You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go. – Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
I’m sure most of you recognized yesterday’s column as a tribute to Dr. Seuss’ first published work, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street; you may even have recognized that it’s a line-by-line parody, and that I retained the good Doctor’s own words wherever I could. But it just wouldn’t have been half as good without the Seussian illustrations; they were kindly provided by Ricardo Cortés, illustrator of the bestselling Go the Fuck to Sleep (and now that y’all know he’s a fellow reader, I’m sure some of y’all may be even more interested in some of the other books he’s illustrated). Anyhow, Ricardo had a few questions about my parody and since I’m sure some of you have similar ones, I figured I’d share my answer.
…I’m curious about the context of the piece, and why April Fools? It’s clearly a response to the all-sex-workers-are-slaves narrative. Is it directed to a particular event or charge? Obviously any Save-Them-All campaign is limited and patronizing. On the other hand, there certainly are prostitutes who are exploited and trafficked, etc., no?…perhaps you can direct me to some writing you’ve already made about this question…I’m curious as to how you address the other side of the equation (when sex workers are actually exploited by organized crime, etc.)
I wanted to do it on April Fool’s Day just because it’s kind of silly; I’ve never done a full-blown parody before so that seemed like a good day for it. Though it is in part a response to the “enslaved whore” narrative, it’s even more a sharp criticism of the neofeminist practice of “re-framing experiences”. Unhappy ex-hookers who are recruited by anti-whore organizations are encouraged to “re-frame their experiences”, which means make up things that didn’t happen so as to “sell” the public, media and politicians more strongly on the “evils of prostitution”. Women who resist lying in this way are chastised, browbeaten and (if they persist) kicked out of the “movement”, while those who play along are praised and rewarded with money and attention. An example of a reject is Jill Brenneman (who discussed the matter in her interview on this blog two years ago); an example of a perfect shill is Stella Marr, about whom I’ve written on several occasions. The most striking example of “reframing” I’ve written about so far is the story of Long Pros, whom celebrity prohibitionist Somaly Mam used to advance her crusade: Pros was a Cambodian girl from a poor family who never did any sex work in her life, but lost an eye to a tumor; under Mam’s coaching she invented the lurid story that she was a “sex trafficking” victim who had been enslaved in a brothel and had her eye gouged out by a brutal pimp.
The really creepy part of the whole thing is that the longer the “survivor” stays in the movement, the more her stories start to converge with those of others; she internalizes the preferred narratives, and they form a pattern in much the same way that any mythology begins to form a whole. In the early ‘80s, the preferred feminist “survivor” narrative was that the “victim” had been abused by her father, uncle or other male relative; in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s it was that her abusers were part of a Satanic cult, and by the late ‘90s they had morphed into “sex traffickers” driven by profit. By the early ‘20s it will change again, but of course we have no way to predict what that change will involve. It’s fascinating from a psycho-sociological perspective, but extremely dangerous because the courts have abandoned the necessity for proper evidence and the presumption of innocence, so that even the most outlandish “eyewitness” testimony is taken seriously.
As for “organized crime”, that doesn’t really mean what the tale-spinners want you to believe; in criminology, “organized crime” just means any group (which could be as few as 3 or 4 people) who plan to carry out illegal activity together. My escort service would be classified as “organized crime” because we “conspired” to “commit prostitution”. The same goes for so-called “human traffickers”; two guys in Nigeria with a friend in Denmark and a border guard who is paid to ignore them sneaking willing immigrants into the country, make up an “international human trafficking ring” if the women work as maids, and an “international sex slavery ring” if one or more of them works as a hooker. It’s not about enormous criminal cartels smuggling thousands of crying women in cages as the propaganda wants you to believe. The best book for putting this all in perspective is Laura Agustín’s Sex at the Margins; Agustín has been studying migration and sex work for twenty years and will open your eyes to the truth of all this. But for the most part, so-called “sex trafficking victims” are really just women going from a relatively poor country to a relatively wealthy one to do sex work, sometimes breaking the rules of the destination country in the process; anyone who helps her is therefore a “criminal” and a “trafficker”, even if the “victim” entered into the arrangement willingly and is as satisfied as any conventional worker with the terms of her employment.