Coverage of sex work keeps making white women dangerous victims in the name of progress
This is dangerous for people like me with visibly brown skin who exchange sexual acts for money
By Adrie Rose
When I was thirteen, my mum stopped talking to me for a week. I don’t remember what I did, but I’m sure I was being a right little shit and she wasn’t the type of parent to spank or hit. My parents have always understood that there are far more effective (and devastating) methods of discipline when you actually know your children.
For me, being ignored was the worst thing I could imagine. I yelled at my mum, threw some things, called a cab, and stormed out to my grams’. My mum called my grams to make sure that I arrived safely and then went back to ignoring me. It didn’t last long, but it was a formative moment for me. I am, at my very core, a people-pleaser. I don’t like when people are angry with me, I don’t like being unable to fix a problem, I don’t like knowing that I’ve failed.
But I’m not a child anymore. I’m now largely unconcerned with the approval or disapproval of other people — especially strangers. So when I took to Twitter to complain about a recent Huffington Post article (which I absolutely will not link to) titled “This is What My Life is Like as the Highest Earning Legal Sex Worker in the US”, pointing out that publications like HuffPo don’t pick up pieces about the un-flashy, dirty, gritty, sometimes illegal side of sex work especially when they come from poor, Black, disillusioned immigrants like me, I resigned myself to endure a few useless comments that completely missed the point. Having just written about the never-ending stream of white sex workers who prioritise their own comfort over examining how they’re complicit in white supremacist and patriarchal bullshit, I knew that I’d have to deal with garden-variety ignorance from the very same.
When I wrote that thread, I truly wasn’t angry with the brothel worker being featured. My issue, which I very clearly articulated in the thread, was the trend the article followed of highlighting the fun, empowering aspect of sex work while completely ignoring the systemic poverty, illness, racism, transmisogyny, and all-around inequality that leads many people (usually Black, brown, queer, and trans) into the industry. But this point was completely overlooked for a single throwaway joke I made about sapiosexuality being an excuse for elitism and ableism.
Two white women who responded in particular stand out to me. The first helpfully explained how pitching works and that HuffPo probably didn’t commission the piece (even though I’ve been writing for more than a year and have a fantastic understanding of how pitching works). She followed up by putting the onus back on me to rectify the pervasive issue of publications reinforcing the (literally) white-washed view of sex work, legal or not.
“…we should organize on behalf of particularly disenfranchised workers (e.g. survival SWs) so their voices are represented in the media too.”
Her response proved my point. White women do the bare minimum by saying the right buzzwords and using carefully placed AAVE to pantomime solidarity, but there’s never any real follow through. No action, no discomfort, no actual work.
The first woman was little more than a minor irritation, if I’m being honest. She’ll be useless when the race wars come, but she probably won’t actively fight against me. The second woman… she’ll absolutely stab me in my back, put the knife in my hand, then sit down and cry about how I attacked her.
First, she engaged in a bit of snitch tagging. Because I never actually mentioned the woman in question beyond a quick reference to her ableism, I didn’t feel the need to tag her in a thread that was really only about HuffPo and their participation in the erasure of poor, Black, brown, trans, and queer sex workers. That didn’t stop the second woman from playing the never necessary role of Captain Save-A-Ho, tagging the brothel worker directly, bringing her and all of her misguided white ire to my mentions, and accusing me of “picking on” a woman who “has done nothing wrong by sharing her experiences.”
I don’t give a flying fuck about a white woman disapproving of me, but I do care that a white woman with tens of thousands of followers zeroed in on me with false allegations of bullying and aggression as though this behaviour doesn’t get people like me killed. People with visibly brown skin who exchange sexual acts for money, people who speak English a little differently sometimes, people who obviously don’t belong.
I do care about the white men who followed her into my mentions and DMs to call me names, insulting my intelligence because I don’t use much punctuation or capitalisation in my personal writing, and detailing all of my character flaws because they’re hoping to get her attention. I do care that this behaviour goes unchecked because I’m just a loud-mouthed, aggressive nigger with nothing good to say and a hard-on for attacking pure, innocent white women simply for existing.
I think the blogger Luvvie is the first person that I personally have seen name and critique this unique cultural trend, but it’s nothing new. White women have been whining and crying their way out of accountability for centuries at this point. Emmett Till won’t get to celebrate his 64th birthday this year because a white woman cried. Lisa Benson Cooper was fired for sharing an article on her personal Facebook page after two white women complained, and was previously suspended for asking why a less-qualified employee received several promotions instead of her. Taylor Swift cried to a lawyer when it was revealed how much white supremacists love her music, again when she was asked to stop fetishising Black bodies in her videos, and once again when it was revealed that she lied for months about a Kanye West lyric.
The Scottsboro Boys were convicted four separate times and repeatedly sentenced to death in an endless game of Round Robin with the judicial system because of the crying of two white women. The Tulsa Race Riots and subsequent burning of the Black Wall Street were the result of a white woman crying. Maria Sharapova has been crying about a fictional rivalry with Serena Williams for decades. White women have been crying about Caster Semenya for years in an effort to strip her of her legacy and her dignity.
White women cry when confronted with the possibility that maybe they aren’t as smart or as qualified as non-white people of any gender. White women even cry at the barest hint of vague criticism that may or may not be relevant to their lives.
Repeat offender Alyssa Milano has been crying since she first took heat for appropriated Tarana Burke’s lifelong work. Later hits include refusing to accept responsibility for racist NFL apparel on her website, demanding that a Palestinian and Black woman shoulder the full burden of Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, speaking over a disabled Black woman after once again taking credit for the work of Black organisers, and simultaneously tone-policing her Black critics and dragging her “good Black friend” to the forefront to defend her after displaying her usual tone-deafness.
To be fair, these more recent examples aren’t directly responsible for the deaths of Black and brown people, but they are complicit in the subsequent racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic, and homophobic verbal and online attacks that follow their careless whining. Meanwhile, white people (largely women) are using the police as their on-call security team with ever increasing frequency. Even knowing that cops are 3 times more likely to kill Black people than white people, they keep calling the police for Black people yelling at their children, using coupons, swimming, going home, selling water, getting too close, having a cookout, or any other number of things that white people get to enjoy without consequence.
Don’t get me wrong, white men are just as terrible and vocal, but they have never pretended to stand with me and then used me as cannon fodder instead of taking responsibility for their behaviour. They are also expected to be loud, aggressive and terrible. White women are particularly noteworthy and dangerous because they’re damn good at pretending. White women are adept at presenting themselves as likable, personable, and relatable to white men and non-white women alike, but they are not on our side.
White women vote against their own interests, support child molesters, successfully campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment, gleefully championed segregation, and they’re responsible for one of the most egregious attacks on bodily autonomy in modern history. To quote Alexis Grenell, “White women benefit from patriarchy by trading on their whiteness to monopolize resources for mutual gain.” And despite what Alyssa Milano would have you believe, this is absolutely America — one that so many of us recognise.
White women can’t, and won’t, risk their precarious position as first in line for the tangible benefit provided to them by virtue of their whiteness. White sex workers won’t risk their bipartisan white male fanbase by openly acknowledging what gives them such broad appeal. Southern white women won’t risk their church and country club communities by voting for or supporting pro-choice candidates and advocacy work. And white women won’t stop crying and whining and refusing to take responsibility for their complicity in the subjugation of othered people.
None of these women will stop doing any of these things until they’re finally held accountable before the first tear falls, before the first tweet is sent, before the first retort forms in their throat.
So I’ll continue to tweet, and blog, and stand unmoved by the tears and complaints of white women. The cultural conditioning that teaches white women that their tears have power presents a credible threat to my autonomy, my freedom, and my life. And I refuse to step aside, giving that threat room to fester and grow and cause even greater harm to the people like me.
Adrie Rose: She/her. Immigrant, unrepentant sex worker, and grad student studying the effects of race/gender on online sex workers. Cat mom to Misty (15), shoe hoarder, and dramatic nail clicker.