So last night I was telling someone I’d just met about the work I did over the summer (I hadn’t seen our mutual friend since I’d gotten back into town and he’d asked about it). I mentioned how I’m interested in looking more at the connection between rhetoric, economics, and how we create our values as communities. He said he didn’t understand the economics connection. I was kind of surprised by this. I said that, because sex work is an underground economy that is also stigmatized the prices are high enough so as to coerce women into the profession. Since I study rhetoric, I’m interested in that line between persuasion and coercion, in a theoretical sort of way.
“I mean, the price probably *should* be high, but the underground, stigmatized nature makes it so that the value is increased even more,” I said, “so the line between choice and economic coercion very fuzzy.”
As a result, within something like ten minutes of meeting me, this guy says,
“So what is your price?”
I said I didn’t know. Maybe I should have a better answer to this by now. It’s interesting to hear what people think.
(Sidenote–wonder how many women have been commodified by complete strangers, whether they are sex workers or not, doing research on it or not. It has an effect on you, even if you think it doesn’t. I was once offered four hundred dollar bills by a complete stranger on the street, while with another guy. [Remember, Dom, he even pulled them out and showed them to us?])
“You don’t have a price? Everyone’s got a price. What’s yours, to sleep with me? Two thousand dollars? We would have a good time.”
“Sure.” I say. Of course, I’d like to think I’m priceless. Later on that evening, he tries to get me to sleep with him for free. When I was younger, I thought that was what priceless meant.
This morning, as I was getting ready for work, I was thinking about that price–two thousand dollars–specifically. I have a PhD. The price he named is not as much as my monthly take-home pay, but it is more than what I make in two weeks.
I think about how much work I put into my job and how much of a difference two thousand dollars would make.
Then, as I was driving to work, I heard a story on the radio that reminded me of the class discussion we had in the Cyber Security class I guest taught the other day. At my institution, they censor the web content (yes, like they do in China), and in class we were discussing the balance between internet security, freedom, and privacy. The students told me that even though they are not allowed to access content the university deems unacceptable on the school network, they still access it from their smartphones if they want. So in this case censorship does not actually prevent the behavior, it just drives it underground, stigmatizes it, and limits access to those who can afford smartphones and a data plan. It also creates an alternative economy made up of those who are motivated enough to sidestep the restrictions. Essentially, whatever is censored or forbidden becomes more valuable. Duh, but so why do we persist in banning things when we know this is the effect? This economy self-selects those who either value the content so much they will disregard the risks involved (due to need or desire), or are attracted to profiting off of the underground nature of the beast (due to need or desire).
I don’t know why I care about that line between need and desire. It’s an illusion anyway.
But it’s an illusion that moves us from choice (the realm of freedom, the realm of persuasion) into coercion (the realm of pressured “choice,” the realm of brainwashing and abuse, the realm of con artistry and manipulation), and it’s an illusion that matters across professions, of course…
The Old Idaho Penitentiary has some fascinating info. The men were incarcerated for generally violent crimes, and there was enormous effort to keep them from hurting each other or guards. Most of the women were there because of “immorality” of some kind and were housed in an almost home-like setting. Bet few if ANY men were charged for solicitation. Interesting
Thanks for that! I’ll have to check it out. One trafficking case I found from the sixties involving a Spokane man and a woman working in Wallace ended with the woman going to prison for several years while the man’s sentence was suspended altogether. In places like Sweden they have found it more effective to impact the demand by prosecuting the johns…
I grew up in Kellogg Idaho which also had prostitutes. At a high school football game I was really puzzled by the reaction to us (student’s) by the out of town team. One of them asked me what my mother did for a living. (my mother was blind and stayed home). Some of the other guys were just outright aggressive to females.
Thanks for sharing, Kay.