Allowing the richest pimps to leverage their capital

At Feminist Current, Rae Story talks to Francine Sporenda about neoliberalism and the middle-classing of prostitution.

Rae Story worked in prostitution for a decade, primarily in the UK but also in other countries such as Australia and New Zealand. She exited prostitution last year and has subsequently written critically on the contemporary, libertarian push for full decriminalization and the concomitant project of sex industry sanitization and legitimization. Find more of her work at In Permanent Opposition. Rae tweets @raycstory.

Was it a choice? Sporenda asks. Yes, in a way, but the way addiction and abusive relationships can start out with a choice.

FS: Feminist challenges to the system of prostitution are often met with a response that claims only “sex workers” should be listened to, with regard to prostitution legislation. You, on the other hand, have written, “be wary of sex workers’ voices.” Why?

RS: The idea that those involved in prostitution should be supported in having their opinions heard is a good one. However, this basic idea has mutated into something more problematic. Having your opinion heard is not the same as saying, “You must agree with me and follow what I say without scrutiny or question.” That is not an academic way of doing things. Having some involvement in the sex industry is often brandished like a weapon in order to silence opposition and replace rigorous discourse. On social media, those involved in the sex industry will say things to abolitionist feminists like, “Stop talking over me. I am a sex worker,” despite the fact that their opinion has been heard and been responded to. Indeed, it is safe to say that prostitutes get far more air time in the media than those working in most other professions to discuss their thoughts and feelings about themselves. Cleaners, domestic workers, factory workers, and such are not considered even remotely as interesting, politically. The idea that prostitutes are silenced is laughable, frankly.

Not so many movies made about cleaners and factory workers, either.

Now, prostitute mouthpieces for the industry use the language of the personal in much the same fashion as one might argue the case for marriage rights for gay people. They refer to themselves as though being a “sex worker” is an identity akin to sexuality and as though decriminalizing prostitution enables them to enact their own personal sexualities. When, in fact, decriminalization or legalization is about industrializing prostitution, allowing the richest pimps to leverage their capital to create larger brothel businesses and chains.

In a way, it reminds me of the legal situation for businesses in the US. There, corporations are legally termed “persons” and their financial activities are termed “freedom of expression.” Money and business is given the vernacular of the personal, which is key to the neoliberal project. I see this political peddling around the identity of “sex worker” as a part of the same culture.

That’s a good point. The way people are turning everything into an “identity” and then using that as a shield against any and all criticism is…less than admirable. Lots of people’s identity is “mean bullying asshole”; it doesn’t follow that we have to “respect” that identity, much less allow it to set the terms of discussion around mean bullying assholes.

FS: You’ve discussed the way in which the pro-prostitution lobby has strategically presented itself as progressive and the underdog, while defending regressive values and working to silence survivors. Can you tell us more about this behaviour and these strategies?

RS: Well as I described earlier, there is a tone to this debate that reframes those who engage in prostitution as having an “identity,” like an ethnicity or sexuality, so fighting for decriminalization becomes a human cause — an issue of civil rights — rather than being about the rights of commerce. It’s effective because those who disagree with them can then be labeled “bigots” or “SWERFS” (sex worker exclusionary radical feminists). Quite what self-identified “sex workers” imagine they are being excluded from, I don’t know… In fact, prostitution is a material reality that relates to circumstance and to gender and economic inequality not personal politics. The desire for full decriminalization is about the right of businesses to expand without state intervention or consideration for the collective.

Is this where we’re supposed to shout something about kink-shaming?

Whenever I have been confronted by a pro-industry advocate, the veracity of my testimony has been rather nebulously questioned or I have been called an outright liar. Another tactic is to deploy the “I’m sorry you had a bad experience” method to imply that any negative feelings I have are isolated anomalies. The most insidious was the accusation that any mental health problems I suffer from are a result of personal failings or weakness and are not endemic to the industry.

This is a form of political gaslighting that pathologizes dissenters. The most grievous example of this was the method used to pathologize slaves who attempted to escape — their slavery was considered inherent to their personhood and trying to escape this personhood was considered an illness.

The people who employ theses tactics are not progressives in theory, nor are they, generally, in practice.

But they think they are. It’s how they identify.

Read the whole thing.

2 Responses to “Allowing the richest pimps to leverage their capital”