First of all, via Amber Rhea, a question: "Stigmatization gets us where, exactly?"
I get that we are supremely fucked up about sex in the U.S. - believe me, I get that. And I get the historical happenings that have led us to this point - so in that sense, I get the "why." But when I really think about it on, well, a common sense level? I'm constantly left screaming, "WHY?? WHAT THE FUCK??" It's so pointless and completely unnecessary. Patience is not one of my virtues, I readily admit that; but I really do not comprehend how people who claim to be progressive and at the same time advocate for abolition of this or further criminalization of that can't see that criminalization and stigmatization, coupled with our lovely institutionalized sexism and misogyny, has gotten us EXACTLY WHERE WE ARE TODAY.
The term "sex work" encompasses many things, some legal, others not. For right now let's talk about the illegal part - prostitution or being a "callgirl" or whatever. You don't like pimps? You think they exploit women and treat them like shit? You'd be happy to see the lot of 'em get a good dose of cerebral cortex lead therapy (thanks to RenEv for that one)? ME TOO! So how in the name of all that is holy do you think that further criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers themselves will achieve this goal??
What's inspired this particular rant is the following news story:
(via WP): "Trial Nearing, Alleged Call Girl Found Dead"
She was a former college professor who had lost almost everything -- her stellar academic reputation, her financial well-being and her anonymity in the swanky suburban neighborhood where she was accused of working as a high-priced prostitute.
With Brandy Britton's trial planned to start next week, the former University of Maryland Baltimore County professor apparently took her own life over the weekend, hanging herself in her living room, Howard County police say. A family member found the body Saturday afternoon. Police say they do not suspect foul play.
It was a grievous end to a life that friends and colleagues say was once filled with remarkable promise and ambition.
Britton, 43, was the first in her family to go to college, double-majoring in biology and sociology. Her first sociology professor, Sheila Cordray, told The Washington Post last year that Britton was "one of the brightest students I've ever had."
...She called herself Alexis, police said and advertised on a Web site that described Alexis as a "quintessential 'brick house' " and "sophisticated, refined, educated and articulate. She has two Bachelor of Science degrees, one in biology and the other in sociology. She also holds a Ph.D. from an elite university." It continued: "An athlete, cheerleader and dancer in high school, Alexis . . . is extremely flexible in excellent shape."
In a sting, Howard police sent an undercover officer to her house last January and arrested her.
Britton heatedly denied the allegations, but when The Washington Post asked her last year how she had been supporting herself since leaving UMBC in late 1999 and a subsequent job with the Baltimore public schools, she started to answer, then suddenly recommended a book: "Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry."
Fighting on Several Fronts
Her attorney, Christopher Flohr, has been out of his office taking care of his ailing father and had hoped to postpone her trial date. Flohr's partner, William Paul Blackford, heard the news of her death yesterday morning when The Post called. He sat in silence for several moments, then spoke of her other recent court battle: foreclosure hearings on her home.
He talked about Britton's fears that she would lose the house where she had raised two children, now grown, as a single parent and where she had been living with her two potbellied pigs, dog and two cats.
"That is one of the most heart-wrenching processes for a person to go through," Blackford said, continuing to talk, then interrupting himself, as though the news about Britton's death had just sunk in. "This is horribly sad."
... In a statement yesterday, Flohr said that Britton's death "underscores an important question: Was the public benefited at all by the resources spent on her arrest and prosecution?
The rest of the WP story is, as Amber notes with some disgust, tonewise, a rather breathless mix of ain't-it-awful and, shall we say...no, not "pornographic," never that. Titillation, let's say. You know, very Movie of the Week:
The woman whose looks matched her intelligence may still have possessed the long, blond hair, the glossy pink lips and the glamorous figure of her youth. And she may have still projected the warm, friendly demeanor of a small-town girl from Oregon.
But she was facing the world's toughest truth: She had no idea who she was about to become...
[you can almost hear the Court TV music sting there, can't you?]
As Amber sez:
What the fuck does that even mean. "She had no idea who she was about to become." Thanks for the platitude, WP! And I don't think I need to point out how completely irrelevant and meaningless the part about her looks is.
But of course it isn't irrelevant and meaningless, just as the accompanying photo of her isn't irrelevant and meaningless, just as the whole "small-town girl from Ohio" isn't irrelevant and meaningless, nor the whole, she was a brilliant professor who, inexplicably, fell into this degrading life of vice.*
(*thirty points to anyone who gets this reference: "High school honors student by day. Hollywood hooker by night.")
The article later notes that the reason she couldn't teach was because she'd filed a sexual harassment suit against two of her former employers. And she'd done brilliant research on domestic abuse, then later became a domestic abuse victim herself... yes indeedy, the plot thickens. Coming soon to a teevee channel near you. I mean, it's not really about the whole, "was this trip really necessary?" angle, is this WP article, the one Amber is interested in, the one where Sexual Evolution asks, rhetorically:
I'm a little too stunned by the whole thing to be coherently angry about it, but to sum up: even if Britton was doing sex work, who was she hurting? What purpose was there to wasting tax dollars to ruin her life? Who would benefit from her being in jail? Who will benefit from her death? Not a damn soul.
Ah, but. In fact, is that true, that no one benefits from her death? From the -tragedy- of it all?
Renegade Evolution has some thoughts on the general subject.
Once you’re a victim, or a statistic, or an image we can use, or dead... then we will feel sorry for you... You’ll make a great example. Alive or acting of your own volition or defending yourself, well…you’re no use to us really. You don’t matter or count. You and your words mean nothing. Take off the eyeliner and heels already, you stupid slut, and get with the program…or you will regret it. But as a victim, shit whore, you're a fucking goldmine!
Victim, convenient scapegoat: the "whore," the "slut," the "fuckbot," she fulfills a lot of societal functions, in fact. The actual having sex for profit is just one part of it. That's the part that serves -her-, really (the selfish thing). The part where she's knocked back down into the gutter, where we weep cathartically over her poor abused or dead body, her tragic wasted life, that serves, well...more obscure needs and wants. Not at all pornographic, please note: tears, unlike some other bodily fluids, are always noble, never gratuitous or objectifying.
Meanwhile, the world rolls on, as it has for the past umpteen gazillion years; of course, some won't even weep. For instance, via The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum, another lovely news story, this one from tThe OC Weekly:
No one disputes that an on-duty Irvine police officer got an erection and ejaculated on a motorist during an early-morning traffic stop in Laguna Beach. The female driver reported it, DNA testing confirmed it and officer David Alex Park finally admitted it.
When the case went to trial, however, defense attorney Al Stokke argued that Park wasn’t responsible for making sticky all over the woman’s sweater. He insisted that she made the married patrolman make the mess—after all, she was on her way home from work as a dancer at Captain Cream Cabaret.
“She got what she wanted,” said Stokke. “She’s an overtly sexual person.”
A jury of one woman and 11 men—many white and in their 50s or 60s—agreed with Stokke. On Feb. 2, after a half-day of deliberations, they found Park not guilty of three felony charges that he’d used his badge to win sexual favors during the December 2004 traffic stop.
Let's just back up and replay that one in slow motion, shall we?
She got what she wanted. She's an overtly sexual person.
You see, that is the real charge here. Not even that she did the work; hey, we all do what we gotta do (although, did she -really- have to do -that?- let's examine, really penetrate to the heart of the matter, dig up every little last detail of her life and misdeeds, everything but actually letting the woman speak for her damn self, that is).
She liked it. She likes sex. The wrong kind of sex, with the wrong kind of people, or too many of them, in the wrong place. She likes being a slut. The filthy, filthy thing. She's not even really human, then.
Or, well, check it out. This is apparently what the woman in question is "guilty" of, besides working at "Captain Cream Cabaret:"
In the wee hours of Dec. 15, 2004, Lucy (only her first name was used during the trial) finished her final shift at Captain Cream in Lake Forest, not far from the Irvine Spectrum. Management had let her go after an incident involving a female customer in a bathroom stall. According to court records, there had been a small amount of cocaine, kissing and breast fondling.
Well, that, and...what is it now? she was driving without a license? Anyway:
Kamiabipour, the prosecutor, shook her head in disbelief. She knew the facts—that the officer had waited at least eight or nine minutes before stopping the stripper on a secluded section of a highway that was out of his jurisdiction.
“He was stalking her,” she said.
Four months earlier, Park had stopped Lucy under similar circumstances. That time, he’d ignored a plastic drug baggie he’d found in her car and her suspended license. But the stop wasn’t a waste of time. After friendly chit-chat, the officer had scored Lucy’s phone number. Telephone records show that Park called the stripper the next morning. She told him she was too busy to meet.
On the witness stand, Park explained that he’d called Lucy out of concern for a citizen’s safety. He also shrugged his shoulders when Kamiabipour slowly listed the first names of nine Captain Cream female employees—Annette, Denise, Rashele, Marlia, Brandi, Andrea, Deborah, Laura and Shannon—whose license plates he’d run through the DMV computer in the weeks prior to his sexual encounter with Lucy. (Another coincidence, according to Stokke.) Jurors also learned that Irvine Police Sgt. Michael Hallinan had previously warned Park as they left work to stay away from the strippers.
But, he didn't:
In a secretly-recorded phone call to Laguna Beach police shortly after the incident, Lucy recalled that she’d told Park she had no license. Park began “rubbing himself up against me,” she said. “Then, he said, ‘What are we going to do here, Lucy?’”
...“Basically, the officer made me give [him] a freaking hand job and he let me go. I’m so freaked out about it.”
...Telephone records prove that Park made a 19-minute call to Lucy shortly after their encounter. The officer—who told the woman he was “Joe Stephens,” an Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputy who had died months earlier—said it was a friendly call to make sure she’d arrived home safely. The stripper said he told her to keep her mouth shut.
And then Kamiabipour introduced the bombshell evidence from a high-ranking Irvine police officer: on the night Park tailed Lucy out of the city, the global positioning system in his patrol car had been disconnected without authorization.
“I checked and [the GPS] was not working,” said Lt. Henry Boggs.
An unexplainable coincidence, Park’s defense countered.
And this was the rest of the defense:
It wasn’t a surprise that Stokke put the woman and her part-time occupation on trial. In his opening argument, he made it The Good Cop versus The Slutty Stripper. He pointed out that she’d once had a violent fight with a boyfriend in San Diego. He mocked her inability to keep a driver’s license. He accused her of purposefully “weakening” Park so that he became “a man,” not a cop during the traffic stop. He called her a liar angling for easy lawsuit cash. He called her a whore without saying the word.
“You dance around a pole, don’t you?” Stokke asked.
Superior Court Judge William Evans ruled the question irrelevant.
Stokke saw he was scoring points with the jury.
“Do you place a pole between your legs and go up and down?” he asked.
“No,” said Lucy before the judge interrupted.
“You do the dancing to get men to do what you what them to do,” said Stokke. “And the same thing happened out there on that highway [in Laguna Beach]. You wanted [Park] to take some sex!”
Lucy said, “No sir,” the sex wasn’t consensual. Stokke—usually a mellow fellow with a nasally, monotone voice—gripped his fists, stood upright, clenched his jaws and then thundered, “You had a buzz on [that night], didn’t you?”
As if watching a volley in tennis, the heads of the male-dominated jury spun from Stokke back to Lucy, who sat in the witness box. She said no, but it was hopeless. Jurors stared at her without a hint of sympathy.
The verdict: Not guilty.
Now, one might read this as yet more evidence for the general misogyny of the world we live in, and one would be justified. However. That's not all there is to it. As the plaintiff's lawyer notes,
"Park didn’t pick a housewife or a 17-year-old girl,” Kamiabipour said in her closing argument. “He picked a stripper. He picked the perfect victim.”
And that, to answer Amber's question, is where stigmatization gets us.
Man: woman. but also:
Cop: criminal. Norm: deviant. Good guy: bad girl.
Now, here's my question(s).
Without any other information: what does the following quote say to you about the speaker? Whom do you imagine is speaking, and about whom? What do you imagine the goal of the speaker is? How does this make you feel? If the following were to move someone to take action (political or otherwise), what do you imagine that might be?
‘Model’ is so 1980’s and doesn’t capture the “I’m hot, bi-sexee, and willing to fuck and suck anything for money” pornsick approval meme nearly as well as “sex worker”.