Let’s talk about ‘sex work.’ Or rather, let’s not…

No, that’s not just a cheap bid to attract readers who think there will be pictures…

Lately I’ve been gathering threads for a thus-far ill-defined post I want to write. It would be a Top Five post (maybe). It’s about words I’ve heard too much lately, and that need to be sent somewhere (very far away, in some cases) for R&R. But sometimes it’s phrases. And sometimes the words (or phrases) should never have been coined. Other times they’re perfectly fine words (or, as I say, phrases) that have simply been overused — or misused — recently.

Anyway, while I’ve been diddling trying to figure out how to define the post, someone went ahead an wrote an op-ed for The New York Times addressing a term that should never have been conceived, and which is also terribly overused. As soon as I saw it, I thought, Yes! That needs to go on the list! But while we wait for me to get around to it, let’s look at this…

The headline is “OnlyFans Is Not a Safe Platform for ‘Sex Work.’ It’s a Pimp.” Well, I don’t know what “OnlyFans” is, beyond some recent headlines about it. What interested me was that “Sex Work” was in quotes, and that drew me in, and I was not disappointed. An excerpt:

We are living in the world pornography has made. For more than three decades, researchers have documented that it desensitizes consumers to violence and spreads rape myths and other lies about women’s sexuality. In doing so, it normalizes itself, becoming ever more pervasive, intrusive and dangerous, surrounding us ever more intimately, grooming the culture so that it becomes hard even to recognize its harms.

One measure of this success is the media’s increasing insistence on referring to people used in prostitution and pornography as “sex workers.” What is being done to them is neither sex, in the sense of intimacy and mutuality, nor work, in the sense of productivity and dignity. Survivors of prostitution consider it “serial rape,” so they regard the term “sex work” as gaslighting. “When the ‘job’ of prostitution is exposed, any similarity to legitimate work is shattered,” write two survivors, Evelina Giobbe and Vednita Carter. “Put simply, whether you’re a ‘high-class’ call girl or a street walkin’ ho, when you’re on a ‘date’ you gotta get on your knees or lay on your back and let that man use your body any way he wants to. That’s what he pays for. Pretending prostitution is a job like any other job would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.”

“Sex work” implies that prostituted people really want to do what they have virtually no choice in doing. That their poverty, homelessness, prior sexual abuse as children, subjection to racism, exclusion from gainful occupations or unequal pay plays no role. That they are who the pornography says they are, valuable only for use in it….

Yes, absolutely.

After that, the piece goes on to discuss the thing in which I’m not interested, OnlyFans, but along the way it makes some good points about pornography and, of course, the absurd euphemism “sex work.”

As with so many fashionable neologisms, we can do without that term because the English language already has a perfectly serviceable word: “prostitution.”

Yes, I know what my libertarian friends will say. And I’m familiar with the views expressed by this movement. (It takes a lot of attitudes to make a world, and some are induced by something akin to Stockholm Syndrome. By the way, in keeping with my mania for genealogy, I even have a distant cousin who famously underwent such a process.) And perhaps I’ll be harrumphed at by “sex-positive feminists.” But in general, I’m curious what the rest of you will say…

prostitution copy

By the way, looking for an image that did not titillate, the NYT went with this. Determined to outdo them, I went with the above, from a link in the op-ed. So I win…

11 thoughts on “Let’s talk about ‘sex work.’ Or rather, let’s not…

  1. Mark Stewart

    I think you came closest to the truth with “It takes a lot of attitudes to make a world.”

    A very complicated issue with many polar opposite, and calcified, viewpoints.

  2. Pam Wilkins

    Catharine MacKinnon (the OpEd author) is a radical feminist (technically from a school of thought often called dominance feminism) and in my view was one of the most important legal thinkers of the late 20th century (and clearly she’s still thinking). Among other things, she’s the intellectual architect of the concept of sexual harassment/hostile work environment, and her writings were central in the Supreme Court’s recognition that sexual harassment violates Title VII. Her writings on pornography were very influential in Canada but never took hold in the United States (in part for reasons related to free speech). Interesting, rigorous thinker.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks for sharing that, Pam — I didn’t know, although the feminist perspective in the piece was pretty evident.

      In other words, I agreed with her; she just expressed it differently because of her ideological perspective.

      Preventing women from being abused and exploited is an area where feminists and I agree completely (unless they are “sex-positive feminists,” with whom I disagree strongly). I just come from more of a medieval chivalry perspective — and from being the father of three women and the grandfather of four girls.

      In other words, I guess a feminist would say I get there from a “patriarchal” perspective… 🙂

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m doing my best to do so, as I’ve indicated. I’m writing about what interests me, and doesn’t make me despair for mankind completely.

      You might have to go somewhere else for people who want to talk for the gazillionth time about abortion, or whether kids should wear masks in school, or how to get idiots to get vaccinated, or, I don’t know, football. Or reality TV…

  3. Barry

    Putting another plug in for my favorite talk radio show and host

    Right now on the POTUS channel on Sirius radio, Michael Smerconish is playing his 3 hour tribute to the memory of those that passed on 9/11. Michael, a board member of the Garden of Reflection, spearheaded the effort to raise money for the memorial in Pennsylvania. He announced his week they have raised over 1million dollars for the perpetual upkeep of The Garden.

    Incredible radio.

    Hour 1

    So far this morning he’s talked to a 9/11 commission member.

    Michael Touhey, US Air ticket agent who checked in 2 of the hijackers in Portland, Maine

    Alice Hoagland, mother of one of the victims of Flight 93

    Lawrence Wright, author of “The Looming Tower, the Road to 9/11″

    Interviewed Jose Melendez Perez, the former inspection officer at Orlando International Airport who didn’t allow the so called 20th hijacker proceed through security

    Kevin Flynn, author of 102 minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers.”

    Richard Picciotto, author of Last Man Down: The Fireman’s Story: The Heroic Account of How Pitch Piccotto Survived the Collapse of the Twin Towers and led his men to safety

    Hour 2 coming up

    Audio of Michael’s first minutes on the air on 9/11 in Philadephia

    Ben Sliney, the FAA National Ops Manager that day – overseeing air traffic control from Herndon, VA

    Aaron Brown- his memories of anchoring on his first day at CNN, which happened to be 9/11

    James Meigs, Popular Mechanics – debunking conspiracy theories about 9/11

    CIA Commander Gary Berntsen

    Hour 3

    Mark Owen author of No Easy Day, the Autobiography of a Navy Seal -The First Hand Account of the Mission that Killed Bin Laden

    Rob O’Neill – the Seal who shot Bin Laden

    Jennier Senior of The Atlantic who wrote What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind – Grief, conspiracy theories, and one family’s search for meaning in the two decades since 9/11

    1. Bill

      “Every time she saw a videotape of the planes she moved a finger toward the power button on the remote. Then she kept on watching. The second plane coming out of that ice blue sky, this was the footage that entered the body, that seemed to run beneath her skin, the fleeting sprint that carried lives and histories, theirs and hers, everyone’s, into some distance, out beyond the towers.”
      ― Don DeLillo, Falling Man

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, as I said and Mark quoted, “It takes a lot of attitudes to make a world.”

      But yeah, great song. I remember that one as the one that first brought The Police to my attention. Weird how the memory works. I guess it was 1978 or not long after, since that’s when it came out. Here’s what I remember:

      I was driving to softball practice. I was on the St. Mary’s/Knights of Columbus team in the Jackson, Tenn., slow-pitch church league. I was sort of an illegal, since I wasn’t actually Catholic yet — I just went to Mass there with my wife and kids (of which I only had one or two at the time, depending on exactly when this was). I wasn’t the only one. A couple of other guys were just Prods who were connected to the church by their wives. We had to do that to field a team in that otherwise Prod league. We weren’t West Jackson Baptist, which was the league powerhouse with FOUR full teams.

      I can remember that I was off the road, making my way around some other fields to get to the practice field. I can see the tree I parked under.

      Not what most people think of when they hear “Roxanne,” but that’s what I picture…

  4. bud

    Seems like restricting the term “sex worker” to a woman or girl caught in a sex trafficking ring is an overly narrow definition. I would suggest that a broader definition would include many women and men too who provide a useful service that they eagerly participate in. Do the Chippendales really seem exploited? (NSFW – https://www.chippendales.com/ ) Many sex workers are far more valuable assets to the community than many clergy members who prey on children or pass along dangerous information about vaccines or birth control. As Bryan would say your mileage may vary. But I would suggest painting ALL sex work as a form of exploitation by men is not correct.

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