Once upon a time, as all good fairy stories go, I was interviewed at a big railway station in Yorkshire, to be a rape counsellor.
I have no idea why I thought I was remotely capable of doing this volunteer post, given that I hadn’t been raped, sexually abused, or knew anything about the seedier side of sex lives. Or much about any sex lives actually.
The two women who interviewed me were the stereotypical image of a stereotypical hetero’s idea of lesbians. Short, fat and with short cropped hair. Not exactly page three.
I considered this, with my stereotypical hetero prejudice aka privilege, in new trendy speak, and tried not to let it put me off.
But I fucked it up big time when they asked me about porn.
It’s the only question I remember. Being a happy 80s babe, with a degree, hungry for money, and life, I promptly answered that it was a good idea for women if they could make money out of it.
They may have asked me the same question about prostitution. I probably answered in the same vein.
I failed the test. If I wrote Americanese I would describe it as an epic fail of the most ginormous proportion. I don’t write Americanese so we’ll stick with I didn’t get the post.
Thirty years on, I might have got the post. Still don’t have the experience, thank goodness, but I do have some awareness of why porn and prostitution are not necessarily such a good thing for career women after all.
In fact the nearest I have got to experience was in Kings Cross, Sydney (Australia for those of you who don’t know where Sydney is). As with its UK namesake, Kings Cross London, there were a few prostitutes kicking around. And a load of drugs. And some international backpackers, of which I was one.
Wandering down the main street one evening – Macleay St for anyone familiar with Sydney – a couple of Americans stopped me. No they didn’t have stars and stripes on their foreheads but they had funny accents and it wasn’t an Australian one. ‘How much?’ they asked. I didn’t answer. But I do remember feeling pleased that someone would be prepared to pay to have sex with me. (Another epic fail on the feminism register).
But what’s the reality of prostitution? Because I saw that side too. The woman who was taken out of the
brothel apartment building next door due to a heroin overdose. She’d been found early in the morning, and emergency services were round pretty quickly. Being an early bird ie getting up early, not doing early hours in the morning after midnight, I heard the sirens and commotion and checked it out. And saw the corpse being taken into the ambulance, totally sheeted up.
According to the Washington Post, there’s very little of that any more and sex work is a great industry with lots of money where you meet nice people. Yes?
Or, going back to Sydney, let’s take a look at A Touch of Class in Surrey Hills, which has apparently closed. I’ll leave it to my Aussie readers to confirm that one. Known at the time as the most prestigious brothel in Sydney, it cost an arm and a leg to have sex there. My partner went there. I add quickly a) before he was my partner and b) to have a drink because his drinking mates wanted sex.
But look at this:
At A Touch of Class we have very high standards of grooming, performance, personality and reliability. If you think you will be an asset to A Touch of Class then we would love to hear from you, so please call or email us with your details. We are always looking for smart, attractive staff between the ages of 18-30 of all nationalities. This could be for Escort or Brothel work, as well as receptionists. Experience is not necessary, training is provided as a guidance on grooming and technique. New ladies to the industry are welcome. Because A Touch of Class are one of Sydney’s leading brothels and escort agencies, we have some of the best rates giving you the opportunity for a luxurious, highly paid, high-class, five-star lifestyle. You will meet rich, powerful, famous and successful people.
[And you will also meet scruffy urchins from building sites stupid enough to blow all their wages for a few hours sex].
Oh dear. The Leeds railway station lesbians wouldn’t be too keen on that advert though. It’s also ageist I might add.
Regardless of that, there are two underlying concepts around prostitution.
Here is a wiki quote which sums up the negative aspects of prostitution extremely well:
Anti-prostitution feminists hold that prostitution is a form of exploitation of women and male dominance over women, and a practice which is the result of the existing patriarchal societal order. These feminists argue that prostitution has a very negative effect, both on the prostitutes themselves and on society as a whole, as it reinforces stereotypical views about women, who are seen as sex objects which can be used and abused by men.
Even I couldn’t have put that one better. But because I am a fair-minded person – here is the other view:
Other feminists hold that prostitution and other forms of sex work can be valid choices for women and men who choose to engage in it. In this view, prostitution must be differentiated from forced prostitution, and feminists should support sex worker activism against abuses by both the sex industry and the legal system.
A bit like my young and naive view.
And in summary, again from wiki:
The disagreement between these two feminist stances has proven particularly contentious, and may be comparable to the feminist sex wars of the late twentieth century.
Sadly this is an issue. If women (and men, except I am writing about women) wish to sell their bodies for sex – whose business is it apart from theirs? Financially, apart from the revenue, no-ones. But the impact on other women is significant.
Child brides and rape. Sex trafficking. On the increase in the UK and more than 1,000 occurences in Spain this past year. The perpetuation of the view that women are a commodity to be bought. Like a car. Or an iPhone.
Calling women sluts, whores, and prostitutes – or even tarts – is not usually regarded as a compliment.
This part of the post is a response to an exchange with Pink, who wrote about his pal Carolina, who is somewhat antifeminist. On her blog she referred to Marilyn Monroe as a slut.
Personally I would have described her as an actress – who may or may not have slept with a number of men. But that last part is irrelevant.
a slovenly or promiscuous woman.
ORIGIN Middle English : of unknown origin.
she dressed like a slut and didn’t act much better promiscuous woman, prostitute, whore; informal tart, floozy, tramp, hooker, hustler; dated scarlet woman, loose woman, hussy, trollop; archaic harlot, strumpet, wanton.
And that, is basically how most people view women who have sex with lots of men. Men who shag around get approval. Women who do it, don’t.
‘Oh, you know that slag down the street,’ hardly compares with ‘Oh, our nice neighbour who is a doctor.’
There is no way that referring to a woman as a prostitute (insert all the above words) is a compliment.
And while I understand the concept of reclamation of language, I quite frankly, don’t buy it.
Seriously, most women who I know, would really NOT want to be called a slut – or a whore, prostitute, hooker etc. Suggesting a woman is engaging in prostitution for a living or just sleeping around is normally regarded as an insult by the vast majority of people, regardless of those who worked at A Touch of Class, or who can command a decent rate for shagging.
I have read far too many blog posts recently where men refer to ‘ladies’. Women do it too.
When men want to respect women and compliment them, they call them ladies. Why?
Because someone calling you a lady implies you are superior, upper class, educated, nice, – not rough, or a fucking whore or a slut.
Let’s get this clear. Women are all the same. We don’t need so-called differential respect. Don’t call us ladies or sluts. Because all you are doing, whether you are male or female, is reinforcing yet more boring stereotypes.
More wiki, as clearly I’m not on my own with this tack:
The word lady is a polite term for a woman, specifically the female equivalent to, or spouse of, a lord or gentleman, and in many contexts a term for any adult woman. Once relating specifically to women of high social class or status, over the last 300 years it has spread to embrace all adult women, though in some contexts may still be used to evoke a concept of “ladylike” standards of behaviour.
In more recent years, use of the word lady is even more complicated. The American journalist William Allen White noted one of the difficulties in his 1946 autobiography. He relates that a woman who had paid a fine for prostitution came to his newspaper to protest, not that the fact of her conviction was reported, but that the newspaper had referred to her as a “woman” rather than a “lady.” After the incident, White assured his readers, his papers referred to human females as “women,” with the exception of police court characters, who were all “ladies.”
White’s anecdote touches on a phenomenon that others have remarked on as well.
In the late 19th and early twentieth century, in a difference reflected in the British novelist Nancy Mitford’s essay “U vs. non-U”, lower class women strongly preferred to be called “ladies” while women from higher social backgrounds were content to be identified as “women.” Alfred Ayer remarked in 1881 that upper middle class female store clerks were content to be “saleswomen,” while lower class female store clerks, for whom their job represented a social advancement, insisted on being called “salesladies.” These social class issues, while no longer as prominent in this century, have imbued the formal use of “lady” with something of irony (e.g.: “my cleaning lady,” or “ladies of the night” for prostitutes). Commenting on the word in 1953, C.S. Lewis wrote that “the guard at Holloway said it was a ladies’ prison!”
Got to love the Mitfords!
You can all look up Wiki on your own.
Not good for a teenager to be shot in the head for advocating women’s and girls’ rights, but great for men to admire our legs and enjoy that. What a terrible article. I say that extremely seriously. It is appalling. And I will critique far more than that trite shite should anyone wish to argue.