- Category: Fighting Oppression
- Published on Friday, 3 January 2014
- Written by Mistress Magpie
Sunday’s Mirror reported a recent advertisement for an escort position on the government job-search website Universal Jobmatch. The ad, which was taken down a day later, offered the shockingly low-paid position as ‘no experience necessary’, with the stipulation that the successful applicant ‘must like sex’. It was removed for violating the terms and conditions for employers at the Department of Work and Pensions–run site, which allows listings for ancillary roles in the adult industry, like selling sex toys or tending bar at a strip club, but forbids any directly sex-related roles, such as escorting or stripping.
As a professional dominatrix, I’m irked by this. Sexuality is a basic human need, and leaving my perfectly legal category of work off Jobmatch is just one more subtle way in which moralists push sex and everything associated with it to the edges of society, and make sex work more dangerous.
In 2003, sex shop Ann Summers took the DWP to court and won the right to list advertisements for shop assistants. The resulting ruling opened the door to sex work ads, and for years, jobseekers who enquired could be shown these listings under Jobcentre Plus regulations, without any benefit-related sanctions for refusing to apply.
In 2008, DWP launched a consultation about the listings, with results published in 2010. In 2011, then-Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling decided that any job involving “sexual stimulation” would be barred from job listings. Unfortunately, he felt quite encouraged in his moralism, as mainline women’s rights organisations such as Women’s Aid had felt that to carry advertisements for sex work would go against the government’s Gender Equality Duty, as sex work perpetuates stereotypes against women and is rife with harassment.
Sex work can certainly be full of harassment, stereotyping and objectification. Unfortunately, so can being a till clerk at Tesco. Feminists, though, know the difference between a Gender Equality Duty and practical solidarity. Women’s Aid and the like need to stand with us sex workers; bringing us into the mainstream, giving us equal rights and fostering our own work in building solidarity can only help in the essential struggle against sex trafficking in the adult industry.
Sex work can be an incredibly uplifting job or an awful one. I am well aware that as sex workers go, I am extremely lucky; I was raised an upper middle class Jew in Midwestern America and have a good education. Moved by nothing worse than a wish to be the author of my own life, I left an interesting office job and a blossoming career to pursue hedonism and kink. I am not trafficked or coerced, and my earnings, after tax, are enough to pay the bills. I’m also lucky to live in the south west of England, a region that is home to a vibrant kink scene. Living and working here, I’ve made friends who step into and out of sex work as casually as they might pick up a second job as a barista.
These are young people in their twenties and thirties who graduated university and found little or nothing in their professional fields to sustain them. Sex positive and kink aware they, and the current students who will soon join them, are part of a growing minority who see sex work as a way to make ends meet. Sex work has its pitfalls and drawbacks, but it’s one way to avoid the degradation and harsh conditions of today’s zero-hours contracts wasteland. To my friends, food and fuel insecurity are far more frightening prospects than the stigma of sex work.
In 2011, Grayling suggested that sex work needed to be removed from job listings in order to ensure that jobseekers would not feel compelled to apply for these positions. Of course nobody should be forced to apply for an escorting position, but nobody should be coerced into applying for any job that does not suit their abilities. But this is alien to the ethos of today’s Jobcentre. The current DWP spends its time cutting the benefits of the disabled and threatening jobseekers with destitution, ignoring the reality of recession and austerity, not providing meaningful training and job opportunities. Instead of offering sex work listings discreetly and respectfully, and potentially getting some of the long-term unemployed into work, they continue to throw dozens of applicants at one part-time retail job. We need a fundamental challenge of the Tory-led government’s brutal attacks upon the poor and disabled; this challenge requires a powerful and united social movement against austerity. With the stakes so high, there is no room in that movement for well-intentioned moralism.
As for Grayling, he is now the Justice Minister, and has recently distinguished himself by banning parcels for prisoners a month before Christmas. Not only is he not fit for purpose, he isn’t fit to lick my thigh-high PVC boots.