There’s a bit of a storm brewing about sex work and shaming, resulting from the side-venture of a nurse in the US who, in order to make ends meet, has taken to sharing intimate pictures of herself on the Only Fans platform. Additionally, she has worked as a waitress, so she has effectively had three jobs, yet rather than take this as a damming indictment of an economic system that massively undervalues nurses, and rather than express admiration for the work ethic of the nurse, the New York Post (which ignored her request for anonymity) focused on her selling erotic pictures, exposing her to a potential storm with her employers.
How the New York Post handled this is indicative of how a woman’s independence is still seen by society. It has also been brilliantly called out by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:
Bottom line is, people need to eat, pay rent and pay bills. If for whatever staggering reason the role of nurse (far too many nurses are undervalued all over the world) is not enough, we should be addressing that, not what people do to supplement their income. Lauren Kwei is not hurting anyone or risking anyone’s reputation by asserting what she does with her body, but if you really don’t like it, then push to change the system that doesn’t pay her a fair wage for her primary job. If you’re not going to do that, your objection to erotic photos is because she’s not being submissive sexually to a man, but instead doing her own thing, to help herself.
Therein lies the wider issue. Sex workers get a bad rap. Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world and yet prostitutes are often treated like trash. Legal systems around the world persecute them and society looks down upon them, and yet, many avail themselves of their services. They are simultaneously desired and undesirable. Many of them around the world work in dangerous conditions. Those who work in a safer environment are still regarded as dirty, terrible women who must have made bad choices in life (never mind that sometimes there are no good choices).
The bitter truth is, a woman’s independence, especially sexual independence, would seriously threaten the power structures that exist in society. If women took photos, made videos, took on professions like lap dancer and so on, because they wanted to and enjoyed it, and pushed back against the aggressive manipulation and double-standards of the objectors, how would men exploit a woman’s body?
Another side to this is that without a gender pay gap, those women who had no interest in sex work would not have to even consider it, and could develop better financial independence, another factor that worries men and helps maintain this double-standard.
All of that being said, I am a man, and a beneficiary of how things are, however unwittingly. I can already hear the objections to this article – ‘of course you’d support pornography and sex work!’ There are two sides to every story and I know there are feminists on both sides of this – the ones who feel empowered by taking ownership of sex work and the ones who feel it will forever be exploitative. I would want to hear from both sides of this.