I guess this is sort of a companion piece to this post I made earlier today.
last night when I was working I was wearing a leopard print dress with a pink ruffle trim. now, wearing this dress out to a social occasion, I’d team it with pink shoes and all but because I was working I wore my comfiest pump heels (i’m a lazy ho), a black pair (that kick off real easy). since the spots on the dress are black, it still tied in and matched.
anyhoo, this guy and this girl strolled past at one point and the guy looks over and says “you should be wearing pink shoes, they’d match the dress just right”
so I just blank-stared at him and said “I’m not asking for fashion advice, mate”
instantly he began hostile, his face twisting in an ugly sneer and he shouted back “well you’re just a fucking whore anyway”
this certainly isn’t the worst harassment I’ve faced working on the street, but it is an example of how abruptly someone can turn hostile and target their abuse very specifically on what they know you’re out there doing, that they play on the fact you’re a sex worker to hurt you.
I guess this topic has been on my mind ever since this post went around on tumblr, describing the difference between street harassment and street work, asking for understanding that in some neighbourhoods the street is a work place. and a bunch of feminists became absolutely outraged at the very suggestion they should show any consideration to the fact that there is a difference between someone asking if you’re working and someone going ‘haaaaaayyy baaaaaby show us yer tits!’. because being mistaken for a sex worker - along a KNOWN, RECOGNISED BEAT - is totally sexual harassment and is just one of the most dreadful things a “NORMAL” woman could ever be subjected to.
the thing is.
I mean, I want to be careful I don’t undermine the street harassment non-sex working women very much are subjected to, often on a daily basis, in the writing of this post. because it’s very much a real thing. when I’m not working, I experience street harassment in non-beat areas and it never stops being awful. it’s a shared experience for women, trans and cis, the world over. we all know what it’s like. we’ve all experienced street harassment and we all know how vile and dehumanising it is.
but there’s a part of me, an angry, resentful, bitter part, that just wants to scream YOU DON’T EVEN FUCKING KNOW WHAT STREET HARASSMENT IS UNTIL YOU’VE WORKED ON THE STREET.
the thing about street work is that it’s high-level exposure, particularly for those beats that are in big party areas of town. everyone knows where they are. even the tourists know, cos there’s always someone telling them about it, or a tour guide book listing it, as example of ‘local colour’. there’s no secret about it. people know the beats.
and that’s why, when you’re a solo woman standing or wandering up and down a beat EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT YOU ARE THERE TO DO.
there is simply no way to get around it. there is no hiding it. everyone knows. and they make sure that you know they know, even if it is something so subtle as the side-eyes followed by the smirk as they pass by.
even just that can be as intimidating as fuck.
but it gets so, so very much worse.
sex workers hold a very low status in society, street workers in particular and I’m pretty damn sure that directly correlates to how exposed it is. it’s the whole ‘keep it behind closed doors’ thing - street workers are working on the street, not obliging “polite” society by hiding our disgusting selves away so everyone else can forget we exist.
when we’re on the street, people feel like they can’t ignore us.
people have strong reactions to being denied this option to forget and ignore us.
those reactions invariably take the form of street harassment.
it’s not the clients who ask us to show them our tits, or who scream ‘HAHAHAHA HOW MUCH BABY HAHAHA’ (the number of WOMEN who do this is truly disgusting) or who yell out slurs like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’, or like one guy last night who BELLOWED in a voice I noted most for the undercurrent of pure fury: “GET A REAL JOB” as he sailed by in a car one of his maters drove.
it’s not the clients who stride up with chests puffed out and shoulders back cos the fact they’re some drunk guy twice your size is just not enough to intimidate you, a lone woman who’s trying to do sex work, asking stupid, invasive questions, trying to touch you and stick their hands down your top or up your skirt, who grope you and try to tear your clothes off you.
it’s certainly not the clients who ARRANGE with their FRIENDS in FACEBOOK events to drive past beats and throw eggs at the workers. I’m not even kidding. yes. facebook events. people plan to do this shit. they think it’s a great night out. we are so dehumanised, regarded so much as pig shit, that these assholes actually think it’s good, clean fun to arrange evenings-out of egg-throwing. if this doesn’t make you furious, I hate you.
it’s not the clients who cluster up in groups, circle you and start shouting and shoving you around because you dared tell one of their group to fuck off when they shouted out some stupid remark.
i mean, I could go on and on. sometimes this harassment escalates into violence and beatings. groups of men and women ganged up on one woman, who’s only guilty of the crime of trying to work - and not tolerating anyone’s bullshit when they try to interfere with that work.
and the thing about all of this is that this is DIRECTLY a consequence of being recognised as a sex worker. it amuses these people (you people) as much as it infuriates and disgusts them. they see you as absolutely public property. as fair game to harassment because you’re not a ‘real’ person. as a reasonable target because you’re a whore. you’re not one of them. you’re not a person. you’re not someone with feelings or thoughts. you’re absolutely not someone protected by the same rules and guidelines that protect them. you’re just a hooker.
you’re just a hooker.
and don’t even fucking pretend to me this isn’t how most of you think. if you don’t think we’re actively responsible for our own rape and assault and harassment, you have a complacent reaction to the street harassment we face because, well, what else can we expect? we’re EXPOSING OURSELVES.
but those beats are our work place. we don’t fuck them, right out in front of anyone. but it is how we meet our clients. how we connect with them. beats are created so clients know where to come to find us.
and it is typical for street workers to be the most disenfranchised and marginalised of women, the women for whom it is hardest to get places in brothels or escort agencies, or who are unable to set up privately for themselves except in swapping contact details with clients they get on the street. the women who are from the lowest socio-economic spectrum, with the least education, with mental health problems and addictions, who are often trans* and of colour, who are older women with debts, single mothers, homeless women…
the street is vital as a work place for such people. it COSTS NO MONEY to work on the street, which is the single most compelling reason to work on it. private work requires massive overheads. brothels & agencies take half the money you make. the street you just go to a beat and wait. you start when you want and finish when you want. you get paid for service, not time, which means you can do a job and be back out there waiting for another in five minutes.
and, you know, i am so infinitely privileged and SO GRATEFUL that I have other options to work beside the street because that means I don’t do it often enough for all the shitty parts to outweigh the amazing parts (anyone who doesn’t think making $150 for five minutes work is amazing, we just live on completely fucking different planets) because putting up with all that bullshit night after night and knowing NO ONE fucking takes it seriously cos everyone thinks you deserve it cos you’re a dirty whore would drive me into the ground.
no one offers street workers reasonable substitutes for street work. they just get mad about it.
when people talk about street work, they talk about ‘cleaning up the streets’. street workers are unsightly. for being older women, mentally ill, addicts, poor, trans*, homeless… fuck for just being women!! who are obviously making a living by selling sex. our very presence, the fact we exist, offends people. they just want to get rid of us.
no one views street workers as active professionals in a work place. only as victims, or as scum, or as both - but never whilst offering reasonable substitutions for street work. which is not to say street workers are out there having a grand old time living the dream, but the fact we nonetheless ARE working and KNOW our business and how to perform it is NEVER respected or acknowledged.
all this hate and disrespect and disgust and disdain manifests in street harassment - targeted, specific, deliberate and even planned. from people who are not clients of street workers, who often are NEVER clients of street workers.
and yet, when “concern” for street workers is expressed, these are NEVER the things that are talked about. it is always, ALWAYS, the clients who are spoken of as the predators, the abusers, the creeps, the perverts, those who are the greatest danger to our lives and livelihoods. without fail. no one factors in all those ‘normal’ people just strolling past, who have absolutely no intention of soliciting a service from us.
and those asshole clients certainly exist. but bluntly, the bulk of abuse and harassment on a nightly basis comes from the non-clients. there’s always the possibility a job can go horrible wrong, in any number of ways, that a predator might feign being a client to attack you. but it’s not a nightly guarantee.
what IS a nightly guarantee are all the non-clients engaging in a whole spectrum of abuse and harassment as they pass you by, borne of the simple fact that they all know you’re a hooker and don’t think of you as worth any respect or compassion as a result of that.
then to top it all off, we cop - from everyone, including feminists - responsibility for street harassment. that the fact we exist - trying to live, to get by - working makes men believe all women are sexually available or creates an environment that condones sexual harassment. our need to work is assigned blame for the fact that men harass women when the fact that men harass women exists within a vastly complex societal construction. but it’s easier to just blame the whores, cos who goes out to bat for the whores?
meanwhile, the harassment and abuse we face is never considered except in the ways can be othered, disconnected from reality, where all you can be absolved of any hand in it, where those who assault us are simply spectres, rather than your best friend after one drink too many.
so forgive me if I don’t indulge your butthurt that when you’re walking down a KNOWN BEAT that a guy asks you quietly “are you working?” or “how much?” or “what’s the service?” (in my experience the most common enquiries from serious potential clients) seriously, I could give less of a fuck that you’re outraged someone asks you if you’re working, because you never muster one ounce of a fuck to give about the way street workers are abused and harassed constantly by you and people just like you and all your fucking friends who clatter down our working areas when you’re drunk and full of righteous hatred and make us feel unsafe, intimidated and bullied.
because let’s not kid ourselves, this isn’t about street harassment, it’s about your personal distaste for the work that we do, that you think it’s disgusting and awful and degrading and wretched and OMG how could anyone think you’re SOME DIRTY WHORE because you’ve got this bullshit idea hookers all look and dress a certain way but if you’re dressed up for a night out and on a KNOWN BEAT then you just look like any working girl but even not being dressed up is no guarantee because hookers work during the day too and just as likely to work in jeans and a t-shirt as a mini skirt and heels and actually it’s the fact you’re a woman by herself on a KNOWN BEAT that leads a client to think you might be working and make a perfectly reasonable enquiry (clue: the guys screaming “HOW MUCH?” as they pass or drive by are NEVER actual clients & THAT is actual street harassment, I know the differences might be too subtle for you to recognise over your indignance anyone could think you’re a hooker, but they’re definitely there!). that respecting that street workers are out there working because of necessity is too much for you, that you don’t really think of street workers as human or as deserving of any consideration or respect and so your only concern ARE your concerns and your concerns are solely that some dumbass client might think you’re working and ask what your service costs.
that you have the nerve to equate that enquiry, made only when you’re on a known beat, with getting eggs hurled at you by carfuls of assholes screaming out ‘YA DUMB WHORES’ - or, fuck, walking past the proverbial construction site only to have a group of men calling out sexual obscenities at you.
seriously. if you can’t see the difference, don’t even tell me you are any kind of friend to sex workers. you’re way more an enemy than any guy who wants to give us money for giving him a service.