Pecunia non olet? (was: Gender, Race, and Publishing on the Left)

zippycat at zippycat at
Fri Jun 19 10:29:44 PDT 1998

I know I promised to shut up for a while, but for some reason this subject won't let me go. Yoshie, I deeply respect your motives for arguing as you do. I simply disagree with some of your reasoning.

Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:

> Demeaning of sex workers plays two functions: (1) glorification of paid
> employment, of _any_ work other than sex work; and (2) letting marriage off
> the hook.
> Moralism and sentimentalism of the kind Wojtek speaks of regarding our
> perception of sex makes us think that while receiving pay for sex is
> unnatural and to be condemned, receiving pay for any other line of work is
> natural and commendable. Special moral condemnation heaped on sex workers
> has an effect of making wage labor other than sex work seem moral.

(Ingrid) I've been trying to swallow this line of reasoning for a while but it just won't go down. I mean, how does the special moral condemnation heaped on sex workers have the effect of making other wage labor seem moral? I would think it has the opposite effect, that it shows that money has the power to buy anything, even otherwise nonconsensual sex. Which is why that secondary definition of prostitution, the "rhetorical" one, exists in the first place, and why I've been so stupidly averse to forever banishing that definition

from my vocabulary--even though your organizing friends in the sex industry feel it denigrates sex workers. I just thought it was good that there's an ancient and hallowed put-down for selling one's integrity for filthy lucre. If sex work

was never performed solely out of economic desperation--if, as we would all prefer to see, sex work were to become viewed as a professional calling for those emotionally and otherwise suited to giving sexual comfort (and I know many sex workers already are!)--then I truly believe we wouldn't have to worry about the pejorative associations of those ancient words "whore" and "prostitute." Of course, that world is far, far away, and sex work today is, to my knowledge, the most exploitative and dangerous profession around (especially in the Third World--cf. Thailand, India, etc.). I wonder if your organizing friends have any occupational statistics on the rates of assault, murder, etc., in the profession. I'd wager that even in "advanced" countries such as Holland, where sex work is legalized, they are still fairly high, and I'd be interested in finding out whether they are higher than rates of spousal abuse, as I suspect. Which gets me to my next subject.

> (Yoshie)
> Also, marriage between partners of unequal economic standings is little
> different from prostitution, except that in marriage, women are expected to
> not only perform sex work but also house work, care-giving work, etc....all
> in the name of 'love.' Demeaning of sex work has an effect of romanticizing
> marriage.

(Ingrid) Does everyone out there feel this way?? Are you saying that any marriage between partners of unequal economic standings is a farce perpetrated for material motives but proclaimed in the name of "love," enslaving the wife to conjugal as well as domestic duties? Or do you think that the whole notion of romantic love and marital happiness is a complete fiction, akin to the

sky god? Is this some sort of basic tenet of the left these days? Doesn't anyone else out there think that happy marriages can exist? That some people, straight, gay or otherwise, are happier in monogamous relationships? Or that at times marriage can provide a bulwork against the meanness of the world? I personally think that if

the marketeers of the world had their druthers, we'd all live "Seinfeld"-like, atomized, consumerist existences of blithe nonrelationships. After all, two do live cheaper than one.

Elsewhere Yoshie commented:

I don't think that commodifying sex is worse or different than commodification of teaching and of taking care of children, for instance. More generally speaking, in what way is it different from commodification of making goods and of offering other kinds of services, for that matter? I don't agree that sex work is 'the ultimate commodification of human activity' as you put it. It is _the way you view sex_ that makes you think that the word 'whore' is 'a potent metaphor for selling out.'

(Ingrid) You really got me there, because I do think there are qualitative differences between the commodifying of sex work and the comodifying of, say, teaching, which most people on this list seem to have one time or another engaged in. And yes, it is "the way I view sex" that makes me feel this way. Because if sex work is undertaken willingly and happily, then that's fine and a wonderful thing, but if it's undertaken purely out of economic desperation, then I do think it's qualitatively different from other labor, and it's tragic that people should have to have their bodies violated in order to survive. And, yes, maybe it's because I've been sexually violated in my life that I project potential tragedy onto the lives of desperate sex workers. I don't think anyone should ever be forced to have sex for any reason.

(Yoshie) There are many jobs that involve becoming naked--for instance, acting,

modeling, etc.

Oh, please, you can't really be suggesting that those other jobs are as frought with potential abuse as sex work, at its meanest, can be.

(Yoshie) Vulnerability of sex workers doesn't come from the commodification of sex per se. It comes from illegality, moral condemnation, social ostracism, economic conditions, sexism, etc.--material and ideological conditions of work.

(Ingrid) Yes, yes! It is the material and ideological conditions of work, and not sex work per se, that make its commodification in a world of Haves and Have-nots so problematic. For the very nature of sex work is, for those without the resources to avoid the risks, an extremely perilous undertaking. In that way it can be compared to being a gyspie cab-driver in that one is isolated with a stranger who may or may not be extremely dangerous. For that reason both professions deserve our respect, compassion, and if you know how, our activism.



> Yoshie

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list