Features

Selling sex, part two

In the second, and final, part of his feature, Gauntlet writer Micheal Kudlow examines the glorification of pimps and weighs in on legalization.

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"The profession of a prostitute is the only career in which the maximum income is paid to the newest apprentice. It is the one calling in which at the beginning the only exertion is that of self-indulgence; all the prizes are at the commencement. It is the ever-new embodiment of the old fable of the sale of the soul to the Devil. The tempter offers wealth, comfort, excitement, but in return the victim must sell her soul, nor does the other party forget to exact his due to the uttermost farthing."

-William Booth

Sociologists and psychologists explain prostitution in various ways, while some explanations are stronger than others, none of them are certain. One common thread between many explanations is that prostitutes, like gang members, missed out on healthy family life and this is the beginning of the disaster. Hookers refer to the girls they work and live with as "their family." They usually have two girls they work with, evidently the concept of economies of scale is not lost on the pimp. The pimp himself isn't referred to as dad, but as "my man." The term "man" is synonymous with boyfriend. When the pimp "spits game," the colloquial for recruiting and persuading new girls, it's often met with jealousy. Although they have sexual relations with a couple men a night , the girls still see their pimp as their boyfriend and confidant, one of prostitution's more bizarre aspects.

To most Johns, on the other hand, the important thing isn't sex, it's control. Experts will tell you sexual contact is secondary to a John, they love the control factor. If you doubt this think back to 1996, when Hugh Grant, who was dating super-model Elizabeth Hurley, was charged for soliciting the services of a Sunset Blvd. hooker. Another example of this mindset is the male who only frequents bars in an attempt to get laid. In this light the John's methodology is not as deviant as previously assumed. They are only hedging their bets more effectively, not too mention they don't have to deal with the hangover afterward. Alexus, the prostitute I met a year ago, always makes a point of finding out what Johns do.

"It's a good place to start the conversation," she said.

Naturally, they are from all walks of life: many are married, some lonely, some not, lawyers, doctors and even the odd celebrity make use of prostitutes' services.

"We make the rules," Alexus explained. "If we don't like the guy we don't go with him."

In case the screening process fails Alexus told me girls usually carry mace.

Such a narrow focus on the sex trade is deceptive, however. It must be addressed with larger societal spectacles. The real absurdity arises when we compare prostitution to pornography. Our culture values freedom of speech but prosecutes libel, condemns drugs but thinks nothing of alcohol and coffee addiction. Pornography between consenting adults is legal throughout North America even though it's easy to look at pornography as nothing more than prostitution captured on film. Yet, as established in the U.S. in California v. Freeman, the state makes a marked distinction between the two. The difference is attributable to taxes. Pornography is operated by businesses who the government can tax, so maybe if hookers would start filling out T4s the winds of progressiveness and legalization would start blowing. Thankfully, their customers are generally affluent white men who do pay taxes.

What is most difficult to reconcile is our society's perception of pimps. From "pimp and ho" parties to mainstream hip-hop, the pimp is regarded not only jovially, but with awe worthy of a teen idol. In the same way we look at someone who is incredibly drunk, pimping seems--above all else--to be funny. This lack of seriousness towards pimping is a form of tacit acceptance. After all, these girls need direction and guidance in their lives and who better than a pimp to provide such direction? Most confusing is nightclubs that play, ostensibly, pimp anthems. Instead of becoming upset, the female patrons not only dance along but also mouth the lyrics and giggle afterwards.

The real acceptance of pimps may speak to something deeper than mere comedic interest. North Americans love a con-game, as the plots of Hollywood blockbusters or the incredulous tales told at the water cooler attest to. A con, although disreputable, criminal and some- times evil is still manipulative, clever and charismatic, leading people to believe if the con-man could only channel his energies in legal ways he could be on the cover of The Wall St. Journal. Secondly, in North America wealth is not only synonymous with respect, it's considered meritorious in and of itself. You need not question how someone can afford a mansion in Mount Royal or a $100,000 car, the point is they can and you can't. On top of all this, the pimp has something men everywhere crave: beautiful girls under his control. In a culture where the two most heavily pursued ends of males are getting laid and getting rich, the glorification of pimps should come as no surprise, they have achieved both.

Feminists of all stripes have always claimed prostitution is by no means a victimless crime, a statement difficult to refute. While victimless crime arguments can be advanced in favour of the legalization of marijuana, such simplistic conclusions are ultimately corrosive. Sheila Jaffery--a prominent academic at the University of Melbourne--argued sex workers suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, meaning they fall in love with the ones who abuse them, the ones who have kidnapped their minds. This helps to explain a prostitute's loyalty, and even love, towards her pimp. This alone, though, doesn't fully explain why the girls stay on the streets. There is also a provider aspect at play. The hooker takes pride in being the provider, the one out there making the money. Additionally, there is certainly an element of greed. Most hookers will have worked for minimum wage before they started hooking. It must be hard to go from $600 per hour back to $40 per day. Of course, there is also an element of achievement inherent in prostitution. Being able to make $2,000 cash in a few hours is something few people can boast, whether they're using their brains or turning tricks.

Prostitution is, and always will be, a working example of the inequality of the sexes, a never-ending example of unabashed and unapologetic misogyny. Until the matter is no longer a laughing one, and without a complete moratorium on its promotion in the media, this inequality will continue. Additionally, with only 16 per cent of the male population soliciting prostitutes' services at some point in their lives, the sex trade is likely to be off the radar for a long time to come.

While the term prostitute is a contemptuous one, used to denigrate loathed women, pimp is a term of endearment. Pimping may not be easy, but it can't be too hard either when they have the support of pop culture. The most obvious example of the pimp's elevation is the adaption of the term 'pimping' as synonymous with improving something, as the show Pimp my Ride demonstrates. Perhaps in these spectacles pimping represents complete and utter market efficiency as the pimps have optimized the earning potential of uneducated women.

Though many people talk of the need for legalizing and heavily regulating prostitution, this isn't the answer to the problem. I look to government regulation similarly to the late President Regan--as the problem, not the solution. I fear a culture who would rather tax than solve their problems. I fear a society where rampant consumerism makes young women feel the only way to earn a satisfying wage is to trade their flesh for gold. Most of all, I fear women being looked upon as sexually satisfying transactions rather than sentient beings. Like gang violence, the problem has its roots somewhere else, and taxation will only work towards turning the government into the pimp.

If we are to take this perspective, legalization becomes unfavourable. Though countries like the Netherlands have experienced improved working conditions, supervision and safety, they have done nothing to address the larger societal issues at play. The girls in these countries may be in better places than their North American counterparts--even if the government becomes the pimp at least they operate under strict guidelines--but they are still selling their bodies to make a living. Legalizing prostitution only helps legitimize the concept of the sex trade as a viable solution for women.

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning leaves us with nowhere to turn. Turning a blind eye to the victims of prostitution is unacceptable, but, as established in part one, the sex trade is here to stay, regardless of what we do to stop it. Sadly, this brings us no closer to a solution. We might have reasons to avoid taxing our problems, but finding ways to solve them is another issue all together. It's troubling to admit, but when a problem extends to the root of a society, it won't be fixed, regardless of how many band-aid solutions are applied. When the problem lies at a society's basis, it won't be resolved until those foundations are changed.

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Comments

This was an interesting story, and I am a bit surprised by the author's conclusions. Clearly Mr. Kudlow's contacts for his piece came from varied backgrounds- from the pimped woman working on the streets to the upper class woman who owns a few pieces of real estate. So how can he come to the conclusion that transactional sex is victimization of *women* across the board? Perhaps he didn't meet a male companion, or he dismissed the autonomy of the budding real estate mogul.

Mr. Kudlow also seems conflicted in his own assessment of professional sex; on the one hand he seems to express admiration for some of the women he met, and then on the other he falls back into the professional sex = victimization belief. Perhaps he needs to deconstruct the profession for himself.

Any human who lives under the coercive and violent control of another is a victim, and Mr. Kudlow himself compared the situation of the pimped woman to that of women in abusive relationships. Yet I don't see Mr. Kudlow bemoaning the existence of marriage. Furthermore, the people who find themselves under the control of another are not victims of transactional sex; they are victims of forced labor or slavery. People can be forced to perform all kinds of work- from agricultural to domestic.

The truth is that some of us actually choose to perform erotic services for money, and -shock!-many of us enjoy it, too. We don't sell our bodies, we sell services. Most of us are well-compensated for our time and efforts. And how many people can say they had an orgasm at the office today?

And there are more of us than you think. Just google escorts and see how many of us come up. Often we will have websites, require deposits and extensive screening information, and are quite in command of our little businesses.

I think few would disagree about the parasitic nature of your garden variety pimp. But by Mr. Kudlow's own admission, not all of the women he met seemed to be under the control of another person. I myself am not, nor have I ever been. And neither have most of my friends.

Many of my friends in the industry have degrees- sometimes two of them- and as the young lady in the story said, we make more money doing this than we would with what we could do with our degrees.

I myself have a graduate degree, and the job I perform for that degree is more altruistic than profitable. This is the same for several of my degreed friends. Professional companionship allows me to fund a more comfortable lifestyle, travel extensively, and invest for my future. It also allows me to spend more time pursuing my vounteer and nonprofit endeavors. It also happened to pay for my education at two rather expensive universities. For many of my friends who are single mothers, it allows them to spend as little time away from their children while providing them with a much better lifestyle than most other jobs would allow.

Professional erotic service provision can be a fun job or it can be a drag. We all have good days and bad days. Like cleaning toilets or practicing law, all jobs have their drawbacks, and this one is no different. We just have the benefit of more independence than most. We also have the burden of providing for our own security, pensions, insurance, etc.- like any entrepreneur would.

We'd like the public to understand that most of us- no matter what our educational background or socioeconomic status is- just want to get on with our lives and provide for our families. We don't enjoy the lurid and prurient scrutiny we are subjected to in articles which attempt to remove our autonomy by painting us all as victimized individuals with few options. We also don't appreciate how our choice of employment is somehow deemed to be indicative of our character. Are waitresses judged for choosing to serve food? Is this used to characterize them and surmise all manner of things about their childhoods?

Most of us don't find our jobs degrading. We'd appreciate if your articles didn't serve to give the impression that we do.

Congratulations Anjelica! Your response to Kudlow's article proved more interesting, concise and focused than the article itself. Commendable.