My daughter is a sex worker. Stark fact.
When a few years ago Vicky first told me she’d scored a job at a strip club I wasn’t sure how to handle the news. She’s a determined young woman and smart with it. She left uni to join a circus troupe, and quickly mastered aerial silks, hoop and trapeze. Before long, she explored burlesque and became a photographic model. To put some butter on her bread she taught circus skills to others. For years things were tough. But she persisted. She’s resilient. But as anyone in the performing arts will tell you, don’t give up your day job. Casual teaching is intermittent and unreliable income. So when the chance to take up exotic dancing came her way, she didn’t question it.
And neither did I. Even if my motherly buttons were pressed. Even though I didn’t want all those leery male eyes ogling my daughter’s flesh. Even though I knew she would be judged by members of my family, a slut a tart a whore. Or, worse, lost. That somehow, I, as her mother, had failed her. Families are like that. Society is like that. Quick to judge.
Me? I knew I’d never persuade Vicky out of it. So I had to deal with it. Somehow. I talked to a few girlfriends, all about my age. And their response was ‘Good on her.’ Which surprised me. Perhaps they were lying. Or they weren’t giving it much thought. Or maybe, just maybe, I was being a prude. But I changed. I changed on the spot. I changed my attitude because I love and respect my daughter. If I hadn’t changed, I would forever have judged and condemned her. And lost her.
As a feminist, Vicky’s job has forced me to re-evaluate my principles. I’ve had to expand and nuance my values to accommodate what she does. I’ve learned that virtue is a construct. One that divides women against each other into virgins and whores. When we label our sisters whores it is only because these women we have boxed-up and labelled threaten our chaste upright selfhood.
In the past the feminist in me would have viewed sex workers as betraying my gender, selling out to the enemy, or as victims of patriarchy. My view was similar to that voiced by Ann Summers in her book, Misogyny (I could almost hear the condemning scowl in her voice). I’d have wanted someone to save these misguided souls from themselves (I was never going to go there), while I shunned them as a lost cause. I would never, ever, have wanted one as my daughter.
My values have had to shift. I could labour on about Hestia and the male appropriation of the ‘Vestal Virgins’ at this point, but I won’t. Neither am I going to segue into a discussion of other cultures or cite the endless cases of abuse of sex workers the world over. This offering is just one mother’s perspective, and how as a mother, like all mothers who grow through their children, Vicky has provided me an opportunity to change.
I like to keep things simple and straightforward. Vicky has made a choice. She has a well-paid job and she works hard at it. Like any other job, much of what she does has become automatic. There’s no evidence that she’s been damaged by it. It isn’t an easy job. The hours are shit, the clientele questionable and there’s an element of risk. Vicky deals with all that, and she’s developed many strengths as a result. She is, to her core, dignified.
As an author, I’m privileged. I can write about things. I haven’t wanted to. It seems a bit like an ‘outing’. And coming out is the relinquishing of shame. Yet Vicky has no shame in what she does, so why should I feel shame on her behalf? Shame in this context is triggered by ‘virtue’; it’s a judgement, a condemnation, a natural feeling ‘virtue’ has appropriated in order to keep us chaste. Therefore, as I fling open the door and let the world in on my private life, I need to state clearly that I am not and never have been ashamed of my sex working daughter.