Watch your words

Use of language quietly stigmatizes sex workers and women

Another day, another Trumpian scandal comes across the airwaves. It’s the sort of thing that has been in the news a lot for the last year - which is concerning enough in itself. The most recent scandal, however, struck a personal chord, and likely did for many women that have been accused of being too sexual.

The heteronormative patriarchal narrative is that women’s sexuality deserves to be shamed and punished, and that men can walk away without reproach for their deplorable deeds. This mindset needs to change.

Trump allegedly paid hush money to a porn star he had sex with. A journalist from The Wall Street Journal located a paper trail plotting the line between her, Stormy Daniels, and Trump’s lawyer to the tune of $130,000.

It is important to point out that Trump’s proclivity to sleep with adult film stars stands hypocritically against his party’s stance, made public in a platform draft, that porn is a “public health crisis” that needs to be stopped.

Pointing out that hypocrisy is a good thing - but that’s not really what happens. The reality is that Stormy Daniels becomes the story. It becomes a story about sex with a sex worker, and it becomes about the lack of moral fibre that it takes to sleep with a sex worker.

There are plenty of things to be mad about here. Trump broke an oath in an (assumed) monogamous marriage by sleeping with another woman. Trump lied about thinking porn is an ill, while clearly taking part in it. Trump paid hush money. Oath-breaking, lying and paying people off are all things to be mad about. Isn’t it clear that Trump, not Daniels, is the problem here?

This isn’t a Trump-era problem. In 2016, Winnipeg judge Lori Douglas’ husband published nude photos of her online without her consent. In that story, Douglas was ostracized by her professional community for what was a crime committed against her. The ire of the story fell on a woman who dared to be sexual, even in private, rather than on her husband, who completely violated her privacy by posting the photos without her consent.

The narrative plays out. It’s exhausting and alienating to sex workers to be labelled as “less than,” “icky” and “unlovable” by a society that loves them in secret but publicly abhors them. The attitude extends to non-sex workers as well, as illustrated by Douglas’ case. Women’s sexuality being seen as disgusting and shameful is a correlation that is used by people on all sides of party lines.

Women have just as much right to sexuality as does anyone else. Sex work is work, just as much as any other employment situation. The stigma against both of these things is so deeply woven into cultural narratives that some people have a hard time understanding their basic premises.

The stigma is visible in narratives like this one, where Daniels isn’t just Daniels, she’s a Porn Star - and it contributes to violence against sex workers and to unfair and unsafe working conditions.

It’s the same type of situation experienced by Douglas here in Winnipeg - the idea that a sexual woman is reduced to her sexual acts, and that she has the sole responsibility (meaning, faces the punishment) for those acts. As long as sex workers and women keep bearing the brunt of the blame for situations like this by simply being sexual beings, we are not treating them with respect or fairness. And that’s not right.

Published in Volume 72, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 8, 2018)

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