October 12, 2006

It's Not the Sex, It's the Cover-Up.

Since I've never given it much thought, I've always just assumed that working for a phone-sex hotline wasn't nearly as difficult or strenuous for women as, say, being an actual prostitute. As it turns out, that's quite wrong. One women quoted in Stripped (discussed here) describes the job in gruesome detail:
Well, the phone sex situation was like eight hours of men yelling in your ear. I worked for a really fucked up company. There are a lot of companies that say you can't do any bestiality, child stuff, no extreme violence to women, etc. My company was like, "If the caller calls and he wants you to be a German Shepherd, you better start barking."

There was a soft-porn line and a hard-porn line. One the soft porn, you weren't allowed to say "dick"; you had to use a metaphor, because kids could call in on that line. If you got good on the soft-porn line, you went over to the hard-porn line, which was more money, but then you were forced to do anything. Any scenario. Ninety percent of the girls would unplug the phone, and we'd get written up. Just eight hours of that foolishness. "I'm going to chop your legs off and shove them up your cunt." "I'm going to take your tits and boil them and give them back to you." And you're supposed to be like, "Yeah, thanks. That's so totally nice of you to give them back."

Affirmation is the same thing over and over; it must work the opposite way. So eight hours of "Fuck you, fuck you, you bitch. I want to put pencils through your labia." And you're talking to hundreds of men, and they're all giving you their worst thoughts. [...] When I was stripping, I'd wash it off. But with phone sex, I didn't do anything. I got to the point where someone called my house in the middle of the night as a wrong number, and I was so out of it I talked phone sex to this wrong number. That's when I quit.
That's unbelievably horrifying. And not to change the subject too quickly, but Sara Anderson of f-words recently had a really insightful post about viewing the porn industry as a worker safety issue rather than as a free speech issue. Bernadette Barton touched on something very similar in her book, after interviewing sex-activists who were agitating for better labor standards in San Francisco (a city that, ironically, has some of the worst working conditions for strippers in the country—partly because the competition for customers is fiercer than in other cities).

Many of the activists were trying to speak out against unsafe and exploitative conditions in the sex industry, and trying to improve safety standards, but were sometimes reluctant to complain too loudly for fear of giving ammunition to conservatives and those feminists who want to abolish the sex industry altogether. That's not to criticize the anti-sex-work feminists who, I think, raise important issues—and, judging from Barton's book, tend to have a more accurate diagnosis of the sex industry—but it does illustrate the difficulty in seeking middle ground in the current sex-work debate. (It's worth noting that the activists were also frustrated that "sex positive" feminists too often glossed over safety concerns.)

Anyway, Ann Bartow had a related post a while back on how the lack of safety standards in the porn industry has led to an outbreak of HIV infections. To a large extent, I think Sara's right and the issues concerning safety and labor standards seem like a more fruitful focus than the endless debate about whether or not we should abolish pornography or stripping. Get OSHA in there, at the very least.
-- Brad Plumer 5:03 PM || ||