Kitty Stryker

Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) and William North (Danny Sapani) at the door of her brothel in Harlots.

Harlots is a new drama on Hulu following the misadventures and rivalries of two competing brothels in mid-18th century London. Created by Moira Buffini and Allison Newman, and loosely based on research by Hallie Rubenhold, Harlots isn’t only notable for being about harlots—all the writers and  directors are women also, which allows for a truly unprecedented lack of the male gaze and titillation shots, and instead creates room for the characters to be fully-fleshed people. History geek Tits and Sass contributors Kitty Stryker and Red discuss the first episodes and what sex worker life was like in the Georgian England setting of the show. 

On historical context:

Kitty: The one in five women are sex workers at the time statistic, cited in the beginning of the show, is a high estimate, but it is quoted a lot, and may not be incorrect. The number appears to come from historian Dan Cruickshank in his book, The Secret History Of Georgian London: How The Wages Of Sin Shaped The Capital. He is also where the number of of £1.5 billion in today’s money as the gross turnover of sex work funds at the time comes from.

Red: Capitalism and a market economy were just starting to take over and the situation of women was changing, as the public sphere became the exclusive province of men in England. At the same time, capitalism was pushing the growth of a relatively new genre: porn! Much of the earliest porn consists of dialogues between whores or a whore recounting her exploits (a la Fanny Hill).

While the one in five stat is high, women dipped in and out of sex work as necessary, and the word whore didn’t exclusively mean a professional until later on in the century.

Kitty: It’s also worth noting that while sex work was prominent, “bawds,” or madams, were deeply loathed by London society—one famous bawd was stoned to death for her part in “corrupting the innocent.” Now, to be fair, many bawds did go around looking for naive farm girls to offer free housing to, only to then trap them with false debt for the lodgings and food they used. But this is also definitely where the hatred of pimps strongly developed.

Covent Garden was the place for sex workers at the time! Golden Square, also referenced in the show, incidentally, went from being a place for wealthy up-and-coming sex workers to a place for dire poverty—it becomes the epicenter of the cholera epidemic that wiped out a lot of London in 1854.

On Harris’ List, an anonymous book of commentary on Covent Garden prostitutes, a kind of antecedent to today’s board escort reviews—the show opens with Lucy (Eloise Smyth) reading each brothel worker’s entry aloud to her:

Kitty: The history of Harris’s List is actually super interesting and this was a good book on it—Covent Garden Ladies by Hallie Rubenhold, the book this show is actually loosely based on. You can read the list here for free, by the way!

Red: Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay) is based on a real woman Rubenhold wrote about, and so is her mother—Elizabeth Ward, Samantha Morton’s character. They changed the last name to Wells in the show, and her first name to Margaret. The real Charlotte changed her last name to Hayes after she got her first rich protector and left her mother’s brothel.

Interesting note: Some of the women who paid Harris to write good reviews of them in his list formed a “Whores’ Club” where they met and drank together and paid dues, and any of the club members who needed help got some of the dues.

On the contract Charlotte’s thinking about signing with her benefactor and how it compared to marriage at the time:

These contracts were common among famous, sought-after sex workers. Some had two or more going at a time sometimes! Many times these contracts were oral contracts, and would stipulate how much the kept woman would get per month in cash and gifts, if she would be given an apartment or not, if her bills would be paid, new clothing, etc.

Because what she gave in exchange was often just “understood,” it left a lot of wiggle room for her. Often, when such a contract was broken and the arrangement was declared over, she could also negotiate for annuities, perhaps in exchange for keeping his secrets.

One attractive thing about having such a contract is that the person paying often paid to the bawd who “owned” the sex worker in question. In order for the sex worker to be “released” to the status of kept woman, the buyer would have to pay off all debts the sex worker had accrued according to the bawd. Becoming a kept woman could mean less risk of syphilis, which was a disfiguring death sentence at the time, and also could mean when the arrangement ended, you were free to do what you wanted as you weren’t indebted to a house anymore.

I think it’s interesting that while Margaret obviously feels a lot of resentment for being sold to Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville) when she was 10 (a sadly pretty common occurrence at the time—the youngest on record was eight, and people believed having sex with a child would cure you of STIs), and Charlotte’s virginity was auctioned off at the age of consent (which was 12 for girls, 14 for boys at the time), Lucy appears to be at least 18 and is still “not ready.” I wonder if Charlotte is upset that her mother got her into sex work, or that she’s upset that despite her mother’s distaste for marriage, here she is being roped into a different but similar contract with Sir George Howard (Hugh Skinner).

Red: My main thoughts on watching were how laughably anachronistic both Charlotte and Lucy ‘s (a fictional character made up for the show) unwillingness to participate in such a huge money generating activity is. The contract that Charlotte turns her nose up at wouldn’t have given him anything close to coverture over her. Instead, it would have offered her either carte blanche over his money or a specific amount of credit to use when shopping. It couldn’t have prevented her from having other lovers; he would have to rely on her discretion. The idea that someone raised in the poverty of Covent Garden would turn up her nose at that and just want to fuck for money without it is so hilarious to me. This was the ultimate goal of whores in the 18th century, because it was a step up to a security just below that of marriage (which also could and did happen between contemporary sex workers and their clients).

My guess is that Charlotte’s reluctance comes from the producers thinking they need some sort of 21st century young woman angst in order to make these characters relatable.

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Bringing you the sex worker coverage you and your cat want to read since 2011. (Photo by jit bag via Flickr)

Bringing you the sex worker coverage you and your cat want to read since 2011. (Photo by jit bag via Flickr)

10.”How Sex Work Got Us This Far In Gay Liberation” by Hawk Kinkaid, 7/29

9.  “Having The Option: Alissa Afonina/Sasha Mizaree On Her Case And Being A Disabled Sex Worker” by Caty Simon, 3/16

8. “The State Is A Trafficker: Why Alaska Arrested Amber Batts” by Tara Burns, 7/17

7. “A Tunnel, Not A Door: Exiting Conditioned, Generational Sex Work” by Lime Jello, 1/13

6. “What The Hell Is Going On With Backpage? Part II” by Caty Simon, 7/21

5. “A ‘Whore’ By Any Other Name Is Still A Rose” by Kenya Golden, 2/23

4. “What The Rentboy Raid Tells Us About The Gendered Rhetoric of Trafficking” by Morgan M Page, 8/26

3. “Did 8 Minutes Lie To Sex Workers?” by Lane Champagne and Bubbles Burbujas, 4/27

2. “Why You Shouldn’t Study Sex Workers” by Lime Jello, 4/16

1. “Seems Legit: Authenticity, Performativity, and Sex” by Kitty Stryker, 2/03

 

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amalefeministryangosling

This piece was originally posted by the author on Medium. Content warning: the links in this post lead to articles detailing the rape and sexual assault of sex workers.

We need to talk about the ever increasing number of men like James Deen who utilize feminism as a marketable identity to cover up their abusive behavior.

When performer and writer Stoya tweeted that her ex, porn darling James Deen, had ignored her safewords and raped her, I have to admit I wasn’t terribly surprised. As a porn worker, I’d heard rumors that he was not necessarily safe to work with. Another ex-girlfriend, Joanna Angel, tweeted in support of Stoya. As of December 4th, Tori Lux, Ashley Fires, and an anonymous fourth woman have come out with statements on their own experiences of assault from Deen. Kora Peters and Amber Rayne spoke out about how he raped both of them on set on separate occasions. On Wednesday night, Joanna Angel went on the Jason Ellis Show telling the harrowing story of being sexually and physically abused during her long term relationship with Deen. With Nicki Blue coming forward yesterday, at least eight women have now made public statements about Deen sexually assaulting them. Additionally, Lily Labeau told Buzzfeed that Deen physically assaulted her and deliberately used elements from her “no” list while filming, while Bonnie Rotten recalled how he intimidated and ridiculed her on the job. Also notable is this older article in which Deen pushes sexual boundaries with writer Emily Shire during an interview, though this incident did not end with assault. Deen has responded on Instagram and Twitter saying Stoya (and anyone else speaking up) is making “egregious claims” against him, receiving support from his many fans. Kink.com has severed ties with Deen… a bit of a surprise considering their track record. (Nicki Blue noted that Kink.com actively covered up the fact that he raped her during a party at its Kink Castle headquarters.) Evil Angel also stated that it will not to sell any newly created scenes featuring him. And Deen has “voluntarilyresigned from his chairperson position at the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee.

Stoya’s two tweets gave rise to the hashtag #solidaritywithstoya, and a flurry of people expressing disappointment, shock, and a sense of betrayal. Deen was supposed to be “one of the good guys”—after all, Deen has spent some time cultivating a brand as a male feminist in the porn industry. He’s even actively been a part of Project Consent. He’s mad about racism in the industry. He’s been called “the acceptable face of porn,” hailed as being a male porn star women can feel good about watching because he’s just so ethical.

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(Via Kitty Stryker’s Twitter feed)

 

Rashida Jones replied (respectfully!) to Kitty Stryker‘s post earlier this week on Tits and Sass, and the two engaged in brief dialogue.

Thailand is amping up arrests of sex workers in an attempt to appear to be compliant with US regulations on trafficking.

SWOP-Seattle has written an open letter to lawmakers, asking them to stop bills that would enact the End Demand model in Seattle. You can sign the letter here.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have developed software that supposedly mines escort ads for information that can suggest the worker is being trafficked:

Traffic Jam gives police a rapid way to sort sex ads, spotting indirect language that may suggest sex trafficking, or grouping ads with similar language that may have been written by the same person.

A trafficking sting last weekend in Illinois resulted in the arrest of nearly 600 clients and 23 “so-called traffickers.” Given the ever-growing breadth of what that word is coming to encompass, one must wonder: were they pimps, boyfriends, coworkers sharing a space, or family members living off a sex worker’s income? Money and effort well spent?

No. And there is no rise in sex trafficking during sporting events, even Polaris and the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women agrees.   This myth conflates sex workers with trafficking victims and encourages serious misuse of funds and time, like the Cook County trafficking sting in Illinois last weekend noted above.

For the first time in the 102 year history of the Alaskan Legislature, there’s an actual advocate for sex workers present: Tits and Sass contributor and longtime activist Terra Burns is in Juneau, educating the legislators on the effects of their laws on real live women.

“They really target things that people in the sex industry do to increase their own safety,” Burns said. “Things like working indoors or working together or even buying condoms for each other.”

She adds that Alaska’s well-intended legislation has unintended consequences.

“I think it shows they are more likely to victimize workers themselves than they are to protect the workers,” she said.

Despite ostensibly having heard or at least read what Terra has to say, Berta Gardner, the bill’s sponsor, says

“My bill does not affect sex workers — it affects victims of sex trafficking,” says Gardner. “It doesn’t touch sex workers who are voluntary sex workers in any way, shape, or form.”

And Terra is using social media to raise money for her efforts! The ability of sex workers’ to use social media will never not be news, apparently.

Also?  Strippers age. Mic follows the true life stories of real women who get older, and how they deal with it.

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Kitty Stryker with Andre Shakti. (Screencap from Ban This Sick Filth, courtesy of Kitty Stryker)

Kitty Stryker with Andre Shakti. (Screencap from Ban This Sick Filth, courtesy of Kitty Stryker)

I’m in the middle of being flogged by Courtney Trouble for Banned in the UK (NSFW), an anti-censorship porn critiquing obscenity laws. It’s getting a little hot and heavy and my ass is getting red when the tails whip around and smack the cameraperson, my lover, in the face. We all dissolve into giggles.

And they say there’s no authenticity in porn.

I have a boner to pick with Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation), an actress and one of the producers of an “intimate and ultimately harrowing” documentary about porn performers (because even when a documentary is expressing disgust and pity for sex workers, it’s still sexualized). Directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus are very concerned about the impact of porn on culture; it was the subject of their first documentary, Sexy Baby. During an interview at the Sundance Film Festival about the film (which was bought by Netflix), Ms. Jones said, “Women should feel pleasure and have sex and feel good about it—and there’s a lot of shame involved with porn,” adding that “[i]t’s performative, women aren’t feeling joy from it.”

I’m an amateur-ish porn performer and one of the directors of a little company called TROUBLEfilms. As a queer owned, queer focused operation, fulfilling cis male fantasies is not really high up on our list of priorities, but I guess since everyone knows that “only men are visual” all porn is basically the same, right? And of course as the casting director of this company, I am blasé about performer safety and health—it’s not like we have a multi-page document of model rights and our ethical standards.

If only porn was as progressive as Hollywood—oh, wait, except there’s more representation in the porn industry for female directors and producers than in the mainstream film industry.

But I’m going to put aside my sarcasm for a minute, because this is a serious issue with serious consequences. There’s been a lot of discussion about “authenticity” in porn and how amazing and valuable and feminist a quality it is, but I call bullshit on that discourse. Indie porn performer Arabelle Raphael made a great point last year by stating that porn is still labor, and as such, it is by its very nature performative. All labor requires some sort of performance, from smiling at customers you dislike to being polite when you hate your boss. Labor in the entertainment field, whether that be acting on stage, screen, or in adult movies, is even more explicitly staged. Activist sex worker Siouxsie Q wrote about how when she was working with a feminist pornographer, the actual, negotiated sex she wanted to have with a real life play partner was considered “too much” to be “authentic” as defined by that director. So who decides, then, what is authentic and what is performative? Are these actually opposite ends of a spectrum?

(Editor’s note: Content warning—NSFW images after the jump.)

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