In a meandering way, Warren Ellis brought my attention to the Sex Work Awareness site. They've got a PSA now (that's short for "Public Service Announcement", if you're not cognizant of the term), as well as a couple of audio files for linking or tossing into podcasts. And there's also a mention that leads to a blog post dealing with the tragedy of Julissa Brisman, which can be extrapolated to the tragedy of working in a profession where few people offer respect, understanding, acceptance, or even barely tolerant incivility.
Why am I bringing this up? Because certainly on the grid, in Second Life, sex workers don't run the risk of death, infection, inability to attain civil protections, having to conceal what they do...so how is it relevant?
I'll give you an example. Of the kind of thing I hear about every other day or so, or watch unfold personally.
There's a group I'm in--and it really could be any of my groups, it happens so often, but let's just say for reference it's a scavenger hunt/lucky chair/freebie group--where every few days, someone asks how to make money in SL. (I say this happens a lot, and it really does--in Caledon, in texture groups, fashion groups, on the street in main chat....I mean, it happens a LOT.)
And there are always two replies in the flood of answers that they'll get.
1. "You should strip for a living, those girls make a lot of money."
2. "You shouldn't do that, man, it just leads to bad things."
Understand I am broadly understating here. The first one pretty much references cheap clothing, "dressing like a hooker", bling, and "looking cheap", for the most part. So on the one hand, the money incentive is there in the offer--"dance, you'll get paid well"--while at the same time, dismissing any positive value in dancing--because you'll have to look cheap with oiled skin and microskirts and masses of big wavy blonde hair and big fake boobs to do it.
(And really. Come on. It's SL. By strict definition, all boobs are fake. So is the grass. So are the trees. So are the dance poles.)
The second, of course, is the trap. "Dance and you'll make money"...but no one will respect you. "Strip for a living"...you'll pay rent but you're now the lowest of the low on SL. "Do some pole work"...but for the sake of all you hold holy, get out before you really get hooked into it.
Because "everyone knows", you see, the woman who's willing to strip? Is willing to prostitute herself in all ways. And it's just two small steps from hooking, to being chained to a bar in a cage naked, and being told what to do. And--even by some women who wear collars--this is universally seen as the worst of all fates on SL.
This strikes me as akin to the gay marriage = marrying goats argument. "If we give people gay marriage, then ANYTHING can happen! People will want to marry their dogs! People will want to marry their END tables!"
Right. Because dogs, goats and end tables are recognized worldwide as having the same exact rights citizens do, and can thus enter into legal and binding contracts with people. (Which is, by the way, all that a legal marriage is, it's a binding legal contract. Period.)
It's that same sort of hivethink with dancing--dance with your clothes on, you might as well strip. Strip, and you might as swell screw guys for money. Screw guys for money, and you might as well just get collared already. The slippery slope? In the case of many women on SL--and a surprising number of men, whether they patronize escorts or not--the slippery slope has been oiled with the negative expectations of fully 80% of the avatars around that young woman seeking work.
That, and the other trap inherent in the statement--because all you have to do is jump on a pole, right? The animations do everything else. It's like you have to push a button every five minutes, that's not work.
And no, that's not work, but there's more to dancing than just the animations. There's making them flow together smoothly for yourself and the viewer (harder than it looks--that one takes practice, has a learning curve, depending on the pole, to know which dances work together and which don't). There's working out how to climb the pole while taking one layer of clothing off (*again* harder than it looks, believe me). There's emoting to the crowd. (And no, not talking about the emotes you see that go roughly, "SexiiSindii licks the pole and thinks about some hot guy in the audience she wants to lick, too".) It's even the little stuph, like remembering the people who tipped you, and thanking them for tipping. To talk about the muscles in legs and back, practice the perfect sinuous arch of muscle and tendon--at best, difficult with the avatar mesh. Not only that, but if you're dancing and hosting--something that some clubs still make their dancers do--then you have to keep track of who comes in, and welcome them, who leaves, and wish them well on their travels, and all of that while thanking folks who tip you and remembering how the dances work!
And all of that is if you're just dancing, not stripping or escorting. Stripping or escorting is harder. It's not a cakewalk.
And keeping all of that in mind, at any given moment, plus coordinating for event nights (which means serious Linden investment in costumes and skins), themed nights, plus being cheerful and having fun, which some nights, really is harder than it sounds...without adding in the complications of escorting on top...
...and knowing that at the end of the day, you may have men who want you, but few who really love you; you will have women who hate you, because of what you do. And no, it's not a knife in the belly, it's not getting a client who wants to strike out rather than slide in, it's not getting arrested or getting hooked on drugs...
...but women, women have so many struggles with self-worth, and it's yet another example of the more things change, the more they stay the same. People make a virtual world, and they can be, can have, the best of everything, if they're willing to improve, put in the effort, show the grid the face they want to live behind...and so few seem to realize that, dragging in all that excess baggage behind them, like anchor weights chained to their frontal lobes.
And the biggest baggage of all still seems to be: Sex sells, and the money's good. But if we catch you at it, we'll never accept you for it. You'll never be anything more to us than a cheap whore.
Welcome to the new world.