delve a little deeper....
Aside all the frustrating and dangerous things about being a sex worker a constant source of annoyance is how other people see sex work and how they write about it in the name of cheap thrills and fast hits. If it's not salacious tabloid pieces of celebrity dalliances with sex workers it's the outing of sex workers, usually accompanied by the horror that a mother/nurse/school secretary dare be a sex worker alongside her 'day' job.
I'm not a prostitute. I'm a female solo traveller by Melissa Douglas, published in the Huffington Post yesterday gave me a whole new set of annoyances. It manages to be stigmatising, insulting and ignorant all in one go. Apart from anything, anyone who writes for the media should know that sex worker is the correct and preferred term for a prostitute. Here's an article outlining some of the problems surrounding media use of the term prostitute
Douglas starts her piece by telling a story of how a hotel concierge stopped her when returning to her room after a night out to check she was a guest in a hotel. Nowhere does she state he actually accused her of being a prostitute, maybe he thought she was but actually, it's his JOB to make sure people who aren't guests are not wandering around hotels at night.
Her reaction seemed dramatic to say the least, she was furious (she's probably the sort of person who tells traffic wardens they are jobsworths when they ticket her for being parked illegally), couldn't sleep and had to go down to the reception desk and make a complaint.
Douglas also felt she needed to add that "For the record, and since I know we live in a society of “victim blaming,” I was dressed conservatively - a long skirt, a trench coat and heels; though I am a believer of the school of thought that women should be entitled to dress as they please without being victims of ignorance and prejudice."
So she feels the need to ensure she doesn't offend anyone by adding women should dress how they want and that she was dressed conservatively. Because obviously prostitutes do not. The insinuation is there; prostitutes dress sluttily or at least she has a perceived notion of what sex workers look like. She says she doesn't want women to be the victims of ignorance and prejudice but only if they are not sex workers, who let's face it are consistently victims of ignorance and prejudice.
But's here's a secret she was dressed exactly like a prostitute does when entering a hotel late at night! Does she think we traipse through a hotel off to see a client in a boob tube, mini skirt and a pair of white stilettoes? No, because most sex workers want to be discreet and not draw attention to themselves. In fact, trench coats are really useful for covering up a revealing outfit. Sorry love, but yes you did look like a prostitute.
She then states "There just seems to be something about a woman that takes care of her appearance being by herself in certain locations that rubs people up the wrong way. As though it is completely out of the question that she could be in a luxury hotel by herself as a result of her own successes. "
In the piece the only word italicised is own. One assumes that if she is still banging on about the awfulness of being mistaken for a prostitute the emphasis on own implies that the success of prostitutes isn't their own. Really? So who makes sex workers successful? Usually themselves, by being really fucking good at their job along with marketing, branding, writing, planning photoshoots, looking after themselves and careful financial planning. I know more sex workers with accountants than non sex workers! It isn't an accident when a sex worker is successful, it's hard work alongside the risk of being outed, assaulted or murdered not to mention tolerating the stigma and stinky men!
She also repeats this notion later; "As a woman in her late twenties who earns her own money...". Maybe she thinks most women don't earn their 'own' money or that sex workers don't make their 'own' money. Is it not their 'own' money because they get paid for sexual services? Does she think we all have pimps we give our money to?
Sex workers are in luxury hotels because they are successful, they can afford a room to entertain clients or they have secured a booking with one through their own hard work.
An odd claim is then made; As though a woman wearing makeup couldn’t possibly have an interest in history, culture, and world issues.
What has this to do with the price of fish? Who thinks this?! Melissa Douglas must have terrible friends and associates. Most women I know wear make up and most of them have some interest in history, culture and world issues or all three. Has anyone ever actually said women who have an opinion on a world issue don't wear make up?
I think this line says a lot about the credibility of this writer. who incidentally, seems very keen to let her readers know she is well travelled, well groomed, successful and attractive which is rather odd in itself.
There's also the underlying notion that prostitutes are none of these things. I expect Douglas thinks we are all ignorant and thick and couldn't possibly do anything other than sex work. Nearly all the sex workers I know have degrees, many have come from or still work in professional fields or are studying. Even sex workers who don't have formal qualifications are savvy, business minded and bright. You have to be to do this job. It's not just about waiting for the phone to ring, slipping on crotchless panties and sashaying into hotels like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
What's more, I have never been identified as a prostitute whilst in a hotel and I actually am one and from a quick ask around none of my sex working friends have either. She may be surprised to discover that sometimes I visit hotels for leisure or for business other than sex work. I have also travelled solo many times in my life too. Like plenty of other women who also happen to be sex workers.
But poor Melissa Douglas spends her life being mistaken for a prossie. I'm worried for her. She says "I cannot count the number of times that I have been approached and offered money for sex in Korea. Most of the time, I was dressed in the most unflattering attire and buying groceries or doing the recycling. "
Because prostitutes never buy groceries or recycle...
Also, I hate to be cynical, but, Since 2004 it has been illegal to both buy and sell sex in South Korea. In 2007 35,000 men were prosecuted for buying sex. There is still a thriving sex industry, but in countries where buying sex is illegal, men are super careful about how they obtain sexual services. They don't go around asking random young women for paid sex and they know the areas that sex workers do hang out and how to find a sex worker without the risk of being arrested.
As for the "lecherous looks", "eyes burning into me" and "silent judging" that poor old Melissa has experienced is either because she is deluded, most people are too busy thinking about themselves to care what other people look like or she is experiencing something that ALL women experience at some point, being hit on by men. It's nothing to do with looking a certain way and more about entitled men who think a women busy minding her own business might want to sleep with him.
Maybe I'm being unfair on Melissa Douglas and should give her leeway because of her youth and naivety, and honestly one of the joys of getting older is that you care less what anyone, especially strangers think of you.
She also perhaps needs to think about her stigmatising and stereotyping of sex workers which is frankly shitty and as a woman who writes for a female market she should think about how othering a group of already stigmatised and maligned women fits into her brand. Maybe think about those who actually do sex work and the pressures and dangers of that. Be outraged that sex workers don't have fair safe laws around their jobs, be an ally and if you are going to champion women they don't throw some of them under the bus or make unfair assumptions about their lifestyle choices.