Where do I fit?

Where do I fit? A confused, sort of, one time sex worker…

I have been studying politics for a long time, but more recently my focus has been on women involved in the sex industry. My reason is because women have been missing from most of international relations discourse. Societal structures were created using outdated and unnecessary binary conceptions of masculinity and femininity, and in reality, nowhere in the world do women share equal economic and social rights with men (thanks Jacqui True for the phrasing here). Men have had a monopoly on resources and power for far too long.

My understanding of the sex industry is that it is in some ways a product of global issues such as poverty, health, education, economic equality, and so on, which in turn is related to gender biases, leading also to sexual violence. Without addressing the gender-dimensions of these issues, I feel policies and programs designed to address them, fail to achieve significant change in these areas. For me, a woman’s capacity to participate politically, socially, and economically is dangerously compromised by sexual violence. Sexual violence has lasting effects both during conflict and in peace times. The sex industry both sustains unequal relationships between women and men, and has a violent side to it, but also provides economic avenues for women, and has a non-violent side to it. 

Of course this sounds like a classic essay by a non-sex worker, talking about women in the sex industry. Something I’ve always found difficult in my research is the struggle to balance not speaking on behalf of anyone’s experiences while also using my position of privilege to speak and educate others: a very tricky line to walk. But a big struggle for me in my research has been a loud voice from a group of sex workers telling me I can’t speak about them; I can only listen to them. Some even say if you’re not a sex worker, then you shouldn’t write about it at all. From what I could tell, this made a lot of sense. A marginalized group of people that have been stigmatized for centuries wouldn’t want some arrogant feminist coming along and saying she knows what’s really up in the world of sex work.

But then one day I realised why, in this understanding, I still felt conflicted. I could never reconcile my positions on sex work, the sex industry, women’s rights as individuals or collective rights and so forth. I had always blamed it on my mother, laughing it off as her ‘old-school radical feminist brainwashing of me when I was a kid’. Surely that’s why I sometimes found it hard to swallow the extremely pro-individual rights, choice feminism, western privileged and educated sex workers’ arguments? Then I realized that it was related to something deeper then what I had read and heard. It was coming from an experience that happened to me when I was 18, something that, in retrospect, I wish had never been… that something was technically sex work. It’s strange how for so long I had never even conceptualised what I had done as participating in the sex industry. However after all my studying and all my conversations I realised that I am one of them. I am a woman who participated in the sex industry due to economic push factors. Did this mean I could now speak about the sex industry and sex workers without watching my every step?

Then I thought, where do women fit who are not full service or direct-contact sex workers, but are involved in the porn side of the sex industry? Pondering further about the permanent nature of my experience of the sex industry… ie. Those photos are out there for the world forever, with no way of taking them back… and although it was only a short-lived career, does that mean my minimal experiences do not weigh into the conversation with other sex workers? I’ve always been afraid, in forums and with groups of friends, of saying what I think about an issue if it’s in any way dissenting of sex work. I’ve always felt that they wouldn’t consider my experience as legitimate sex work, and they’d silence me, just as they had been in the past. This is a tough one to bring up, but I think there is a pretty bold hierarchy within the sex worker community… well at least within what and whom I know of it…

My irreconcilable feelings on everything started to make sense, because my experience was bad. Pure exploitation. An uninformed young, and barely legal, teenager, lacking money for rent, now posted all over numerous sites, hundreds of photos for one payment of fuck-all cash. No. This does not agree with me. My older self is FURIOUS. Furious that the industry even exists in the first place, furious at myself for being so thoughtless, furious that this company thought it was ok to pay so little for so much, and furious that no one stopped me to ask me if I had really thought about it…

But then… I wonder… if community attitudes towards women in the sex industry were different, if the negative stigma that limits women’s lives because of their work didn’t exist… maybe I wouldn’t be so angry that I had been part of the sex industry…Maybe… 

By Lenny


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  • published this page in Blog 2015-08-26 16:44:09 +1000