Let’s Talk About Sex, Lies and Exploitation

A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine took to working as a skimpy (a barmaid in a bra and g-string). She raved about the great money she was getting – $25/h and as much again in tips – and the convenient hours, and that the men treated her much more respectfully then the customers at the restaurant we used to waitress for. It sounded like such a cushy job that in the beginning, I was tempted myself.

Until I watched the job erode her self-esteem and sense of value – of herself and the world around her – all while she convinced herself it was good for her ego to be a piece of meat for men to drool over. She claimed it motivated her to keep in shape, and having men pay her compliments made her feel good. She bragged when one publican specifically requested her (well, her FF boobs) and told her to wear something revealing. She began sleeping with men just because they adored her (well, those FFs at least) and showered her with gifts. Never money, though – she wasn’t a prostitute, so she told everyone who would listen.

After a year she gave it up because it was “˜too demeaning’ – following a year of her insisting it was good for her self esteem. By that point, the damage had been done. She’d become incredibly materialistic and obsessed with her looks. And she still sleeps with just about any guy who will make a show of adoring her (boobs) and giving her gifts. When she goes out with girlfriends, it has to be a competition over who can get the most guys. I haven’t seen her in two years; I have more secure friends to hang out with.

I was thinking of her when I read Traci Lords’s autobiography, Underneath it All. One of the final paragraphs jumped out at me; she spoke about how the advent of women in front and behind the camera like Jenna Jamison had created the argument that their creative presence had made pornography more empowering for women. Lords’s rebuttal was that all pornography is degrading to women, no matter who’s directing, and that not only was it disempowering to the woman performing, it was disempowering to all women, because it let men think that any woman was prepared to accept such crap.

I thought about her again when I was reading an article in Marie Claire about Karrine Stephans, who once made a living out of being one of the dancers in RnB video clips (you know the women – they wear bikinis that would be banned on most western beaches and gyrate against the misogynistic singer). She lifted the lid on the lifestyle recently, revealing that she and the other dancers would perform sexual services for the stars and their entourage in return for an entry into that world – and they all had such low self esteem that she considered herself loved to be giving Jay-Z a blow job. She was passed along to any man who would have her, and did it because she considered it an honour. Despite tarnishing the names of several big stars, no-one has sued, which says a lot about the validity of her claims.

Once she got too old and too drug-adled to be of any used to anyone, Stephans was dropped from the lifestyle, and has since been on a crusade to enlighten women. She entered the profession because of low self-esteem, and says of the situation:

No-one who values, loves or knows herself would allow herself to be placed in such a degrading position.

Right on. Because I would rather scrub toilets for $10/hour then be paid $10 000 to star in a porno. Because I would rather deal with the arrogant attitudes of some customers as a waitress then the false adoration of men who think my face is a foot lower then it actually is. Because I would rather go to bed with a man who stimulates me intellectually then buys me expensive things.

Because I have a sense of self-worth.

And it scares me how many women don’t.

I still think of my friend from time to time, and hope she finds her way. She never will so long as she continues to sell herself sexually. Despite all her protestations that she was not a prostitute, I believe that by doing what she did, weather it was flaunting her breasts for money or a guy, she reduced herself to a woman who was only worth anything as a sexual being. Women must stop selling themselves as sexual beings and start selling themselves as intelligent, capable beings. It’s the only way, as a gender, we will become anything of real value.


  1. Maartje says

    Though I completely agree that selling yourself in any way is a generally bad idea, I think you forget that we are sexual creatures. All of us, men and women are. I agree that must be awful to be treated as a piece of meat to be passed around but has she ever said ‘no’?
    Taking advantage of someone with self-esteem issues is really low, but at the end of the day she put herself in that situation and didn’t leave until she was kicked out.
    I like dressing up pretty *cough*sluttish*cough* now and then, because I’m 20 and it feels good to get lots of attention now and then. It only starts tearing on you when you cross limits you should have set for yourself.
    Blaming it all on the men who took advantage of those girls is not the way to go in my opinion (but this is entirely debateble) the girls themselves have to own up as well. One took advantage and the other let him, they are both to blame. Blaming it all on the men just makes out like women can’t look after themselves.

  2. scarlett says


    I could have written that much better. I agree with what you say but my point was that women need to see themselves as more then just sexual beings, and their sexuality as something to sell in return for money/affection/an ego boost.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    I didn’t think she was blaming the men. It was clear to me she blames her friend for her part in it and, as she said, has “more secure friends” to hang out with.

    I blame everyone involved, I guess. The men can’t possibly have a foundation of respect for women if they’re out at clubs like that, or making porn or music videos that border on it. And it’s more than a lack of respect: it is a form of abuse.

    Women are responsible for putting up with it. But I also blame women for such allegedly innocent things as playing dumb so men won’t feel threatened by their intelligence, because it creates an atmosphere where my forthright intelligence is interpreted as an attitude problem). I blame women for confusing their own lust and sexual pleasure with the servicing of men’s sexual urges, because I’d a lot rather normalize the idea that women want sex, and they want orgasms, and it’s not generally that hard for them to have them, if the partner isn’t 100% selfish or too repressed to work on providing it.

    And I blame the misogynistic women who raised the most misogynistic men I have ever had the displeasure of knowing.

    When women buy into the patriarchy, they deserve the blame, too. But no more and no less than the men.

  4. Maartje says

    When women buy into the patriarchy, they deserve the blame, too. But no more and no less than the men.

    That was basically all I was saying, you have a very succint way of putting things.

    And of course women need to see themselves as more then sexual beings but, I believe that some women, when weighing their options will make the consious choice to sell their body. I don’t have a problem with that as long as it is THEIR choice and they can get out when they choose to as well.
    Of course when saying this I am talking about the odd individual, most women in my experience aren’t happy to sell their bodies. I think that men do try to turn things in their mind so it suits them best i.e. women are happy to please them and that when women chose to do so, they are playing into that fantasy and make it a little harder for the rest of us.

    It’s a problem I don’t have the answer to, one the one hand I think everyone should have the freedom to choose. On the other I see that we’re no where near that and women should stick together and en masse show those delusional men that women are people too.

    But maybe I am delusional for thinking solidarity and individuality can go together.

    Thank you for letting me get my two cents in. I really enjoy this site because it makes me think and gives me a greater and more nuanced understanding of feminism.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Oh, feel free to put in more than two cents. :) I enjoy your comments.

    I don’t actually have a moral issue with someone selling sex, per se. It’s what happens when you have a sex trade in a highly gender-imbalanced society that bothers me. The sex trade we have ends up being all about female desperation and male perversion, and I don’t want to encourage either. If it was about people of either gender selling a professional level of sexual services, that would be different.

    But you know what’s one big reason we can’t have women paying men for sex? Because if they were paying customers, the women might demand the sex be good. And then women might get some scary-ass notion that FREE sex from men ought to be good, too. Like, you know, men start thinking their girlfriends ought to do for free what a hooker will do for a little cash.

    And that, sadly, rates highly on the list of things the majority* of men on earth want to avoid: to be expected to compete with other men in terms of bedroom skills, in order to keep a woman coming back for more. Just reverse all the stereotypes, and you get where I’m going. 😉

  6. scarlett says

    I absolute agree that everyone has freedome of choice and selling sex isn’t bad PER SE. If a woman (or a man, for that matter) enjoys doing it, why shouldn’t they be making money out of it? I don’t think that applies any less to the sex industry then any other industry.
    My problem is that in my experience, it ‘s rarely a matter of liberated choice. I’m yet to meet, or hear about, a woman who works in the sex industry (and by sex industry, I mean skimpies and strippers through to prostitutes and porn stars) because she genuinely enjoys it. In my friend’s case, it was a combination of being too materialistic/lazy to want the kind of minimum wage jobs are the most commonly available for students (and for the record, the Australian minimum wage for an adult is about $15, not too shabby IMO) and having such low self esteem that she thought being adored for her big breasts was a good thing. And without having any statistical evidence to back me up, I’d say this are the most common reasons women take these kinds of jobs.
    I guess her being materialistic couldn’t be helped, but I believe the sex industry is taking shameless advantage of women with low self-esteem. And then that gets into commercialism and this beauty ideal, which Beta has ranted about plenty enogh :p
    I don’t know what the solution is, but I think collectively women have to appreciate their own worth. I think if all the women who are taking such jobs got some self esteem, they’d decide they’d rather scrub toilets fully-clothes. And the numbers would be much less, so the ones who are doing it out of enjoyment could make more money – everyone wins :)

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    When you set up society in a way that virtually forces women to marry in order to make it financially, where women are blamed for their own rapes, and branded “slut” for the same behavior that gets men slaps on the back, it’s inevitable that things like abusive prostitution will also spring up.

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