“The Green Party supports full decriminalisation of the sex
industry. Respected research by Amnesty International and the UN has shown that it is the safest legal model for sex workers.”
Terribly poor to not recognise the huge criticisms of Amnesty’s decision, including the entry-ism involved and the rejected research and Pimp involvement. Greens are displaying themselves to not be principled at all, but political faddists, more concerned with maintaining the vote of a small band of University based ‘Gender Equality’ soldiers. In any case, hugely likely to be decimated in the next election, and to return to former obscurity. Sad really, because their tendency to try and spread themselves thin on ‘any an all topic’ means their good record on the Environment has gotten lost in the mad mix.
“Decriminalise the sale and purchase of sex, and the management of sex work – reducing harm, defending sex workers’ human rights, and focusing police time and resources on those groomed, forced, or trafficked into the sex industry. We would provide additional support for those wishing to leave sex work.”
At least they bother to mention that ‘management’ is a factor in full industry decriminalisation, (not that it is THE factor, mind you). They don’t mention what kind of ‘additional support’ they’d provide for those who want to leave (who can be bothered?!) or tell us why they think that anyone would want to leave an industry they believe should be legitimized and industrialized. Something tells me this part of the pledge would soon get lost down the back of the sofa….but again, they seem to be falling not rising in the polls as the have been unable to establish a narrative of difference outside of Brexit, which most people seem to have decided to now ‘just get on with’, so, meh, whatever…
Nothing on the subject (but does have stuff on women’s refuges and instating a VAW commissioner.) Interesting. Preferable of course to the above two, as the playing field is left open. One imagines due to the fact that there is dissent on this topic within the Labour Party itself, including in the Unions (with TUC Women voting for the Nordic Model recently). Could also just be because their manifesto has focused mostly on big issues as opposed niche ones, but somehow feels like a willful omission, especially given this is John McDonnell’s hobby horse. The ECP must be spitting feathers, thinking this one was a shoo-in.
Can’t seem to find anything, and seems generally quite sparse on women more generally. Disappointing given the recent vote that showed major support for the Nordic Model. But perhaps I’m missing it, if anyone knows more, do let me know.
Obviously the most thorough examination of women’s issues of the lot, and rightly calls for the Nordic Model on prostitution. Slight bone to pick; their motivation, they say, is not to win seats so much as put pressure on the major parties to adopt their policies, which is a a good way of looking at things given the slim chance of WEP ever winning a seat in the near future. But some of their actions, such as trying to pin their leader Sophie Walker into the Shipley constituency and asking the Labour candidate to stand down, despite the fact that she is an unknown quantity in that region… compared to the Labour candidate who came second against the MRA Tory MP Phillip Davies, and is likely to have a wider appeal. Walker said she felt Labour believed they have ‘a monopoly on virtue’, but it rather seems more likely that people are just very anxious to try and unseat Tories. This all tinged a little of political, personal opportunism and rather let them down.
Nothing. To be fair to them it seems a party mostly concerned with more general Welsh issues and representation (but is good on the Environment and EU stuff) but a little sparse compared to the other manifestos in other places.
Nothing to see here.
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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.
Instead of whacking Stucky across the chops for his boner-boy harassment of Vivian, here Edward tells him that he is quite welcome to have a crack. Vivian’s body is a democratic locality for men with money, and like all commodities, one that can be ritualistically exchanged. That is the nature of prostitution.
But Disney didn’t want you to see that.
Garry Marshall’s Pretty Woman (1990), was originally based on a script by J.F.Lawton and given the working title, 3000. However, having been bought by that purveyor of all things unholy, Disney, the tone of the original script shifted dramatically. Before the effervescent ingénue could be (re)constructed by Julia Roberts, Vivian Ward was a troubled crack addict. Before Richard Gere could play the handsome and sophisticated Edward who just ‘happens’ upon the prostitute, and becomes beside himself with her, he is man who regularly buys the attentions of prostitutes, and pointedly seeks her out. And rather than saving each other, instead Edward rejects Vivian’s refusal of the money paid for her time and body (borne, presumably, of her foolhardy attachment to him) drags her out of his car and tells her to bugger off and get a’hold of herself. Dejected, she uses the $3000 to take her friend, Kit de Luca, on a bus to Disneyland.
Because just as the punter buys the sexual fantasy, so too Vivian must by the fairy tale.
Yes, optioned to be performed by the ‘edgier’ acting double Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeifer, the narrative was softened into a bubble gum bit of romancing for adolescent girls the world over. Key to this transition, was indeed the casting of Roberts – significantly younger than Gere – whose almost bottled, clean linen loveliness mitigates any realistic prickliness that remains in the film. Unlike all the street walkers I’ve ever met, she looks impossibly confident, in good health and of course, free from drugs. Because Disney’s heroine could sell sex for a living, but heaven forbid she ever got intoxicated in order to cope with that reality!
And we never see her actually ‘trick’, taking it as a given that Edward is not really a trick in the ordinary sense. No, we can casually forget prostitution was ever her material reality and emotionally fix on the idea of this impossibly beautiful Hollywood star, drenched in whore’s garb, and playing at prostitution as though it were a form of street theatre. Pretty Woman is a film created in order to appease the Anne Summers style reveries of the relatively privileged, who imagine (and want to consume) prostitution as a set of outfits and paraphernalias , not as an activity as done to, usually, poor or otherwise disenfranchised people.
She is not like other prostitutes, no, she has some shinning inner aura that bleeds through the noir streets of night time LA, with its pimps and its clubs and its dead hookers in dustbins. Like Lady and the Tramp, she is just too beautiful to be in that kennel. Unlike her earthy, drug addicted friend, Kit – who is the tinge of pessimism that exists on the periphery – she is in position of the right kind of feminine charm to give her the currency to escape that nihilistic, Bukowskian landscape. Towards the end, the idea is floated, that Kit might become a beautician. A more fitting aspiration for the lesser whore, in the unlikely event that she ever get off drugs long enough to do it. And should the spectator ever really care.
Of course, there is a subtle self reflexivity in Pretty Woman. An awareness that Hollywood is the paragonic Fatherland of fiction over fact, that marbles together the predominance of grimed poverty, with intermittent speckles of gold licked fortune. It is in the city’s very topography, from the dilapidations of Downtown to the pretty penny streets of Beverly Hills. It defines its cultural texture; a ground zero for a contemporary value system that would sooner remake unedifying, truthful tales into out of reach fantasias. To settle our necessary anxieties about the world. Indeed, the feminism of today has come rooted out of this very bulb, with many wishing to re-orchestrate in their minds, films like Pretty Woman to become Feminist staples. Tales of empowerment and chutzpah. As Edward and Vivian save each other atop the staircase, that leads up to her grotty pad, a local man crosses the street and declares, “Everybody who comes to Hollywood got’a dream, Wass your dream? Wass your dream?”
And with it seemingly so out of reach, it is easier to pretend we are already living it.
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How important are punters in informing the prostitution culture and ergo, the culture at large? Why are they so often silent in populist realms or debates? Bar of course, the occasional cycloptic fella with some ostensible measure of practised eccentricity – such as the guy who graced Rupert Everett’s flimsy shocku ‘Love for Sale’ – to tell of his shrugged belief that a prostitute shouldn’t enjoy the sex, if she is getting paid for it. Or George Mccoy, the man who tramps around brothels in search of freebies, in exchange for a section in his weather worn ‘guide books’. Lazy grey face, slicked with sleaze and topped off, like a rotten cherry, with a flat cap. These men are so beyond social expectations that they have nothing to lose by being openly vile. They may even imagine themselves to be mavericks. Everett certainly does.
But silent of course, does not mean inactive. Punters, or Johns, are the sex industry’s largest component, its most thriving eco-culture, and in this respect most appropriately to be likened to pond life. Their punters’ forums – spilling what would embarrass even the most prolific of back room bar banterers and locker room fabulists – are their breeding ground, where they learn how to be good at renting women.
You’ll notice, if you have the requisite stomach to trawl through their darkened corridors, dripping, as it seems to me, with the viscous goo of thousands of women forensically dissected, that they are seldom frequented by happy, sexy couples, or vibrant young women who enjoy renting vagina… just as much as the next middle aged, married, middle class man. Just another one of those fanciful Mills and Boon fantasies that keeps many a liberal ‘sex work supporter’ going until dinner.
Other than the odd woman, long entrenched in the prostitutional game and daily asking herself the questions, how low should I stoop? How many of these digital feet should I kiss to cream off enough business to stay afloat? Or: how long have I been so enmeshed in this wacky and unedifying imbroglio that I cannot see myself as anything other than in relation to it? I am what the punters want, I am what they don’t want… what else am I?
I can’t be a kind feminist and ignore these posturings so as to avoid infantilising or drawing attention to the rituals of humiliation that are required of prostitutes who use punter forums as a form of advertising, because it is an archetypal aspect of the industry. A salient example of what the punters want; slavish servitude. Often entailing ‘calling out’ other prostitutes for being ‘bad’ at service, and back patting the punters during their relentless and petulant tantrums, wailing that they didn’t get what they thought they deserved. The women that are not good enough for these man children are as equally enthusiastically torn to smither by their fellow ladies; “Look how on board I am fellas!”
Is it just for the money, or is it also the yucks? We are taught to see our value in terms of how men see us, and in relation to other women. Good old prostitution; providing a breeding ground for our most neurotic of gendered complaints.
Don’t be fooled by those who say at least prostitutes don’t barter with their minds, it is one of the reasons, I believe, they are often so convinced of the definite wrongness of the Nordic Model. Why, the dogmatic belief that to criminalise punters is to criminalise them. Punters, collectively, are their husbands, their patriarchs, their patrons. To them they owe not only an hours access to their internals, but their political and social loyalty.
But this commitment? It is not reciprocated.
Where is the punter movement? Why does it not speak its name? Why does it one not arise and task itself with the battle against the Nordic Model (now increasingly gaining European ground)? Punter forums are extremely popular. The two most utilized in the UK average collectively over a million and half views per month, on average. One would think even some small subsection of these febrile webrats would develop a political identity.
But no. Even when the Nordic Model has been suggested or implemented, punters have not rallied around each other and defended, even under internet Avatar, in any kind of collective, their right to rent women. In France there was small murmur from so called ‘male intellectuals’ who penned their names to the letter entitled Keep Your Hands Off Our Whores. But the rule was proven by the exception.
Of course, it wasn’t quite the message the ‘sex workers’ movement’ had in mind; Selma James, former agitator for the so-called English Collective of Prostitutes* wrote an op-ed for The Guardian, at once trying to criticise the Nordic Model itself, as well as this small, unusual display of punter will. She couldn’t quite fandango it. Writing, “The men, in the usual self-referential terms, defend their own rights as clients, not women’s rights as workers. Nevertheless it’s about time men admitted to being clients. But next time they should first check with the workers they are claiming to support, what they are proposing to say.” Silly Selma, thinking punters give a hoot about the velvet pockets of the poor women they seek to plough. Thinking they cloven cries represented the slightest concern for the so called ‘sex worker’ cause. As one punter notes, gracefully, on a popular forum,
“(The Nordic Model) is perverse. And interesting that it’s mainly women who promote this idea. More evidence that the female brain doesn’t have much logic about it. Nor do they have much idea about the opposite gender – no surprise there.If paid sex wasn’t available, then there wouldn’t be any consumers. So the logical thing is to go for the source of availability. Especially because that is where the money is being made i.e. incentive. So why criminalise the consumers and not the suppliers?”
Or another, concerned about the calamitous workings of the (non)prostituted:
“Another unwelcome consequence of this legislation, if it is introduced, is that punters will suddenly become sitting ducks for blackmail. Of course, they are potentially vulnerable now – greedy prostitute discovers where punter lives and that he is married, and threatens disclosure to the wife. In practice this is pretty unlikely. Why would a prostitute want to kill the goose that is laying golden eggs? I suppose high profile celebrities are marginally more vulnerable to blackmail now, if they use prostitutes. But if this Nordic model is introduced where to punt is to break the law, many a prostitute and/or her pimp will be unable to resist the temptation to threaten disclosure to the police unless money is handed over. The consequences of being turned over to the law could be horrendous. If found guilty, a substantial fine, no doubt or even prison. The marriage destroyed. Possible loss of job. Many a punter, faced with this situation, will pay up rather than face the consequences of exposure.”
Poor punter. Indeed men’s right to rent women is so important, that women’s political emancipation should be taken very seriously lest it laces the debate, as another opines,
“I’m all for equality, but this does go to show that if you give women too much power they come up with some crackpot ideas. ”
You see Selma? That punters don’t feel remotely as if they owe anything to prostitutes in terms of support for their rights or safety, shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone with half a cent of sense… who is not entrenched in absolute denial or high faluting hokum. They have paid for what they have wanted and they have gotten it! You have already given away your chips! You have nothing more to bargain with!
Indeed, as most are so bloated with misogyny and whore hatred, if they did deign themselves to organise they would be nothing but an impediment to the happy hooker cause, as Selma herself discovered. But if they are lacking in cunning and politically inclined (or simply cannot help themselves) they might slink about betwixt the legs of the damsels of the Twitterati, proclaiming their unerring belief in women’s volition whilst fervently denying having ever paid for sex. Even these hapless Geres cannot bring themselves to a place of honesty, so they flounder about.
So how do we explain all this? Some ‘Sex workers’ unrequited loyalty to punters? Low expectations?
Prostitutes, and most certainly those women who, for whatever reason, have decided to support a cause that in no way furthers themselves other than in their own minds (superficial empowerment, intemperate volition, presumed social status) like many of us, often suffer from cognitive biases, such as anchoring. Anchoring occurs when humans develop a specific focus on one aspect of information with regards to a subject, that is often developed initially and is subsequently difficult to shift. We often decide that punters are Not Bad People, but we do this on shallow grounds. Even not especially decent, empathic, considerate, moral people have the capacity to be polite, even convivial. I recall a Louis Theroux documentary when an active, virulent leader of an acutely racist subculture of America, had a ‘pleasant’ domestic attitude to his Latino neighbour; a man who unfortunately regarded this deeply corrupted, evil – not to mention spineless man – as a good friend.Heck, even Ted Bundy could be amenable when he needed to be.
Indeed, though prostitutes can be victims of violent attacks, it is in the most case, the average married, middle aged, occupationally successful man’s interest to at least be passingly courteous to prostitutes, because they want to get what they want without too much bluster and fuss. Or risk. Even a wife beater or a bank robber will be occasionally soothing to their victims if they think it serves their purpose. And unlike these, punters already have prostitutes by the scrap of the neck; unless they have an overt desire for performative sadism, managing a smile and having passing conversations about the weather, or some such, is no great shakes.
And as is consistently demonstrated by punters forums, the guys are able to smile, and say hello and use base level manners when with prostitutes, but often revert to calling us fat, ugly, stupid whores who, being intellectually, morally and temperamentally faulty, are their rightful resource, as soon as they are amongst themselves.
Yes, just as the wife who clings to the memory of her husband back when he bought her gifts and sung her praises – before he began carpentering the shape of his fist in to her face – prostitutes often chose to see the vague friendliness over the unwanted pulling of the hair, the thwacks to the buttocks and the nasty reviews they receive when they are not ‘up to scratch’. Indeed, over the missing voices of punters, as they clamour for social respectability, or the very occasional outings from men who make it clear that their rights to fuck are what they really care about. Not their safety or the soundness of their security.
They go to bat for them because they have the capacity to be cordial. Are these the terms? Perhaps it is also the effect of mere exposure; they know these people, so, like loyalty to a cruel and selfish family member or a corrupt nation, they see them as their duty to defend. It is prostitute to punter Patriotism.
If someone attacks our nation, we are similarly attacked, even if our nation does not care for us at all.
* The ECP’s are, we are told a prostitute collective, but its policy is to not declare the backgrounds or occupations of its members, which ostensibly, is reasoned in order to protect those women in prostitution who do not want to be ‘out’. Their primary political campaign is for the decriminalisation of prostitution profiteering. I’ll just leave the two and two out there for whoever wants to make four.
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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.