Yesterday my friends and I were joking on Facebook (shut up) about Terry Gross's Fresh Air interview with Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart: Memoirs of a Dominatrix. Terry Gross is pretty famous for being a great interviewer but she was way out of her depth. She just seemed unable to believe that "normal" people work in sex dungeons or patronize them. While talking to the author, Terry veered back and forth between "How did a nice girl like you end up doing this?" and "Thank goodness you no longer do that so I can have you on my show and you can explain it to me." (Melissa is now a professor who teaches writing at a college in NY.) It was patronizing and embarrassing. I mean, I get that Terry Gross might lead a sheltered life, or that she might be pretending to be naive because she thinks her audience is that uninformed, but do a little research before you have someone on your show if you're in new territory.
But Melissa's book brings up another issue that I like to call the "Good Sex Worker." White, educated women who do or did sex work, and then write about it. This has a strong feminist history--Gloria Steinem went "undercover" as a Playboy Bunny, Diablo Cody, Lily Burana, etc.--but I also find it a little troubling. We are expected to cheer The Good Sex Workers on because they are subverting paradigms and confounding out expectations of what a stripper is. But while the media loves this story, it marginalizes all of the women who aren't doing sex work to put themselves through college, or to pay for art supplies. The women of color and trans women and men who are forced into prostitution or who "choose" it because of a lack of other options. I feel like the more I read and hear about privileged women who really did chose to become sex workers, the more invisible those who didn't have such a clear choice become.
I got into a big argument with a Famous Older Feminist about this last year, because she really thought that any woman doing sex work had chosen to do it, and therefore rejected all that feminism has to offer. My feeling is that I am not interested in saying "You go girl" or "You bad, girl" to anyone in the sex industry but I think that feminism has a huge role to play in making sure that all women get to be heard and that they are making informed and educated decisions about their bodies.
This was long. The end. What do you guys think?
PS: I do not mean this as any kind of dis toward Lily (a beloved friend) or any other stripper.sex worker writers. They are telling their tales and being righteous. I just worry about them becoming the only type of story we hear in regards to sex work. The real end.