Smith didn’t just consider it irrelevant to ask these women what the law has meant (and hasn’t meant) to them. She also refused to engage with the many sex workers who tweeted her to point out this omission […] She allowed police officers – people who see it as their mission to drive sex workers out of business, people who have a long history of using sex workers for their own ends in all sorts of nefarious ways (yes, even in post-criminalization Sweden) – to define their experiences for them. I have a few words for that type of reporting. ‘Feminist’ isn’t one of them.
Wendy Lyon responds to the silencing of sex worker voices in The Independent columnist Joan Smith’s whorephobic discussion of criminalization in Sweden this week. Another excellent response from Jem of It’s Just A Hobby here.
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.
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.”
Strip club tourist reports comes in two main forms: I’m Not That Kind Of Guy and I’m NotA Guy. This week, I learned about a third type: I Was A Strip Club DJ For A Night, in the form of Eric Spitznagel’s “I Was (Almost) a Middle-Aged Strip Club DJ” for MTV Hive. Spitznagel went to Chicago’s Admiral Theater to shadow the club’s DJ for a night, and the results are fairly predictable, if a bit nastier than I was expecting. He feels old. He feels like a fish out of water. The girls have stage names that amuse him. They take off their clothes. He finds it fascinating that one of the dancers likes British indie rock, which means he’s definitely not following me or my stripper friends on Twitter, because jesus fuck, if there’s one thing strippers like, it’s Britpop.
I wasn’t terribly familiar with Spitznagel, so was surprised to find that a guy who wrote such a disingenuous piece on being a strip club DJ for a night has written twobooks about the porn industry and interviewed Charlie Sheen for Playboy. Such experience would seem to make a guy a little less inclined to be all “Whoah! Naked women and cheesy lines!” Apparently he’s considered a humor writer, though, so that explains the tone.
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.