One sticks to an opinion because he prides himself on having come to it on his own, and another because he has taken great pains to learn it and is proud to have grasped it: and so both do so out of vanity. - Friedrich Nietzsche
As some of you may know, I also post on Bound, Not Gagged, the blog of the Desiree Alliance. I recently had there a rather unpleasant interaction with a commenter, and I’d like to talk about a few issues she raised in that discussion. I do not in any way wish to make this woman look bad; it’s clear from her statements that she is very passionate about prostitutes’ rights, but apparently feels that there is only one “correct” way to fight the oppression of our shared profession, and that I don’t do it in that “correct” way. As far as I’m concerned no way is more “right” than another, but since she did seem a bit confused and/or offended by some of my positions and opinions, I feel it would be a good idea to set those things straight for the record in case she isn’t the only one.
A few weeks ago I posted there on the average age of entry into prostitution (as also discussed here on November 27th), and in the subsequent commentary I made the following statement in response to one of the replies: “Most surveys are indeed conducted among streetwalkers who have been not merelyarrestedbut actuallyconvicted, or else those in drug rehab; in other words, the least well-adjusted and least successful of the lowest stratum of our profession.”
On Sunday night, I received this reply:
“the least well-adjusted and least successful of the lowest stratum of our profession”
I immediately knew that I had run afoul of an activist. Let me explain: Some advocates feel that if we allow decriminalization legislation to exclude streetwalkers, it’s tantamount to “throwing them under the bus” and we should therefore hold out for total decriminalization. While I admire these ladies’ idealism, I’m afraid I’m a far more pragmatic soul who recognizes that if we wait for that we’ll be waiting until doomsday. The fact of the matter, whether one cares to admit it or not, is that many people who would allow discreet prostitution in a heartbeat balk at the idea of streetwalkers, just as people who rent plenty of porn still want adult shops kept out of residential neighborhoods. Most people are at least somewhat prudish, and even those who aren’t often find streetwalkers annoying. If it were up to me I would decriminalize all prostitution, but one must recognize that even if prostitution itself were legal the cops would still harass streetwalkers with laws against loitering and the like. So we may eventually have to accept some intermediate form of legal tolerance (such as that in Canada and the UK) and work from there; gay rights were not all granted in one court decision, and neither will prostitutes’ rights be. Even the Founding Fathers were forced to remove anti-slavery language from the Declaration of Independence in order to secure the approval of the southern colonies, without whose cooperation independence was unattainable.
Even beyond that, these activists tend to be highly critical of anyone who acknowledges that there are general classes of prostitutes or points out that some whores are far less fortunate than others, less in control of their lives, and less able to command prices high enough to maintain a decent standard of living without working themselves to death. They rightfully point out that not all streetwalkers are pimped drug addicts, but ignore the fact that drug addiction and pimp domination are disproportionately represented in the streetwalker population for the simple reason that streetwalking requires less preparation, expense and overhead and is therefore more accessible to women whose personal or emotional problems make greater levels of organization difficult or impossible.
With all that I mind, I responded cautiously:
Maggie: I think it’s fair to say that imprisoned, drug-addicted streetwalkers are the least successful segment; if you have another candidate for the position I’m all ears.
Activist: I do, actually. I would say sex workers who perpetuate “hierarchy of whoredom” and “lowest stratum” bullshit are the least successful, particularly in terms of empathy, ethics, and commitment to social justice. FYI, when it comes to prostitution, arrest and conviction are almost always synonymous. As for “least well-adjusted” I would reference MLK; I too am proud to be maladjusted.
Maggie: “Convicted” and “sent to jail” are two very different things, especially when it comes to misdemeanors. I consider drug addicts maladjusted; if you don’t that is your business. And as for the rest…you seem to have a chip on your shoulder, and since I don’t think it’s appropriate or productive for two people who are on the same side to argue about minutiae, I’ll leave it at that.
Activist: Minutiae, eh? We are not on the “same side.” I am working for sex workers rights, you are working for holier-than-thou “courtesan” rights.
Maggie: You are incorrect and clearly haven’t read any of my writings. As for “holier than thou”, you seem to be an expert on the subject. If you feel the compelling need for the last word, you may have it. Good evening.
I then went to bed, and found this Monday morning:
Activist: All right then, “snobby.” Though I do think both apply. I don’t give a flying fuck about the “last word.” In perusing your blog, all I’ve seen is that you use the term “streetwalker” in a derogatory way in just about every post, that you use deliberately convoluted language to try to appear more intelligent than you are, that you have MRA-like ideas about child support, that you are super classist and whore-phobic when the whores in question aren’t “your kind” of whore, and a number of other things that really don’t make me like you any more than I did when all I knew about you was what you wrote here.
Maggie: I’m not going to argue with you, because this is not the place for it; furthermore, it would accomplish nothing since by your own statement your mind was made up about me before you actually read my blog. I can’t answer your opinions because it is your right to have them, just as it’s my right to have mine. I do, however, feel the need to make three factual points for others who may read this:
1) I don’t use language to “try to appear more intelligent”, but rather to appeal to my own sense of aesthetics (which was largely honed on 19th and early 20th century literature, a time when a more florid style was typical).
2) I’m not sure what you mean by “MRA”, but it’s neither fair nor useful to discuss my ideas on child support without also discussing my ideas on child custody and marriage in general, and this is hardly the place for that.
3) No, I am not remotely afraid of any kind of whore; the very idea is absurd. As for “classist”, I guess you missed the part where I use words interchangeably, the criticism of “platinum pussy syndrome” and the recent column where I talked about all whoring being a continuum. I’m sorry you have a personal dislike for me; in the interests of solidarity I think it best we not communicate any further. I will therefore not answer any additional posts from you on this or any other thread, no matter how deliberately provocative you choose to make them.
I think most of my readers already recognize that this poster was responding to a perceived insult without really getting to know my views. This is not unusual among activists, and I since I must plead guilty to exactly the same error I certainly can’t condemn her for it (though I certainly wish she would reserve her bile for our mutual enemies). But I may not have ever clearly spelled out my views on child support. For the record: In the past men controlled nearly all of the money and there was no adequate birth control, so child support laws were both reasonable and just. But now thanks to modern sexual freedom, dependable birth control, “morning after pills” and accessible abortion, a woman need not have a child unless she wants it; any child is therefore entirely the choice of the woman, and it is wrong and unjust for one free adult to extract payment from another free adult for the consequences of her personal choice. It would be as though you agreed to have a drag race with someone, and in the process you purposefully crashed your car into his and then presented him with a bill for the repairs.
But certainly a marriage is different, isn’t it? If a wife gets pregnant it’s not like a one-night-stand. But modern American divorce practice holds that child support and paternal involvement are separate issues, when logically and morally they aren’t. If a woman doesn’t want a man to be a father to his children she has no right to charge him a monthly fee merely because she used his DNA to create offspring which are otherwise exclusively hers. If I were the dictatrix a woman would automatically be assigned full custody and no child support in a divorce, and if she and her ex-husband wish to negotiate a separate contract detailing his post-divorce financial and parental privileges and obligations that is their affair and not that of the state; disputes on the terms of such contracts would be handled under simple contract law, not a special court which presumes to tell the two of them what is “correct” for them and treats men as “walking wallets” who have many obligations but no rights.