Alessandra Renzi on Thu, 16 Feb 2012 10:12:42 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Sex Work and Consent at @transmediale

Dear Margaret and others,

I have been following this thread with interest and feel, that despite
some very insightful comments, something important is missing.
Something that still makes this discussion very abstract and far from
the real issues about sex work and consent. This is because we are
working from a very reductive definition of what sex work actually
is. I believe Dymitri's post on the importance of seeing sex work as
labour started a more nuanced discussion but probably did not go far
enough, leaving us to discuss the role of consent and violence on the
body (and/or mind).

There are many kinds of sex work and there are many kinds of sex
workers with varied degrees of social status, power and agency: street
prostitutes, escorts who work for exploitative agencies, webcam girls,
people employed in various kinds of porn industries (from Hollywood to
indie), self-employed dominas, educators, and many, many others. Let?s
also not forget issues of race and gender and how certain bodies, for
example marginalized trans bodies, complicate these distinctions. To
lump all these labourers together is problematic because it erases
the value that consent has for them and prevents us from finding
effective solutions to labour exploitation, something that, as many
have remarked, doesn?t only happen in sex work.

I agree with Dima that consent may not be a productive starting point
to fight capitalist exploitation but I also understand that for many
of my friends, who are very passionate about their sex work and about
the financial, social and political agency it affords them, to label
them all victims is actually offensive. This is where Liad?s comment
at Transmediale was coming from. I don?t think she was simply drawing
on the legal argument used to legalise sex work. She was stating her
own agency in life, not the fact that she was not being raped. She
also, often reiterated, that she considered hers a ?normal? job. For
some (unfortunately not all), sex work is a choice, an informed one.
It is also a job that many really enjoy, for as strange as it may
sound. So, the ?wear and tear? of the bodies that so much terrifies
some people, if it even takes place, is just part and parcel of their
job. Better than a CEO having a stroke at 40, some may say?

It is important to recognize that there is non-consensual or less-
consensual violence in some sex work. But it is also worth knowing
that someone like me has the agency (and luxury) to consent to work in
a safe and well paid dungeon over selling her soul to certain kinds of
academic institutions, if I decide (or like Mollock said, to refuse
to write inane papers). This is important because it acknowledges
the autonomy of certain practices, and the autonomy of sex workers
to fight for their own rights together with their allies. Many sex
workers don't feel more oppressed than all of us and are very engaged
in social justice activism.

To go back to the issue of precarious labour conditions and capitalist
exploitation, I feel it would be helpful to start including such
nuances in our discussion both of labour and of consent itself.
Someone already pointed out that we can see sex work as another form
of affective labour, in the tradition of Italian autonomist feminists.
This may help us find overlaps with other forms of exploitation, and
shape alliances with other groups fighting for recognition and/or
for safer and more equitable working conditions. I would go as far
as finding possible points for alliances among sex workers and
academics. In many cases, it may be the sex workers whose lives are
already freer from exploitation to help others fight for justice. The
notion of consent itself may help us expand this inquiry: ideally,
consent is not just about a yes or no, but about degrees of freedom
to negotiate something, to ask questions that shape informed choices,
to understand one?s own boundaries, to say ?stop? or ?I changed my
mind? if necessary and, especially, to create safe spaces within which
consent can be given and respected. How does consent inform our unpaid
daily sex lives? and our labour lives?

Sex work is many kinds of real work and we have a long way to go...

Be well,


On 15-Feb-12, at 2:54 AM, Margaret Morse wrote:

>Dear John,
>I agree that the mind and the body are flowing and intimately
>intertwined. I resist the notion that it means that there is no
>difference at any level and that everything just flows. When I
>distinguished writing "inane academic" papers from sex work or
>prostitution, I was thinking of the effects of daily physical effort
>that tests the body's endurance; even wealthy athletes are not spared
>the effects of such abuse. i grew up around people who were laborers;
>when I attend my highschool reunion, I can tell the laborers by how
>greatly they have aged compared to those with less arduous lives. It
>may be hard to erase the effects of poverty and malnutrition from
>burdensome labor; nonetheless, the corporeal marks of being "working
>class" are unmistakeable. I think it is only consistent and fair to
>concede that people who labor with their bodies are likely to suffer
>other and different long term effects than someone who suffers from
>(his own) bad writing. I would concede the respect I as an academic I
>owe to people who labor to prostitutes as well. To be honest, I wonder
>how much the stigma attached to prostitution that makes it free game
>for disrespect has shaped this thread on nettime.


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