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How *not* to write a blog about sex work

The New Statesman isn’t known for its sense of humour so it was a great surprise to see this amazing parody piece by Sarah Ditum showing other journalists how not to write about sex work and sex workers.

First of all headlines are so important, and here she shows how they can set the entire tone for a piece, cleverly creating straw man questions:

Can a feminist ever support the sex industry?

followed by insinuations ablout the the mental state of any sex worker with the sub heading:

Everyone who sells sex should be safe, says Sarah Ditum, but what kind of society is it that makes that a rational choice for women?

fabulously done, a question that is meaningless (Yes, No, Who cares being the answers, feminism as yet has no masonic principles all adherents have to follow) and a “have you stopped beating your wife yet” question.

What about the meat of the article, what can aspiring journos learn from it in order to avoid writing objectifying, dehumanizing articles that speak over marginalised groups?

I know a man who’s had sex with a prostitute, or hired a sex worker, or used a prostituted woman. (Which of these formulations you use matters, because they determine where you have flung your chips in the exploitation-or-self-determination argument.) Actually, I probably know more than one, but once you’ve introduced yourself as a feminist journalist, it’s quite rare that the next thing someone says to you is: “Let me tell you about all the brothels I’ve been to. .

This is a wonderful opening, because it doesn’t just apply to sex workers. Those with power and privilege will often treat debate about terms as academic, or even a form of censorship. Here Sarah shows the ” it,s all just theory, and you don’t need to be listening to the oppressed group trope” as the insulting idea it is, Cleverly showing up all those who demand the right to use n*gger because they heard it in a rap song.

Of course it barely needs mentioned that focusing an article about sex work on the service users is a wonderful swipe at those rad fems and rescue industry types who are obsessed with clients and never seem to want to talk to sex workers. Cleverly done Sarah!

So let’s say I know one man who’s told me about his experience as a john. This man went on a lads’ holiday, and part of the plan was for them to hire a “girl” each. One member of the party, though, had something specific in mind: he was going to do “the chocolate finger”. The chocolate finger is a sort of practical joke. You might have already guessed how it works. The punter has sex with the prostitute from behind, fingering her anus: the aim is to get the unwitting woman to suck on the bummy digit.

Of course all aspiring writers need to know about using terms like john, which make their work look like it escaped from a 1970s expolitaion movie, and always jars if you are a UK writer, so Sarah makes sure it is used as jarringly as possible.

The anecdote is a dangerous tactic, it creates controversy, and since journalists are writers for pay then hits matter. Sarah shows that just like the biscuit game or the Mariella Mars bar incident, using unsourced urban myths  means any credibilty is lost and readers dismiss other sources. Sarah chooses such an extreme example so aspiring writers see what a huge mistake it is.

It feels increasingly natural to talk about sex work as though it’s a simple capitalist transaction. Men (it’s assumed) generally want more sex than women, so individual women can exploit this scarcity to put a price on intercourse. This model explains why sex workers are overwhelmingly female, and the purchasers of sex even more overwhelmingly male. It’s so simple and persuasive that it can seem perverse to challenge it at all

Summarising complex arguments in order to make your opponents look shallow and unaware of wider structural complexities is of course an underhand tactic, and it is great to see such a glaring example here of how not to sum up a debate taking place among sex workers, their allies, in intersectional feminism and the wider world.

Sarah is aware that lots of non sex workers make money from non sex workers, and throwing their names in as equal in validity, experience and knowledge not only muddies the waters but leaves readers confused as to who has facts on their side. Citing Laura Agustin and Bindel in the same article is a classic piece of obscuration, and it shows the depth of Sarah’s research that she takes the time to include this.  An especially nice touch is the misquoting of Agustin, so people don’t actually get to hear what someone with 20 years of research experience thinks about sex work.

The “I have feelz” conclusion is of course classic of its type, and includes all the usual things, lip service to harm reduction, no mention of actual sex workers, glaring generalizations and a few buzz words thrown in. Again its a good example for writers for any group who tend to be on the receiving end of peoples thoughts instead of being asked what they think.

Which of course is why I assume Sarah wrote the piece in the first place. As someone who is concerned with social justice what better way to highlight why the person writing about feminism and sex work should be a feminist sex worker than producing something so wrong in every way it shows why the request should never have been made.

 

(I am hearing strange rumours that this isn’t a parody, but come on, surely you don’t expect me to believe that!)

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20 comments on “How *not* to write a blog about sex work

  1. Zarathustra
    September 8, 2013

    This isn’t a topic I feel qualified to parse (I have no expertise or lived experience with regard to sex work). Even so, one thing that did raise an eyebrow from me when I read the article was the anecdote from a stag party.

    My first thought was, “Well, yes, blokes together on a stag party doing something douchey and disgusting. Hold the front page!” Reminds me of the bunch of guys on a stag do that I spent my recent city break in Krakow avoiding like the plague. Quite possibly the anecdote may say more about the mentality of stag weekends than it does about sex work.

    Like

    • jemima2013
      September 8, 2013

      I agree and there is a deeper analysis you might enjoy. People find shit, anal ect taboo and one doesn’t have to be a freudian to accept that. Part of seeing a sex worker is to explore such taboos. Many clients would find sucking a finger after it has been in someones arse incredibly erotic.
      It is if course highly unlikely to be “chocolatey”
      By doing so a sw may ensure repeat business or a quicker ending. That the story teller chose to describe anal play in a childish and unrealistic way suggests repressed desires and displacement to me…

      Like

      • pww (@pwsw4)
        September 8, 2013

        I think anilingus is a pretty common sexual activity between consenting adults. I don’t think of it as “disgusting” when I do it. (Incidentally, I found the spelling in Wikipedia, check out the illustration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anilingus Interesting that they chose lesbian anilingus for the picture, probably the least controversial way to show it.)

        The truth is, people with very repressed sex lives probably don’t know that if you are going to be involved in anal play, you prepare for it ahead of time.

        Like

  2. Vanessa
    September 8, 2013

    It’s Marieanne (Faithfull) not Mariella in the alleged mars bar incident.
    Other than that it’s an excellent piece!

    Like

    • jemima2013
      September 8, 2013

      damn brain fail and Ty, back of my head i knew that was not right

      Like

    • Zarathustra
      September 8, 2013

      I was wondering what happened with Mariella Frostrup there! :p

      Like

  3. TonyN
    September 8, 2013

    I am struggling with the line let’s say I know. Sort of implies that maybe actually she is just making the whole thing up. Lets say I know is a horrible way of wording something to hide where you actually got the story from.

    Like

    • jemima2013
      September 8, 2013

      yup,again if she wanted to know about bad things clients do, why not actually you know,ask a sex worker!

      Like

  4. Gemma
    September 8, 2013

    I wish there were articles on sex in a patriarchy, and how unpaid sex often involves women being pressurised, coerced, blackmailed or forced. Why is there a false dichotomy of sex work = bad and unpaid sex = some delirious utopia where all women are having multiple orgasms and their emotional needs met on their terms? The fact is, many sex workers are much LESS exploited than women who are expected to give sex for free that they don’t wish to, by self- entitled jerks.

    Women charging for what many men think they should get for free upsets society.

    Like

  5. Brooke Magnanti
    September 8, 2013

    Let’s say I know a frat boy who told the exact same story about sorority girls circa 1993, because I do, and he did. The chocolate finger has been doing the rounds since the year dot. And is no more true now than it was then.

    Like

    • jemima2013
      September 8, 2013

      It reads to me like some lad knowing what to say to get a pearl clutch or three

      Like

  6. cartertheblogger
    September 8, 2013

    Incidentally, if someone ever tells me that it’s taboo to get a partner to suck the bummy finger, I ask ‘why’?
    If someone says ‘because it tastes bad’ always ask how they know.
    Commiserating about their misfortune to have been withpartners who don’t know how to wipe their arse or have an enema is always a good option as well..

    Like

    • jemima2013
      September 8, 2013

      yes the more I think about it the more I think there is a piece needs to be written on the very odd idea dithum has that a bit of bum fun is the worst thing that can happen to someone

      Like

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  11. Irony is, a sex worker is least likely woman (or man) to fall for this kind of ‘practical joke’ because she is likely to be keeping track of what orifices what body part has been in! We’re not like these freebie givers!

    Like

    • jemima2013
      June 5, 2014

      yeah, totally, she basically thinks sex workers are so stupid, or drugged or stretched we dont know when someone sticks a finger up our arse! Amazed she didnt go the whole anal prolapse hog

      Like

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