Scratch the surface of a cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist. - Saying of uncertain origin
As so often happens in this blog, I started to type out an answer to a reply and found that it quickly grew long enough to be a column of its own. The reply in question was from Stephen Patterson and it appeared in yesterday’s column; I’ll break it up into pieces interspersed with my replies for ease of reading.
One of the problems with the media in this area as in many others is that the vast mass of media have little time to be anything other than superficial. Investigative journalism is also very expensive journalism.
I fully admit that the aphorism which appears as today’s epigram totally applies to me. Though I could generally give George Carlin or Ambrose Bierce a run for the money in the cynicism department (especially where government and other monolithic institutions are concerned), I am occasionally overcome by an attack of pure optimism. When this happens I usually manage to fight the feeling down, hissing and screaming like a wet cat, and force it back into the little lightless box under my mental staircase where it is kept most of the time; if I’m lucky I don’t even get too badly scratched. But every once in a while (when I think the possible consequences if I’m wrong will be minimal or nonexistent) I’ll indulge one of these optimistic feelings for a few minutes, so that when I am inevitably disappointed it acts as a sort of “booster shot” of cynicism without plunging me into deep despair.
Well, in one of the earlier replies to yesterday’s column Sailor Barsoom said: “Reporters, please. You are supposed to be what protects us from disinformation. You are supposed to be noble enough a profession that it makes sense that Superman would choose to be one of you when he isn’t in uniform”. At the mention of the Caped Kryptonian’s name I was momentarily overcome with a sort of nostalgic naïveté and thought to myself, “What if the reporter who wrote that story isn’t willfully ignorant? After all, he has to please his masters for a living just as other wage-slaves do; what if maybe he really wanted to do a real story but was too afraid, or even specifically ordered not to?” So, I went back to the original article and clicked on the link to send an email to the reporter who wrote it, Torsten Ove. Here’s what I sent him:
Dear Mr. Ove,
I realize that your editor may not be interested in balanced stories about unpopular subjects; however, if you are here are a few resources you might consult about the reality of prostitution, rather than merely accepting the lies and distortions promulgated by the police at face value.
You may find a lot of what the women who staff these organizations have to say illuminating.
The Honest Courtesan
He replied within a few minutes with a single line: “Thanks, but I’ll stick with the lies and distortions.”
I then re-replied:
Dear Mr. Ove,
That doesn’t surprise me, but on the off-chance you were a true journalist I had to try.
The Honest Courtesan
So much for truth, justice and the American way. It may be that Stephen is correct in saying that most reporters lack the time and money to look beyond the propaganda, but I’m afraid Mr. Ove isn’t one of them; by his own admission he has drunk deeply of the Kool-aid and found it sweet.
Realistically, I think we can hope for two things: sex worker rights organisations to raise their profiles and efficiency, so that media outlets think of and contact them, and that therefore at least an alternative perspective can be communicated; and secondly that they undertake pro-active initiatives so they are not caught on the back foot all the time.
Stephen is absolutely right, but the problem is that most of the women who are impacted by these discriminatory laws don’t dare to speak up about them; a friend of mine who is still an active escort told me that a recent effort to start up a SWOP chapter in Texas went over like a lead zeppelin. The reason should be obvious; to openly declare oneself a prostitute in the current repressive climate is to risk investigation by every “law enforcement” agency with jurisdiction, at least one of whom will certainly find something to charge one with. Not the least of these is the Inquisition-like “child protective services”, who would immediately abduct any avowed prostitute’s children and place them in “foster care” because obviously it’s much better for them to be given to complete strangers than to risk contamination by sex rays which might destroy their “innocence” by inducing the dreaded “premature sexualization”. And even if she has no children, the threat of a charge of “tax evasion” from the Internal Revenue Service is enough to make Satan cower. So, it’s pretty much up to us old retired ladies, except that most retired whores want to vanish into the woodwork rather than risk social censure (not to mention the aforementioned IRS and/or “child protective services”). And even those who do care enough and are willing to risk audit are largely ignored by people like Mr. Ove, who can’t even be bothered to listen.
What’s going to be needed is for some big moneybags like Bill Gates to get behind sex worker rights so we can advertise and thereby attract a bunch of empty-headed Hollywood stars who are looking for a new cause to adopt. In the minds of the hoi-polloi, the opinion of one celebrity who knows nothing about the subject is worth the life-experiences of a thousand veteran whores, and once the cause becomes “sexy” enough all of a sudden people will be coming out of the woodwork to support it. Pretty soon it will become a “controversial issue” and a few state judges looking for publicity will overturn their states’ prostitution laws while other states hold legalization referendums and still others react by enacting new and Draconian anti-prostitute laws. About this time all the self-proclaimed “liberals” will start mouthing slogans about our rights despite having vehemently denied them when it was politically correct to do so, then we’re home free.
ant is sort of right about perception, except that when you survey the actual public (our UK public, anyway), some polls suggest that antipathy to the sex industry is nothing like as widespread as people think. I think what holds up progress more than anything is (a) politicians’ understandable fear of media backlash if a more liberal regime is proposed, and (b) disunity among those advocating change, between decriminalisation; various forms of legalisation/regulation; and the Swedish catastrophe advocated by the radfems.
I agree; I think most people are not really all that opposed to us (as discussed in my column of September 28th) and it’s getting easier for outsiders to speak out in favor of legalization without getting shouted down (though still difficult for pros to speak for ourselves as I discussed above). I also completely agree that political inertia is a large part of the problem; after all, the majority of the US population has been in favor of decriminalization of marijuana for over two decades now, yet we’ve only seen the first major cracks in the prohibition dam in the past decade, and in a few weeks the first state election on the issue of full decriminalization will be held in California. But as with marijuana, governments are not above bold-faced lying to keep prostitution illegal, though we do have one slight advantage over the marijuana issue in that there is no federal anti-prostitution law to conflict with decriminalization within a state.
However, I think Stephen has hit dead on the money with his last point; if women had not allowed the feminist movement to be hijacked by angry lesbian man-haters in the late ‘70s, prostitution would’ve been decriminalized in California twenty years ago and most states would have followed suit by now. A comparison with the “gay rights” movement is instructive; their cause was becoming more popular and slowly gaining ground until they invented the mythical “GLBT community” in the early ‘90s. By linking together four separate minorities (homosexual men, lesbians, bisexuals and “transgendered people”, the last an artificial umbrella grouping in itself) into an unreal but politically useful construction, queer activists were able to combine forces with a number of much smaller groups to present one unified front. The results are obvious; the “gay rights” landscape has changed dramatically in little over a decade. But imagine if, having won basic rights, the “GLBT” leadership had not only decided that “lipstick lesbians” were “anti-queer”, but also chosen to actively compose propaganda against them and cooperate with reactionary efforts to suppress them. Because that is what has happened to sex workers; having won their seat at the “big table”, neofeminists have not only turned against us, but have also sold us out to the tyrants by giving them new “feminist” excuses for their repressive laws.