We are using the policeman’s eye when we can’t see a sex worker as anything but his or her work, as an object to control. It’s not just a carceral eye; it’s a sexual eye. If a sex worker is always working, always available, she (with this eye, almost always a she) is essentially sexual. It’s the eye of the hotel room surveillance video but applied to our neighborhoods, our community groups, and our policies. Even the most seemingly benign “rehabilitation” programs for sex workers are designed to isolate them from the rest of the population. They may be described as shelters, but the doors are locked, the phones are monitored, and guests are forbidden. When we construct help in this way we use the same eye with which we build and fill prisons. This isn’t compassion. This isn’t charity. This is control.
When we look at sex workers this way we produce conditions in which they are always being policed. “Criminalization” isn’t just a law on the books but a state of being and moving in the world, of forming relationships—of having them predetermined for you. This is why we demonize the customer’s perspective on the sex worker as one of absolute control, why we situate the real violence sex workers can face as the individual man’s responsibility, and why we imagine that all sex workers must be powerless to say no. We have no way of understanding how to relate to the prostitute we ’ve imagined but through control.
Melissa Gira Grant, Playing the Whore, Verso, 2014, p. 11-12
Despite the acceptance of “sluts,” the “prostitute” remains a deeply embedded symbolic marker between decency and disrespect. The “ethical slut” engages in sex of her or his own “free” will, while the “dirty whore” insists on getting paid for sex. Sex-positive feminists and other “sluts” believe there is nothing morally wrong with consensual sex between two (or more) people in private, or for adults, in a semi-public setting such as a sex club, dungeon or swingers’ retreat. But money changes everything.
Whorephobia remains pervasive in the social psyche, showing its ugliness even in sex-positive communities. The positive emphasis on sex work confuses “straights” into thinking that sex work is about sex, not work. That cognitive dissonance — the deep chasm filled with stereotypes and prejudices — interferes with the capacity of civilians to hear sex workers speak about their experiences. Stories that don’t conform to the “superhappyfunsexysexwork!” narrative tend to flummox pro-sex feminists; they can identify with privileged exotic dancers, porn performers and professional dominants (even fantasize about being one), but think “junkie whores” need to be rescued and should be prevented from working in their gentrifying neighborhoods. Such disrespectful treatment leads to silencing, ignoring, or rewriting what sex workers have to say.
Writing in the blogosphere recently, sex workers say they’re frustrated with the uncritical acceptance of sex-positive feminism. Furry Girl, the Seattle-based founder of SWAAY, is also the blogger behind Feminisnt because she “got tired of trying to shoehorn my life into a useless ideology like a pair of ill-fitting high heels.” The habit of always trying to put a “good” face on sex work leaves little room for those who have had not-so-good experiences. They fear talking about the bad stuff because “straight” audiences, whether pro-sex feminists, prohibitionists or the media, tend to stuff those stories into established morality tales about sex, violence and bodily integrity. But the truth is that by telling stories with all the gory details and delicious specifics, we can get to the revolution that sex workers are creating right now.
Melinda CHATEAUVERT : Ethical Sluts and “Dirty Whores” : Straight Talk About Sex Work