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What makes a job “real”? What are the necessary qualifications for a line of work to be considered legitimate? Well, generally speaking, the basic job structure involves: employing a staff of individuals who are hard-working and driven, ones who are consistently acquiring new skills and techniques, and those who implement that expertise to achieve repeat business.
Although different careers come with their own set of unique requirements, depending on the field, in a broad sense, they are all essentially the same— employees do the work expected of them and then get paid for it.
So, why is it then that sex work— while meeting the above criteria of what constitutes a “real” job— is not treated as such according to societal standards?
Well, as most female-identifying people are aware (just by merely existing in a male-dominated world), the negative stigmas surrounding any and all forms of sex work have been perpetuated by the patriarchal standards of what have been deemed as “appropriate” or “inappropriate” for a woman to do.
I’m not insinuating that just because someone is a woman, they are automatically pro-sex work. Unfortunately, we all have inherent biases that developed from the gender inequalities we grew up witnessing and experiencing— preconceived, skewed notions of what is “acceptable” for how a woman should behave, dress and act.
This internalized sexism that all women hold, whether aware of it or not, derives from a long history of inequality. Women have been treated like objects for centuries, and sadly, there have not been significant improvements in terms of how women are viewed in our society today. It is devastating that as women, we have grown accustomed to experiencing uncomfortable encounters with men— we even expect them to occur. Before even leaving our homes to go out in public, we must mentally prepare ourselves for the inevitable sexualization of our bodies: the grotesque male-gaze, the vulgar cat-calling, the unwanted advancements, and the inappropriate comments thrown our way.
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This crude behavior occurs regardless of what a woman is wearing— contrary to what many misogynistic men (law enforcement included) have claimed, in an effort to victim-blame and shame the woman, whilst validating the violence and sexual harassment committed against them by men.
Here I’ll share a personal anecdote, only one of the countless others I’ve experienced, that confirms this behavior: I was walking home from the gym one evening, when I noticed I was being followed and cat-called by a random man on the street. I was wearing an oversized hoodie, long leggings, completely drenched in sweat, and in no way looking “sexy.” But that did not stop him from harassing me. When I pretended that I couldn’t hear him as he shouted sexual comments in my direction from behind me, that was when I noticed the sound of his footsteps rapidly accelerating toward me. I peeked over my shoulder, and that was when I realized...he was chasing me. I immediately bolted— running for my life (literally), and luckily, was able to escape. What I wasn’t able to escape from was the thought of what could have happened to me, had I not gotten away quick enough, which continues to haunt me to this day.
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Admittedly, when I am in a full face of makeup with my hair done and wearing a cute dress, I do fear being subjected to a more aggressive level of sexual harassment from men. I remember being at a club a few years back, and this guy at the bar offered to buy me a drink. I accepted, but after I was halfway finished with the drink, I told him I needed to go find my friends. But he was very persistent that I stay and drink more with him, to which I declined. I knew his intentions were not to just have a genuine, friendly conversation with no expectations attached. I intuitively knew that his thought process was that just because he bought me that one cocktail, he earned an entitlement to my body and was granted permission to sleep with me. Once I firmly told him I wasn’t interested in continuing our interaction, his entire demeanor changed. Just a mere ten minutes earlier, he was showering me with compliments on my outfit and appearance, but once he realized that I definitely wasn’t going to hook up with him, guess what he called me? A slut.
Isn’t it ironic that when a woman unapologetically and openly embraces her sexuality by confidently rocking clothes deemed as being “too sexy,” she is labeled as a “slut,” and oftentimes by the same men who go out every weekend with the sole intent of “getting lucky,” those who regularly consume pornography, frequently attend strip clubs, and drool over Instagram models?
What a woman chooses to wear and do with her body is no one’s decision but hers, and hers alone, but even in 2020, lingering remnants of outdated sexist standards continue to permeate society. Although some are subtle, these patriarchal attitudes continue to dictate how women are expected to conduct themselves in relationships, within the workplace, in social situations, and basically in all other areas of their lives.
The women who choose to go against stereotypical standards and instead make the decision to pursue a more unconventional lifestyle are often subjected to enormous amounts of scrutiny and judgement by others— those who don’t understand and/or disagree with these lifestyle choices.
This is especially true for sex workers. With so many misconceptions surrounding the field of sex work, many people outside of the industry are quick to jump to their own false conclusions and make inaccurate assumptions about what sex work really entails.
Former sex workers, Maya and Stella (names changed to protect privacy), provided their thoughts and feedback involving some of the hypocrisies and common misunderstandings about the sex work industry.
For Maya, sexist double standards are what she believes to be a major culprit behind the hypocrisy surrounding sex work.
“Mainstream porn can be quite misogynistic and toxic, dominated primarily by cisgender men,” she said. “So, men who consume this kind of pornography may be triggered by the idea of other men ‘simping’ over high end escorts, sugar babies and digital sex workers, as it brings value and some kind of personal exchange into a formerly corrupt space.”
Maya also added that these men “realize they’re going to have to offer some value, or the fantasy world they escape to will start crumbling away, and they know it’s a fantasy deep down. They know ten out of ten bombshells would never be all over them in ‘real life.’”
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Stella also shared why she believes many people are misinformed when it comes to the sex work industry as a whole.
“I think that what most people get wrong about sex work is that it’s for people who are lazy, or didn’t get a college degree, people unable to land a ‘regular’ job, or for those who just want to make easy money,” Stella said. “No sex worker’s experience is the same, but for me personally, I was charging clients for sex while I was still in college, and then again, after I graduated with a bachelor’s degree and was working a full-time job.”
She also added that sex work is not at all “quick, easy money” like some may believe.
“When you are a sex worker, not only do you have to tap into the desires of the person paying you for your time, but you also have to juggle a sort of balancing act between being authentic and personable, while simultaneously playing the role of your client’s fantasy dream girl,” Stella said. “You really have to have a ton of confidence in yourself and with your body (or at least be good at faking it), be able to hold conversations, as well as put on a performance— otherwise you will NOT be successful, you will lose clients and your earnings will be low.”
For Maya, she believes that many people often confuse sex trafficking or being pimped out for drugs with consensual sex work. Many people also don’t understand that sex work isn’t about “being a prostitute”— which is a term that should never be used when referring to sex workers, as it is an outdated word that dehumanizes sex workers and further perpetuates the stigma of sex work as being an illegitimate job— sex work is composed of a plethora of different subgroups, levels, and tiers: webcamming, selling explicit content online, stripping/dancing, selling used panties, being a sugar baby, escorting, working as a dominatrix or fetish specialist...the list could really go on forever, as there are so many different categories that exist within the sex work industry.
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However, not all sex workers are in the industry to live a glamorous lifestyle or go on extravagant vacations— many do so in order to pay their bills and afford basic necessities, because, after all, it is a job— and one that can pay well.
Maya added that what people need to understand is that “willingly choosing to pursue sex work is a luxury.”
Not everyone in the industry is in it because they necessarily enjoy the work, but because they need to financially support themselves and/or their families, and sex work provides them with the opportunity to do so. Just like any job, you may not always enjoy the work, but if you can make a livable wage from it, it is worth sticking around.
When it comes to the negative stigmatization of sex work, Maya believes that it exists, in part, because people don’t want to take accountability for their own actions, or those of their gender. She also stated that those who are vehemently anti-sex work often uphold power struggle ideologies.
“It’s impossible to believe that women can have power over men, without acknowledging the tactics that stemmed from toxic masculinity, which have pushed women to behave in these ways, making men uncomfortable,” she added.
She used an example of a “porn-infatuated frat boy” to further justify her point: “If someone is able to acknowledge an objective power difference, without it taking over their entire life perspective, then they shouldn’t judge sex work as a whole, but rather take it as a case-by-case situation.”
Maya was a sex worker for nearly five years, but quit about a year ago. She initially got her start through a webcamming site when she was 19 years old, in order to financially support herself and afford her lifestyle while taking a break from school.
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