This is kind of neato—The Star Tribune has a blog called “Yesterday’s News” where it digs up old-timey newspaper articles, photos and ads. This week’s feature made the front page of the Minneapolis Tribune on May 9, 1953: Darlene LaBette Varallo, an “esoteric dancer”, was jailed for disorderly conduct. Two follow-up articles detail the handling of the evidence (“two little rhinestone-studded cones, a few lengths of gauze, a fringe and a pair of black net tights”) and the trial, which was complete with a lie detector test and testimony where the defendant explains that she was only guilty of a wardrobe malfunction:
SHE DESCRIBED her dance as a “can-can” plus a mixture of “a shuffle, ball hop, kick, twirls.” She denied Sullivan’s charge that she had bent over and shaken parts of her anatomy at the audience.
“You can’t bend over when you dance or you lose your equilibrium,” said Darlene, who testified she has danced since the age of 3 and was an Arthur Murray instructor for two years.
She said she certainly was wearing state’s exhibit F (the brassiere) when she began to dance but had to discard it because a strap broke. She also denied removing the state’s exhibit E (a tasseled fringe) from its original position around her – ah – middle.
Oh, hello there. It’s such a surprise to run into you here, Clueless Journalist Who Successfully Pitched an Article About Prostitutes Which You Have No Idea How to Actually Deliver. I know how much you hate to do even the most basic amount of research about the huge, knotty subject you’ve cavalierly decided to tackle, so it’s refreshing that you’ve deigned to stop by Tits and Sass. I’ve been involved in the sex industry for about 9 years, which means I’ve had plenty of time to collect examples of the emails you send to solicit my time and expertise in order to support your own career, and boy, are they compelling. Time and time again, before even doing fifteen minutes of self-education, you get straight to the interview solicitation. Why try to learn on your own when there will surely be a bevy of call girls dying to tell you everything you need to know for free, right?
Here are the all the important points to include if you want to make it clear right away that you’re completely unqualified to say anything on the subject of prostitution.
1) You don’t want to “demonize” me. Color me impressed. We all know that famous aphorism about how good intentions reliably pave the way to magnificent results, so the ability to not hate me is the only credential you need in order to earn my trust. Plus, it’s federal law that journalists, like cops, have to tell you the truth if they’ve not got your best interests at heart, so I’m sufficiently reassured that you mean exactly what you say.
In last year’s Les Miserables, a movie with a lot of famous people in it that will probably win some Oscars, Anne Hathaway plays Fantine, a single mother struggling to provide for her child. Fantine turns to prostitution in a moment of ultimate desperation, having already sold her hair and teeth—I know I’m not the only hooker whose first response to that was “Wrong order, girl”, but whatever—and she and the audience feel very sad. Then she’s saved, and we feel happy, but then she dies of tuberculosis, and we are sad again. At least she’s not a hooker now though. Phew!
No one is more concerned about Hathaway’s Fantine, however, than Hathaway herself, as evidenced by her various comments during the lead-up to the film’s release. One of the most circulated quotes has Hathaway outlining her research “into the lives of sex slaves, which are just unspeakably harrowing,” and her attempts to “honor” the experiences of women who are “forced to sell sex”:
I came to the realization that I had been thinking about Fantine as someone who lived in the past, but she doesn’t. She’s living in New York City right now, probably less than a block away. This injustice exists in our world. So every day that I was her, I just thought ‘This isn’t an invention. This isn’t me acting. This is me honoring that this pain lives in this world.’ I hope that in all our lifetimes, we see it end.”
Of course, if you are reading the New Inquiry, chances are you’re not being sex trafficked; if you’re a sex worker, chances are you’re a grad student or a writer or maybe an activist—a highly educated woman who has other options and prefers this one. And that is where things get tricky. Because in what other area of labor would leftists look to the elite craftsman to speak for the rank and file? You might as well ask a pastry chef what it’s like to ladle out mashed potatoes in a school cafeteria. In the discourse of sex work, it seems, the subaltern does not get to speak.
The problem is not that the subaltern was not getting to speak, but that Pollitt was unable to listen because of her own ideas about how trafficking victims should present. We asked Tara, the author of the quiz, to respond.
On April 2nd I was at the Freedom Network’s Human Trafficking Conference in San Francisco speaking to a group of law enforcement and service providers about how to do outreach to people who are trafficked in to the commercial sex trade. I was there as part of a federal program designed to offer the experience and expertise of sex trafficking victims like myself with the goal of improving services to other sex trafficking victims. The other survivor presenting and I both had extensive experience as youth involved in the sex trade, as adult sex workers, and as social service providers. We spoke of our experiences with law enforcement and service providers and made recommendations to those present about how they could best provide outreach to sex trafficking victims.
At the end, the facilitator flipped through our feedback forms and laughingly told us that one person thought that our presentation hadn’t been about sex trafficking at all. Apparently there are rules for being a good victim: 1. Victims should cry 2. They should talk about horrible things done to them by criminals, but not by the police 3. They should not have opinions, and 4. If they do have opinions, they should present themselves as traumatized enough so that those opinions are easily discountable. If victims don’t behave this way, their status as victims can be called into question.