Well, then, maybe it isn’t so cute
One of the first things to jump out at me about this story in the NY Times about child prostitution was that we have even more evidence of the harmful effects of the War on Drugs.
But many child welfare advocates and officials in government and law enforcement say that while the data is scarce, they believe that the problem of prostituted children has grown, especially as the Internet has made finding clients easier.
“It’s definitely worsening,” said Sgt. Kelley O’Connell, a detective who until this year ran the Boston Police Department’s human-trafficking unit, echoing a sentiment conveyed in interviews with law enforcement officials from more than two dozen cities. “Gangs used to sell drugs,” she said. “Now many of them have shifted to selling girls because it’s just as lucrative but far less risky.”
This article is one of the best I’ve read on the subject in a long time, and it even ends with a note of optimism, detailing how the Dallas police have initiated a program that allows them to get 3/4 of the prostitutes that enter the program out of prostitution. The hardest part, unsurprisingly, is getting the women to flip on their pimps. The prostitute/pimp relationship seems like it’s best understood as a rather extreme version of the domestic violence situation. Pimps control their prey using the same combination of rewards and punishment, often doled out arbitrarily, that wife beaters do. They just tend to be more literal about it, and aim for women who are in a really bad spot in life. Just as a garden variety wife beater will look for women that seem eager to please or have low self-esteem, the pimp looks for women who are in economic dire straits and have excruciatingly low self-esteem. As the article chronicles, interviews with pimps where they’re encouraged to brag about how they trapped women was the source of this information.
It’s a nice cure for the cutesy “isn’t hooking great!” excerpt by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner from their new book that Sady Doyle ripped to shreds in the Guardian. As Sady notes, they basically try to argue that streetwalkers invite their own degradation by charging too little and hating men and their work too much, and if they put a smiley face on it and learned to love subjugating themselves before men and being debased by men out to get off on owning a woman (if only for an hour), they’d make more money. Pimping is only mentioned in passing—Dubner and Levitt seem to believe that pimps are mainly protection and management for prostitutes. Much like you’d hire a bouncer for your club, they seem to think, prostitutes hire pimps.
What pimps are in reality is more likely to be owners of prostitutes, the actual owners who merely rent out their slaves to other men for cash. From the NY Times article, which details how the Dallas police started getting real results by not treating prostitutes as criminals, but seeing them as trapped by pimps, the real criminals:
While Roxanne had all the signs of being controlled by a pimp — a tattoo with initials on her neck, a rehearsed script about how she was new to the work — she adamantly denied working for anyone…..
“My job is to make sure she has what she needs, personal hygiene, get her nails done, take her to buy an outfit, take her out to eat, make her feel wanted,” said another pimp, Antoin Thurman, who was sentenced in 2006 to three years for pandering and related charges in Buckeye, Ariz. “But I keep the money.”
Emphasis mine. As Sady and Amanda note in their conversation, this disproves one of the Big Lies that Dubner and Levitt use to make their “cute” argument about prostitution. I quote the lie:
There is one labour market women have always dominated: prostitution.
They have a few cute stories about high end brothels to uphold this bullshit theory, but as Sady and Amanda point out, actually, men have dominated that market, too. A few high cost call girls aside, men make most of the money off sex work in general. Not only are men the pimps that take most to all of the money from streetwalkers, but men own most porn companies and magazines, and men own most strip clubs. Saying women dominate the sex work labor market is like saying women dominate the unpaid housework industry.
Perhaps Dubnar and Levitt’s cute “work less/make more” counter-intuitive argument isn’t so counter-intuitive if you actually remember that pimps control the streetwalking market. Pimps don’t appear to see—except when flattering themselves—prostitutes as workers at all. They seem them as objects to rent, and they offer really low prices, probably in no small part because that helps the prostitutes internalize the belief that they are worthless, which makes it harder for them to leave their pimps. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a mere blogger crippled by an inability to look past women’s humanity.
Dubnar and Levitt disprove their other Big Lie within the space of their own article. Here’s the Big Lie:
Since time immemorial and all over the world, men have wanted more sex than they could get for free. So what inevitably emerges is a supply of women who, for the right price, are willing to satisfy this demand.
I allow there’s some truth to the fact that more men used to visit prostitutes back when “good” girls were not permitted to have premarital sex or multiple partners. But even then, I imagine the situation was more complicated than they’re letting on. It’s not just that men want a static amount of sex, and women have always underperformed for free. But especially nowadays, trotting out the Sad Unfuckable John lie—the guy who has to pay prostitutes, because no one else will fuck him—is to be especially full of shit. And Dubnar and Levitt prove this in their own analysis. The high-end prostitute they interview mostly deals with married men cheating on their wives, who I’m fairly sure they have sex with as well. There’s some allusions to specific sex acts that wives won’t perform, which is a sort of justification, but as usual with john apologists, Dubnar and Levitt won’t admit that perhaps the prostitution itself is the draw, that what men who visit prostitutes more is not just sex, and not just a specific kink, but the chance to pay someone to have sex with someone who performs self-abnegation beautifully.
Here’s an example of how they disprove their own ideas. Idea:
Who poses the greatest competition to a prostitute? Simple: any woman who is willing to have sex with a man for free.
What the former prostitute they interview actually says:
But as a young divorcée, she started visiting online dating sites — she liked men, and she liked sex — and just for fun listed “escort” on her profile.
“I mean, it was so instantaneous,” she recalls. “I just thought I’d put it up and see what happens.”
Her computer was instantly flooded with replies. “I started hitting minimise, minimise, minimise, just so I could keep up!”
So let’s listen to what Allie is actually saying. Allie is actually saying that when she indicated to men that she was charging, the number of requests she got went up. If women who have sex for free—which is what Allie was prior to starting to charge—are competition, then how is it that men who can get sex for free are so damn eager to pay? And don’t give me that “you pay prostitutes to go away” crap—Allie, like most high-end prostitutes, has regular clients who come back all the time, and are eager to play at being boyfriend. That, and there are cheaper prostitutes who are eager to go away, and there are plenty of people online who use dating sites to get casual sex. For free, which Dubnar and Levitt claim is a prostitute’s main competition. Allie herself was into the idea of “giving it away” for free before she started charging, and yet her requests went up.
Dubnar and Levitt get close to an answer.
For an hour or two, she represents the ideal wife: beautiful, attentive, smart, laughing at your jokes and satisfying your lust. She is happy to see you every time you show up at her door. Your favourite music is already playing and your favourite drink is on ice. She will never ask you to take out the rubbish.
Ahhhh, there we go. Women may “give away” sex for free, but if you want someone to act like a subservient sexbot, then you have to pay for the pleasure. Wives are so disappointing! They do things like listen to the music they like, or refuse to indulge you when you’re being an asshat. As Allie discovered, the longer she did this, and the more she charged, the more men wanted to go on long dates. Sex wasn’t all she was doing! She was being paid by the hour to pretend that morons were smart, that assholes were delightful, and that weird thing he does is orgasmic. The thrill is less renting someone’s vagina, but buying someone’s submission.
Allie has a refreshingly honest view of her work, and she brags about telling other high-end prostitutes not to look down on streetwalkers, because they are in the same profession. This is true. Both are in the business of giving men the thrill of possessing a woman. More expensive prostitutes get the advantage of satisfying the fantasy of being a pampered pet, but streetwalkers are sadly in the business of getting men who want a seedier thrill, for whom the right to overtly debasing someone is the point.
Maybe the reason that fewer men visit prostitutes isn’t because they’re getting their sexual needs met for free, after all. Maybe it’s because men are increasingly disinterested in female submission.