Being Made A Whore: A Radical Lesbian Feminist Reading of Melissa Gira Grant’s ‘Playing the Whore’ (Verso, London 2014)

                                                                                                                             Niemand hat das Recht zu gehorchen.

                                                                                                                             Nobody has the right to obey.

                                                                                                                                                             (Hannah Arendt)

 

My library has a section for feminism. It carries little to no truly radical literature, but it is quite useful for to see what’s going on in liberal feminism these days.

The last book I picked up and want to write about now is Melissa Gira Grant’s ‘Playing the Whore, The Work of Sex Work’ (Verso, London 2014). Before I get into it, I just want to add that this is the first post of what I hope will become the series ‘Radical Readings’. I want to write about books I read from a Radical Lesbian Feminist perspective. ‘Radical Readings’ will not be academical, formally coherent[i] or have an overarching content-based logic regarding the books I pick: Whatever I find in the library, whatever I like to write about.

So, ‘Playing the Whore’.

This is Melissa Gira Grant’s biography from her website: ″I’m a writer and journalist covering sexual politics, technology, and human rights. My book, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014) challenges the myths about selling sex and those who make them. My reporting and commentary has appeared in The Nation, The New York Times, VICE, Wired, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Dissent, among other publications. My other books include Take This Book: A History of the People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street, in 2011 through my own media label Glass Houses, and Coming & Crying (Glass Houses, 2010), an anthology of true stories about sex (co-edited with Meaghan O’Connell). I speak regularly to audiences worldwide at institutions such as Duke University, the New School, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, the Open Society Foundations, Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, and the UC Berkeley Labor Center, and at events including South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW), re:publica (Berlin), NEXT (Copenhagen), and the International AIDS Conference. I co-organize the podcast series Nostalgia for the Net. My story “Before Departure,” a collaboration with photographer Fette Sans and published by Abe’s Penny, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art Library in 2013 and by the Brooklyn Art Museum in 2014 for their permanent collections. In addition to working as a writer and journalist, I’m proud to have been a member of the Exotic Dancers’ Union (SEIU Local 790), a staff member at St. James Infirmary (the only occupational health and safety clinic in the United States run for and by sex workers), and worked to advance gender justice with the Third Wave Foundation.”

For simplicity’s sake, I also take the general description of ‘Playing the Whore’ from there: ″The sex industry is an endless source of prurient drama for the mainstream media. Recent years have seen a panic over “online red-light districts,” which supposedly seduce vulnerable young women into a life of degradation, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s live tweeting of a Cambodian brothel raid. The current trend for writing about and describing actual experiences of sex work fuels a culture obsessed with the behavior of sex workers. Rarely do these fearful dispatches come from sex workers themselves, and they never seem to deviate from the position that sex workers must be rescued from their condition, and the industry simply abolished — a position common among feminists and conservatives alike. In Playing the Whore, journalist Melissa Gira Grant turns these pieties on their head, arguing for an overhaul in the way we think about sex work. Based on ten years of writing and reporting on the sex trade, and grounded in her experience as an organizer, advocate, and former sex worker, Playing the Whore dismantles pervasive myths about sex work, criticizes both conditions within the sex industry and its criminalization, and argues that separating sex work from the “legitimate” economy only harms those who perform sexual labor. Sex workers’ demands, too long relegated to the margins, take center stage: sex work is work, and sex workers’ rights are human rights.”

This description clarifies what ‘Playing the Whore’ is not: It is not a How-to guide and it is not a memoir. Melissa Gira Grant explicitly states so and describes her denial to go into her own life circumstances as an act of resistance (p. 34).

I find this sentiment reasonable and logical. ‘Playing the Whore’ is not a book about Melissa Gira Grant. It is not even a book about women in prostitution. It is a book about women, full stop.

It explores the position of women in society and ways to improve said position. It offers a vision for the future of ″sex work″, feminism, female labour and female financial and social empowerment.

And this is the reason I need to take the exact opposite stance.

I need to write about myself.

*

The girl is twelve.  This year, summer came within a single day. She went to school in a knit pullover and changed into cut-offs the moment she came home. She also meets her friends to go out for ice cream in the afternoon.

She carries a small yellow wallet strung up on a neon-orange shoelace around her neck. With a textile marker she has drawn ice cream cones on it. It is her favourite wallet, even though it is so small she has to crumple the bills up to make them fit inside. As she hands over one such crumpled bill to the ice cream seller, he finds a second bill folded into it.

He keeps both in his hand and starts to talk to the girl. She can tell that she is being scolded, but doesn’t understand why. She must have done something wrong.

And then his voice changes and he gets friendly again. ″Do you want another one of these? I’ll give you one.”

The girl doesn’t understand. Why would he give her money?

Her mother tells her he wanted to fuck her.

*

I’m not a prostitute nor have I ever been. I’m a Radical Lesbian Feminist. I have a phD.

To ″sex worker″ activists, these three things automatically make everything I have to say invalid, I know. I’m the epitome of someone ″speaking over sex workers″.

This is a very common accusation against abolitionists, in particular of the radical feminist kind. It is based on the assumption that women who are not in prostitution are privileged compared to those who are. Women in prostitution tend to be poor, therefore abolitionists have to be rich.

Thing is, I’m not, and I never was.

I come from working-class stock. Neither of my parents graduated highschool. They are pensioners now, and both their pensions are below the poverty line. That I graduated school, made it to university and even through a doctorate makes me part of the whopping 5% of annual graduates in my country whose parents are not academically educated themselves.

Also, my degree has proven to be worthless for employment. I even have difficulties to get unskilled jobs like the ones I did during my undergraduate years, because I’m overeducated. I have been told by the job agency and potential employers that I had actually better chances to be hired, had I not finished my degree.

My family members who told me that graduating highschool was already too much of an education are gloating. They were right all along. My family members who hoped university was going to catapult me out of poverty forever are silently disappointed.

I feel guilty to have let them down. I’m horrified to be a burden. Of course I am. This is what being working class means. I stand in the supermarket and feel guilty I took the frozen peas instead of the canned ones, for goodness’ sake.

I’m not middle-class. I have not grown up in the knowledge to always be right. I was not praised for mediocrity. I have never known financial security. I never was the protected little princess all white girls supposedly are in the minds of anti-feminists. When I overstepped my class boundaries, there were always middle-class people to knock me right back.

I don’t bring this all up to whine. I’m perfectly fine with where I’m coming from. All I want for myself and the women I love is a secure life, not the ice box of a middle-class family or the psychopathic egotism of middle-class work values.

But I need to hammer home that my feminist opinions are not opinions from privilege, but opinions from oppression. I’ve never made more than minimum wage in my life, and now I struggle to find someone willing to pay me even that.

 

In this piece, I’m not going to argue about how I think the Nordic Model is the best solution to deal with prostitution for now. Exited women make a good argument for it, and I listen to them.

I also won’t discuss the tired old trafficking vs. choice question. Prostitution lobbyists tend to prettify the grey area of financial coercion (e. g. by claiming prostitution can realistically help women out of poverty) and belittle or define away  trafficking (e. g. ″trafficking is rape, not sex work, therefore nothing to talk about in the context of sex work[ii]″). Abolitionists tend to focus almost entirely on trafficking and financial coercion, some going so far to deny there are women who do choose to be prostitutes. I believe there are women who choose, but as a radical feminist I obviously don’t think that every choice women make is inherently feminist and should be supported by feminists.

I’m also not going to debate my usage of the terms ‘prostitute’ or ‘prostitution’. I use these as umbrella terms, because I have not yet heard any convincing argument from either side of the debate as to why they are unsuitable. Whenever it is necessary to make a clear distinction between force and choice, I’ll use ‘prostituted girls and women’ for victims of trafficking/coercion and ‘″sex workers″’ (with distancing quotes) for women who choose.

And lastly, I’m absolutely not going to take any blame for right-wing and police violence against women in prostitution. I fear and hate the police just like the people from my housing project and my dyke friends do. I fear and hate the influence of religious fascists on politics and our daily lives.

Don’t you dare to throw me in with them.

 

Although, Melissa Gira Grant does just that. In ‘Playing the Whore’, any feminist who criticises prostitution by definition is a privileged, middle-class woman. Critical feminists make a living from taking away ″sex worker’s″ jobs: ″Opponents, from the European Women’s Lobby to reactionary feminist bloggers, like to claim that sex workers insist it is ″a job like any other,″ but sex workers do not make this claim – unless by this anti-sex work activists agree with sex workers that the condition under which sexual services are offered can be as unstable and undesirable as those cutting cuticles, giving colonics, or diapering someone else’s babies. But that’s not what sex work opponents are referring to when they snap back with a phrase such as ″a job like any other.” When they say ″jobs″ they don’t mean those informal service jobs, but their more elevated labor administering social projects, conducting research, and lobbying. Rescuing sex workers is good work for them. (…) Opponents even take our jobs when we win.” (p. 56)

Where is my good salary, dammit?

These privileged women are also chock-full of class arrogance: ″The message of anti-sex work feminists is, It’s the women working against sex work who are the real hard workers, shattering glass ceilings and elevating womanhood, while the tramps loll about down below.” (p. 57)

Here’s the thing – I am one of these tramps. I’m also familiar with these low-paid service jobs. It is my kind of job, and my people’s kind of job. Dirty, underpaid, back-breaking, mind-numbing and all around shitty. But they are still not as bad as prostitution. When I got bossed around by a businessman with wads of cash in his suit pockets who felt the need to put the security person into their place before starting a hard work day, I could tell myself that at least he was going to be gone a few minutes later and I didn’t have to let him fuck me to pay my rent in time. Being European rather than US-American, I didn’t even have to smile at him. When my baby-diapering ex was let go by the family she worked for without a warning and was replaced by a Chinese au-pair overnight, she at least didn’t have to suck the baby’s father’s dick to fullfil her pre-negotiated contract. When my underaged disabled sister was exploited as a dishwasher in a hospital kitchen – classified as an ″intern″, so her pay was symbolic and her legal protection non-existent – , she could resign rather than jerk off the chef in order to pay room fee in a brothel.

If a shitty service job includes invasions of the body, it’s not time to for (actual, not paid-for-by-the-pimps-and-bosses) unionising. It’s time for the police. Yes, yes, I know, ″carceral feminism″ (p. 10), how dare I etc. But honestly, let the pigs sort out the rich, so that they are good for something after all. (Also, the police all of a sudden is not so bad anymore when ″sex worker″ activists imagine a legalised wonderland where the police is defending their interests, is it?)

The quote goes on: ″As political theorist Kathi Weeks notes, to call a woman a tramp is to judge the value of a woman’s sexuality and labour. Tramps, she writes in The Problem with Work, are ″potentially dangerous figures that could, unless successfully othered, call into question the supposedly indisputable benefits of work″ – and home and family, and women’s commitment to all of it. When sex workers are ″rescued″ by anti-sex work reformers, they  are being disciplined, set back into their right role as good women.” (p. 57)

Note that Melissa Gira Grant is the one who brought up the word tramp. Not me, not other feminists. This straw woman attacking is typical for the whole book. It is even more drastic in the German translation of ‘Playing the Whore’ by Georg Felix Harsch. For ‘tramp’ he uses ‘Unterschichtsschlampe’, literally ‘lower class slut’. (Melissa Gira Grant, Hure spielen, Die Arbeit der Sexarbeit, Edition Nautilus, Hamburg 2014, p. 92). Gee, thanks for that, Mr Harsch.

Also, it requires a special kind of intellectual dishonesty to accuse feminists to be guardians of the patriarchal family and arbiters of prim womanhood – in particular since prostitution is an inevitable requirement of patriarchy. Prostitutes are not the opposite of married mothers, they are complimentary to them. Marriage/motherhood and prostitution are both institutions to serve the patriarchal male.

Melissa Gira Grant in this context also quotes the work of anthropologist Dr Laura Agustín: ″The rescue industry, as anthropologist Laura Agustín terms such efforts, derives value from the production of awareness: It gives the producers jobs, the effectiveness of which is measured by a subjective accounting of how much they are being talked about.” (p. 37)

Laura Agustín is probably among the last people an actual feminist should base her analysis on. Commenting on Sarah Ditum’s review of ‘Playing the Whore’ on Feminist Current, the user Donkey Skin has provided very interesting and sourced background informations on Laura Agustín’s work: ″(…) It’s bizarre that Dean would come on here spouting Marxist theory to justify the sex industry, and then refer us to Laura Agustin, who is an ultra-libertarian and free-market absolutist. Agustin thinks that no labour conditions under capitalism should be criticised, as this fails to recognise that workers and especially migrants are active subjects who make rational choices about their work and conditions. She also thinks it should be legal for adults to buy and sell children for sex:

“Most activists are eager to condemn and exclude ‘children’ from their demands, but childhood means different things to different people and in different places. And younger people who make their own decisions need to be respected. This is why blanket declarations against some activities based on age are questionable.”

http://www.lauraagustin.com/en…

She claims that women who are imprisoned in brothels, forced to have sex with dozens of men a day and moved around the country by traffickers may ‘prefer this situation’:

“The relationship involving women who live inside sex establishments and rarely leave until they are moved to another place without being consulted receives the media’s usual attention, it being taken for granted that this represents a total loss of freedom. In many cases, however, migrant workers prefer this situation, for any number of reasons: if they don’t leave the premises they don’t spend money; if they don’t have working papers, they feel safer inside in a controlled sitution; if someone else does the work of finding new venues and making arrangements, they don’t have to do it; or having come on a three-month tourist visa they want to spend as much time as possible making money.”

http://www.lauraagustin.com/wp…

And she’s compared the situation of such women, and indeed all non-documented people who are trapped in bogus debt-bondage to traffickers, to that of people with student loans.

“The point isn’t that debt is all good or all bad but that it exists everywhere, and its bondage is often seen as lamentable, yes, but as acceptable – something people are meant to struggle to pay off as part of normal life.”

http://www.lauraagustin.com/ci…

And hey, even slavery can’t be considered wholly bad according to Agustin:

“Finally forced to recognize that slavery could sometimes represent ‘a better life’ (p. 199), he is nonetheless blind to the possibility that people in bad situations may be able to exploit them and is obviously ignorant of slavery studies far evolved from abolitionist reductionism. Slave narratives, slave archaeology, ethnobiology, and historical research all have illuminated social systems in which slaves were not wholly passive nor owners unidimensionally crushing. Coping, resisting, manipulating, strategizing, and creating culture form part of slaves’ lives.”

http://www.counterpunch.org/20…

You may choose to align yourself with such views, Dean, but no genuine feminist – or for that matter Marxist – would.”[iii]

For Melissa Gira Grant, unpaid, exploited working-class radical feminists simply don’t seem to exist. This sentiment is nothing new: ″Recalling those years just before Stonewall and not long before prostitutes’ rights became a national issue too, author and activist Amber Hollibaugh writes in her essay collection My Dangerous Desires: I was a United Farm Workers organizer. I belonged to two communes, snuck desperate men trying to escape the Vietnam War across the Canadian border, marched in protest against the Vietnam War in cities all over the country, laid in front of Black Panther offices late at night to keep police from firing inside, and got my first tear gas mask at eighteen to use in the street riots that I regularly joined. Then, late at night, I did sex work. Prostitution made it possible for me to afford an existence most middle-class and upper-middle-class radicals I knew assumed was inherently theirs by right.” (p. 118)

I don’t have much use for middle-class people, but it still makes more sense to funnel daddy’s money into radical activism than to suck the oppressors’ dicks.

This also totally erases all the working-class Butches and dykes who gave us Lesbian separatism. My dear friend Bev Jo and all the other brilliant, dirt-poor Lesbians fighting for our liberation, they survived, thrived and build community without serving the oppressors.

And so do today’s working-class radical feminists.

 

*

The girl is fourteen. She spends every free minute outdoors and thinks joining the scouts would be neat.

In her country, there is no separation by sex in scouting. She gets sorted into a group of twelve- and thirteen year old boys. For her age she is very childish and wouldn’t be comfortable with the older teenagers, even if this means she is the only girl in her group. The girl is a firebrand and a tomboy. She’ll deal.

The boys mistreat her savagely. Nonetheless, she is not allowed to quit. She is send to summer camp with them.

One boy in particular picks on her. He keeps calling her a whore who sucks dicks at the railway station for the price of two Snickers bars.

That’s at least better than one of her friend’s brothers. He says she did it for 50 cents.

*

 

Faulty class analysis is just one of the many things wrong with Melissa Gira Grant’s reasoning. She for example completely forgoes any analysis of pimping. Pimps just don’t play a role in the book. Melissa Gira Grant occasionally mentions them, but most of the time she just lies and classifies them as laudable ″sex worker″ activists, e. g. Margo St. James (e. g. p. 22; 111ff). This alone should disqualify the whole book.

It would also be easier for me to take her arguments seriously if she didn’t come up with completely overblown demands: ″We should, in fact, refuse to debate. Sex work itself and, inseperable from it, the lives of sex workers are not up for debate – or they shouldn’t be. I don’t imagine that those in the antiprostitution camp who favor these kinds of debates actually believe that they are weighing the humanity, the value of the people who do sex work. (This assumes, of course that there is a coherent antiprostitution camp, but for the sake of argument, let’s limit it to the antiprostitution feminists and their allies loosely congregated in the secular left.)″ (p. 36)

As a recovering European Catholic, I’m sick about this US-American dogma of ″Don’t judge!” Not to judge has nothing to do with feminism, and everything with Christian cultural residue, liberal academia and individualistic therapeutism. Also, who is Melissa Gira Grant to declare what feminists are allowed to debate? And why this melodrama? ″The lives of sex workers″, as if it were the abolitionists who are raping, torturing and killing prostitutes rather than johns, pimps and random males?! (But who is going to bite the hand that feeds them.)

Other lines of arguments are wildly inconsistent. The book starts with the despicable doings of a man who films police raids against brothels and arrests of women accused of prostitution. He then puts these videos on the internet for public consumption. Melissa Gira Grant is silent about what is going on in said brothels, and instead focuses on how these videos ″turn″ women into prostitutes: ″No evidence will be weighed before the arrest video is published. Even if she was not one before, in the eyes of the viewer and in the memory of search engines, this woman is now a prostitute.” (p. 4)

I agree with her that what this man and the police force enabling him do is wrong. But at the same time, all throughout ‘Playing the Whore’, Melissa Gira Grant goes on and on about the ads with pictures ″sex workers″ (allegedly) put on the internet themselves (e. g. p. 21; p. 61), and how videos shot of police raids put on the internet help to document police brutality (p. 6). Are women in these videos not prostitutes forever, then? Are their glamour shots and selfies magically forgotten by search engines?

Generally Melissa Gira Grant is the queen of straw woman fighting, leaving things out deliberately and reductio ad absurdum. We had her selective silence on pimping already, and she also leaves out radical feminists when she speaks of critics of the SlutWalk phenomenon (p. 77ff).

Radical feminists are also her favourite targets for straw woman attacks: ″It is telling that many feminists who wish to abolish all forms of sex work, like the Transsexual Empire author Janice Raymond and author of The Industrial Vagina Sheila Jeffreys, refuse to accept that trans women are women. They appear to believe that those engaged in sex work are not yet capable of being real women.” (p. 19/20) Radical feminists don’t accept that trans women are women because THEY ARE NOT WOMEN. A male is a male is a male, no matter how many dresses, heels and make-up he wears, how many hormones he gobbles down and how surgically mutilated he is. It doesn’t matter at all what he is doing while in woman-face. Neither Janice Raymond nor Sheila Jeffrey nor any other radical feminist think that being a ″sex worker″ is what disqualifies males for femaleness. Radical feminists argue it is their damn biology and socialisation, and Melissa Gira Grant knows that perfectly well. She ist too educated not to.

She also accuses feminists of condoning and inciting rape of prostitutes: ″When anti-sex work activists claim that all sex work is rape, they don’t just ignore the labor; they excuse the actual rape of sex workers. If men can do whatever they want when they buy sex, the rape of sex workers, of those who are thought to have no consent to give anyway, isn’t understood by opponents as an aberration but as somehow intrinsic and inevitable.” (p. 91)

Yes, we all know feminists just gloat about women being raped and johns take so much heed of what feminists think that they will dole out their abuse accordingly.

Another target of Melissa Gira Grant’s absurd get-an-inch-take-a-mile argumentation style is Ariel Levy, the author of Female Chauvinist Pigs. Or rather, a yellow, fragrant, easily inflammable image of Ariel Levy. In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy criticises the omnipresence of thongs, ridiculous, pointless and porny underwear. Melissa Gira Grant subsequently claims Levy wanted thongs to be forbidden (bullshit), Levy implied the thong and patriarchy are one and the same (bullshit) and Levy viewed a thong as ″sex workers’ whole selves″ (p. 97, and bullshit).

And to finally go all the way down the absurdity waterslide, she also claims several times in the book (e. g. p. 133) that abolitionists wouldn’t see ″sex workers″ as women.

On the danger to be repetitive and boring: Bullshit.

 

*

The girl is eighteen. It is winter. Snow is falling. It is evening. All bundled up, she is walking home, shoving through the grey slush. She is wearing her mother’s winterboots. They are sturdy, flat and warm. In her mind the girl plays she is a snow plough to distract herself from her fear of the dark.

She stops as a man asks for the time. She digs her wrist watch from the layers of ski gloves, pullover and padded coat and tells him. The man asks her how much.

It is almost Christmas. A week before Easter, she has been raped. She flips out at the man, and one moment later feels guilty. She makes him angry, he makes the next woman pay.

*

 

Prostitutes are women, and this is the sole reason why I read ‘Playing the Whore’ in the first place. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t bother to waste a single thought on them. But I do, because they aren’t ″just″ women: They are women just like me.

All the more I’m disgusted about how low Melissa Gira Grant stoops in the pursuit of her argument. I expected her to peddle the old trope of how calling someone – ″sex workers″ in this case – a victim is just as objectifying and bad as, you know, actually objectifying and victimising them (p. 90). No surprise there.

But I did not see coming she would mock rape victims and turn feminists into johns:

″The late seventies and early eighties were the heyday of Women Against Pornography (WAP) – a backlash, in many ways, to the increased visibility of sex workers in the women’s movement. Just a few years after the National Organization for Women invited her to present a slide show on women and masturbation in 1973, artist and sex educator Betty Dodson participated in one of WAP’s group meetings in New York; she later wrote that it was impossible to imagine the NOW slide show happening in the climate produced by WAP. At the WAP event, woman after woman went to the podium and recounted stories of how porn had injured her. ″Each speaker’s words and tears were firing up the room into a unified rage,″ Dodson writes in her essay ″Porn Wars″ in The Feminist Porn Book. Rather than egalitarian consciousness-raising, the sharing of stories took on an air of sentimental performance. ″An attractive blonde in her mid-thirties stood at the mic″, writes Dodson. ″With her rage barely controlled, she described her childhood sexual abuse,″ which involved her father using what the woman called “disgusting, filthy pictures″ and her being made to perfom an ″unnatural act.” Dodson remembers, ″The whole room was emotionally whipped up into a rage with their own private images of child rape, while at the same time, reveling in the awfulness of it.” If this is how porn’s relationship to women is understood, how is any woman who dissents – let alone one who has modeled for pictures – supposed to speak for herself without speaking against the violation of this child? How are you to say that the description of the child’s violation by a woman on a stage mimes a pornographic revelation? How is this group of women’s consumption of the evil of pornography in a group exhibition all that different from the men seated in a Times Square theater having their own communal experience of porn? There is a sameness here to the communal release of feeling, the shaking of the body whether consumed by sobs or ejaculations: This is what film theorist Linda Williams saw in her analysis of porn films and ″weepies″ – chick flicks. To be in these rooms of women raging against pornography is to give in to the hawker’s sidewalk promise of ″hardcore″ relief.” (p. 87/88)

I have no words at the sheer viciousness of this ″argument″. I could take this bit apart sentence by sentence, starting with the postmodern silliness that things which look faintly similar are one and the same; I really would care to know if Laura William and Melissa Gira Grant assume that a robin, Mary Poppins, the Space Shuttle and a pteranodon are the same because they all can fly.

But I won’t. The utter evilness of this passage speaks for itself.

Melissa Gira Grant earlier on employed a similar logic in the context of ″sex workers’″ ads in tabloids, and in particular, online. In times of Craigslist, she is definitely true that we are flooded with advertisement for prostitutes in the internet. She is also right (duh) that these ads are glamourous and intented to sell the customers a fancy illusion.

She still is not right that these ads are necessarily designed, put up and controlled by the prostitutes themselves, and she absolutely is not right with this: ″This all means that when we consider people who don’t engage in commercial sex, who are most commonly known as the general public, they are far less likely to ever meet a sex worker in the physical world and are more likely than ever before to learn everything they know about sex work from marketing copy written for sex workers’ customers. In the age of the online red-light district, everyone’s been made a john.” (p. 73/74)

In my country, brothels are legal. There are huge public billboards for them. The first thing people arriving at our capital’s airport are seeing is a huge ad for the biggest brothel in town. Every major newspaper has a section with ads for phone sex and escorts, often with pictures. It has been this way as far back as I can remember.

Just recently I walked down my own street and passed by the taxis based there – one of which had a huge ad for a brothel in one of our neighbouring countries plastered all over its side[iv].

Some time ago, a local brothel owner drove that ad-on-car thing even further: He had minivans plastered with pictures of naked women and his establishment’s name and left them in the central part of town as mobile and illegal billboards. He pays the parking violation fee from the tip jar and gets prime ad space in one of the most touristically frequented places of Europe. (When I told a friend about this, it sounded familiar to her, so he probably didn’t invent that.)

So, no, Ms. Gira Grant. I’m not a john.

I’m the victim of sexual harrassment by pimps.

Their public and online ads don’t just give men the info where to call or drop by if they are looking for prostitutes. It is not just men who see these pictures and ads. It’s women too, and we see ourselves in the women in the ad.

The naked woman on the minivan, she is like me and I am like her, and her pimp signals that we are both for sale.

 

*

The woman is twenty-three. She is backpacking through France with her best friend. They have little money, so they only eat one warm meal a day. They call it linner.

This day, they crave rice pudding, but they don’t have rice. It also is Sunday, so the regular stores are all closed. They happen to have delay in Bordeaux, though, and figure there might be an open store near the railway station. So they go looking and find a little corner shop open on Sundays.

Her friend’s French is better than hers, so the friend goes inside, while the woman stays outside to guard their backpacks. She stands with her back to the deserted street and enjoys the sun.

The only other human out and about is a man who stops next to her and says something in French. At first, she doesn’t understand, and then she refuses to understand. As her friend comes from the store, she asks if she is aware the man offered her money. The woman nods and wonders how many backpackers are stranding around here.

She is dirty. Her short hair is greasy, her oversized black shirt from the men’s section full of sand, her cargopants have grass stains and her toes in her chunky outdoor sandals are grubby.

″Never mind.”says her friend. ″Even my aunt got approached once, and she is a Catholic sister.”

*

Despite her assurance that sex workers need ″solidarity – not support″ (p. 130), Melissa Gira Grant constantly blames feminists for being unkind and unsupportive. She claims feminists insult and harass prostitutes (e. g. p. 16 during a protest march through San Francisco in 1978[v]) and care too little about ″sex workers’″ well-being in general.

This is particularly rich coming from someone who not only insults victims of child sexual abuse and misrepresents feminists’ work, but also lacks the most basic feminist analysis. She thinks the sexualisation of women’s bodies plays no role in the oppression of women (p. 83ff)  and male sexual desire shouldn’t be criticised: ″Male desire is held up as a problem to be solved, and ending men’s ″demand″ for ″buying″ women is a social project to be taken up by producing alternatives for men – such as jail – and scant alternatives for sex workers – such as other forms of employment.” (p. 42/43)

I have no idea why ″demand″ is in quotes here – does she suggest it doesn’t exist? With this passage, Melissa Gira Grant also steers awfully far into MRA rhetoric. Usually its the ″men’s rights″ crybabies who howl about feminists demonising male sexuality[vi].

According to her, feminists also don’t care enough about female victims of male violence who are pro-prostitution. She brings up teacher Melissa Petro who lost her position after she disclosed her past as a prostitute in an article arguing prostitutes’ Craigslist ads should remain legal (p. 81). I don’t have to condone harmful actions by women just because they are women. She chose to expose herself. She chose to support the online objectification of women. I don’t have to support someone who does the wrong thing just because she is female. I don’t support Carly Fiorina and her abortion lies either. Why would I condone someone who supports prostitution if it is my feminist opinion prostitution is harmful for all of us? Why would I stand with a woman who doesn’t stand with me?

The second example for feminists allegedly failing victims is different, though. Melissa Gira Grant accuses feminists not to be interested in the victims of the so-called Long Island Serial killer (p. 81/82).

From the 1990s onwards, up to seventeen people (mostly young prostituted women, but also a female toddler and a young man in women’s clothes) have been killed by an unknown male on Long Island. Their remains washed up on the beach, were found dumped somewhere or buried along Gilgo Beach. Some of the women have been dismembered. Some of the young women (and the baby girl and the male) are still unidentified.

On the danger of having my interest in this case labelled as ″pornographic″[vii] by Melissa Gira Grant’s logic: There isn’t a week I go without thinking of these women. And yet, realistically, I can’t do shit to help find their killer.

The only thing I can do is not stand by when ″sex worker″ activists use these women to further their anti-feminist and anti-female crusade. These women – so far as they are identified – were not college graduates with huge public speaking space and the back-up of big organisations like Melissa Gira Grant. They faced addiction, potential homelessness and actual poverty. I can’t keep my mouth shut when privileged ″sex worker″ activists want to normalise that women in situations like this should go and sexually service their own oppressors.

But that’s exactly what ‘Playing the Whore’ tries to do, and one of the tactics used in it is to blame feminists for the doings of male killers.

It’s not feminists who built the aggressively capitalist society that the US are. They do not uphold a legal system that allows landlords to evict children. They are not the ones who want a state without any social security net worth its name. They are not the ones who want a society so cold and hostile that people are literally not missed by anyone when they vanish.

They are not part of the police force that is unwilling or unable to investigate properly.

They don’t use these women’s stories as a quarry for sensationalist, women-hating plotlines on TV shows like Law & Order: SVU.

They are not waging a ″war on drugs″ that denies addicted women respect and free, accessible, state-of-the-art medical care.

Shannan Gilbert’s boyfriend who hit her so hard in the face she had a titanium plate in her jaw is not a feminist. It’s not feminists who pimped out the Jane Does nick-named ″Cherries″ andPeaches″ for their fruit tattoos (and I dare anyone to take me for a fool and claim these were matching friendship tattoos or accidentally similar rather than pimp markings).

Feminists did not abandon Shannan Gilbert the night she died, unlike her driver Michael Pak who couldn’t be bothered to get out of his car and run after her once she got off the road.

Feminists are not the ones who order human beings to their gated community to serve them, like Joseph Brewer did.

Feminists are not the ones who insert themselves into the investigation, bother Shannan Gilbert’s mother and muddy the waters like Dr Peter Hackett did (if that’s all he did).

Feminists are not the ones who lure, rape, strangle, dismember and discard women. They don’t torture a victim’s sister with graphic phone calls. They don’t kill toddlers.

It’s men who are the problem. Male entitlement is driving all this. Male entitlement to an anti-social society that favours their aggression and psychopathy. Male entitlement to economic dominance. Male entitlement to use women’s oppression for their own sexual release. Male entitlement to live far away from the unwashed masses in a gated community and yet to be able to order poor women in like boxes of take-away food. (For anyone howling I’m dehumanising Shannan Gilbert with this – I describe how Joseph Brewer saw her, not how I see her.)

Melissa Gira Grant says that prostitutes do not ″sell their body″ and prostitution is not ″paid rape″. She describes what prostitutes offer with a term coined by the sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein: ‘Bound intimacy’ (p. 94).

But the problem is that male entitlement does not know any bounds.

This morning I read an article on my hometown’s hospice. One of the interviewed nurses recalled how a man on his deathbed told her ″In the next life, you will be my wife″. Men can literally be dying and still feel entitled to the service of every female around them.

Males are the ones who think that at any given point, somewhere out there, there is a woman whose service they are entitled to. Joseph Brewer surely did. All these other men who paid for ‘bound intimacy’ with the young women killed on Long Island surely did. The killer most definitely did.

If any of these men got to read ‘Playing the Whore’, they would feel vindicated and strengthened in their belief. Not exactly a way to end patriarchy.

 

*

The woman is twenty-six. She is an administrator in an atheist forum and does networking meetings for her country’s second-biggest atheist organisation. She is an out Lesbian, a feminist and eighty percent of her time online she has to keep the men of her own party in check. They are quick to point out religious sexism and homophobia, and entirely unwilling to see their own.

But she has things in common with these men, too. One of them shares her interest in classical antiquity and like her, he used to work in security. One day he tells her she could make real money as a dominatrix. Whipping gives good upper-body strength, too. She really should consider it, her being a poor student and everything.

A few months later, the woman meets a new member of the organisation in a café. He is astonished that she looks like a Lesbian and likes to laugh. When she asks him what he expected, he tells her he always imagined her with her hair scraped back into a bun. ″Strict, you know.″he says with a wink. ″Maybe with a cane.”

*

In the worldview of ″sex worker″ activists, abolitionists and radical feminists are not just all rich and white. They are also all straight and probably married[viii].

Lesbians like me are either ignored, vilified as SWERFs, TERFs or ″radicals″[ix] or forced under the queer umbrella and subsequently into community with ″sex worker″ activists.

This is for example achieved by claiming that ‘the prostitute’ and ‘the homosexual’ are constructs of Victorian society in order to control non-marital sexuality (p. 15). As an historian, I of course have heard this argument multiple times before reading ‘Playing the Whore’. I’m thoroughly familiar with the theoretical background of it. But I’m also in the position to say that historians have come to a more complex view since the argument has been brought up first.

Another way to force allyship is to equal prostitution with publicly visible forms of predominantly gay culture. AIDS activist and author Sarah Schulman in her book The Gentrification of the Mind coined the term ‘sexual gentrification’ for the process of moving gay sex into the private, middle-class sphere. Melissa Gira Grant uses this concept to claim the same for prostitution which allegedly is rendered invisible in the public space and driven onto the internet (p. 44).

Lesbian and gay[x] expressions of sexuality have always been significantly different and radical Lesbians in particular always made a point of NOT performing sexually for the public eye. As porn-soaked as our world is, NOT performing sexually for the public is indeed the only radical thing for Lesbians to do.

Demanding more public visibility of ″sex work″ is the complete opposite.

And it’s not like Melissa Gira Grant’s claim about a lack of public visibility of prostitution is actually correct. Time Square, her example for this so-called ‘sexual gentrification’ may no longer be a pornographic hellhole (although, isn’t it?), but the world does not consist of Time Square alone. The internet also is not some private hidden place. It is just as public as Time Square or the taxi stand in front of my house. And she has no right whatsoever to hijack gay culture or any changes in it for her means.

Which brings me to the tedious topic of the -T in the LGBTQAAIWTF letter soup. ‘Playing the Whore’ follows the cult line to a T (pun intended). Melissa Gira Grant repeats the lie of Ray ″Sylvia″ Rivera and ″Marsha″ P. Johnson kicking off the Stonewall rebellion rather than black Butch Stormé DeLavarie. And why wouldn’t she, since Ray ″Sylvia″ Rivera and other males in dresses like ″Janet″ Mock (who compared underaged prostitution for ″trans teens″ to the Underground Railroad) are just as passionate ″sex work″ activists as she is: ″″The transgender community was silenced because of a radical lesbian named Jean O’Leary[xi],″ Sylvia Rivera recalled, who felt that the transgender community was offensive to women because we liked to wear makeup and we liked to wear miniskirts. Excuse me! It goes with the business that we’re in at the time! No we do not. We don’t want to be out there sucking dick and getting fucked in the ass. But that’s the only alternative that we have to survive because the laws do not give us the right to go and get a job the way we feel comfortable. I do not want to go to work looking in like a man when I know I am not a man.” (p 117)

For someone ″silenced″ he is really awfully loud, and for someone who really doesn’t like to prostitute himself he was quite persistent in his activism. (Also, if he is so sure to be a woman inside, he would also ″be a woman″ while wearing men’s clothes.)

As far as ″not conforming to gender roles″ goes, Butch Lesbians then and now are their wonderful selves without sucking dick. They are living proof that these males choose their fetish over everything else rather than actually struggling to survive.

I have nothing in common with males in dresses whatsoever, and their interests are directly harmful to mine.  As a Lesbian, I’m also not an automatic ally to female prostitutes.

But with them, I at least have something in common. We are women and men treat us accordingly.

 

*

The woman is thirty. She has graduated right into unemployment and has her first appointment at the job agency. She put on the most professional clothes her closet yields. Even ironed her trousers and shirt. She still can only hope the case worker doesn’t hate dykes. The morning cold bites her ears. She had her hair cut only days before.

Next to the job agency there is a funeral home. And next to that, a huge sex shop. A man looks into the shop’s window front, at the mannequins decked out in latex and lace. As the woman passes him by, he turns around and grins. ″Need a job?”he asks.

*

Melissa Gira Grant doesn’t have to say much about women being approached by wannabe-johns. She doesn’t have to, because she has a whole chapter on what she calls the ‘whore stigma’.

″Sex workers, along with many people who do not do sex work, are exposed to whore stigma for breaking with, or being perceived to have broken with, what Jill Nagle calls ″compulsory virtue.” It’s a riff on Adrienne Rich’s ″compulsory heterosexuality,″ with which lesbians are made invisible.” (p. 76).

As little as I agree with Adrienne Rich’s concept of compulsory heterosexuality, I’ve  really had it with Lesbians’ work being stolen to justify sexual service to males. Also, I fundamentally disgree both that it needs some kind of behaviour to draw ‘whore stigma’ and that ‘whore stigma’ is the biggest problem in the debate in the first place.

Whenever I’m approached by wannabe-johns on the street, they don’t perceive me as ″having broken with ″compulsory virtue″″ or some shit like that. I dress like a dyke. I buy my stuff in the men’s section, and all my clothes are loose and comfortable and covering (if for nothing else but to cut down on sun screen). There is a group of Little Sisters of Jesus around the corner, and one of them dresses just like me.

I’m a separatist. I don’t have any male friends at all. I don’t talk to males unless it can’t be avoided. The only penises I’ve ever seen were the one of the man who raped me and those of the flashers no woman seems to be able to avoid in a big city. If anything, I get blamed to be a prudish, sexually inhibited spinster who has nothing to offer in a debate about male sexuality.

The only reason why I get approached is because I’m female and I’m there.

I don’t give a damn about ‘whore stigma’.

I’m a Radical Lesbian Feminist who even refuses token submission to males: ″Oh, I love men, just not sexually!” You won’t hear that from me. I hate men.

I’m already stigmatised. The moment I consciously rejected to play along with patriarchy I have fallen from grace, to stay with Melissa Gira Grant’s religious terminology. Being called a whore (or mistaken for a Little Sister of Jesus, for that matter) would actually mean a rise in my status within patriarchy, because at least then I’d be serving males as a good little het woman.

It’s not spelt out in ‘Playing the Whore’, but women angry about being approached by wannabe-johns are often called ‘whorephobic’ by liberal feminists – it’s not shameful to be a prostitute, after all, so why would a woman feel offended if she was mistaken for one? (Never mind that liberal feminists are simultaneously obsessed with cat-calling being the worst oppression of all.)

If a rise in my patriarchal status were the outcome, why would I be angry? Why am I not taking it as a compliment?

Melissa Gira Grant knows why.

″As controlled by customer demand as sex workers are supposed to be, anti-sex work reformers carry on far more about customers than sex workers do, insisting that they and their sexual demands are all-powerful. Sex workers are made helpless before them, their consent and critical thinking apparently eroded by their attire. The advocates won’t say we were asking for it, but they still claim to know better than we do. Is it out of fear that they might someday have to do the same, to cross the hard line they imagine divides them from the ″other″ woman?” (p. 100)

Finally, the mask has fallen. What a nice little rape fantasy Melissa Gira Grant has going on here: ″that they might someday have to do the same″. Last time I checked, ″have to do sex work″ was rape even to ″sex worker″ activists[xii]. (Also, why don’t we ask raped women just how totally not ″all-powerful″ the ″sexual demands″ of rapists were? A prostitute’s, a woman’s No is just as good as the willingness of the man to back off or her own ability to kill him.)

Of course I’m afraid. I’m scared shitless.

But I’m not afraid of Melissa Gira Grant. I’m not afraid about women starting to behave like ″sex workers″ in droves, as she insinuates is feminists’ worst nightmare (p. 97). I’m not afraid of women in prostitution. I’m not ″whorephobic″. I’m absolutely not afraid of the women I pass by in the streets sometimes. I’m not afraid of women at all.

What I’m afraid of is to have to let a male touch me ever again. I’m afraid that the social normalisation of prostitution will lead to more social and probably even legal[xiii] pressure to let males touch me. I’m afraid to be a tramp in a world where writers and publishers like Melissa Gira Grant declare tramps ought to be okay with being a whore. I’m afraid to be a woman in a world where activists like Melissa Gira Grant have a lot of concern about the police assuming every male in a dress could be a whore, but have no concern whatsoever that their activism strengthens men’s belief that every actual woman is a whore.

I can’t stop pimps harrassing me with their advertisement. I can’t stop men approaching me, implying that I’m a whore, that my mouth and my vagina are there for their random penises just because I’m female and I happen to be there. My age, my fatness, my hairiness, my dykeness, nothing stops them.

This means, I will be damned if I stand by silently and watch ″sex worker activists″ press-gang me into their dystopia of selling ″bound intimacy″ and sexual service to males.

For anyone who is disturbed about my usage of ‘sexual service’ all throughout this post:

It is not me who came up with the term. I take this right from the horse’s mouth, namely from the introduction of the German translation of ‘Playing the Whore’. It was written by Mithu M. Sanyal, who brags about an award she was given by Annie Sprinkle and suggests Melissa Gira Grant should get one too. The name of this award is ‘Aphrodite Award – for sexual service in the community’ (Melissa Gira Grant, Hure spielen, Die Arbeit der Sexarbeit, Edition Nautilus, Hamburg 2014, p. 19). I think Annie Sprinkle has enough pro-prostitution credibility that I can take her own award’s ironic name and bring it back into the not at all ironic reality where it belongs. ″Sex work″ is sexual service to the oppressor class of patriarchy.

I am a working-class Lesbian, and while I want each and every single woman to be safe and have a secure life, I can’t accept a ″sex worker″ has any interests  in common with me. I also won’t accept that ″sex workers″ are somehow more oppressed than I am. They are het or act het, if they are not outright men in dresses. If they have the choice to be ″sex workers″, they also have the choice not to be. As Lesbians we don’t owe them condonement.

I want a future for women free of service to males. A future for women free of patriarchy. A future where feminism is actual feminism and not an elaborate scheme to justify the status-quo and re-brand women’s oppression as empowerment. And I don’t want any woman being made into a whore ever again.

 

 

 

[i] This is a monster post and future reviews will definitely be more stream-lined.

[ii] This argument can be found in the introduction of the German translation of ‘Playing the Whore’. It’s written by Mithu M. Sanyal and one big exercise in belittling, denying and defining away trafficking: ″Doch erzwungene Prostitution ist auch nach deutschem Prostitutionsgesetz illegal, da damit nur die freiwillige Prostitution legalisiert wurde. Und erzwungener Sex – mit oder ohne Bezahlung – ist sowieso keine Prostitution, sondern Vergewaltigung. Worüber wird also hier gesprochen?” (Melissa Gira Grant, Hure spielen, Die Arbeit der Sexarbeit, Edition Nautilus, Hamburg 2014, p. 17/18) For anyone who reads German this introduction is worth a read. Not only because it is almost ridiculously typical for the pro-prostitution lobby, but also because it illustrates very nicely how deeply naive the pro-prostitution lobby is arguing. I’m not entirely sure if Mithu M. Sanyal believes her more blue-eyed assertions herself; such as the implication of her quoted bit that there is a practical difference between forced and chosen prostitution, as if they were not happening under the same roof, controlled by the same pimps and paid for by the same johns. Or her claim that during the football world cup 2006 in Germany there were only five cases of trafficking, just because only five were successfully prosecuted. Or Melissa Gira Grant’s denial that ″sex worker organisations″ are paid by pimps. Of course they are. Some pro-prostitution lobbyists may be naive enough to believe their own claims; at least they seem to think we are.

[iii] If you are Donkey Skin and want me to remove this quote for some reason, let me know!

[iv] In the meantime, German police has raided one of these brothels advertised on the taxi and found that it was controlled by the Hell’s Angels who “delivered” the brothel with prostituted women (if necessary by force). Six of the brothels female “housekeepers” acting as enforcers of the “house rules” are now being charged with pimping and the owner is being accused of tax fraud. One more case proving that legalisation does nothing to stop trafficking and protect women.

[v] It is obvious they are desperate when they dig up stuff that happened decades ago; or didn’t happen, because I really should like to hear the view of the accused feminists in this. I know how the trans cult lies about Radical Lesbian Feminists having been violent towards males in dresses in the 1970s. It may very well be that the ″sex worker″ activists lie too.

[vi] On the other hand, Betty Dodson who was quoted above has criticised The Vagina Monologues for having an anti-male bias (of all things). It seems the trans cult, the sex-positivity crowd and MRAs have more in common than they care to admit.

[vii] Melissa Gira Grant is quick to label every effort to end trafficking and prostitution as “pornographic”. In a Guardian article (full of lies, distortions and factual mistakes, but I don’t have the space here to take it apart) in the she mentions a “quasi-pornographic” billboard she saw in Louisiana: “Using such images in service of ending “sexual exploitation” may seem contradictory, as the girls photographed are presented in what would otherwise seem to be a quasi-pornographic setting. A billboard I passed by last August on the interstate in Louisiana showed a girl who looked sweaty and wide-eyed – only, with the words “‘NOT FOR SALE: END HUMAN TRAFFICKING” stamped in red over her face.” Do me the favour and click through the link. It is vile. The picture does not look at all how she describes it (no sweat, no wide eyes, and the script is next to the woman, not “stamped on her face”). It also is not at all pornographic. Not a bit. It just doesn’t fit into Melissa Gira Grant’s worldview, and therefore it must be bad. It reminds me of racists claiming that the true racists are the anti-racism activists “playing the race card all the time”.

[viii] Although Melissa Gira Grant also brings up examples of housewives protesting and organising with prostitutes, such as during the occupation of the church Saint-Nizier in Lyon (France) in 1975. She repeatedly remarks how unlikely it is that housewives are standing with prostitutes, but to me as a Lesbian it is almost too trivial to say: Of course they do, they both are collaborators of patriarchy. And in case you doubt that, here is a quote from a leaflet from the Saint-Nizier protest Melissa Gira Grant chose to include in ‘Playing the Whore’: ″We, like they, are in the situation of prostitutes, in that, forced to marry, we are obliged to sell ourselves body and soul to our lord and master in order to survive and have a respectable place in society.” (p. 114) Nobody was forced to marry or obliged to sell their body and soul to males in France in 1975. Plenty of unmarried het women, and centuries of Lesbians surviving on their own expose this lie immediately. Pimp and ″sex worker″ activist Margo St. James even back in the 1970s tried to force Lesbians into allyship with her lot: ″As Margo St. James recalled in an interview (also from Carol Leigh’s archives), before she founded COYOTE in early 1973, there was WHO – Whores, Housewives, and Others. Others meant lesbians, ″but it wasn’t being said out loud yet, even in liberal bohemian circles.” Lies and bullshit.

[ix] SW/TERF is an acronym for Sex Worker/Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. It is a slur aimed at women and Lesbians, and factually nonsense: An ideology welcoming males in dresses to womanhood and calling sexual service to the oppressors an empowering choice is neither radical nor feminist. As for the accusation of radicalism, see the Ray ″Sylvia″ Rivera quote from p. 117.

[x] Still not a justification for Alice Klein from NOW to claim Canada’s johns are about to become the new ″fags″. Het men not getting access to prostitutes are neither oppressed, nor are they prosecuted, cast out or killed for their orientation. ″Faggot″ is literally a bundle of sticks used to start a fire in a a stove – or on a pyre. Gay men were and are put to death for loving men. To claim oppression for het men because they probably no longer won’t be legally entitled to “seeking and hopefully finding an uncomplicated and pleasurable way to satisfy their sexual hunger″ is disgusting beyond words.

[xi] According to her Wikipedia page, Jean O’Leary since then has recanted her position towards the trans cult and sided with them. But of course no submission is ever enough for the cult to let transgressions of Lesbians be forgotten.

[xii] Although not necessarily, as phrases like this prove quite nicely, taken from a sex worker’s blog concerned about ‘whorephobia’: ″I became a sex worker because I had absolutely no other choice that involved survival.” A choice that is “Do X or else, death″ is not choice, not anymore than ″Do X or else I’ll shoot you″.

[xiii] Such legal pressure did occur after the legalisation of prostitution in Germany: ″In 2009, the Bundessozialgericht ruled that the German job agencies are not required to find prostitutes for open positions in brothels. The court rejected the complaint of a brothel owner who had argued that the law of 2002 had turned prostitution into a job like any other; the judges ruled that the law had been passed to protect the employees, not to further the business.” That – for now – German women cannot by the threat of losing their benefits ordered to work in brothels, they only owe to the ‘whore stigma’. If prostitution really was accepted by the majority of people as a service job among other service jobs, there would be no good reason whatsoever for judges to rule in favour of women refusing such jobs. So much also for Melissa Gira Grant’s assertion only anti-sex work activists used ″job like any other″ (p. 56) Pimps do it, too.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Being Made A Whore: A Radical Lesbian Feminist Reading of Melissa Gira Grant’s ‘Playing the Whore’ (Verso, London 2014)

  1. Bev Jo says:

    This is so excellent. You are such a brilliant writer, with brilliant ideas and full of real, powerful emotion. I love your class politics and Radical Lesbian Feminism, and that you did not sell out to academia, even though you are now “Dr. IceMountainFire.” I wish to hell you could get a decent job after all your work.

    It is horrifying that you have had to deal with such constant sexual harassment by men since you were a little girl, and there has to be no coincidence that it’s because you live in a country where prostitution is legal. Your truth and clarity and intensity reminds me of the power of Seventies Lesbian Feminist writing, but now you have to deal with looking over your shoulder for not just the men coming at you, but the female-hating women who are the scabs for the men, who are so ready to slam down any woman who dares speak the truth. So many feminists must be intimidated from writing. I’m glad you have the courage to not be stopped.

    You are one of my most favorite writers and thinkers.

  2. Thank you so much!!!! Also for giving me the courage and inspiration to post this in the first place. Without your example I never would have dared to put it online and you gave so helpful feedback too.

    All the way throughout reading ‘Playing the Whore’ I kept wondering what you would say about the things MGG claims happened in the 70s and 80s. I bet you and other Lesbians who were actually there have a totally different perspective on certain things (e. g. that march in SF, but not only that). I hope the post is adding an useful perspective about prostitution. I haven’t seen much about how prostitution affects all of us and affects even little girls.

  3. Thank you. I am so tired… thank you; this gives me strength to keep fighting.

    • Hi and thank you so much for coming back! I understand you are tired. Radical feminists like us do the heavy lifting. All the more I’m happy you find my writing helpful. Thank you again!

  4. nuclearnight says:

    Thank you for having the strength to read and review such a nauseating peace of propaganda. Women everywhere are affected by the existence of prostitution yet we’re not allowed to have an opinion on it? The attitude the author takes is so typical of sex worker activists. They have utter contempt for women who feel and have been victimised by men. They blame women for male violence and they outright lie when it comes to radical feminists and what we believe. It’s so irritating because despite the stigma they complain so much about their views are widely popular. Feminists are the only real challenge they face ideologically speaking. I also appreciate you writing about how you’re affected as a lesbian by prostitution, most sex worker activists forget we even exist.

    • It was really nauseating! At least the book was short…
      As for Lesbians, the most jaw-dropping thing I’ve been told was that I had no right to talk about rape or contraception generally because the topic didn’t affect me (?!?!?). They like to use us as puppet allies to conveniently take from a box when it is politically smart to leech off our oppression and our fight, and then put us back again and forget about us. Ultimately, the “Lesbians-as-helpmeets-to-make-het-women’s-lives-more-cushy” strategy of heterofeminism again.

      I like your videos so much, by the way!

      • K.Jane says:

        Not to spam you with comments, but I’ve seen similar attitudes. As a lesbian, I’m supposed to support the trans cult because I’ve been included in the alphabet soup against my will. I have seen heterosexual women, even on awesome sites like gendertrender, claim that being a lesbian is a privilege because men never rape us.A lot of these same women are apart of the gross “piv is rape” trend. They also perpetuate the lie that you can only be out as a lesbian if you’re rich and your parents accept you.

        I really don’t get how people claiming to be radical feminists can be unaware of things like corrective rape, considering how often MtTs threaten us with it and the Cotton Ceiling thing.

      • Ah yes, the magical Lesbian rape shield… I really wish I had been there when they were handed out. No, seriously, it is always easier to accuse Lesbians of privilege than to give up one’s comfy hetero status. If being a Lesbian truly were so privileged and safe, hetero women would try their best to pass as one to the world.
        Never seen such a thing.

      • K.Jane says:

        Yes, I wish I had gotten the magical rape shield too. It’s an especially bizarre augment because a lot of heterosexual women (and men) think that lesbians are only lesbians because they were raped as children, especially by the father. I was not molested as a child, but when I hit puberty and got big boobs, I had a lot of random strangers sexually harass me and a tranny tried to pull that rape by deception thing on me as an adult.

        That is true. If being an obvious lesbian protected women from rape, heterosexual women would try to pass as us. If they think being a lesbian is a privilege, then they should tell everyone they are one, starting with their husband/boyfriend and family. But the reality is, they know consciously or unconsciously that heterosexuality gives you status, especially heterosexuality and having a man to brag about (ie, not being single). Plus, you never get executed for being heterosexual, or forced into a “sex change operation” like the oh-so-progressive country of Iran.

  5. K.Jane says:

    “As a recovering European Catholic, I’m sick about this US-American dogma of ″Don’t judge!” Not to judge has nothing to do with feminism, and everything with Christian cultural residue, liberal academia and individualistic therapeutism. Also, who is Melissa Gira Grant to declare what feminists are allowed to debate? And why this melodrama? ″The lives of sex workers″, as if it were the abolitionists who are raping, torturing and killing prostitutes rather than johns, pimps and random males?! (But who is going to bite the hand that feeds them.)”

    I have many favorite quotes from your post, but this is one of them. It’s all so individualist and has nothing to do with analyzing real problems. I live in the US and I really, really hate the notion that I’m not allowed to question anything even when I hear straight-up bullshit because it’s “rude”.

    Anyway, really good review. I hate how she uses lesbians and gay men to justify being pro-prostitution, then lies about who started Stonewall and deliberately distorts radical feminist politics. Of course, it is hard to disagree with radical feminism if you use facts and logic, so that’s why they always repeat the cries of “transphobia.” Speaking of which, isn’t it transphobic for her to imply that all males in dresses who think they are women are prostitutes?

    • Hi, and thanks for your comments!
      Actually, MGG complains that everyone else thinks MtTs are prostituting themselves and that they get stopped by the police under this assumption. But yes, in the very moment we criticise the trans cult, their defenders come out of the woodworks and accuse us of being SWERFs by default…

      • K.Jane says:

        You’re welcome! Thank you for your insightful blog. I re-read that part and I get what she is saying now, though the wording was vague in my opinion.

        With me, I was automatically a terf when I dared to make a light-hearted comment about how as a lesbian, I was not into men or their dicks. That’s “transphobic”. Also, it’s not “intersectional” enough if I don’t wax on about how hard it is for literally everyone who isn’t a lesbian. So, while I am really mad that radical feminism never gets it’s fair share, I encourage the trans cult and their supporters to keep talking, because a lot of women have woken up thanks to that.

        I did not see the SWERF thing until later on. I used to support legalized prostitution because I don’t think that most prostitutes were violent criminals who should be in jail. I also thought that if the government legalized it and had licenses, there would be less of a spread of STDs. Now, I support the Nordic Model. I live in America so we don’t have a lot of legalized prostitution here, but I read about countries where it’s legal and how bad it is in the part of Nevada where it’s legal. I also realized that despite mainstream feminism apologism, it’s not just “socialization” that makes men behave in awful ways. Many of them don’t have too much regard for their own safety and other people’s safety, so they don’t care if not using protection turns them into a big STD vector.

  6. Amareldys says:

    In the late 90s, a bunch of us from the Five College area goth/Pagan/geek scene got involved with sex work, mostly in the form of online nude pictures, some as strippers and dominatrixes. Most of the women were from Smith or UMass with some being from Hampshire . We saw it as liberating, as sex positive, as fun, as rebellious. We saw it as defining new ways of being sexy and beautiful. When we weren’t dancing at Haven or holding ecstatic rituals we were smiling naked for the camera. Melissa was part of this social group.

    For me, my online persona was a reaction to low self esteem from being overweight. I loved the attention, the fan mail, the gifts… My nude career ended when my parents found out and stuck me in therapy, and I decided not hurting my loved ones was more important than a website. Also, it was getting old. I have moved on and live a more conventional life, and the older I get the less I worry about people finding out, though I would still rather they didn’t.

    This sex work was all about well-educated young women experimenting, trying out danger. Like many youthful experiments, some turn out good and some bad.

    We all came from varying levels of privilege, we were all college students, we all ended up with our degrees and had that to fall back on. Melissa too. She is also coming from a place of privilege. That she stayed in the industry long after some of us had moved on was her choice.

    Melissa is a good person. She is genuinely trying to do right by sex workers. I haven’t seen her since around ’01, when we were both still in the business, but I remember talking to her and she was passionate about helping women. I disagree with many of her ideas, and I think coming to the business by choice colors things. I do not think as she does that sex work should be normalized. I do not see it as harmless. But I do agree with her that input from the women involved is important.

    • Thank you very much for your comment. Very interesting. While writing my piece here I consciously decided not to research her background further than what she writes about herself on her page, because it felt intrusive and sensationalist. So I didn’t know anything about this.
      Anyway, I’m glad you got out physically and mentally and thanks for stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s