In the words of a quote by Angel, “You may be a whore, but at least you are getting paid. ” It is only appropriate that this paper, which will attempt to throw light on women sex workers, begins with a quote that has the words whore, at least and getting paid. Since time immemorial, a woman’s body, spirit and soul has been at either ends of the societal spectrum. A woman has been the cause of extreme joy and delight in someone’s world, while also being the sole victim of utmost pain and sorrow in her own.
She has been pedestalized and trampled upon, glorified and left to die. More often than not, women sex workers, have found themselves in the latter of the above brackets, instead of the former. And not surprisingly ? society’s eyes have never escaped a woman and neither has its rules, its moral police and its men. Society’s history itself, in trying to avert what they call a crime, has been a long and disturbing journey.
In her attempt to present a historical account of how law, through the efforts of social agents and movements, has constructed and incorporated particular prostitute identities, Deborah Brock outlines a movement that begins by calling prostitutes an undesirable sort, and the laws that followed intended to keep these sorts off the streets (Brock, 2000, p. 97) . Brock goes on to talk of how, although the laws themselves did not mention a specific gender, the assumption went hand in hand with the lay ? all prostitutes were invariably females.
Soon enough, she explains, how industrialization came in, during the late nineteenth century, bringing along with it a well to do upper class and poverty-stricken lower class. Women in the latter section were soon beginning to exchange ‘sexual services for economic remuneration (Brock, 2000)’ Any woman who was a part of the prostitution set up was definitely not looked up to in society. She was condemned for being a threat to the institution of marriage and was pitied if she had gotten into the profession by force.
There was always the possibility of the ‘white slave trade’ (Brock, 2000, p. 83). Against this setting, it may have never crossed the mind of these sex workers that sex could be termed empowering and validating, let alone a situation of control. As a matter of fact, sex workers came to be a tool in the process of setting the standard. The good and honourable wer thought so in comparison to them. They were, as Eva Pendleton (1997) terms them, ‘the other’. Historically, they began to operate as a group that would be held against white female sexual identity ?
“the good wife as a social category cannot exist without the “whore”, whether she takes the form of a prostitute, an insatiable black jezebel, a teenage mother, or a lesbian. ” (Pendleton, 1997, p. 3) The sex worker then begins to don many avatars, apart from being the reason for a societal moral standard. Based on what her conditions are and where her work takes her, a prostitute fits different bills. While some of them suit JA’s explanation of women who find sex empowering and validating, some others are far from that position.
For instance, there are sex workers who are guaranteed of a relatively high income and are working in safe, comfortable conditions. In this case, the work itself can be considered liberating and a form of freedom. But in most other cases, prostitutes are regarded as Brock (2000) says, A symbol of women’s powerlessness and degradation, and as patriarchy’s ultimate victims. Others regards prostitutes as sexual outlaws who refuse to be constrained by rigid sexual mores.
Still others regard prostitutes as workers whose degree of exploitation varies according to the conditions under which they labour. It is worker identity that corresponds most significantly to prostitutes’ self- identification. (p. 96) A lot of this identity comes from the connotations that go hand in hand with the term ‘prostitute’ it self. As Laura Augustin (2006) explains in her paper titled The Disappearing of a Migration Category: Migrants Who Sell Sex, the term ought to encompass all the things it has come to mean now.
Nowadays, when the sex sector is a vast, high-income operation worldwide, including a wide array of businesses selling sex, many of which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called ‘prostitution’, and all open to migrants, it is time to leave the old, stigmatising term behind. At least for migration studies: this is my point. Whether selling sex should ever be accepted by feminists as a ‘proper job’, and therefore those selling it called ‘sex workers’ or not, has been extensively debated within feminist studies. (Augustin 2006)
Add to this discrimination, a very legalized form of the evil. In her paper titled Legal Subjects, sexual objects: idealogy, law and female sexuality, Carol Smart talks of how the law itself is a form of discrimination against a female sex worker. Current laws on such matters are surely a straightforward example of how sexual discrimination can be present and legally at that. Through these laws, only women are being defined as sex workers or prostitutes as you will, and therefore, as a direct result, women alone need to suffer the consequences of being in an oppressive society.
(Smart, 1985, p. 50) Having said all this, one is forced to view JA’s statement in the light of all of the above situations. In the world of feminism, one would like to believe, even insist, that sex work ought to be an enjoyable and liberating profession in which there is no harm. Feminists could argue for its enforcement and present evidence of several cases across the world where this is how it is. However, reality is most often stark naked, just like sex work is. More women than we can imagine are not a part of sex work in conditions that we know of or are familiar with.
Unfortunately, this section of sex workers comprises the majority. And it isn’t for the majority that JA’s theory will hold good. JA almost compares sex work to waitressing or telemarketing, without pointing the many underlying that there is to sex work, all of which are absent in every other professing. These under currents of poverty, coercion, desperation and tyranny could suck the empowerment and control that a sex worker may have experienced in her profession. And if she is stepping out from such a scene, is it wrong to consider her a victim?
Yes, the stigma attached to it maybe overtly negative, but who is to blame? Who is inadvertently adding fuel to the fire? Dare I say, feminism itself. While feminists attempt to save the day, rescue their ‘victims’ and remove the stigma that lies attached to prostitution, through it all, we are also sending out as many negative messages as we shouldn’t. In our plea to ban prostitution, we are passing it off as a crime. In our plea to stop the banning of prostitution, we refuse to let sex workers make their own choices, implying that they are incapable of doing so.
In our efforts to haggle with the law, we have never fully understood where these sex workers themselves are coming from. We carve for them an identity of helplessness and insecurity, of being forced into a profession they may have never considered. Feminism ought to be the bridge itself, between sex workers and the harsh stigma that they are prone to. While we support their cause, world over, pimps and traffickers take advantage of that very cause. As Melissa Farley explains in her paper that takes a look at prostitution in Vancouver, pimping women and the colonization of First Nations, the very status of women are being taken advantage of.
As we fight for their rights, and that they not be treated as commodities, these people eye them for that very reason and exploit them in every way possible. (Farley, 2004, p. 106) This situation is fuelled by several societal trends ? the increasing dependence of nations on multinational corporations, reliving the next generation’s industrial revolution. Women and children, especially those from the lower strata of society have no openings in the places that could get them off the streets.
Also, the rapid move from rural populations in urban centres has resulted in a so-called urban employee base for employers to use as cheap labour. (Farley and Lynne, 2004, p. 111) The reasons are varied and the consequences even more so. The question that needs to be asked now is, when will Feminism make enough of an impact to make JA’s quote a reality across the world? Cushioned or caught, pampered or in poverty, there is more than just feminist identities that need to be carved to ensure that prostitutes are no longer singled out to be an undesirable sort.
Together with feminism, there needs to be the drive to eradicate the conditions of poverty that these women operate in, the circumstances that may have driven them to the job in the first place and at the end of it all, ensure that sex work is a choice and not the result of twisted chance. References Deborah Brock. 2000. `Victim, Nuisance, Fallen Woman, Outlaw, Worker? ` In D. Chunn & D. Lacombe, eds. , Law as a Gendering Practice, (pp. 79-99). Toronto: Oxford University Press. Melissa Farley & Jacqueline Lynne. 2004.
`Prostitution in Vancouver: Pimping Women and the Colonization of First Nations, (pp 106-130). In C. Stark & R. Whisnant, eds. , Not for Sale, (pp 106-130). Melbourne: Spinifex Press Eva Pendleton. 1997. `Love for Sale: Queering Heterosexuality’, (pp 73-82). New York: Routledge. Laura Agustin. 2006. `The Disappearing of a Migration Category: Migrants Who Sell Sex. ` Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 32(1):29-47. Carol Smart. 1985. ` Legal Subjects and Sexual Objects: Ideology, Law and Female Sexuality’ (pp 50-70). London: Routledge.