Feminist Spitzer

eliot-spitzer-new-york-post-coverFormer New York Governor and current NYC Comptroller Candidate Elliot Spitzer was on All In With Chris Hayes last night talking about a number of topics, among them his identification as a feminist in contrast with recent criticism from NOW-NYC President Sonia Ossorio about his history of violating the law by soliciting “an industry that we all know has a long history of exploiting women and girls.” I’m personally torn about this criticism of Spitzer’s past. On the one (very valid) hand, he knowingly and repeatedly violated the law when he was a government official who was meant to uphold the law. It signifies a serious lack of respect for the law and egoism about being above the law. But on the other hand, I’m deeply uncomfortable an across-the-board understanding of sex work as inherently any more exploitative than other types of work under capitalism.

There is a somewhat common, but not universal, viewpoint in the feminist movement that sex work is bad because it exploits women’s bodies and leads to human trafficking of women and children. However, many within the sex work industry see the criminilization of sex work, both on the supply side (sex workers) and the demand side (clients), as actually increasing the danger to those working in the industry, driving it further underground and into even less safe conditions for sex workers who are less able to prevent exploitative situations when they can’t fully screen clients and less able to seek protection when they need it. Portraying sex workers as “victims” does not empower them.

Furthermore, in an effort to stop human trafficking, increasing policing of sex work can sometimes actually decrease the means for fellow sex worker advocates or law enforcement to identify potential human trafficking situations, because the visibility of sex work is driven further underground and thus it is more difficult to discover these scenarios. SWOP-NYC, a New York City based sex workers advocacy organization, protested the Village Voice shutting down their “Backpage” for sex work advertising since the Backpage was a useful source in identifying potential trafficking situations. But anyway, Spitzer himself passed legislation trying to address human trafficking, acknowledging that while he was a sex work client himself, he wanted to prevent the exploitation of the trafficking industry.

This is a complicated issue, and one I am no expert in. But an across-the-board judgment of Spitzer for his use of sex work on the grounds that it is anti-woman is an over-simplification and does not give credit to the pro-woman the work he did as Attorney General and Governor of New York. When asked if he’s a feminist, he doesn’t hesitate to say yes and doesn’t feel the need to qualify his identity as a feminist. He goes on to say that he’s shown “devout dedication to women’s rights on the issues of choice, on the issues of equal pay, on the issues of discrimination… I’m asking the public, look at the totality of the record.”

G-ddamn, I’m so easily charmed by politicians. I don’t think his commitment to feminism should really be questioned, but it’s definitely fare game to discuss and judge his breaking the law and then asking to be a lawmaker again. This isn’t Chicago after all (no offense, Windy City).

Video below. Discussion encouraged in comments.

What’s up with our kinky ballot this year, NYC?


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Categories: Angry Feminists, Law, Policy, and Government

7 replies

  1. By all means a sex-work client can be a feminist. Did he pay his sex-worker fairly? Did he treat her in a way that both client and professional were comfortable with and agreed upon? Are there enforceable ( albeit through untraditional channels I assume) “rules” that dictate the boundaries of the relationship?

  2. “I’m deeply uncomfortable an across-the-board understanding of sex work as inherently exploitative.”

    This topic is often discussed under the phrase, “myth of the happy hooker”, which is worth searching and reading about* as it is openly contested from both sides. There are also a number of good (and some crummy) documentaries on the topic**.

    I think we need to do our best to be as specific as possible in this discussion; luckily, Spitzer’s case is high profile enough to easily find greater context***.

    Just speaking personally, I get deeply uncomfortable talking about this topic in a vaccuum. It deserves serious research and empathy toward others’ freedom from coercion–manifest in any form.

    * Google search of term: http://tinyurl.com/mxb9ltk — the shortened phrase “happy hooker” works equally well in Google Scholar: http://tinyurl.com/qgfeu47

    ** http://www.villagevoice.com/2012-04-25/film/the-myth-of-the-happy-hooker-debunked-in-blunt-and-beautiful-whores-glory/full/

    *** http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WldZazpFy7I

    • I don’t think I’m arguing that sex workers need to feel constantly happy and fulfilled by their work, but that it should be recognized as work just like all types of work, and therefore inherently deserves labor rights and dignity, and as much empowerment and as little exploitation as is possible in a capitalist system.

      A friend of mine brought up a parallel to McDonald’s workers, who can be unhappy with their work and dislike their customers without demonizing the act of buying food generally.

  3. “I don’t think I’m arguing that sex workers need to feel constantly happy and fulfilled by their work”

    That’s not really what the “happy hooker myth” concept is about. It functions to explain that sex work is inherently exploitative, not just potentially so (which, I agree, is contested… but its worth discussing accurately).

    Here’s a jezebel article that maybe clears this up: http://jezebel.com/5260038/the-problem-with-the-happy-hooker-myth

    • I guess my feeling is that all work in a capitalist system is inherently exploitative, which is why sex workers along with all other workers need labor rights and the ability to maintain dignity in their work. Again the comparison to McDonald’s workers, who are also inherently exploited when they work physically demanding jobs and are constantly disparaged, while being paid minimum wage with no job security, while working for a very profitable company. This is like the free and mobile worker myth in capitalist ideology more generally.

  4. “I guess my feeling is that all work in a capitalist system is inherently exploitative”

    “But on the other hand, I’m deeply uncomfortable an across-the-board understanding of sex work as inherently exploitative.”

    These contradict each other (which is why I responded the way I did to this second quote).

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