In the Blog

Mattilda on “The Prostitution Problem”

September 20th, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, a writer/activist/friend whose blog I frequent daily, has written an excellent, enlightening and moving post about the politics of prostitution vs. gentrification. Mattilda writes in reaction to a Bilerco Project Blog post, in which writer Bil Browning learns that residents from his neighborhood association attended a court hearing to ensure that a woman arrested multiple times for prostitution do jail time. Mattilda writes:

These residents were successful, and the woman in question will now spend approximately 218 days in prison. Over seven months in prison. Can people think about that for a moment? What will that mean for this woman’s life?

What is particularily interesting to me about Mattilda’s piece is how she describes the personal (economic) implications of sex work in her life over the past twelve years. Mattilda is a prolific, vital and talented cultural worker, citing sex work as a primary reason why she has been able to find success in an otherwise impoverished chosed profession:

Sex work has enabled me to structure my time and finances in order to move cross-country half a dozen times, live in half a dozen cities (and a dozen apartments), write two novels (both with sex work as a central theme), edit four anthologies (one about sex work), go on five book tours, help to start several activist groups, and become involved in innumerable direct action activist projects.

Our culture has such a prositution=bad/gentrification=good dichotomy going on that I am happy to see someone writing about how sex work has more complex implications than merely “bringing down the neighbourhood.” I also truly believe that this particular demonization of a single woman to make a point is a feminist issue. We often discuss on the blog the gap between the rich and the poor, so I think you’ll agree that there is a much bigger/deeper issue here that is being ignored for “the good of the neighbourhood,” that good as determined by the “haves.” There is no examination of why women utilize sex work as a means to survive. As Nicole wrote in an earlier post, “Women, particularly immigrant women of colour, are increasingly working in part-time, temporary or casual jobs that are low-paid, insecure and come with a high risk of injury.” I lived in Vancouver during the time that the city was announced as a venue for the 2010 Olympics and witnessed neighbourhood associations pressuring the police and politicians to “clean up” the downtown east side. What resulted was a series of absurd (and pointless) “sweeps,” where sex workers, homeless people and addicts were pushed from block to block to block, appeasing real estate owners who cried “not on my doorstep.” I even had the opportunity to speak with a police officer involved in the sweeps, who admitted that he too thought they were not getting to the root of the real problem. A number of east-side rooming house closures (part of the “clean-up” plan) meant that many were left without affordable housing. Many of those still wait. The one real victory of the era: Vancouver’s safe, supervised injection site, now faces possible closure in December by Harper’s government.

When a neighbourhood association works on a premise of punishing individual sex workers it simply doesn’t do anything to solve “the problem.” Mattilda concludes the piece:

The violence in these neighborhoods is not coming from sex workers desperately trying to make a living in the public pageantry so familiar to the urban sensibility (and now so threatening to the suburban values of urban dwellers). The violence comes from groups like the Irvington, Indianapolis neighborhood association who find it more important to send a hooker to jail for seven months than to ascertain her needs.

Well stated.

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