“Does this make me look like a prostitute?”

This post is a response to a comment made about the Her Campus post- specifically, “Have you never thought, hmmmmmm this outfit or style I am choosing to wear makes me look like an actual prostitute, but HEAVEN FORBID IF SOMEONE CALLS IT SLUTTY! Sheesh.”

I feel compelled to start a new thread about this because I do not want to detract from the Her Campus thread, which I see as a separate issue.

“Prostitute” and “slut” are not synonymous. They are both offensive, and are often used interchangeably, but in popular colloquialisms, “slut” usually describes a woman, and does not imply she is profiting financially from sex, just having “too much” or the “wrong kind” of sex. They are linked here, because the commenter used the term “prostitute” as a negative value judgment.

Think about the term “prostitute”- it’s clearly pejorative- it carries with it endless negative connotations (prostitutes are ruining the sanctity of marriage; prostitutes spread disease; prostitutes have no morals; prostitutes are corrupting the youth, etc). So, for the sake of argument, let’s neutralize the term and go with “sex worker” instead. We will define a sex worker as someone (of any sex, gender, or sexuality) who earns money (either directly or indirectly) based on providing sexual services. Notice that this definition speaks solely to a sex worker’s occupation (which can still be viewed negatively in and of itself), not any explicit relationship between work and moral values, beliefs, or quality of character. Sex workers are, like every other group of people, complex, heterogeneous, and, above all else, more than their job description. Sex workers have lives beyond their work: some engage in sex work temporarily, for others, it is a more permanent form of income. Some have families, some are religious, some are advocates, and some are putting themselves through school or paying their kid’s medical bills. Some sex workers choose to engage in sex work, while others are kidnapped, forced, coerced, or blackmailed.

I am not an expert on sex workers. However, I’ve gotten to know and become friends with some AMAZING sex workers over the past year. These women (I use women not because all sex workers are women, but the ones I am speaking about are) are so much more than a job title. They have hopes, dreams, opinions, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, children, spouses, neighbors, friends, bosses, co-workers, hobbies, etc. Perhaps, if you ran into some of these women on the street, or in a brothel or an indirect sex work café, you’d think to yourself, “she’s a sex worker.” But perhaps you wouldn’t. Perhaps you’d walk right by that person and think nothing of it. Perhaps you’d see her with friends or a family member. Perhaps you’d see her with a client, whether or not you identified that person as such.

To incorporate pop culture: remember the scene in Mean Girls when Kady et. all run into the math teacher at the mall, and are taken aback that she has a life outside of school? Within the context of the film, this is funny because the scene satirizes something real. Imagine though, if that were real life: if people identified you solely as a dentist, or a referee, or a cook, or a firefighter, or a tax attorney, or a CEO? Personally, I don’t want to be defined by the way I make a living. And, most of the time, people aren’t defined as such. Unless they occupy those liminal spaces of our society that we find too uncomfortable to accept. So, we engage in a process of othering by which a person who sells drugs becomes a drug dealer, a man who has sex with men becomes a fag, and a sex worker becomes a prostitute. These labels make passing judgment on others that much easier (for example: rapists are bad, but is someone who sexually assaults someone else once, perhaps without malicious intentions, just a bad person?) Are we just being lazy in our language? Do we really mean to limit people to one specific facet of their being? Regardless of whether it is out of ignorance, laziness, or lack of respect, it’s unacceptable.

When someone calls someone else a “prostitute,” whether in seriousness or in jest, that person is reduced to a stereotype based loosely off of popular understandings of a job description. That would be like calling someone a “lawyer” and meaning “person who exists only within the context of his or her job, and is evil.” Think about it.


7 thoughts on ““Does this make me look like a prostitute?”

  1. These days women have no respect for themselves, and then they wonder why no one else does. They all want to be the next stupid spoilt whore (aka Paris Hilton).

    • I don’t know why you decided to post this comment. I can only hope that it was a failed attempt at humor and not what you truly believe.
      I feel like this goes without saying, but clearly you don’t understand this so I guess someone has to lay it out for you, so:
      First: How do you even try to make such broad generalizations about what “all women” do. Regardless of how ridiculous your comment is, we can start there.
      Second: Seriously? We all want to be the next spoilt whore? I know that I don’t like being spoiled and I have no desire to become a sex worker (not that there is anything wrong with being a sex worker etc etc).
      Third: I have a lot of respect for myself.
      Fourth: Being comfortable with your sexuality, or being a “whore” (I assume you didn’t use “whore” to mean sex worker and instead used it to mean “slut,” not that either of these words are okay) does not mean that you don’t respect yourself of your body. I know the whole men-can-have-sex-without-being-called-sluts-but-women-can’t double standard might seem a little cliché at this point but it’s still fucking true and would you say that a man who is comfortable with his sexuality, has a lot of sex, dresses in provocative ways, is a “slut” would you automatically say that he doesn’t respect himself.
      Fifth: Even if someone has no respect for themselves, or even if someone goes everywhere naked (I’m not trying to say that these two things are the same thing), even if someone IS a “spoiled whore” that does not give ANYBODY the right to rape that person.

      I hope you were just trying to be provocative and are not truly that closed minded.

    • Jen Zelnick, why do you care so much? stop trying to make trouble. Someone makes one website and you freak out, meanwhile you put posters all over campus that imply that males at Haverford have a problem with rape and sexual assault which is not even true. You make the entire campus feel uncomfortable by putting up those signs, which cannot be avoided. Her campus can be avoided, if you dont like it dont read it, i cant say the same about your posters because they are literally everywhere. your posters make me uncomfortable, but i dont start a blog about it because that would accomplish nothing except starting unnecessary trouble which you seem to love so much.

      • This blog is the collaborative effort of many people, and, while I do not wish to abdicate responsibility, I cannot take credit for its inception. Similarly, I didn’t single-handedly make the posters, nor the campaign, either. I recognize the campaign was imperfect, and I’ve apologized for this. I am not trying to “make trouble,” either as an individual, nor as a member of any of the organizations that have been scrutinized (SOAR, ASC, etc). I am engaging in a dialogue I feel merits discussion. As an admin, I approved your comment (and many of the other ones in response to my opinions) because I believe that you deserve to be heard just as much as I. If you want to continue discussing my specific role in these efforts, please email me- I’d be happy to talk to you in that capacity, rather than via the blog.

        I “care so much” because I am graduating soon and I believe that, as wonderful as Haverford is, it can be better. Perhaps this is a product of feeling jaded by senior year, but I’m tired of Haverapathy and the resulting reinscription of the status quo. Look at our Honor Code- it’s a living document. This is to ensure that the community continues to engage with it regularly, rather than accepting it without question. Whether this works or not is debatable, but the principle cannot be denied.
        Returning to your original question: the posters don’t imply anything about gender, sex, or sexuality. One poster said penis, one said vagina, and neither indicated how the other person involved identified. I’ve heard from many people that the posters were insulting to men (especially the “Scholar, Athlete, Artist” one)- how, exactly, does this target men? If anything, it demonstrates how pervasive our own biases are (assuming scholars, athletes, and artists are male).

  2. There sure as shit is a ‘prostitute’s uniform.’ Just like how not all cops have the same uniforms, some are plain clothed, some wear blue, others fancy blacks, some riot suits, not all prostitutes dress the same. But if I were trying to dress like a prostitute you and I both know the general appearance I would go for. What planet do you live on? If I go into a red light district, and I see a woman in a too short skirt, super low cut shirt, bra hanging out, fishnets, 7 inch high heals and the makeup on that my sister throws out because its too ridiculous I am pretty sure I know that I am seeing at the moment a prostitute, not a gas station attendant or a short-order chef. Just because other prostitutes dress differently doesn’t mean she (or he) isn’t wearing one variety of a prostitute’s uniform!

    And stop reverting back to claiming I am victim blaming to counter a point to which you have no reasonable retort. Nobody was blaming anyone for anything, nobody was supporting rape. Being sensationalist mitigates your message and turns most people off to it. Now I don’t whether you have some deal worked out, but I usually have to pay for sex my prostitutes, not rape them. The means by which one acquires sex from prostitutes has nothing to do with dressing like prostitutes. When talking about fashion, can you leave the rape talk out?

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