Sex Work and “Empowerment”
The idea that sex workers have to feel empowered by their work in order for it to be a valid profession is a really harmful one. Nobody harasses school teachers or construction workers or cashiers about their jobs being demeaning to the point that they have to say “I find it empowering!” so that they’ll be left to earn their living in peace. Sex work is the only job I can think of where you have to say that you are building character and making progress toward self-improvement and upward mobility, or else the stigma and pressure to quit will be worse. It doesn’t just get to BE a job. The sexual nature of it MUST be justified by “empowerment”.
And all this is not to say I haven’t felt empowered by my job. I have. I started doing sex work after years of customer service positions where I was sucking up to rude people for poverty-level wages, being sexually harassed by my coworkers, and never feeling like I had any power whatsoever. I had social anxiety and approaching strangers was incredibly hard for me before I started stripping. I’ve gained so many valuable skills from my time in the clubs, as well as an overall sense of worth. My self-esteem is the highest it’s ever been in my whole life. And of course, being able to be completely financially independent and only have to work only a few days a week is fantastic.
I’m proud of how I make my living. But I don’t think sex workers should have to prove they are empowered (or make statements about wanting to be) in order to avoid vilification. It’s mainstream culture that says that women’s bodies are for public consumption…. until we are directly benefiting from that consumption. Our culture celebrates the non-consenting sexualization of women so, of course, when women are sexual for capitalistic, self-serving reasons they are demonized. I think that’s fucked and I don’t support any group of so-called “sex-worker-allies” that demand sex workers feel empowered or else their experiences and rights to safe working conditions are less legitimate.
just a random picture for you all from the book 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez and published by the SouthWest Organizing Project. I am showing this particular page because the bottom picture shows McAllen, TX, a neighboring city of my hometown.
Bottom picture: Mcallen, TX
"500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures"