In recent months I’ve read a number of posts at various feminist blogs discussing race and class issues with respect to wet nurses, nannies, maids, and natal surrogates. There seems to be a rough consensus that exploiting the bodies of poor women is wrong, but the analysis rarely extends to pornography and prostitution. There is empirical evidence that some men turn to prostitutes for sexual acts their romantic partners refuse to engage in. Isn’t hiring a prostitute to use her body just as exploitive as hiring a wet nurse for the benefit of a child? Isn’t it actually far more exploitive when you factor in the endemic violence prostitutes face, the risk of disease transmission, and the possibility of arrest? [NB: Anyone who thinks police officers will stop demanding freebies from prostitutes if prostitution is legalized needs to talk to all the restaurant owners who have to feed corrupt cops meal after meal if they want to stay in business.]
Women who exploit other women should be criticized. But when men are paying women to use their bodies for sex, why is it that some people are determined to see a fair exchange? Suzie explained this nicely in a post at Echidne of the Snakes, where she wrote:
Bettie Page, whose pinup and BDSM photos turned her into a cult icon, died Thursday. She’s a stellar example of someone who became a commodity, whose image profited others.
Her”sex fiend”father molested her and her sisters, Page once said. After an abusive first husband and a gang rape, she left Nashville for New York, where she began posing for sexy photos to make money, and in hopes of becoming an actress. …
Page had wanted to be a missionary at one time, and she quit her modeling career, in part, to focus on Christianity. She ended up penniless, but finally got royalties for her work.When commenting about her, a lot of men confuse women’s sexuality with what women do to please men, to make a living or to get ahead. People talk about how she celebrated her sexuality, blah-de-blah, without noting that photographers paid her to pose in various ways. I wonder how people look at her photos and see only what they want to see.
Props also to blogger Apostate for commenting on that post as follows:
Suzie, this is the best piece I’ve read so far on Bettie Page after her death. And thanks for not posting a picture of her – seems like nobody else could say RIP without a pic.
She’s being exploited in death as she was in life by too many Supposedly Liberal Doods, who mock her Christianity one minute and drool over her pictures the next.