Saturday, February 8, 2014

Prostitution as a Metaphor

There is a subtle but very important distinction between being exploited, and being complicit and compliant in that exploitation.

It matters to me because, over the years, I've seen so many people - young people, specifically - who seem to be oh so highly motivated to work unpaid overtime, on top of earning ghastly wages to start with, in some vague hope of a minimal raise in pay or a chance - somewhere out there, far away in their lives - to finally get a piece of the cake. People who seem to have embraced the system of their exploitation with all of their bodies, hearts and minds.

To me, prostitution was always a handy shortcut description for that kind of behaviour. After all, isn't that what a prostitute does - act as if s/he likes what s/he's doing for his/her customers? Put on a show of wellbeing, maybe even ecstasy?

As it turns out, this is untrue on at least two levels.

Firstly, in my very rare encounters with prostitutes, they didn't exactly put on a big show for me. It was all very matter-of-fact. Maybe that's different if you pay for high-end sex services, but at the level I was able to afford at the time, this was clearly not part of the game.

The other problem is the assumption that sex workers get exploited in some metaphysically different, probably a more frightening way, than the rest of us. While that is surely the case whenever violence is involved (and that may, sadly, be all too often), it is not inherent in prostitution itself.

Of course, one may also interject that there is a certain moral judgment involved in this. And I most certainly agree. The way I'm using the term prostitution here, in definitely contains an accusation of dishonesty.

What I'm driving at is that there is a dilemma: On one hand, if I accuse our average pencil pusher of prostituting him/herself, everybody knows instantly what I'm aiming at. On the other hand, prostitution in the literal sense, as it happens every day in real life, is a wildly different thing than this metaphoric meaning of the word implies.

So, I see two solutions: One, we stop using the word prostitution in the literal sense altogether, and start using the more neutral term sex work instead. Two, we find a new word for the metaphorical sense.

If you agree and tend to favour the latter solution, it would be nice if you could tell me the word of your choosing.

1 comment:

  1. I guess "whoring" wouldn't be a step forward??? I agree with your observations around the word "prostitution" and the nature of the trade. Sex worker is a much better term, and the treatment of this line of work as if it were a special case is unwarranted except when real physical harm or coercion is occurring.