Female escort trade: Feminist perspective

It’s no surprise that women and men outside the escorting industry are fascinated by the field: what it means for the women and men that make their living through it and the society that supports or condemns it. Globally, the sex-for-hire professions encase an extremely wide variety of issues, from cities where high-end escorts make more money than those with 40-hour a week jobs to countries so ravaged by war and poverty that women are trafficked into prostitution.

In the United States, we have both the glitter and the glum. In no way is it possible for one person, or a group of people, to deem escorting as right or wrong. And, like issues of abortion or gay marriage, a country that claims to be the “land of the free” should allow each woman or man to choose for themselves.

Which is where the feminist perspective comes in quite interestingly.

Feminism, like the word “escort” itself, is an umbrella term, and its meaning can be hotly debated by those who feel strongly about their definitions. And because of this there are differences on the matter escorting within the world of feminism.

When a measure of population control known as “women’s liberation” was introduced in the 1960’s and 70s, there was a huge debate amongst feminists as to what equality between the sexes meant: the stigma that “a woman’s place is in the home” was questioned, as was a woman’s right to choose if she wanted to be in the home. Equal pay, equal opportunity and a non-gendered look at those issues were the key.

This caused debate amongst women: some felt that women should always be in the public light, and that being a homemaker was a subordinate role to the male role of providing financially. Others believed that raising children and taking care of the home was a vital position that they wanted to fill, and no lesser than monetarily providing.

Third Wave Feminism arose in the 1980s, after 1st and 2nd wave feminism seemed to pigeon-hole all women into one group based solely on gender. Realizing the diversity amongst women because of their social, economical and racial differences, this form of feminism embraced the needs and beliefs of a wide variety of women. “As a group, third-wave feminists embrace a ‘traditional liberal theory, which is committed to autonomy, individualism, and minimal state interference in private choice’, more so than any sustained critique of relations between men and women.”

It is this wave of feminism that is particularly interesting and applicable to opinions on escorting and stripping.

The accessibility of the Internet has made it possible for so many personal views on feminist issues to be presented, going far beyond the “public opinion” generalized by those who have much to gain politically or morally and express their views through forms of print and television media. And through the Internet some incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and caring writers offer their opinion and support for the women who choose to take on escorting as a profession.

In 2003, French writer Valerie Tasso published Insatiable: The Sexual Adventures of a French Girl in Spain. In her debut book, she detailed how she turned into a high-end escort after an abusive partner ran off with her money. On her website Tasso writes, “there was a vital reason for working as a prostitute: to get to know myself. There was a vital reason for making it public: to show that this could be the reason to do it. I patch myself up.” Her sophistication and the fact that she was a well-educated, middle-class French woman working in Spain led to her enjoy the profession far more than she had ever expected, with sexual exploits leading her to situations she never could have imagined.

The international success of this book turned into a film. Tasso has several university degrees, including one in Sex Therapy, which she obtained after her debut. She wrote three others following this degree, and now tours the world researching and lecturing on the female perspective of using the body for various means. She writes continually for international publications, and is a spokesperson for the idea of a woman’s right to choose for herself, individually and with her own conscience, that is so supported by the idea of Third Wave Feminism.

An even more contemporary, youthful approach to the general industry is found in a fascinating article by Lily Blau in the former Sirens Magazine, which details her questioning if stripping is inherently a feminist act.

There is a difference between working as a stripper to feed your children and doing it to feed your self-image,” Blau writes. “And I come from the luxury of the latter category, which gives me both the leisure and the responsibility to understand the historical context dancing presents.

As she spends time backstage with strippers at a Manhattan club, she ponders the allure of stripping and the idea of it from a feminist perspective: women are often objectified, every day, on cities streets across the country. Men grab women sexually, rub into them on the subway, leer without remorse, and feel no shame in making sexually overt comments or cat-calls at a whim. So, from the feminist perspective, what’s wrong with a woman cashing in on that system? Or recognizing that she gets some sort of pleasure in the act of getting paid to use her natural (or imposed) beauty and sexuality to move herself along financially in her own life?

While researching the women behind the stripping industry for the article, she is asked by the owner of the strip club if she’d like to try her hand out at dancing and report how she, as a young feminist, felt about the experience. Her torment over the possibility isn’t an overtly moral one: “it wasn’t the idea of taking my clothes off in public that bothered me. It wasn’t the commercialization of my sexuality either—why should getting paid for something make it wrong? It was because the reasons why I want to strip—and why I don’t—both have everything to do with who is watching and how I will be perceived.”

Such is the kicker in the debate—both from a personal and a social standpoint, and one which feminists struggle with constantly: the social views imposed upon the sex industry.

According to the book Flesh for Fantasy, “[t]here is no preordained meaning to sex work—it is neither inherently feminist nor inherently oppressive.”

A huge contributor to the social debate is the legality of prostitution in the United States, the status of escorts, and the government’s role in the two professions. Skipthegames.com clearly outlines the differences in these terms for our readers because we find it important to stress that there are legal and definitive differences between the two: prostitution is trading sex for compensation and is illegal, whereas escorting is trading time and is legal.

Amanda Brooks, a former escort who turned her 3-year profession into a series of guidebooks for escorts, writes “it’s sort of hard to have standard definitions since each individual in the business defines herself using whatever terminology she deems appropriate. …for conversational purposes, I define an escort as a hired companion who can offer […] companionship […]. I define prostitution as a strict money-for-sex transaction in which the provider has no interest in extending the relationship beyond sexual activity.” Brooks, who has several degrees and has had much success with her brand, guides women into the industry, teaching how to maintain both a healthy business and a healthy personal life while escorting. She is also a “well known sex activist” and tries to raise public awareness about the intricacies of the profession.

From a young male feminist perspective, writer Marc finds himself in a room with an woman in Atlantic city, someone he had thought to have socially met at a bar only to discover that she is an escort. Not realizing that she was expecting compensation for her time, he is faced with his own moral decision: “Having already wasted an hour of her time, with her assuming I knew she was an escort (a term she says she prefers), I made a deal […]. I would […] pay for her time to listen to her story and learn something from a group of people I’ve spent to much learning about, yet never had never actually sat down and spoken with.” Marc identifies himself as a feminist, and writes blog posts on the male perspective on female sexuality and “Men Against Sexism”.

In sitting down with the young woman, he learns her back-story: she tried making it work with the abusive man who impregnated her at 19-years old while she was in school for nursing. When it didn’t, she fled and took on an anonymous identity to protect her and her son, abandoning the possibility of receiving child support. She was new to escorting, and had dreams of returning to nursing school so that she could make her living taking care of others. Marc writes, “the woman with whom I spoke, at 22, is first off an intelligent and charming human being. Her profession comes second.”

Arguing escorting from a feminist perspective is reserved for those who aren’t in the profession themselves. As law professor Bridget Crawford writes, “…the voices of the third wave are the voices of privileged women who have the time, education and economic ability to write for publication.” Like Blau and other writers who understand their place in the feminist field, theirs are observational views, not ones from personal, literal perspectives.

Which is why, like registering your escort business and remaining within the legal lines of what is already established in your state, it is important for those who feel the call to present themselves as advocates for their profession. Like Amanda Brooks, so many escorts have the education or simply the intelligence to present their opinions and experiences to move the profession along, so that the moral debate is in their playing field and not solely in even the most sympathetic of feminist intellectuals.

When we see a film like Pretty Women, we feel affection for a woman who is, like the woman in Marc’s article, first a woman of intelligence, beauty and charisma. Her profession comes after that. When we read articles from such perspectives, we are reminded that there is a community that does support the room for discussion on these issues, whether one calls themself a feminist, an escort, or a woman.


Sources:

  1. http://www.feministlawprofessors.com/2007/07/the-limits-of-applied-third-wave-feminism-the-case-of-prostitution/
  2. http://www.valerietasso.com/bio/index.php
  3. http://sexyfeminist.com/2009/08/23/what-not-stripping-taught-me-about-feminism/
  4. http://www.theinternetescortshandbook.com/amanda-brooks/faq.php
  5. http://community.feministing.com/2009/09/15/my-experience-with-a-prostitute-a-feminist-perspective/