Here in New Zealand, in the legal brothels, we have the same ‘happy hookers’ who claim being ‘empowered’ ‘sex workers’ enacting ‘free choice’ and ‘agency’ as is buzzing all over the world. These women are not actually liars, but they aren’t saying what you think they are saying either.
Their words have been manipulated by propagandists, to be broadcast as representing something other than what is being said. No one is happy or empowered or freely choosing to be prostituted. No one is happy about, or empowered by or freely choosing the sex or the work in sex work, and definitely not the violence or abuse intrinsic to it. What they are really saying is this.
“I am happy to be receiving (a tiny spec of) the MONEY in the sex industry”. This is akin to saying they are grateful. These women are grateful for even a small fraction of what their objectification is worth to the industry, despite everything that is taken from them by it, despite how much they put in, and how much they must endure. For many, it’s more than they expected to ever get. For many, they expect more but see this as a necessary evil along their path if they are ever to get what they expect to get from life. For many, they did at one time expect more for themselves, but their hopes have been squashed and they now consider their ambition naive.
That complete hopelessness felt by so many women, has for some of them more recently, and only very partially, been restored in their lives by the ability to earn a living for themselves – if only in the sex industry – it’s still a way to earn a living, and some people will take it and be grateful for it. Just like some people will take work in a sweatshop earning $2 a day and be grateful for it. Anything perceived to be advancing a person from where they were previously, despite how desperate things may still be or are about to become, can easily be seen as something positive by that person.
In that regard they ARE happy and they DID choose it – but they chose it from a list of options that is small and contains nothing better, or a list of options comprised of this one option, ‘sex work’, and that’s the only thing written on the page. They use the word empowered comparatively, in a world where they hold no power. If you are to be used for sex you don’t enjoy you may as well get something out of it. That sentiment is commonplace here, and if that something offered them is presented as a chance to make it in life, life that otherwise holds no hope for them, it is reasonable that they DO indeed feel empowered by it.
They are not all suffering PTSD related dissociative denials. It isn’t impossible to see what is happening to us in prostitution while remaining involved in it, like some exited radical feminists overseas have chalked their words up to be evidencing. Here if not also elsewhere, the women excited to even just be here at all are not the ones who have been in the industry long enough to suffer from what these exited women know and speak about, the decline from bad to worse and total alienation experienced by all those trapped within prostitution for many years, and the destruction of life and self that is its consequence. Us veterans do indeed start to feel as though we are losing our minds and going insane and we are the ones who end up with those long lists of diagnosed mental disorders. We stopped being grateful SO LONG AGO haha.
No, these ‘happy hookers’ are young, or at least young to the industry. Most of them do still have things in their lives they derive happiness from, and they never technically count the experience they have of all the men who pay to use them among such things. Most of them are perfectly sane. They share their horror stories with me all the time while constructing/re-touching their ‘look’ in the girls room, while sitting outside on the dingy stairwell smoking cigarettes, while navigating through drunken leers or slumped on sweaty couches waiting for punters to arrive and trying to stay awake.
They know what is what. But regardless of this fact, their voices matter.
If their words speak to the coping mechanisms and vision narrowing effects of abuse, they speak to abuses not unique to the sex industry. Abuses perpetrated against the whole class of women and girls, but especially against poor girls, racialized girls, those very young girls long before they are to be found here.
None can deny they’d rather be doing something where they are earning as much as the men who frequent our brothels do, if only they could. And without first having to sleep with those men before receiving a single measly piece of it. None deny that we’d all rather have careers culminating from the experience of all those freedoms, supports, encouragement, and resources that boys and men have at their disposal throughout their entire lives. That we’d rather make this choice out of all the vast career options that would be available to us if we happened to be men. That we’d rather our choice be made in alignment with our passions, interests, ambitions, talents, and potentials – like men get to do. That we would rather in those very careers, receive the same status, recognition, and pay checks that men get for the exact same work and without all the sexual harassment, obligations to do additional, unpaid emotional work, and glass ceiling politics. That we would rather be the boss, own and run our own organizations, doing what we decide is important work – just like men have done with 2000 years of inheritances taken from both Mothers and Fathers to be handed down only to Sons and not daughters.
We would much prefer to be living so carefree as to be concerning ourselves with which specific leisurely indulgence we will purchase like the men who rape us claim to be doing and like them to never have experienced any intimate contact from anyone that wasn’t forged into existence by our own desire and fulfillment, and expecting it to always remain as such. Holy cow what a life, it’s unbelievable!
But since we lack freedoms and we lack opportunities and we lack the proper context in which words like choice, agency and empowered are most often used and derive their true meanings from, they paint a very different picture when used by us to describe our lives compared to what is normally envisioned by them. Our use of these words here requires the context of what is missing for us here be subtracted from what these words normally would imply in order for us to be understood, we might not even think about how our choice of chocolate bar from the confectionery isle is endowed with freedoms that our choice of work was not since we’ve never had anything more than this. But the sex work lobby knows this, exploits this, and tries to live inside our ears claiming to be advocates for us.
Prostituted women, even those calling themselves sex workers, are not liars and are not crazy. And like women everywhere are sick of being dismissed as liars and silenced as crazy. This is a barrier preventing them from accessing all that radical feminist consciousness-raising could offer them, and all that they in turn could offer to the radical feminist movement. These women are stronger than they’re given credit for. They are willing to suffer in ways that would be unthinkable to most. They are trying to break their way in. They don’t see any other entrances, mainly because there are none. They don’t realize yet that this is a dead end and they are too proud to accept charity, they want to make it on their own against all the odds, which really is quite noble.
They will likely end up like me since I was once like them, I want the Swedish model and I want help to exit. I’m too tired to fight for myself before such help arrives, if it ever will. But you could reach these ‘pro’ sex workers while they’re young enough to want to fight if only they were shown just a little more respect, you speak of truth and they will recognize it. They are ready to rebel but they don’t know how, they are being fed false promises, they’re not delusional.