Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

‘Tis a Pity, She’s Not a Whore

with 3 comments

Last week’s “news,” but my attention was only recently drawn to this Daily Beast article on pseudonymous co-ed Melissa Beech’s “mutually beneficial arrangement” with an older and richer man, and the strange reaction it provoked around the blogosphere. “When is gold digging prostitution?” asked Tracy Clark-Flory at Broadsheet (a question which provoked 228 comments). “Is she a smart girl working a recession to her advantage—or a call girl in denial? asked Susannah at The Frisky. Melinda Henneberger at The XX Factor suggested Beech’s arrangement possibly “further blurs the definition of prostitution.” And College Candy offered the following poll:

picture-1

Now it seems most of the people weighing in on the Melissa Beech: professional hussy or not? debate aren’t suggesting her or her benefactor be prosecuted for their relationship. Meaning they’re not really concerned with the legal ramifications of whether she’s a “prostitute.” So I can only assume the focus on classification is about drawing boundaries of normative sexual morality.

People don’t like arrangement like Beech’s—in part because, whether on a conscious level or not, I think it offends various people’s sense of fairness (I work hard for my money, and all she’s gotta do is be pretty and put out?). It’s the same way people sometimes begrudge the successes of rich kids or those with family connections; we don’t like when it seems someone’s getting ahead (professionally, materially, or otherwise) based on something other than their merits.

We also like there to be clear delineations between “good” and “bad” behavior. A lot of people, it seems, define their own morality, particularly when it comes to sexuality and ideas of ‘purity’ and all that, in the negative: I am a okay not because I do this, but because I don’t do that. This is one of those clear cases where it’s easy for a lot of people to say “I could never do that,” thereby drawing the line neatly between the deviant, the dirty, the immoral and themselves. Only it’s not quite … I mean, they’re both consenting, and … and they didn’t have sex for three months andthey seem to like each other, so … whatever, prostitution! Declaring it so gets rid of all those icky gray areas. Reasonable People Agree that prostitution is bad, right? So as long as we can label Beech, or any of the countless (unwitting or not) media fodder incarnate like her (Jessica Cutler is another one that immediately springs to mind) a prostitute, then we can move on.

Being someone who sees nothing wrong with prostitution (either from a legal or moral standpoint), debating what sorts of relationships and transactions fall on this or the other line of whoredom seems a sort of pointless activity. Though I think its interesting that “prostitute” is often used as the sort of ultimate slander, prostitution the ultimate immoral path. Why is money such an aggravating influence? If you look at the way people classify things on the good/bad scale, it’s some weird mystical equation of money and sex. A gold digger (all those Real Housewives and Bachelor-seekers) might be in it for the material goods, but there’s no direct cash transaction involved, so it’s not as bad as the people like Beech, who are receiving cash and other direct financial benefits in exchange for their time/sex, but they’re being paid partly based on the companionship they provide, so that’s not as bad as the hookers on the street who do it in the back seats of john’s cars …. and so on and so forth. If you look at any prostitute trying to plead her case to the media (like Ashlee Dupre recently, for instance), you’ll see them talking about how it wasn’t just sex they provided, it was companionship, too. And the degree to which they can convince the public of this, along with the degree to which they can assure us they really needed the money for some practical purpose (school, medical expenses, etc.) seems to be the degree to which they become sympathetic characters.

Why?

It’s not just prostitution where this attitude crops up. Kerry Howley has recently pointed out two other areas— pregnancy surrogacy and egg “donation”—where money is often spoke of as a corrupting influence in an otherwise sacred/altruistic transaction. You see this with adoption, too—okay, so clearly a lot of this has to do with women’s bodies/reproductivity. But you also see it used as an argument against markets in human organs. Wanna donate a kidney? Yes, please! But sell it? You are desecrating the holy arrangement that is kidney sharing! Or something. For a country that proclaims to love capitalism so much, we sure have a lot of funny and rigid ideas about what money can and cannot be exchange for.

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Written by Elizabeth

December 12, 2008 at 4:09 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I don’t have time to flesh out my thoughts on prostitution, but at least as far as organ-selling goes, I think you ignore the fact that money is seen as corrupting at least in part because of how much it has to do with the balance of power. Giving up your eggs involves taking hormones and then being operated on — neither of which is risk-free. If you have a trust fund, you don’t need to subject yourself to those risks.

    The NY Times magazine did a long cover piece a few years ago about the organ trade, and it was gruesome; much of it amounted to wealthy westerners buying organs from desperately poor Africans, many of whom subsequently suffered health side affects that they couldn’t afford to take care of.

    It’s similar to the logic behind OSHA. If workplaces weren’t regulated to ensure the employees’ health and safety, the companies would still be able to find workers desperate enough to take the jobs and endanger their own physical well-being. And a lot of people would instinctively find that unfair to the point of being immoral.

    db

    December 12, 2008 at 5:50 pm

  2. Elizabeth,

    I’ve tried my hand at a quick traditionalist response to the question of where these “funny and rigid ideas” about money come from.

    http://williamwrites.blogspot.com/2008/12/because-kidney-stores-would-remind-us.html

    -wrb

    William Randolph

    December 13, 2008 at 10:33 pm

  3. […] difficult to quantify this unease, particularly when we’re forced to weigh it against the real need of prospective organ recipients. To take a less serious example, I’d like to level every […]


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