The joke’s lost on me

OK, I know attitudes towards prostitution have been getting less and less disapproving, but to get to the point where a sitcom can be made with a bunch of shiny women who, like, really like their jobs, is surely going a bit far? I used to work somewhere that took the bulk of its advertising revenue from strip clubs and prostitutes’ personal ads – I worked there for 15 months and I’m ashamed to say that’s not the reason I left.

(Two stories from there: when I went for the interview I went into reception and the company secretary called across – "are you here to see me, love?" I later found out that the Ladies paid for their adverts in cash, and she’d thought I was coming in to pay my bills. In that building "young woman"="prostitute". On another occasion, a middle aged woman was sat in reception with her teenage daughter, waiting to see the company secretary. It wasn’t hard to figure out what for. The daughter must have been barely legal. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders, beg her to take a job at McDonalds, carry on with school, anything but that.)

Prostitution is not Pretty Woman, it’s not Belle du Jour, it’s not being whisked off to fancy restaurants by rich City bachelors, it’s not even women enjoying sex. It’s poor women, often with a history of being sexually abused, doing whatever they can to earn some money. Even if they’re not addicted to drugs or alcohol; even if they haven’t been trafficked into the country and held against their will; even if it’s their choice; it’s dangerous, unhealthy, poorly paid and degrading. I’ve just read a few reviews on Punternet and I’m stunned that these men actually seem to think the women enjoy servicing them. Seriously? Some complain that the women don’t enjoy it, or refuse to do certain things. Oh, you poor little men. Please try and understand this is not a TV that you bought at Currys and can take back if you’re not satisfied – this is a person who you are paying to screw, she has no interest in you, she probably has no desire to even be in the room. You disgust me. How can I put this: if you can only get it by paying for it, she’s not interested in you. And if you ‘choose’ to pay for it, she’s also not interested in you because you’re a pillock.

Even worse, some of the comments on that Guardian piece stunned me.

"Millions of people do jobs they detest because they haven’t got much of
a choice. Why should prostitution be regarded as less acceptable than
working behind a shop counter or writing for the Guardian? Because
effortlessly superior commentators like Kira Cochrane bear more than a
passing resemblance to the sort of permanently scandalised Victorian
sex-phobics who regarded John Stuart Mill as a dangerous extremist."

"If you treat sex for money as jsut [sic] another commodity and regulate it in
the same way as, say, the sale of alchohol, the sad image of 95% are
drug addicts nonsense would be seen for what it is (and come down very
hard on abuse by punters, difficult when the women at the moment are
criminalised). Go abroad, go to Australia go to Singapore, even go to
Thailand, yes some of the girls there are drug addicts but for the vast
majority it is actually a career choice, sleeping with a sweaty smelly
man for 100 dollars for 30 minutes is a damn sight better than working
16 hour days in a sweaty smelly factory for 3 dollars a day."

"I’ve got my own idea for a TV comedy show, called ‘Wimmin’. Four sassy
gals straight out of their media-studies finals join the Guardian and
set about putting the world of patriarchy to rights."

Thank God for some of the others:

"I agree. The idea of the happy hooker is an opiate made up so ‘straight society’ doesnt have to face reality. Its an opinion born formed during the nineteen eighties. My daily route to work took me through a red light district... The looks on those girls faces as the stamped their feet and or hugged
themselves to keep warm would sweep away any nonsense about happy
hookers."

"I’m shocked at the mysogynism in some of the posts here. Selling one’s
body is not the same as selling any other commodity and prostitution is
not the same as flipping burgers. This is because the transaction is
based on exploitation, whether or not the working woman (or man) is
making a conscious choice or has been coerced through imprisonment,
violence or rape."

People wonder why I despair at times.

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15 responses to “The joke’s lost on me

  1. kate August 18, 2006 at 9:12 am

    well said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Nick August 18, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    Damn good post.
    I find it interesting how was some on the ‘liberal left’ the issue of protitution causes a bit of a crisis. In a bid not to be seen as a conservative, they seem unwilling to declare that it should be eradicated, fearing they will judged as having “Victorian morals” as happened in some of those comments. Instead they talk about legalising it, removing the stigma, harm prevention etc. Now all well and good but here is where I have the problem. I don’t think the stigma should go, I think it should be shifted to the scum who use prostitutes. I’d support legalising but why stop there? Is everything suddenly going to become fine and dandy just by making it legal? I mean what posseses someone to make a comment like this?:
    “Legalise prostitution. Take the shame out of it. Judge it as a transaction of services for cash like any other.”
    Harm prevention again that is really good, but surely harm prevention should come earlier ie. better drug laws, a better welfare state. The solutions some people come up with seem to be trying to deal with a horse that has long since bolted.
    The thought of normalising prostitution is a scary one. In Germany, which they admitidly said was a mistake, women on the German equivilant of the dole were being offered jobs in the sex industry like it was any other job. Is that the sort of ‘liberalism’ that people want? Or could it be some of liberlism is simply about trying to absolve ones own guilt? When I was in Amsterdam I saw a big fat schmuck of a man excitidly telling a shop assitant how much he loved Amsterdam because he could get a cheap blow job. Legalisation seems to give people like that free reign.
    I really don’t know what can be done about the situation. I mean yeah in Amsterdam things are a fraction better, but surely some should be demanding more, rather than holding it up as the model we should have? Too often I think prostitution gets seen in isolation. There is no way you can have ‘safe prositution’ in our society. It is impossible. It is one of the many symtoms of something much wider going on.

  3. Rachel August 18, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    Yes! Nick!! I’ve also always thought the stigma should be shifted onto the people who USE prostitutes rather the prostitutes themselves; after all, if there was no demand there wouldn’t be a supply, right? (And the language around prostitution is very telling – men “use” prostitutues, it is a power and control thing.)
    Better social care of those ‘at risk’ (on drugs; in poverty; history of being abused; illegal immigrants, etc) and a massive change in attitudes towards women. The expectation of some men that they are entitled to sex, and the growing acceptance and adoption by others of those attitudes, is all wrapped up in this same culture where porn is everywhere, girls wear practically nothing and it’s suddenly OK to go to a brothel on a stag weekend. Hey, Wayne Rooney paid a granny for a shag – what a hoot!
    You’re right, when the hell DID the left get taken in by this? I’m about to finish reading Female Chauvinist Pigs and Ariel Levy, I think, hits the nail on the head. The extreme sexualisation of culture and society is cool, and we’re afraid of being thought uncool so we try and work with it. I’ve done it myself but (as is probably self-evident from this blog!) I’m not doing it any longer. I don’t care if people call me frigid, or sad, or old. I think that’s a reflection of their own narrow-mindedness.
    Hmm, gone off topic again.
    But in a way, it’s ALL the same topic! Women are NOT here for some sad little man’s sexual gratification, whether visual or physical, and the sooner attitudes start to shift towards a more equal view of sex and sexuality then I think we’ll be able to discuss issues like prostitution without one side calling the other uptight.

  4. Will August 18, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    I think the liberal left get ‘taken in’ by this because (excluding those that are forced into it) it ultimately comes down to a personal choice. And freedom of choice is quite a fundamental liberal view. If someone wants to shag old men for a couple of hours instead of work at McDonalds for ten, then surely that’s up to them isn’t it?
    To say that in actual fact these individuals are ‘forced’ into it in some way is deeply patronising to them, I think. Notice that I’m not putting any gender bias into this either, as men also prostitute themselves.

  5. Rachel August 18, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    Oh. My. God.
    Do you honestly think that the vast majority of prostitutes (yes, there are men but most are female and both are affected by these issues) really choose to prostitute themselves because they can’t think of anything better to do? Often, women are convinced to turn their first trick for a ‘boyfriend’ or (both sexes) find it’s a ‘better’ way of earning drug money than stealing – or they’re supplied drugs by a pimp.
    The image of the self-assured, confident prostitute who sells sex as a conscious choice rather than doing a boring temp job is a fantasy. There are some ‘high class call girls’ but they’re the exception, not the norm, but they’re used as the get out clause; “look at these women, they’re alright, so all of them must be.” That’s like saying that just cos I earn a ton of money, the issue of women being paid less than men has gone away!
    (Also, don’t forget that once conditions for female prostitutes improve, conditions for all sex workers will improve. I say ‘improve’… personally I’d prefer to see the ‘profession’ die out, but hey… It’s just that you don’t tend to get cultural glamourisation of rent boys unless you’re a Lib Dem MP.)

  6. Ant August 19, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    “even if it’s their choice; it’s dangerous, unhealthy, poorly paid and degrading.”
    Surely this is main arguement for legalisation. If it’s their choice they shouldn’t be marginalised by society to the point that they can’t do anything to make their working conditions better or protect their health without risking falling faul of the law.
    If prostitution were legal it could be subject to regulation which could protect the rights and health of people who opted to sell *their* bodies for cash.
    People do many things which they, or others view as physically or morally repugnant to earn a living, often through lack of choice. Why should society differentiate between sex and other potentially unpleasant physical acts?
    The raft of abuse that effects people currently involved in prostitution is indefensible, and utterly morally repugnant, but I don’t see how it can be used as a rationale for starting a War on Prostitution which would be every bit as unwinnable as the War on Drugs, or for that matter, Terror.
    Or perhaps I misunderstand your point. If you simply wanted to point out that a sitcom about prostitutes who love their job is exploitative and in poor taste, well – is *is* Channel 5…

  7. Rachel August 19, 2006 at 6:30 pm

    Actually, I find it highly unlikely that the vast majority of prostitutes are selling themselves because it’s a genuine choice (I doubt, for example, that the teenage girl I saw in the office had ever been offered a realistic assessment of her chances in life). Thinking that women out there wake up one morning thinking “you know what? I’m sick of being a receptionist, I’m going to become a whore” is somewhat simplistic and buying into this notion of “happy hookers” that this Five sitcom is based on.
    Five should stick to buying US forensic dramas, it’s what they do best šŸ˜‰

  8. Anonymous August 19, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    I agree, but I think that trying to prevent prostitution is a simplistic solution – if you don’t want people prostituting themselves, provide an alternative.
    Giving people a choice other than prostitution is the answer. Criminalising prostitution doesn’t provide that choice, it simply denies the few people who might wish to be legal sex workers that option. It also forces the prostitutes to work outside the law, which makes them more vulnerable to exploitation.

  9. Pete August 21, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    I think there are two fairly seperate issues here. One is the question of whether it’s ethical to pay someone for sex; the other is what prostitution means in our society and whether or not we could improve the situation by understanding it and changing the law or social attitudes to it.
    On the first, I emphatically believe that people should be allowed to choose for themselves what they do with their body. If selling is legal and fucking is legal, then selling fucking should be legal. Furthermore, I’m not really happy with arguments that sex with a woman is a deed of ownership. Paying for a service is not the same as slavery. There are complications to do with exploitation of people unable to make informed decisions for themselves or support themselves any other way, but while some people need protection it shouldn’t be at the cost of criminalizing everyone’s freedom to sleep with who they like and for whatever reasons they see fit.
    However, anyone enthusiastically and indiscriminately going out and using prostitutes is going to be supporting a huge system of exploitation. People are pushed into prostitution and become dependent on the money from it. People are encouraged into drug addictions to make them more dependent on prostitution. People are trafficked and sold into slavery. It’s a violent, exploitative, dangerous business and one that is very unkind to the majority in it. Stigmatizing or criminalizing people who prop it up is probably appropriate, but it’s the exploitation that’s bad, not the prostitution itself. Scheming to force someone to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do is ethically wrong, especially when it’s something as intimate and meaningful as sex.

  10. Rachel August 21, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    See, I think I’m too much caught up in a general disgust at the idea of prostitution and utter contempt of the people who would buy another person just so they can get themselves off. In an ideally liberalised world, prostitution should be properly regulated so the prostitutes can at least be safe. But I can’t shake the disgust, I want prostitution wiped off the face of the planet. I know it’s never going to happen but it doesn’t stop the rage…

  11. Amy August 22, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    The sitcome idea is appalling… but on the prostitution as exploitation front there is a “yes, but” on the tip of my tongue. Yes, currently it completely encourages exploitation, slavery etc etc. However, it is not the “oldest” profession for nothing and will not go away… The Puritans tried to clamp down on all that stuff and look what happened during the Reformation (or watch The Libertine and see Johnny Depp get the pox). Anyway, if it is going to happen anyway, surely it is better to have a legal, safe, clean basis for prostitution which protects women, and gives them control of their earnings and not some pimp? And when you look at the fact that Nikki from Big Brother was earning Ā£2500 a night as an escort… well frankly I’d do it. Or at least seriously consider it were it not for the fact I can’t see him indoors being happy with the idea. One night’s work a month rather than 55 hours a week for a month… Tempting. And it is just sex – I think if everyone could get that in perspective then maybe we collectively wouldn’t be so childishly obsessed it. I repeat – it’s just sex! (Although if I did catch him indoors shagging another bird, well he wouldn’t be shagging anything again anytime soon and she’d have her hair set on fire. So maybe I am being a complete hypocrite and talking rubbish… šŸ™‚

  12. Pete August 22, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    I’m fairly curious here – could you pin down less general causes for that disgust and rage? I think prostitution, pornography and sexual politics are always going to be areas where people feel first and rationalise their feelings afterwards. Of course, this is a sensitive subject and given that you’ve got quite a thing for social justice it’s more than possible your disgust and rage comes straight from there.
    Historically, stigma for prostitutes comes mostly from women dependent on the stability of a marriage for their livelihood and family. Prostitutes were a threat with the potential to remove whatever sexual power wives had in their relationship.
    So now I think of it, it’s kind of an odd question to ask someone who’s publicly celibate and financially independent, but do you feel the existence or potential social acceptance of prostitution would be a threat to hopes you had or have for fidelity in past or hypothetical future hetero relationships?
    P.S. I agree the sitcom sounds shite, by the way.

  13. Rachel August 22, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    (OK, first off, I’m not deliberately celibate, it’s just happened that way… Celibate Mountain is something I made up a few months ago when I totted up all the time, uh, since, and went “really? that long? good lord.” I might as well take some pride in it…)
    It’s the exploitation aspect that winds me up. I honestly don’t buy that it’s a choice for the vast majority – the Ā£50-for-a-blowjob hooker. And even if I could get Ā£2500 a night… no, I don’t think I could do it. I don’t agree with the idea of one person ‘buying’ another; and I’ve been grappling with this concept for a few days now. You could argue that employment is willingly selling yourself for money. But on the other hand, I don’t need to get naked in the office, I’m not dealing with strangers who for some reason have a desire to pay for sex (and I can’t understand that impulse, either), and I’m not in a situation where many of my fellow workers have been murdered by their clients.
    It’s not similar to slavery in that there is, technically, an element of choice in prostitution (but again, as I’ve argued above, how real is this choice when you take everything into account? It’s often not a choice like the ones you or I have to make about our lives) but it is similar in that once you enter into that transaction, how much control does the prostitute (male or female) actually have? If the buyer wanted something the prostititute wasn’t prepared to do, if the buyer was determined/threatening/violent enough, what rights does the prostitute have?
    Even if you legalise it, there’s still that element in there, you’re still buying a piece of another human being. How could anyone want to buy another human being? How could anyone derive pleasure from a transaction in which the other person may not (most likely does not) derive pleasure? There’s a line in a book I read somewhere, about girls going to strip clubs because they “like the look of boredom on the strippers’ faces”. How can anyone enjoy that? If you have any shred of compassion for your fellow beings, if you care about the welfare and lives of others, how can you possibly use somebody else or bear to see them be used?

  14. Amy August 23, 2006 at 9:15 am

    But buying a piece of a human being is, to my mind at least, exactly what any employer does…Provided the situation is safe – so the boundaries are defined in what is and is not permitted, and punters can’t do a runner, there are legal consequences for violence etc, I don’t see the problem with prostitution. Maybe it is because i have worked in service industries for too long and got far too cynical about the nature of work and I am being naive sitting in my air-con office bored to tears, but I don’t see the difference between whoring yourself out in a “professional” context and whoring yourself out in the physical context. It is a service, a transaction, that I don’t see being any different to any other. In some ways prostitition is more honest than a lot of service industry jobs – the guy *knows* the basis on which the service is being delivered. It’s not buying in the sense that footballers and rich old millionaires “buy” young wives – that, to me, seems worse, as there is emotional deception & hurt etc. As long as everyone is clear on what the rules of engagement are, if that person is comfortable with providing the transaction is there problem? I accept for many people it is not something they would be comfortable with, but sex is a basic human function like eating, sleeping etc. It can be – but by no means has to be -connected to love and emotional stuff. Intimacy and sex can go together but don’t have to (e.g. a lot of prostitutes won’t kiss clients as it is too intimate). If you look at the Australian model it’s legal and they have trade unions and everything for prostitutes. Which must be better than the current state of affairs? I’m not sure about where going to strip clubs to see the girls looking bored comes from – surely watching people looking bored is boring on its own? I would suggest it is not boredom per se, more aloof unobtainableness – just look at how many photos of models have them looking “bored”? When was the last time you saw Kate Moss with a grin on her chops in a picture? Boredom/unobtainable equals power? “I’m not interested in you but you’re interested in me?” Anyway I’m digressing again, and that’s probably a separate issue. I’m not sure what I think about strip clubs, to be honest. The waltz was decried as filth when it came out as it involved people touching for the first time, is lapdancing the logical extension of this? Are strip clubs a performance art or dance, or what, anyway? Is it okay for strip clubs to be normalised as the ideal for sexual conformity? I think probably not… One thing i do know is that Playboy stationery for 8 years olds sold in Woolworths is wrong. And if a legalised brothel opened next door to me would I be happy about it? Probably not… Sorry if this is a bit stream of consciousness, there is a line to be drawn somewhere and I am just trying to figure out where my line is…

  15. Rachel August 23, 2006 at 9:58 am

    This is why blogging is great, you end up having to think quite hard about what you believe in to justify it to someone else šŸ™‚
    I think the context of selling your time to an employer and selling your body to someone is very different; the very nature of sexual consent changes when cash changes hands – the power is in the hands of the buyer, not the seller (as an employee, I can quit my job if I don’t like it; can a prostitute walk out in the middle of a session?) My employer is buying my time, a ‘punter’ is buying exclusive rights to a prostitute’s body – his/hers to do with what they want. Legalisation won’t change the character of that transaction. It may offer some protection to the prostitute but would it still stop a ‘punter’ (what is the ‘correct’ term for someone who buys sex?) from slapping a prostitute about if they refuse to do anal?
    Also, we shouldn’t confuse how we, the regular sex-having public, regard sex. It might confer some power on us women, but on a prostitute? How do you come to view sex when you’re a Ā£100-an-hour (minus large agency fees…) prositutute? When it’s the fourth stranger of the day after two years of those days? How disassociated does the prostitute become from what they’re doing? Is it just sex then? It’s not normal sex, not how we experience it.
    I’m not sure I agree that the ‘punter’ does know the basis on which the service is being delivered. This is why I object to this notion of the ‘happy hooker’ – the reviews on punternet (that I read) seem to believe that the prostitute is gagging for it, loves it, can’t wait to do it with them. That’s not the reality. It’s a job, it’s feeding a heroin habit, it’s against their will. I think if punters understood the real effects of prostitution, how the prostitute really views their ‘customers’ they wouldn’t be so keen – punternet reveals a ‘punter’ base who think they are desired, it makes them feel powerful that these prostitutes ‘want’ them. That’s not truthful, that’s not honest. It’s a fallacy.

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