You all may recall, especially if you live in the US, the schoolteacher named Melissa Petro who wrote an article for the Huffington Post about her experiences as a sex worker and got fired shortly after the post was published. She has written another article for Gender Across Borders about her experiences as a sex worker as well as her post-controversy experiences. I highly recommend reading it.
As usual, feminists chime in with their usual monolithic statements about sex work being the horror of all horrors. Notably, this woman named Robyn who also had the temerity to harass Melissa via email:
This reeks of privilege and worse. Half a million women, boys and girls are abducted a year, and drugged, beaten, raped every day as they are enslaved in the “sex trade.”
We need to shame and imprison the men who use women and children as disposable commodities. It’s game over. This Happy Hooker tripe gives plausible deniability to rapists. Nice try, tho [sic], Melissa. Keep lying to yourself while real feminists and real HUMANISTS work to have women considered human instead of property.
Of course. Every experience recounted that isn’t tragedy porn is considered to be the horror that is privilege. I’ve never seen a group of people so eager to display their childlike ignorance of the world. The usual statistics of “half a million” or higher are trotted out even though those statistics are questionable at best. Moreover, what really pisses me off, is the feminist refusal to be as hysterically horrified at other forms of trafficking. You know, the ones we all profit from: agriculture, construction, domestic work…. Many more individuals and organizations require those skills and services than that of prostitutes, even if every man in the entire world (and that would have to include male sex workers as well) paid for the services of a prostitutes. Needing food from agriculture, shelter made by construction, or areas cleaned by domestic help is used by EVERYONE ON EARTH.
But there’s the rub. So long as the focus remains on sex trafficking, those who have absolutely no problem with buying clothes, furniture, electronics, etc. made in sweatshops or sweatshop-like conditions can continue to believe that they are Good People who would never, ever, exploit others for their own gain. Furthermore, if this approach was applied to any other form of labor, it would be considered ludicrous in a heartbeat. Imagine, for a minute, a feminist insisting to a union worker, say from the SEIU, that because some of them are domestic workers that their experiences cannot be separated from that of a domestic worker trafficked into this position (and possibly suffering various forms of abuse ranging from rape to beatings to living in unhygienic conditions), that the two are interchangeable. That the SEIU worker and the trafficked worker are one in the same and that statements made by the former saying that they chose that work is directly responsible for the abuse of the latter. That the insistence on better working conditions and pay made by the former only justifies the abuse of the latter. That any statements made by the former about bad days, bad employers or occasionally hating their life only proves that the work is uniformly negative.
This wouldn’t happen, nor would the SEIU worker be obliged to justify their choice to work in their field by avowing and apologizing for the existence of trafficking, as though they, as a working individual, are responsible for the practice. I would like to clarify that when I use the term trafficking, I am referring to coercive and deceptive practices of transnational movement of humans. Some trafficking is done between friend and family networks; it’s the same difference between, since the TransAtlantic slavery imagery is used so much in this discourse, being bought or kidnapped in Africa and, say, being a known “stowaway” on a pirate ship.
Claiming to work to have women considered human instead of property is not really one Robyn should make based on her treatment of Melissa. To consider someone human instead of a mere object means you have to respect the fact that they have their own experiences, opinions, points of view. Objects, however, are only what you make them. Feminists have overused the term and concept of objectification to the point of uselessness and applying it only to what personally “squicks” them. How else to explain their tacit silencing not only of sex workers but any other woman who defies their narrow, “feminist” paradigm? I discussed this in a post about SlutWalk on my previous blog, which was responded to be the typical illiterate “feminist”, when I linked to two separate statements, one by FurryGrrl and the other by Dr. Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) about why they don’t call themselves feminist any longer. Said “feminist” dismissed both of those women’s well-written, well-thought out articles on why they do not label themselves feminists by claiming that “they don’t want to be serious feminists”.
Feminists like Robyn tend to be mystified, and subsequently angered, by the tendency for younger generations of feminists to turn away from the movement. Of course, said feminists comfort themselves with the false notion that all these younger women are supposedly more obsessed with being “fun” than being “serious”. If they acknowledge the fact that a lot of these younger women, who grew up on the very feminist notion that they are individuals who have their own voices and own experiences, see how they treat women who have dissenting opinions on their own life and experiences and object to that sort of ideology. Any adult with the sense god gave a goose would object to being infantilized. I’m sorry, but isn’t that one of the charges against The Patriarchy? Feminists doing the same thing doesn’t make it acceptable, in fact, it makes it markedly worse. The very people who are supposed to be on your side are stabbing you in it. Honestly, we have a loud, mainstream feminism that will defend a woman who very likely killed her own daughter before defending and supporting a sex worker who says, “No, actually, sex work wasn’t that bad”. There’s something seriously wrong here.
There was another comment, though not made by someone objecting to Melissa on a feminist basis but on a racial basis. Eva called Melissa out on what she perceived as
The reason this stood out to me so much (besides that I am a woman of color) is that its crucial to discuss, confront and unpack our privileges within the sex work industry in order to work for justice that includes everybody. By understanding and challenging the dynamics of race and western (while you were working in Mexico as a white woman among women of color)privilege, you would make the discussion more honest which would only benefit the work of social justice for sex workers.
Knowing Latin America as I do, I seriously doubt anyone in Mexico considers themselves “people of color”. Most of Latin America self-identifies their ethnic composition and most of this self-identity focuses on skin color, not the concepts of race that we have here in the United States (one can make a good argument that colorism is racism). What is considered white in most parts of Latin America is vastly different from what is considered white in Anglo North America and this is a point which most Americans, of all races including Anglo born and raised Latinos, do not understand. I always give this example: in the United States, I am considered a woman of color with my light brown skin and racially ambiguous (though closer to European) features, as well as my education and (at least former) socioeconomic level; also speaking the trade language of English goes a long way. In most of Latin America, I would be considered white or “light mulatto/mestizo”. That fact is shocking to most people and more than a little discomforting to many, considering the great lengths the US went through to prevent the sort of racial and ethnic amalgamation that occurred in Latin America, which never had a rigid color line.
To further illustrate, lets say Melissa worked in a club (she worked as a stripper at times in Mexico) or in an area where most of the women had the same coloring and features as Eva Longoria. I would be surprised if, in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, Eva Longoria was not considered white. To USian and probably Canadian eyes, Longoria is unmistakably “other”. Melissa would be the “American” in the group and that may not have been a privilege so much as a curiosity (being American or even white American isn’t a privilege or a positive trait everywhere) but I highly doubt she was considered a different sort of “white”. After all, there are plenty of pale-skinned, blonde or red haired, blue- or green- or grey-eyed Mexicans (for a variety of reasons that I can discuss in comments if you want to know). Applying the US-ian racial caste categorization onto Latin America and the Caribbean will only result in confusion, hostility, and a complete misunderstanding of different realities. Colorism, however, is a whole ‘nother story!
Also, I’m sorry, but Mexico doesn’t get to be part of the Western world? Really? Is the Western world only white and American, because I missed that memo. Despite the problems at the border and in poorer parts of the nation, Mexico and other parts of Latin America are as Western as we are (because of, not in spite of, socioeconomic similarities) and considering our sprint to being a “third-world country,” will surpass us before my own life is over, decades and decades from now. After all, Brazil provides the “B” in BRIC. The corruption in Latin America gets so much attention because we love to say, “SEE how “they” are!” when we (the US) loved us some Pinochet, ignored Papa Doc Duvalier until he became too unbearable, supported Fulgencio Batista (dictator of pre-Revolution Cuba), and the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan death squads (the Contras) in the 1970s and 1980s. No, Latin America has always been very much a part of the Western world and will continue to be. A lack of knowledge of history of the countries in Latin America is what contributes to this black-and-white view of how that vast area of the New World defines its own reality.
Anyway. I applaud every sex worker who tells her or his story, truthfully and honestly. It’s difficult to do so in a climate that expects a monolithic experiences regarding complicated human interactions.