Sex Work and Human Rights

Is sex work objectifying?

Please note: this entry is from May 2012.

http://tinyurl.com/6tqaojk

Following the previous debates about anti-traffickers and legalisation, I once more move a private conversation into the open. This time, I am publishing an excerpt of an email to me by Norma Jean Almodovar (with her kind permission). Norma Jean is a veteran sex worker rights activist and director of the L.A. chapter of Coyote (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), an American sex worker activist organisation.

Earlier this year, Norma Jean and I had exchanged emails, following the debate on the Facebook page of Melissa Farley’s organisation ‘Prostitution Research & Education’, where I had posted a link to my article about the rhetoric of sex work abolitionists. I had asked Norma Jean about her thoughts with regards to the frequently made claim that selling sex is objectifying those who sell it, an argument commonly used to support the notion that sex work is harmful both on an individual and societal level. Please read Norma Jean’s below statement and join the debate on Facebook.

Note: you can follow the debate on Facebook even if you do not have a Facebook account. If you like to post a comment but don’t want to register with Facebook, you are welcome to leave a comment on this blog. I will then add your comment to the debate.

Is sex work objectifying? –
Thoughts from Norma Jean Almodovar

“I have much to say on this whole concept of ‘objectification’. It is one of those esoteric ideas that elitist feminist academics dreamed up because there is no way to prove or disprove that someone objectifies someone else. Equally, even if selling sex does objectify the seller, there is no way to prove if it is emotionally harmful to the objectified individual.

Objectification is the perfect straw man for feminists because there is no way to quantify the alleged psychological damage – if any – occurred. I highly doubt that objectification causes harm as everyone who is objectified by anyone else in any other profession would show some signs of this damage by now.

‘Objectification’ isn’t limited to sex and sex objects but covers a host of situations, including the objectification of domestic servants, wait persons, musicians, show business people, even athletes. We objectify actors and only see them as performers and entertainers, and even though we might want to know about their personal lives, we want them to remain fantasies, upon whom we can have crushes.

I happen to like being objectified – as an artist, writer, etc., and when I was working, I enjoyed being a sex object, because my clients were client objects – some of whom I cared about deeply as friends, but most were in my life because we had a business arrangement. I treated them with respect and dignity and they treated me with respect and dignity, something I don’t get from those fanatic prohibitionists and abolitionists!

Women objectify men, men objectify women. Because that’s the only way we can sort through a complicated life. We cannot have as close personal friends everyone with whom we come into contact, so we have to compartmentalize and objectify people who are only temporarily in our lives and whose interaction with us is very fleeting and impersonal, or sometimes even those who are in our lives regularly. We just don’t have the capacity to process all the data, emotions and feelings required to not objectify those people.

Personally, I don’t have the time or the energy to get to know as human beings those who fix my car, who sell beauty products at the beauty supply store, who clean my clothes at the dry cleaners, who wait on me at the restaurant, my mail carrier etc. And I am sure they don’t have the time or the inclination to get to know me either. So we objectify each other in order to get through a transaction. Sometimes it’s pleasant and we are more friendly toward some than toward others. While one may objectify one’s mechanic, mail carrier, sales person, or server, it does not mean that one treats any of them with disrespect.

So why on earth would a sex worker want her clients to get to know them if the sex worker doesn’t necessarily want to get to know her clients other than as a client objects?

Feminists who use the concept of objectification to argue that all sex work is inherently harmful disregard what sex workers might prefer – to be objectified – and what sex workers do to their clients –objectifying them as money objects – because they presume that sex workers have no intellectual capacity for having a preference. To those feminists, we become ‘rescue objects’ rather than the individuals we are. And we don’t prefer that sort of objectification! At least I don’t.

With all this objectification going on, why aren’t these prohibitionist feminists objecting to all those professions and situations in which somebody is objectified by someone else? Because they don’t care about anyone but themselves and their own hatred of men and of the women who sexually cater to them.”

Norma Jean Almodovar, January 2012

Do you agree or disagree with the points raised by Norma Jean Almodovar? What are your thoughts about objectification?

Please click here to join the debate!

I would like to thank Norma Jean Almodovar for her time and effort, as well as for her kind permission to publish the above excerpt from our email conversation.
____

The above image is a modified version of the poster design by Michael C. Place and his colleagues at Build for the Objectified documentary. The photo of Norma Jean Almodovar used with kind permission of her husband Victor Savant.

2 responses

  1. I think there is much to commend in Norma Jean Almodovar’s article and I must note that having just entered this site I am unaware of what debate has preceded it. But whilst I think her argument is both lucid and interesting it does not relate to the title. ‘Is sex work objectifying?’ is surely a “Does a bear shit in the woods?” type question and the answer without doubt is, yes.

    The discussion of elitist feminists and the nature of celebrity and the quality of ones relationships with ‘tradesmen’ does seem slightly off the point in as much as surely it is the reconciling of opposing impulses in everyday non-commodofied sexual relationships that inform our attitude to the other variants. Being attracted to someone or being attractive to someone is a fundamentally objectifying experience and one which is not often addressed in the ‘literature’ of liberation by ‘elitist’ or even non-elitist feminists and is the most interesting of discussions. In much the same way as parity between ‘players’ is not necessarily the most erotic place to start a sexual relationship however loving and enlightened.

    May 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm

  2. Aphrodite

    I totally agree with Norma. I’ve always felt resistance to this whole ‘objectifying’ issue.
    People who I don’t know well, how can I see them other than ‘human objects’. f.ex. as Norma says; celebrities, sports personalities etc, the women in men’s magazines…
    I objectify them, because I don’t know them.
    But there is also no way that I disrespect them, only because I can’t see them as real personalities.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:33 am

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