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I have a real problem with this video.
The problem does not lie with the dancers – frankly, from a purely choreographical perspective, they are pretty good (especially if they are actually in shut-off booths – that’s hard!). Nor from the idea of subversive street art: from Banksy to Blue Man Group to that guy busking on the corner singing Nickelback, I’m all for public performances.
Well, maybe not Nickelback.
No, my problem lies with five simple words: “Sadly, they end up here.” The implication being that, after being promised a career as a “dancer” in Western Europe, women who are lured to the Red Light district end up just dancing in a window for the pleasure of the men passing by.
I’ve had some twitversations with people who feel that this is a grand thing, a clever way to use few words to draw attention to the problem of sex trafficking. I disagree; I think that instead, the words imply first that the shop (and by implication, the entire red light district) is filled with women who have been trafficked, and second, that anyone who uses their body sexually to make a living is at best a deluded victim of the patriarchy.
Both of those are very slippery slopes.
It’s Her Body
If you agree with that statement in terms of reproductive rights, it seems imperative to me that you agree with it in terms of ALL reproductive rights – such as “I’m going to cash in on people’s urge to reproduce with me to make a living.” Any evidence I give from a personal point of view – the many friends I have who do that – would be suspect as anecdotal, but let’s look at articles like this one, where New Hanover County Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Roberson asked “Find me a college educated, well adjusted woman who’s had tons of opportunities in her life, who understands what a healthy relationship is and who’s actually experienced one and then chooses to sell her body for sex.” In the first ten comments, ten women did exactly that.
Especially in places like Amsterdam or Australia, where prostitution is at least somewhat legal and regulated, it’s just another job. “Models Escort Agency” will provide a pleasant adult companion for your evening, and the odds are you’ll be able to have a conversation as well as physical pleasure from the exchange. But for some reason the idea that there is sexual attraction involved means this is somehow “shameful” – whereas if you paid a lifecoach to pretend to like you for an hour, that’s fine. Or a masseuse to put their hands on your naked body and make you feel good – that’s fine.
But while you’re traveling, tired and weary from the road, if you hire Sydney Select Escorts to help you relax? OMG!! Suddenly you’re part of a worldwide conspiracy of sex traffickers, contributing to the “sad” state of affairs these poor women are trapped in!
I got news for you: it’s not the sex industry that is the “sad state of affairs.” It’s the entire economic structure of the world.
“Yer Gonna Serve Somebody”
Bob Dylan had it right: it doesn’t matter who you are, there’s somebody higher on the totem pole that you’re going to try and please because you need what they have. Riddle me this: if you take “sex” out of the equation, how is a smart young woman stripping at a club worse than a smart young woman sitting at a desk doing data entry? Or a smart young man waiting tables? Or a divorced mother working a register at Wal-Mart. “No girl dreams of becoming a stripper” is a common refrain, but you know what? When I was a National Merit Semi-Finalist getting Rotary Scholarships in high school, I didn’t dream of becoming a short-order cook, working double shifts in a greasy kitchen.
You want demeaning, try cleaning out the drain trap, full of soggy bagel, old scrambled eggs, and cockroaches, just before walking out to the parking lot to pick up people’s cigarette butts. How is that somehow better than spending an hour making someone feel good about their body?
I know a young woman who, when she turned 18, had a choice between working at Starbucks or working at Visions, the local strip club. For her, it was a no-brainer: “I can make more money in one night at Visions than I make in two weeks at Starbucks.” How is being paid less for being on her feet and making lattes supposed to be more fulfilling or dignified than taking money from eager viewers (men and women, let’s remember) unless you feel sex is somehow to blame?
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the next stop is a flash mob at a Hollywood restaurant, where the waitstaff all burn their B.A. diplomas in Film Studies because they were promised acting careers. Or it’ll be a group of bloggers and podcasters at NewMediaExpo, demanding the freedom to write unsponsored posts instead of press releases and content filler.
But no, that’s not as sexy as a bunch of half-naked women dancing in a window. Which is my final problem with this method: they are using the fact that sex sells to protest the selling of sex. They are deliberately using the provocative dancers to draw attention and support for their message. If you tell me that the dancers chose to be there of their own free will, then I guess we finally agree that yes, women can choose to use their bodies in this way for whatever cause they feel is right. And sometimes that’s putting food on their table.
But if you feel that the only trafficking worth fighting has sex at it’s core, then you are, in my opinion, slut shaming. At which point I say: shame on you for taking the easy way out. You have an important message: find a better way to express it.
Addendum: Eithne Crow has a much more eloquent analysis of what is wrong with this video in her piece “Why This Video Needs to Fuck Off.” Better comments, too, so read ’em!