For Instant Outrage, Just Add Sex
As a recession-era college grad who was a drop-out for financial reasons for an entire academic year, I have done all kinds of things in my quest to remain financially independent. A lot of the work I did was not exactly anything that I, as a college graduate from an upper middle class background, expected to ever do. Some of it was interesting and world-view expanding, while much of it exposed to me just how pettily, irrationally, and inefficiently the world is run.
I was able to finish my degree and move back in with my parents to bide my time. Those workers without such resources have it bad. It is really depressing that in all the fuss that is made about the "degrading" nature of certain types of work, all other degredations present in other forms of work go largely ignored.
I spent some time an employee at a francise sandwich shop. I was by far the most enthusiastic worker, picking up other people's shifts as well as the overall slack, since most of the other employees weren't relying on the job for survival. Eventually, the owners stopped giving me as many hours. When I asked them why, the owner said not worry about it since I was so good at picking up the shifts of the other, flaky employees who would cancel at the last minute. Eventually I, along with every other female employee there who wasn't thin and blond, was eventually let go. They changed their reasons for firing me multiple times and broke the law by giving me my final paycheck several days after firing me and by stipulating that I had to return my work shirts and hats before I could get the check. It was humiliating to pour my soul into a job only to find that I wasn't at all valued by the employers, and to have to sob "they keep switching their stories" to the person at the unemployment office when I was phone interviewed so that I could receive my palty unemployment benefits.
I worked "part-time" (read: just enough below full-time hours so that I could be denied benefits) at a 24-hour drugstore. Some weeks, I was on the overnight shift, while during others, I was working during the afternoons and evenings, so my body never knew when to be tired and when to be awake. I was sexually harassed by customers at least once a shift and incessantly berated by customers and fellow employees alike for not knowing "enough" or "good enough" Spanish (everyone assumed I was Mexican and took me to task for not being in touch with my assumed-by-them heritage). Any requests for shift changes or scheduling considerations operated at the manager's whims, and he punished you for taking him to task about any inconsistencies. The assumption was that you had to be able to deal with it all lest you be replaced. We were forced to join a union that took rather large chunks of our paychecks but that didn't do anything of note to improve our working conditions. Between the shifting hours, the fear, the anxiety, and the simple lack of reasonableness, I retreated into a mental fog and can barely recall the specific incidents that occurred in those seven months without the aid of a calendar. Being slowly beaten down by an unreasonable corporate employment system is pretty dehumanzing.
Working for companies that aren't large comporate entities isn't necessarily better, either. When I worked at a certain small business, my name was used to throw off bill collectors and most of my job was diverting people to whom the owners owed money by lying over the phone. I also had to guess at the owners' intentions and please them without guidance, since my "supervisor" was a former meth-head and alcoholic who hated me because I clearly wasn't Christian and because, after snooping in my web browser history the one day I forgot to delete it, she found out that I looked at pro-LGBT websites during my lunch break. At another small business, I was scapegoated during my first week for not reading the owner's mind regarding a some minor point on a spreadsheet. He basically misunderstood how Google Keywords works and blamed me for it. My direct supervisor admitted that I was right but that I should have "anticipated the owner's needs." On my fifth day of work. Without any guidance. Being expected to read minds, lie without compunction, and subject all aspects of yourself to the scrutiny and caprices of an employer is degrading.
This all occurred in one of the most affluent parts of the United States, where allegedly, we have protections as workers. All of these experiences have made me regard any efforts to single out sex work as bad with a great deal of skepticism. Is there not plenty of degredation, humiliation, and dehumanization inherent to many types of work, not just sex work, especially when you consider places where there is no enforced protection of workers?
In terms of the illegality of the matter, sex work is comparable to the drug trade: both are illegal in the majority of places and thus carry great risk; both are commonly assumed to be done by people without the skills, abilities, education, or access required to do work considered more legitimate by society as a whole; both are considered to attract people with some sort of addiction or problem; and both are more dangerous for the provider than for the customer. However, you don't see widespread moral panics over drug dealers where they are seen as victims who must be rescued from their livelihoods.
Why not? Sex, of course.
In comparing a sex worker to a textile worker, for example, sex is often considered more intimate and therefore more invasive and potentially harmful than sewing. Not everyone would regard this to be the case. Factory workers go blind and suffer from crippled hands thanks to work sewing. All work can be invasive and harmful if devoid of protections for the worker.
Of course, there are real issues domestically and worldwide with human trafficking, pimps, sexual assault, and other forms of physical danger. Those issues, however, are not necessarily inherently a part of nor are they limited to sex work. Plenty of people are trafficked to work as domestic or factory workers. In countries and in situations devoid of workers' rights, non-pimp employers can be just as abusive and controlling as the worst pimp. Women and men face largely unchecked sexual harassment, discrimination, and even assault in most lines of work and places in the world. Factory workers in developing nations fall ill, are maimed, and die with alarming frequency. Where is the outrage for them?
It's easy to create an uproar over an issue as fraught and taboo as sex. It's far more difficult to examine the way in which workers in all industries are treated and work towards making all workers' lives safer and better.