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Do they revolt you? In Revolting Prostitutes , a new book published by Verso, sex worker activists Juno Mac and Molly Smith ask why sex work elicits such polarized views.
They argue that many non-sex-worker feminists, whose lives will not be materially affected by any legal changes to the industry, intrinsically view prostitution itself as an abomination. People, mainly women, sell sex. How can we keep them safe? Both writers are deeply involved in sex worker activism, and their book is a call for revolt. Broadly asked Mac and Smith to unpack some of the more enduring myths about sex work.
Work is bad. Capitalism means we sell our labour in ways that often feel exploitative or alienating. More and more of us are doing precarious, low-paid work where we answer to a boss and have scant access to labor rights. Much contemporary sex work marketing takes the form of websites. Want more stories like this? Click here to sign up for our newsletter.
As a marketing strategy, many sex workers aim to appeal to the wealthiest possible client demographic. This invariably distorts the apparent class identity of sex workers as a group, with many claiming to be high-class, elite, or upscale. When the artifice of sex industry branding is taken at face value, sex work advocates are broadly dismissed as vapid, frivolous rich girls.
The realities sex workers experience are omitted from their advertising. Often, discussions of whether men have a need or right to buy sex actively derail the more urgent discussions of the needs of sex workers for safety and survival. Anti-prostitution feminists hone in on abuse by so-called pimps and punters while overlooking—or tactically supporting—similar abuses by police, landlords, and immigration officers. In the US, where sex work is fully criminalised in many states, sex workers report sexual harassment, verbal abuse and rape when being arrested by the police.