We have to listen to Sex Worker’s Voices. Quite who ‘We’ are and quite who ‘They’ are has yet to be solidly established. I guess on the surface the We is anyone who happens to be having any kind of discussion about prostitution, who has never been paid to flap about in gaudy knickers or been infiltrated by other folk’s body parts, at any stage in their pearl clutching, blue stocking, dry cunting lives.
Even if that discussion isn’t happening whilst your hovering over a bit of legislation. Even if your casually chatting in your back garden, with your feminist mates – who all hate sex – and who perpetually wear a special form of mosquito net to prevent so-called ‘Men’ from touching their damsel flesh. Yes whilst you are having that oh so praxis garden party and you veer on to the topic of prostitution, a Sex Worker will be shipped over the wall – much like as happened at this 2014 Festival of Dangerous Ideas Debate – to ensure that you understand just how pathetically ignorant you are on this and, probably, any and all topics.
‘They’ of course are the opposites of ‘We’. They are the sugar coated, candy canes of postmodernist sexuality, who are largely made up of middle class PhD students, transwomen and heterosexual Chippendales, who sell intimacy and affection and counselling and legal advice and vegan recipes, to disabled virgins and poor hen pecked husbands, who spend the rest of their money on keeping their hag like wives happy. Despite the fact that said wives purposefully had their own vaginas sewed up just to spite them. Bitches.
I’m being facetious now, of course. Bad form. This is a serious topic.
Of course in reality who ‘We’ are, is rather more difficult to define, as is the case of who ‘They’ are. If anyone has spent any time fingering around the debate, you’ll notice how easily permeable those membranes are, how quickly and efficiently those boundaries can shift. A Sex Worker Voice might not only be someone who works in prostitution or stripping or pornography or webcam modelling. It might become someone who runs a brothel, who manages a strip club or who directs porn films. It might be someone who has worked for twenty years, or only two days.
Contrary wise the person who works in the sex industry but hates it, and openly criticises it, might have their story nullified as a ‘lone voice’ whose bad experience is an anomalous misfortune; sad, but not really of interest. A charity or advocate who has worked for decades with women, damaged and troubled by prostitution, is a pesky interferer, who cannot be trusted to account for themselves/herself as witness. A former prostitute can be disregarded, at best, because her feelings ‘no longer count’. At worst, her whole public character may be ruptured by accusations of duplicity, fraudulence, bitterness or insanity.
The Sex Worker who has been a webcam model for six months may find her voice counting more, than a former prostitute who has been schlepping about in the trade ever since that hallowed time before you could buy soft pornography at Poundland. That brothel keeper’s convenient advocacy for that apex of hyper capitalism – the Mega Brothel – considered of more value and authenticity than the women advocating for exit services.
Indeed, this flighty and idiomatic phrase seems to me to be predominately used to shore up a person who has their cards in the full, absolute no questions asked or futures considered, profiteering decriminalisation hat, and to undermine anyone who has even the smallest shred of ambivalence. To reiterate, for actual prostitutes who might disagree, there will be found another little crack for them to be pushed down. Heck, I’ve been witness to debates where a bloke who ostensibly has no stocks in the pro-prostitution conversation (ostensibly being the key word) mouthing off unabridged, and yet anyone who voices concerns has their tongues snipped at the root. Perhaps he once took photographs of his girlfriend in her underwear and then showed his mates down the pub. Perhaps that makes him a sex worker?
Ultimately, people are not ideas, and it is intensely problematic to try and utilize them as such. Such orchestrations of protest, sit dubiously and dangerously atop the thin floor of purported objectivity. We are so petrified to express, openly, ideology, notions of morality, codes of ethics and philosophical questions, in our neoliberal society, that we just pretend that they simply don’t exist. The pro prostitution protest has done a phenomenal PR job of selling itself as ideology free, as supported by Sex Workers, who don’t just have insight but Absolute Authority. Statistics that support them are in service of The Great Truth of absolute, full decriminalisation and any statistics that problematize their view are the flimsy nay sayings of troubled and troublesome women whose predominate interest in prostitution is really about defending their husbands from temptresses. Whilst also, curiously, hating men.
But the pro-prostitution argument is ideological. And moral. And subjective, and so too are the opinions of those who flog it. In the end, prostitution is not simply a private matter – it is a matter of commerce and social policy, and everyone to greater or lesser degrees has cause to take interest. Everyone has their say.
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The blog posting platform Medium has a useful reading statistics organisation. Unlike on WordPress, it differentiates between people who have clicked on your post, and those who have actually read it. I don’t know exactly how it works this out (perhaps by counting all who scroll to the end, but this seems far from foolproof) but I do know that a great number of the hyperventilating people who tweeted angrily at me about an old post on said platform, were in the category of ‘haven’t bothered’.
Not that it matters. Because the post was about married (or paired up) men who use prostitutes. And the angry-s were members of the ‘ain’t sex work pretty’ Twitterati; those vested interests, their drooling male patrons and purported libertarian feminists who have come to ride the wave of populism. They are usually the type of feminists that are nifty with a select bunch of stock phrases and sentiments and think dying their hair turquoise and having once kissed a girl, makes them maverick supremos.
The type of postpostpostpostmodern maverick-ism that is still more or less constructed around a bourgeois, conservative lifestyle and outlook, but occasionally visits strip clubs, has a predilection for burning incense and buys ‘bohemian looking’ floral print cushion covers from House of Fraser. Like, way to gut the system, doods.
Or if they are the ‘sex workers’ themselves – the usually white, Western, good at feigning middle classness ‘sex workers’ who like to make an awful big meal out of themselves -they are the types that have reduced the feminist, civil and gay rights movements into a grim performance of self glorification, tinged with predictable photographs of their tan slicked bodies in shiny underpants and their legs kicked out into the air like they have just fallen elegantly from a tall building.
Combined they are like bad hippies, because at least the hippies had Joni Mitchell, comfy Nordic sweaters and a vague sense of collective optimism. Oh, and they ‘discovered’ the avocado.
And yes I can be so mean and catty because I am sure I used to be this narcissistic and self interested when I was younger. I used to muddy every delicate fraction and indentation of the world into being Something to do With Me; I used to project out into the cosmos my own tediously thundering image of myself. And if what was occasionally reflected back at me wasn’t as painstakingly manufactured as the self-image I had created in my own head, I would get pretty narked. Its this kind of psychopathology that ultimately leads people without any discernible talent to go on reality TV, before getting terribly upset when it doesn’t work out for them. I feel for us all, really, in this way, because mortality does often look and feel terribly bleak and life so aimless, that it is understandable that we try to make something… anything… out of it.
And also because writing that some people, these days, have vain and post-modernity pickled brains, is at least no worse than being called a Bitch. Cunt. Prude. Pearl Clutcher. Moralist. Whatever that means. Oh I remember…its “Someone who has a different outlook to me.” Or it is Peter Hitchens. Or on this occasion, me.
I’m not entirely certain what response you are supposed to give to such epithets, other than “You know that never really hurt me much the first time I heard it. Certainly nowhere near as much as that article I wrote giving information to women about the behaviours and attitudes of married men who pay for sex, seemingly hurt you.”
The article didn’t actually say much at all about prostitutes themselves, other than to point out the fact that when a man rents a woman for sexual interaction, there is a pretty decent chance that she doesn’t really want to do it and what is more… he knows that. And doesn’t care. And possibly doesn’t much care if she is addicted to drugs, pimped or coerced either. He only knows that she needs the money. And even if a prostitute does loooovvvvve her ‘work’ she cannot reasonably deny that many don’t, and that that makes the paying for it from any punter, inherently morally problematic. Because he can never accurately know which are which, seeing as there is an economic prerogative for all women involved to mask their truths. But again, I put it to you, that he mostly doesn’t give a jam sandwich.
Some of these pro prostitution agitators will often admit that many women in prostitution don’t want to be there, but they won’t draw the lines of the logic together. They would NEVER denigrate punters as a group, especially seeing as many of the most vociferous and outspoken use the same names and platforms to be ‘activists’ as they do to plug their wares.
But ultimately, what they don’t get, is that the article about punters and their personal lives are not about them. My piece was about the other women (who comprise a larger statistic, incidentally) who are married or with male partners and are not, even in a hipster tangential fashion, chouette about being in a relationship with men who enjoy acting out sextube videos with women who can’t wait for it to be over so they can go spend their 100 bucks on drinking away their childhood dreams. Oh that was close to the muscle, wasn’t it? Well I’ve been there. And I’ve seen it.
Women who have found themselves married to a punter, will have lived through years of lies and condescension and may often have developed, subtly or overtly, a deflated self esteem. If they do begin to develop an inkling and drop the question, they will have been gas-lit, stonewalled and furtherly and more endemically lied to. In other cases they will find out – having had no small clue – by being hit by a proverbial block of bricks that will smash them into the conscious realization that their conception of their own world was based on a scurrilous fib.
And I don’t blame the women involved in prostitution at all, I just don’t think saying these things to other women has much, directly, to do with them. My ‘critics’ felt angry because they saw me paint a negative image of the world they seek to defend, but ultimately what women who are not in prostitution choose to think about it, in relationship to their own personal lives, is not their fucking business.
No, being a prostitute is not like being a racial or sexual minority. Those ‘sex worker’ critics of radical feminists are keen to assure everyone that they are not victims of the patriarchy and make a willful and happy choice. In which case it is richly convenient to suddenly become a victim because someone else have a negative view on the industry that you are openly choosing to engage in. Especially if the negative view has specifically to do with your patrons or profiteers. You are welcome to argue that no-one should criminalize your punters, but you don’t have a right to say that no-one can criticize your punters. That is the line to be drawn between activism and lobbyism.
Those lobbyists are quick to tell silly wives that monogamy is not feasible, that it would be preferable for women to butt out their husband’s sexual business, or even that their presumed expansive attitudes to sex are something that all women should adopt. But they have no right to impose their social values on to other women, or to dictate what conversations or knowledge exchanges that other women have, who don’t have such a romantic view of prostitution as they do.
But like Napolean the pig, they are intent on hacking to death Snowball – the architect of the initial rebellion – who simply wanted to de-stigmatise those women involved in prostitution, and create that heartfelt of all things, a better world. Now, like the Stalin pig, they have a new mode of acceptable being for women. A new female ideal, a new do as we say, a new we-know-better landscape. But its over your parochial, domestic head, loves. You who gave up your job at 30, raised three children and made dear hubby a nutritious meal each night. Or heated up one squelched inside of freezer bag. Not that it matters. Because seemingly, nor do you.
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When I was kid, I remember the general adult riposte to my regular protestation ‘Its not fair!’ being, ‘Well, life is not fair.’ Yes, the superficial vein was (dis)honest cynicism, but the adage has a more profound subtext. And it continues to be the most important political lesson I have learnt to date.
Life is nefariously, continuously, and variously always unfair. How it is unfair, in what capacity and to what degree, changes with the tide, the generations, in line with political, social, cultural and technological shifts. Sometimes unfairness is beaten like a bass drum. Social hierarchy is not only forgiven but taken as an absolute, a natural state of affairs. Sometimes such unfairness is more insidious. Women gain access to the vote, but not to full political representation. People of colour can no longer be kept hostage as slaves but suffer residual discrimination and social brutality. Working class people are no longer openly discussed as being intellectually and morally lesser, but blind eyes are made of the fact that social mobility is basically a myth, and meritocracy is a thin plaster atop a ripped off extremity. No real bandage against the chronic blood spewing of infrastructural, socio-economic inequality.
As they say, the price of liberation is eternal vigilance. A useful philosophical nugget, attributed to everyone from the Buddha, to Lincoln, to Jefferson, it lucks in to something rather fundamental about political progressivism. That if I or you or anyone wants life for humans (and variably other species) to be as fair as it can be now and proceeding, I recognise that I am always have to deal with some form of base level unfairness and I am always going to have to make some compromised decisions. Political pragmatism is dealing with the world as it is, not as I would like it to be. It is as though I am in a boat that leaks from multiple parts of the hull, as I mend one, so too another rips open. To stay afloat, I must be forever on my guard, forever mending, fixing… forever aware of the rain.
What has all this to do with Jeremy Corbyn?
As you probably know by now, Theresa May has gunned for a snap general election, in order to solidify her position and increase the Tory majority. Though Corbyn has welcomed the decision, you don’t have to be a political analyst to come to the conclusion that the timing is not exactly great. That we on the left could’ve done with somewhat more of it to shake off the rabid assault by the Murdoch presses on Corbyn’s leadership.
But no matter. We who support the party will have to do our best all the same. However, for me, the Jeremy Corbyn leadership has caused a small amount of difficulty for altogether different reasons. I was enthused by his election, excited by the growth of the movement that came with him and angered by the immediate backlash of hot potato throwing that occurred, painting him as any form of unreconstructed evil that the right wing presses could concoct. But, along came a quandary.
I am feminist who has vociferously opposed the full decriminalisation, industrialisation and neutralisation of prostitution. Not long after Corbyn’s ascent however, it was revealed that, to that political analysis he was at odds. My disagreement with his support for a laissez-faire economic policy surrounding prostitution is not, for me, a minority political sidewinder, but a fundamental core of my own personal and political life. Deciding to support him and the Labour Party nonetheless, has not been an easy decision for me to make. Bitter pills have been swallowed. But ultimately I have swallowed them because I still believe that a Corbyn led Labour Party would do more for those in prostitution, long term, than the Tories would in any term.
The growth of the acceptance of the commercialisation of usually poor women’s bodies, is inexorably linked to the conservative orchestrated neoliberal project which combines firstly, cuts to social security and an ever growing bifurcation of boss and worker wage slips, with a boisterous and delirious form of cultural individualism. The latter adequately preventing the sort of collectivisation needed to tackle the former. The desire to industrialise the sex industry is not simply an organic reaction to such a context, it is also an extension of the project. Corbyn, of course, understands and wishes to tackle this first issue, even is it is true that he hasn’t fully made the connection to the second. So half baked as it is, this still means he supersedes Theresa May in my estimation, who both supports austerity measures and has been opposed to progressive industry sex critical legislations.
Added, Corbyn himself is contextualised by the fact that the most open and vocal political party critics of the sex industry come from within the Labour Party’s ranks, with affiliated organisations such as TUC Women supporting the Nordic Model. Even if Corbyn himself supports industry decriminalisation, the idea that it would become party policy any time soon, seems hugely unlikely. Much more unlikely that the damn near probability that the Tories will continue on with lawn mower austerity cuts that disproportionately affect women and place working class women in particular within prostitution’s avaricious sights.
This is a compromised position. I, as a left wing feminist, would love to see a party on the ballot that fully and energetically stood against austerity cuts and understood the fact that the sex industry sits on an axis of sexed and classed based oppression, which would only be cemented or even furthered by industrialisation. But I don’t have that; I have a party that has been smashing up the welfare state and is looking to further its position as our absolute overlords on the right, and a party that seems to have a discordant and difficult relationship in its discourses between socialism and feminism on the left, with some of it admirable feminists such as Harriet Harman having previously supported welfare cuts on the one hand, and some its admirable socialists, such as Corbyn supporting, sex industry profiteering discrimination on the other.
But I have no choice but to veer left, with my nose held closed and my eyes stretched open. That willingness to compromise is needed, as is that eternal vigilance, to not allow any of the holes in our boats go unattended. It does not seem like a fair choice. But then as any good working class women will tell you, life is indeed, unfair. And it is that fact that gets me up each and every morning.
Let me confess. I am a bit of fatster these days. It feels like confessing to being a heroin addict or a dogger or a Trump supporter… but the funny thing is I genuinely don’t actually give much of a shitehorse about it. My anxieties and my feeling the need to ‘confess to fatness’ has a great deal more to do with the importance that other people place on ‘the fact’, rather than my own values or feelings. Like, having to ‘warn’ people about it before I meet them, or make jokes to relax their tensions when I eat a biscuit or watch television in my pajamas, or go swimming without my moo-moo.
Lets make no mistake, women’s cultural anxieties about being Fat relate hugely to our obsession with aggressively manipulating our bodies into suitable eye candy for masculinist voyeurs. Some people pretend it has to do with health, but I shall believe that when such people are as interested in insomnia, stress, work and financial pressures, air toxicity, povertous mental health provisions and the ramifications of abuse… as they are with the contents of women’s draws.
Being a woman makes you – or at least your exterior – public property. Being a fat woman, makes you public property that nobody wants or likes.
No, scratch that, many people love the existence of large women, because we provide a socially acceptable sounding board for other people’s anxieties or insecurities. A worthy object upon which they feel justified in dumping their pathological thirst for passive aggression. People actually believe that they have the inalienable right to stand around and deliberate on your structural and aesthetic ‘flaws’, as though you were the living, female manifestation of The House That Jack Built.
And even if you have not even ventured an open dialogue about your waist band, and the ‘convo’ has been thrust upon you like a soggy nappy, there is still a pressure to be gracious about people’s ‘concerns’ or criticisms, lest you seem defensive or persnickety. As though your being unhappy with someone’s dissection of your form is some insight in to your own desperate unhappiness with it, rather than your fed-up-ness with being taken to be a problematic speck on other people’s otherwise fruity landscape.
Even people ‘trying to be kind’ fall foul, because they still are participating in a discourse that promotes the idea that women’s bodies are some kind of problem if something ‘beautiful’ or ‘admirable’ cannot be found about them. Such as those people who tell me I have a pretty face or nice coloured eyes or a good ‘rack’.
To these people I say, Stop. It. You are being about as subtle as a set of novelty underpants… par exemple…
Or those people who ‘helpfully’ recommend diet books or Fat Clubs. To them, I say, flat no. They don’t work, they make people miserable, they are naughty, naughty fascistic bollocks by another name. Oh and they usually involve spending money and making someone else rich. If you want to spend your life weighted to the scales in a effort to stay slimmer than is common for a female over the age of 12 to be, that is your look out. Don’t drag me into it. Oh, and while we are at it, don’t recommend holdy in pants, corsets, growing my hair long to compensate or proffer the fallacy that Marilyn Monroe was a dress size 16. She wasn’t, OK? She was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen, with her fine comedic talent, and guess what, being commercially beautiful? it did not make her any less unhappy.
Also, if it is all the same with you, don’t peddle the idea that I was super brave to leave the house or to eat a muffin in public without a sign on my forehead saying ‘yes I am fat, but I am working on it!’. I don’t want to be dis-empowered or treated like shit for being fat, but I also don’t really want a medal for it either.
Do you know what I want? I want it to not be a thing. Or at the least not your thing. But it is right? My body, someone else’s thing. Like Katie Hopkins!
Indeed, when crud cultivators like Katie Hopkins make a big, fat issue out of big, fat people, you know why she does it? Many aspects of the human person — how we judge each other, how we make preferences or create ideals — are very subjective. Intelligence, creativity, decency, morality, even charm and beauty are very ephemeral and shifting. People like Hopkins hate subjectivity, nuance or personal preferences because they are authoritarian in their bent. They like things to be simplistically demarcated, and one of the primary reasons that is so, is because then they know how to ‘win’ at being an elite person. Or, as important, how to ascertain where someone else is placed in the social hierarchy. Who to kiss up to and who to piss down on.
Katie Hopkins may not know how to be (or how to be seen to be) intelligent, creative, decent, moral or even charming and beautiful — but she has worked out quite easily how to be thin. And in being thin – in a culture that prioritizes this as a commodifiable goal in women particularly – she wins.
Compounded… the sexism of men like Trump or MRAs arrives out of their ability to delineate on the worth of women, as it relates to their body size. Their power is in holding jurisdiction over this authoritarian, simplistic and rigid value in women. You can see who probably wins in all this.
So women, often those who are not especially overweight in any case(by medical standards) trundle on to the hamster wheel of weight loss, fornicate with false and extreme remedies to the mythological disease that is ‘them’.
Not caring, despite everything, about what I look like and my scaled ‘fuck-ability’ (who wants to be fucked anyway?) — genuinely not caring — is probably the most radical thing I can do, vis-à-vis my own womanhood. I don’t wish to have myself decided upon by the metrics of those philistine, misogynistic authoritarians, whose love for ripping asunder the bodies of women derives from the political and social power they feel it gives them.
And for those who mean well — but who are utterly rigged in to the zeitgeist of beauty fascism that this promotes (and thus seek to help me out of my corrosive ugliness) — for them I wear an invisible sign. It says ‘just because you’re giving a fuck about Fat, please don’t ask me to’. Because I have other things I prefer to do, and other things I prefer to think about, than the fatness of my own arse. Or anyone else’s for that matter.
You cannot take a sensual experience – in all its ready, unready, bluster and breach – and copy and paste it over and over again, ad infinitude. Oh people try, in long drawn out couplings they slog through the motions of repeated patterns of coitus. Patterns they have come to the conclusions of, not together, but individually, privately, working around each other like a pair of fishes swimming about a small pool. Their intimacy is based on the fact of their proximity in body, but their heads are half witted, and wandering elsewhere.
Sex is just another in a list of things to get done. In the evening, they flounce in from their grey labours, shoulder down in front of a wide screen, and hand grab their small screens, ready for a long old twiddle. It contains the endless entertainment needed for all the sitting down they are about to do. Sitting down with acid cheap wine, bought because of their acquaintance with the brand. The brand so often used to slice, in advert, between those buddycoms they are so fond of. Because you don’t need actual friends! You have Sit Friends! And industrial grade gut rot. You can ride right up Jacob’s Bunch of Shit Creek, and you don’t ever have to feel alone.
They, literally of absent mind, flick their fingers along the cracked rim of each glass and glaze over the screen(s). They could sit there for hours, couldn’t they? Watching back runs of that buddycom or that panel show – programs designed to instigate a feeling of familiarity that they don’t experience with each other. Or anyone else. Depictions of jovial and easy friendship and society repeated day in and out, week and month too, on some channel or media outpost, somewhere, always. These are our simulated fraternities. They half watch, half fiddle, always sit.
Ah but work calls them in the morro. This ‘living’ has to stop.
They trunk up the staircase to their bed (or across the room; its a studio, its all they could afford, we made houses an investment, remember?) and fall in to it and go about their fuck or rub or frottage routine, with all the build up of a tired corporate soldier stepping in to a lift. And they ‘do it’ to completion, wandering their fractured thinkings over whatever slice of pornography or predictable ‘bend over, fuck and cum’ fantasy they can muster, just to reach something like a peak. Enough to get them to sleep without a thwack over the head by an absconded boxer or a stick shoved up the back entrance by a sexual cynic, dressed in cheap PVC.
Oh how I go on. Sauced up? Your goings got? Boots filled? I can barely bang out a question mark, let alone an exclamation.
But I am asking a question, all the same. The question is, where is our sex?
The sanitary, work to just-but live, nature of our daily lives interspersed with an endless array of small-fry digital actions (flipping between screen and screen and screen and screen), lead us inexorably to experience being in entirely fragmented and, ultimately bland cognizance, a set of mind that does not have the scope for sensual exaltation.
No wonder we experience lust as wandering our eyes over pretty pictures of lentil pies. Not lust, we note the prettiness of the spectacle and sink notionally into “Why are my own pies not as thus?” It is the width, breadth and stretch of our sensuality.
Besides the dearth of sensuality, our cognizance, even, is not raw, let alone analytic. It is not an enthusiastic and curious engagement with our world, our lives, our bodies, and more importantly, with their world, their lives, their bodies. But for their pretty lentil pies. Yes we live in our heads, heads attached to our digital systems, heads not up to much. Bodies up to nothing. Yes we ‘do it’. And that is about it.
Back to another night, and our lovers, wedged into a sofa like a pair of stationary bikes tied to the roof of a stationary car. Back to those pretty pictures of lentil pies. All stacked up and herb trickled; cute nosh she can’t eat, she won’t make, she probably doesn’t even want. And while she zips through them – chastising herself for your own bland plates of re-hydrated pasta drenched in heavily sugared sauce – the fella sat next to her is scanning through synthetic depictions of oblate women, greased and buffed by front on lighting, until they score an uncanny resemblance to bratwursts. Not the rich oozing sausages of October Fests even! But the orange tinged pickled dogs of the American jar. Tinged, hard and just, just squidgy. Why do men insist upon gaining their sex from images of women designed to look like projections of their own, very much imagined, hard, throbbing cocks? Why do I even ask.
And he looks up from his small screen, only, to see some hard shouldered masculinite on his big screen. Blowing to smither some sucky, sucky mouthed lizard, with green scales and a pink gob, ripping up from the Deep. You will not be forgiven for that being lost on you. And yes, she is still looking at the pretty pictures of lentil pies.”We’ll make that one day…” she yawns. He isn’t listening. He’s mentally eating his own bratwurst and watching that wet mouthed lizard get blown to a thousand, sticky bits.
This is our sex. This is our foreplay. This is the run up. Are you not entertained?
Yes screens, digitization, provides us with hallucinated-form projections of our own fantasies, extracted from us and sold back to us, so we don’t even have to leave our seats.
Once, at a conference, a male academic rejoiced! in the very fact of the amount – the sheer amount (never has a cliched phrase been so appropriate) of what he called the availability of free pornography. An academic be hell! I said to him…I said to myself, awkward and tired, in my plastic chair, listening to endless papers of sociological ‘interest’ without analysis…you are not getting it for free! You are participating in a process by which, for every thing you consume you permit yourself to be advertised to! Advertised to along the lines of your own consumption, solidifying you, forever in the process of being catered at, usually shuffled – slightly, slightly – in the direction of your crudest of oils. And when your cock stops working because it is in a lethargic state of over reaction, your free pornography will helpfully point you in the direction of a pharmacological cocktail, that can get it going again. And then you can see to your inter-acted sex rituals with your tired lentil pie obsessing girlfriend, whilst you stew your frazzled dreamscape around images of bent over bratwursts going through the motions of fucking labour.
You haven’t bought pornography with your money. You’ve bought it with your consciousness, your dependency, your obsession, your willingness to consume. Porn. Social Media. Advertisement Television. Billboards in the street.
And the academic, who should be a wit capable of abstracting himself, to some degree, is just another consumer, sucking on his litre box pop of porn. And the activist, the feminist, who should, with thinking bayonet, sharp stick in to the flanks of these consumptive demons, clap their fins like fish breathed seals putting on a show. Suck, suck, suck, yup, yup, yup.
Warms your fragile heart, don’t it?
And why? Why are we so easily ridden?
Because the structure of payment – which is payment via our attachments and obsessions – render us in a constant state of processing repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated, messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, you get it? you get it? you get it? You do? Like.Like.Like.Like. Dislike!
All platforms work using boxes of messages or images or clips, which we have scanned over like crude algorithmicals, searching for the right ideas (diluted) to which our social, personal, political and sexual ‘identities’ have decided most appeal. Within these same same platforms that spit out an abundance of 140 character messages or clippings of grey eyed bratwursts withstanding vaginal tears, we persist in our search for the new, only in the details, the micro moments, the slight shifts in our digital mise-en-scene. Gazillions of these shifts wandering like spots of water amalgamated into a thundering along-ness. We capitulate because bantam novelties are easier and more saccharine to swallow than the risks of heavy change. We are willing to sell our everythings for little bursts of novelty.
There Is No Such Thing as Conversation. It Is an Illusion. There Are Intersecting Monologues, That Is All.
Is it no wonder such a dense political philosophy as feminism – which ought to be out to flay the monsters of ‘extract from us and sell back to us’ – can be so thoroughly eviscerated from the internals? Like a cadaver lost at sea – it is being chewed up by micro monsters and in the watery tumult, bloated beyond immediate recognition. Ready for the sharks to jettison it in to the watery nether. Oh it still bobs away, just. From our boats – those of us who are trying to escape – we point, we say, ‘There is Feminism! There it goes!” Its salted and thin skin you can just-but hear implore us to save ourselves. And all those other revolutionary political philosophies that seem to have been trammeled into students hive-minding language policing methods. The age of digital repetitions does not encourage us to think up or out, but in, in, in. Give vindication to ourselves, in our ever increasing shrinkage, in our pokey self obsessions.
The so-called sexual liberation of our time seemed to me then, and seems to me still, to be the intensification of the focus on self -pleasuring, and is fundamentally masturbatory, hence its reliance on external stimuli which work on sexual fantasy. The appeal of self-gratification as the key to self-realization was and is its adaptability to marketing.
Germaine Greer, The Mad Woman’s Underclothes
Sensuality and critical engagement share a need for scope, patience, dedication (as opposed to obsession) in our choices about how we live as individuals (as much as we can) and as a society. Porn and social media require no such long term commitment to feeling and thinking good. Just as porn can take a tired, angst ridden person and flip them, like a switch, straight to orgasm, so too can social media ignite our political and personal danders in a beat. Just as you can, in a Pavlovian fashion, become erect (whatever your genitals) – without any previous seduction or participation – when gawking at video of a just eighteen year old being ripped to shreds by – not one – but several cocks of gargantuan proportions, so too can your frisson be got by the news of a celebrity of some distinction (or otherwise) saying something, like, the wrong words. Developing hunger and working towards the process of being filled, is not the same as salivating the minute someone or something rings a bell.
It really should not come as any surprise that pornography and social media are our most jealously guarded of enterprises. And, particularly in the case of pornography, we talk about it as though it has ever been thus. Just as a child guarding their packet of the same same sweets, tinged with chemicals to give them saucily different colours, we guard the tedious repetitions of our sexual and thinking lives. Because what good is ecstasy and eureka, when you could have easy?
If you would like to help Rae Story in her penwomanship, you can donate at this link here.
Peggy Lee’s I’m a Woman was playing on the stereo. In neurotically declarative tones, she busted out about her supernatural powers as a woman. Starching shirts, cooking grits, kissing men and giving them the shivering fits…
And she – the woman- for reasons now that cannot be solely attributed to red wine and whisky, took the last days of her young body and danced, naked, awkwardly, like a Fantasia broom, being lifted and shifted by something else.
A man sat with a double fistful of himself and watched her like a live news broadcast. Horrified, enthralled. Watched her fight like a bruiser against a landscape of internet pornography so dense, so prolific, so opportune, that furling through it was like falling, for years, through a rain-forest canopy. How impotent of her to even try! “Look over here! Look over here!” With a waist too wide and breasts sinking quickly like finger tips shifting into sand. But then again, there is no waist too small or set of breasts too perky for the male voyeur…
Though I do worry in heterosexual relationships about ‘nudes’ replacing porn, and how women who do not want their partners to watch porn feel pressured to send nude photographs of themselves, and how we as anti-porn feminists should feel about that.
How would she explain her complicity in being treated like a hyper sexed mule-cum-street performer? But then, how can we talk, think or deliberate on pornography at all when we, former or current, girlfriends, wives, lovers (there is a word that requires some explanation) are either to be taken as objects that have everything to do with pornography, or nothing to do with it at all? And a masculinist assumption that the extent to which the health or hindrance of porn, as it relates to us mere women, is theirs to delineate?
We are either facets of the male, sexual playscape, within which we must polish ourselves ruggedly and thoroughly – disavowing any idea of our own pleasure or comfort – so that we fit it. Or indeed we are utterly distinct from it – and thus rendered asexual. These are our choices.
He said black women were the best (to watch in porn) because they’re lower than low and disgusting and he’d never shag one, they are disgusting.
The propaganda sold to us, in the latter case, is that we are not bendy bitches fit for a quick jizz, but partners in true love. That our beloveds turn off their steamy screens plastered with endless gigs of sexual theatre – so carivelesque as to be, at best, a sick joke – and become Mr Darcys. Citizens of open, equitable sexual exchange.
And indeed almost all men (because almost all men use internet pornography) tell us that they are capable of this; even that it is an innate part of their being. To treat or enjoy the busting of ‘lesser’ women as fucking roughage, but to turn to their lady mates with respect and admiration. It is, I am afraid, a false deal, that too many women fall for.
I remember having intercourse and he started saying, “you like it rough, don’t you….huh?” and he grabbed my hair. I looked at him incredulously. No, please no. He let go of my hair, and continued saying, “you’re a woman you like to be called bitch.You are a slut” and he’s having intercourse. And, my heart is dying.
One boyfriend of mine, when I cried at feeling ugly compared to his internet playmates – webcam girls, porn stars – said, “It is not that you are not good enough to be them, but you are too good to be them!” Of course, what he meant in the end, was that I did not fit the description of a perfectly toned body, matched with an obsessive interest in self manicuring, so I had to be found another use. Domesticity.
How do we get tricked in to this?
I knew he looked at porn and he spent a lot of time at the start of our relationship recounting previous sexual exploits to me and pointing out other women he fancied. I hated it but the general advice to women in this situation is its your low self esteem that is the problem.
Recently I spent some time talking with women about their experiences with porn addicted men. Of course, the notion of porn addiction itself is troubling, because it presumes to disentangle men who have a negative relationship with internet pornography away from those who have a neutral, or even positive one. A differentiation which cannot be cleanly made.
One of the salient things I encountered with the women I spoke to, was the comparable trajectory of their narratives; the dynamic of their relationships. The women, of different ages from different places, began their relationships by thrusting themselves full hearted into the fantasies of their boyfriends or husbands, acting out actions adopted from video pornography; actions designed to have a visual, not a sensual effect. Or, indeed, began self alteration after noticing the stark differences between their own bodies and physicality, with the women in porn films.
It made me think about how he must look at and talk about women when he was with his mates or not with me. What he was thinking when he was out with me and looking at other women which he did a lot. Pathetically I tried to change myself to try to be more like he seemed to want. He had lots of pictures of girls with tattoos so I got more tattoos. Against all my principles I shaved my pubes off. He told me that ” red is the horniest hair colour” so I briefly died my hair red which I hated and he didn’t even seem to notice. I did hold back from getting piercings which he was always trying to persuade me to get done . He had lots of pics of girls with piercings and an ex of his who had been 18 he’d been 40 had pierced nipples and labia which he loved. I said I’m me stop trying to turn me into her. He just didn’t get it. My self esteem about my looks never very good anyway was now fucked. No matter what I did I never felt good enough, attractive enough, sexy enough to compete with a deluge of porn and tales of stunning young exes.
I’ve suffered with bloody anorexia for years, he has sparked many anorexic episodes by making me feel that I can’t match up.
Of course, men often wish to avoid being seen as unkind – despite their attitudes – and attempt to soothe such anxieties. If for no other reason than to enable a maintenance of their cake’and’eat it; their sugar cave of porn and prostitution and their comforting usage of a female, domestic house pet. Whose purpose is to keep them from their own worst excesses.
But the lines are never clearly drawn; the sex act nonetheless becomes a site of inadequacy, dissatisfaction and eventual hostility. Despite his attempt to make you his mother he can forever cuddle and cleave to, as though he were still a boy, and his porn’gal his teenage kicks, your unwillingness to take ass-to-mouth, or swallow his cum, lead him to resent you all the same. Perhaps his haranguing you to play sexy circus monkey is all a part of his great swizz; his long term plan to forgive himself when he shuts you out of his attractions entirely, when he begins making lusty assaults on his work colleagues or indeed, shows up, fist full of dollars, at the brothel door.
Indeed women’s intelligence lead them to an ineluctable logic: if their male partners compare their unwillingness to act out the performances they enjoy consuming in porn films, then why should we imagine they are blind to the bodies they consume in porn films? Or indeed, the very fact that sexuality becomes itself a modus for consuming bodies in its entirety. And that you, therefore, become another such body, but one that has the raw cheek to be imperfect, questioning. Female, thus inherently problematic, but with the added puke of being a particularly underwhelming specimen. There is no cake and eat it in the end; there is no perfect whore or perfect wife.
Over 8000 pics of naked woman. He’d also set up a tumblr page to share these pics with others. I sat on it for a couple of days then asked him about it. The best I ever got from him was ” I got a bit carried away . ” I asked him to stop and he said he would and told me to delete the pictures. Oh course I deleted them. Then restored them. Then sat there for hours watching them on slideshow torturing myself trying to see what he wanted which basically appeared to be not me. I’m 48 for fucks sake.
So we give up the ghost. The drunken dances, the bad porn moves, the overpriced lace tat. Instead of traipsing through male sexual fantasy, only to be found wanting – as though we are all ladies of heft trying to keep up in a marathon wherein the male referees keep shifting the finishing line further away – we cave in. We asexualize. We submit to domesticity and shoulder shruggery.
When I hear men say their wives have just ‘given up’ on sex, as though it were an inevitable outcome of being female, I wonder how many times his eyes have flickered over a screen at an 18 year old more-or-less girl being gangbanged, and how many times she has stared at her body in the mirror, and condemned herself. I wonder how many times she has tried to model some lacy confection only to have him think – and bare it on his eyes – “If only she were such and such a porn star, that trashy piece of cheap, factory lace would have been worth an outing.” How many times she has agonized over bowls of dressing-less salad only to have the scales sit stubbornly against her, or even if she does manage to starve herself back in the direction of his sexual affections, her skin stays too loose, her face too old, her pubis, even her vulva remains untrimmed.
Indeed, if one is to remain sexually active, one is encumbered with the images of women – fat, old, cheap poor – being utilized as some nasty joke in a sexualised freak show. Better to just zip up your own sexuality and put it to the back of the wardrobe, with the jeans that don’t fit you anymore, and the romantic, sexual aspirations you used to have, that now seem foolhardy and earnest. Or, of course, there is escape. If it can be mustered.
I’ve been celibate ever since Ralph. I married myself. I am monogamous with myself, I’m always available. And, I have done self-pleasuring, a lot of masturbation.
Men will never adopt the mea culpa position, they will never let you know that they have not love for you (and certainly not respect as equals) but an ideal use for you as extensions of, or alternatives to, their sexual diet.
I feel like young feminists are often gaslit by their boyfriends into watching porn so they can be ‘the cool girl.’
Hence the insistence on vagueness, obfuscation. Less around the actions they wish you to imitate, or their general unhappiness with their sexual ‘lot’, but on how those feelings relate to you, to us, as women. The dogged insistence that their ritualised objectifications and comparisons do not extend to you, or do not affect them.
Indeed, it is how some women are able to convince themselves that this bleak, sexual topography is OK, because either they have been convinced, or are convincing themselves, they are winning in it. If their sexual lives and porn lives are blurred, then they are as sexy or satiating as any other female operative within that world. Or if porn is kept distinct, and they and their husbands tacitly accept a condition of asexuality, or worse, sexual perfunctoriness, then they have triumphed by being a higher variety of woman. Perhaps not worthy of the attentions of his cock, but at least his heart.
Porn has told me I am wrong and it is right. It’s drained all the desire out of me and replaced it with pure anger.
How sharp and shoddy would it be to learn that in fact, you have neither. That no amount of dancing naked or turning your head in your prudish gown will elevate you to his status, as he imagines it, whether he wishes to own to it or not. He is making the rules, the game is dependent upon your inhumanity, and therefore, it is one that you cannot win.
If you would like to help Rae Story in her penwomanship, you can donate at this link here.
In Arles, in the late 19th century, a 37 year old artiste tragique, for one reason or another, decided to slice off his own ear (apparently now it is the whole ear, and not simply the lobe) and took it to a House of Tolerance to give to a woman, named Rachel. Or Gaby. Who may have been a prostitute, or a brothel cleaner, we don’t know for sure.
The story poses questions for many. But is the most important question, what is the nature of her lost identity (who was she? where was she from? what was she like and so on), or is it, why it is that Van Gogh felt the need to conduct such an act, post self violence, irrespective of it?
And also, why would it be that because he was a visionary artist of posthumous acclaim, that his bizarre reasoning should be any more obscure or interesting or developed than any other male who, in derangement and mental folly, imparted an aggression or disturbance upon a woman? Yes the mutilation was of himself, but she was to be the recipient of it, and in the long winded cultural imagination, the cause. Do we imagine the artist to be some form of modernist disciple of God – being beyond normal human considerations – or some salient, clear and hyper-truthful voice for men everywhere?
Either way, this man was a great artist, no doubt. But he was also someone who believed that women were utilities – not possible members of his artistic brethren – and his sexuality seemed to consist of ‘screwing’ prostitutes as perfunctorily as one would drink coffee or take a crap. The only relationships he had, seemed to be temporary engagements with destitute women, such as the prostitute Sien (who later committed suicide) who was pregnant when he mused her in one of his lesser known works, Sorrow.
He said of her: “I knew from the outset that her character is a ruined character, but I had hopes of her finding her feet and now, precisely when I don’t see her any more and think about the things I saw in her, I increasingly come to realize that she was already too far gone to find her feet.”
Back to the torn ear.
Why should we romanticise it all so, if it is also true that we would otherwise – to a man of no acclaim- opt instead to post his face in a mugshot, put him into social care and never mention the whole sorry incident again? The story of the woman who would have been handed his bloodied appendage would have been forgotten to most but her, irrespective. As is the case the world over. It never obtains a more rounded analysis, especially if she is nothing but a lowly worker, a floor scrubber confined to her own, grey, muted life in history; or a prostitute given some vague, oil painted variance. Smudged face, wanton grin, mucky skirts. Tired, tired, tired.
Indeed, even in such notable tales, she is mostly forgotten, apart from as a stock figure; the ‘woman’ in the story of a Man further buoyed by social or artistic currency, not unlike the brutalised victim of the footballer, who no longer has the ability to wear her own name. Not that, really, she ever did. Rachel, Gaby… does it matter?
To my mind, the depiction of the thwarted artist, who cannot seem to love, as did Van Gogh, or who could ‘love’ too readily, aggressively and transiently, as Gauguin, has long since lost its romance. The romance that has been rhapsodized for many years within my own mind, perhaps due to the lulling and quixotic notion of a cafés Paris (“always in the rain!”) or the casual sensuality of a colourful, soil rich and wine soaked Provence.
Man has always been given historical prominence; he has paintings of himself, his books, his written histories, his dialect and moral philosophies. But women are often only thick splodges on the canvas, detailing the ‘atmosphere’ in the room. Work horses, beasts of burden and of course, fuck holes, whose number and availability are used as signifiers of the Man’s, the artist’s, the bohemian’s, the hippy’s rejection of conservative, old male ‘values’. It is notable then, that feminists who wish to reject being only the paint blot or the fuck hole in the story should be aligned with conservatism (prude!puritan!) when we are no more properly represented in their moral stories either.
But one great difference between male conservatives and male artists, is that the latter often (choose) to believe that nothing exists between them and prostitutes (ergo women). They are socially tantamount. Said by Charles Baudelaire, “What is art? Prostitution.”
The daily grind of soused, hairy, ugly, old men finding temporary residence for their cocks in your body is so like the daily grind of an artist, musing over paint, words, music. What a trial! And more so, it is the consumptive exercise that produces nothing and that is to be done again and again without creation, or artifact to be left in its wake. And when a prostitute tries to make her life into an art – as does the male who hasn’t had her trials – her stories are often tawdry and forgettable and told too many times in much the same fashion, as her position remains inevitable. She is a prostitute foremost (and only), he an artist foremost and a ‘lover’ second. She is confined to his sexuality, whether she tells the story or not, and if he has the luxury and freedom to tell his truth in honesty – as he sees it- then he may as well.
Indeed the imaginative possibilities of contemporary prostitution in the culture are inherently uninspiring. Today, we have blogs and books in innumerable amounts, of prostitutes pilfering themselves, their pages decorated with digital imagery of their bodies in their best position and their eyes come hither. But as each day passes, their selves move further and further away from these flat depictions, if they ever really said or demonstrated anything real or perceptive in the first place.
Still here, He, the artist, trumps her with his freedoms, with Lautrec’s paintings of prostitutes overcome by exhaustion being more truthful to the fact of a La Belle Époque’s, Parisian prostitute’s life ( incidentally, one lived under a legalised brothel system) than any fruity tales of courtesans on high.
Even amidst the purported utopia of Signac’s In the Time of Harmony, you will notice men, mostly, engage in leisure, reading, painting, playing games, swimming and one man picking a single fruit for himself. On the other hand, there is a woman feeding a child, others attending to laundry and one woman labouring to pick for fruit for others. Oh, and one being romanced with a flower. There is an honesty here too, to the male ‘anarchist’s’ mind; whatever the social circumstances, women are background labourers, at best well admired dogs. The revolution is not for us, ladies. The best we can come up with is allowing a further segregation of women into prostitution via a return to the ‘halcyon days’ of state controlled brothels. And we will call it beauty, sexuality, progress. But of course not art.
Or indeed these tales of happy hookers in pink paperbacks, are not as truthful, ultimately, as of Gauguin’s own depictions of his idea of women, or indeed, his ideal. His unfettered perspective. In Spirit of the Dead Watching, he imagined Tehamana, to be othered, sexualised, vulnerable and afraid. All ready exoticism. Just as he liked it?
The art is an effort to give it grace, whereas the punter’s forums of today express their desire for selfish gratification and violence openly and without flair. It would be preferable and useful to hear their visceral, inartistic tales and compare them to the glamourised self imagery of the prostitutes or their pimps, but we seem too jaded to make such comparisons. Or indeed, we don’t like the conclusions.
Today, any attempts at self depiction by prostitutes will be inherently gagged by the nature of the consumptive, gendered transaction. No one wants a sorry, even nuanced tale, not least the punters themselves . No-one wants prostitutes to depict themselves in context, or with reflection. No-one wants them to be wicked other than in the rather cheesecake play-game wickedness that manifests itself in light up, devil horns or holy underpants. No-one wants them to be aggressively intelligent, at most ‘bright’. And they only are permitted to be disagreeable to other women, and even then, they must watch their step lest they seem hopelessly and greenly obsessed.
Yes the artist, if successful, gets paid, but it is understood that if they are to be good at it, their own artistic, spiritual or intellectual concerns are foremost. They gain their audience because of this very lofty individualism. The one subsisting on prostitution is always muzzled and thus, constrained to speak kindly of it, for as long as she is dependent. Only women outside of prostitution or those who have exited can operate with theoretical freedom, but the former dare not speak, and the latter often preference to leave the whole, sorry mess behind them. And if they do, as art and thought is still gunned through a masculinist conceptualising, their dangerousness as social commentators must be immunised by relegating them to the sentimental, foolish, parochial and petty minded.
Is it not interesting then, that the men whose lives have been considered the most free, should have been so interested in the women’s lives who were the least?
Even in lowlife Charles Bukowski’s tales of skid row, it is understood that the women and prostitutes he encountered could never have his fame, as the bruising they suffered from a life of hardship amounted to a near annihilation. It was not a barrier for him, his drinking, his coarseness, his wounded features.
We did have Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin and later Corinne Day (not prostitutes but women with addictions in this latter case) artists who used photography to slice into the vagaries of poor women’s (and other disenfranchised people’s) narcotic, urban lives. But we couldn’t stand the hard truth of these women’s perspectives for too long. The internet came along and now women are either digitalised goddesses, or utterly foxed beyond humanity by sexualised violence, pushed for the enjoyment of a global male community, increasingly gagging and vampirically thirsty.
As Greer said at the infamous Town Bloody Hall debate,
“And so I turned later to the function of women vis-à-vis art as we know it, and I found that it fell into two parts, that we were either low sloppy creatures or menials or we were goddesses. Or worst of all we were meant to be both, which meant that we broke our hearts trying to keep our aprons clean.”
Now many women, in the West, have money and a room of their own, and yet so much of our culture is dependent on an impossible balance of physical perfection and sexual and social willingness or ‘hedonism’. Perhaps that is why Kate Moss transcended the public vitriol after her cocaine taking, to remain a make-up model, and the mockery of Amy Winehouse was played out sadistically and unrelentingly over the track of her final years. Moss managed to maintain the sheen of her youth. Winehouse, did not.
And where our expressions do exist, in pop music predominately, whatever maverick ‘fuck yous’ or ‘sock its to the patriarchy’ we express, must be carefully orchestrated and, ultimately, clean. You will notice that none of the most vocal proponents of the sex industry as -‘a great, fat, fabulous, feminist affair’ – rarely post pictures to their Twitter pages or their blogs of them being fucked, ridden, driven, and rendered in a fog and sweat of hard limbs and male excretions. No it is coquettish pictures in lace, or sharp shoulder business suits giving the camera what for. They curse ‘respectable’ society and yet they play its game.
There is no art in any of this, no risk. (Some) prostitutes have found their feet in politics as they have been able to adopt a vernacular that was helpfully created for them in previous times by other rights movements. But they cannot reproduce their histories in art because to do so would mean to give up the ghosts of their empowerment rhetoric. When ‘sex work’ art does occur it is often too attached to the ‘sex work’ politics or too performative to be of note. Occasionally it will be more a form of lazy social experiment such as the ‘life drawing classes’ wherein prostitutes performed for charcoal bearing voyeurs. But it is hardly a re-imagination of the prostitute as the muse for the prurient. That paradigm seems inescapable.
And if prostitutes really are a discernible category, as an ethnicity or sexuality, one would imagine someone, somewhere would seek to deal with this deficit? Surely every demographic or vaguely coherent mass of peoples needs a cultural output, not simply a commercial or political one? But they cannot, because ultimately a prostitute is more often than not a woman made unfortunate by the axis between socio-cultural or socio-economic inequality and her former brutalisations… but key, and unlike others in similar situations…her job it is to appeal to men’s need to fortify their power and fulfill their, often sadistic gratifications, in her every public expression whilst she is still in their service. Even the downtrodden cleaner, or overworked midwife, underpaid waitress, can publicly express their stress and distaste, as no-one expects them to always love their work.
And in that fundamental dishonesty, there can be no art.