Slut Riot: A sex worker shares her perspective

In today’s installment of Slut Riot we hear from Christina Parreira, a sex worker who also happens to be a graduate student. (You can read her blog, For the Love of Porn, Prostitution, and Pussy, here.) I encourage you to read her words and consider any assumptions that float into your head. Do you pre-judge her before you even start because you hold sex workers to a different standard? Can sex workers be slut-shamed when their vocation requires the real or imagined acts of promiscuity? Keep in mind that the social caste system that marginalizes and even dehumanizes sex workers is just an extension of the pervasive patriarchy all around us.

By Christina Parreira, M.A.

Women who transgress traditional gender roles are often targets of ridicule, shaming, and even violence. What does it mean to violate these mores, and what type of women are most at risk? Women who exhibit promiscuous behavior are shamed for being sluts, but what about those who charge for it? Sex workers are arguably one of the most targeted groups when it comes to the phenomenon of slut-shaming.

American culture has a love/hate relationship with promiscuous women. I am reminded of the Madonna/Whore complex, a psychoanalytic theory which states that men view women as either virtuous saints or tarnished whores. According to the theory, it would be nearly impossible for a man to simultaneously respect a woman and explore his sexual fantasies with her. Granted, this theory is outdated, but I think it has some merit in the discussion of slut-shaming and sex work.

A sex worker is any individual who trades a sexual service for compensation. This includes porn performers, strippers, phone sex operators, escorts, prostitutes, webcam models, and so forth. Some sex workers work legally, while others work illegally. Unfortunately, the criminalization of prostitution in most of the US contributes to the shaming of sex workers, but even those who work legally experience slut-shaming. Porn and stripping are both legal jobs, but both come with high levels of stigma. Porn stars are the stuff that dirty wet dreams are made of, but you wouldn’t dare bring one home to mother … would you? Men shower strippers with dollar bills at bachelor parties, but many wouldn’t be caught dead dating one. The sex industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, and yet the performers who make up this industry are regarded as pariahs. The hypocrisy is stunning — to masturbate to these individuals in private but to damn them in the public sphere.

I have worked as a webcam performer for almost five years, and recently started stripping. I identify as a sex worker and receive the majority of my income from this work. I am also a graduate student. The reactions that I get from people when they learn that I’m a sex worker are astonishing. Even more confusion results when people learn that I am also a graduate student. Why is this? Are people stunned that sex workers also have brains? Why aren’t we allowed to be simultaneously intellectual AND sexual? How does the exchange of money affect people’s perceptions of individuals and the level of slut-shaming that takes place? Women who exhibit “slutty” behavior are already damned, but what about those who profit financially from this behavior? The shaming is even more amplified. Not only are we sluts, but we have the nerve to charge for it! It is important to note that this does not only apply to female sex workers, but also to male and transgendered workers.

Society targets sex workers the way it used to target the so-called witches of Salem. Individuals who engage in sex work shatter the widely held beliefs of what constitutes socially appropriate behavior, making sex workers a prime target for slut-shaming. I hope to one day live in a world where I can do as I please with my genitals without being shamed. A world in which a rape victim isn’t blamed for what she was wearing. Unfortunately, I think we have a long way to go.

30 thoughts on “Slut Riot: A sex worker shares her perspective

  1. Cut the “patriarchy” shtick; the biggest slut shamers are fellow women, and they also slut-shame guys who pay for sex, guys who watch porn, and guys who go to strip clubs.

    As long as you view yourself as a feminist first instead of ally with the guys who have the same goals, you are making things worse.

    • The fact that women themselves engage in slut-shaming is in itself a symptom of patriarchy. Educate yourself, please.

      • Right. Of course. Because anything feminists don’t like is the fault of “the patriarchy.”

        Meanwhile, what is your response to the Queen Victoria issue? She was queen and matriarch of the most powerful nation on earth for 40 years, and is known as the most anti-GGG, slut-shaming human of all-time.

  2. The basic underlying principle of feminism is that all genders deserve to be afforded equal opportunities and respect. Men can be and are feminists. You are totally correct that women can be some of the biggest slut-shamers and often hide behind “feminism” to back this viewpoint, but that is not a premise of feminism. Feminism does not support hatred and violence. You can be a feminist and a sex worker, too. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/you-can-be-a-feminist-and-a-sex-worker-8744176.html

  3. The attitude of the strippers toward the customers is generally no better than that of the customers toward the strippers. The hypocrisy is mutual.

  4. I agree with Mr. Johanson. Furthermore, Ms. Reed is dead wrong when she claims there’s no inherent conflict between being a feminist and being a sex worker.

    Feminism is defined by the leaders of the feminist movement, its orthodoxy if you will. It is practiced; it is not some ‘abstract theory’ residing in a text book. Feminism is as feminism does. And feminism today is built upon a tired old model of Marxist thought which envisions a class struggle.

    I quote esteemed writer and retired sex worker Maggie McNeill:

    “Despite the modern re-interpretations to which some Neo-Marxists subscribe, it is very clear that Marx considered prostitution to be a ‘disease’ of capitalist society which would no longer be permitted in the communist paradise (presumably because the commune would magically make the sex drives and relative attractiveness of men and women equal). Every communist state has criminalized sex work and punished it harshly, even brutally; under Mao women caught whoring were sent for ‘re-education’, and though the regime declared in 1958 that prostitution has been ‘eradicated’, the ‘re-education centers’ remained full and top party officials had access to that which was officially declared not to exist.

    “Furthermore, neofeminism is really nothing but a form of Neo-Marxism with a few parameters redefined, and as we all know the neofeminists are no friends of whores. Yet all too many posts by sex worker activists go on and on about ‘Patriarchy’ (the neofeminist version of ‘bourgeoisie’) and ‘capitalism’ and blah blah blah blah until whatever they were trying to say is drowned out by nonsense.”

    As for the author of this piece, Ms. Parreira, who is the woman at the center of the current Hugo Schwyzer sexting scandal… she is the least appropriate face of feminism, the struggle against privilege, and/or the movement for sex worker rights one could imagine.

    Several sources have now produced documentation that she is a habitual liar, a blackmailer and filer of false police reports. She has undertaken online defamation campaigns against her enemies (she once falsified a text message indicating someone had confessed to having herpes, then published it online), and has admitted to filing a false police report several times, in writing.

    “There’s so many women who actually do get beaten and never get justice. And I get taken seriously because I’m articulate and white,” she admitted last year. “It’s like crying rape.”

    She has also been very open about her long struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, for which, reportedly, she has eschewed therapy.

    Disgraced writer and lecturer Hugo Schwyzer, who also suffers with BPD, has been (rightfully) savaged over his past history (which includes abuse of position with female students, marital infidelity and attempted murder of his girlfriend), and has essentially been drummed out of feminism. A woman like Ms. Parreira does an arguably greater disservice to the cause of women’s rights, and gender equality, because her actions casts doubt on the legitimate claims of women who actually are victims of rape or death threats.

    That she has been allowed, and encouraged, to wrap herself in the flag of sex worker rights is abominable.

    Finally, Ms. Parreira writes of the evils of “the criminalization of prostitution,” yet she is one of the biggest boosters of a woman who goes by the name Gina Robinson. Robinson runs an alleged sex worker rights organization, but does not support full decriminalization of all sex work. This is exclusionary and intellectually inconsistent. Incidentally, this group has offered no programs, and its only known event was a fundraiser to raise money for Gina to attend the premiere of a documentary in which she appeared. (It failed to raise the required funds).

    • . I feel like there is a lot of confusion about definitions and the way they are utilized by individuals within social movements. Feminism is a very multifaceted and diverse movement, so to say ‘feminism is as feminism does’ is far too simplistic. Which feminists are defining what feminism is by what they do? White feminists? Second wave feminists? Third wave? Because they last time I checked there were a lot of discrepancies within the movement, and a variety of opinions on sex work as well. Also, while feminist Marxists may exist, there is no definitive text that equates feminism with Marxism, and let’s please not confuse Marxism with the communism that was implemented in places like China and the Soviet Union, because those were Leninist, Stalinist & Maoist distortions that created bureaucratic political systems whose primary aim was to survive the cold war/ideological battle against capitalism, not to create a society in which each got according to his/her needs and gave according to his/her abilities. There are plenty of feminists out there that would never consider themselves part of any kind of class struggle and definitely wouldn’t identify as a Marxist, communist or even left leaning.

      Additionally, there is no contradiction between being a feminist & a sex-worker, and if there is I’d really like someone to enlighten me, since ‘because most feminists think that sex work shouldn’t exist’ isn’t an adequate explanation. Slut shaming and being opposed to the commodification of sex are two very different things. Many feminist & Marxist groups (separately) organize for the rights of sex workers while opposing the nature of prostitution as a profession.

  5. I would offer a course-correction in regards to some of these comments. This post is not about Hugo Schwyzer in any capacity. He is not mentioned. Things involving the recent news regarding Schwyzer are not mentioned explicitly or implicitly. So, it seems, some of you are barking up the wrong tree here and entirely missing the point.

    The point is this: People who do not conform to the patriarchal constraints of white-male-heterosexual are shamed for being who they are and/or having the vocation they do. Being a woman, gay, lesbian, transgender, non-white, or any other identity outside the white-male-hetero identity is mocked and abused with socially condoned acts like slut-shaming. Sex workers face a more severe form of this, as they are objectified to such an extent that it virtually erases their humanity. That, and only that, is the point of this post. Perhaps you should read it again.

    On the subject of male feminists, I have only this to say: If you believe for one second that I do not welcome people across the continuum of gender identity and human sexuality to the tent of feminism … you can go fuck yourself. I am so tired of this “insult” being hurled at me or any other feminist site! It is, in fact, no different than calling some woman a slut as she passes by on the street because you disapprove of her outfit. Your supposed insult is that I do not welcome men to feminism? Or is it that you just don’t like feminism at all and this is your way of calling me a bitch? Obviously, you have not been reading The Sin City Siren for any part of the past six years. My work speaks for itself.

    And to explicitly address the subject of Hugo Schwyzer, read this: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/08/02/hugo-schwyzer-and-the-consumption-of-redemption-narratives/

    • Your “point” is a lot of standard-issue left-wing hateful gender and race baiting crap. If slut-shaming excluded straight white guys, most people never would have heard of Anthony Weiner.

  6. Which leaders of the feminist movement and their orthodoxy? There are various waves of feminism and people within the movement who define themselves differently. There are plenty of critiques about conservative women’s groups appropriating the feminist label (often older, so-called second-wave feminists), but that doesn’t make them in line with the feminist view of equality and freedom to decide. We do have a vibrant progressive, sex-positive feminist movement (since early 1990s, often referred to as third-wave feminists). Social movements grow and change. That is normal.

    Maggie McNeill writes an excellent blog from her unique perspective, “The Honest Courtesan” that I recommend to anyone who wants to understand sex worker issues better.

    (Let’s take bets that “Cyril Grey” is Christina’s abusive, obsessive, scorned ex or at the very least, one of his minions. Stalker much?)

    • Logical fallacy much? Even if I were he or “one of his minions” (I’m not, although I have followed this ugly affair since last year, and also corresponded with him) HOW would that alter the facts provided above, which are indisputable? How would it change the validity of what I presented?

      That which is contained in my comment is true or untrue, valid or invalid, regardless of authorship. Ad hominem attacks serve no one, Ms. Reed, not even the guilty, and your nasty tone tells on you.

      For the record, it’s clear to me that both Ms. Parreira AND her ex have acted badly. Very badly. But she (like you and Gina, a relative newcomer to sex worker rights advocacy), has done far worse to far more people and that fact is not open to reasonable dispute. In short, she lacks credibility and weakens that of the cause of sex worker rights. I’ll leave it at that and stand by my previous comment.

      Moving on… yes, social movements grow and change, but all modern feminism is premised upon patriarchy theory, a subject you carefully avoid in your reply. Subscribe to it or don’t, but one cannot deny the fact of its ubiquity.

      To Sin City Siren I add, I do not and would not question that you “welcome people across the continuum of gender identity and human sexuality.” This site is a testament to that. I only took issue with Ms. Reed’s comment. And I also appreciate the link you posted regarding redemption narratives, whose reasoning I also support.

      Thank you.

  7. “Cyril Grey” I don’t think anyone cares above the info above, that you claim is true, is just another lame attempt to bash you ex and guess what NOBODY cares. Your need to stalk Christina and discredit all the good work she does in supporting women and sex workers is just pathetic. While you may be a big man in your in house, you just showed the world what a small and pathetic man you really are. On to the topic, I don’t like using labels such as feminist, as I have met too many people that claim to be fem’s that don’t support a women’s decisions over their own bodies to include birth control + abortion, sexuality and sex work. I rather hear what the what a individual has to say about what they believe in. There are too many haters that claim they are fem’s that enjoy shut slamming + harassing and terrorizing women in general,

  8. Well said, Christina. I know several very bright, wonderful sex workers so I know you’re not just a fluke. The challenge I have is being able to separate the willing sex workers from those posing as sex workers who are actually victims of trafficking.

    • There is an easy way you can tell, Glenn. Basically, every time you spot a space alien walking around, that’s about as often as you will encounter an actual victim of trafficking over the age of about 14.

    • In reality we will never abolish prostitution, and while there are very few victims a year (230 average victims a year, those stats are taking right off the FBI website) lets face it prostitution exists due to poverty. If your between 15 and 30 there is a 80% chance your unemployed. Many employed Americans are homeless because our government is OK with us working for slave wages. Big business are making billions while 1 out of 4 US families are on food stamps and are living in extreme poverty. Rather than spend 250 million a year just in public awareness on trafficking, doesn’t it make more sense to provide long term housing, medical care, education programs that will lead to jobs that pay wages these people can actually live on) Criminalization has created the perfect playground for predators and bad cops to rob, rape, exploit, threaten and murder both the victims and the consensual sex workers. When I researched the topic I found out that these rescue shelters are empty 90% of the time, and while each major city in the US has thousands of homeless teens, they refuse to take them in until after they enter the sex trade to survive and then have been arrested/rescued. Even Polaris Project admitted to me that they do not have any direct services for the victims, yet they get 3 million in federal funds to answer a phone hotline, and their ceo makes 150,000 a year. Tons of these anti trafficking groups are making their entire living off the cause, and their real agenda is to abolish all prostitution , under the guise of trafficking, These groups hate sex workers and they want to exterminate us off the face of the earth as if we were cock roaches. If you want to hear from the lives of 11 US sex workers in their own voices, that is the first time they have not been censored in the media please see http://www.americancourtesans.com

  9. Pingback: Slut Riot: Defining ourselves | The Sin City Siren

  10. Pingback: Slut Riot: On the intersection of shaming, rape culture, and patriarchy | The Sin City Siren

  11. We tend to read and disseminate information that supports the views we already have. I’m pretty sure we keep reading this perspective because we really don’t want to believe that sex work is damaging to the women who do it. It is so comforting to think that. It leaves us entirely off the hook. We can sit at home, do nothing, and feel completely at peace with ourselves because they have freely chosen to do what they are doing. There is nothing we are required to do. On top of that, we can pat ourselves on the back for being so open-minded and progressive in our views about sex. In reality, very few female sex workers have chosen that profession (the industry for male sex workers operates entirely differently, at least in the western world), and they are targets of brutal humiliation from their customers, their pimps, and (in pornography) the men who work alongside them. As wonderful as it is that this woman is having a positive experience with sex work, her experience is atypical. She’s an outlier. And there is no reason we can sit at home, do nothing, and feel we have done the right thing.

      • It used to be considered humiliating for a guy to be in mainstream porn. When my good friend, Dave Dodge, broke into the biz co-starring in Campfire Girls with Ron Jeremy in 1981, we took a vow not to talk about it.

        It used to be considered humiliating to be a professional baseball player.

  12. Any person (male or female) that won’t be involved in a relationship with you because of what you do is obviously not willing to see you as a person, an individual, or a person of worth. No loss there from your perspective.

  13. Pingback: Top SCS posts of 2013, part one | The Sin City Siren

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