Girl, Undressed (2008)

by Caty Simon on December 6, 2013 · 85 comments

in Reviews, Strippers

afouler3 by Caty and Red

12/9/2013 update: Yesterday, several commenters pointed out that speculating on the author’s trauma history was inappropriate of us. Upon reflection, we agree that this was specious and unnecessary, and apologize deeply for doing so.

Red: I love stripper memoirs; I buy them all indiscriminately and hope for the best. Strippers are like my family, people I love and hate and get driven crazy by but keep returning to. So you know I read Girl, Undressed when I found a copy at Powell’s. And I hated it. When Caty asked if I wanted to co-review it, I got giddy at the idea of sharing my outrage. Is there anything more fun that being righteously furious with a friend?

For those of you who haven’t read it, Girl, Undressed follows Fowler on a dank and seamy voyage, to places only “the ruined” (her term) can sink. She stumbles around early 2000s Manhattan, a weary traveler promising a glimpse at a New York not “vacuum-packed and delivered to your tastefully decorated abodes via HBO… there’ll be a sad lack of shopping expeditions to Bergdorf’s to punctuate each chapter’s end.” In other words, Fowler is not Carrie Bradshaw (but then who is) and I’m also gathering that she’s not writing this for me or her sisters-in-degradation/fellow strippers.

Unlikely Stripper Ruth Fowler began life as a hardworking middle class Welsh girl: well and good. She even had me with her scholarship to Cambridge: the sink or swim knowledge that no one’s there to catch you if you fall, the hunger and the rage and the determination to get more out of life than what you’ve been allotted? Totally. I’m with her on that, as I think most strippers from a poor to lower middle class background would be. I mean isn’t that a huge reason for stripping, wanting more and wanting the more that stripper money provides?

From here Fowler veers around chronologically, moving from New York back to her post-collegiate travels around the world, (something, I thought sniffily, that most poor scholarships kids don’t have the chance to do, but ok, very nice for her). She gets work on a boat/she can’t find a job in Manhattan/she has numerous affairs with her fellow seamen as well as some questionable encounters that I would term assaults but that she leaves unlabeled/she still can’t find a job in Manhattan/a shipmate gives her the nickname Mimi because (get it? get it?) all she talks about is me me me.

I mean, that’s a sign, Fowler. That’s a definite sign about brushing up on your empathy. It goes unheeded. She begins stripping. “Because by the time we get to that [strip club] stage we are already beyond redemption.”

She jumps back and forth between her youthful travels and her time in New York, having disastrous love affairs and self-centered mishaps in both eras. She hates herself, a lot. Nothing much else happens. There’s a lot of casual racism, callous cruelty and misogyny about the women she works with, and the occasional bit of humor and cleverness. (Don’t think it doesn’t cause me pain to admit she has them).

On stripper names and ho specific multiple personality disorder:

Caty: What is with “Mimi,” her stripper alter ego? Does she really want to confirm the idea that all sex workers have dissociative identity disorder because they use noms de whore? (She seems really not to understand the purpose of the fake name convention. They are not some tragic metaphor about stripping as the ultimate pose—they’re a utility to preserve privacy while working in an extremely stigmatized and victimized profession. Duh.) From the very first mention of her, her work persona, Mimi, feeds off Ruth’s life force the way strippers are supposed to heartlessly drain guy’s wallets. Nice job confirming harmful stereotypes there, Ms. Fowler: “I imagine Mimi as a parasitical spirit, a placenta feeding off my experience, siphoning from my awakening to life…”

Red: I know, I hated that so much! Compartmentalization is not a bad thing and everyone does it to different extents—not just sex workers.

Caty: Compartmentalization is one thing, but inventing a whole other personality to avoid accountability for what one does while stripping is ludicrous. (It wasn’t me! It was my morality free, scuzzy, slutty sex worker self!) Fowler’s problem is her personality, not a sex worker problem. And that’s basically the problem throughout the memoir. Because she has no ability to connect outside her narcissism, all her observations of others are suspect, because she’s not capable of interpreting other people’s behavior, just projecting—therefore, she assumes all other strippers have the same problems she does.

Red: I think there’s nothing wrong with playing dress up with personas, although this kind of delight in the conviction of its frivolity seems like the provenance of the young and confidently well (over?)educated. I feel like she’s already convinced that both Mimi and stripping are frothily, decoratively worthless and haha, isn’t it funny, soon I will have to drink to obliterate the well-educated, well-bred girl who is better than this so that Mimi can take over.

On the book’s bigotry:

Caty: The sheer depth and breadth of the SCORN in this text…

Red: Her scorn is limitless and epic! Even the rich get a taste.

“-Homosexuals filling in the crow’s-feet of disappointment and age with thick, poisonous makeup and repulsively cheery song.”

Within a page, she waxes even more spiteful about the man breasts of fat Midwestern tourists before peaking with a slur-filled description of a woman (Stripper? Waitress? Bartender? It doesn’t matter, the only real person in Fowler’s world is Fowler herself; everyone else exists only as a prop for her contempt.)

A 50s era stripper backstage cuddling up with her runty little lapdog--a deathless combination. Sick, sick, sick. (May Joyce, taken in 1953 at a burlesque theatre somewhere in Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo via tumblr.)

A 50s era stripper backstage cuddling up with her runty little lapdog–a deathless combination. Sick, sick, sick. (May Joyce, taken in 1953 at a burlesque theatre somewhere in Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo via tumblr.)

Fowler is loathsome and she knows it; her disdain, racism, misogyny, her casual cruelty toward absolutely everyone? It’s real, but it’s just misdirection. As superior as she knows herself to be to everyone around her, she loathes herself most of all.

 [New York strippers] love dogs. If you ask about their chihuahuas, their pugs, their runty little lapdogs, you will slot in like you belong.

How does she get so much bitchiness into an observation about beloved pets?

Caty: Hey, homophobia! She indulges in every other form of bias—she might as well complete the set. I just really can’t take the ratio of racism and misogyny per page here. Did you notice how neatly she includes transphobia among her parade of petty bigotries when she sabotages that other stripper by implying to the customer that she just had bottom surgery?

Red: I want to protect everyone from her gaze. It’s as if she took to heart all the applause for Hubert Selby, Jr. and his ilk and decided great literature must of necessity include large dollops of misogyny and gratuitous “gritty realism.” Re: body grossness: mouths like slit throats, asses wobbling like custard, and most of it is targeted at women she works with, although “the Hasids and Hispanics” get a lot too. Maybe her publisher read too much Selby, too.

Caty: Yes, she hates everyone for having a body, especially the marginalized, and indeed, cannot write about homeless people without extensive description of their bodily fluids. For instance, she’s eager to describe a “comatose bum,”  his “obscene and swollen” penis sticking out of his fly, “a long trail of urine streaking down the sidewalk.” I feel like the only thing that’s obscene there is her demeaning observation of a vulnerable, unconscious man.

At one point, she’s classist, racist, and anti-Semitic all in one short sentence, and I just had to admire that sort of sick economy of language. At another point, her taxi “narrowly avoid[s] a shuffling bum.” Why was that clause even included? She really just wanted to use the phrase “shuffling bum”?

Red: YES SHE DID! YOU KNOW SHE THOUGHT IT ADDED A CERTAIN JE NE SAIS QUOIS!

Caty: For a whole stretch I just highlighted every time her prose featured cheap body horror: “OMG, that stripper burped, obviously she is subhuman.”

And then there’s stuff like this:”Six ripped black motherfuckers…staring at you..with an air of pugilism.” There are just no words for this level of careless racism. Then she keeps ON calling these people “black motherfuckers” whenever she refers to them throughout the passage. Also, “I call my black bitch in Harlem.” That is an actual sentence from the book.

Red: The way she talks about the men she knows slapping and assaulting her, it’s like it’s so normal it doesn’t deserve any commentary or description of her reaction, it just is. That contrasts so hard with the way she talks about the HISPANICS AND HASIDICS HISSING AT HER ON THE STREET.

Caty: Right, white men assaulting her is just part and parcel of day to day life, but how dare Jewish men and men of color address her on the street? Later she actually just collectively calls them “The Men Who Hiss At You On The Street,” even when she records one of them (how does she know he’s one of them? I’m sure she doesn’t actually differentiate between different Latino men’s faces) saying “God bless you!” to her.

You SURE some of us weren't born strippers, Ms. Fowler?(gif from "Showgirls", via tumblr)

You SURE some of us weren’t born strippers, Ms. Fowler?(gif from  Showgirls, via tumblr)

More on unlikely strippers:

Caty: Ah, ye olde Unlikely Stripper Syndrome, as in What’s A Nice Girl Like Me Doing In A Place Like This:

I wasn’t born to this…I have a good degree. I am training to be a yoga teacher. I have ambitions to write journalism and screenplays and fiction. I care about global warming and the crisis in the Middle East. I am a kind person, the kind of person who stops when an old lady falls in the street, who likes animals and babies, who still believes in love…I am the last person you would ever expect to be a stripper, to live this life, to anesthetize myself every night so my bowels drip out of my body rather than press unbearably on the nerve…

This sort of thinking is insufferable. I wish all these erudite, intellectual, UNLIKELY strippers would get together and see how many of them there are and dispense with this insulting and elitist notion of their uniqueness.This might be the most objectionable example of this phenomenon I’ve read since it contrasts the stripper identity with being a “kind person” and “believ[ing] in love.” Right, since sex workers are the avowed enemies of love and all that is good.

Red: And as if yoga teachers are all kind, helpful, and not at all judgmental or sleazy. AND AS IF STRIPPERS AREN’T ALSO YOGA TEACHERS AND MASSAGE THERAPISTS AND JOURNALISTS. Sorry, do I need to cut the caps lock? I’m pumped from walking my runty little stripper dog and ready to fight.

Oh, and this adventures of an accidental stripper theme. They’re all accidental strippers. I cannot be the only girl who found out about stripping and thought, “That sounds ideal,” and not in a “So sexy deviance!” way but “Free time and money for things that already happen for free!”

On Fowler’s sad lack of socioeconomic analysis:

Red: I took umbrage at the multiple classifications of the book under “case studies” according to the ISBN. Excuse me? Her self-loathing memoir is NOT a case study. And for a case study, she doesn’t even touch on the things that make it impossible to get out, does she? Later, does she talk about how an under the table job affects résumés and job history, bank accounts and taxes and rentability? I understand that it works out for her, since she needs to work under the table because of her immigration status. But the difficulty of getting out is complicated and something way more stripper memoirs SHOULD address. Although, they’re all by white middle class college girls. Maybe that’s why they don’t get it.

Caty: POINT. After all that supposed economic realism around her illegal immigrant status, she doesn’t have much socioeconomic insight beyond that, does she? She prefers to focus on bad pop psychological interpretations of other workers’ motivations.

Her general attitude seems to be, “HOW CAN I NOT SUCCEED? I DESERVE TO SUCCEED; I AM A WHITE, WELL-EDUCATED BRITISH WOMAN. WORLD, FEEL MY WRATH.”

“I deserve to succeed” is actually verbatim a sentence in the book, written in all seriousness.

“When your world falls apart, you rely on what you know. When our twin towers fell, Eton and I, it’s what we went back to, sex.”

SHE JUST COMPARED HER BAD RELATIONSHIP TO 9/11 WITHOUT A HINT OF IRONY.

Red: The 2005 setting  doesn’t make it better, but it explains a little. At this juncture, I think we all know better than to think we’ll succeed—I mean those of us who aren’t rich—just because it’s so DIFFERENT and bleak now. But her lack of perspective even for ‘05—um, TWIN TOWERS?—is still astounding. I mean, she casually refers to her woes as “the Third Intifada”—THE THIRD INTIFADA, HOW DARE YOU.

Caty: I feel like at this point in my rereading I’m numb to her flippant disregard for the historical struggles of people of color, illegal immigrants, et al. She even writes about arguing the crisis in the Gaza Strip with her boyfriend in this book, so she’s not unaware of the significance of the term “intifada,” she just doesn’t CARE.

On Fowler’s attitude towards her co-workers:

Red: The other strippers at the club: “I can’t remember their names, even though I’ve worked with them four times a week for seven months.” Maybe if you didn’t despise them!

Caty: I really don’t understand how she thought constant reference to her co-workers as “bitches,” “hos” and—in one memorable passage, (referring to Black strippers, of course) as “vaginas on legs”—was going to go down.

Actual stripper, according to Ruth Fowler. (via geekologie.com)

Actual stripper, according to Ruth Fowler. (via geekologie.com)

Red: The whole paragraph about “what hot is” when she first starts dancing and her coworkers take her to the stripper store?!!? What a special snowflake she is, being so unhot, especially since hot is “breasts bulging like bursting carbuncles,” (nice alliteration there, you heinous bitch) “hair so long you could wipe your ass with it… Hot is plastic-fantastic, hair free holes, feminine excretions exuding a Victoria’s Secret stench.”

Even when I’m almost on her side about the way stripper attractiveness is constructed (and it doesn’t even need to be constructed this way to make a profit, this is about the way people CONCEIVE of stripper attractiveness, which she’s clearly bought into) she blows it by taking it from a critique of artificial exaggerated femininity to, “Ugh, gross, feminine excretions, cooties!”

It reminds me of the bit at the beginning where she takes joy in imagining that this is where all the cool slutty girls in her school ended up. I have that part bookmarked because it made me so angry.

Caty: I highlighted that paragraph about what “hot” is as well. Note that every aspect of femininity is made repugnant, associated with her disgust with people she classes as white trash—it’s not hair “down to one’s ass,” it’s hair “so long you could WIPE your ass with it”—hair that long is now associated with being literally shitty. And she doesn’t miss the chance to drug-shame all strippers in that passage, either, assuming all of them use “thick black kohl liner to whiten the yellow of bloodshot, coked-up eyes.”

And nobody ever “flaunts” their breasts in this book, or has them overflowing out of their shirt. Their “boobs ooze.” Female anatomy as ectoplasm.

Red: Boob jobs have really evolved. Mine is awesome. Obviously it depends on where you go but there’s no need to be so disparaging! “Carbuncles,” really? Saying someone has silicon is not the insult you think, Madam.

Does stripping change you?

“‘No, it doesn’t change us,’ I’ll say, and then stop, wondering whether to go further. Because by the time we get on that stage we are already beyond redemption.” Emphasis hers.

Caty: Yes, that whole repeated theme (she doesn’t want us to miss it!) that women go into stripping because they’re already literally fucked beyond repair. She pretends to disbelieve it the first time she mentions it, seems to realize it’s a pat theory men have concocted to explain why women strip, but then she keeps on averring it over and over throughout the book, like an article of faith.

“..And in that moment hovering between rape and transaction, maybe you’ll entertain the notion that you could save her, this little foreign girl, so far from home and stinking of abuse.” So, not only is the universal “you” of the stripper an abused, “rag doll body,” the universal you of the customer is a cross between a perpetrator and Captain Save-a-Ho.

Oh, and sex for money is nothing but “some guy get[ting] lucky, some girl get[ting] dumb.” Whatever position on extras one takes, let’s not call our coworkers stupid while simultaneously implying that they’ve been exploited, shall we?

Here’s another point she makes repeatedly (I’m starting to believe this manuscript never HAD an editor, given how clogged it is with the extraneous and the repetitive): You can’t have pride as a stripper unless you possess no shame. Obviously, no other option—like not subscribing to a value system in which stripping is shameful—exists.

She can’t even talk about her coworkers doing something as blandly inoffensive as knitting without insulting them repeatedly.

Red: Only dumb bitches knit, though. Only dumb bitches exist, apparently.

She’s so blinded by the light of her own self-loathing, she’s unable to take in any details of how the club actually WORKS and how the other girls do their jobs. She’s too dismissive of the other women to see how they make the club work for them. There are different ways to hustle and dress and little outfit/conversation tweaks that can change or broaden your customer base—it’s SALES, for god’s sake. For example, her thing about the Lolita costuming is dumb for so many reasons. It displays a stupid lack of familiarity with the book, and a weird unfamiliarity with what customers who are into little girls are actually like. I know she thinks of herself as childlike, but there’s been no sign that anyone else thinks that, and if she had actually had an interaction with guys like that…well, it’s hard to miss. She would have included it in her narrative just because it’s so foul (they talk a lot about how you look like their daughter/granddaughter/neighbour’s child, etc. It doesn’t happen to me since I got implants but, in general, it’s the same basic creepy conversation.) I’m off topic now, but it’s just that there’s so many different ways to interact with customers and hers is really wearying: just get drunk and let them do whatever. It’s as if she decided she’s a shameful piece of shit (who is still better than anyone else) and just takes what customers give her. We’re allowed to have boundaries!

Caty: Yes, she never tries to change the pattern of her interactions with customers because she thinks they’re all evil perpetrators and she’s doomed to be a victim as long as she’s doing the job.

Oh, hey, and: “The tears arrive suddenly like amyl nitrate, brain cells popping.”

Red: Some of this is just pure comedy. Like that.

Caty: “I knew I’d been a bad girl when I woke up wearing an unfamiliar G-string with a thousand dollars in twenties scattered around me.”

Fowler clings obstinately to the binarism that either one believes that sex work is sexy and empowering—that’s a delusion—OR one believes that sex work is degrading and objectifying and all women who participate in it are inherently broken—that’s realism. A more nuanced labor analysis doesn’t exist.

Red: Even when I violate my own boundaries I don’t feel like that. I let a guy touch my boobs last night, and it really viscerally grosses me out when customers play with my nipples, but I’m not confusing my nausea with my integrity.

Caty: “I feel like I’m tainted and wrong…like I will never fall in love, or have children, or get married…or lead a life that isn’t twisted with desire and sex and bitterness and filth.”

I was reading about ex-porn star/current anti porn activist Vanessa Belmond denouncing the porn industry, and she was quoted saying, “[n]obody really wants to date a porn star, stripper or escort. Also the whole family thing and having kids, I’m like ‘who’s gonna have kids with an ex-porn star.’ ” It’s wearying to have that reaffirmed by the world around us over and over again, but it’s devastating having to hear that prophecy of doom from another sex worker. But that’s basically all Fowler’s memoir is—that prophecy of doom. I shudder at the idea of an unpoliticized, nineteen-year-old nascent stripper getting a hold of this book and having her worst fears confirmed by someone who claims to be an insider.

Because whatever crap we tell ourselves, whatever clever marketing ploys lie out there justifying and legitimizing the groping and the sex and the abuse, whatever those in power will tell you and our clients will lead you to believe, however strong Mimi is…the soul within is corrupt and rotting, because this job is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Can she stop using that universal we for a second? All Girl, Undressed conveys to me is that stripping was the wrong job for her. Also, that writing about stripping is the wrong job for her.

Speculation on Fowler’s coping mechanisms and her psychological health (since she certainly doesn’t skimp on pondering other people’s):

Red: Have you noticed how many times she’s been sexually assaulted in the pre-stripping parts? It’s hard to tell because she doesn’t frame it like that but that’s what it seems like. Jon Jon, and his friend, and the cook, and at least one more, and then Raoul hits her.

I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming her, because I’m not. But she gives this emphasis to the damage that stripping does to her integrity (or soul or morals or whatever it is she thinks it’s damaging) without really acknowledging the fucked up things that have happened to her in the past pre-stripping, that seem to be feeding into her unhappiness and her inability to draw firm sanity saving boundaries with herself, her customers, and men outside of work, without her admitting it. She gives these assaults a pass, not calling them rape even though that’s what they are, while placing this tremendous negative value on lap dances, of all things. She talks about all strippers as ruined without going into the ways that a history of abuse can make it difficult to negotiate/maintain boundaries or to react to stressors because you already feel contaminated. It’s misleading to say that strippers are these damaged goods that end up where they are because they are ruined by life when the instance of women in general who have experienced assault or abuse is already so high.

Caty: And her trauma is no cause for her to conflate her experience with every other stripper’s.

We don't know what this is but we suspect Ruth Fowler would be into it, given that it involves a naked woman and fecal implications. (Photo of stripper graffiti via Wikipedia Commons)

We don’t know what this is but we suspect Ruth Fowler would be into it, given that it involves a naked woman and seems to have scatological implications. (Photo of stripper graffiti via Wikipedia Commons)

Red: It’s no cause for anything. It’s just sad, and also, to me, counterintuitive because at its worst, the club is still a place where I get to walk away, and even sometimes have guys thrown out. It feels like a step UP to me, not a place I inevitably ended up because of sexual abuse.

Caty: “I don’t know what makes me different, what makes it easier for me to have my head forced down on someone’s cock than for the next person…(did I enjoy it? did I ask for it? I didn’t hit him, I didn’t say no, I didn’t walk away.)”

Right, because sex workers are obviously hardwired to take abuse. I think she honestly thinks enduring date rape from the manager is part of the job…? Just because sex workers are vulnerable to violence doesn’t mean that sex workers are weirdly sexualized and inherently damaged sluts. She’s confusing the stigma around the job with the job, which I expect from bigots in the outside world, but again, it’s dispiriting in the extreme coming from another worker.

Also, hasn’t anyone ever told Fowler that it’s possible to write in an affecting manner without hyperbole? Not only is stripping heresy, the consequences of doing the job are likened to NUCLEAR FALLOUT: “Just that we did a job because we felt we could cope with the consequences, the sheer weight of our apostasy, the nuclear fallout, not realizing that the half life would be for all eternity, and that the job would be what we were known for whenever we entered a room, someone whispered our name, looked over and glanced into our face, closed and guarded.”

Red: They don’t teach that shit at Cambridge, apparently. One of her Gawker posts ends with the note, “Untainted by a later edit.” That, right there. Problem number two after her heinous personality: Doesn’t believe in editing!

Caty: Throughout the memoir, she tries to convince the reader that she cares about people, she cares about the strippers that plan to get out, and she cares for those who will never try, and the fact that she creates a hierarchy out of those two categories convinces me that she doesn’t care well enough.

Red: Her attempts to convince us she cares are so offensive. It harkens back to what she said about her fellow illegal immigrant and club coworker Lily in the beginning, about how she owed it to her since she hadn’t helped her—although honestly, Lily was in the same situation and she couldn’t have helped her, but maybe she just means she could have been less of a judgmental and self-absorbed asshole.

Caty: I think she could have helped Lily by writing her as a human being rather than as a caricature whose breasts are always referred to as “puppies.”

Red: But that option obviously never occurred to her.

I’m having this complicated mixture of rage-hate and sadness about the book in general. She offends me on every level. I feel contaminated by reading her narrative; I want to pull my hems back from the mud of her awful body gross-out hate-filled prose before it stains me. But it also makes me so sad. It is tragic, not in a way she’s aware of apparently, but it makes me sad to think about what her mental/emotional landscape must be like.

On the pains of briefly empathizing with this author:

Caty: I have to admit I love the part when her customer asks if she had him alone in a room and could do anything she wanted, what would she do, and she responds that she’d make him jack off while she left to make tea and have a cigarette. A very brief respite from the general awfulness of her prose.

Red: There was a part where I thought, “Ugh, don’t make me agree with you,” where she writes, “If you’re doing this job for fun you’re a fucking jerkoff hoochy-ass bitch who needs to get a life.” I wouldn’t use those words, but let’s be real, I worked with girls with trust funds who were doing it for, I don’t know, their own sense of gritty realism and I think they needed to get lives.

And the following is actually pretty true and funny if the rest weren’t so offensive, and she didn’t bury it:

She’ll call me up later, the journalist, tell me she thought about my response. I wonder sometimes if I could do it. Dancing,” she’ll say.

‘Because I’ve had that, you know, flawed past kind of thing. I’ve slept with a lot of guys, done some kinky shit. I think it’d be kind of… sexy.

My smile will be twisted. Just because you like anal doesn’t mean you’re a stripper. But I’ll do the verbal equivalent of noncommittal mumblings, assent, soothing, letting her take what she wants from the situation without taking anything from me—and all the while she fails to realize that this is what makes you good at the job. Not the other thing.

WHAT OTHER THING RUTH, LIKING ANAL? NOT THAT YOU’RE WRONG, BUT WHY THE SUDDEN RETICENCE?

On representation and memoir writing:

Red: I have to comment on her choice to give her rich British ex-boyfriend Eton (of ALL PEOPLE) a voice through his reading the manuscript and expressing his feelings in the text about his portrayal. We don’t need to give those “slit mouthed sluts” a voice, eh? Not like they’re fully human anyway.

Caty: She’d so lulled me into her way of thinking I didn’t even consider that—but yes, ETON is quoted talking about his reaction to reading the book, yet she never allows any of her coworkers to read what she writes about them, so of course she can’t record their reactions to how she depicts them. I mean, Eton is affluent and Anglo-Saxon and male, so the way she badmouths him is mild in comparison to the sheer filth she spews about her fellow strippers.

Red: One would think, would think, right, that another way of helping Lily, besides dehumanizing her and her breasts, fake or not, could have been to include her and her narrative and her visa/ID struggle in her own words—what a way to give it range and human interest! But no. Instead we get Eton, who is uncomfortable with his portrayal.

Caty: “I do wonder sometimes if they could be defamatory, my words. An invitation to former clients and workers, friends and fucks, to behave tortiously, to embroil me in the vicious vocabulary of law suits, the grandiose performance of legal battle? Yet the privacy invaded, the horrendous disclosures, have been mine, and mine alone—or Mimi’s, depending on how you look at it.”

Yes, because you’re too pathologically self-absorbed to focus on anyone else long enough to do justice to their story. Also, THAT’S her concern re: her portrayal of the people in her life? Her liability?

Well, hopefully, Fowler has learned some things since 2008 about intersectionality and compassion. These days, she’s an Occupy L.A. activist and she writes for a wide variety of sites, including covering her recovery from alcoholism at The Fix.

 

{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda December 8, 2013 at 9:54 am

Great review! Now I can take this book off my reading list. Thanks!

Would like to point out that taking a work name is also a way of crafting an image, since this is a business too. Work names are not just for privacy. Or maybe I was overthinking my stripper names even way back when.

I’m tired of the Unlikely [whatever type of sex worker] memoirs and blogs as well. These ladies doth protest too much.

Reply

Ruth Fowler December 8, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Hi Caty and Red

I’ve been reading ‘tits and sass’ for quite a while and have even passed it onto friends in the sex industry, and friends outside the sex industry trying to get a deeper understanding of what we do. I’d say thanks for such a through review of my book, written nearly nine years ago. However, having been sent the review by a fellow Portland stripper, I’m simply horrified, disgusted and frightened by the fact two women in the sex industry have garnered so much pleasure and joy in eviscerating me both personally and professionally in an extremely public, and overwhelmingly (passive) aggressive fashion, alluding to me, in turns, in the third person as if I’m an object, before directly addressing me as ‘You’ as if you intended to ‘scold’ me like a child eg: ” because *you’re* too pathologically self-absorbed to focus on anyone else long enough to do justice to their story. Also, THAT’S *her* concern re: her portrayal of the people in her life?”.

Were you intending to actually address me personally? If so, I am extremely easy to locate. I have a number of friends in the stripping industry, many of whom are probably your co-workers up in Portland. I won’t name them here as we all know most of us don’t like to give other people the power to know our true selves and use our names in ways we do not control: as if to do so would construct a false identity and narrative which might somehow gain traction and go off without us to wreak havoc in this world. How ironic that you felt empowered enough to do exactly that to me here, in a space that I thought was designated “safe” for sex workers to say what they want and articulate how they feel without being told by those outside the industry that they are wrong, disgusting, repulsive, gross, fucked up, abused and abusive. Having suffered for nearly three years in environments in Manhattan which really fucked with my head and my body this way, writing the book was a form of empowerment for me. I feel abused all over again reading two women rifling through it only with the intent to shame and denigrate me, and put labels upon my experience, casting them incorrectly as either bigoted and hate-filled, or the products of past abuse which you seem extremely outraged I did not categorize, name and file as “rape” neatly enough for either of you.

I have to say, I’ve never read such a “hate filled” review. Ironically, you nailed it when you said you felt “contaminated” by my prose. That’s pretty much how I feel about yours. I’m severely rattled by the depth of sheer outrage, fury, hate and indignation that my *personal, subjective* experience has evoked in both of you. I’m sorry my personal subjective experience didn’t live up to what *you thought* I should have written and led both of you to concoct an extremely long and vicious attack on both my character, a time of my life which was painful and confusing, and a book which was cathartic for me in many ways.

Perhaps it’s my own fault for continually emphasizing my white, middle class background as opposed to playing upon my own oppression and marginality. I’ve always found white, middle class girls who claim oppression to be painfully ignorant of their own privilege, and have generally taken extreme care never to ignore or disavow my white, educated privilege – but I’m a little shocked my experiences of marginality as an undocumented sex worker immigrant have been dismissed so roundly by two women (whom I assume are both white Americans – do correct me if I am wrong) both of whom seem unable to directly address their own privilege and biases concerning sex work yet are extremely concerned with finding fictional biases in other people. I might suggest that for the sake of building a community, you stop judging those that do not share your views, or projecting your own issues onto women, with articles which seem to have little impetus behind them but to shame and wound. Documenting the enjoyment both of you receive from shaming and ‘hating on’ another woman who once did your job, found it complex and difficult, and managed to extricate herself (with extreme difficulty) for a successful writing career seriously doesn’t seem like the wisest, nor kindest, nor even remotely politic, move.

As regards your charge that I do not adequately address the lives of other strippers in this book (such as not delving into factors such as “getting out” which affect them) I do not represent the voice and experience of anyone apart from myself, and to have assumed a voice for anyone else would have made me the biggest hypocrite going. I am emphatically against ‘representing’ other women and their experience, recognizing that they are quite capable of representing themselves and would prefer to control their own narratives rather than have me decide who and what they are, and what truths to put out into the world as ‘universal’. The genre you are dissecting is a *memoir* (please look it up), which is, be definition, a highly subjective personal account of a period of one’s life written in a *literary* style. Personally, I lobbied hard to publish the book as fiction to avoid the kinds of prejudices the memoir label would evoke, but I was overruled by my publisher. Had I undertaken to write a sociological textbook on sex workers with a concentration on stripping and “intersectionality” I could understand your rage a little more. But I didn’t. I wrote a book about my experiences, trying to elide as much of other people out of my experiences as I could, because none of them asked me to write about them, expected me to write about them or charged me with writing ‘the definitive stripper textbook’.

I didn’t write ‘the definitive stripper book’ nor would I have wanted to, understanding that everyone’s experience is vastly different, that a high end, booze-soaked, cocaine-dusted, snooty Manhattan gentleman’s club with a hatred of prostitution (and yet an obsession with it) is vastly different to the truck stop stripping bars in Missoula my friend Susan loves to work at, or the less lucrative, but far more fun stripclubs in Portland which don’t carry punitive and disparaging codes, rules and fines which seemed designed to dehumanize – and worked, on me, for quite some time. I find there to be many contradictory strands in the article above, but you seem confused as to whether you hate me personally, or professionally: whether you think I “invented” a character, or assumed a persona for a line of work which wasn’t particularly welcoming of a small, nerdy girl from Wales who didn’t even know how to apply eye-liner, and hadn’t ever had a pedicure before the age of 26. You seem confused as to whether you’re furious I did not speak for all sex workers, or furious that I somehow did speak for all sex workers and represented my voice as a universal truth.

When my book came out “feminist” Laurie Penny and other radical sex-worker hating British feminists had a field day calling me a “happy hooker” and continually denigrating my experiences as something undertaken “for fun”. Unlike Diablo Cody and her ‘anthropological’ endeavors, I came to this industry out of desperation for money and a ‘what-have-I-got-to-lose-at-least-I’ll-have-something-to-write-about’ attitude. I got money, I eventually got out, but I lost a lot. I never found any community – either because I was too sex positive, or not sex positive enough. The girls I worked with hated prostitutes because prostitutes made their work more difficult, yet I was friends with girls who had left stripping for porn, webcam work, escorting, prostitution and more, and had a hard time reconciling the policing I was getting in the club from abusive house moms and managers, with the policing I was getting from fellow strippers, to the policing I started to get from women in the sex industry furious at me about – what? Either representing them or not representing them? About saying things they didn’t like? About not writing about their experience or my own? Not embracing an identity someone else thought I should have – people like you, furious that who I actually am, is somehow disgusting and offensive and gross and vile and WRONG? I have written about the need for ‘feminists’, and in particular, white educated feminists, to attack other women, here:

http://therumpus.net/2013/02/it-doesnt-mean-very-much-at-all/

I don’t really care that you didn’t enjoy the book, but I do care that such a contradictory, offensive and ignorant screed is up on a site I once admired. However, I understand you needed to do this to purge some kind of overwhelming emotion about me, that the book has triggered something in both of you, and that this has been cathartic. For me, the book was about literary form and shaping my experience into something experimental and aesthetic, more than trying to write a political treatise on sex work. It’s a shame no one has ever seen past the sex work and the stripper to realize that there’s a book there: not even those of us who know how heartbreaking and disappointing it is to be continually told who you are by the job you do and the name you take.

I will end on this:

Please don’t ever treat another human being as you have treated me on this page. Not without careful examination of your own motives, emotions, privileges and prejudices.

Ruth

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Red December 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I apologise for speculating about a history of abuse, that was out of line.
I also can’t tell whether it’s you or the Meme persona you write about that I find so offensive, but given the authorial decision to continually invoke racist, antisemitic, classist, and misogynist stereotypes and phrases (and they’re all highlighted on my kindle, you average at least one per kindle page) I think it’s probably you. I stand by everything I wrote; there’s subjective experience and then there’s indulging in the worst, crudest, and most dehumanizing stereotypes in service of, what, a self-discovery addiction narrative that would have been much more interesting without them? You don’t have a high horse OR a leg to stand on here.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 8, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I think I’d take advice on how to treat other human beings more seriously from someone who doesn’t call other sex workers “vaginas on legs,” “hos”, and “bitches” consistently throughout a published work. If you weren’t attempting to speak for all strippers, why did you make universal pronouncements on strippers all throughout the book?

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm

A few things, though:
A) On consideration,you do have a point in that our speculation about how you dealt with assault is specious, below the belt and awful, and I’ll delete that from the review if you like. I truly apologize.
B) I did love that Rumpus piece on feminism and sex work, which lead me to read your book in the first place. I was disappointed, then, to find that the book was woman hating and whore hating in the extreme.
C) “Safe space” doesn’t mean we can’t defend ourselves from people in our community who spew whorephobic, misogynist and racist crap at us. Yes, your memoir is about your experience, but that doesn’t mean that what you say about other people while accounting your experience is sacrosanct, especially when it’s *this* bigoted.

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Moon December 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Caty and Red, if you are going to criticize Ruth’s editing, then I am going to point out the abundant errors in this piece. Hard-working. Middle-class. L.A. Lower-middle-class. Overeducated. The missing comma between Hubert and Selby. Counterintuitive. CAPS LOCK. Neighbor. Anglo-Saxon. Nineteen-year-old. Maybe when you delete your specious, below the belt, and awful speculations about Ruth’s assaults, you can get these fixed up, too.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Yes, we should’ve copy edited more intensely, and thank you for pointing these out. However, some of these are stylistic variations, not errors. To be fair, though, we weren’t going after Ruth for copy editing, but for excess and repetition.

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Red December 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Those are fair criticisms, however, I’m criticizing her editor for allowing her rank racism (and all the other bigoted things mentioned above) to stand. There’s a major difference.

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Moon December 8, 2013 at 7:14 pm

That is a new criticism of her editor that was not in the article.

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Red December 8, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Ya I figured that out. At first I thought you were referring to my comment above, then I realized you were being petty and avoiding the major issue at hand.

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Moon December 8, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Red: “Those are fair criticisms, however, I’m criticizing her editor for allowing her rank racism (and all the other bigoted things mentioned above) to stand. There’s a major difference.”

Red, criticizing Ruth’s editor for the content of her book WOULD have been a “major difference” than criticizing her alleged excess and repetition, if that was what you published here. Instead, your criticized Ruth for making an obvious joke.

Red: “One of her Gawker posts ends with the note, ‘Untainted by a later edit.’ That, right there. Problem number two after her heinous personality: Doesn’t believe in editing!”

Caty Simon Caty Simon December 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm

And although we have great editors here at Tits and Sass (excluding maybe me, ha), I expect a different standard of editing from an all volunteer run site and a major publishing company. Though, my co-editors did help us prune this piece down quite a bit so we weren’t repeating the same themes over and over again ad nauseam, which differentiates this piece from Girl, Undressed.

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Moon December 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Rather, the missing comma between Selby and Jr.

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Ruth Fowler December 8, 2013 at 4:07 pm

As your assault on my character is based on the fact that
a) I’m a woman
b) I’m a former sex-worker

I think it’s safe to say that the misogyny and ‘whore-hating’ going on is not actually coming from me, but is directed towards me and is emanating from you, Caty.

My overwhelming experiences of being a stripper in Manhattan Gentleman’s Clubs were of being characterized as little more than a “vagina on legs”, a “ho” and a “bitch”, words which were taken directly from conversations about me, conversations directed to me, comments left on my blog, anonymous emails sent to me, comments to directed to others or phrases about women lifted from hip-hop songs that we danced to. This is abundantly clear in my book. I’d love to be able to say that I found the stripclub to be a woman-friendly, non-racist, non-judgmental, warm, welcoming place where women came to express their sexuality and sex-positivity, but on the contrary, I found it a deeply divisive place of rampant consumerism with women as the product, a place which played upon conventional morality and ethics to internalize conflict and difference and promote division, self hatred, confusion and disgust. It was a transphobic, homophobic, racist place, and it promoted those values, as I documented and made clear when I wrote about playing upon the phobias of clients, such as the transphobia that one client exhibited, an episode you continually refer to. I apologize for the fact I’m unable to control the reactions of these men and didn’t edit them to portray what you seemed to want to portray. Often I enjoyed my experiences and had a great time. Other times I despised my experiences and hated what I found in the club.

I do not appreciate being told by anyone, least of all a middle class, white, educated woman, that my experience is not valid because it is not politically perfect and I chose to write a book in an experimental aesthetic, not a didactic essay. I wrote about a fucked up situation of complete disempowerment – as a broke undocumented immigrant with no other means of support or options of employment – which revealed, to me, the flaws in the present industry and in the US, in all its bigoted, racist, women hating glory and contradictions. I cannot help that most strippers I met in Manhattan publicly declared their hatred for prostitutes and prostitution, yet often worked as prostitutes on the side. I reported that, I didn’t choose to make any kind of assessment on that truth. Yet you’re using it to declare that I, personally, hate prostitutes and escorts and have some kind of crusade against them. How on earth you’ve drawn this conclusion, I have no idea. Personally, having suffered from and internalized the hatred and bigotry thrown my way by clients, readers, other strippers and people I worked with, combined with the kinds of deeply conventional morality I grew up with, I never found prostitution something I could do, or wanted to do. That’s again my personal experience.

As regards racism – as a white woman, like every white person, I cannot avoid the fact that my skin has been, and will continue to be, complicit in the systemic, structural oppression of people of color, which is why I identify as anti-racist and actively work, through writing and activism, to both highlight racism and to work towards ending it. Part of the racism I continually call out is ‘color-blindness’, which you seem to be misidentifying here as some kind of positive move towards ending systemic oppression. I am not color blind, I see obvious differences in the way society treats myself as a privileged white woman, and others who do not have my skin color, and observing and documenting those differences started in the blog and the book when I became an undocumented sex worker, when previously my oppressions had been distinctly British: class and economics based.

Finally – I wrote a literary book. I ‘showed’ my experience. I did not intend to ‘tell’ people what my experience was, but rather to let them taste, smell, feel and touch it. That you found a lot of shit fucked up – and then blamed me – says a lot about your attitudes towards women, and specifically, towards me. I’m curious as to why you are so vicious, angry, vehement and unpleasant towards me, taking the truths of my experience in the sex industry – that it was often ugly, bigoted, deeply problematic and unpleasant – and taking it to mean *I* am ugly, bigoted, deeply problematic and unpleasant – as something all sex workers struggle against. As I pointed out, writing my book, in all its blunt truth, was a means to control a narrative I had no control over, because it was a narrative controlled by men and capitalism, while women who work within the industry treat anyone who does not promote an overwhelmingly positive view of it, as traitors: ‘misogynists’ and ‘whore-haters’.

I absolutely support the rights of women to be sex workers, I think it’s a completely viable profession, I have butted heads with the kinds of ‘savior’ narratives white radical feminists promote unproblematically, and I think removing men, sexism, racism, capitalism, misogyny and other kinds of phobias from the equation would probably make sex work and stripping far safer and more enjoyable than I experienced.

However, we’re talking about my book, my experience, and my writing, none of which is about a utopia which doesn’t exist. It’s about a fucked-up few years in Manhattan, being dictated to by men, being told what I can wear, how I can act, what I should think, what I could write. And you’re doing exactly the same to me. It’s not only oppressive – it’s wrong. You’re recreating exactly the kinds of oppressions I wrote about and doing so with a complete absence of consciousness. I’m a woman, I’m a former sex worker, I’m a former undocumented immigrant, I’m currently 40 weeks pregnant, I’m a full time writer, I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor. In short, I’m a human being, not a human punching bag, and I am *certainly* not someone who has ever posited an unproblematic view of an industry which is rampant with abuse. Like *ALL* industries in the US, from Hollywood to academia to service work to publishing – sex work and stripping, is rife with bigotry and systemic oppression. I just happened to write about it and refuse to take a stance which would promote the kinds of ‘shiny, happy sex worker narrative’ sex positive activists often use and abuse to argue that sex workers need more rights and respect. Sex workers need more rights and sex workers need more respect, and I don’t have to pretend my experience is any different than what it was to state that. Check yourself and your prejudices. Because they’re running rampant, and you’ve just become the oppressor you – and I – most despise.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm

You’re saying the visceral disgust you described feeling towards your coworkers throughout the book was just a reflection of male attitudes? And that it’s colorblindness not to call people “black motherfuckers”? I think you’re being incredibly disingenuous here. I agree that the sex industry is plagued by some of the worst hierarchical problems that emanate from mainstream culture, but I don’t think this is a case of you embarking on an experimental literary project that Tilz and I just didn’t get.
Oh, and when did you get the impression that I was middle class?

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Ruth Fowler December 8, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Calling people ‘black motherfuckers’ is calling them exactly what they called themselves and using it in prose. Would I say that to these guys in person? No. Would I use it in print to suggest that this is what they call themselves? Yes, I just did. I don’t know what experience of New York you’ve had, but mine was certainly not a place of political correctness. It was a place where black and white kids who grew up together call each other ‘nigga’ with comfort, ease and interchangeability – a word I could not ever use because I am white and British. It was a place where trans people were trannies and queer people were fags and gays and Italians were spics and guidos and Mexicans were beaners. It was a cruel, racist, place where people adopted and used these terms all day, every day. Manhattan was – and probably still is, judging by my Long Island family – not a place where people refer to each other as Mr and Miss, Lord and Lady, where the very concept of not gendering one’s pronouns is so laughably, absurdly, left wing nonsense which has zero applicability to the realities of living and working there circa 2005. The stripclub was a place where we women called each other bitches, hos and whatever other slur was thrown our way, and we called each other that with affection, with pride, with meanness, or with hatred, whatever we felt at the time towards whomever we were talking to. I find it ridiculous that you would even think I would pepper a book with tons of disclaimers and footnotes which say things like “Six ripped black motherfuckers was the preferred phrase these men would describe themselves in casual conversation, and not my actual language of choice” or “I apologize for saying that the men who hissed at me were latino: I do not mean to denigrate latinos by noting the race of the men who catcall on Bedford Avenue” or “I apologize to all white men who work in business for characterizing them as unpleasant stripclub clients”. I wrote a goddamn book which describes how people interact and refer to each other in Manhattan and a stripclub, and the fact that it demonstrates exactly how un-PC that world is – well, fucking great. I did my job perfectly. I’m not apologizing to any of you semantic nazis for not laboriously editing how people spoke around me to make it fit into some preconceived notion you have about how people *should* refer to each other (for the record, it makes me cringe when I hear the n word thrown around, or women referred to as bitches, but not reporting that is fucking bizarre for a writer). I have no idea what kind of bizarre politically correct stripclubs you’ve worked in, but they certainly are nothing like the ones I experienced. I refuse to apologize for reporting what I saw, heard and experienced. You’re being absolutely ridiculous and wasting all of our lives with this puerile, immature bullshit and unfettered hate-on for me posing as anti-bigotry.

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Red December 8, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Our issue is not with you depicting how people spoke but how you spoke about people in a memoir written after the fact. Tbh I feel like this comment of yours reinforces everything we said. I’m sorry you can’t see the difference between depicting a moment in time and actually being a racist bigot, but the difference is there, and they aren’t inextricably intertwined.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 8, 2013 at 11:57 pm

Right, b/c I’m sure those people were totally fine with YOU calling them “black motherfuckers,” and I’m sure you write about these women’s bodies and their excretions with disgust with “affection.” Just like I’m sure the way you write about poor people and their bodies is just about ‘how they talk” and signifies you have the highest respect for them. PLEASE. *We’re* the bigoted ones b/c we took issue with these things using your real name in reference to a book you had published and widely distributed? And if we take issue with this we’re “semantic Nazis” and the politically correct police? I’d hate to see what kind of slurs and bigotry you’d think were bad enough for it to be valid to have concerns about.

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Miss Margo December 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm

FWIW, I think you and Red are totally correct in your assessment of this woman and her work. She is nothing if not disingenuous…and shockingly self-absorbed.

Mean as hell, to boot. What a nasty piece of work! I find it entertaining that she accuses you of middle-class privilege when she displays a unique brand of douchebaggery that is found almost exclusively amongst the well-to-do.

lee December 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm

hi ruth,

in your comments here, you’ve described the book as “a form of empowerment for [you]“, “cathartic”, “about… shaping [your] experience into something experimental and aesthetic”, and “a means to control a narrative [you] had no control over”. i wholly understand these as motivations to write the book, but i am curious about what else might have motivated you to publish it (beyond the assumed factors of financial profit, accolades, etc. that motivate all writers who publish their work, to some extent). who did you intend to speak to with this book? what did you hope they would take from it? how did you envision it altering the cultural landscape you portrayed, or hope/wish that it could?

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Luna December 8, 2013 at 7:09 pm

“Finally – I wrote a literary book. I ‘showed’ my experience. I did not intend to ‘tell’ people what my experience was, but rather to let them taste, smell, feel and touch it. That you found a lot of shit fucked up – and then blamed me – says a lot about your attitudes towards women, and specifically, towards me”

Weak. If you portray fellow sex workers in dehumanizing, racist, misogynistic ways, without making an effort to indicate to the reader that it’s merely a reflection of how OTHERS see/treat these women (and not YOU), then you are implicitly endorsing these fucked-up representations. Don’t try to turn this around on the people critiquing you, calling them “oppressors,” implying that their objection to YOUR misogyny is inherently misogynistic, that they’re prejudiced, etc. Also I don’t think the reviewers are objecting to the fact that your experience isn’t a “shiny happy sex worker narrative” so I don’t understand why you’re harping on that point.

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Red December 8, 2013 at 7:32 pm

This is getting kind of frustratingly funny to me. Like yes, the sex industry is problematic and abuse is rampant and I am the last person to defend these aspects of it; however, if that was what you were going for the tone and perspective you used really failed to make it seem as if it was anyone but you being grossed out by and scornful of the women you worked with, their lives, bodies, and decisions.
And not even the women you worked with: there’s a moment on a train where another woman is crying about being humiliated in class and you mock her for being upset that a professor forced her to undress to her bra before her whole class (inappropriate, right? Upset is a justified reaction) bedore drawing a parallel that makes it about yourself, about how you lost your pride in a much more spectacular fashion, as all strippers must do.
And there’s a jump there about the lack of worth and dignity of strippers, about the way we must be ruined, and it isn’t clear that this is you just commenting on society’s attitude toward us. Throughout the book it seems you wholeheartedly embrace this attitude and in fact look down on us with even more vigor than society. It is not at all obvious that you’re critiquing this outlook or doing anything other than hating on other women. I would like to quote more but I’m on my phone.
The “dumpy little black girl, cowering from abuse and slaps”.
The difference between civilians and sex workers is that sex workers have our “sadness written all over us, in an ironic appropriation of our own shame…”

These are the MILD things, at a glance.
I don’t understand what you were going for with this. I don’t understand why you talk about people the way you do, hasidics, Hispanics, all the women who get described as having mouths like slit throats, your giddy notion that the strip club is where the popular girls on your school ended up. I am really curious about what you thought was coming across with all this, like a feminist solidarity?

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Red December 8, 2013 at 9:15 pm

“I silently congratulated myself on having fitted in somehow, in a way in which this girl, this fat little butterball of repulsion and abuse and a hangdog air of cringing expectation, this fat little butterball oozing serum from scratched and putrid flesh, has not.”

Look, things like this viscerally upset me. There’s a cruelty here that’s so completely cold and unnecessary that it really disturbed me, it actually have me something like second hand hurt feelings. In light of that I didn’t want to spend as much time on the review (or to be honest anywhere near the book once I finished) and I’m rereading it in full and at once with my full attention for the first time. I stand by my criticisms of the content, but I regret the personal details–that was actually stopping to the same level and I’m ashamed of that. The defensiveness and anger that reading all of this raised in me is not a good excuse for personal attacks, especially when the book offers so much to criticize on it’s own.
So I do apologize for stooping to the personal level. I fucked up there.

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Red December 8, 2013 at 9:21 pm

*on rereading the review/takedown, we did actually spend an excruciating amount of time on it I think because it was so frustrating to read things like the above quote. If I had reread more carefully and coolly I would remove the comments that you/Fowler is loathsome–I don’t want to stoop to this same level of woman and stripper hating, whatever the impetus. And quotes like these are loathsome enough on their own.

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Red December 8, 2013 at 9:36 pm

I’m on my phone and autocorrect is messing w me, sorry for the almost incoherent comments as well

Moon December 8, 2013 at 10:34 pm

“The defensiveness and anger that reading all of this raised in me is not a good excuse for personal attacks, especially when the book offers so much to criticize on it’s [sic] own.”

This is such a backhanded apology. It upsets me on a visceral level, but mostly because there’s an apostrophe in a possessive pronoun.

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Red December 8, 2013 at 11:23 pm

There you go again being petty. I stand by my criticisms of the content, the content of the book is appalling. But I’m glad my iPhones autocorrect gives you some leverage to criticize.

Moon December 9, 2013 at 9:38 pm

That last sentence was a joke made before I saw your apology about AutoCorrect. Guess its not funny.

Ruth Fowler December 8, 2013 at 11:10 pm

what *in fuck’s name* are you talking about? I didn’t write a book about female solidarity, I didn’t write a book to promote female solidarity – and the fact you are suggesting I did so reveals more about your expectations than mine. I wrote a book about loneliness and stripping and being undocumented in New York City. I expected people to read it and appreciate it as a literary work which said something about my own peculiar experience, not trawl through it looking for evidence that I am not a woman, I hate women, I hate sex workers, I love women, I love sex workers, I’m racist, I’m not racist, that my personal experiences are invalidated and that I somehow deserve a trashing because YOU decided my book should have had a distinct political message of empowerment and solidarity which does not exist in the world I experienced. I did not experience either empowerment or solidarity. I recorded my experiences, whether horrendous or not, and I did so with unflinching honesty, understanding that my readers, as intelligent beings, could distinguish when an episode, or a phrase, or an experience, was racist or cruel or wonderful or kind. When I saw something I found disgusting and repulsive and awful and cruel, I wrote it as disgusting and repulsive and awful and cruel. WTF do you expect me to do? Dress up the truth and say, “Even though this girl was overweight, had severe body issues, had a visible skin disease and was practically quivering with fear in the corner, I’ll just omit her story in case it offends anyone, or rewrite it so it fits into an image of political correctness that other white, educated sex workers will approve”. For fucks sake – shit happens. It’s right there, in front of everyone, in front of you and me, nasty things, nice things, all day long. Those nasty things don’t deserve to be ignored or alleviated because of your desire for a beautiful life for everyone. The truth is simply the truth. Am I meant to pretend that when she asked for someone to touch her back I didn’t watch six beautiful, glossy women recoil in horror and disgust, including myself? Are you really so UTTERLY CLUELESS that you think this book should have aestheticized every experience into something pink, fluffy and harmless, with a message of female empowerment and solidarity which I neither witnessed nor experienced? I often write opinion based pieces and commentary about race, feminism and popular culture, pieces which have a distinct political message (antiracist, anticapitalist, antimperialist) which is why I feel empowered to write literary prose which records experiences which are not polemical and do not tell people what to think in an overtly didactic way, but simply record life as I see and experience it. I enjoy both styles of writing and I do not intend to compromise either one because YOU think my literary work needs a political message or an imagined impetus to “change the cultural landscape” or “make a difference”. That I described a world you disliked means you disliked the world of sex work I encountered, not that I ‘turned’ you and others against something with an account of my experience. Since when has any writer needed to have a distinct cultural or sociological aim when writing a literary book? Certainly as a political being I often have an aim in mind when writing an article or essay (to write like James Baldwin is one), but in the case of this book, my aim was to write like the writers I love and admire – from those arrogant white male gonzo journalists like Hunter S and Bukowski, to Joan Didion, Nabokov, Rushdie, Borges and others – about my experiences, whether positive or negative. And most were negative, in the Manhattan I suffered through. I had no aim to “represent” or become a “voice” for anyone. I had no desire to make my experience an advertisement for sex workers rights or to improve anyone’s life. I’m a writer, not TOM’s shoes. Are you really so ignorant of the differences between a literary book and a didactic essay? Because you’re talking to me like you wanted me to write a polemical, didactic essay, and I didn’t. I wrote a literary book about loneliness which was never intended to argue sex workers have feelings and stripping is empowering and women need to band together to change the world and if we were only better people everything could be perfect. I wrote a book which did, in fact, record a few truths about how empty and sad and broken this world is – just another fucked up industry in a fucked up world ruled by money and men and sadness and oppression. Stop dredging through the book and telling me why what I wrote means I am racist, sexist, transhating, women hating and homophobic. I know what I wrote, I know what I felt, and I know that committing to tell the truth of my experiences made this book hard work to write, and made it difficult, if not impossible, to sell to any sex worker looking for a tome that empowers them. I’m not the woman to empower anyone with my literary prose, and even the political writing I do is not ‘savior’ prose, but simply observations on culture from a distinctly radical view. I don’t find stripping empowering. I didn’t find Cambridge University empowering. I don’t even find screenwriting empowering. I don’t find the world empowering. I find writing, perhaps, empowering – aside from when I wake up on a Sunday morning to find a character assassination from strangers who have decided they wanted a literary book to be The Female Eunuch. From the misery I observed and continue to observe in a life which is punctuated with pockets of happiness supplied by friends, lovers, film and literature, I’m not alone in many of my observations. Those who disagree with me can do so. But don’t tell me that my intentions were bigoted, or that the results were bigoted, in a piece of writing which is pure, hate filled bile, unashamedly directed towards me publicly, using my real name (and experiences which do not use people’s real names or real descriptions) against me. That’s completely fucking low and the most bigoted, dumb shit I have read in a long, long time. In fact, you epitomize pretty much everything I hate about modern, white feminism and why it’s alienating to every single marginalized voice going.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 8, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Yes, Ruth, I think we know the difference between a didactic essay and a literary piece. That doesn’t mean literature can’t be bigoted, and we’re not asking your book to be feminist theory if we have concerns about that.

Caty Simon Caty Simon December 9, 2013 at 12:24 am

Also, I feel this pose you’re taking on where you’re defending literary freedom against humorless censorship like ours (“how dare they criticize me? obv. they’ve never read Bukowski, Didion, and Hunter S!”) is crucially missing the point.

Interesting you mention those writers in particular. Didion and Bukowski both were writers whose work was often tainted by the amount of contempt they infused it with. Didion, Rushdie, Thompson, and Bukowski were all occasionally racist and misogynist. All of them weren’t immune from criticism for that b/c they were good or b/c their writing was literary rather than political in nature.

Miss Margo December 11, 2013 at 1:42 pm

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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Miss Margo December 11, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Oh man, I made my big zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz to represent a big “snooze” to Ruth’s egotistical self-contradictory rebuttal. I did not mean that the debate was a big snooze. Sorry. I didn’t know how it would appear in the comment thread. Please publish or delete at your discretion.

By the way, Ruth strikes me as a major asshole.

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Robin D Robin D December 8, 2013 at 8:06 pm

I don’t know if you will see this, Ruth, but thanks for commenting. I was actually really disappointed in Caty, who I consider a good friend, for writing this review. I have not read your book, so everyone can take this with a grain of salt.

Frankly, it does sound racist, callous, cruel particularly towards coworkers, and has the potential to give young strippers who read it serious body image issues. (And I hate the “unlikely sex worker” bullcrap as much as anyone. And it also sounds like she may have overgeneralized sometimes.) That’s not okay, and I think that’s fair game. And narcissism is fair game too. It’s a pretty common thing though I think – or at least I’ve observed it a lot among all sorts of people – that people react to their personal traumas and their marginalizations by reveling in whatever levels of privilege they do (or still) possess, even in circles where it’s become cool to try to do the opposite. And frankly I think you can see that even within this review right here. You’re really all on a pretty similar “level” when it comes to that (especially that you are just as well-educated which is hard when you’re competing with Cambridge, and yeah just as middle class, from someone else who’s run a very large gamut of class-related experiences at various times through her life), but you take serious joy in getting in whatever digs you can still get away with (trauma, subsequent difficulties with boundaries which is a really common reaction to trauma particularly early and/or repeated trauma – and yes that plays into the “repeated” thing and predators screen for it, having a hard time labeling it rape which is also super common, “self-loathing” (REALLY Caty?), “mental/emotional landscape” (REALLY Caty?), immigration issues, and so on). And, I mean, at what point does that just become a vicious cycle? Maybe there’s a bit of self-awareness lacking on all sides here.

It’s good that you’ve (Caty) already reflected on the way you’ve talked about Ruth’s experiences of violence and trauma but I’m not sure you’ve taken that far enough, or actually considered the implications and the other ways this shows up in your review. And particularly, since when are you one to tear at other people about their mental health?

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 8, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Hey, Robin and Ruth, I feel horrible about the commentary on Ruth’s trauma, and I don’t quite know what to do about it. I don’t want to cut it b/c I don’t want to avoid accountability by pretending we didn’t write it (unless Ruth asks us to take it out.) Robin just advised me privately to warn readers, so we’ll try to do that, have to think of how to word such a warning. I should have known better. During the editing process I thought it might be inappropriate and considered taking it out, and I should have taken that instinct more seriously.

However, as I just clarified to Robin privately as well, I’m not strictly middle class at all. I grew up in a struggling Russian immigrant family and I’m a lower middle class junkie escort who lives in a drug ghetto. I did attend Bryn Mawr briefly before I dropped out, and I got good private school education on scholarship for high school, so I know I have a lot of class privilege in the sense that my education allows me to pass as middle and/or upper middle class very easily. However, if you saw the clothes I was wearing right now and the studio apartment I’m writing in, you probably wouldn’t label me middle class. It’s difficult to determine something like that about people one knows from the internet, though, so it’s understandable.

I also have to clarify that the phrase about “mental/emotional landscape” was in no way intended by Red to refer to Ruth’s mental health. nor were the comments on her self-loathing meant to imply anything similar. And I don’t think we ever said anything negative about Ruth’s immigration status.

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Robin D Robin D December 8, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Like, similarly middle class, I still think that sounds like a pretty comparable upbringing, and I don’t know how Ruth has done post-college either… I don’t know. It’s complicated for a lot of us.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 8, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Yeah, like I wrote, I do have a lot of class privilege and I’m not saying that my background isn’t comparable to Ruth’s. As you write, it’s a complex issue.

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Moon December 9, 2013 at 8:44 am

Red: “But it also makes me so sad. It is tragic, not in a way she’s aware of apparently, but it makes me sad to think about what her mental/emotional landscape must be like.”

Caty: “I also have to clarify that the phrase about ‘mental/emotional landscape’ was in no way intended by Red to refer to Ruth’s mental health. nor were the comments on her self-loathing meant to imply anything similar.”

What was that phrase intended to refer to, Caty?

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 9, 2013 at 8:46 am

Her outlook on the world in general? What it’s like to live in her head? People can have shitty ways of living and being in the world, and it has nothing to do with “mental illness”–it’s not something I’d pathologize.

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Robin D Robin D December 9, 2013 at 6:15 pm

“Shitty ways of living and being” could be something like the cruelty, OR it could be tearing at her for her personal suffering, and that seems more likely from context. And whether that personal suffering should be pathologized or not, it’s uncool to tear at someone about – for Ruth to do it to others, or for you guys to do it to Ruth.

Moon December 12, 2013 at 10:58 am

The title of the section is “Speculation on Fowler’s coping mechanisms and her psychological health…”

Robin D Robin D December 8, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Well-educated and middle class meaning Caty, I am not familiar with the other author.

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Tara December 9, 2013 at 12:37 am

This is interesting.

I wrote a similarly judgmental review of this book in 2008, which I’m now ashamed of:
http://www.hobostripper.com/book-review-no-mans-land-by-ruth-fowler/

I’ve also had my books reviewed (thankfully much more kindly) including criticisms of my experience not fitting into her politics, like this:
“Perfect thing would be to stop judging people’s kinks thru a supposedly compassionate New Age lens.”

When I read the book I think I had two knee-jerk reactions:
OMG, how can she be so MEAN?
How can she say these things about US?

The first part was partly because I am one of those people who was maybe “supposed” to be a whore in the bad way, and identified with a lot of the people bashed throughout the book. Looking back, I see that many of the things she named were things I had experienced or thought as well and I was uncomfortable with them being so vividly portrayed. I think most strippers have had a night with horrible rapey management, or a bad CR, or whatever, where we had those kinds of thoughts. I’ve certainly known a couple people who seem to have had those thoughts through their whole career. I don’t think they should not be allowed to express their experience because I would like them to understand that their interpretation of their experience is internalized patriarchy and harmful.

Also, when I read more of Ruth’s current stuff, I realized that she is just mean. The vividly descriptive hatefulness is a literary thing, and she pulls it off well.

I don’t want people thinking the things Ruth says about us. Like, we all have abusive crack head mothers and identify as vaginas on legs? What? I used to spend so much time working against that kind of bullshit.

On the other hand, I think this aggressive self policing – “don’t TELL people stuff like that about us!” – is us as a stigmatized group turning that internalized stigma and oppression against each other. As stigmatized people, I think it’s important to see each other first as people and community, not as what each other might make the normal people think about us. That is just acting out societies oppression of us towards each other.

Anyways: I hope we can talk about this as a community and build more inclusive community.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 9, 2013 at 12:43 am

(Ah, Tara, I’m sorry about that, btw–that was from before I read more of your work, which I really love.)

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Red December 9, 2013 at 1:16 am

i mean, I’m less worried about what this makes the rest of the world think about us and more just like, hardcore bummed by the cruelty (bc I’mm a sex pozzie who dances around in a pink tutu with kittens and can’t acknowledge the ringworm in front of me) and I believe that it’s possible to write a clear eyed memoir on strip clubs where we talk about all the awful shit (and believe me, I am well aware of the awful shit) but without resorting to… I mean to all the criticisms I listed above.
However, if, as you say
“Also, when I read more of Ruth’s current stuff, I realized that she is just mean. The vividly descriptive hatefulness is a literary thing, and she pulls it off well.”
then that really explains it. I mean everything she’s said so far is in line with that. It happens not to be my personal taste, I was actually just talking abt this the other day with caty as it’s why I don’t like highsmith, but it is a thing and people do like it. I don’t think it makes my opinions here any less valid but it makes more SENSE to me now.

also to reiterate I really regret speculating on someone else’s private abuse history. Will be writing preface apology about that.

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Parker Parker December 9, 2013 at 4:57 am

“Also, when I read more of Ruth’s current stuff, I realized that she is just mean. The vividly descriptive hatefulness is a literary thing, and she pulls it off well.”

And it must suck to be the recipient of an attack, err, I mean literary endeavor. It must feel like you’ve been stripped bare under such cold, judgmental eyes. Morphed into an object that doesn’t even represent a feeling human being, albeit one with flaws. But wait, isn’t that what she is complaining about here?

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Luna December 9, 2013 at 12:55 am

There’s a WAY to write about how people of various demographics address each other, how strippers treat each other, how customers and society treats strippers, what strippers think of themselves, etc…racism, classism, misogyny, fatphobia, beauty standards. It’s distinct from writing in such a way that makes you, the author, come off as racist, classist, misogynistic, fatphobic, shallow, etc. I think the point that Caty and Red are trying to make is that, in their opinion, you failed to accomplish the former. Maybe you didn’t mean for it to come off that way, but if it did (especially to strippers, who would be the ones most intimately acquainted with the content of your book) maybe you should exercise some critical self-reflection and try to analyze your book from the readers’ point of view, not just based on “I know what I wrote, I know what I felt,” because your readers only know “how you felt” based on what they’re reading and their own sociocultural context, no matter your intentions.

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Jared Iorio December 9, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I think if you’re going t do literary review, you have to figure out where you stand regarding authorial intent. Honestly, you’re all over the place. In some places, writing racist things makes Ruth a racist, in others, she didn’t explain it well enough. You’re bringing up her upbringing, education and skin color and then claiming that the words on the page themselves are racist, misogynistic, etc.

You can’t really have it both ways. Is it the words or the person? Is it the sentence itself or have you gleaned the intent somehow, magically, of my partner’s soul.

The most honest thing anyone here has said is that, emotionally, the book upset you. The rest of this hit piece uses whatever misapplied literary and political critique you can think of to justify that emotional reaction.

This “review” could have been two sentences in that light:

I hated this book. It makes me very upset that someone would say these things.

The rest is just click bait.

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Lola December 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm

We can’t have it both way?
So, freedom of expression and verbage only applies to Ruth, but we can’t react viscerally to her writing?
By the logic you use, it could be said that Ruth should have just described her experiences like, “I hated this situation/person. It makes me emotionally upset to have experienced this situation/person.” Yet, when it’s suggested that to Ruth that there are less hurtful ways to write things she flings herself on the stage of martyrdom.

At this point her party is feeding off of the attention and using it as more “poor Ruth” tinder, when really she writes like a sharp toungued bully. This review isn’t the only place that draws light to that. I’m done contributing to the marginalized victim Ruth, oppressed by non-marginalized feminist sex workers who felt hurt by her book fodder.

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Jared Iorio December 10, 2013 at 12:10 am

No, I’m talking theory of literary critique, not literature. For a critique to actually be useful, no you can’t really have it both ways.

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Parker Parker December 10, 2013 at 12:22 am

“So, freedom of expression and verbage only applies to Ruth, but we can’t react viscerally to her writing?”

Apparently, Lola, that is what the gist is. After all, Ruth went to Cambridge so she know what true literary writing is.

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Jared Iorio December 10, 2013 at 2:40 pm

You obviously need to brush up on reading comprehension. This is called a review at the top. It’s not. It doesn’t review the book at all, all it does is explain in vicious terms the type of book the author’s of this post wanted Ruth to write. It’s an emotional response to a book they hate. That’s something, but it’s not critique, and it’s disingenuous to label it as such. Maybe they should write the book they want, instead of lambasting Ruth for writing about her experience?

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Lola December 10, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I definetly think they reviewed the book, Jared.

Lola December 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm

And also, many book reviews definetly have different perspective in them. What are you even talking about? You are not the final word on what a useful literary critique is. You are Ruth’s husband.

I actually thought it was a useful critique. But maybe I need to brush up in the right way to find things useful too?

Moon December 10, 2013 at 7:48 pm

“Maybe they should write the book they want, instead of lambasting Ruth for writing about her experience?” I was thinking the same thing. Maybe Caty could write a book about being a “junkie escort that lives in a drug ghetto” and sex workers that don’t like conflating sex work with hard drug use could ridicule her. Anyway, Ruth’s CV would eat Caty’s and Red’s alive.

Seven December 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I think that everyone is entitled to artistic license. I bought this book a while ago. To be honest, I actually couldn’t get through the book either because I thought it was so mean. I’m not as articulate as some other commenters, so I feel a little sheepish writing this, but I read a lot of sex work memoirs and books (and other memoirs and books too) and I think everyone should be able to tell their story exactly how they lived it! That being said, I’ve never had to put down one of the memoirs I’ve read because I thought it was written so (excuse my lack of vocabulary- but I CAN’T think of a more fitting expression) meanly! I don’t think that makes the author a victim.

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Lola December 9, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I hated this book. It makes me very upset that someone would say these things.

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Tracy Quan December 9, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Well, now I want to read Ruth’s book. This discussion (which I have skimmed because I’m trying to get to the post office before it closes) makes me curious to see what all the fuss is about. Sometimes a hostile review creates interest in a book. It’s totally normal for a writer to feel that her work has been misunderstood or misinterpreted, don’t you think? It happens to me sometimes. If we were designing furniture or clothing, we might also be surprised when users re-purpose our wares. A planter used as an umbrella holder, etc. Maybe this is what readers are doing when they misunderstand our work.

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Ruth Fowler December 9, 2013 at 8:04 pm

“From here Fowler veers around chronologically, moving from New York back to her post-collegiate travels around the world, (something, I thought sniffily, that most poor scholarships kids don’t have the chance to do, but ok, very nice for her)”

Anyone has the chance to get a job on a boat and work your way around the world – you don’t need a college degree to learn how to clean toilets, make a bed and pour champagne for rich people. It’s called the service industry. Do your fucking research before you pull the crass privilege card.

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Samia Shoaib December 10, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I think it was gracious of Ms. Fowler to respond so expansively and disappointingly ungenerous and cruel of Caty and Red to insist on persisting in what I can only describe as a lynching. When did feminism become so judgmental and since when are women not allowed to be “mean” (whatever that means)? As for the accusations of racism, I find it refreshing to read accurate representations of the way people actually speak – no matter how politically incorrect and am far more inclined to be suspicious of the motives of those who pretend that lingo doesn’t exist. As a Pakistani woman, I’ve had more than my fair share of so-called liberals transposing upon me their expectations of my intent and the ensuing tantrums when I fail to fit into their predetermined parameters and cannot bear to see this dogma being perpetuated in the name of women’s rights. But worst of all the sheer cruelty, malevolence and downright bitchiness of the authors is disappointing at best; because to attempt to rob any woman of her right to speak her truth, to judge her by your standards of privilege via a value system that displays a particularly American inferiority complex (get over Cambridge) speaks volumes about you and says nothing meaningful about her. I must agree with Ruth when she says: “you epitomize pretty much everything I hate about modern, white feminism and why it’s alienating to every single marginalized voice going”. Shame on you.

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Howard Campbell December 10, 2013 at 9:31 pm

“Lynching” is a term for when a mob surrounds, and then murders a person. It’s strongly associated with American racism, and particularly in the Deep South, and the Tuskegee Institute has stated that more than 3,000 black Americans were killed in this manner between 1882 and the late sixties.

This is a criticism of a book, on a website.

Two very different situations.

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Miss Margo December 11, 2013 at 2:22 pm

A “lynching.”

Really…? Fucking shame on YOU.

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Samia Shoaib December 12, 2013 at 4:11 am

Etymology of “lynching”: “James Lynch Fitzstephen from Galway, Ireland, who was the Mayor of Galway when he hanged his own son from the balcony of his house after convicting him of the murder of a Spanish visitor in 1493.” Ethnocentric to assume the American context is universally applicable. Double yawn.

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Howard Campbell December 12, 2013 at 10:38 am

Alright, let us take it back to the Irish root you have cited. A man hanged his son, and his son died.

This is criticism of a book, on a website.

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Howard Campbell December 12, 2013 at 10:58 am

Whether or not it was a just punishment in that very particular case would depend on whether or not one considered the death penalty justified. My point, however, is that “lynching” is an extremely hyperbolic word to use in the context of a book review. And, given the connotations it has now – what it meant in 1493 notwithstanding – a pretty offensive one.

I’m aware it might come of as pendantry to criticize a single word in your comment like that, but it’s one that seems to encapsulate the tone of Ruth and her supporters here. The most hyperbolic, dramatic and scathing language is appropriate for you, without a thought to what it might mean for others, but emotional reactions from any of those others are to be instantly dismissed as a) too privileged to stand, and be b) unwarrented “lynchings”.

Look, I don’t want to fight. For the record, I’m reasonably familiar with Ruth’s work. She’s pretty much always written mean-spirited purple prose, and I have never liked it (most notably her Jeremy Clarkson esq. “I’m a Fattist and Proud” piece of vileness for the Guardian, and its Huffpo followup, in which she takes extreme care to describe her own petite frame (110 pounds exactly, as I recall. Vital information for the reader) while heaping florid scorn on everyone fatter than it, and which unfortunately was so nastily creative in its descriptions I think it will be burned into my brain forever ).

But my dislike is one thing, because my confusion is genuine: why is it privileged, alienating and inappropriate for Caty and Redd to criticize her book, but not for her to say things like she does in it? I understand that a memoir is personal, but isn’t a review that is directly framed as two friends reading and responding in dialogue form also personal? I don’t understand why Ruth is the only one allowed to be personal. Why is Ruth assumed to be so alienated from a mainstream feminism when she has had paid jobs with prestigious outlets and her own book on the shelves? It would seem to me that she is doing pretty well by mainstream standards. I’m just confused by the terms here.

Samia Shoaib December 12, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Criticizing a single word isn’t pedantic – though assuming ownership of it based on your cultural context is elitist. I enjoy “mean spirited purple prose” on occasion when it’s smart and honest – but that’s just a question of personal taste. My objection was clear: this was not a book review, it was a personal attack. That much was obvious to me as an impartial observer – although I must say that as a woman, I was appalled by the nastiness of it and I have every right to be without being told what language is “appropriate for me”. (The cheek.) Authorial intent is redundant for a reason; because somewhere along the line we figured out that it was the height of hubris to deign to know what lay in an author’s heart and mind. Having not read the book in question, I can assure you I am none the wiser for having read this blog. And Howard, it’s unseemly for a man to discuss a woman’s weight – besides, what makes you assume a “petite frame” is preferable? Or having a “book on the shelves”? I understand these are common definitions of success in our society but has it ever occurred to you that not everyone shares that value system? I for one appreciate a writer who’s brave enough to take risks and to speak her truth; something I find sorely lacking in the current hyper homogenized landscape. And if it ruffles feathers so be it. The last time I checked that was the point of art.

Moon December 10, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Oh pardon me, stylebook.

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Samia Shoaib December 11, 2013 at 6:06 am

Your penchant for personalization is astounding. I have no interest in how “worthwhile” you are “as a person” though having demonstrated nearly every fallacy: ad hominem, burden of proof, reductive fallacy, argument from false authority, use of cliches, confusing correlation and causation, appeal to coincidence, false cause – I am concerned about your lack of fundamental critical skills. I must add that I don’t appreciate a stranger making assumptions about my motives which I find invasive, presumptuous and reeking of of the privilege you claim to despise (aside from being entirely inaccurate). For the record I’m not part of Ruth’s “social circle”, have never met her and have spoken to her once on the phone when she was researching the impact of drone attacks on Pakistani civilians (I was impressed by her interest and empathy). I came across this charming takedown piece entirely by accident and have had zero correspondence with her on the topic. My response was based entirely on the revulsion at seeing two women gang up on one in a character assassination masquerading as a book review – which offended both my intellect and my sense of justice. But most of all, it was the tone of your piece – which I can only describe as bitchy, that saddened me as a feminist. Speaking of hypocrisy, I’d think twice before accusing a brown woman of “white knighting” it. I’d call you a racist but it’s not a word I take lightly – although there is something of the colonial about yet another white women presuming to know the first thing about me. Yawn.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 11, 2013 at 11:45 am

That was in response to Moon, not you. I didn’t respond to you comment at all, so I’m not sure where you’re getting all this.

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Moon December 12, 2013 at 11:55 am

Caty: “I do have a problem with you assuming that screenwriting and international journalism is somehow more worthwhile than local activism and helping to run a site by and for sex workers, but whatever, you’re going to make the judgements [sic] about people you’re prone to make and there’s nothing much I can do about that.”

That might have been a “problem,” had anyone ever said it. You’re attacking a straw man. You can call saying “Ruth’s CV would eat Caty’s and Red’s alive” and pointing out her accomplishments as a writer are superior to those of her critics’) when her work was reduced by Caty to “writing glib, snarky pieces in Salon and Gawker” elitist until the cows come home, but I don’t think you know what that word means. This website does interesting pieces and important work, but pieces like this are discrediting.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 12, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Ah, right, how could I *possibly* get that you value one set of accomplishments more from what you said? I must obviously be projecting based on my own insecurities. And look, I misspelled “judgments”–how dare I critique a literary work when I occasionally misspell words while writing internet comments.

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Samia Shoaib December 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm

As with the stripper/sex worker culture, my nation (Pakistan) has only relatively recently been allowed a voice on the international stage. The ensuing scrap amongst those who insist on having exclusive copyright to a diverse experience would be comedic if it weren’t so dangerous – requiring as it does a degree of pandering to stereotypes and a dismissal of alternative p.o.v.s via a “my experience is more authentic than yours”. The inability to account for nuance, to condemn that which we don’t understand and worst of all, to presume ownership of universal issues, is endemic of the pulling the ladder up behind us syndrome and ignorant of the possibility that there’s enough empathy to go around. Try that on for size.

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Robin D Robin D December 12, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I mean I did not mean to defend the book, I have not read it and am neutral. Leaning “it sounds terrible.” I wasn’t trying to comment on the book just this review. By the people obsessed with the CV thing – I hope you did not think I was talking about you (Ruth is also in her thirties).

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StikkiNikki December 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm

So, I have not read the book in question, and having read every single preceeding comment and the initial review here I do not intend to.
Maybe I’m way off and completely wrong, but, what it looks like to me is that this book was written years ago. Perhaps at this time the author did have racist ideas, did have internalised misogyny, was hating on other sex workers bodies, was bigoted in a multitude of ways, ways that are all too common in society at large.
Perhaps Ruth Fowler has grown in a different direction, perhaps Ruth has been de-schooling from those bigoted thought patterns and ignorant assumptions about others written as though they are her own views (going by the extensive quotes found in this extensive thread). If this is the case, perhaps it is highly embarrassing, or otherwise difficult to admit, from Ruths present position that though no less mean-spirited is still more politically, uh, progressive at this stage. Losing face is a big deal, admitting to shitty behaviour is hard, especially if being nasty is (possibly a large part of) whats gotten you through so far.
Being responsible and accountable to (what were) peers is probably one of the hardest things someone can do who has really fucked-up on the bigotry front (and others of course), it feels humiliating and requires some level of humbleness that some (possibly including Ruth Fowler) may not wish to engage in, but in my opinion it is an incredibly brave thing to do, and I also still believe in love, which in my experience involves putting myself at the mercy of anyone I’ve done wrong to. But this is not meant to be about me. It’s just my thoughts at 4:46am after reading these screed and screeds of tos and fros.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 10, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Wow, it seems Ruth’s dragging her whole social circle in here to white knight her. Obviously we have much to learn from their totally unbiased views on literature.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 10, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Oh, interesting, are we having a CV/penis-measuring competition now? That sort of elitism is part of what made Ruth’s book difficult to stomach. I’m a local activist and that’s what I aspire to be–I don’t think my not writing glib, snarky pieces in Salon and Gawker makes me any less worthwhile as a person, and if you do, I’d have to seriously question your ethics.
And I have written about being an IV drug using sex worker before, on this site and others, like Feministe and HTML Giant, and I’ve been criticized widely for it. This isn’t a case of Ruth being brave enough to share and Red and I critiquing her from a position of safe nondisclosure.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 10, 2013 at 9:06 pm

You and Ruth can be the first to know if I ever try for a book deal, and you can return the favor and rip the hypothetical book apart in the venue of your choice (which will probably be a lot more influential than Tits and Sass.) No problem with that. I don’t see anything wrong with the majority of what we wrote, so I wouldn’t be hypocritical enough to lambast you if you did the same.

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Moon December 10, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Pointing out that someone’s CV could eat yours alive is not elitist. Ruth’s body and originality of published work is far more expansive than either of yours. Beyond the book, she works as a professional screenwriter and has traveled to far-flung and dangerous war zones as a journalist while pregnant. Red is suffering from “second hand [sic] hurt feelings.”

I find it interesting that Red accused Ruth of drug-shaming other strippers and then calls her work a “self-discovery addiction narrative.”

“Wow, it seems Ruth’s dragging her whole social circle in here to white knight her.”

How interesting. “White knight” is exactly the kind of verbiage that hobbyists use against each other when accusing others of defending sex workers on review boards. A perfect example of how the oppressed becomes the oppressor.

If you eviscerate someone so deeply, do not expect yourself to be exempt from critism. A poorly written, poorly edited, hateful piece like this (which I have copied, in case you want to change anything) is just fodder for future pieces about how this website has consistently denigrated sex workers.

Buy a style book and stop hatin’.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 11, 2013 at 11:48 am

A) “White knight” is a common internet term, not limited to hobbyists. I couldn’t have picked it up from hobbyists, since I never read the boards beyond keeping track of my own reviews, for the sake of my own mental health.

B) I have no problem with you criticizing my review. Ruth is the one who seems to be having an exaggerated emotional response to criticism. I do have a problem with you assuming that screenwriting and international journalism is somehow more worthwhile than local activism and helping to run a site by and for sex workers, but whatever, you’re going to make the judgements about people you’re prone to make and there’s nothing much I can do about that.

C) I’m glad we both agree that the other’s work is hateful, poorly written, and poorly edited.

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Robin D Robin D December 11, 2013 at 11:04 pm

“I do have a problem with you assuming that screenwriting and international journalism is somehow more worthwhile than local activism and helping to run a site by and for sex workers, but whatever, you’re going to make the judgements about people you’re prone to make and there’s nothing much I can do about that.”

FUCK yes, that is a really disturbing worldview/set of values. And, like, CV seriously? And not like, trying to get a good job, but like, I’m so accomplished and that makes me better than you. That is extremely snotty. Obviously! Absolutely elitist. Like, are you kidding? Encouraged in some (middle class and +) kids sometimes, but… If someone is actually still obsessed with that kind of bullshit in their thirties (!) then yes they have clearly actually been really insulated economically (or did contempt and bigotry carry them through the rough times preserving their arrogance?). Others who have had serious hard times, at all, shed that arrogance around “accomplishments” that I guess some people really even connected to human worth. Even still do.

Local activism is actually genuinely important. A commitment to that is a commitment to making things better and how on earth is that worth less in anyone’s mind than screenwriting and publishing books…really cold and cruel and hate-filled books from the sound of it.

But this is all really ugly. But the nastiness clearly seems to be coming mostly from Ruth and supporters. And it is super elitist despite all protestations. But what a sad mess this whole conversation is.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 12, 2013 at 6:45 pm

…obviously flippant and sarcastic language, not a diagnosis.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 12, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Read the book, seriously. I was wondering what someone who sounded as reasonable as you do was doing defending it. Whether or not we descended to Ruth’s level by writing this, which is something I’m seriously going to think about, the level to which we had to descend was pretty damn low.

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Robin D Robin D December 12, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Oh no Caty, I have no doubt the book was a lot worse. Sounds terrible.

What was flippant/sarcastic? Their dumb CV and grammar stuff?

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Caty Simon Caty Simon December 16, 2013 at 1:39 pm

This was all in response to another commenter–Samia Shoaib. And I was saying that “speculations on Fowler’s psychological health” was meant flippantly/sarcastically, not as a diagnosis.

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