I’m sitting on my balcony typing. Some days, I can’t believe how lucky I am. For a fraction of the rent I paid in London, I have a flat overlooking the azure blue Mediterranean Sea. Of course, this being Ibiza it also overlooks a brothel (well technically, it vaunts itself as an escort agency) with a big red neon sign. Outside, it has a sad little astroturfed garden furnished with a few high white plastic tables and a couple of flags which hang limp in the airless summer heat. From my balcony I have a clear view of the bored looking women leaning on the tables waiting for work to come by. They are dressed in the most obvious forms of sexy: bustiers; stilettos; minidresses.
This is sex in its most perfunctory incarnation.
Personally, I could never do sex work. I often joke that I put the neurotic into erotic but that’s just my personality. I can’t disconnect sex from emotions, but I have no doubt there are people who can. There are plenty of other things I could never do: fly a fighter plane; bungee-jump off the Bloukrans Bridge; sell insurance. People are different. People enjoy different things. When there’s rent to be paid, is it so beyond the realms of possibility that some women would rather fuck for a living than work in a factory? I uphold their right to do that.
Fucking for money is one of the things that divides feminists. The other day I launched myself into a Twitter clash with an anti-sex work feminist. By the end of it I felt unsure of my stance. This morning I am re-reading Andrea Dworkin, one of the most hardline anti-sex work feminists. She was a very persuasive woman. When I read Dworkin, I begin to question my liberal sexual politics. In fact, I begin to question whether men and women should have sex with one another. Ever.
‘Prostitution,’ she proclaims, ‘is not an idea. It is the mouth, the vagina, the rectum, penetrated usually by a penis, sometimes hands, sometimes objects, by one man and then another and then another and then another and then another. That’s what it is.’
‘When men use women in prostitution, they are expressing a pure hatred for the female body.’
She says it like it’s a fact and she expresses herself so fluidly and forcefully that for a moment I start to believe her. I start to actually believe that there are no situations that exist beyond the patriarchal paradigm. Patriarchy exists, ergo we are all enslaved by it.
The thing is, I get the distinct impression that Dworkin doesn’t like fucking very much. Now, autobiographically speaking, she lived through some horrendous shit: incest, domestic violence, rape and assault. I understand why she didn’t like sex or patriarchy. I hate patriarchy too but I love sex. The things that she experienced were the fault of patriarchy. Not the fault of sex.
Some might argue that all sex work is female sexual subordination to male economic control, but doesn’t that deny the fact that some privileged women do have autonomy over their sexual choices? Is any sale of sex an act of subjugation? Inherently, I don’t think it is.
In her speech Prostitution and Male Supremacy, Dworkin continues ‘She is dirty; a lot of men have been there. A lot of semen, a lot of vaginal lubricant. This is visceral, this is real, this is what happens. Her anus is often torn from the anal intercourse, it bleeds. Her mouth is a receptacle for semen, that is how she is perceived and treated.’
This says more to me about Dworkin then it does about prostitution. ‘Dirty’ is how Dworkin perceives sex. All of things mentioned in the quote sound horrific but actually it’s the rhetoric she uses, this is just normal stuff that happens in heterosexual and homosexual sex. So you see, the spunk isn’t a feminist issue. The anal isn’t a feminist issue. What is a feminist issue is the mistreatment of sex workers. What is a feminist issue is that as long as we differentiate between ‘decent women’ and ‘whores’, misogynists will feel free to harm women who fall into the latter category.
In her book, Playing The Whore Melissa, Gira Grant explains ‘…so long as there are women who are called whores, there will be women who are trained to believe it is next to death to be one, or to be mistaken for one. And so long as that is, men will feel they can leave whores for dead with impunity.’
The problem with sex work is not about the sexual act. The problem is with how we treat the women who perform sex work. Of course, there are a million problems within the sex work industry. Rape, trafficking, violence, abuse but those issues are not an inherent part of sex work. Those issues are an inherent part of misogyny.
I don’t know the stats but I would guess that sex work is one of the Ibiza’s major industries. Yet the attitudes here to women who engage in sex work are appalling. A while ago a conversation came up with some women I know on the island. We were looking at a newspaper article headline that read:
“Fashion model tells court how mega-rich Saudi Prince ‘raped her on yacht in Ibiza'”
The response was,
‘Yeah – model my arse. Silly bitch deserved it. Bet she was a prostitute.’
Whether she was a prostitute or a model, no woman deserves to be raped. Yet once a woman is perceived as prostitute she becomes fair game. Women who differentiate between ‘decent women’ and ‘whores’ are also complicit in female sexual subjugation.
Until well dispense with this division, until we uphold every woman’s right to fuck whoever she pleases without the threat of rape or violence, whether she does it for pleasure, financial remuneration or both, sexual equality will remain women’s number one unfulfilled sexual fantasy.