Category Archives: sexually oriented businesses

The Myth of the Liberal Media, or Further Evidence that the NYT is an Elitist Paper

Originally posted on SexInThePublicSquare.org – join us there!

I’ve always known that the New York Times is an elitist paper. Most national papers are pretty directed at the upper middle and upper classes. You can tell just by looking at their advertising. Million dollar studio apartments and thousand dollar watches are not for the masses, after all. And I learned from a beloved sociology instructor in college to recognize the significance of the fact that there is never a labor section but always a business section and that the Times has two “Style” sections a week where you can learn about the newest expensive trends. So it isn’t like this is a revelation. But today’s Metro Section really beats all:

new york times screen shot of headline emperors club sold an oxymoron high class prostitution

The story itself is worse than the headline. It contains stereotypes, overgeneralizations, faulty logic, bad assumptions and lots of other problems that I warn my students about. And aside getting the prostitution stuff wrong, it’s very clear message is this: don’t try to pass yourself off as belonging to the upper classes if you weren’t born and bred among them.

Where to start?

Perhaps with the faulty logic. Susan Dominus asserts that Emperor’s Club was selling a fantasy image of “Kristen” that didn’t match Kristen’s real life. Of course many sex workers do in fact shield their identities by disguising other aspects of their lives. Dominus must know that. What she is pointing out in her article is that Kristen’s image was one of upper middle class or upper class upbringing, and to prove that Kristen was not in fact of such a background she poses a series of what she presumes to be inherently contradictory statements:

that she was a successful swimsuit model who’d traveled the world (as opposed to a singer getting nowhere with a boyfriend who’d paid her rent, as The Times reported yesterday); that she enjoyed civilized pursuits like dining at exclusive restaurants (actually, she’s been hoping for work at a friend’s restaurant); and that she liked sampling fine wines (no mention of the drug abuse she’d reported on her MySpace page). The site also described her as 24 (in fact, she’s 22, an age that might have sounded dangerously collegiate to an affluent clientele).

Can Dominus really believe that a working class or middle class person could never enjoy “civilized pursuits” like dining at fancy establishments, or that a person who enjoys fine wine never abuses drugs? (Wall Street, anyone?) Are these things really logically related in any way at all?

Only if one buys the assumption that pursuits like fine wine and fancy restaurants are reserved for the upper classes. And only if drug abuse is somehow different from addiction and the Betty Ford Clinic only serves the masses.

Then there are the overgeneralizations:

Once the story of Ashley Alexandra Dupré’s life actually came out, it was a fresh reminder that the words “high class” and “prostitution ring” pretty much never make sense in the same phrase (expensive prostitution ring, yes; high class, no). This was not someone who’d been turned down by the consulting firm of her choice and decided to make an alternative entrepreneurial move. Ms. Dupré’s MySpace page said she’d left home at 17 and had been abused. She’d been homeless. She said she knew, at 22, what it was like “to have everything and lose it, ” even if she’d built herself up since. Her story was not self-empowering; it was, even in its scant detail, profoundly sad, all the more so because of her extreme youth.

Somehow because this young woman herself is not of the upper classes no prostitute ever is. Somehow because her profile fits that of the stereotypical sex worker she must represent all sex workers. And somehow the fact that she reports having built herself back up (in part using sex work) after having lost everything is not evidence of any kind of self-empowerment.

Sudhir Venkatesh is quoted later as if his work supports this overgeneralization about prostitutes but if you heard him on the NPR the other day or read his piece on Slate.com you’d know that he has in fact interviewed women who left professional-class careers for upscale escorting. I have not reviewed his research so I’m not attesting to its quality, though I think highly of some of his other work. (And I should note that Melissa Gira Grant has taken Venkatesh to task for oversimplifying things, too.) But he introduces a three-tier categorization of prostitution that would certainly challenge the statements that Dominus makes in this article.

My real anger, though, actually comes from Dominus’s acceptance of the term “high class.” I know that is the term that much of the press has been using to describe the escort service in question. But to accept its use and to apply it to people is appalling.

“High class” is a value judgement and a way of obscuring the real stratification of wealth, power and privilege in the United States. Why not talk about the upper class, the elite, or the working class or the middle class, which are much more meaningfully descriptive?

And why not come out and make the message clear:

If you aren’t born among us you can never be one of us and we’d much prefer it if you’d stop pretending.

The ad at the top of the NYT screenshot is for Loro Piana and the Americana Manhasset, shopping for the wealthy.

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Filed under Eliot Spitzer, feminism, Gender, inequality, New York Times, public discourse, sex, Sex in the Public Square, sex work, sexually oriented businesses

Spitzer coverage on Sex In The Public Square

Forgive me for not posting here for a while. I’ve been concentrating my attention on the other Sex In The Public Square and have been so busy that I forgot to mirror everything here. (Really, don’t you want to just come over and join us on SexInThePublicSquare.org? There’s a lot more going on over there!)

Some quick news about where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to first:

Last Wednesday night I was interviewed by Seska Lee on Audio Smut, a feminist radio collective that broadcasts on CKUT in Montreal.

From Friday through Monday I was at South by Southwest, where I presented a core conversation with Lux Alptraum. I also saw a great movie about bisexuality, a not so great movie about training of US soldiers, and some good panels on sexual privacy, 2257/2257a record keeping requirements, and creating interaction online. I got to talk with Cory Silverberg, Melissa Gira and Karen Rayne and Violet Blue in real live face-to-face space, and I’m finally starting to recover from the general lack of sleep. (More on SXSW later, I promise!)

I landed in NYC on Monday to a misplaced bag and to the news of the Spitzer/Emperor’s Club story. It’s been a busy week! You can follow our coverage of the story on SexInThePublicSquare.org. Here’s what we’ve had to say so far:

For updated lists of Spizter-related posts from SexInThePublicSquare.org click here.

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Filed under Eliot Spitzer, New York Times, News and politics, pink ghetto, prostitution, public discourse, sex, Sex in the Public Square, sex work, sexually oriented businesses, SXSW

Will the “Washington Madam” Scandal Help Destigmatize Sex Work?

It won’t do the job on it’s own, but imagine if more and more high powered people were to “come out” or be outed as clients of escort services. Imagine if sex industry clientele all stood up one day and identified themselves.

Perhaps you’ve been following the story. The New York Times reports that, according to ABC, which received a list of phone numbers from Ms. Palfrey to try to match to real names of clients, the list includes

“a Bush administration economist, the head of a conservative think tank, a prominent C.E.O., several lobbyists and a handful of military officials” in addition to Mr. Tobias and Mr. Ullman.

Destigmatizing sex work is as important as decriminalizing it. In fact, perhaps it’s even more important. In response to my last post about sex workers, Alex asked whether or not there was any data on the connection between legalization of sex work and a reduction in crime against sex workers. I said I didn’t know offhand. Then, just yesterday, I read a post by Kochanie, writing at Real Adult Sex, in which she describes some research she’s been doing, and which indicates that

for prostitutes in Sweden, New Zealand, Netherlands, or Australia, decriminalization and legalization of their trade has not removed the stigma of engaging in sex work. Even where sex work is legal within certain zoned areas of a city, prostitutes are reluctant to press charges against an abusive client because of the lack of support from local law enforcement. Complaints of police harassment were cited in most reports I read. Some prostitutes did not want to even register as members of the sex trade, because they felt that, once registered, the stigma could never be erased.

She concludes, I think rightly, that decriminalization and legalization on their own are not enough to make sex workers safer. Without removing the stigma from the work, the people who do it will not benefit as much from the decriminalization as proponents of those measures would intend.

I think of this in part because, as I wrote a few days ago, my union just voted overwhelmingly in support of strong anti-trafficking legislation that would allow having been trafficked to be a defense against prosecution for illegal sex work. At a meeting of the Civil and Human Rights committee, where this was being discussed, I suggested amending our resolution to also include support for organizing efforts among sex workers. You could have heard a pin drop. The amendment did not get much support, though several people came to me after the meeting to suggest that I prepare more thoroughly and propose a resolution at next year’s Assembly. My rationale is this: if large groups of organized workers come out in support of the organizing of sex workers, that would be a powerful push in the direction of destigmatization. Imagine if teachers stood up for their students who are sex workers, and if nurses stood up for their patients who are sex workers. Or, imagine if the carpenters and the lawyers and the politicians and the electricians stood up for the sex workers they patronize.

Several months ago I was fortunate enough to interview Audacia Ray, an incredibly powerful sex worker advocate and very inspiring woman. (She’s just finished her Master’s Thesis, produced her first porn film and published her first book!) She said something at the end of our interview that really struck me. We were talking about the difference between destigmatization and decriminalization of sex work. She said she didn’t think the US was nearly ready for decriminalization, but that destigmatization might be happening, and in ways that some of us might not really like. When I asked her to clarify, she referred to “sex worker chic” trends in mainstream media.

I wonder if the exposing of powerful, upper middle class clients of high end escort services is also going to become a source of destigmatization.

I’d be thrilled if labor organizations become another engine for the destigmatizing of sex work. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 790 is the union with which the Lusty Lady employees (now owners) affiliated back in the mid-90s, so this isn’t as much a stretch as some might think. (Click here and scroll down for a link to their 2005-2006 contract).

Those of us who are members of labor unions will need to speak up in favor of sex workers’ organizing efforts and to acknowledge them as our sisters and brothers in the labor movement. We’re all safer when sex workers are safer.

~~~~~~~

Some other good reasons to be thinking about sex workers today:

Today is May Day, which is both International Labor Day and a day traditionally associated with ancient spring-into-summer fertility rituals featuring dancing and passion and ecstatic celebration

Oh, and the Sex Worker Visions II Art Show has it’s gala opening tonight! Maybe I’ll see you there.

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Filed under activism, feminism, labor organizing, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sex work, sexually oriented businesses

Q: When is a vibrator more dangerous than a gun?

A: When you’re selling one in Alabama.

According to a federal court decision announced yesterday (Valentine’s Day!), it’s perfectly fine for the state of Alabama to criminalize the sale of sex toys. Just to put this in context — 41 years after the Supreme Court decided it was unconstitutional to restrict the sale of condoms, the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit thinks it’s fine for Alabama to jail (up to one year for first violation) or fine (up to $50,000) anyone who gets caught selling as much as a dildo. (PDF of the statue is here.)

I don’t think anyone would argue that there is any harm worth criminalizing in selling sex toys to adults. No one’s being forced to do anything, there’s no economic harm, no harm to children. But the Attorney General of Alabama told the court that the law barring sales preserved “public morality,” and was, therefore, constitutional.

The AG’s “public morality” argument might have held up in 1999, but in 2003, the Supreme Court held, in Lawrence v. Texas, “the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice.” And that, one would have thought, was that. If public morality alone isn’t a sufficient reason for a law, then a law making it illegal to sell sex toys just has to be unconstitutional, yes? Well, no. The Court of Appeals decided that the Lawrence holding only applied to private behavior. So Alabama couldn’t make it illegal to own or use sex toys. But it can make it illegal to sell them. The court decided that selling sex toys was like prostitution, a commercial, public activity that can be punished under the law.

Let’s get back to my opening question, comparing the sale of guns with the sale of vibrators. Alabama is one of the easiest places in the US to buy a gun. There are no state laws requiring licensing, registration, child safety locks, a mandatory waiting period or a limit on the number of weapons that can be purchased at any one time. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Alabama has the 4th highest homicide rates in the US. So let’s take a look at Alabama’s moral restrictions on commerce. Someone sells ten assault rifles to a 16 year old who just walks into the shop without proof of parental permission? Perfectly alright. Someone sells a rubber duckie vibrator to a 40 year old woman at a sex-toy party in the buyer’s home?

Better close the shades.

Tom Joaquin, Esq

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Filed under News..., public discourse, sex and the law, sex crimes, sexually oriented businesses

Off to the West Coast

I have not abandoned my post, but am out of town for the next two weeks. I’m in Oakland and San Francisco for a conference and to do more research for the book I’m working on. This space will not be updated and I’ll have sporadic email access, so comments might not be moderated very quickly.

Three stops on my agenda are the Lusty Lady, the Center for Sex and Culture, and Good Vibrations. (The Lusty and Good Vibes are both worker-owned co-ops, and I love worker-owned businesses. In addition, the Lusty has been having some new troubles of late.)I do hope you’ll do two things for me while I’m away:

1. Let me know about things you think I should do or see while In Oakland/San Francisco.

2. Let me know what sex-in-the-news stories or cultural conflicts catch your attention while I am away. Please use the “drop me a note” link on the right.

If I get your suggestions for things to do and then do any of them, I’ll blog about it when I get back. And your story-alerts will serve as blog-fodder as well!

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Art Museums for Adults Only?

Sydney McGee, an art teacher in Frisco, Texas, a wealthy suburb of Dallas is losing her job. The reasons are not entirely clear, but her evaluations turned negative after a museum trip last spring in which students — fifth graders — did in fact see some sculptures, including some that were nudes, including one that was, reportedly, abstract. The New York Times reported on this yesterday, as did the Frisco Enterprise on Friday.

The district spokespeople give a different story than does the teacher, (as is often the case in discipline and dismissal cases) but a common element of both stories is that one parent complained after the Dallas Museum of Art trip last April, and the complaint had to do with the student having viewed “nude artwork.” The principal later talks about “abstract nude,” and the Times article mentions specifically Auguste Rodin’s “Shade” , Aristide Maillol’s “Flora” , and Arp’s “Star in a Dream,” which I can’t find (but you can click here for a page of Arp’s abstract work, to get a sense of it).

Before anybody gets all stereotypical about “The South,” let me tell you that Frisco is a wealthy suburb. When I say wealthy, I mean that according to the census bureau, in 2005 the median family income in Frisco was over 100,000. (So half of families had incomes above that!) It’s also a place with a pretty highly educated population. While the 2005 education numbers aren’t available, in 2000, half of the adult population had Bachelor degrees or better, and 12% had graduate or professional degrees. (If you want to make comparisons to the nation as a whole, in the US in 2000 only 24% of the adult population had Bachelor degrees or better, and only 9% had graduate or professional degrees.) Frisco residents tend to work in professional, management, sales and office occupations.

Whether they are frequent museum goers or not, I would have assumed the residents of Frisco are the types of people who see museums as places one goes to be exposed to “culture” and would think about nudes in a museum as entirely different than the otherwise presumably problematic representations of naked people one might find in the “lowbrow” mass media or in pornography. According to the reports so far, only one parent complained about the museum trip and, according to the district, the museum trip is only one reason why this teacher’s contract is not going to be renewed next year. (The other parts of the reason appear to do with her resisting being disciplined over — yes, in part — the museum trip.)

I would also have wanted to believe that the school principal cared enough about the education of children that she would talk to a parent making such a complaint and explain that it is healthy and important for children to be able to walk through an art museum, be exposed to the work presented there, and to discuss the work, it’s time period, and the context in which it was created. It sounds as if one of this principal’s complaints — and I’m admittedly reading between the lines here — is that the museum trip wasn’t planned well enough to avoid the children’s gazes falling on these nude sculptures in the first place.

I’m left bewildered that this has come up at all. There may well be more to this story, but it’s shocking to think that an art teacher could find herself in trouble for taking her students to an art museum. I don’t know how largely that one parent’s complaint figured into the trouble this teacher now finds herself in, but it strikes me as terrible that any parent, having signed a permission slip for a child to go to an art museum, would then be offended that said child saw, well, art.

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Filed under Art, Education, News and politics, public discourse, sexually oriented businesses

The economics of a swingers party

So I just got an invitation to a sex party — a swingers’ party, really — and I’m thinking about the message conveyed by the pricing options. The cost of the party would vary according to how early one paid, and what configuration of guests one was paying for.

Here’s how it broke down:

At least two weeks before the party –

Couples: $90, MFF Trios: $120, MMF Trios: $170, Single Females $25

At least one week before the party:

Couples: $100, MFF Trios: $130, MMF Trios: $185, Single Females $30

Less than a week before the party:

Couples: $120, MFF Trios: $155, MMF Trios: $210, Single Females $35

I know about this particular group that they have less expensive gatherings on weekdays. These cost about $40 per couple. Clearly people will pay more on the weekend. There must be greater demand for parties on weekends and greater demand for party guests on weeknights.

But aside from looking at how cost varies depending on the night of the week, there are some really interesting messages implicit in the pricing structure for this particular gathering.

  1. Unattached women are intensely desired. So much are they in demand that as an inducement to get women to attend solo, they are charged only 30% of the rate paid by couples. If I my partner were a woman you can bet if we wanted to attend this party I’d suggest gaming the system and registering separately.
  2. Trios are desirable if they contain two women. If they do, the trio gets a $15 break on the cost you’d imagine they’d have to pay if their rate were simply 150% of the couples rate. On the other hand, they don’t quite get the break you’d expect if you charged the couples rate plus one unattached woman rate. In other words, they’re still slightly less desirable than unattached women.
  3. Trios containing two men and a woman are allowed but discouraged by a $50 surcharge over the FFM trio rate (or $35 over the “couple rate times 1.5”)
  4. Unattached men are not allowed at any price (without special permission from the organizers, and I assume a price is worked out separately).

It is possible that the pricing here reflects an undersupply of unattached women and an oversupply of extraneous men. Thus, men without any partner are not allowed and men who are part of a trio with another man are discouraged (an extra man floating around, as it were). But this assumes a male-female coupling as ideal, a cluster with more women than men as a bonus, and assumes, that men don’t want to be with other men sexually unless there are women involved.

Or, the pricing can be seen as a way of moderating behavior. Perhaps it is not assumed that men don’t want to be directly sexual with other men, but that such men are simply being discouraged from attending this party. Perhaps the assumption is that other people are made so uncomfortable by the sight of men enjoying each others touch that to welcome such men would kill the mood for everybody else. These are “swingers parties” after all and have “opposite sex” couples as their base. Someone suggested to me that the reason for discouraging unattached men or trios with two men is that the additional men would be likely to create problems for the women at the party. That is, that women would be overwhelmed with the numbers of men who would approach them, and that the limitations on the number of men attending is a way to create a safer space for women to explore their sexuality.

So, is this wholly a matter of supply and demand? Or are swingers parties focused on protecting women from men, or are they protecting men from each other? Perhaps the overarching message is that men’s sexuality is still deemed dangerous, problematic, and uncontrollable.

Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it 😉

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Filed under Gender, sex, sexuality, sexually oriented businesses