Let a Bitch Live: why hookers can't complain about work.

Sex workers don't get to complain about work. Sex workers don't get to complain at all, actually.

Any time one of us admits that work- or even just life- is imperfect, out come the concern trolls. People who have never expressed concern about you or your contentment are suddenly worried about the effect your job has on your wellbeing. Either that, or your motives for entering the field are suddenly in question, along with your personal character. Anything "bad" about you is suddenly a reflection on the flaws of the entire industry.

Everyone else- business owners to waitstaff to construction crews to programmers- can have a bad day at work, a mental or physical health crisis, body image issues, face violence at work, or even just have a tough week, and nobody views it as a reflection of the field itself. When Sue says she had a bad sales week in insurance and is questioning her ability to succeed, nobody asks her if she's certain that the insurance industry is good for her emotionally, or if her insecurities about success might be the reason why she's in insurance to begin with, or if she plans to go to school to get a real job. A stripper stubs their toe at work and suddenly their cousin who they haven't spoken to in years is asking if sex work is destroying their life.

I'm not going to say that sex work isn't full of unhappy people that society views as damaged, but I am going to say that A) all industries are, because capitalism; and B) sex work isn't inherently damaging, but rather these issues are patriarchy and the damage it causes writ large.

Let's start with A. I've been in a lot of industries. I've waited tables, worked retail, cooked, run a catering company, stripped, dommed, done full service sex work, cammed, done phone sex, owned a small cosmetics company, sold drugs, done the MLM thing, been a secretary, personal assistant, personal chef, barista, writer, full time student, grad student, professor, and who knows what else over the years. Not only have I met people in each industry, I've met people from all walks of life because most of those jobs are public-facing in some way. Of the thousands of people who I have talked to in my life, I can safely say one thing: NOBODY IS HAPPY. We live in a time that is uncertain for all of us. We can no longer work a single job, buy a home, and take care of a spouse and family. Yet these values remain central to our cultural idea of success in the global North.

Without boring you with a long history lesson on capitalism, I'll give a brief rundown. Capitalism started in Europe (and this is heavily debated) somewhere around the 15th century. The previous system had failed in a number of ways, but mainly that the ultra-wealthy were losing wealth and power. One solution was to buy or steal (mostly steal) the "means of production", which at that time was predominately land. Once rich folks (keep in mind that only men could own things back then) had all the land, they wanted to use it to produce extra resources so they could make more money. Raw commodities (things that have market value), like sugar and wood, had to be processed to be sold, so factories became common. Peasantry either worked as labor on land they once owned, or moved to cities to work in factories processing the raw materials grown or produced on the land they once owned. The owners of the means of production, called the Bourgeoisie (fun fact: bougie came from this term), paid the laborers, called the Proletariats, the least amount possible to keep them alive. The Bourgeoisie saw the Proletariats' only purpose in life being to create products that sold for more than the value of the materials and labor- profit- or to reproduce the means of production- more proletariats. Gender roles were strictly defined in that men worked in factories and women made more babies to work in factories. When Europe ran out of land to steal from peasants, they began to extensively colonize to gain more means of production, this time both in the form of land once "owned" (there was no ownership in most of these societies, making their property easy to steal) by black and brown folks, and African slaves to work on that land. From it's earliest days, capitalism was built on slavery, patriarchy, white supremacy, and classism. It was never designed for poor, brown or black, non-gender-conforming and queer folks, or women. In fact, it was built on the backs of many of those people.

Fast forward five hundred or so years, and capitalism has run amok. Corporations are people, POC still aren't, the middle class that kept late capitalism in check is gone, and we are all wage slaves. Nobody in the Proletariat (the 99%) crowd works because they want to. It's all coerced labor because we HAVE to do it if we even want to eat. Just like sex workers fuck/touch/dominate/strip for/etc people they otherwise wouldn't for free, most people trudge off to work one or many jobs that are distinctly not enjoyable, for money. Combine that with food becoming so commodified that it's impossible to eat ethically and nearly as difficult to eat healthy, lack of proper medical care, extended times away from loved ones for work, lack of community, and all the other ills of late capitalism, and you have a bunch of deeply unhappy Proletariats. My professional artist friend who works in publishing is as unhappy with his work as my friend in the cannabis industry as my coworkers at the university as my coworkers at the strip club. We are all freaking out about having enough resources to survive, all of the time. Mental and physical illness are constantly on the rise, in part due to these grueling living conditions, which compounds unhappiness. NOBODY IS HAPPY. This is frequently called "capitalist alienation". Not to mention the fact that if you're queer, trans, black, brown, in an illegal or stigmatized industry or lifestyle, a single parent, a woman, etc. life is exponentially harder.

Most sex workers are in one or more of those marginalized categories. The entire system is stacked against all of us, but especially sex workers. Many of us started in the industry due to lack of resources. Not because this industry is a last resort due to being inherently "icky" (ask a nurse if their job is icky), but because all you need to start is your body. Many of us started or stay because it provides a large amount of freedom, which accommodates things like mental and physical illness or single parenthood. The earning potential is also fairly high, depending of course on privilege and skill (like any job). Keep in mind that in any other industry these would be seen as positive, but it's somehow always spun as "poor hooker, couldn't feed their kids so they had to suck dick".

So you have a marginalized industry full of marginalized people, which is not surprising, and they are sometimes unhappy, which is also not surprising. I believe that most people in most industries are unhappy, but the more marginalized, the worse it will be. So yeah, sex workers are unhappy, but everyone else is too. We need to be asking what the circumstances are that make all people- but especially marginalized workers- unhappy, not abolishing their jobs because they don't enjoy them every minute.

And why does being a sex worker in particular seem to come with the added burden that any time we complain about work it means that sex work is a fundamentally fucked industry? I say I have body image issues and I get asked by a hundred people if I think I need to leave my job. Not teaching of course, just sex work. Is it an industry that is based on superficiality? Of course. Is it a hard job that involves huge amounts of exhausting labor? Yes. Is the money uncertain and dependent on the whims of shitty men? Most of the time. Those aren't problems with sex work though, those are problems with patriarchy.

Which brings us to point B. Sex work isn't gross, men are. Sex work isn't unstable, men are. Sex work isn't dangerous, men are. Sex work itself isn't even exhausting so much as catering to the ultra-fragile egos of men is. It's easy to wholesale condemn an industry that is full of uncertainty and risk, but getting rid of sex work wouldn't get rid of patriarchy, and all of the problems I have acknowledged here about sex work are actually problems with patriarchy.

Men don't suddenly become volatile, demanding, greedy, selfish, violent babies because they are around sex workers. Brad who bites strippers without consent isn't a stripper problem, he's a patriarchy problem. I assure you stripper nipples aren't the only ones he bites without consent. Brad understands consent, and Brad doesn't have some special stripper biting fetish. Brad hates women/femmes and thinks that they should do whatever he wants, and strippers are easy targets. Mike who violently robs escorts isn't an escort problem, he's a patriarchy problem. Mike knows stealing and hurting people is wrong, but he is greedy and violent in a society that views those as prized masculine traits, and sees women/femmes with "easy" money and no legal recourse. Our jobs aren't wrong, our jobs are an enormous reflection of the problems with patriarchy.

This is also apparent in the (too large for this post) topic of body image. Sex work isn't uniquely awful to people who don't fit into exacting social standards of beauty, society is. We just see it more clearly in this industry. Patriarchy devalues people, especially women and femmes, who don't fit a standard of beauty that makes them most comfortable for men to objectify and consume. Capitalism and patriarchy are inextricably tied, and capitalism only sees what can be commodified. That's why the fatter and darker skinned someone is, the less money they make and the harder it is to get a job in the first place. This isn't unique to sex work. But if we say we feel beat down by these unobtainable standards of beauty, suddenly sex work itself is evil. Sex work didn't create these standards, patriarchy did.

Again, sex work is simply patriarchy writ large, and it's easier for society to oppose sex work than the system that a majority of its members think they benefit from, and upon which our entire economy/society was built. It just doesn't do any good. Getting rid of sex work isn't going to get rid of patriarchy. That's just cutting off some leaves and waiting on the tree to die.

So complain about your job. Jobs suck. Complain about the circumstances of that job that are caused and exacerbated by capitalism and patriarchy. Don't let people take your shitty day and turn it into an inaccurate reflection of an industry they have already written off as bad. Sex workers are allowed shitty days. We are even allowed to hate our jobs. Just like everyone else.

Tl;dr: Sex work is a job. Jobs are full of unhappy people. Sex work is therefore full of unhappy people. Capitalism coerces us all to do jobs we don't necessarily love. Capitalism is rooted in patriarchy. Patriarchy makes men difficult to deal with. Sex work is a job specializing in dealing with men. Jobs suck because capitalism, men suck because patriarchy, sex work sucks because of both. CAPITALISM AND PATRIARCHY ARE THE PROBLEM, NOT SEX WORK.

So go on, complain about work. If anyone starts to make it about sex work, ask them if their job makes them happy every day. Unless they are a white cishet man. Then just recognize that they benefit from all of the systems that oppress sex workers, take their money, and leave.


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