I was watching this a while ago (before I read this book) (summary for the mans who don't have time: She wanted to make some extra money, danced at a strip club for a few months, mum found out, didn't mind, was understanding) and I remember thinking, "But ... where's the brokenness? Where are the drugs? Where's the abuse? Where's the escapism?".
There was this subconscious, perverse disappointment that her life was ordinary. Her story was ordinary. Her family was ordinary. That there was autonomy in her decision. That she made the choice ... she wasn't forced to, or desperate to, or scared to, or lured to, or running away from ... she chose to. It's as if I almost couldn't compute that without coercion, violence, addiction or the other stereotypes that are attached to sex work, someone would willingly become a stripper... just to make money.
Even if people do it all the time ... work in restaurants, schools, hospitals, factories, government ... just to make money.
Why is one work and the other an aberration, even if they're both transactional and have relatively similar motivations on the seller's part? Which social, cultural, political and legal processes create, define and normalize the criteria for what is/isn't work? Who is marginalized/benefits from those definitions? Do we subscribe to or criticize those definitions, and to what extent? etc etc etc ... But most importantly, at the centre of it all, what do sex workers think, say, feel about 'it'?
'It'; this "world" that has been created around and about them, who "they are" and what they do, their worth ... purposefully without their input, their voices, their plans ... purposefully to serve and reproduce capitalist, patriarchal, racist, trans/homophobic power structures ... purposefully to justify violence... purposefully to rationalize their marginalization, criminalization, othering ... purposefully for entertainment ... purposefully for pleasure ... purposefully for fear ... purposefully for ourselves.
The book largely addresses those issues (and more) and, on a personal note, really forced me to question what forces have shaped (and continue to shape) my attitudes on sex work(ers) ... why is it important for me to be seen/viewed/perceived as separate from "them"?... why are my biases on what is constitutive of sex work so rigid, simplistic and almost natural? ... how do I as a straight, cisgender, educated etc woman benefit from/contribute to those prejudices? ...
A few (of many) good quotes:
The stigma and violence faced by sex workers are far greater harms than sex work itself, yet this is illegible to those who only see prostitution as a self-enforcing system of violence. For them, prostitution marks out the far reach of what's acceptable for women and men, where rights end and violence is justice.
When sex workers are "rescued" by anti-sex work reformers, they are being disciplined, set back into their right role as good women.
Though this anti-prostitution perspective claims to be more sympathetic to sex workers, it produces the same ideology as the usual distrust and discarding of them: Both claim that abuse comes with the territory in sex work. If a sex worker reports a rape, well, what did she expect?
I've stopped asking, "Why is prostitution illegal?". Instead, I want an explanation for "How much violence against prostitutes have we made acceptable?"
Sex workers and anyone perceived to be a sex worker are believed to always be working, or, in the cops' view, always committing a crime. People who are profiled by cops as sex workers include, in disproportionate numbers, trans women, women of color, and queer and gender nonconforming youth. This isn't about policing sex. It's about profiling and policing people whose sexuality and gender are suspect.
Rather than narrow in on sex workers' behaviors, turn your questions outward. What are these people doing that might harm sex workers? Why not help them, rather than sex workers, change their behavior?