I think if a woman has a right to an abortion and to control her body, then she has the right to exploit her body and make money from it. We have it hard enough. Why give up one of our major assets? – Kathy Keeton
I’ve been meaning to write a column like this for about two months now, but never quite got around to it until the subject of the conversation was clearly demonstrated by a recent interchange in a comment thread. Early in April, Emily Hemingway mentioned in an email that she thought it wasn’t a good idea to use the word “whore” in reference to housewives because they might feel that I was trying to say they are just as “dirty” as we are: “if a few girls think that you are dirty and you push them into a mud puddle, rub their faces in it, throw a few gobs of muck down their shirts, you can’t expect to then tell them, ‘See, now we’re both dirty and we can be friends.’” She felt that they might think I was pretending that there is NO difference, and that it would create bad feeling. I replied:
My issue is that prostitution is the only “crime” which is defined entirely by motive. It’s legal to provide sex in exchange for value as long as the exchange is indirect or dishonest, and it’s even legal to do it directly if there’s a marriage license involved. So my philosophy is…not “we’re both dirty”…but rather that whoring isn’t dirty, AT ALL. In fact, we are the only honest businesswomen operating in the otherwise-dishonest field of human sexuality.
Emily then answered:
I agree with you on both of those points; whoring isn’t dirty at all, and we (most whores) are indeed the only honest adults in the conversation on human sexuality. What I’m disagreeing with is your method of conveying those points. Others think a whore is a dirty thing, including women. The answer isn’t to call them a whore back and think they will see themselves as dirty, thus on our side after all. Because that isn’t what they’ll see – they’ll see you being offensive and insulting, and they’ll shut down…I have no issue with the word ‘whore’, but I acknowledge that other people do and I read things not only for how I see them, but how others will input false beliefs and take away the wrong message. And I think that’s what is happening. If this were just us gals emailing, we’d know exactly what was going on with the “wives as a subset of prostitutes” thing.
You’re speaking in Prostitute, and doing so very eloquently, but the problem is that people are listening in Repressive Christian Archetype.
I saw what she was saying, but since I hadn’t really seen it happen on the blog and a number of my non-harlot female readers (especially Andrea) have agreed with the principle, often very vocally, I figured I needn’t say anything yet. In other words, I knew that Emily was right in principle, but I figured that since nobody seemed to have misunderstood me yet I would cross the housewife-whore bridge when I came to it. Well, we finally came to it a week ago Tuesday (June 7th); reader JZ asked in a comment, “Why the denigration of housewives?” and I immediately recognized that this was exactly the situation Emily had anticipated so I answered, “What denigration? I’m a housewife, and was once before, and so are some of my friends and several regular readers. Remember, “prostitute” is not an insult to us; it’s merely an observation of fact.” But that was apparently an insufficient response, as were several other replies from other commenters, because JZ repeated several more times that she saw housewives often denigrated both by me and commenters. When I asked for a specific clarification, she replied “You call housewives whores. Simple enough.”
And this, of course, proves Emily’s point exactly. Despite the fact that I repeated several times that I didn’t consider “whore” or “prostitute” to be insults, the negative connotations of those words were too ingrained in JZ’s perception for her to think of them in any other way. As Emily had said in her email to me back in April (and both she and I quoted in that comment thread), I was speaking in Prostitute but JZ was hearing in Repressive Christian Archetype. This is not in any way JZ’s fault; she didn’t invent those negative connotations, and her life-experiences never gave her the opportunity to see them in any other way so until she started reading this blog, she had never heard the term used in any way but as an insult. So for her and other readers who may not understand my usage of the term, a bit of explanation is in order.
I feel that a woman’s sexual power is one of her greatest assets, and for her to reject that is as foolish as a man would be if he purposefully disdained the use of his physical strength, or any person would be if he intentionally denied himself the facts of a problem so he couldn’t use his thinking ability. A woman who rejects her sexuality cripples herself and weakens her ability to make her way in the world; to insist that a woman’s sex appeal only be used for her own direct sexual satisfaction and absolutely nothing else is like having a car one only uses to go to movies or parties, but never to work or the grocery store. A woman who uses her sexuality to make a living for herself, whether by direct cash exchange or some kind of indirect arrangement, is a kind of whore…and there is NOTHING wrong with that. The stigma traditionally applied to whores is nothing more than the resentment felt by insecure men for a woman who uses her abilities to get what she wants rather than meekly submitting to be chattel, a resentment shared by women who are too timid to do otherwise themselves. To accept the negative connotation of “whore” (the word or the concept) is to buy into the idea that, as Bernard Shaw put it, “Women are called womanly only when they regard themselves as existing solely for the use of men.”