Pretty Woman or pretty bad?

My how the world loves a sex scandal. Eliot Spitzer. David Paterson. James McGreevey. All three current/former governors came out with new or on-going sex scandals this month. Predictably, the mainstream media (in particular the 24-hour news channels) have had a field day drumming up real, live prostitutes/madams/pimps to explore the world of sex work. One channel had something about “the hidden down-side of sex work.” I’m not so sure it’s all that hidden, buddy. Or news.

For one thing, I think that a politician having sex isn’t all that interesting or worth resigning over. I didn’t care that Bill Clinton got a blow job in the White House. I don’t care that Spitzer was “Client No. 9.” I certainly don’t care that McGreevey is gay, nor do I think being gay is a reason to step down from office.

The only condition where I would be bothered by politicians getting sex of any kind is if it involved tax-payer funds or if that politician somehow did something that would impact his/her job (for instance, divulging top secret information). That’s worrisome because it has to do with their job. But sex by itself? Not an issue for me.

In fact, the only reason why any of these scandals bother me (aside from the ridiculous media coverage), is that I feel bad for the wives. I do have a major problem with adultery. After all, unless you have an open relationship, that’s cheating. I’m not a fan of cheating in relationships. But I would still say that is an issue between the people in those relationships. It has nothing to do with their job (unless their job was being an expert on having monogamous marriages).

But I think with Spitzer, it’s all the paid sex that is so scandalous. A friend of mine e-mailed me asking me to clarify it for him. Aren’t we passed all the “prostitutes are bad” thing? Aren’t we to the point where we see that sex workers are self-actualized and in control of their own destinies? Having interviewed many sex workers over the years, I can’t say I know for certain. I think it’s situational. I have met many sex workers who are truly empowered and in control of their bodies and lives. I’ve met sex workers who call themselves feminists. They don’t have pimps. They enjoy their work. Etc. But I have also met the more stereotypical sex workers who are abused, addicts and under the boot of pimps. So, I think the world of sex work is wildly varied.

Unfortunately, I think in order to make the vocation of sex work empowering across the board, it would take radical and difficult changes to our society as a whole. Those kinds of changes are not welcome by some very vocal people in our country. Ironically, it’s people like Spitzer, who spent the majority of his career going after prostitution, who shout the loudest. But I think if certain things in our society changed — such as allowing women to be fully sexualized in their own right and not just objects of desire to serve the male gaze — and we could get rid of the victimization that can happen to some sex workers then I would have no problem with it. It’s the control issue, not the sex that bothers me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want to be a sex worker. But I don’t want to be a biologist either. I just see that sex work has been a part of society since the beginning of civilization. Why not just accept it. Tax it. Regulate it. Make it safer for those who want to be a part of it or use those services. If you think it’s immoral, don’t do it or use it’s services. On the whole morality level of it, I see it as the same kind of personal decision as whether to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or other things that are deemed “sinful” by some. Seems simple enough.

But we have a long, long way to go on this issue. As evidenced by the Spitzer scandal and others. And as feminists we have to come to some kind of agreement, too. Because the issue is divisive within our ranks, too. Last year I interviewed Kim Gandy, president of NOW. I asked her about what she thought about the issue. To paraphrase, she told me that she didn’t think that women — given a level playing field and the same opportunities as men — would choose sex work. And she definitely did not think that sex work could be feminist. But is she the ultimate authority? Or is it Andrea Dworkin, who said all heterosexual sex is rape until we end patriarchy? Or is it like what a madame I once interviewed said? She said that a brothel, run by a woman, was the most feminist place because it’s all women taking care of each other.

I ask the questions, but I don’t know the answer.

I wasn’t even going to write about this issue until I saw something floating around Myspace.

Thoughts?

— E

3 thoughts on “Pretty Woman or pretty bad?

  1. On the one hand, I can see your point to decriminalize it. On the other, I don’t see how that is a good idea.
    I kind of like Sweden’s approach, where sex workers aren’t prosecuted, but the johns (and janes, I presume) are. They go after the demand end, not the supply, and provide a bunch of services to help sex workers get out of the field and get more, um, mainstream jobs (I would say traditional, but since prostitution is the old profession, well…)

  2. Some of those stats sound similar to the New York Times’ widely cited and entirely unproveable story about sex trafficking in the U.S. I’d like to know more about the methodology to that study because I can’t believe there are that many child prostitutes in this country.

    And for the record, McGreevey didn’t resign because he’s gay. He resigned because he was a terrible governor who installed his unqualified lover as the state’s Homeland Security director even though the guy didn’t have a security clearance and wasn’t a citizen.

  3. This is a massivley interesting post and youve pretty much summed up my own feelings about prostituition. I don’t see why it is an issue of “morality” whether someone wants to earn money through sex, as long as it is their choice and they are happy with what they are doing then why and how is that wrong? Its the people forced into it or who hate themselves and want to get out of it that i feel sorry for, for them support should be given and help.
    But why is prostituition still such an issue when their are people like Jordan and Paris Hilton who are so popular, accepted and rich?

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