By MIA FREEDMAN
Internet? You never cease to surprise me. This last couple of weeks, the surprise has come in the form of attacks and criticism over my recent comments about sex workers on Q&A.
Specifically, the bit where I said I didn’t want my daughter to grow up to be a sex worker.
My daughter who is 7.
Some context: I was appearing for the first time on Q&A in a women’s panel and one of the other guests was former sex worker, Brooke Magnanti, who did sex work while she was studying for a science degree and wrote a popular blog under the pseudonym Belle du Jour.
Quite a lot of the program seemed to be taken up with Brooke discussing sex work (or did it just feel that way from the side of the desk I was on?) and mostly I sat there listening with interest to the discussion.
Brooke is now an advocate for the right of sex workers and speaks very positively of her 18 months working as one. Like this (from the Q&A transcript which you can find in full, here):
DECIMA WRAXALL (audience member): Brooke, you said that working as a sex worker was as much a spiritual experience for you as a biological one. Did this also apply to your male partners, do you think?
BROOKE MAGNANTI: To the people who were my clients?
DECIMA WRAXALL: Yes, to your clients?
BROOKE MAGNANTI: I have no idea. I mean work becomes so many things and really I agree and on a very base level with Germaine in terms it exists within the system of capitalism and so we have to analyse it and think about it that way. For me it was very much an eye-opener about a certain way of living. I was very much a country mouse living in the city for the first time. London was the biggest place that I’ve ever lived. I was born in a village of 300 people. So it was as much discovering things about myself through the work that I was doing. Could I have done that working behind a bar? I probably could have done. Was I eligible to work behind a bar? I wasn’t.
TONY JONES: What’s the spiritual element though, if you could just explain that part of the question because I think a lot of people would be puzzled to hear that and I must say weren’t there times when you came across a client and thought, when you looked at them you thought, ‘Well, I just can’t do this’?
BROOKE MAGNANTI: No, actually there weren’t because part of the job was finding inside of each person to connect with. It isn’t just putting the plate down on the table, ‘Enjoy your meal. Here it is. Let’s go.’ It is – you know, you are contributing to somebody else’s physical experience in some way and there are a lot of sex workers, for example, that work with disabled clients, who work with clients who have a lot of social awkwardness, who don’t find it easy to have sexual relationships with other people. I mean obviously this is something very much covered in the recent Helen Hunt film and there is …
TONY JONES: Do you see yourself in the same light as providing some sort of social service to damaged men or needy men, let’s say?
BROOKE MAGNANTI: I wouldn’t go so far as to say – I would say to categorise them as damaged and needy is a very broad and very unfair brush stroke. But I would say that …
TONY JONES: I think we could say needy. That would certainly apply.
BROOKE MAGNANTI: I’m not going to comment on that one but I would say that in a lot of ways and a lot of sex workers have said similar things, it almost feels like nursing, you know. There is a job you are doing and then there is also a level of connection and communication that you are having with a person that you are just thrown together with because of the circumstances of the work that you do.
OK, that’s all very positive and – in terms of her own experience – I’m sure that’s true. But it’s not true for all women who are sex workers. Brooke used the euphemism “women with chaotic lives”, presumably to describe those sex workers addicted to drugs or alcohol, for those who are desperate, abused, exploited, mentally ill, trafficked…..not every woman ‘chooses‘ sex work as a spiritual experience. And that needs to be loudly acknowledged.