Dear Tanya Gold: Dr. Brooke Magnanti is a Model Prostitute

Yesterday, Guardian columnist Tanya Gold wrote “Dr Brooke Magnanti says she enjoyed life as Belle de Jour. Please don’t let this distort the grim reality of prostitution.” Why does a liberal newspaper like the Guardian consistently publish such reactionary commentary when it comes to sex and prostitution?

Tanya Gold is confounding the issue and confusing her readers by assuming that the sale of sex necessitates exploitation and coercion. Gold asks “can we ever untangle those two soul mates: violence and prostitution?” What a preposterous notion! We might as well ask whether it is possible to untangle exploitation from the textile industry. The obvious answer is yes. It is a matter of regulation and unionization, just like any other service industry.

The disfunction that occurs in the sex industry is a byproduct of its underground status. It is the constant stigmatization of prostitutes that allows some people to see them as less than human – seemingly giving license to a small percentage of clients to behave violently.

Otherwise, a sexual service provider should be no different from any other service provider. You hire a nanny to care for your child, a masseuse to give you a massage. In a perfect world there would be a full time mother taking care of the kid and your husband would be able to relieve the tension in your back but we accept that life’s not always like that. We pay for service providers.

Prostitution is just another service industry, providing intimacy, therapy, and the relief of sexual tension. It is an ancient, and I think noble, occupation. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of cleaning up to do. We need to address conditions in ‘working class prostitution’. We need to look at trafficking, under-age workers, and other forms of exploitation.

Dr. Brooke Magnanti could be seen as a middle class prostitute. And that is why she is so important. She can be a model for what the world of prostitution could and should look like. So no, Tanya Gold, violence and prostitution are not soul mates. I’ve interviewed enough sex workers in my own research to know that violence is a rare occurrence for most. But of course all violence in the world of prostitution should be eradicated. On that I think we can agree. So how to move forward?

De-stigmatisation, legalisation, and unionisation. Got it?

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Posted: November 18th, 2009
Categories: Sex Work
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Comment from Mae - December 10, 2009 at 10:31 pm

“The disfunction that occurs in the sex industry is a byproduct of its underground status. It is the stigmatization of prostitution that gives license to a small percentage of clients to behave violently. Otherwise, a sexual service provider should be no different from any other service provider. You hire a nanny to care for your child, a masseuse to give you a massage. In a perfect world there would be a full time mother taking care of the kid and your husband would be able to relieve the tension in your back but we accept that life’s not always like that. We pay for service providers.

Prostitution is just another service industry, providing intimacy, therapy, and the relief of sexual tension. It is an ancient, and I think noble, occupation. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of cleaning up to do. We need to address conditions in ‘working class prostitution’. We need to look at trafficking, under-age workers, and other forms of exploitation. “

This is a gross simplification of the issue. Any argument that does not take into account the effects that prostitution has on all women, including those that opt not to be a part of the industry but are tainted by its women’s-bodies-as-commodities MO that the industry thrives on, fails to make any valid point about legalization.

Comment from Mae - December 10, 2009 at 10:32 pm

“What a preposterous notion! We might as well ask whether it is possible to untangle exploitation from the textile industry. The obvious answer is yes. It is a matter of regulation and unionization, just like any other service industry.”

OK, now I KNOW you don’t get it and never will.

Comment from The Daily Transmission - December 15, 2009 at 6:02 am

I appreciate your comments but I have to disagree with you there Mae. Does the sale of a man’s manual labor mining coal make his body into a commodity in a way that affects all men? I don’t understand why one can capitalize on any of a variety of physical, emotional, or mental traits or strengths to make money in a capitalist system except for the muscles in a woman’s pussy. I think the fact that we always make women and sex a “special case” is a reflection of a deep patriarchal need to control women’s sexuality and deny her ability to use and direct it as she chooses.

Furthermore, I find it extremely distasteful the way women’s bodies are often portrayed as commodities but certainly that is a reflection of our culture overall, rather than anything specific to prostitution. The same attitude is reflected in pornography, movies, comedy, etc etc. On the other hand, the biggest trend in the sex industry is the growth of the GFE (“girlfriend experience”), as opposed to the PSE (“porn star experience”). What makes the GFE so valuable (and in demand) is her ability to provide emotional services in addition to basic physical ones. The GFE prostitutes tend to charge much higher rates as well. It would seem to me that the sex industry does a better job of recognizing other important dimensions of female sexuality than the rest of our body-obsessed culture at the moment.

For more information on the growing demand for a more intimate experience in the sex industry, I highly recommend “Temporarily Yours: Intimacy, Authenticity, and the Commerce of Sex” by Elizabeth Bernstein.

Finally, just remember that what is on sale in prostitution is not a body but a service. Do you sell your hands when you work as a masseuse?

Comment from N - January 5, 2010 at 12:40 pm

“It is a matter of regulation and unionization”

Is the nascent trend towards unionization of sex workers going anywhere? It would have culture-shattering effects (though I would expect lots of union-busting attempts. 🙁 )

Comment from N - January 5, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I mean “culture-shattering effects ” in a good way, of course. Unionization would help break a lot of the really nasty aspects of the culture.

Comment from The Daily Transmission - January 11, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Thanks for your comments N! The unionization of sex workers is actually moving forward, although progress can be frustratingly slow.

In the UK, Catherine Stephens has been leading the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) in some massive efforts, including working to ensure sex workers had a say during the ‘review of demand’ in Parliament last year. They have a new blog called the Harlots Parlour, which I highly recommend you check out for more information. I’m not really up to date with the union movement in America, but last time I checked there were several organizations working towards changing the public perception of sex workers.

“Unionization would help break a lot of the really nasty aspects of the culture.”

I quite agree. It’s the only way forward really. I like to think progress is being made – but then I’m an eternal optimist!

Pingback from Prostitution. | Minor Matters - February 2, 2010 at 1:15 am

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[…] Dear Tanya Gold: Dr. Brooke Magnanti is a Model Prostitute Why does a liberal newspaper like the Guardian consistently publish such reactionary commentary when it comes to sex and prostitution? Tanya Gold is confounding the issue and confusing her readers by assuming that the sale of sex necessitates exploitation and coercion. Gold asks "can we ever untangle those two soul mates: violence and prostitution?" What a preposterous notion! We might as well ask whether it is possible to untangle exploitation from the textile industry. The obvious answer is yes. It is a matter of regulation and unionization, just like any other service industry. The disfunction that occurs in the sex industry is a byproduct of its underground status. It is the stigmatization of prostitution that gives license to a small percentage of clients to behave violently. Otherwise, a sexual service provider should be no different from any other service provider. You hire a nanny to care for your child, a masseuse to give you a massage. In a perfect world there would be a full time mother taking care of the kid and your husband would be able to relieve the tension in your back but we accept that life's not always like that. We pay for service providers. Prostitution is just another service industry, providing intimacy, therapy, and the relief of sexual tension. It is an ancient, and I think noble, occupation. That's not to say there isn't a lot of cleaning up to do. We need to address conditions in 'working class prostitution'. We need to look at trafficking, under-age workers, and other forms of exploitation. Dr. Brooke Magnanti could be seen as a middle class prostitute. And that is why she is so important. She can be a model for what the world of prostitution could and should look like. So no, Tanya Gold, violence and prostitution are not soul mates. I've interviewed enough sex workers in my own research to know that violence is a rare occurrence for most. But of course all violence in the world of prostitution should be eradicated. On that I think we can agree. So how to move forward? De-stigmatisation, legalisation, and unionisation. Got it? […]