Don’t tell me your high-end prostitution business is empowering because that completely trivializes the experience of other women who were forced into the industry.
Investigating the increasingly hot topic of whether or not high-end sex work is an empowering choice for women has left me feeling rather unsettled. Not only are various individuals attempting to legitimize this profession of servility but they are even trying to argue that it is an enriching experience.
Perhaps high-end escort owner Kristen DiAngelo’s documentary American Courtesans started the trend. Then there was Gwenyth Montenegro’s article in the DailyMail, which was followed by BMagazine’s pro-escort story told by a high-end escort named Jessica. There was also the former Manhattan Madam, Kristen Davis (read her articles here, here,and here).
Now, I realize that only a small percentage of women actually believe that sex work is empowering. Therefore, I am only speaking to a small percentage of our society and those who might be swayed by it because it is this minority that is shouting loudest.
So here is my voice, and please hear me loud and clear. First, by saying that sex work is healthy and empowering diminishes the majority of sex workers’ voices for whom it is not empowering in any way. So what if a couple women in New York and L.A. feel empowered, what about the millions around the world who don’t?
Gigi Durham, author of the Lolita Effects states, “worldwide girls are targets of sexual abuse and exploitation on a barbaric scale.” A report done by United Nations Office on Drug and Crime stated that the most prevalent form of human trafficking was sexual exploitation (79%) with women and girls comprising the overwhelming majority of the victims. These women and girls are abducted, sold, and deceived into consenting. They are promised a better life or believe being a sex worker is the only economically viable option. Once they are in the sex industry, they are trapped and negatively impacted in a variety of ways.
The Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking states, “Regardless of the route of entry, most women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation suffer extreme violations of their human rights, including the right to liberty, the right to dignity and security of person, the right not to be held in slavery or involuntary servitude, the right to be free from cruel and inhumane treatment, the right to be free from violence, and the right to health.”
Secondly, what kind of “profession” has such a propensity toward violence, exploitation, and servitude? If it is so empowering why is it constantly associated with these tendencies? Let us turn to some high-end escorts and hear what they have to say about the nature of sex work.
The former Manhattan Madam says:
“I have known hundreds of prostitutes and many of them share a commonality in that they are victims of sexual abuse. Victims of sexual abuse do not value sex, they do not value themselves, and their most basic understanding of sex is one of abuse so they do not place much importance in the act.
I know this because I too am one of those victims, and it’s that commonality that made running an escort agency a viable option to me. Whatever perceived glamour is associated with being a high-end escort, it is an industry plagued with drug abuse, deceit, theft and dishonesty, and it leads to nothing but heartache.”
We can all agree that Davis is correct. However, what baffles my mind is that she goes on to write an article attempting to argue that sex work is empowering, and a good choice for a woman. And she is not alone in her beliefs.
So let’s take a closer look at how high-end agencies work, or any for that matter.
First, men choose the women based on their looks and personality. I repeat: The men choose. A woman can decline a date, but that is different because she was never in the position of selecting power in the first place. Over time, when one sex is consistently in the position of power it inevitably thwarts the implicit and explicit foundations necessary for equality, thus continuing the age-old saga of women’s socially inferior position.
Furthermore, according to the Manhattan Madam’s incredibly successful New York agency (which hired over 120 girls), when a woman shows up to a booking, “the more demure and unnoticeable, the better.” Although the girls may be allowed to use their real name and not have to hide their identity, they are expected to conform to a position that sounds eerily similar to a submissive, 1950s housewife. This position has already been identified as problematic in mainstream media in which women are consistently portrayed as weak, mild mannered, and objectified like a man’s beer can or table. This leads me to my next point.
The focus is on men treating women as commodities. The Manhattan Madam reports that many of her clients equated financial success with booking high-end escorts. She says, “My boss spoke very highly about these women, bragged about them, bragged about what gifts he bought for them, and where he took them—in a positive way. He remained friends with many of them and would send them money for bills or education needs. And this is not an isolated way of thinking. In my experience, most of the clients of my former agency felt the same way.”
It is common knowledge that high-end escorts receive gifts or are flown out for a party to celebrate a success. However, what I would like to point out is that the men spoke highly of their own acts, (such as buying the women gifts or taking them out to shows or nightclubs) not of the independent wonderful acts of the women. The men are feeling good about their generosity toward the women, not the women themselves.
So what is the bottom line of everything? If people try to normalize high-end sex work as a good career choice, it will negatively influence general public’s perception about sex-work in general. Aside from frail arguments that this line of work is empowering to women, I feel very saddened and angry for the majority of the women and girls who live as sex slaves and whose struggles are trivialized for the sake of a few high-end escorts.
I understand the legalization and regulation of sex work is nuanced and complex, but perhaps if women didn’t make 78 cents to the dollar that every man makes then maybe some sex-workers wouldn’t feel pressured to have sex to pay off their education or debt. Furthermore, it is the consensus among psychologists that in healthy relationships, sex and emotion are intricately intertwined. Working as a sex-worker disconnects the emotion from sex, and can lead to a host of negative impacts (but we can save this for another discussion).
We live in a sexualized world where women overwhelmingly are subjected to sexual exploitation. Don’t tell me your high-end prostitution business is empowering because that completely trivializes other women forced into this industry. As a woman, I believe I extend beyond my own female body and have a duty to support and advocate for women who are not given a voice.
High-end sex work is not a liberating or empowering experience—it is merely the illusion of empowerment generated by a narrow perspective.
Renae Regehr is studying a Masters of Counseling at the University of British Columbia and is passionate about how women are represented in the media. She grew up in a egalitarian home that celebrated women as intelligent and beautiful, however as she grew older and looked to societal depictions, found incongruence in mainstream media in the way women were celebrated and portrayed! She started studying the issue, and the rest is history. Follow her and let her know what you think on her website at http://www.moretoher.com