Sex Work and Feminism at the New School
Sunday, March 27th, 2011
But what to say? I don't want to jump into the perennial feminist conflict about sex work—i.e. whether it's a choice or not. ("It's not a choice; it's evidence of women's oppression." "Well, it was a choice for me." "Well, it isn't for most people. They are sold into sexual slavery and have prior histories of abuse. Do you support human trafficking?" "Of course not!) That debate is like pro-choice vs. pro-life—one deeply felt and with little room for mutual understanding.
I'd like to stay away from having a feminist position on sex work (although my knee jerks in a certain direction, sure), and instead use feminism's philosophy like a pair of contact lenses, to help me see things better. Feminism, the philosophy, suggests that the real experts on any issue are the people whom it affects. For the issue of sex work, the experts are sex workers and, in a way, clients.
Feminism also (bless her heart) invites people to bring all parts of themselves into any room that calls itself feminist. There is no secret shame in a feminist room, no conversation that isn't allowed, no past experience that must be kept locked up tight. You had an abortion? Meet 40 million others who share that experience! Raped? I’m sorry and you are not alone, not one bit.
You worked as an escort to pay for graduate school and then went on to be a popular public school art and writing teacher? You were a domme in college and wrote a super-literary book about the experience? You did massage for money in graduate school so that you’d have time for your art and activism, which has flourished into a book, an award-winning blog, and several organizations? You have had to take care of yourself since you were a child and sex work enabled you to live while you go to college? Good for all of you.
Those last are the stories of the women—feminists all—on our panel. Each has risked being reduced to one element of her experience by being honest about it. But because each is brave and willing to be honest, she opens up the possibility of others doing the same. And these conversations can be seeds of change. The New School supports radical, challenging, and messy change because it supports—and attracts—the kinds of students who search for art and revolution both.
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