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Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work

(Jacobin)

by
3.90  ·  Rating details ·  1,081 ratings  ·  138 reviews
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. But rarely do these fearful, salacious dispatches come from sex workers themselves, and rarely do they deviate from the position that sex worke ...more
Paperback, 136 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Verso (first published February 2014)
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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
...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
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.
Chris
May 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: prostitution
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

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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
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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
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Paula Dennan
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Playing the Whore is a concise look at why sex work is work. I’ve been following Melissa Gira Grant’s writing for a while, but this is an excellent introduction to the failures of criminalisation, the “rescue” industry and the fundamental differences between sex trafficking and sex work.
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
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
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
Anelis
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
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
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
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.
amal
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Spoiler! Sex work is work!
Eve
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's very short but gave me a lot to think about.
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.
Emily
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Brilliant and concise, Gira Grant explores the failure of law enforcement, the NGO rescue industry, and some feminists to recognize sex work as work. She offers pragmatic solutions and calls to action using a labor rights lens.
Manda
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminist-nonfic
I think this is an important book for anyone who claims to be a feminist.
Barry
May 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
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
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rabble.ca
http://rabble.ca/books/reviews/2014/0...

Review by Muna Mire

Disclaimer, borrowed from Autostraddle:

Playing the Whore encompasses various sexual behaviors that are included in the term "sex work," but it's important to note that a distinction needs to be made when discussing the labour of sex workers that we are not talking about sex trafficking, in which women are kidnapped, coerced and forced into sexual activity. Although our choices are informed by our experiences -- economic needs, personal l
...more
Julene
May 12, 2018 rated it liked it
The book raises interesting points, but often failed to flesh them out into anything more than assertions, which should not be confused with arguments. Meh.

Something I did appreciate from the book was the closer look taken at many studies whose results are oft-quoted but seldom examined in other feminist theory/writings. For example: dismantling the "research" used to back varying claims that Craigslist was responsible for the increased sex trafficking of underage girls in some US states.
Amina
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Grant's frank and sincere discussion of the issues surrounding contemporary sex work was an imperfect but invaluable read for me. While the structure of the work is weak, and though some of the ideas I struggled with (they sometimes felt...confusing? Incomplete?), overall Grant's insights into the complicated position of sex workers working nationally and abroad felt necessary in a painfully acute way.

So much discussion about sex work evades the reality of the sex workers themselves by dancing
...more
Regan
Jun 01, 2015 rated it liked it
The overall thrust of Playing the Whore can be summed up in two fairly short sentences: 1. In the public debate regarding sex work and its improvement/eradication, the voices of sex workers have not been heard. 2. Sex workers' work should be recognized as labor and treated as such, not criminalized.

Gira Grant is at once a reporter, sociologist, activist, historian, and a sex worker. This book traces the ways in which the policing of sex work endangers women and trans lives, rather than preserve
...more
misha
Oct 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Omnomn! Good stuff.
The essence: anit-sex work feminists think that women who happen to be sex workers are too stupid to fend for themselves and need to be defended by their self-identified rescuers who don't even take the time to listen to the minority they're 'trying to 'help'. Also people don't think transgender women aren't real women because apparently your biological sex dictates how you identify, and there is no room for fluidity.
The author, a retired sex worker now reporter, backs up her
...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
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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
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