Saturday, May 31, 2014

On Prostitution

Some thoughts in response to this article on the recently deceased poet Maya Angelou's past as a sex worker.

"There are many ways to prostitute oneself." I think this is a very important insight.

It seems to me that there are three kinds of people: (1) those who are prostitutes and hate it; (2) those who are prostitutes and don't know it; (3) those who are
prostitutes but have managed to come to terms with prostitution (finding a way to be honest and happy and even healthy as prostitutes).

Too many of us spend effort and energy rejecting and loathing the prostitution that we see other people participating in without considering (1) how we ourselves are prostitutes or (2) how the quality of one's approach to and experience with prostitution matters more than someone else's external perception of it. Selling favors (sexual or otherwise) is only evil to us if we do so under duress (being forced against our will), or if our goal is to create suffering rather than alleviate it (trying to prey upon the vulnerabilities of others in some way we see being profitable to ourselves). If I sell some intimate piece of myself to another person freely with honest intention to do them good, then my prostitution becomes something potentially very rewarding (in a good way). This is true whether I am selling my body or my ideas (time, resources, opportunities, skills, etc.).

There should be no shame imposed upon people whose experience with prostitution turns out badly because of others' taking unfair advantage of their weakness. Blaming the victims of bad prostitution for their own suffering is not a useful thing to do: it helps nobody, whether individuals or society. The proper thing here is to punish predators and try to help victims escape--from physical and psychological danger.

On the other hand, there should also be no shame imposed upon people whose experience with prostitution leads them to find happiness where others would not. Maya Angelou should not be an object of shame or blame from society merely because she sold sexual favors at some point in her life. That is not in itself a bad thing. Blaming people for being what she was, or what she seemed to be, does not make the world better--for her, for individuals who resemble her, or for society generally.

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