A “Whore” of Many Colors

by Bettie on July 13, 2011 · 19 comments

in Silly Media Coverage, What is Sex Work?

I just want to know what these people want from us. They argue over which term to use like we are animals, where using the wrong genus actually matters. It is not difficult to figure out. We are sex workers because we use our sexuality to make money, period. All of us: strippers, escorts, dominas, whatever. It is an umbrella term because we can all fit under it. Why is that so hard? Why do they need everybody to be ultra specific before they can tuck themselves in at night?

I know why: this isn’t really about trying to figure out what to call us. This is the kind of classification you use so you know how to react to someone, you know what I mean? They want to know which kind of sex work we do so they can know how to treat us, because “sex work” doesn’t have the same hateful baggage as “whore” or “stripper” does for some people, and it is hard to throw at someone. “This is one sex worker with chutzpah” just doesn’t have the same sting; it sounds like something you say to an equal, not something you say to classify another group of women as less worth respect than you are. I’m looking at you, Andrea Peyser.

It also occurred to me that these people don’t give a shit what we (the people being called “whores” by civilians) want to be called, because if they did they’d ask. It’s 2011, you can find escorts, strippers and even dominas on twitter if you want, you don’t have to look hard. Kat was in fuckin’ Maxim! Do some research! It seems to me that you people are being ugly for no reason, and you don’t realize how stupid you’re making yourselves look. Who makes a concerted effort to keep alive words that hatefully describe a group of which you are not a part? Assholes, that’s who.

Find the original article here if you want to read it. I suggest you do it before lunch, not after.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Viola July 13, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Yes, absolutely! I would add that there are a lot of terms associated primarily with female sexuality – eg, “whore,” “rape,” “pussy,” “abortion” – that are used as metaphors in what I see as a trivializing and/or derogatory way. I hope that at least sometimes people have just failed to think through how misogynist their use of these words is.

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Bettie Bettie July 13, 2011 at 4:57 pm

That’s the problem! That we can live in a world that actively demonizes our sexuality so much that the words used to convey that hatred don’t even have to be thought about, they’re totally normalized.

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Viola July 13, 2011 at 7:44 pm

@Bettie – Well said!

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Rachel July 13, 2011 at 3:33 pm

wow. Yeah that’s just downright ugly. Sex worker seems more accurate and less loaded with misogynistic baggage. Of course, that’s the whole point of these other words, that they dehumanize the recipient, that they can only apply to women…

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Kate July 13, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Though the intentions behind the article you link to are clearly not the best, it does raise a question: what if you are talking about a specific kind of sex worker? “I want to hire a sex worker” can mean anything… So, say, for instance, I want to pay a lady to have sex with me. Am I looking to hire a prostitute? A whore? An escort? I’m not trying to be a jerk here– As a feminist, I’ve realized that I’ve been ignoring an extremely important aspect of feminism, which is sex workers’ rights. I’m just new to this blog/concept/etc and I want to make sure I’m not unintentionally using offensive language.

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Bettie Bettie July 13, 2011 at 4:54 pm

If you are talking about a specific sex worker, then obviously you will be specific. This person isn’t being specific.

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Viola July 13, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Maybe “I want to hire a woman to have [whatever kind of sex you're looking for] with me”?

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Kate July 13, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Well, you wouldn’t always say “I want to hire a person to fix my toilet,” you would sometimes want to say “I want to hire a plumber.” I guess it just makes sense in my brain for people who have sex for money to have a “job title” of sorts. I get the sense that escorts are a certain type of worker who may or may not have sex for money, while other sex workers almost exclusively do a sex-for-money exchange. Are these people still escorts? Or are they prostitutes/whores/some better, non-offensive term that I don’t know?

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Kate July 13, 2011 at 11:13 pm

*not to imply that people who exclusively have sex for money are “better.” “Better” is modifying “term” here. Sorry for the ambiguity in that clause.

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nympholepsy July 13, 2011 at 11:39 pm

When in doubt, I would just say “prostitute.” It’s not a dirty or offensive word, although the stigma attached to it can be annoying.

If a prostitute describes herself as an escort, then call her that. There aren’t really any clear-cut lines as to what type of prostitute does certain kinds of things, only works from certain venues, or whatever.

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Charlotte Shane Charlotte Shane July 13, 2011 at 11:58 pm

What does “sex for money” mean? Penis in vagina penetrative heterosexual sex? Oral sex? Anal? Handjobs? If one man only orgasms while sniffing a woman’s feet, that’s sex for him. If another guy needs to be screwed in the butt while he wears women’s clothing, that’s sex for him, even if the person behind him is fully dressed. (Hopefully s/he is wearing something washable.)

It is a mistake to think that “sex” itself is a clear cut term, which is another reason why “sex worker” is useful. If you’re worried about offending a particular someone, as Bettie said, then you ask them what you prefer. If you aren’t talking about someone specifically, “sex worker” should be fine. If you’re only referring to women who work in a strip club, stripper is probably going to do it. And if you’re only talking about folks who work in a dungeon, they’ll probably be cool with dommes or switches or submissives. Etc. I am confused about why this concept is confusing.

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Kate July 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm

It’s not confusing anymore… @nymholepsy summed it up perfectly. Like I said, I’m completely new to this world, so patience would be appreciated.

lee July 13, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I got so confused when he labeled sex worker as ‘inaccurate.’ Like, excuse me, who asked you? I already told you twice. I once had a client tell me that he “wouldn’t call this sex work” because I do sensual massage. Fuck that.

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Bettie Bettie July 13, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Absolutely! All I could think was “Who are you to even say it’s not accurate?”.

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story story July 14, 2011 at 6:48 pm

i so totally agree that in relation to any specific sex worker, the best route is to simply ask his/her/their preference. i think that advice needs to be qualified though, that the inquirer should be prepared to ask again and again…that is every sex worker they meet may prefer a different title.

the question of labels has been being discussed for ages among all sorts of minority and/or underprivileged and/or marginalized groups (think queers, persons of color, little people and those feminists who hate to be called girls and much prefer womyn). it shouldn’t be a far reach to expect that sex workers might also want the dignity of choosing their own identifier as a collective group AND as individuals.

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Casey July 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm

I’m confused. Are you angry at the guy who wrote Good article? He seems to be saying the same thing you are, which is that it’s not very enlightened to use words like “whore” or “hooker” but instead sex worker (or prostitute, in some cases, to be more precise).

And for the record, there is, in fact, a big difference between stripper and prostitute when you’re reporting on someone being accused of the latter. The maid was being accused of an illegal activity (prostitution), not just a somewhat controversial job like stripping. That’s the basis of her lawsuit and an important distinction. To have called her a sex worker would have been confusing and bad journalism.

Again, I’m not trying to be rude. And maybe I’m missing something here, but I fail to see whom you’re angry at, exactly.

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Casey July 17, 2011 at 8:21 pm

The more I think about this the more confused I am. I mean, in my 15 years as a sex worker I’ve been both an escort and a stripper. If someone was writing an article about me, I’d EXPECT them to make a distinction based on which I was doing at the time. Why would I want them to call me a “sex worker” instead of an escort? It’s confusing and unnecessarily vague. Would you write about a baseball player yet solely refer to him as an athlete? I’m sorry but that’s just obtuse.

If the gist of the piece is about US ALL, as a group, say about our rights, legal issues or history of activism, etc., then sure, call US sex workers. But when you’re talking about ME, say stripper or escort.

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Patrick August 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm

The author avoids “sex-worker” because it’s “too broad” and uses the word “politician” 4 times in the article. All without specifying someone elected, appointed, a senator, a member of Congress, mayor, etc.

I guess it’s more important to use language to judge prostitutes from strippers than to specify between a small-town mayor and the Speaker of the House, because “mayor” doesn’t let us think about all those dirty things he might be doing.

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