Selling sex, part two

“The profession of a prostitute is the only career in which the maximum income is paid to the newest apprentice. It is the one calling in which at the beginning the only exertion is that of self-indulgence; all the prizes are at the commencement. It is the ever-new embodiment of the old fable of the sale of the soul to the Devil. The tempter offers wealth, comfort, excitement, but in return the victim must sell her soul, nor does the other party forget to exact his due to the uttermost farthing.”

-William Booth

Sociologists and psychologists explain prostitution in various ways, while some explanations are stronger than others, none of them are certain. One common thread between many explanations is that prostitutes, like gang members, missed out on healthy family life and this is the beginning of the disaster. Hookers refer to the girls they work and live with as “their family.” They usually have two girls they work with, evidently the concept of economies of scale is not lost on the pimp. The pimp himself isn’t referred to as dad, but as “my man.” The term “man” is synonymous with boyfriend. When the pimp “spits game,” the colloquial for recruiting and persuading new girls, it’s often met with jealousy. Although they have sexual relations with a couple men a night , the girls still see their pimp as their boyfriend and confidant, one of prostitution’s more bizarre aspects.

To most Johns, on the other hand, the important thing isn’t sex, it’s control. Experts will tell you sexual contact is secondary to a John, they love the control factor. If you doubt this think back to 1996, when Hugh Grant, who was dating super-model Elizabeth Hurley, was charged for soliciting the services of a Sunset Blvd. hooker. Another example of this mindset is the male who only frequents bars in an attempt to get laid. In this light the John’s methodology is not as deviant as previously assumed. They are only hedging their bets more effectively, not too mention they don’t have to deal with the hangover afterward. Alexus, the prostitute I met a year ago, always makes a point of finding out what Johns do.

“It’s a good place to start the conversation,” she said.

Naturally, they are from all walks of life: many are married, some lonely, some not, lawyers, doctors and even the odd celebrity make use of prostitutes’ services.

“We make the rules,” Alexus explained. “If we don’t like the guy we don’t go with him.”

In case the screening process fails Alexus told me girls usually carry mace.

Such a narrow focus on the sex trade is deceptive, however. It must be addressed with larger societal spectacles. The real absurdity arises when we compare prostitution to pornography. Our culture values freedom of speech but prosecutes libel, condemns drugs but thinks nothing of alcohol and coffee addiction. Pornography between consenting adults is legal throughout North America even though it’s easy to look at pornography as nothing more than prostitution captured on film. Yet, as established in the U.S. in California v. Freeman, the state makes a marked distinction between the two. The difference is attributable to taxes. Pornography is operated by businesses who the government can tax, so maybe if hookers would start filling out T4s the winds of progressiveness and legalization would start blowing. Thankfully, their customers are generally affluent white men who do pay taxes.

What is most difficult to reconcile is our society’s perception of pimps. From “pimp and ho” parties to mainstream hip-hop, the pimp is regarded not only jovially, but with awe worthy of a teen idol. In the same way we look at someone who is incredibly drunk, pimping seems–above all else–to be funny. This lack of seriousness towards pimping is a form of tacit acceptance. After all, these girls need direction and guidance in their lives and who better than a pimp to provide such direction? Most confusing is nightclubs that play, ostensibly, pimp anthems. Instead of becoming upset, the female patrons not only dance along but also mouth the lyrics and giggle afterwards.

The real acceptance of pimps may speak to something deeper than mere comedic interest. North Americans love a con-game, as the plots of Hollywood blockbusters or the incredulous tales told at the water cooler attest to. A con, although disreputable, criminal and some- times evil is still manipulative, clever and charismatic, leading people to believe if the con-man could only channel his energies in legal ways he could be on the cover of The Wall St. Journal. Secondly, in North America wealth is not only synonymous with respect, it’s considered meritorious in and of itself. You need not question how someone can afford a mansion in Mount Royal or a $100,000 car, the point is they can and you can’t. On top of all this, the pimp has something men everywhere crave: beautiful girls under his control. In a culture where the two most heavily pursued ends of males are getting laid and getting rich, the glorification of pimps should come as no surprise, they have achieved both.

Feminists of all stripes have always claimed prostitution is by no means a victimless crime, a statement difficult to refute. While victimless crime arguments can be advanced in favour of the legalization of marijuana, such simplistic conclusions are ultimately corrosive. Sheila Jaffery–a prominent academic at the University of Melbourne–argued sex workers suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, meaning they fall in love with the ones who abuse them, the ones who have kidnapped their minds. This helps to explain a prostitute’s loyalty, and even love, towards her pimp. This alone, though, doesn’t fully explain why the girls stay on the streets. There is also a provider aspect at play. The hooker takes pride in being the provider, the one out there making the money. Additionally, there is certainly an element of greed. Most hookers will have worked for minimum wage before they started hooking. It must be hard to go from $600 per hour back to $40 per day. Of course, there is also an element of achievement inherent in prostitution. Being able to make $2,000 cash in a few hours is something few people can boast, whether they’re using their brains or turning tricks.

Prostitution is, and always will be, a working example of the inequality of the sexes, a never-ending example of unabashed and unapologetic misogyny. Until the matter is no longer a laughing one, and without a complete moratorium on its promotion in the media, this inequality will continue. Additionally, with only 16 per cent of the male population soliciting prostitutes’ services at some point in their lives, the sex trade is likely to be off the radar for a long time to come.

While the term prostitute is a contemptuous one, used to denigrate loathed women, pimp is a term of endearment. Pimping may not be easy, but it can’t be too hard either when they have the support of pop culture. The most obvious example of the pimp’s elevation is the adaption of the term ‘pimping’ as synonymous with improving something, as the show Pimp my Ride demonstrates. Perhaps in these spectacles pimping represents complete and utter market efficiency as the pimps have optimized the earning potential of uneducated women.

Though many people talk of the need for legalizing and heavily regulating prostitution, this isn’t the answer to the problem. I look to government regulation similarly to the late President Regan–as the problem, not the solution. I fear a culture who would rather tax than solve their problems. I fear a society where rampant consumerism makes young women feel the only way to earn a satisfying wage is to trade their flesh for gold. Most of all, I fear women being looked upon as sexually satisfying transactions rather than sentient beings. Like gang violence, the problem has its roots somewhere else, and taxation will only work towards turning the government into the pimp.

If we are to take this perspective, legalization becomes unfavourable. Though countries like the Netherlands have experienced improved working conditions, supervision and safety, they have done nothing to address the larger societal issues at play. The girls in these countries may be in better places than their North American counterparts–even if the government becomes the pimp at least they operate under strict guidelines–but they are still selling their bodies to make a living. Legalizing prostitution only helps legitimize the concept of the sex trade as a viable solution for women.

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning leaves us with nowhere to turn. Turning a blind eye to the victims of prostitution is unacceptable, but, as established in part one, the sex trade is here to stay, regardless of what we do to stop it. Sadly, this brings us no closer to a solution. We might have reasons to avoid taxing our problems, but finding ways to solve them is another issue all together. It’s troubling to admit, but when a problem extends to the root of a society, it won’t be fixed, regardless of how many band-aid solutions are applied. When the problem lies at a society’s basis, it won’t be resolved until those foundations are changed.

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