Blog of Feminist Activism

The feminist activism of charliegrrl and co

Saying no to selling myself

Posted by charliegrrl on July 31, 2007

A few months back, I was sitting in a feminist meeting when I overheard a woman confiding to another about her ‘waking up’ moment that led her to become a feminist. She spoke of how she was really struggling for cash whilst studying and was considering escorting, to supplement her income. What stopped her was meeting her boyfriend, who persuaded her otherwise. On the verge of tears, she said she can’t believe she came so close. This shocked her and led her to question why she came so close to escorting herself.

Her story resonated with me. When I was about 16, slim with large breasts, people and then boyfriend used to say you could be a model. I used to think of Page 3 in The Sun, and think I could do that as I have the breasts. Despite getting good grades at school, I valued myself as a body, as breasts. When I was 21 and skint, the thought came in my mind again- I could make money from my body. You could say I was already in training to be a model/stripper as I was seeing a man, for whom I knew that to be a good girlfriend, I should play the vixen, wear the lingerie, know how to take off the lingerie, touch my body like a stripper… I could even play at being bisexual. So when I was struggling for money, with a degree but still no career prospects, the thought entered my mind, that I could sell my body.

Even now, as a feminist who opposes prostitution, the thought still crosses my mind. Not having a lot of money is shit, needless to say, and the stress can pressure you into considering ways of making money. All around me are messages that the sex industry is fun and you can earn lots of cash. I’ve just been watching Big Brother, where a part time stripper has been talking about how great her career has been, as a former masseuse, an escort and as a stripper. Housemates cheer as she gives two of them a topless lapdance. I’ve been looking at lads mags, where the message is constant: ‘send us your naked photos for cash; you too can be a succesful glamour model’. I open the paper to read adverts for an escorting agency: ‘go out on dates with people and get paid for it’, they say, ‘it’s just like going out on a normal date, except you can earn shit loads of cash’.

Cash would be nice. But I know better than to believe the bullshit glamourisation, cos I’m a feminist. Why is it then that these thoughts come in my head when I’m stressed about money? I know I’m never going to sell my body, but I still toy with the idea and about a better life- would it be that bad I ask myself…

The answer struck me as I was watching Shanessa from Big Brother give a topless lapdance- I have grown up in a culture that glamourises the sex industry, and encourages me to view my body as a commodity; in a culture where playing the poledancer, the stripper and the porn star on film are encouraged for young women in a heterosexual relationship; a culture in which sex and the sex industry are fused. Hell, when I’m at the Job Centre signing on, I can even apply for a job as a lapdancer or BDSM Dominatrix. The sex industry is painted as a sexy and lucrative alternative to the monotone of minimum wage. So that when I do struggle for money, despite having a good university education and being a feminist, the thought of selling my body returns and it doesn’t seem that bad. I often hear stories of female students turning to escorting, modelling and stripping to supplement their university education. But how is it that all the men are affording university…cos they’re not stripping to get by? I bet male students don’t look at their body as a commodity and sexual service that can be sold when money is tight. It seems young women are being primed to accept the sex industry as a legitimate avenue from which to make money. Whereas male students, I dunno, eat porridge for a week or do factory work…

So despite pressure to pay my way and the sex industry seeming to be the easy way forward, I say no to selling myself. I know things aren’t really that bad for me, as I’ve got good family who can support me. I can make that choice. But for those who are desperate, it’s times like this that I know how easy it is for women to fall into the sex industry.

17 Responses to “Saying no to selling myself”

  1. polyestergirl said

    I liked this story a lot. I am a new student at uni, and there are times when I think that I need more money to cope, and I know that I am not the only one, but it seems to be that a lot of girls in the same situation as me think that they need the money to support their addiction to buy things that they really don’t need, such as their 50th pair of jeans!

    Now, I know that this may not be the case for every young woman, and there are those who need to pay rent, bills, buy food and might even have children to care for, but a big part about attracting young women to the industry is the idea that they need the money to spend on extravagant purchases.

    I think celebrity has a lot to answer for. The thought of stripping for cash is just so frightening and demeaning to me. How desperate can someone be. To think about selling one’s body for cash is different from actually doing it.

    And those other female housemates, did you take a good look at some of their faces? Their smiles, laughter and cheering were so forced! A few of them, if not all, looked so uncomfortable!!! I feel so embarassed for them!

    The Australian version of BB is in crisis due to the editing and the “conservative” approach taken by the producers after a female housemate was held down by two males and slapped in the face by his genitals, last year. This is known as Turkey Slapping… YUCK!!! The worst part is there were actually those with respectable places in the media standing up for the 2 idiots ( who were evicted after public backlash) saying that it was “just a bit of fun.” Like, yeah, I am so sure the people ( mostly male) who defend this chauvinsm would sooooooo love to be held down on bed by a couple of louts and have one of them slap their genitals across his face!!INFURIATING!!

    Anyway, so fellow females, remember, that there is so much more to lose than their is to gain where it comes to prostitution! Stay free my sisters!

  2. emma said

    I think you’re right polyestergirl that the sex industry is now touted as a way to have enough money to buy expensive designer goods. When I was a student it was accepted that you shopped at Oxfam or markets, nobody had the money for high street clothes, let alone £1000 handbags.

    The reality of course is that most women who work in sex work probably do do it just to survive, and mostly to feed drug habits. But stories of street prostitutes feeding their crack addiction aren’t very glamourous. So we get things like ‘belle de jour’ which is touted as a real account of what prostitution is like, though the bits I’ve read seem distinctly unrealistic to me. And do people believe ‘escorts’ really get taken out to dinner? I read a rather more honest account of a woman who went to a ‘high class’ escort agency as a way of making money – and she made it clear that the only ‘high class’ bit is that you get better money and go to better hotels. The basic transaction is the same and dinner doesn’t come into it….

  3. Camryn said

    I grew up in the 80’s so maybe I don’t feel as influenced by all the hyper-sexualization because it wasn’t the “norm” I was raised with. I wouldn’t strip or pose naked for money (let alone do something even more degrading); my very life would have to be at stake (i.e. gun pointed at my head). But I feel very bad for all the young women growing up in our current toxic anti-women culture. It’s a real struggle to keep their heads above water and not get dragged under by a culture that does not have their best interests at heart and wishes instead to treat them like a disposable commodity.

  4. Rachel H-G said

    I too am about to embark on another degree and am worried about finances. However, due to the twin influences of feminism and crap office work, I shall stay strong, live within my means and still have a damn good time.
    There’s always shelf-stacking or pulling pints – but those alternatives are so much less “interesting” than selling yourself. Apparently.

  5. RGM said

    Camryn, your choice of the word “toxic” is spot-on. I’ve been trying to come up with a word to describe the environment in which women often find themselves, and “toxic” sums it up very accurately. From the nightclubs that feature GGW appearances to the sexualized violence on film and TV, to any number of other things, the message sent out to women is pollutive and corrosive of their own identity not only as women, but as people.

  6. Cellycel said

    This story resonates with me so damn much. I was going to this private college and there was no way I could get my parents to help with expenses because we’d always lived below the poverty line. One day the college told me they wanted $1000 dollars by the end of the week or they would cancel my enrollment. I freaked out, I didn’t have that kind of money and I couldn’t reasonably get it in a week.

    People kept suggesting working at a strip club, but I didn’t want to. (This was pre-feminist Cellycel, my I didn’t connect my reasons for not wanting to strip with feminism, but ultimately they were. I was afraid creepy men would follow me home at the late hours and kill/rape me, amongst other things.)

    I ended up borrowing the money from a male ‘friend’ who said he gave me the money as part of the friendship, and he wanted no payback, but then spent months emotionally manipulating me and eventually stalking me. (He had an online diary and he would mention my name in it around 80-120 times an entry, and used to hang out around my place of work waiting for me to leave.)

    It was like I was put in the position to strip, or to rely on the ‘kindness’ of a man I ultimately could not trust.

    Yuck… I guess these are the positions poor women are placed in?

  7. Cellycel, that’s awful what that guy did to you. And that people were suggesting to you to work in a strip club! I hope things are ok now. I ask myself, what advice given or options would there be to a man in your situation? Not stripping that’s for sure.

  8. Cellycel said

    I’m in a much better place now, and I only have a small amount of that college debt to go.
    With regards to people suggesting stripping – the sadest thing I remember about it was talking to a random brown girl at a trainstation about it. I was lost in a ‘bad area’ when I was meant to be going to a fancy dress party, so I was looking These guys were staring at me through a window, and other guys would yell at me from car There was maitenance going on at the tracks so the train I was looking to catch wasn’t coming. This girl (who was taking care of young brothers and sisters) was also stuck at the station. She saw the guys harrassing me, swore at them, and came to see if I was okay. We were waiting there for mor’n an hour and she told me about how it was her goal to move out of a bad area (not the area that we were currently in) and how she was going to work as a stripper. She was only 16 she said, but she knew a place that would give her a job anyway. She told me she could get me a job there too if I wanted, and I was like “no thanks”
    She told me about how awesome it was going to be, and how she’d make so much money for not many hours.

    Fuck I want that girl to be okay. She’d be 18 now. She was so nice to me, and I was a strangely dressed stranger.
    *sad thoughts*

    This mustn’t be how it is for men. They don’t get the pressure to ‘need’ to strip to succeed.
    I wonder what advice they would be given?

  9. Dave said

    As a guy would i strip off for cash if skint?Hell no!
    I Would work on a building site,decorate or do gardening to pay for uni fees.
    It dosent even enter mens heads.
    Porn/stripping is seen by some women as easy/fast cash & besides there isnt a market for men to do this,apart from gay porn or chippendale style stripping,ughhh,i’d rather declare myself bankrupt than do that!!or die!
    Its ironic & pitiful that some women at uni to better themselves have to resort to selling themselves in this way.
    This is just what the porn/sex industry wants,lots of fresh young women willing to work for peanuts & do anything asked of them.
    They will regret it in future,but i dont know what the answer is to this problem?

  10. witchy-woo said

    A girl I was with in the 6th form in the 70’s had left home because of abuse. We were so near to our A Levels that she wanted to be able to stay on and do the exams but she was without support of any kind. She answered a photography ad that we all thought was well dodgy but she needed money fast and her bravado about the whole thing was false but plausible and she wouldn’t accept any offers of help from us.

    As we’d thought, it turned out to be a porn shoot. Thinking about it, it was probably much ‘milder’ than anything that’d be expected these days but, even so, she said it was awful and she wouldn’t ever be doing it again. She reappeared intermittently for a couple of weeks afterwards and then never came back. She didn’t take the exams.

    I’ve often wondered why.

    In my days as a 30 something poverty stricken student with two children to support I used to half-joke with the other women on my course about prostituting ourselves. We all had children and were struggling to survive. We divised a fantasy rota once…. those of us who’d look after the kids while the rest of us went to work. We agreed we’d share the proceeds equally.

    We were all feminists but we’d all internalised the message that, when push comes to shove, we have a ‘money-maker’ should we need to use it.

    I needed to feed my kids. I got a job in a bar. I don’t know about some of the others.

    I’m pretty certain that the vast majority of men don’t consider prostitution as a viable means of feeding their children. Why is that, I wonder.

  11. hairylesbian said

    I’d say part of the answer WW is that it’s easier for men to earn a reasonable living doing menial jobs. And I hate to say this but – a large number of the menial jobs available to women like bar work and waitressing seem to include sexual objectification as part of the package – a friend of mine used to work in an ‘upmarket’ restaurant in Manchester frequented by footballers. She earned a hell of a lot for a part time waitressing job but the men who paid a fortune for their overpriced food (it wasn’t a good restaurant in the serving excellent food sense, just a trendy one) seemed to think that entitled them to grope the (uniformly young, attractive) women serving them. So perhaps for women being objectified is so much a part of everyday life that making it a straightforward cash transaction doesn’t seem that big a leap. And also – as Dave points out – there isn’t much of a market for male prostitutes unless they are ‘rent boys’.

  12. *hugs, kisses and love to everyone*
    How can we, as women, consider ourselves as equal to men, let alone human,if we see our bodies as bits to sell?

  13. Rebecca said

    I am interested in how women have been encouraged to think that prostition/stripping is “easy money”. I find it very sad that unemployed women and students lived in a society that glamoures prostition/stipping. Prostitution/stripping is not a high earner, and it will destroy your self-esteem. After all, it is work with violence as the norm. It is work that will not allow to be a feminist, for that could put you in danger. The voice of women that have exit prostitution/es-strippers will show how it not worth it for the small bit of money that you may receive.

  14. Arantxa said

    I think a lot of us have been in that situation. The reason I never prostituted for money was that I had other people to fall back on. Dave, you said you’d rather die. Men can say those things. It’s easy to say that when you can’t actually envisage ever having to prostitute and when you don’t know what it’s like to be ‘less than’ because of your sex. Only women know how it feels to believe the lies that men tell about us. When you fear losing your home, not being able to buy food and your sense of self-worth has been beaten out of you, prostitution is an option.

    Charlie, I’ve tagged you with the eight-random-facts meme, although it feels somewhat trivial bringing it up here now.

  15. April said

    That took tons of courage to share with us in the blogosphere. ((hugs))

  16. alex said

    Thanks for this post. It was very honest.

    “I’m pretty certain that the vast majority of men don’t consider prostitution as a viable means of feeding their children. Why is that, I wonder.”

    I think they do, but to be brutal, when it crosses their minds it’s more in terms of pimping their girlfriends than prostituting themselves. There’s also the possibility of crime: mugging someone, robbing their house, selling drugs, and so on. Which women don’t have so much of an option of doing.

    There was actually a piece on Channel 4 news this evening complaining about escort work being advertised on the job center website. I’ve got to say I was suprised at how much was being offered.

  17. Lara said

    Well I tell ya I am damned sick and tired of being labeled a “prude” or “frigid” because I don’t want to sell my body for cash….talk about intimidation and pressure on women to conform to misogynist ideals and positions eh?

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