Punternet is not a pretty sight for anyone who thinks that women should be respected. Amongst other ”delights” there are reviews by punters so feel free to pass comment on a woman’s belly, saggy tits, off putting tattoos, or criticise a sex worker for not being enthusiastic enough or clock watching (mate, she’s a worker, workers do clockwatch and if you think that being fucked by you is a particular highlight of her life, you need a reality check.)
Of course, the sex worker exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs) latched on to this ages ago and it is part of their discourse. Sex workers are seen by clients as so much meat, dehumanised, stripped of personality, victims of a patriarchal system of male entitlement. Hence the call to end demand by criminalising the purchase of sex. This has already happened in Ireland, North and South, and an attempt by Rhoda Grant MSP to introduce a similar law in Scotland was seen off in 2013. But the attempts continue and the latest protagonist is Diana Johnson MP.
I can see the logic behind this and no doubt there is much in this analysis that sex workers might agree with. For an insight from the perspective of both real life and fictional sex workers you could do worse than read Frankie Miren’s novel The Service. Set in the near future it is the story of 3 women, sex workers Lori, a single mother, and Freya, a student with a drug problem, and the journalist and crusader Paula. Paula’s target is the opening of a club with lifelike sex dolls and the campaign takes place against a background of the closing of a website where sex works advertised and took bookings leading to a fightback where sex workers occupy a church (this episode inspired by an actual church occupation in France in 1975).
What comes out of this? Sex workers don’t often think a lot of their clients and the work isn’t generally seen as enjoyable or empowering (it is often falsely claimed by abolitionists that sex workers rights advocates say this – I have not seen t said once). Sex work can be dangerous. Sex workers would, in many cases, prefer to be doing something else. The characters in the novel have dreams and ambitions beyond providing sexual services. Above all, they are tough and resourceful. They are not victims. They have agency. They do not need saving and are vocal in saying so.
As for Paula, she is a complex character, often unhappy in her job as a freelance journalist, (Frankie knows this territory too) but still privileged. At the end of the book her Christmas, a large family gathering with turkey, ample drinks etc is contrasted with Lori, her daughter, and a couple of friends, eating chicken in a council flat. Paula has not managed to make the step to understanding Lori and her motivations.
Apart from the advocacy, which is never intrusive, this is a real page turner. I finished the 500 pages in 3 sittings and found the book hard to put down. The characters and their mattered to me. They will matter to you too. And maybe some of the punters posting their reviews will see people with feelings and dreams, people who love and are loved, behind the “clock watcher with saggy tits” If some of the SWERFs who have attacked the book for “glamourising prostitution” (believe me, it doesn’t) did the same, we would really be making progress. Sadly, I can’t see that happening soon.