Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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The mind body split

Since the reformation the history of western philosophy, and much of our cultural life has placed the products of the mind above those of the body. Work which is done with the mind is seen as superior to that which is done with the body. As our class system became embedded in the education system (or perhaps as our education system was designed to reproduce our class system) this hierarchy of values was written across it. Those considered to be successful went to grammar schools,  the middle tier to secondary moderns and the rest, the failures, went to technical school. In recent years this has been replicated as successive governments talk of A levels being the “gold standard” and reduce funding to vocational courses such as BTEC. I remember being told I could not take a typing class at high school (I wanted to be a journalist) because I was academic.

One of the most common ways those opposed to sex workers rights attack us is by talking insultingly of the physical side of our work, We are dismissed because we suck dick, a physical act, a dismissal which comes straight from the hierarchies of western capitalism, as well as a patriarchal slut shaming and horror of the impure woman. Of course the physical labour performed by women has always been dismissed and demeaned. Women manual workers have fought, and in some cases still are fighting, for equal pay with their male counterparts. Middle class feminists still insist that women were denied the right to work while poor, migrant, and women of colour had their lives destroyed by the factories and mines of the industrial revolution, or  cleaned the floors and watched the children of the very women insisting that women were denied the right to work. Erasing not only manual work as work but in many cases removing lesser women from the class of women, something still done to sex workers, black women and trans women.

Given this narrative, that physical labour is demeaning, and does not exist when it is performed by women (and most certainly should not receive monetary payment, since women’s work is that work which she gives for free) it is not surprising that many who advocate for sex workers rights emphasise the emotional labour involved with the job. It is after all labour with the mind rather than labour with the body. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that for some sex workers the emotional labour is a large part of what they are being paid for. It also links to the fact that jobs which tend to rely on emotional labour, such as nursing, teaching of young children, care work, are usually gendered as female jobs and underpaid and undervalued. However there is, I believe an element of respectability politics creeping in here, and a dismissal that it is usually those of us charging the lower fees for whom the job is the most physical.

I can of course only speak of myself, and my own choices, but I have made a conscious decision to not have to engage more than minimally in the emotional side of sex work. I sell fucking and sucking. Most survival sex workers, street workers, those on the fringes, do. Sometimes its through choice, sometimes it’s because it’s all they know, or all they have access to.

My preference for concentrating on the body, the physical was brought home to me in a very different context recently, and is what sparked this post. I had, foolishly decided to meet carter for the purposes of making smiles, without telling him I had injured my back. Whilst he knew within seconds that something was wrong it took me much longer to accept that I did not need my full physicality to submit or to please.  However the levels of trust implied in honestly explaining which position will be less painful in order to be caned (on the tummy or flat on my back as it turned out) is a openeness I am not willing to have with clients. For me the performance of sex work must be a physical performance because whilst I can, willingly give my physical labour, the emotional labour is something I hold back.

In some ways it reminds me of this post by the incredible Charlotte Shane, where she discusses wanting to be monogamous. I have no such desire. However I do understand that desire to only be fully yourself with someone, and that there are some things which can only be given, never bought. A client may have incredible, mind blowing sex with me, but they will never be able to lie along side me as I completely lose myself emotionally and intellectually.

This is of course not unique, as Carter wrote here there are many forms of work, some take a performative role, some are physical, some combine the two. I do think though that sex workers, and their allies must not be afraid to say sex work is physical work, and it should not be dismissed or devalued because of its physical nature.



4 comments on “The mind body split

  1. Robert Carr
    September 6, 2015

    Such a very good perspective. The concept of “emotional” labor seems very real and powerful to me. However, this opens up a further dimension about work that deserves further exploration.

    If you ignore the plethora of current and past sex workers who clearly state that they can deal with the emotional stress of sex work such that it is a legitimate career choice, you are probably projecting your own (or your groups) feelings about the types and degree of emotional trauma that you would feel. I believe those who say that commercial sex is akin to rape or abuse only to the extent that it would be so for themselves. For public policy you have to place reason above your subjective “gut reactions.” Once you admit that some chose sex work over other careers, you need to provide a reason for its banishment that outweighs the imposition on their personal freedom.

    I believe that in the context of a reasoned debate the libertarian argument will prevail.


    • jemima2013
      September 8, 2015

      For me its about harm reduction, placing a personal moral view above the harms that view causes can never be right, be it sex work, abortion or any other issue


  2. Alex
    September 6, 2015

    I think western philosophy has been very strong about elevating the status of manual work and attacking the snobs who demean manual workers.

    I’m currently enjoying Alain De Botton’s Status Anxiety (Hamish Hamilton, 2004).

    Here he is on snobbery:
    “Belittling others is no pastime for those convinced of their own standing. There is terror behind haughtiness. It takes a punishing impression of our own inferiority to leave others feeling that they aren’t good enough for us.
    “The fear flows down the generations. In a pattern common to all abusive behavious, snobs generate snobs. An older generation inflicts its own unusually powerful association between modest rank and catastrophe, denying its offspring the layer of emotional bedding that would grant them the inner ease to imagine that low status (their own and that of others) does not neatly equate with unworthiness, nor high status with excellence.”

    This is a philosophical statement and it is well said:
    “I do think though that sex workers, and their allies must not be afraid to say sex work is physical work, and it should not be dismissed or devalued because of its physical nature.”

    I read you for your excellence as a philosopher. I find philosophy is essential for unskilled manual workers like myself to maintain good mental health. Thanks again.


    • jemima2013
      September 8, 2015

      and thank you for reading and your kind words.


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This entry was posted on September 5, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , .

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