Nonfiction: The Work of Sex Work | Xpress Reviews

Week ending May 9, 2014

Grant, Melissa Gira. Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. Verso. 2014. 144p. ISBN 9781781683231. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781781683248. SOC SCI
playingthewhore0500914Journalist Grant dissects the stigma of sex work and the hypocrisy of antiprostitution feminism in this brief yet essential analysis. Grant brings to light the problematic at best, and lethal at worst, involvement of politicians and police in the industry—on a global scale, sex workers (or prostitutes, or whores, depending on the situation) are at an exponentially higher risk of abuse from the police than from their clients. Yet, “punishing the johns”—and placing the blame on male desire—is at the forefront of most antiprostitution campaigns, along with other misinformed ideals that simultaneously lampoon the prostitute while presenting her as a tragic representation of enforced sexual compliance. Woven within a broader critique of “whore stigma” are keen observations regarding the labor of sex work, including its facilitation of contemporary technologies. Grant shrewdly argues that this transition of (some types of) sex work from the streets and the classified pages to a murkier digital sphere terrifies the antiprostitution public, as it obscures the lines between “women who are” and “women who aren’t.” This fervent need to disidentify with the concept of the “whore” fuels further criticism of contemporary feminist approaches to prostitution, calling for a new structural discourse that includes the voices, experiences, and insight of the community in question, instead of rendering them shameful and silent.
Verdict Not necessarily a text for someone seeking a basic introduction to sex worker activism, but an excellent contribution to the discussion at large.—Ashleigh Williams, School Library Journal