Gender, Race, and Publishing on the Left

zippycat at zippycat at
Mon Jun 15 21:20:14 PDT 1998

Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:

> Ingrid,
> >It's a simple fact that because the nature of prostitution is to receive
> >pay for servicing pleasure, rather than offering pleasure for pleasure's
> >sake, it is a natural metaphor for any act undertaken for purely monetary
> >motives and in that context has entered the dictionary as a secondary
> >definition.
> One more thing. There is nothing natural about using prostitution as a
> metaphor for 'any act undertaken for purely monetary motive.' You don't
> really understand the nature of capitalism and wage labor if you think sex
> work is a 'natural metaphor' for 'any act undertaken for purely monetary
> motive.' Many workers, not just prostitutes, receive pay for 'servicing
> pleasure.' And many (if not most) acts are undertaken for purely monetary
> motive under capitalism. Think Wall Street.
> Yoshie

Yes, of course you're right. I shouldn't have said "natural metaphor"; perhapsstrong metaphor, maybe even ugly or cruel metaphor, would have been more to the point. But I was thinking about the nature of capitalism, wage labor, and Wall Street in particular when I launched into my rather foolish diatribe.

Of course many workers, not just sex workers, receive pay for servicing pleasure. But no other workers lay themselves so literally and vulnerably bare to receive their wages. Which is why, no matter how much we may try to improve the terminology, being a sex worker will always be a potent metaphor for selling out. Prostitution, or whatever you want to call it, represents the ultimate commodification of human activity--which is why so many Wall Street workers (yes, I also maintain friendships in that industry) love to call themselves "whores" and "prostitutes", and why the libertarian right loves to imagine all sex workers as self-empowered entrepreneurs.

I guess what bothered me most about the various exchanges re Wotjek's original offensive comment was my perception that too many on the left seem to think that if we could only repair the language we could change the world. As the noted leftist theorist Bill James (well, maybe not) pointed out (and I wish I could cite my source but I can't), the term "mentally retarded" entered the

language from above, in an attempt to salve the "discourse" of the pejorative connotations of "cretinism." Did it do the trick? No, kids just started taunting each other with the term "retard" (or if you're from Baltimore like myself, "mental"). I want the kinds of changes that just about everyone else on this list advocates. It's just that I think that too many leftists are overly verbalistic in their approach. Perhaps I'm an optimist in even thinking that if we could get our argue better, we might convince a sufficient number of Americans of the correctness of our positions. But that sometimes involves using strong metaphors and not always the proper and presently benign terms du jour. Maybe we've grown so used to arguing amongst each other that it doesn't matter how trivial these discussions seem to those on the outside. In any case, I certainly welcome your criticisms.

In solidarity,


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list