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.