Whoring is like military service…okay in the upper brackets, not so good lower down. – Robert A. Heinlein
Many Americans like to pretend that all prostitutes are streetwalkers. I say “pretend” because, though I am sure there are some ill-informed folks out there who simply don’t know any better, I am equally sure the vast majority of people in this country know of the existence of call girls, escorts, massage parlor girls, brothel girls, lawyers and other types of prostitutes. Yet, even so, say “prostitute” to the average American and the picture that will pop into his (or her) mind is the stereotypical underdressed, overly made up streetwalker leaning against a lamp post and smoking a cigarette. Ignore for a minute that this stereotype isn’t even true of many streetwalkers; the real question is, why? How is it that the word “prostitute”, broad and clinical as it is, has come to mean for most Americans only those women at the very bottom of our profession? I can’t be sure of all the reasons, but I have some educated guesses I would like to share with you.
First and foremost, of course, is that streetwalkers are ubiquitous. To my knowledge no one has ever done a world census of whores, but The National Task Force on Prostitution estimates that, of the entire female prostitute community in America, only five to twenty percent are street walkers (that’s an average estimate of 12.5%, so let’s be generous and say 15%). And unlike the brothel girls and massage girls (who are only encountered in their own places of business) or call girls and escorts (who are difficult to tell apart from other women), streetwalkers stand out; they’re hard to miss when they’re present. Since they have no advertising and/or place of business, how else could they attract clientele? They have to be visible, and they have to advertise their profession so as not to be overlooked. Hence, the flashy and/or revealing clothes favored by many (though by no means all) of them. On top of that, they are more thinly spread; I daresay there are a few streetwalkers in many towns too small for a massage parlor or escort service. All the streetwalker needs to set up shop is a pair of shoes.
It’s quite likely that just about everyone reading this has seen a few streetwalkers in his life (probably more than just a few), and since they do stand out they make a strong impression. It is the nature of the human mind to stereotype, which is of course how prejudices are formed. It is unfortunately not much of a leap for a person to go from “I saw some prostitutes who looked like sleazy drug addicts” to “all prostitutes are sleazy drug addicts.” Or to go from “I read in the paper that many crimes are committed by black men” to “all black men are criminals.” And so on. Even if the rational mind knows that not ALL members of a group are like its lowest elements, the temptation to classify any given member of that group as the lowest common denominator is very strong indeed. And when the people who are doing the stereotyping are in positions of authority, abominations like racial profiling are the inevitable result.
Another source of the stereotype is movies and television shows. The Hollywood prostitute is a curious creature; she looks like a call girl but dresses and acts like a streetwalker (except for her heart of gold). This applies only to main characters, of course; seedy-looking streetwalkers may be added to a street scene to give it a more run-down, low-class, skid row sort of atmosphere. Once in a great while there will be a high-class call girl (or a courtesan if the show is set far enough in the past), but this is a very rare exception. In the universe of movies and television, streetwalkers outnumber the rest of us by many hundreds to one. And considering how tenacious visual images can be, this false picture is permanently imbedded in the minds of many people.
Finally, there’s the vulgar appeal of the streetwalker. Many people are fascinated by vulgarity; our youth idolizes entertainers who adopt the personas of “gangstas”, thugs, “pimps”, skinheads and other lowlifes. The tabloids dwell on the lowest, sleaziest activities of celebrities, especially those celebrities who are merely famous specimens of what I grew up calling “white trash.” Television shows such as Jerry Springer, Cops and the numerous courtroom and “reality” shows present the worst, lowest, nastiest, sickest, most tawdry examples of human behavior as “entertainment”. Vulgarity sells. And considering that, is it any surprise that most Americans would rather think about streetwalkers than call girls?
So, OK, you may say; so what? So the stereotype is not accurate for a very large number of prostitutes. We all know that stereotypes are wrong, blah blah blah. People aren’t going to change the way they think, so why bring it up? And I would reply, “good question.” For the most part you’re right; until and unless there is some sort of sea change in American culture most people here are going to continue thinking of all prostitutes as streetwalkers. Movies and TV shows will continue to portray us all as fashion-disabled alley cats, and people will continue to use expressions like “dress like a hooker”.
In and of itself, none of this matters. The problem lies in the fact that institutions and groups are made up of those same ill-informed, stereotype-bound people. Bureacrats, politicians, lawyers and political activists are all members of that vague mass called “the public.” And though it may not matter that a grocer or a bus driver or a housewife thinks that all prostitutes are equivalent to streetwalkers, it most certainly matters that cops, lawmakers, judges and feminists think so.
One of the excuses for keeping prostitution laws on the books is that streetwalkers can be, well, annoying; they loiter and may accost passersby with unwelcome propositions. But call girls, brothel girls and other non-streetwalking prostitutes don’t loiter; we accost no one. Our customers approach us and know where to find us; we are essentially invisible to everyone else and therefore cannot be considered a public nuisance. In many countries prostitution itself is legal but solicitation is illegal; in other words advertising in the telephone book or working in a brothel is perfectly acceptable but hailing men on the street with offers is not. In those countries, streetwalkers are controlled with solicitation and loitering laws and other prostitutes are allowed to practice their profession in peace; in the United States, however, all prostitutes are tarred with the same brush because the legislators pretend we are all streetwalkers.
Also, since a large percentage of streetwalkers are drug addicts, they contribute to a host of criminal behaviors. Drug addicts are not known for their honesty; they will lie, cheat, steal or whatever else it takes to get a fix. Many streetwalkers are thus petty thieves in addition to being prostitutes (or even petty thieves masquerading as prostitutes), and of course drug dealers are likely to be found nearby so as to capitalize on the market. This is the excuse the cops use for arresting prostitutes. But here, once again, the fallacy becomes obvious: Since call girls are not streetwalkers, why “sting” them? Why raid brothels? I’m not saying that there are no drug-addicted escorts; that would be a bald-faced lie. But criminalizing an entire profession because some of its members break other laws is absurd. By that logic, being a cop, actor or musician should also be illegal. I personally think American drug laws are completely insane (though I have never used an illegal drug in my life), but that’s another subject entirely. Suffice it to say that police plots against call girls are inspired and driven by the streetwalker stereotype, and thus are wastes of public money and valuable man-hours that could be spent combating actual crime.
And that brings us to feminists. I am not speaking here of women who hold that men and women, though different, are equally valuable to society and should be given equal treatment under the law. That is what I consider TRUE feminism, which I strongly believe in. No, when I speak here of feminists I mean the radical feminists (whom I refer to as ”neofeminists”) and those well-meaning but ill-informed ladies who follow them in the misapprehension that they truly want what’s best for all women. This tribe of lunatics presumes to speak for all women despite the fact that their philosophies and agendas are farther away from what most women want and need than most men’s are! And in their struggle to wrest control of sex away from the men (who never had it in the first place), they have decided that prostitution is a tool of the “patriarchy” and so should be abolished in order to save its poor, objectified victims. Of course, this whole philosophy is based once again on the fallacy that all whores are streetwalkers; most such “feminists” believe that our lives are all as sordid and pathetic as those of our little sisters in the street. In their zeal to free women from imagined “oppression” the radical feminists fail to recognize that the main reason streetwalkers are trapped is because of the very laws that they demand stricter enforcement of, the laws that allow streetwalkers no options. Our society’s punitive approach to drugs and prostitution make most streetwalkers criminals several times over, when in fact they are victims in need of help. The laws keep them from getting that help, and pimps appear like vultures to victimize them even further, driving them ever more deeply into the mud.
Ironically, the law enforcement this type of “feminist” favors actually encourages the exploitation of streetwalkers by evil men, and we call girls can’t really speak out against the tyranny because the legislatures aren’t going to pay any attention to avowed whores; in fact, we might even be arrested. Prostitutes on all levels need feminists to take off their anti-sex, anti-male blinders and go to bat for their sisters in the world’s oldest (and in the West, least-respected) profession. Is this likely to happen any time soon? Probably not. But there is a small but growing movement within feminism that rejects the anti-sex rhetoric and is willing to listen to those of us who make our living through sex. There is also a small but growing number of prostitutes (some retired, some still active) who are willing to speak out against the very real oppression we have experienced at the hands of the men in power. If these two groups can get together perhaps something may be accomplished yet.
I do not for one minute believe that streetwalking can or should be eliminated. There have been streetwalkers for as long as there have been streets for them to walk, and there probably always will be. Every institution has a seamy underbelly, every profession a lowest stratum. What I hope for is that someday streetwalkers who want out of that lifestyle will have options, avenues of escape from drugs and pimps and alleyways that are not blocked by cops and courts. Prostitution can be a rewarding and profitable profession for those of us who choose it, but no woman should be forced into it by unfortunate circumstances and then held there by the very people and institutions who profess to have her best interests at heart.