December 17th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against sexworkers. I don’t like days of observance – I don’t like to be reminded to pay attention to something in a ritual way. Even less so, when it concerns something so significant and ubiquitous that the number of days in a year would not even suffice to dedicate enough attention to it. Speaking of attention: Where in the world does a day like this actually raise awareness? In fact, who is observing the problem in those places and for what reason? Is violence against women brought to the centre of attention more on this day in places where it would be particularly appropriate to do so? Probably not. So, why do we even have this day then?
Observance and reservations
The reason why I know that December 17th is the day on which we try to raise awareness for violence used against sexworkers lies in my work as an activist and a lobby whore.
Of course, we as prostitutes have every reason to be against violence directed at every sexworking person. After all, we are particularly jeopardised by it. Not only by ‘normal’ violence, but also by state-induced, institutionalized violence in the form of repression by certain circles that want to eliminate us from society. However, it is these circles of people who want to abolish prostitution (called Abolis in German) and who have picked this day to start numerous campaigns to “save” sexworkers form sexwork – i.e. against those of us who don’t want to be saved from being a whore. These people claim that our line of work, sex-work is the worst form of violence against women. I beg your pardon? So, getting paid for sex equals violence? So, in other words, it’s just bad as rape or domestic violence? This is ridiculous! No, come to think of it, it’s not ridiculous; it’s frightening. These Abolis have repeated their theory that sex-work is not work but in fact an act of violence like rape in a mantra-like way for years now. They are not talking merely about human trafficking or about shady red-light districts, both of them without a doubt of criminal nature; no, they are targeting prostitution in general, hence also my work.
So, I am informed that our opponents are out to take advantage of this day in order to exercise political violence against women, against us whores. The reason why I am writing this text is that these Abolis do not regard me as a victim of their campaign, but rather as a privileged escort girl who has nothing to say on the subject.
Yet, this privileged escort girl would like to say something on the subject
I don’t see myself as a feminist leader – so if not, who am I? I am a dazzling media whore; I am Salomé herself, and I’m all by myself. Anything I have to add to the discussion is a brand, the brand that is me. That’s right: the girl writing here is one you can also book to have in your bed. Hence, I have no real power in these matters whatsoever. I am only thinking for myself here and I don’t want to lecture anyone – there are people who have tackled this issue much more intensively than this spoilt white girl in her frivolous courtesan existence as a high-class escort. For me, the epitome of violence is when you call me before 1 p.m. ‘in the morning’, because at that moment, I am still hugging my rosé silk bed-linen. Oh well, or if a police task force were to storm my small flat at 6 a.m. without a reason, in order to investigate whether I am running an unregistered brothel in the place where I operate my non-profit escort collective Hetaera from. Especially because I am not even registered as a prostitute at the office for public order (Ordnungsamt). I find such a registration to be in violation with my civil rights. If I were to register, they could pay me a visit without a search warrant if they wanted, because under the prostitutes-protection bill, for a person like me the inviolability of the home is repealed. So, I would have to factor events like this in, theoretically. However, I wish to suppress this thought. Just like I suppress thoughts about stalkers and whore-haters who can easily find me through the correct imprint on my website. So far, nothing has happened yet and I sometimes even still leave my door open when I shuffle to my letterbox in my dressing gown, on my mules, hoping I will not find a letter from the Ordnungsamt in it, or from the property management, or from my neighbours, who could easily demand me moving out of this honourable house. My neighbours however are very kind and I am not quite sure the property management even exists.
As far as the hatred instigated on the internet is concerned, I am not really affected by it personally, since I am flying far under the radar. Moreover, I am sure that this handful of agitators and trolls targeting me would in fact tone down their rhetoric if they were to meet me in person. Because of my job, I may be too used to people loving me. I feel safe. To me, violence is very, very far away. From a distance, I try to approach this topic conceptually, as if it were merely a theory.
Privileged escort girl racking her brain
So, what in fact is misogyny, hostility towards women? Why is there no equivalent technical term for hostility towards men? In what way is hating women any different from hating men? Is violence against women different from violence in general?
It sounds banal: Violence against women is directed against a gender, against the gender or against the gendered. Automatically it makes me think of Jack the Ripper murdering London prostitutes, cruelly mutilating their lower abdomen as a clear form of violence against the female sex.
The vocabulary of misogynist perpetrators of violence is known to employ swearwords for female genitalia to refer to the whole person: Fotze, cunt. Something similar may also happen to men, who are called dick, cazzo, bellino or Sack, but with much less aggression. Also, throughout the centuries, be it in East or in West, the articulation of hatred has a profound interest in this one specific abusive word that has no masculine equivalent in any language in the world: whore.
I challenge you to count the number of times this word is used disparagingly in one day, for instance in a film or in conversation. As a result of my predisposition, I wince every time I hear it being used in that way, especially because of the seemingly natural concomitant of my profession to the lowest a woman can be in the eyes of the world. Women against whom hatred and contempt are directed are referred to using the concept of their promiscuity: Schlampe, slut, putain, puta, putana, curva, whore. The swearword whore can be found in the linguistic context of practically every misogynist act of violence. Almost always the victim is referred to by the offender as a whore, regardless of whether she was actually working as a prostitute or – on the contrary – was raped. So, what does this word actually mean, especially when it’s clear that it means more than merely a condemnation of prostitution?
What is it actually that a cool calculating prostitute and a whore, whose outfit or behaviour beg to get raped have in common?
I’m confused, my thoughts meandering: Prostitution – at least somewhere, still – also means commercial fornication. Fornication vs. chastity. Does chastity keep someone safe from violence? Not at all. Violence against women always comes up with a reason. The humiliation of women does not have a pedagogical goal and a woman’s good behaviour according to standards of decency does not protect her from further abasement. The most devote little woman will not escape from her uninhibited husband’s fists. The humiliation in and by itself is the goal. Humiliation as a matter of principle, a law of nature as it were. There is nothing to be gained from chastity. Even the victims of the most brutal rapes while being violated are regarded as filthy whores or dirty sluts, who want it just as bad. The keyword whore goes hand in hand with any form of violence against women as its legitimisation. It is always the “whore” who is being punished.
But what if the punishment fails to appear? What if a whore goes through life exempt from punishment and with her head up high – maybe even as a veritable whore? Do you, as a reader, sense the cognitive dissonance while reading this? Do you think it’s probably too good to last? Eve was banned from the Garden of Eden. Esmeralda the whore, the witch, had to burn. Carmen was killed just like the bull was killed by the toreador. The courtesans died as a result of their conduct or by killing themselves out of love. Lulu, in the end, was faced with Jack the Ripper, the accomplice of her fate. Please, feel free to add to this list; doubtless, many more examples will come to mind. We cannot think of women outside of the Madonna-whore dichotomy. The Madonna sacrifices herself, the whore is being sacrificed. Can you imagine me as a bloodstained corpse in my frivolous rosé bed linen?
Violence against whores is violence against women
The assumption of the victims’ own free will, their free will to be promiscuous, is used as a pretext for the act of violence that dresses up as a legitimate punishment. Violence against women always means violence against “whores”.
Do you remember the Iranian women’s rights activist Nazryn Soutodeh, who was convicted earlier this year? I misspelled her name on purpose and I will also not hashtag her name, for it would potentially put her in danger. A friendly Arab client, who is better informed than I am, warned me. He told me that if she got too much attention in the West, if she were even turned into a women’s rights icon and her name featured on the internet too often, she would probably be killed in prison. So, by not mentioning her, she might have a chance to sit out her sentence or better yet, survive the current regime. She was sentenced to a 38-year prison term and 148 lashes. Her crime in the official language of the prosecution: “incitement to prostitution.” The mullahs’ train of thought behind it may seem odd to westerners, yet it does not lack logic: The battle for women’s rights is incitement to prostitution – as a simple consequence. Prostitution can in fact be a result, albeit a radical one, in the moment where a woman understands that her body essentially only belongs to herself and she can thus also capitalise on it. Self-determination is a scandal, an offence in and by itself. Merely the pretension to decide herself whether to wear a hijab or not (which also implies that she can wear it voluntarily) implies that she would take decisions about her own body and be in charge of it herself. However, in the patriarchy, her body does not belong to the woman herself; it first belongs to her father, the patriarch, and after that belongs to her husband, to whom the patriarch has given his daughter’s hand in marriage. This is not only the case in Iran. Until early modern times, our own social order, for instance that of the Oekonomia Christiana, functioned in a similar way. These are the deep-reaching roots of our culture and in spite of the consolidation of equal rights for men and women in constitutional law, these rules still apply today. Let’s be honest: Compared to the power of ancient role models, what authority does a constitution have? A whore, be it there or here, is not just a professional sex worker; no, it’s every woman who does not feel the need to justify her choice of sex partners to anyone but herself. The whore, in the original sense of the word is the adulteress. This is anything but self-evident; it was not then, nor is it now; it is not there, nor here.
The so-called abolitionists claim that prostitution is not freedom, it is violence, or at least a concession to patriarchal violence, an affirmation of oppression. Nothing could be further from the truth: The conditions under which women are always in danger of being considered as a whore, whether she wants to or not, are already in place before any decision can be made. The only choice that is left is to cower in shame and to assume a role characterised by an ever-insufficient humility – or to break with the rules.
Prostitution as a result is the litmus test of feminism. Violence against women is violence against whores. Whether feminism is actually worthy of its name is ultimately decided by the question whether it is also the feminism of whores.