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Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work

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3.91  ·  Rating details ·  1,358 ratings  ·  159 reviews
The sex industry is an endless source of prurient drama for the mainstream media. Recent years have seen a panic over "online red-light districts," which supposedly seduce vulnerable young women into a life of degradation, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof's live tweeting of a Cambodian brothel raid. The current trend for writing about and describing actual exp ...more
Paperback, 136 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Verso
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Elias Noreland I am very ambivalent on this issue. I have myself met sex workers on several occasions, and I do believe they should be treated with respect. On the o…moreI am very ambivalent on this issue. I have myself met sex workers on several occasions, and I do believe they should be treated with respect. On the other hand, to actually call it a job like any other is taking it a bit too far, I think. I find it very hard to believe that any woman's biggest childhood dream was to become a prostitute. Sure, there may be a very small percentage of women (or men, for that matter) who actually choose to sell sex out of their own will, but the vast majority have had some sort of trouble previously in their life. It may be that they've been victims of sexual assault as children, or they've ended up in deep financial trouble for whatever reason. And so they see themselves forced to sell sex to (as they believe) make up for what they've been put through previously in their lives, or to raise the money needed to get out of their financial trouble. Sometimes the minority just has to accept what applies to the vast majority, even if it means making some things slightly more difficult for them.(less)

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Michael
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Passionately argues for the legalization and destigmatization of sex work. The work consists of a series of tersely written, loosely related essays, which cover everything from the policing of sex work to the history of the prostitute as a social type. As wide ranging as the book is, again and again author Melissa Gira Grant, a journalist and former sex worker herself, convincingly demonstrates that sex workers are systematically silenced and demonized by conservatives, liberals, and leftists al ...more
Adrienne
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book. I read an interview with Melissa Gira Grant at The Awl (http://www.theawl.com/2014/03/do-what...), and was so impressed by the smart points she made about the role of whorephobia in upholding the economic status quo that I immediately went from reading the interview to ordering the book.

The problem with this book is not the content of the ideas. They continue to be interesting and provocative. The problem is with the editing. The book lacks coherence; lacks any
...more
Ashley
Jul 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
“Sex work can indeed be empowering. But that is not the point. Money is the fucking point.”
- Melissa Gira Grant, Playing the Whore

Growing up I had three basic images of sex work (although I didn’t call it that then): the Julia Roberts / Pretty Woman version; the desperate, drug addicted woman; and the ‘sex slave’ in another country who was ‘rescued’ regularly on Dateline and 48 Hours. I didn’t spend time thinking about sex workers, but I did wonder why sex work was illegal in most places.

Recentl
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Ceilidh
Dec 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Read this. Seriously, this is a game changer for feminists, particularly those who have little to no knowledge of sex work.
Nick Imrie
About a third of the way through this book Grant writes: 'We should, in fact, refuse to debate. Sex work itself, and, inseparable from it, the lives of sex workers are not up for debate – or they shouldn't be.' And with a heavy heart, I knew this book wasn't going to get any better.

A book about sex work which refuses to make an argument is hardly any use to the reader, except as a curiosity, which is ironic since Grant spends a lot of time castigating the general public for their peeping-tom cur
...more
Christine
I'm glad I read this book. I'm not sure what my view about prostitution is. I do wish that Grant had more than ancedotal evidence ( and to be fair, she acknowledges her somewhat limited viewpoint). But Grant does have some very good points about how we should see sex workers and how shaming and policing are used to enforce feel good policies that might do more harm than good. If you are interested in the topic, you should read this book, simply for the reframing discussion about how to view sex ...more
Jack Hart
Apr 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sex

I found Playing the Whore to be a fresh, innovative, and strongly voiced reflection on sex worker politics. So I was a little thrown off when I turned to the reviews—as well as the comments on various blogs, Goodreads, and Amazon—to find how many readers found the book to be tired, wandering, and ranting. Perhaps my bias in favor of desacralizing sex made me completely forgiving of some issues of tone that I didn’t not notice, and completely sympathetic to the book’s central notion that sex work

...more
Seth
Nov 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
A jungle of confused polemics.

I'm not exactly sure who the author is trying to convince in this short book. She claims to want to argue that sex work (a broad category that covers prostitution, stripping, pornography, and anything else in the skin trade) is a perfectly legitimate moral activity. Unfortunately, most of the time she simply assumes what she's trying to prove and then moves on to secondary arguments that simply aren't controversial if the reader grants her premises. Of course the so
...more
Gaele
Apr 05, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: edelweiss
One of the inherent difficulties in formulating a debate is the need for a concise, clear and well-organized presentation of facts, argument and position. In Playing the Whore, Grant is arguing that sex-work (prostitution, stripping, etc.) is a valid occupation, and that all the preconceived discriminatory beliefs to the contrary are not necessarily correct. Unfortunately, while she does present some interesting perspective on the work, the desire to work in the industry and the benefits gained, ...more
Anelis
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not the world's best written book but it's a very important one that should be a must-read for all people.
While the writing could be more fluent, the messages, thoughts, personal stories, statistics, and social analyses and quotes it provides are extremely necessary for everyone to know and understand. Even if you’ve read a few articles or listened to some podcasts on the matter, Playing the Whore provides many new aspects and touches on a variety of subjects that have to do with the vas
...more
Damaskcat
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is an interesting look at the work of prostitutes, lap dancers, pole dancers and pornographic film actors. It looks at the situation primarily in America and includes comments from people in the industry and how they feel about the work.

I found it particularly fascinating in that it looks at the attitudes of the general public to the sex industry and asks why sex in marriage is acceptable but paying for sex and receiving payment for it suddenly makes it something shameful for the women who
...more
Raya Saab
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Such an eye opener for me. This book challenged my thoughts and opinions. I went into this book realizing that I had opinions on sex work that were never mine but pushed on me by society and how I was raised. It was such a freeing feeling to open my eyes and mind to the history of sex work, the problems the people involved in it face, and the stigma that our society constructed around it. Sex workers’s issues are labor issues and as a woman, we must understand the importance of including them in ...more
Jehona
May 08, 2018 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book!

It targeted too much the anti - sex work feminists in my opinion. Probably due to the understandable feeling of betrayal. She makes some excellent points from the perspective of the person who wants to do sex work. But, she diminishes the fact that sex work is one of the types of work into which people are forced. Human trafficking for sex work is a real thing in many countries, even if that is not so much the case in America.

One thing that should be clear to every p
...more
Katie Klabusich
Jun 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic. So well written and worth multiple reads. The broader ties to feminism as a movement and the way women, the LGBTQ community and people of color are treated historically and in a sexual/control context specifically makes this a must-read for all feminists and allies, no matter your background. Get. This. Book.
Eve
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's very short but gave me a lot to think about.
amal
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Spoiler! Sex work is work!
Barry
May 24, 2015 rated it liked it
The central argument of the book, that sex workers engage in labour and should be considered in similar terms to those who are employed in service economies is a powerful and convincing one.

I will be honest, I've never before really considered the status of sex workers in respect of their relation to labour. I have fallen into the trap of considering sex workers as either a) an object of pity and someone to be 'rescued' or b) someone empowered by their sexuality and choices. I have never conside
...more
Vishal Misra
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very short book, but does not detract from its importance. It has a very simple presence. How much violence is it acceptable to inflict on those who are Othered. I can't give this book 5 stars, as it is riddled with typos and niggling editorial irritants that could have easily been ironed out.

However, it is still a remarkable book. It shows that the biggest perpetrator of violence against sex workers are the protectors of society. The police. Intimidation and forced sex are just some
...more
Drake
Jan 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
At times I found the author to be meandering, but her writing is full of powerful insight.

For me this book is not only about sex workers, and not only about women. For me, this book is about the spectacle of removing someone’s agency because you’re uncomfortable with what they have to say, and in turn replacing their real-world experiences with your own made-up ideals.

Men should read this book to understand why sexual agency matters, and what it means to take it away from someone. Women should r
...more
David
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2014
Eye-opening angle on sex work. A valuable (and seemingly rare) perspective that emphasizes the agency and humanity of the sex worker. Some difficult insights here, and some challenging arguments.

One of Grant's most compelling points, which she returns to from a few different angles, is the myopic and dehumanizing approach that most organizations take to addressing the reality of sex work. She points out that it is taken for granted that sex workers are victims but that this (thin veneer of?) con
...more
Shanice Mcbean
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
"it is not sex work that degrades us but those people who use our experiences to justify degradation".

Brilliant little book that puts the voice, experiences and politics of sex workers themselves at the heart of the discussion.

Grant's book is, by and large, a reaction to the dogmatic, reactionary and conservative narratives about sex work peddled by people who simultaneously claim to care but systematically deny the agency, safety and views of sex workers.

As such the book is quite reactive and c
...more
Liam89
May 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Read this, then make everyone you know read it as well. A brilliant and profoundly humane socialist-feminist manifesto calling for an end to the criminalisation of sex workers, but also to fundamentally change the paradigm through which we consider sex workers and the industry be recognising the people who perform such work as not just human beings with lives outside of their job, but also as workers who perform labour, workers who have the same rights as any worker, and indeed as any other huma ...more
Stephanie Kelley
Oct 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
!! this book is so important. i (accidentally) stole it from the bodleian and hoarded it for a few days but ya its back now, go check it out
Kelly Spoer
Dec 16, 2016 rated it liked it
5 stars for content Holy crap feminist reading 101.
2 stars for editing. like really, copy editor much? sometime hard to read, also silly mistakes.

Amanda Muse
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think this is an important book for anyone who claims to be a feminist.
Elizabeth
I was unfortunately disappointed by this overall.

The author really lost me when she misunderstood both the comments of the police officer and the protest movement Slut Walk. The author here suggests women don't like to be called sluts. The police officer suggested not dressing like a slut as a way to avoid sexual assault, placing the blame on victims for the crimes enacted on their bodies. Many participants in Slut Walk marches chose to wear items of clothing they had worn when assaulted. Nothin
...more
Rodrigo Domínguez
Jul 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5/5

"If woman is the other, whore is the other's other"

Written by a journalist and retired prostitute, this book goes above and beyond (without ignoring) the "facts and numbers" of investigative reporting. Grant seeks to challenge how we think about sex work, and advances the thesis that chauvinist conservatives and savior-complex feminists are both driven by a (very white, very middle class) fantasy of how commercial sex works and how it makes *them* feel about their own sexuality, by a need t
...more
MichaelK
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
I was very tempted to give up on this book about halfway through, ~60 pages in, and only persevered because of the short length. It took far too long to read despite the length; I was constantly frustrated at the book's serious structural deficiencies and struggled to stay interested.

There doesn't seem to be a central argument in this book, it rambles along, sometimes interesting, sometimes convincing, sometimes ranting. The chapters often veer off from their titular subject, and there never see
...more
Morgan M. Page
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In this short, punchy book-length essay, Melissa Gira Grant takes on sexual labour and the public imaginary of it in layers, revealing keen insights into not only the sex industry but also the many actors (feminists, journalists, police, etc.) who depend upon condemning it. An absolute classic, and I can't believe it took me this long to get around to reading it.
Keelan
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
An interesting read that has changed the way in which I think about sex workers. Grant makes some really good points, especially when it comes to actually listening to what sex workers have to say about their own choice of work in the labour market. Too often people talk about them or at them.

Despite the books great ideas and valid points, I found the style of writing hard to follow at times.
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I’m a writer and freelance journalist covering sex, tech, and politics, in the streets and everywhere else.

My latest book, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014) challenges the myths about selling sex and those who make them.

My reporting and commentary appears in The Nation, Wired, The Atlantic, Glamour, The Guardian, In These Times, The Washington Post, Dissent, The American Prospe
...more

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While books about anti-racism are trending on Goodreads and dominating the bestseller lists right now, some of our favorite Black authors are a...
167 likes · 32 comments
“People who are profiled by cops as sex workers include, in disproportionate numbers, trans women, women of color, and queer and gender nonconforming youth. This isn't about policing sex. It's about profiling and policing people whose sexuality and gender are considered suspect.” 2 likes
“The presence of money does not remove one's ability to consent. Consent, in and out of sex work, is not just given but constructed, and from multiple factors: setting, time, emotional state, trust, and desire. Desire is contingent on all of these. Consent and desire aren't states frozen in our bodies, tapped into and felt or offered. They are formed.” 0 likes
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