The book Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to Slutwalk, written by Melinda Chateauvert, looks at how sexworkers have been stigmatized and excluded by many types of organizations over the years. The term “sex work” was created by Carol Leigh in 1978 to describe the different types of occupations in the sex industry, which includes: escorts, exotic dancers, porn stars, peep-show workers, professional dominants, rent boys, phone-sex operators, strippers, webcam performers, erotic priestesses, prostitutes, and providers of a vast array of niche adult services. (pg. 2). Chateauvert documents many different organizations that have formed over the years that have been created to help advocate for sex workers, like Gay Liberation Front, ACT UP, COYOTE, and many others. However, these groups often times don’t advocate for or accept transgender sex workers, leaving them to fend for themselves in times when they need groups to reach out to.
Chateauvert only touches the surface of the challenges of sex workers in modern America with the lack of unity of women’s rights activists and feminists on the issue of sex work as choice, as opposed to patriarchal oppression. The majority of American women have harsher attitudes toward female prostitutes than men. In Chapter 2, “Those Few Came on Like Gangbusters,” Chateauvert cites American feminist writer and activist Kate Millet: “Prostitution provokes gut-level feelings in women precisely because it reveals so starkly fundamental and tacit assumptions about women’s relations in a patriarchal society. It reminds us that we are defined by our sexuality: i.e., wife, spinster, lesbian, whore; and it reminds us that most women are dependent on men…in one way or another [to] secure our survival in exchange for the commodity that men want most from us. Feminists see this sexual objectification as dehumanizing and degrading—with the ultimate degradation experienced by women who sell their bodies to earn a living.” (pg.33). Nearly fifty years later, this anti-prostitution still rings true for a significant percentage of American women whether or not they consider themselves feminists.
I really enjoyed this book because it gave me insight on sex work that always seemed to have a negative stigma towards until recent years. I believe the introduction of social media plays a major role in the sort of acceptance it sex work has now, with the boom of porn hub and nonchalante promotion of sites like Only Fans. I enjoyed learning the history of sex work and the sort of liberation process that sex workers have been going through over decades.