Skip to content

Women: You Can Pay Them For Sex Now! THE NY TIMES REPORTS

Seriously, haven’t we done this already? Like, a lot? And recently? Not enough, apparently, and not at sufficient length: for, lo and behold, the New York Times (“all the news that’s fit to print – as long as it contains scandalous vagina usage!”) has seen fit to publish a seven-page article about some new website where rich dudes can find girls to, essentially, pay for sex, and to not, at any point, unambiguously identify what these women are doing as sex work.

I mean, you could read the article itself, which is all full of depressing quotes by men who talk about their “assets,” right here is maybe the most depressing part of all in case you are interested and it concerns the founder of the site (UPDATE: actually some random douche who is unceremoniously introduced in a paragraph directly following one about the founder of the site, sorry) and how he defines “love”:
He was falling in love.

From the start, Lola was clear that her heart lay elsewhere. Her boyfriend of four years lives 1,000 miles away, and though they see each other only a few times a year, Lola maintains that she is deeply in love with him. When B. K. asked Lola what gift she wanted for Christmas, she demurred, but when pressed, she asked if he would pay for plane fare to visit her boyfriend. B. K. said yes — and felt great about it. “Isn’t that what love is?” he told me later. “It’s not about trying to own someone.”

Ha ha, no, IT IS ABOUT RENTING THEM. ACTUALLY, LITERALLY RENTING THEM. WITH YOUR ACTUAL MONEY.

But then, you’ve read all of this before, I’ve read all of this before, so what would the point be?

What’s fascinating here is how much of the conversation is determined by class. If a poor woman has sex for money, particularly if she’s of color or trans, she’s a “streetwalker,” a whore, a criminal, a victim, unrapeable, subhuman, stupid, etcetera: all those comfortable cliches we don’t really need to address because sex workers aren’t anyone we’d know and definitely no-one we need to worry about. If a middle-class or comfortably wealthy girl does it (there’s a reason why those “Hipster Hooker” and virgin-auction stories always focus on how very college-educated and middle-class and white and cisgendered and just, well, normal the women are) there’s a solid chance that the words “sex worker” or “prostitute” will not even be mentioned in the story, or that the prostitution will be framed as somehow debatable (whereas, if I know my definitions, “receiving payment for sex” is kind of exactly what prostitution is) and that the sex work will be framed, not as a job wherein one exchanges one’s services for money, but about a woman’s daring and scandalous and oh-so-empowerful voyage into the realms of getting money for sex.

Which is just what women are all about anyway, right, fellas, ha ha? Because women are all essentially prostitutes: because guys go for looks and girls go for bank accounts: because women are happier when their partners make more money than they do and even have better orgasms: because women don’t have a sexuality, they have a response to male sexuality, and sex is something that women dispense and men receive, so the idea of exchanging payment (what women want) for sex (what men want) can blend pretty easily into our conceptions of what heterosexual relationships are all about, to the point that we can look at a blatant economic exchange and not even identify it as such or wonder what it says about how little women’s subjective sexual experience or desire is valued by the society in which they live or by the very men who fuck them.

So, right about here is where I start to think about the fact that we live in a society where men are so highly valued that we have created an entire industry to ensure their sexual access to women (if you can’t pay for a girlfriend, you can pay for a single sexual encounter, and if you can’t pay for that, you can pay for phone sex or a lap dance, and if you can’t even pay for that, you can get porn on the internet for free), and about the fact that women are paid less than men in most industries but that sex work typically pays much more than any other kind of “unskilled” female labor (which is why we’re not tolerating crapping on or judging sex workers in Ye Olde Tiger Beatdowne Comments Section, now or ever: this is the world we live in, and it requires us to pay our bills), and I think about how much women’s economic dependency on men has always, in marriage or in prostitution or now in the ridiculous media-created “gray area” of dating for money, been about getting dudes off, and here is the point where I think I might take a break because Andrea Dworkin is actually making sense to me, holy crap, and when that happens I have to take a walk in the sunshine and calm down and remember that I do, too, have a sexuality, and I also get to enjoy my life, because reclaiming this stuff is what I do.

This weekend, Reclaiming Act #1 will be avoiding the New York Times.

13 Comments

  1. James wrote:

    “How to ward off atrophy and routine, you ask? Well, I can give you a small and perhaps ridiculous example. Every day, the New York Times carries a motto in a box on its front page. “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” it says. It’s been saying it for decades, day in and day out. I imagine that most readers of the canonical sheet have long ceased to notice this bannered and flaunted symbol of its mental furniture. I myself check every day to make sure that the bright, smug, pompous, idiotic claim is still there. Then I check to make sure that it still irritates me. If I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do they insult me and what do they take me for and what the hell is it supposed to mean unless it’s as obviously complacent and conceited and censorious as it seems to be, then at least I know that I still have a pulse.

    You may wish to choose a more rigorous mental workout but I credit this daily infusion of annoyance with extending my life span.”

    –Christopher Hitchens, from Letters to a Young Contrarian

    And it’s passages like the above that make it hard for me to ignore the Hitch altogether.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  2. Helen wrote:

    because women don’t have a sexuality, they have a response to male sexuality

    I’ve never seen it articulated like that before, that’s wonderful.

    Sunday, April 12, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Like the post, but why slag on Andrea Dworkin? She makes a fair amount of sense in most of her writings, I think. And even if you disagree with her, surely she deserves a little respect? I like your posts here, and I don’t think they are in tension with Dworkin’s writings – quite the contrary.

    Monday, April 13, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  4. Sady wrote:

    @Anonymous: I mean no disrespect to Dworkin. I get that, given the fact that she’s the poster-girl Bad Feminist at which misogynists direct their rage, it’s hard to express disagreement without seeming to take part in the Dworkin-hate. I do have problems with Dworkin, though, and I write about them, precisely because some of her arguments are excellent, yet I read others as essentialist, reductive, and sensationalist. You can get the sense of a lot of what I disagree with by reading the link: saying that intercourse IN THIS CURRENT SOCIETY is often viewed as an expression of domination, and that lots of women have it in order to have access to male power or protection or funding is not wrong, yet saying that intercourse IS domination (which is where she seems to be heading in a lot of places, with the whole penetration-as-invasion thing) gives that social construct WAYYYYYY too much credit. Less thrusting and penetration (hey, some ladies LIKE thrusting and penetration) is not going to change the relationship of gender to power as much as the structural changes which she seems to argue are essentially superficial, nor will ceasing to fuck change the dynamic as much as moving toward a model where fucking is a mutual act, something people do WITH each other instead of something one person does TO another.

    There’s also the whole second-wave feminist thing I find really essentialist and wrongheaded, about how male sexuality is violent and aggressive and female sexuality is diffuse and nebulous and gentle as a spring rain. Arguing that men and women are essentially different, and that women just happen to be more nurturing and gentle and moral and sexually pure, just reminds me of the Cult of True Womanhood. Even really smart folks did it sometimes, but I think (hope) we’re past that moment now.

    Anyway, no disrespect, and there are passages of her work I really like, but I can’t say that I don’t disagree with many of her conclusions. I view her as an essentially pessimistic writer, I guess, and that’s my biggest problem. But it’s a complicated conversation, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    “There’s also the whole second-wave feminist thing I find really essentialist and wrongheaded, about how male sexuality is violent and aggressive and female sexuality is diffuse and nebulous and gentle as a spring rain.”

    Although I am one of your most devoted readers, I am by no means an expert on feminist theory. But I have to ask: please don’t reduce the experiences of us second-wavers by suggesting that Dworkin represents or did represent feminist thought of that era. Her logical leap from pornography and rape to consensual sexual intercourse may indeed have been wrongheaded, and as such it was not accepted by mainstream feminists. Those of us who were young women in a time when feminists were routinely dismissed as “libbers” and bra-burners, may have been young, and just starting to realize how incredibly screwed over we were by our male comrades in the anti(Vietnam)war movement, but I don’t recall they we were all that essentialist in our beliefs.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  6. Sady wrote:

    Thanks for that, Anonymous. I didn’t mean to suggest that ALL second-wavers did that: just that some people did promote these ideas (and probably still do) and that I associate the claiming of these ideas as “feminist” specifically with certain works from second-wave folks. And some of these second-wave folks were people I admire and respect and like to read and learn from! I still think they’re wrong, however. If I said that in a way that overgeneralized or made it seem that I think second-wave feminism IS ALWAYS essentialist, I fucked up, but trust that I love and respect second-wavers and know I’m hugely privileged to be born in a time when I could benefit from the work you all did from Day 1 of my life onwards.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    If sex is going to be a commodity that is sold, bought and consumed, then there is no such thing as a “subjective sexual experience” for either men or women. The same thing happens to men, but not in America. In the UK, older middle class white women go to Jamaica in droves to “Rent-a-Rasta.” They pay poor black men money for sex and use them in the same ways. Lastly, this more about getting what you WANT verus getting what you NEED. Trading sex for favors has been around for a long time and no one will trade it for nothing; be it objective or subjective needs.
    Pete

    Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 8:31 pm | Permalink
  8. Sady wrote:

    Hi Pete – Wow, I was not familiar with “Rent-la-Rasta.” It definitely shines light on a lot of the politics – race, class, colonial history – that intersect with gender when we talk about sex work. There is, specifically, a history of white women (and white men) exploiting black men sexually, and of black men being stereotyped as hypersexual and hypermasculine and therefore objectified by white people, that I’m glad you brought up.

    Your first sentence, though – “If sex is going to be a commodity that is sold, bought and consumed, then there is no such thing as a “subjective sexual experience” for either men or women” – leaves me wondering. Don’t you think that there is resistance in honoring your own desire, and in refusing to engage with people who don’t honor it?

    I guess it brings me back to the Dworkin thing. Much as I respect and agree with her on many points, the best criticism I’ve heard of her work is that she seems to posit “good” (feminist or non-oppressive) sex as something that can only happen in the future when patriarchy (or kyriarchy, in this context) has been overthrown. Whereas I think we can resist it – and contribute to overthrowing it – here and now THROUGH creating non-oppressive sexual dynamics in our own relationships.

    Thoughts?

    Sunday, April 19, 2009 at 8:37 am | Permalink
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    Hi Sady,

    Let me first start by addressing the Andrea Dwrorkin comment. She is both right and wrong. Right about the patriarchy, but wrong because ANY kind of –archy is an unequal system. It doesn’t have to be a patriarchy. A hierarchy is by definition an unequal system of relationship, so, a sexual relationship based on any –archy is going to be unequal. Also, the 1960’s served as a platform for the “free love” movement and in that case, that would be the truest form for individual sexual expression that would benefit mutual “subjective sexual experiences.” But those days are way over! Sex is now a commodity; not mutually shared between two individuals for their mutual satisfaction.

    You asked the question, “Don’t you think that there is resistance in honoring your own desire, and in refusing to engage with people who don’t honor it?” One would think, duhhh, yeah, so why don’t women choose to do that? Why, when in comes to a choice between personal “subjective sexual experience” and objective monetary standards do women choose the latter? Why don’t women focus on their personal sexual satisfaction?

    Why are women more willing to use sex to trade-up than men?
    Pete

    Sunday, April 19, 2009 at 8:46 pm | Permalink
  10. Sady wrote:

    Pete – it really seems like you’re trading on a misogynist stereotype of women as “gold diggers” in this comment. I don’t know if you meant to do that, but it’s definitely coming across that way. In which case, you seem like a decent enough dude, and I’d advise you to back off from that as quickly as possible.

    “the 1960’s served as a platform for the “free love” movement and in that case, that would be the truest form for individual sexual expression that would benefit mutual “subjective sexual experiences.”"

    Um, not really. The second wave of feminism occurred in large part because women were being treated badly in the context of the whole “free love” thing – it just meant that women were now obliged to put out for dudes, and that dudes had more access to women, not that diverse sexual expressions and female sexual desire were given more respect and consideration. Arguing otherwise is like saying that Hugh Hefner’s a feminist because he started the mainstreaming of porn. The second wave was, in large part, composed of radical women realizing that “free love,” as espoused in radical circles, didn’t fix shit, and that their male colleagues talked a radical game while continuing to uphold the same old patriarchal bullshit in regards to the women they slept and worked with.

    “Why, when in comes to a choice between personal “subjective sexual experience” and objective monetary standards do women choose the latter? Why don’t women focus on their personal sexual satisfaction?

    Why are women more willing to use sex to trade-up than men?”

    Again: huh? You pointed out in your very first comment that there are men who engage in sex work. There are men who engage in sex work in the States, too. There are also women – lots and lots and lots of women – who do very much focus on their personal sexual satisfaction, although this is hard given the fact that those women are then called “sluts” and shamed and blamed for any nasty patriarchal bullshit a man might aim their way. This blanket statement that “women are more willing” than men to have sex because it gives them access to money or whatever is oversimplified and, if I read you right, really not in touch at all with the realities of life in patriarchy or kyriarchy. If a group of people are primarily valued on a sexual basis – and I use “valued” very loosely here, as it’s more about being seen as a good potential sex-dispenser, not a sexual human being in your own right – then sex will continue to be a feasible way for those people to get social status, funding, protection, power, etc. Judging or shaming people for doing that just is not cool. It’s the structure that needs to be attacked here, not the people trying to survive within it.

    Anyway, I’m not sure if I read you right, but in my experience the “gold-digging” or “all women are whores” arguments tend to come from a dude who is bitter because he believes he deserves sex from women no matter what and can’t believe he’s not getting it and it must be the women’s fault for rejecting him due to their incredibly materialistic and money-hungry natures. If I’m NOT reading you right, please clarify, but be aware that your argument, as you are currently framing it, is playing on some very non-radical and deeply regressive stereotypes.

    Monday, April 20, 2009 at 10:16 am | Permalink
  11. Anonymous wrote:

    Sady,

    Quoting Sady:
    “If a group of people are primarily valued on a sexual basis – and I use “valued” very loosely here, as it’s more about being seen as a good potential sex-dispenser, not a sexual human being in your own right – then sex will continue to be a feasible way for those people to get social status, funding, protection, power, etc. Judging or shaming people for doing that just is not cool. It’s the structure that needs to be attacked here, not the people trying to survive within it.”

    Therein lies the paradox as I see it. I’m looking at this as free market economics. People that choose sex work should be free do so, but it is more about being (as you put it) a “sex dispenser” rather than focusing on individual sexual desire. And yes, we should not demonize the sex workers. On the other hand, demonizing “the system” or “the structure” because people are seen as “dispensers” encroaches on the free agency of those that choose to be sex workers. I don’t see how one can blame “the structure” that treats sex as commodicty with out blaming the people that participate in it for a gain. If one goes, then it seems the other has to go as well. If one stays, then it seems that the other has to stay as well. You seem to supports the workers while bashing the cosumers (patriarchy)when we know the interaction of both create the system.
    Pete

    Monday, April 20, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  12. Sady wrote:

    @Pete: Sorry; it took me a while to get back to this.

    Basically, I don’t think that I’m demonizing sex workers or detracting from their free agency when I prefer to focus on the system in which sex work currently takes place, rather than sex workers themselves. For one thing, sex work is done by many, many kinds of people, not all women: some are forced into it, some choose it because of a lack of other options, and some choose it more or less freely because they like the work. We can definitely talk about sex work as a choice, and shouldn’t slam or degrade people who do choose it freely and do not feel harmed or victimized by it in any way; nor should we stereotype all sex workers as victims.

    What I’m most interested in, in this particular conversation, is people who enter sex work not through force (although human trafficking is a huge issue and we as a society need to end it) nor through love of the work, but due to a combination of pressures. For example, in Cris Beam’s book “Transparent,” she talks about the fact that some of the young trans women she knew were prostitutes, but she also points out that they had a hard time getting hired in other places if they didn’t “pass” as cisgender women, and that one of the only places that would hire them was a low-paying telemarketing job in which they had to identify as “mentally ill” on the phone. I can definitely see why sex work – in which they got to set their own hours and prices and didn’t have to call their womanhood a sickness – would seem like a far better option, although transphobia and the widespread dehumanization of sex workers also made it very dangerous and potentially deadly.

    Here’s where talk about the “system” (of oppression, discrimination, marginalization, etc.) plays out. If trans discrimination and transphobia were not so rampant, those women and girls would have more forms of employment from which to choose, and some of them might still choose sex work. However, it would be a true choice, instead of just the best choice among a very, very limited number of options. Poverty and lack of available jobs may also lead directly to sex work as a “choice” in the absence of other workable options.

    If we make structural changes to allow all people true self-determination and the opportunity for success, and if we end human trafficking, then there may very well still be women and men who choose to do sex work. I submit to you that there will also probably be fewer sex workers. In the meantime, in this screwed-up system in which some people are primarily valued for or able to earn income by their ability to dispense sex, people will have sex for money. And it is not your place, or my place, or anyone’s place, to judge, shame, or blame them, primarily because it is a wrong and mean thing to do, but also just because it doesn’t HELP: yelling at people and telling them to quit their jobs when they may not have any better options available to them just results in hurt feelings and maybe a few more unemployed people. Structural change provides the possibility of a real difference. That’s what we need to work for.

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  13. Anonymous wrote:

    I really enjoyed this piece and reading through the comments. Your arguments are very insightful. I’m curious, what sort of structural change do you suggest? I should note that I don’t ask that in an antagonistic way, I worked in the sex industry for two years and relate to your argument where you point out that some women do it for lack of better options, obviously then a structural change that creates more options… what is your vision of these?

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 7:31 pm | Permalink