It's disturbing that too often those who want to insult a woman use a derogatory reference to her level of sexuality or lack thereof. There have been times I've been called a dumb slut, or comparable pejorative, for daring (among other things) to express an opinion disagreeable to others. I've also been called a dim-witted prude for the same reason.
Most recently, while discussing prostitution, the upstanding individual with whom I was corresponding amped up a prude insult by adding the adjective "moralistic" and a couple of unwarranted religious epithets.
The latest insult brought to mind a time almost 20 years ago when I was called a prude, although in a gentler way, while discussing the same topic.
It was after shift as a telemarketer. A co-worker -- whom I'll call the unoriginal pseudonym, Jane Doe -- and I were having coffee, sharing the evening's latest verbal abuse and sexual-proposition experiences, and discussing how difficult it was to pay rent, food and the costs related to post-secondary education on minimum-wage jobs.
That's when I found out how Jane was really paying her way through school. I could do the same, she said. The clientele was strictly high-end, offering top-dollar "donations" for "dates." She could introduce me to potential dates. The rest was up to me.
Even then I didn't easily shock and was more curious than appalled. No, I didn't try prostitution, for curiosity's sake. There's an enormous yuck factor to being groped by and copulating with strangers that not even the promise of big bucks can erase (which apparently makes me a prude). But I wanted to know more about those who said they willingly did this.
Meeting Jane and a few other independent sex workers was like seeing real-life promotional material for the empowered prostitute as the entrepreneurial businessperson. These were intelligent, articulate, well-groomed individuals. By all appearances, they had no addictions, worked for themselves, set their own rates and kept all the money, were paid well and had a small, select group of clients.
A recent chance encounter with Jane on social media resulted in a brief interview, under condition of anonymity, about the former sex worker's thoughts about prostitution.
I expected a fist-pumping diatribe about how it's an adult's right to choose to rent out her or his intimate orifices, and that anyone who disagreed with that was a repressed idiot (or something along those lines).
What I got was surprising candidness. "You have to compartmentalize," Jane said of prostitution. "You shut off a part of yourself and become whatever the client wants you to be, fulfilling that person's fantasy. If you're not careful, it's easy to lose who you really are."
The money was good; the clients not always. Jane was raped once, but most of the time she was treated well. "The best clients treated me like an appreciated plaything; a living sex doll."
A thing. A doll. These are not words that should be used to describe a human being. No matter how one dresses it up, prostitution dehumanizes a person by reducing her (or him) to a quivering piece of flesh to be used, squeezed and thrust upon exclusively for the sexual gratification of whoever has the right amount, or biggest wad, of cash.
And that is something I cannot and will not support.
Last December, the Supreme Court ruled Criminal Code offences around prostitution were unconstitutional and, with an order to rewrite the laws in 12 months, dumped the steaming pile of excrement that is the complex and controversial issue of prostitution in the government's lap.
In the upcoming weeks, Canadians will find out the government's response, likely a Nordic-style model that involves fining and jailing johns and pimps instead of prostitutes.
Yes, it's an imperfect system. But to date it's the best option for those who don't want their tax dollars used to sanction an industry that reduces people to rentable sex parts.
Those who choose sex work on their own terms -- and without endorsing prostitution I'll acknowledge there are some who do -- will continue to do just that, more or less safely, discreetly working the system as they have for decades. These individuals and their clients are generally not a law enforcement priority under current laws and a Nordic-style model isn't going to change that.
It could, however, make all the difference to vulnerable persons forced into a nightmare of numerous daily rapes, violence, venereal disease and substance abuse.
Diana Moes VandeHoef is a Winnipeg writer.