What is authority?

A couple months ago a very popular “self-improvement” blogger wrote a post that mentioned prostitutes in Vegas. Although he knows it’s illegal in Vegas, he was under the impression (like most people) that the laws weren’t enforced much. He toyed with the idea of interviewing a prostitute and posting the interview on his blog. He was sure it would get a lot of Digg hits. And that’s the important thing.

I’m sure he wouldn’t have offered to pay for her time (What? Pay for anything with a sex worker? Doesn’t that incriminate you?), but would happily pick her brain for as long as it took him to run through his questions (most of which she’s probably tired of answering), just so he could get a lot of Digg hits and bring lots of traffic to his blog. Hopefully some of that traffic would click on his AdSense ads and affiliate links and bring him some money. That’s the really important thing.

This isn’t to pick on him specifically. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here at all. What made me stop and think is that he’s hailed as an “authority” on anything he writes about and would get quoted all over the Web. (He’s considered an “authority” on his own life and personal experiments. One day I also hope to be considered an expert on myself.) His one sex worker interview would make it onto all sorts of Web sites and blogs and be linked to ad-nausem. Because he’s an “authority.”

Bound, not Gagged, however, is clearly chopped liver.

I don’t think we get on Digg much, if at all. I don’t know how many blogs (beyond sex blogs) link in. Or how many non-sex sites link in. I don’t live and die by Digg or Stumbleupon (because I’d already be dead); I feel there is a huge knowledge/awareness gap because we haven’t achieved the Web saturation and “authority” that a single navel-gazing blogger has.

I e-mailed him privately and he was surprised to learn there are sex work blogs out there. He wasn’t personally aware of any and he attributed that to the lack of blog marketing skills of sex workers. That may be true, or it may be that he has never curiously searched Blogger or WordPress for call girl, escort, courtesan or sex worker. But still, the Internet masses have granted him “authority” on any topic and sex workers apparently lack it – even if blogging about sex work.

This translates into a much bigger problem than what blogger-boys think of sex workers. The whole Melissa Farley media blitz made me realize that sex workers have no authority. Even the girls whom Farley has researched and quoted didn’t appear in the media to answer questions or have their say. Perhaps it was assumed they said everything they wanted through Farley or they didn’t want to appear in public. (My guess is Farley didn’t care about sharing the limelight.) And although BnG got a lot of attention — new posts, tons of comments — I don’t know if any media outlet considers it a “source.” I don’t know if a mass community considers BnG to be an “authority” or a “voice.” Where were the mainstream op-ed pieces from sex workers? (Not to imply that BnG is the only Internet outlet for sex workers, simply that it’s The Huffington Post for sex worker activists.)

Nor do I worship mainstream media. But to change minds, we need access to mainstream media. We need them to listen to us and allow various voices to be heard. What credentials are we lacking to be considered authorities on our own experiences? Once we target our media deficiencies, how can they be overcome?

I don’t have any answers. I’m only beginning to work through the questions. But I think it’s a vital issue because positive change will not happen for sex workers until mainstream America hears us.

UPDATE: In looking through my collected links, I forgot that I had bookmarked a post about “authority” for discussion here. It’s a short post. According to this blogger, authority is conferred by personality, expertise and visibility. I think sex worker activists fall short on the visibility aspect. But even so, I don’t think that’s enough to explain the seeming lack of “authority” and silence. Maybe I’m wrong.

PS: I’ve since discovered that authority is actually just perception. This post fueled another post (see below). That post got discussion, reposted on another blog (and more discussion) and was the week’s top pick for Sugasm (#113). Though this post was referenced, it hasn’t gotten many incoming hits from the link. Why? Because readers perceive that blogger as raising the pertinent questions and that blogger as noticing the issue. No one ever goes back to read what spawned a particular post. I began writing on this post back in August/September and have been adding to it since then and mulling over things. Maybe it doesn’t look like much effort to the outside and I’m certainly a slow writer. But my question is answered: authority is simply perception. (This is bad news for sex workers and activists.)

O the rich and burning irony: to write about authority when I obviously have none.

8 Responses

  1. […] What is authority? « Bound, Not Gagged “We need them to listen to us and allow various voices to be heard. What credentials are we lacking to be considered authorities on our own experiences? … [P]ositive change will not happen for sex workers until mainstream America hears us.” (tags: sexwork blogging media authority newmedia msm) […]

  2. I’m posting about this ~ you knew I would, Amanda :p So look for it😉

  3. I have seen this when non-sw’er women have questions about strip clubs and/or dancer issues. In any setting, their first stop always seems to be the strip club manager who they seem to trust more, even when there are many many dancers around in a non-work atmosphere.
    The managers are men wearing suits; to people who don’t want to think too deeply about their own motivation, the men wearing suits are easier to approach than the women, who are sex-outlaws, and the men get the respect and conferred authority, out of habit.

  4. Great point Yola!

    Male + suit = authority
    You are so right. In fact, a lot of times male + anything = authority. I see this a lot in the online escort community and it’s really galling.

    XX

    PS: And in my own stripping experience, the managers know exactly how the business should be run, even though they’ve never served a cocktail or performed a table dance in their lives. They consistently refuse to listen to real suggestions from the strippers and waitresses who do the job every night.

  5. I appreciated your thoughtfulness. I think men will likely continue to see men as experts in everything; whether in laundry commercials (how many men do you know who even notice care labels?) or blogging about female prostitutes. Men are experts at creating, believing, and convincing others of their own realities. (my experience)

    So, how do we create our own? I found this information via links, Googled after reading a newspaper article my mother sent me. We don’t have to poke up big and noticed by everyone to communicate across distances. “Natural Selection” may trim the pool of possibilities, but Life is sustained by interrelationships, both above ground and below.

  6. “…I think men will likely continue to see men as experts in everything; whether in laundry commercials (how many men do you know who even notice care labels?) or blogging about female prostitutes. Men are experts at creating, believing, and convincing others of their own realities. (my experience)”

    So true and laughable in many ways, EXCEPT that these men are often seen as the final word on whatever topic is under discussion. And that final word translates into law.

    No, I’m not saying bloggers create law, but they do help create public perception. And people with flawed research (like Melissa Farley) create public perception. All those things go into creating the current climate US sex workers live under — and it’s not good.

    To create positive change, we must do more than talk amongst ourselves or a few, random Internet surfers (no offense).

    XX

  7. This Saturday, January 19th marks the 35th anniversary of Roe V. Wade. Demostrations will take place across the country to defend our right as women to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Protests will also take place from forces who would have that right taken away from us. The anti-choice/anti-abortion forces. In looking over the anti-choice/anti-abortion flyer for their Roe V. Wade protest that will take place in San Francisco this Saturday, I was struck with the familiarity of rhetoric used by the anti-prostitution forces. For example, a woman who has had an abortion they refer to as an “abortion survivor” and their slogan for the day “abortion hurts all women.” Any of this sound familiar?
    Their method of using the worse possible abortion stories (excluding of course the real horror stories that occur when women do not have access to abortion and free abortion) is the same tactic used by M. Farley and the bunch of other anti-prostitution researchers and anit-prostitution activists to further their campaign of denying our right to choose to be sex workers without threat of arrest or persecution.
    The violence that has taken place against Doctors and clinics who provide abortions has made many Doctors and clinics afraid to offer these services. The same violence has been used by the anti-prostituion/anti-pornography forces, the so called “radical feminists.” Bombing places of business that sell pornography is but just one example. The most violent action of all is the lies and perpectuation of the myths and stereotypes in the attempt to silence our voices and keep us enslaved.
    Shame on you! I am calling you out as hypocrates and more critically when you are against my right to choose to have sex for money, you are against my right to self determination over my body. Period. That you advocate arrest of sex workers and their clients makes you a collaborator not only with the Police State but also the whole patriarchal system you so falsely claim to be fighting against.
    I get so angry.
    This Saturday January 19th, I hope all sex workers and our supporters will march with the message “pro-prostitution/pro-women/pro-choice.” And of course, pro-pornography. That reminds me. If you haven’t read Nina Hartley’s article on Counter Punch connecting the issues of women’s right to choose here is the link. The article was written two years ago but Nina is always relevent. That would include both her ideas and her movies.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/hartley0202205.html

    In Solidarity,
    Lisa Roellig
    Erotic Service Providers Union

  8. Lisa,

    Yes, I also equate abortion rights with what should be my right to choose sex work. It is my body.

    Thanks for the link to the Nina Hartley article and for reminding us of the Roe vs Wade anniverary.

    XX

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