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Les Mis Isn’t An Anti-Trafficking Bible

A grisette, a young 19th century working-class French woman, like Fantine ("La Grisette" by Robert Richard Scanlon, image part of public domain)
A grisette, a young 19th century working-class French woman, like Fantine (“La Grisette” by Robert Richard Scanlon, image part of public domain)

Les Miserables translates roughly as “The Downtrodden.” Fantine is one of these downtrodden, a young working-class grisette who hides her out-of-wedlock child to obtain respectable employment. When her secret is discovered, she is thrown out of the factory. In desperation, she sells her hair and her teeth, and finally, reluctantly, she sells sex. (Incidentally, she may not be the only major character in the novel who is involved in the sex trade: It is implied several times in the novel that when M. Thenardier involves Eponine in his criminal exploits that this includes pimping her out.)

A contemporaneous researcher surveyed Parisian sex workers, and while he goes on at length about his own prejudices, he also gives some data, including reasons cited for getting involved in sex work. This data doesn’t really confirm his biases,which might indicate its validity, at least insofar as he believes laziness, vanity, parental “corruption” and women forgetting “their most sacred of duties” (huh?) are to blame for prostitution. In any case, Fantine’s story (“brought to Paris and abandoned by soldiers, clerks, students, etc.”) was commonly cited—by a little less than 10% of respondents—and the bulk of the rest were orphaned, or kicked out/ran away from home. The single most commonly cited reason for turning to sex work, though, was poverty (i.e. doing it for the money, duh).

Today, many confused feminist commentators, including Anne Hathaway, refer to the character as someone caught in “sexual slavery,” linking Fantine’s plight to the term “sex trafficking.” But Fantine is not a sex trafficking victim and to call her such is to profoundly miss the point of the story. In fact, the co-option of a survival sex worker’s story to fit an agenda that leads to the oppression of all sex workers is itself exploitative. You might note, as quoted in the article linked above, that Victor Hugo also refers to Fantine as a slave, but I believe this is more clearly metaphorical on his part, since he explicitly names “hunger,” “cold,” “loneliness,” “abandonment,” and “privation” as the “slavers.” Interestingly, Hugo himself was rather well known for his sexual exploits with his wife, long-term mistress, short-term mistresses, his maids, and, yes, with many sex workers. So, Hugo was himself a client–a fact which those who would use Les Miserables as an anti-trafficking text are presumably unaware.

Going Negative In The Champagne Room: 2014 Gubernatorial Edition

“I was never accused of having done anything wrong, but rather I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”—Paul Davis

“What’s the difference between a hooker and a politician? There’s some things a hooker just won’t do.”—an old joke I first heard from a lobbyist

Regardless of your opinion on reproductive justice, single-payer health care, or self-employment taxes, there’s someone running for office who will reflect that position. No viable candidate, however, supports sex worker rights. When it comes to the sex industy, a candidate need only be sex worker-adjacent to be subject to a vicious attack, no matter his party. Sex workers truly have no friends in major party politics in the United States (sure, Libertarians, in theory, but once they decide to run as Republicans they tend to neatly pull back on select issues of personal choice). This election year’s sex work-adjacent scandals are pathetically unimportant and an indication of campaigns that are desperate for distractions. One deals with a 15-year-old raid on a strip club; the other with a state-run jobs website that “accidentally” listed some adult-industry jobs. One’s a Republican attacking a Democrat; the other’s a Democrat attacking a Republican.

Have We Reached Peak Super Bowl Sex Worker Hysteria?

mggSB

In 2011, ahead of the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas Attorney General (and current governor) Greg Abbott announced that “The Super Bowl is the greatest show on Earth, but it also has an ugly underbelly. It’s commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” Thus were launched a thousand stories about sex workers and sex traffickers flocking to Super Bowl host cities to serve Super Bowl attendees, who were apparently possessed of a massive appetite for their services.

Before the Super Bowl was referred to as a nexus of trafficking, it was hyped as a destination for sex workers who traveled of their own accord to profit from the free-spending, mostly male fans. There are still plenty of stories about strippers flocking to town to dance during game week, and reports on spikes in escort advertising.

But when Abbott used the word “trafficking,” the trend shifted to reporting on the even more dramatic imagery of sex slaves being forced to work in Super Bowl cities. It was a deliberate shift in language and while for a time sex worker activists were expected to note that of course they opposed sex slavery, which was totally different from their consensual involvement in sex work, it has become clear that most legislation targeted at sex trafficking is merely anti-prostitution legislation that creates harsher legal penalties for things that are already illegal (slavery and sexual assault are already crimes, as is prostitution in almost all of the United States).

“Trafficking” is a powerful word, and its use by activists was no accident. The Arizona Republic published a story in January about its use, quoting noted arrest-based diversion program Project ROSE founder Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz as saying “It just has been a grammar change” from “prostitution.” Sepowitz goes on to say that “I believe every adult (prostitute), I believe almost every single one of them was trafficked.”

Donut Ho: Sex Work In The Strangest Places

By now the New Jersey Donut Ho is national news. How couldn’t she be? She was allegedly turning tricks at a Dunkin’ Donuts. You couldn’t pick a place with more cops if you were working inside an actual police station. To summarize: A woman who worked the late shift at a DD in Rockaway, NJ would leave her post at the drive-though window to entertain customers in their cars. She was arrested (and released) after six weeks of undercover investigation, a typical waste of public resources on pursuing victimless crimes. Well, not victimless; if anyone has standing for damages in this instance, it’s her employer, yeah?

Her choice of venue was unusual and entrepreneurial, though she wasn’t the first person to choose a nontraditional venue for selling sex. Here’s some other stories about similar go-getters in the sex trade.

The Angry Stripper Outed (?)

from the @AngryStripper Twitter feed

Today the Houston Press published a blog post by Richard Connelly about stripper blogger/tweeter @AngryStripper (Sarahtress), with what they seem to think is the bombshell revelation that a stripper is also a journalist working for the local daily. But really. How closeted is a stripper who posts face photos and whose Twitter profile lists something close to her real full name?

Sarah is kind of snobby in her stripper posts and tweets, but her bluntness is part of her charm (except for the occasional racism). Reading that she writes society coverage for the Houston Chronicle is unsurprising to readers familiar with her sweetly bitchy tone. Plus, what better background could there possibly be for covering Houston socialites? Anna Nicole Smith was far from the only woman to go from stripping at Rick’s to marrying a millionaire, y’all. There are undoubtedly a good number of former dancers and escorts among the women throwing charity balls and volunteering at (probably) MD Anderson.