, from the European Womens Lobby to reactionary feminist bloggers, like to claim that sex workers have the audacity to insist that their work is a job like any other. By this, its safe to say, antisex work activists are not simply agreeing with sex workers that the conditions under which sexual services are offered can be as unstable and undesirable as those cutting cuticles, giving colonics or diapering someone elses babies.What sex work opponents actually have in mind when they cringe at the idea that sex work could be a job like any other is that sex work does notand cannotresemble their work. When antisex work crusaders think of jobs, theyre thinking of their more respected labor administering social projects, conducting research and lobbying. To consider sex work to be on the same level as that work breaks down the divisions that elevate some forms of labor while denigrating others.The real message of antisex work feminists is, Its the women working against sex work who are the real hard workers, shattering glass ceilings and elevating womanhood, while the tramps loll about down below. As political theorist Kathi Weeks notes, to call a woman a tramp is to judge the value of a womans sexuality and labor. Every tramp, she writes in The Problem with Work, is a potentially dangerous figure that could, unless successfully othered, call into question the supposedly indisputable benefits of workand home and family, and womens commitment to all of it. When sex workers are rescued by antisex work reformers, they are being disciplined, set back into their right role as good women. This isnt just the province of large NGOs; one-woman rescue missions have popped up online and in megachurches, projects that claim to support themselves through the sale of candles and jewelry made by rescued sex workers. These jobs may technically exist outside the sex industry, but without a supply of rescued workers, there would be no cheap labor, no candlesand there would be no projects for the rescuers to direct.As feminist anarchist Emma Goldman noted in 1910, our societys panic over prostitution does little for actual sex workers but does quite successfully help to create a few more fat political jobsparasites who stalk about the world as inspectors, investigators, detectives, and so forth. The loss of sex workers income was and continues to be antisex work activists gain.Opponents even take sex workers jobs when they win. Socialist feminist activist and antiracist campaigner Selma James, in her essay Hookers in the House of the Lord, documents the closure of a successful grassroots sex workers legal project in London in the eighties, so feminist lawyers and women from the anti-porn lobby could create their own without having to actually employ the sex workers who started this advocacy. What we are witnessing before our very eyes is the process whereby womens struggle is hidden from history and transformed into an industry, James writes, jobs for the girls.These demands on sex workers labor, while it is simultaneously devalued, is why we still insist that sex work is work. But this should not be confused with uncritical sentiment, as if sex work is only work if its good work, if we love to do it. Being expected to perform affection for our jobs might feel familiar to sex workersmanagement at San Franciscos unionized peep show the Lusty Lady tried to insert language in their contract that the job was meant to be fun, which the dancers refused to accept. To insist that sex workers only deserve rights at work if they have fun, if they love it, if they feel empowered by it is exactly backward. Its a demand that ensures they never will.