Feminism and Prostitution

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January 30, 1996 EvaS: We're ready to begin now. Our guest is Carol Leigh..an artist, poet, writer, feminist, prostitute-activist. Welcome, Carol!!

CarolLeigh: It's great to be here, Eva!

EvaS: Carol, let's start right in.

CarolLeigh: Let's.

EvaS: Why should women be concerned about sex workers (prostitutes, porn stars, strippers, exotic dancers)?

CarolLeigh: Luckily, I have that question pre-done. I'll paste..hold on!!

EvaS: LOL!! Great. :)

CarolLeigh: If women are concerned with women's welfare and women's rights, then they would be concerned with the women who are regularly deprived of their rights. Many people suggest that to protect all of our rights, it is important to address the rights of the most marginalized members of society. Whew!!!

EvaS: What do sex workers have in common with most of us?

CarolLeigh: Sex workers can be your cousins, sisters, friends (and brothers, for that matter). Often they are in the closet, not telling even people close to them what they do. I try not to assume a woman isn't/wasn't a prostitute, or a lesbian, etc. when I talk to someone. It can be very insulting in conversation to refer to people as 'others' in casual conversation, and then find out the person you are talking to is one of 'them'.

EvaS: "Them"...right. Many feminists are totally against prostitution and pornography, etc. Why shouldn't they be?

CarolLeigh: I understand that pornography and prostitution can be a threat to other women because the existence of women 'who are willing' is competition for women in monogamous relationships with men. I blame it on the way women are pitted against each other in our roles in society. I have never lived monogamously, and I don't expect it of my partner, so I have a different value system. Being bisexual always made me feel that I needed broader options. Prostitutes don't have this background, for the most part, I imagine, but I am visionary...futuristic?

EvaS: Carol, yes, I know you are. But many women feel that sex work encourages the demeaning of women. Do you think this is true? CarolLeigh: Poverty demeans women. Women judging poor women harshly is more demeaning to womankind and humanity than anyone who takes her clothes off or has sex for any reason. I can't say that sex for money is not a submissive act inherently. Perhaps it is a symbol of submission in many species? I wonder if there are ways to practice sex that will honor those who are experts (i.e., prostitutes, erotic entertainers, etc.). In other words, I don't necessarily respect the values in our society that say that sex work is demeaning.

EvaS: Carol, I see. Would you mind taking a question now?

CarolLeigh: Question, yes, please.

DXSMac: I have always wondered, WHO is really "servicing" WHOM? Women have historically been the ones who were "paid" for sex. But, think about it. Who is really "giving" and who is really "receiving?" I guess I have always wondered why men didn't pick up on charging for sex.

CarolLeigh: Yes, like when a person has a job they enjoy, they are receiving. One receives money. I imagine that applies to sex work in many situations. Who do you think is receiving? What were you thinking?

DXSMac: Sometimes I think women are "receiving." But yet, they charge for it.

CarolLeigh: Receiving money. Like any job.

DXSMac: No, receiving "services".

CarolLeigh: Clients often tell me they want to service me. They relate to me as being serviced, I guess.

Editor1926: Both are receiving something and this is why prostitution will not go away. Supply and demand...it's just business as usual as a regular business.

CarolLeigh: I think it's very interesting that this is a phenomenon among clients. It varies. I always stress diversity when discussing prostitution.

Editor1926: Diversity?

CarolLeigh: For some, the 'just another job' model applies, and others not. Then there are other issues. Just another job is one thing, but a poor person who hates to do this, but is forced because of poverty, may not ( or may!) see this as just another job.

Editor1926: Everyone doing prostitution is NOT poor.

CarolLeigh: I think it's good to look at many perspectives because it is a powerful and meaningful aspect of life...sexuality. I guess you understand what I mean?

EvaS: Yes, Carol, that's true.

Editor1926: So, you believe in sharing this sexuality? Meaningful aspect of life...looking at many perspectives.

CarolLeigh: Some feel that we should stick to the labor model, but as an artist, I think you might understand why I encompass many perspectives on this topic. You say 'so you believe in sharing this sexuality'? What do you mean? I am an expert and teacher, and women (or prostitutes) need to be respected as teachers.

EvaS: Carol, this is assuming that they're all good at what they do. Surely, that's not always the case.

CarolLeigh: But many I know pride themselves in their work, and what they do have to offer in terms of sexual healing. No, Eva, some may be better than others as in every profession. But there's that other side, in which poor people are forced economically into this.

Kelt Lad: Yes....'same in any profession'.

EvaS: Yes, true. Carol, why is it that women disagree so adamantly.

CarolLeigh: Sexual healing. I was talking to my sex worker friends the other day and said we need a big brothel of sexual healing. They told me some don't identify with that massage/healing thing. But I said, it can be a quick massage...in one place...if you know what I mean. ;-) That's healing.

EvaS: Yes, it's clear. :)

CarolLeigh: The problem is women don't get enough good sex, right? It's more for men. I have a whole philosophy about how if the world was a little different, we could have better sex.

EvaS: If there's no shame..and there is a lot of that.

SWilkinson: Maybe I have too many stereotypes, but what about the violence associated with prostitution? I can't quite grasp this sexual healing thing because, to me, it's just sex for money.

CarolLeigh: Yes, there is a great degree of violence in some venues. And for persons in the most vulnerable situations. One is safer in a brothel in Nevada than working in a convenience store. Not that I like the brothel system, but my point is, there are ways to work that are safer. I only see people who I meet through someone with references, for example.

DXSMac: Did you start off with an "agent" and did you manage to eventually go "independent"?

CarolLeigh: An agent. I went right to a massage parlor, then I met the call girls in town and made friends and found out how to work. Then I advertised in the paper, found out how to screen on the phones, worked in a friend's apartment. And more.

EvaS: Carol, if you feel like it, tell us what your vision is. What about this other society you envision?

CarolLeigh: The question to me is not whether one charges for sex, it's how we get along, and what relationships we have with men. This is just for me. Marriage seems like a problematic institution the way it is practiced for most couples, as far as I can tell. I don't see why we are spending so much time trying to set up a system that forces and assumes men to be equally responsible in these parenting relationships.

EvaS: If what, Carol? Is that unrealistic in your view?

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