updated with slight ammendment. See the comment from @everydaysexism
Felicity* is young, female and lives and works in the city. A city with, like many of our modern cities a gay area, a pink triangle, a combination of cafes, pubs, clubs and gay friendly businesses She makes sure her journeys never take her through this area, because one day something terrible happened.
She was walking down its main road, minding her own business, not dressed like a gay, and certainly not walking like one, when someone came up to her and asked “Are you a lesbian?” She has to confess they were not threatening in demeanor, they asked in a polite enough tone, but the insinuation, the very suggestion that she somehow looked like one of them! Felicity felt insulted and degraded, she knew they did not wear jeans and a T Shirt, but somehow this person had still confused her with one . She called a radio show to make clear her anger, and everyone reacted with support, after all being confused with that sort of person, what greater insult is there?
Sounds over the top, or like Felicity needs a good kick up the arse? Change gay to sex worker and it is a daily occurrence. I heard the conversation this morning on an otherwise excellent discussion of the @everydaysexism project. The caller was adamant she did not dress like a filthy whore ™ and that even the simple question “Are you working?” was misogynistic and sexist. The founder of everyday sexism and Victoria Derbyshire did not challenge her, although time may have played a part here. Whatever their personal views the fact is again, this time on national radio the idea was gievn that it is insulting to be confused with a sex worker.
This is not an isolated incident, wherever there is a post that suggests decriminalization or even better support for sex workers then somewhere is the comments someone will chip in that protecting sex workers is all very well, but it does nothing to protect them from being mistaken for one. The non sex worker equivalent of what about the menz.
There is an excellent post here on the harassment street sex workers have to endure in their workplace (and Felicity might not like it but it is a workplace)
“it’s not the clients who ask us to show them our tits, or who scream ‘HAHAHAHA HOW MUCH BABY HAHAHA’ (the number of WOMEN who do this is truly disgusting) or who yell out slurs like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’, or like one guy last night who BELLOWED in a voice I noted most for the undercurrent of pure fury: “GET A REAL JOB” as he sailed by in a car one of his maters drove. “
it’s certainly not the clients who ARRANGE with their FRIENDS in FACEBOOK events to drive past beats and throw eggs at the workers. I’m not even kidding. yes. facebook events. people plan to do this shit. they think it’s a great night out. we are so dehumanised, regarded so much as pig shit, that these assholes actually think it’s good, clean fun to arrange evenings-out of egg-throwing. if this doesn’t make you furious, I hate you.
Street harassment of course exists, but when the street is your workplace and you cannot turn to the police because you are the one who will be arrested it reaches a whole new level. Whorephobia means you are seen as fair game, the fact you are more likely to a trans* person or not white means other threats will be mingled in with the abuse. The fact that as a sex worker a rape or sexual assault is less likely to be taken seriously by the police, if you even feel comfortable or safe reporting it in the first place means you work with the threat of being assaulted, with the shouters at any moment turning violent. This is harassment this is dangerous, being asked a simple question, not so much.
Our heroine Felicity felt offence merely because someone mistook her for something she was not. Her othering of sex workers and prejudices against their clients meant that she perceived being asked if she was working was a threat. After all, there is no way a nice woman could be mistaken for a sex worker is there?
When a guy slows his car and waves at you to get in, he is just a client and unless there is some other factor at play, a regular old client is of no danger to you. Thinking you might be a street sex worker and using the standard practices of street sex work transactions is not harassment nor an insult nor anti-feminist nor dangerous. You’re just accidentally part of a street economic exchange, because you walked into their workplace. Don’t sweat it. Yes some clients can turn out to be dangerous but you need to unlearn the idea that this is more likely from clients on the street than in your home or from cops.
If like Felicity you wander into an area where there are street workers then you may be asked for sex, this is not harassment, or sexism, or abuse. No more than going past a display of cheese in the supermarket and being asked by the promoter if you want to try a sample is. Do you rant on your blog, or on the radio about being mistaken for a filthy cheese eater? Do you ask for support and reassurance that you do not look like someone who eats cheese?
If someone asks if you are working, it is just that, a question, it is not a statement about your dress or behavior If you believe it is then you need to look at your internalized prejudices. It is not an example of everyday sexism either, whatever radio shows or their hosts might think.
* This is off course pure fiction, no one is actually called Felicity, think of her as Jemima’s unenlightened younger sister.