Theorizing the Web 2014 will feature three special, highlighted panels. Our keynote this year is panel on race and social media; we also have a panel on theorizing big data, and are now thrilled to announce a panel on sex work and the web.
I’ll be moderating this panel, with a very cool line-up: Emma Caterine from Red Umbrella Project, Brian Fuss from HOOK Online, N’jaila Rhee from This Week in Blackness After Dark, and Stoya from Adult Performer Advocacy Committee. Learn more and then join us in April.
The sentence in Grant’s book that most changed my mind about the topic was this simple observation: “Sex workers should not be expected to defend the existence of sex work in order to have the right to do it free from harm.”
Like many people, I have a mix of conflicting ideas, thoughts and reactions when it comes to the issue of sex work. But that sentence was clarifying. We shouldn’t have to solve a Big Question to ensure that people are not subject to risks and threats from both the people who hire them and the state itself through its policing powers. Those simple labor-market issues aren’t new. And, historically, they’ve been best addressed through democratic accountability and action.
Most sex workers will have conflicting opinions about their work. But that’s true of all workers. And sex work exists within a larger labor market at all times. As Susan Dewey found in her ethnography of women working at strip clubs in the Rust Belt, it was the low-wage work outside strip clubs that the women found “exploitative, exclusionary and without hope for social mobility or financial stability.”
The debate over sex work isn’t going to go away anytime soon. But hopefully, with more books like this out there, it will move forward to a place where the workers under discussion are seen as people we are trying to empower to make decisions, rather than merely criminals to punish or victims to save.
Phoenix, Arizona has some of the most severe prostitution laws in the United States.
According to a municipal statute titled ‘manifestation’, an intent to commit prostitution includes activities like waving at cars, talking to passers-bys, and inquiring if someone is a police officer. Mandatory minimum sentencing and felony upgrades make it highly probable that workers are funneled into the prison system for sex work related offenses. Alongside Arizona’s already brutal racial profiling laws, these anti-prostitution statutes enable police to profile and harass people of color, immigrants, people in poverty, and LGBTQ people.
Based on my experience, I argue that the political opinion and stance on sex work is often seen as a criterion to include or exclude a (former) sex worker in a democratic debate. I also believe that the current perceived “success” of the ‘Swedish Model,’ is mainly the result of a global silencing and exclusion of sex workers’ own voices and political claims. In my eyes, this exclusion is not compatible with the democratic principles of European countries. I cannot back this up with research because this question was never asked… As a feminist, I call for more rights for sex workers – unconditionally. I respect their choice, certainly often a hard and difficult choice, to work in the sex sector. But who gives me the right to morally judge sex workers and to make them (as parties in the paid sexual encounter) responsible for gender inequality or to shame them as “pimps,” in order to exclude them? It is not when sex workers will be prevented from offering sex for money through criminal law that gender equality will be attained. Gender equality will be attained once women stop seeing sex workers as a threat to their career and their gender and begin to respect sex workers as human beings.
"For many years I thought being trans, that being brown, that being a former sex worker, that being a different kind of woman made me less than and undeserving of being heard. So I silenced those parts of myself that I felt would lead me to further marginalization. I hope now to stand more fully in my truth, and that my decision to be authentic about my experiences gives young women like me, who feel they may not have and didn’t have other choices, the strength to step more fully into who they are.”
That’s a trope you see over and over again in the rare instances when sex workers are acknowledged by policy makers. Like, Since you’re here speaking, you can’t actually be a sex worker — you must be one of those privileged minorities and therefore you can’t actually represent anybody else. That’s something that happens in every movement: The people you see on TV are always the people who can take the risk to get fired for their organizing, and for every one of them there are hundreds of people who couldn’t afford to go on strike that day. I think it provoked the outrage that it did on Twitter because sex workers read it, and were like, You’re basically saying that your views, as someone who has never done sex work, are worth listening to, but not us, who have done sex work, who you’ve decided are “privileged.” It just becomes another reason not to listen to sex workers.