The phenomenon of whorephobia has come in for some scrutiny recently. Understandably the majority of people who raise this tend to be women involved in the sex industry, who meet the more formal modern definition of “whore” as prostitute, rather than the generalised insult aimed at a woman. But as with other epithets which seek to label devient using an insulting term which is associated with a stigmatisation, it affects not only those to which it technically applies but to all women, and it is in the interests of all women to challenge.
The term “whore” comes from the old germanic term “khora” meaning “one who desires (f)”, and originally came to be associated with prosititution via a route through adultary, unlicenced sexual activity and promiscuity. Thus in its root we can see that it is more associated with unbridled sexuality than a formal contractual obligation for sexual services.
The latest woman to be publically called a “whore” is the singer, Taylor Swift. Apparently the Westboro Baptist Church is planning to picket her concert on August 8th because, they claim, her sin-coddling songs” have corrupted the nation’s youth. Taylor Swift as whore is a theme that they have waxed lyrical on, suggesting that she “struts across the world stage like a proud whore,” slamming her for not telling her fans to “Stop fornicating ladies“. With her “immodest vulgar appearance” and “serial fornication,”, they suggest that she is “the poster child for the young whores of doomed America.” There is no suggestion here that Taylor Swift is accepting money for sexual services, rather that she is not conforming to patriarchial chastity.
Rather ironically, only 6 months ago VICE announced that “Taylor Smith will never be called a Whore” explaining that the slut-shaming implicit in her music – blaming the temptress for stealing a boyfriend; subtly implying that “good girls” who wait are superior to the “bad girls” who assert their sexuality, and denouncing those who interrupt the monogamous ideal – the whores who corrupt the men that the virgins have found. In doing so she sets herself up as one of the “good girls”, she might just want to have fun, but she is good regardless. This is the typical “good girl” role…
the patriarchy tells you that if you are a good girl and play by the rules, you will not get victimised. Pick on them, not me, is the refrain. Only it doesn’t actually work that way. Every justification used for the sexual exploitation of young women and that is acquiesced to only leads to greater demands.
No woman can escape the epithet of “whore” should she step outside the patriarchal demand of modesty and chastity in all things. While women bear the brunt of the “whore” stigma, they are often the ones to police it. When the English Collective of Prostitutes developed a slogan stating “We are all prostitutes” they were condemned by the mainstream feminist movement of the time. This universality of the shaming of female sexuality was also the motivation for the “Slutwalk” phenomenon, which went global in 2011, as women demanded the right and behave to dress as they pleased without the threat of sexual violence. Conversely Taslima Nasrin’s poem, “Yes, I am Whore” a well known Bangadeshi writer and feminist,came in for criticism from sex industry advocates following the same, theme – a theme which she developed in her autobiography
In human history, whenever a woman has stood up against patriarchy and spoken of her own liberty, she has been condemned and abused as a fallen woman. Quite some time back, in my introduction to another book of mine, I wrote that I love to call myself ‘fallen’ in the eyes of society. To me, the primary condition for a woman to be pure is to be a so-called fallen angel. Among all the ‘awards’ that I have hitherto collected, I consider the title of ‘patita’ or fallen woman to be the highest.
The criticism is based on her strong stance against the sex industry, most notably in her two posts on Free Thought Blogs
“Sexual Slavery Must be Abolished” and “Do Women really ‘Choose’ to be Prostitutes“. While her celebration of the rescue industry is questionable at best her assertion that the “choice” to become involved in the sex industry is usually a very constrained one, as Kotiswaran in “Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labour” expands upon through her exploration of the sex industry of neighbouring India, where women “choose” to enter prostitution as a means of shoring up family dignity in the face of impoverishment.
In her second post Nasrin points out that parents do not aspire for their daughters to become prostitutes – which is true, but slightly misses the point. The unstated point is that parents do not aspire for their sons to become prostitutes. A daughter is only one payment away from prostitution, a son however is several steps removed.
A woman is already sexualised and shamed for that sexualisation. Any payment granted is both the confirmation of what is already her patriarchal purpose, to be fucked for men’s gratification; and its negation, that compensation is demanded in return. Whorephobia isnt confined to whores.
The “whore stigma” is a way to control women and to limit their autonomy – whether it is economic, sexual, professional, or simply freedom of movement. Women are brought up to think of sex workers as “bad women”. It prevents them from copying and taking advantage of the freedoms sex workers fight for, like the occupation of nocturnal and public spaces, or how to impose a sexual contract in which conditions have to be negotiated and respected. Whorephobia operates as a way of controlling and policing women’s behaviour, just as homophobia does for men.
Thierry Schaffauser, Whorephobia Affects All Women
For unlike men – all women are potential prostitutes. Shouting “whore” at a man, does not hold the same sting as it does for a woman because …patriarchy. The suggestion that a man was being paid to sleep with women would more usually draw slaps on the back, while if being paid to sleep with men – the most usual form of male prostitution, the condemnation would be of the homosexual engagement rather than the payment itself.
The “Hooker Makeover” show, presented by Michelle Visage “takes unsuspecting girls off the street and turns them into hookers“. They are taken to what seems to be an underwear store, dressed in highly revealing outfits, emphasizing their sexual characteristics, and then make to stand on a street corner attracting the interest of passing cars. This is probably most commonly thought of, form of prostitution. It is also the most dangerous and the most obectifying, yet in this form, the demand of the client is less visible – instead the slutty temptress lures men with their promises – what red-blooded man could resist?
In a reversal of common make-over shows, where the ugly duckling is transformed into a swan, in this case the respectable “girl on the street” is turned into a “street girl“, demonstrating that it was there inside them all along and that any woman can get predatory sexual attention if they just sex it up a bit. While the money that the women earn in this show is given by the compere based on the amount of sexual harassment they receive – the implication is clear. For any “unsuspecting girl on the street” the only thing that you have to do is to get your kit half off and money will follow.
We must end the patriarchal demand for women to be available for the purposes of male sexual gratification, to be gazed upon, harassed, and fucked at their whim. Only then can all of we whores enjoy genuine sexual and bodily autonomy, without being shamed or stigmatised for it.