Because Farley’s work makes people so much more sympathetic to the plight of sex workers….

A rather choice item from “District 5 Diary”, a conservative blog here in San Francisco. Somebody who doesn’t think too highly of Polk Gulch street prostitutes, evidently. And who does this person turn to to back up his prejudices? Bob Herbert’s Melissa Farley-inspired column, naturally:

The column (below) by Bob Herbert nicely frames the prostitution versus “sex worker” issue. In the progressive mind, prostitutes are now just “sex workers,” guys and gals who are simply trying to make a living. We should presumably just leave them alone to ply their trade in city neighborhoods, like Polk Street. Anyone who takes a more jaundiced view of street walkers—that is, other residents and businesses in the area—are accused of killing a “vibrant” neighborhood. [read more]

Yep, I’m sure this guy has learned from Bob Herbert that prostitutes are victims and is all about busting only the johns and letting the prostitutes go free.

20 Responses

  1. Again, a line in the sand must be drawn. Just as I’m done with debating if sex work is empowering or not, or whether or not it is possible to regulate the industry, I’m also not wasting another moment telling people that sex work is not just a “pretty” term for prostitution. I’ve had journalists ask me if I made up the term, even! No more. Sex work = work, end of story.

    As a side note, I love how he misrepresents Sup. Jake McGoldrick’s position on sex work, as well. Decrim, not legalization, is what he advocates. In good news, Jake was the key figure in St. James Infirmary (disclosure: I’m St. James’ Development Coordinator) getting a grant of $75K, with which we can work on our own community-led assessment of indoor sex work in San Francisco.

  2. I just think of “sex worker” as kind of a general term, encompassing prostitutes, strippers, porn models, phone sex workers, etc. What the hell else are you supposed to call this diverse group of workers? Oh, right, “prostituted women”.

  3. And like so much counterorganizing against sex workers, this “sex work” vs. “trafficked victim”/”prostituted women” question is an issue that’s pretty resolved outside the US. But here it creeps up over and again as a total dodge. It’s so obvious when looked at within a global context, and when you look at who is funding who to say what. Of course people with a vested interest in making money off of books about victimization and getting grants to fund bogus “research” about the same could never let us be as workers. It’s so much more about money than morality.

  4. I think if one personally doesn’t want the term “sex worker” or “former sex worker” applied to oneself (as I know is true for at least one person who’s mentioned recently, and why), then it’s best to respect that, same as with anyone else under the general principle of “call people what they want to be called.” But, yeah, in general: that also goes for all the other people who -do- want to be called “sex workers,” thanks.

    and yes, work is work, even if it’s exploitive.

  5. …it also sort of reminds me of the “pro-life/pro-choice” thing. On both sides, actually, people do this: “I REFUSE to legitimize your position by even calling you what you want to be called!” Great, that bodes well for dialogue already.

  6. Yesterday, when I made a catty comment on another posting here, in reference to the stunted anti- arguments, I did not include a link to the original author. This morning, I found the blog I was referencing, and it’s no surprise that the comment I quoted came from a debate titled “why the arguments around defining prostitution are so offensively contrived”. Reading the entirety of the piece this morning, it gets my head rushing with thoughts, some I agree with, some I don’t, some we should talk about, some I won’t waste my time on.

    Anyhow, I think it’s a piece, both the original posting and some of the fabulous comments that follow it, that some individuals around here would benefit from examining. (Josie and Jody, yep, I’m looking at you.)
    http://victoriamarinelli.com/main/2006/12/19/why-the-arguments-around-defining-prostitution-are-so-offensively-contrived/

    (I took the quote yesterday from the first comment, by “claudine”.)

  7. It feels like…I dunno, like a group of NORML activists and anti WOSD from an anti-State Power POV were butting heads against the “Just Say No/DARE” people. and every time there’s a meeting it’s like,

    “We’d like to decriminalize marijuana for reasons x,y, and z”

    “Do you KNOW how many people meth kills?? Or heroin??”

    “I wasn’t talking about meth or heroin. I’m talking about pot. Here’s why–”

    “Well, la di da for you, I Just Want To Smoke Pot In My FancyPants Hot Tub, it’s all right if you want to rot your -own- brain and give -yourself- lung cancer, but -innocent helpless people are dying.- Think of the children!! God, you’re so SELFISH. You and your “I gotta get high and that’s all I care about.” What have you done to save people from DRUG-CAUSED DEATH?? What have you done to get people off the street? Huh?”

    “Well, first of all, it’s -not- just ‘getting high,’ although I personally don’t see anything -wrong- with that. But, one, I don’t think the State should have so much power over a consensual activity, and two, while some drugs are more dangerous than others, medical marijuana–”

    “SHOW US YOUR CREDS!”

    “Well, okay, I -was- going to talk about getting medical marijuana to cancer patients, but since that clearly doesn’t count for anything, I’ve taken addicts into my home and helped them detox, helped get them jobs. I helped set up a needle exchange program for heroin–”

    “Those don’t help. They actually just lead to more heroin addicts. Studies have shown that.”

    “Which studies?”

    “These studies here. They’ve got graphs and footnotes and academic endorsements and -everything.-

    “Okay, those studies there were funded by a pro-abstinence think tank, and furthermore they aren’t in any peer reviewed journal.”

    “What is all this fancy talk? You and your ivory tower graphs and footnotes and academic endorsements! We’re talking about REAL LIVES. People are DYING, did we mention?”

    “…Look, can we just get back to talking about the pot thing, since we’re clearly just talking past each other when it comes to this stickier stuff?”

    “Why do you hate America?”

    “AAARRGGGGHHHH” *breaks things*

    “You see? You see how irrational and abusive you are? Maybe if you weren’t rotting your brain with all those DRUGS, you’d understand that we’re -just trying to help,- and you’d get out of our way and let us get on with it.”

    …lather, rinse, repeat…

  8. […] of Belledame, posting at Bound, Not Gagged (which has a cool new template today)… this is basically how some of the conversations about […]

  9. I did not like the term “sex worker” when I was working. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve accepted and started using the term. The reason? Education. It’s not that I’ve been brainwashed by activists (at this point my brain is firmly in its own little rut and impervious to washing). It’s that I found out what really goes into the word and why and what it really means.

    I’ve seen a very nasty debate over the term on a UK blog. I thought they were more advanced than us — apparently not.

    How can people not understand that sex work = work? I mean, if they did the job, they’d be complaining because — it’s too much work! Then they’d want more money because they’re working so hard. Hmm…

    XX

  10. Well, back on the subject of Farley as well, I don’t know much about her still, but my closest encounter with her to date, I was rather spectacularly unimpressed by this exchange:

    http:// http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/blog/2007/02/ kinkcom_in_san_francisco_women.html

    Well, Im not a american during the years I have a lot of contacts with
    the women who work in our local sex industry. An there is a bit of
    everythink, some women like what they are doing. Most HATE what they are doing, and would like to be someplace else.
    Reading USA pornographers forums and some former mostly christian sexworkers forums, I have came to the conclusion that a large group of the women involved in pornography are mentally ill. Their so called consent is not solid. Let me see, paranoid schizofrenic women, bipolar disorder women, histerical personality disorder, postraumatic stress personality disorder from rape or chid abuse, 90% of them are heavy
    drug users, mentally retarded women, autistic women. Almost all well
    known US porn stars fall in one or more of those cathegories. Many are
    also in codependent relatioships, sometimes abusive. So much for
    consenting adults.
    My opinion is than rather censoring porn, if the feminist left and/or
    the christian right want to hurt the porn industry in the US they only
    have to accept the pornographers claims than theirs is a legitimate
    entertaiment business. And start suing. They violate almost every law in California on workers health and safety, performers control over
    their image, health insurance, agent (a pimp really) and talent
    representation, sexual harassment of workers. You name it. And if
    having sex with a mentally ill women or a drugged up women is legally rape, why is legal on film? Is their release document really valid?

    The problem is that you got a group of troubled, postadolecent women that dont want to be blacklisted if they like what they do or dont want the notoriety if the hate what they do, that are to poor to
    retain a good lawyer without having to sleep with him, to sue. That
    won’t happend. The left or the right must need to get the lawyers
    probono. Many pornographers recognize in private that if you apply
    legitimate entertaiment industry laws to porn there will only two or
    three companies left. Regarding to kink I would love to see the health
    insurance and filmmaker liability if something goes wrong.

    Posted by: rics

    ****

    Farley’s response to this wisdom:

    We can’t just accept the pornography industry as an entertainment
    industry any more than we can accept prostitution as work – those
    words lose us the battle.

    I don’t think that women in porngraphy are more frequently mentally
    ill than Iraq combat vets. Yes both groups are harmed but let’s always connect the harm directly to its emotional consequences.

    Why not sue the pornography pimps and their distributors for the
    actual harm caused to the actors? Know anyone who wants to sue? Know anyone who wants to raise funds for this? I know some good lawyers.

    Posted by: melissa

    *****

    I mean, I love that out of -everything- that’s jaw-droppingly fucked up about that comment–look! gross ableism, infantilization of sex workers as well as any -number- of PWD, among others, stats she’s pulled directly out of her ass, and much, much, more!

    …and the only problem Farley has with this is that “those words lose us the battle.” The words “sex work” and “entertainment industry,” that is. Apparently the words “Their so called consent is not solid” are okey-dokey, though. And, well, the rest of them, those…words.

    And yes, I’m sure that people will be lining up around the block to take her up on her offer to sue; who wouldn’t?

    “Hey, I think you’re actually incapable of being a consenting adult. Wanna get on the witness stand for me? There’s a lolly in it for you if you behave!…”

    jesus.

  11. “It feels like…I dunno, like a group of NORML activists and anti WOSD from an anti-State Power POV were butting heads against the “Just Say No/DARE” people. and every time there’s a meeting it’s like,”

    Actually, butting heads against both Just Say No/DARE people and ex-junkies who are now pretty absolute about their 12-Steps/Sobriety approach. Jody Williams, after all, is the founder of a “Sex Worker’s Anonymous”.

  12. i suppose there’s also the ex-gay movement, but them’s usually fightin’ words, even if, well, honestly, at least a lot of the rhetoric does sound pretty similar…

  13. I’m of a different mind than y’all re: Farley on this thread (I still haven’t read the book, and I’ll wait until I have to review it) – but anyway, re: Jessica Land’s comment: The wise “Claudine” you quote (on that old blog post of mine) can be found here; coincidentally, I just put up a new post dedicated entirely to how awesome she is.

  14. As long as one side has the ability to shout louder and longer than the other side, they’ll win…if you can call it that. Everyone eventually tires of the windbags and goes on about their business. Whether it’s sex work or drugs or pro-choice/pro-life whatever… them with the most wind will believe they’ve won, even when they haven’t.

  15. Belle, that was BRILLYUNT.

    Just brilliant.

    As someone who is personally really squicked by drug use yes including pot, I personally have been in exactly the position of your DARE person there and, well,

    growin’ up a little revealed to me that YES, actually, I was in fact being stupid, and if I wanted to continue to defend my views I needed a far deeper understanding not only of the differences between different drugs AND in users’ demographics, but also of what the State’s laws and their enforcement *actually did* to people and their lives.

    Now, as you can probably guess: still have personal issues with drugs. Have much larger issues with the State’s punishing people for it, though. And those larger issues? Are political? The personal stuff? Is merely my own opinion of what I’d say people should be doing, if they cared to ask me and base their doings on, y’know, MY HOLY OPINION for some reason.

    So yeah, this is a huge digression… but my real point is: I don’t see why a lot of the anti-prostiution feminists couldn’t examine the realities people are talking about here and elsewhere and let that inform what they espouse and how they do activism. Yeah, they might become less absolutist about the whole thing, like I did about drugs, but… that doesn’t mean you’re going to LOSE YOUR SOUL TO THE OTHER SIDE if you question. Yikes.

  16. I use “sex worker” for a very simple reason: We’re not all prostitutes. The vast majority of full service workers I know are completely fine with the label “prostitute” or even “whore”, but they aren’t the be all and end all of the sex industry. If a particular person prefers the term “prostituted woman” or anything else, I will use it out of respect for their own experiences.

    Apparently that’s not a good enough explanation for some.

  17. If a particular person prefers the term “prostituted woman” or anything else, I will use it out of respect for their own experiences.>

    Yes.

    But using “sex work” as a catchall phrase just…makes sense to me; if you’re a phone sex operator, or a masseuse, or domme, or someone who works backstage on porn films, well, these are all rather different things, and may or may not be the same as “prostitution,” depending i suppose on your definition. And yes it is work; hell, even if it -is- exploitive, it’s work. Is there a similar movement to stop calling “migrant work” work?

    what refusing to use the term -work- does, among other things, is help set up a milieu in which self-organized unions aren’t even conceivable, and if someone -does- conceive of them, are likelier to be dismissed out of hand as illegitimate. Which, to me, sucks.

  18. mostly it seems to me: if it’s not describing you in -any- case, it’s really none of your business what people want to call themselves. That part reminds me of y’know Certain People having problems with the term “gay” for the longest time.

  19. Belle, I really like your drug policy metaphor. I was also reading the Nation article (which I think I got the link from here) talking about how the majority of trafficking victims in the United States are not in the sex industry and therefore their plight is pretty much ignored, so I see another parrallel in the way that the “war on drugs” ignores the incredibly harmful and much more common addictions to legal substances like alchohol or perscription pain killers.

    And of course, in both arguments there is the fallacy that the best way for help someone stop behaving in a self-destructive way is to send that person to jail. Many women all over the world are being exploited by the sex industry, usually because they are in a situation (like being undocumented) where their fear of law enforcement is greater than their fear of the people exploiting them. I don’t understand at all why adding yet another reason to fear cops is going to help those women.

    While I, of course, respect someone not wanting to use “sex worker” to describe themselves. I think there is something pretty insidious going on with not wanting to acknowledge that sex work is work, especially considering the right wing idealogues who help push this idea: it let’s other forms of abusive and exploitive work off the hook. Seperating the sex industry from the global economy means we just get to talk about evil perverts raping women and we don’t have to talk about specific actions by the United States and the international banking systems in creating exploitive labor conditions.
    The people who get so angry about trafficked women in brothels never talk about the thousands of “temporary guest workers” currently being exploited, raped and forced to work long hours in Dubai.

  20. I should clarify: I don’t want to debate with the media or academia any longer on whether or not “sex worker” is a made-up term, or that sex work refers to labor, not abuse.

    What we as sex workers call ourselves is a different question altogether. At different times I’ve called myself different things, and some were for work, some were for media or political consumption, some were meant among my community.

    Yes, it’s completely insidious, what’s going on with the redefinition of sex work as rape. But in some ways, it means we have made serious strides to change the public consciousness that they are lashing back against our work.

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