Book Bants: Playing the Whore

Book Bants is a series on my blog of short book reviews and the positive impact of literature.

First off, take a second to clutch your pearls at the dirty word in the title. Okay, ready?

In 132 pages, Melissa Gira Grant manages to demystify and legitimize the ever growing conversation around sex work. Her wit is immeasurable, pointing out the countless logical fallacies and underlying biases that creep into the decriminalization discourse. Sex work is a tricky enough subject, and the proliferation of “online red light districts” are making the industry and its problems more accessible to everyone. Anyone who spends enough time on Twitter or Instagram has seen memes about selling pictures to pay for tuition, which is probably a more harrowing indication of the economy that I’m not ready to touch on yet.

Grant approaches topics of feminism, sex, and labor rights with nuance and empathy. She forces the reader to confront the uncomfortable facts of who gets profiled as a sex worker, and how violent the policing meant to protect workers can get. She questions who is benefitting from the savior complex that compels us to conflate human trafficking with the whole adult industry. She asks us to consider sex work not as sexual deviance, but as service work similar to other prominent industries. She places sex work alongside luxuries like beauty and entertainment, that we “don’t feel we have to judge as better or worse than their noncommercial counterparts before coming to an analysis of their value”. Labor rights are at the forefront of my politics. I clicked with the analysis of how escorts sell emotional labor and an experience in the same way your local barista does. In deconstructing the opposition, she backs things up with seminal pieces of activist literature, anecdotes, and cold, hard facts.

Grant’s Playing the Whore is not necessarily a one stop shop. The book itselfs only zeroes in on prostituition, the illegal aspect of an industry with plenty of legal outlets. The adult industry is complex, especially as it now sports a virtual arm. Grant’s brilliance lies in the dexterity of presenting a satisfying argument but creating an urge to continue learning.

My goal this year, as obvious as it sounds, is to stop having opinions on things I don’t know anything about. I think we’re all guilty of letting our critical thinking falter, especially when it feels like there are a million things to think about. I’m looking forward to reading more about the issues I champion, and to admit my ignorance and ask for help when necessary.

What are you reading?