I would like to look a bit deeper into what consequences the relationship between production and income have on us people. As debated in the last blog, when machines take over production, more and more income needs to be generated through service jobs. We invent whole new sectors and as a huge one of them, namely advertisement, is fully devoted to making these services necessary to us. We suddenly have new needs. Just a generation ago, who thought that going to a beautician every week was a necessity and who thought you could make a living as a ‘spiritual coach’ or even a ‘dog walker’?
As Jacque Fresco says in FUTURE MY LOVE:
“Humanism didn’t get rid of slavery. It was technology. Machines are cheaper and faster than slaves.”
I do believe that technology has the very real ability to free us from work, but it will take ‘humanism’ to change how we use technology. But to what extent did we really overcome slavery? What is a slave?
I find the different dictionary definitions of the word interesting: "a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold and are forced to work," or "one bound in servitude as the property of a person or household." Looking at the Greek origin of the word economy (oikonomos) – "one who manages a household" – and at the fact that our common household is our economy, the question is: to what extent are we bound in servitude and are therefore enslaved to the economy?
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE
We have a growing need of service jobs to generate enough income. The word ‘service’ originates from the Latin ‘servitium’ meaning slavery, from ‘servus’ meaning slave…We demand good service when we are the consumer, and we are expected to provide the same when we perform work or duties someone is paying us for. Could we say that ‘the person holding money is the master, and whoever needs it is the slave?’
We can commodify pretty much anything. Good service is there to give consumers a ‘real feeling’, ‘real friendship’ or ‘real smiles’. When this service is provided to us on a bad day, we have several options: to lie and smile, or to alter our own feelings, or to learn to smile genuinely even when we are sad or angry. What basic human communication do we lose in this process, and how do we know when we get too good at this skill? A stranger who is nice to you can make your day, it’s an incredibly valuable gift. We should not take it for granted and be careful in what we do to be given it freely.
Are all of us uniformly enslaved by the economic system?
Or are some of us less subjected to its grip? If so, do any of us of have the choice to walk out? Is there anything we are not allowed to sell? Our smiles, voices, appearances, truths sold long ago?
I decided to speak to X, a colleague of mine who I deeply respect. She has a different perspective and a unique method to find freedom for herself as an artist within this system. Could what is often referred to as the ‘oldest profession in the world’ be a way to better understand the power relationships within the economic system at large?
Maja: What do you do?
X: I am a filmmaker and I also do sex work. I have a hard time seeing myself commit to any other profession – films I make all the time and sex work is how I make money.
Sex work is a part of my identity because it was something I was really drawn to for many reasons, but it was also a big choice for me to make. In the beginning I perhaps identified more with the movement and the struggle for better rights for sex workers than the actual work, but sex work is how I’ve been surviving the last three years so the actual work has also become a part of my identity.
Maja: How does it work?
X: I go to America to work, because I previously met people there who were more open to this kind of work and were in the same scene as me so I felt more comfortable. I also found a sex work partner so I didn’t have to start off on my own, which has been a great security. Another reason I go overseas to do sex work because it’s further away from home and therefore there is less chance my family will find out about it.
So I’m there for a few months at a time. The last couple of times I was lucky to find a good regular client that I only need to see maybe once a month so I can afford to work on my film projects the rest of the time. It’s different every time, but with this regular client I spend a Sunday to go to the beach, have a walk in the forest, go out for dinner, maybe see a movie, and then have sex for an hour or so – and that’s me for the month.
Maja: Why can’t you make enough money as a filmmaker?
X: I am pretty new to making films. The project I am doing now is my first large-scale professional project and I have been working on it for 4 years. I tried my best to get it fully funded, but it was turned down.
Maja: Would you prefer to make your money as a filmmaker?
X: That is a difficult question because getting funding for your films comes with the downside that other people get the power to influence what you produce. I think the work I do is very sensitive and I don’t want a TV channel to have complete power over the content. So, in a way, doing sex work gives me a greater creative freedom.
Maja: When you are doing sex work, what are you selling?
X: I don’t sell my body. I don’t think about it that way. I sell a service. It’s a service that can affect you personally because it’s very intimate, but as with other close professional relationships, for example between a patient and a psychologist or a child and a teacher, you have to invest yourself in it.
With clients that I see more often, I get involved in their lives. Sometimes we even become friends, but of course it's different than most of my other friendships since there is money involved. With a lot of clients I'm not that close. My sex work partner and I play out their kinky fantasies and that’s it. I do however think that it affects me in some way to be close to another person’s body. I think it can affect me in both positive and sometimes a negative ways. It definitely takes energy, which doesn't have to be negative if I am aware of it. I'm careful and I try to really listen to what I feel, and I think sex work has made me better at that. You have to feel what is right for you.
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE
Maja: Do you like it?
X: Well, yes, but I see a potential for liking it more. I like it as a job. I like that I make a lot of money quickly. When I started I was interested in it sexually but it’s hard to find out what you actually like. For me this applies to sex in general. When I have sex with people I am in love with, it takes many years before the sex becomes really good. Maybe it’s same with sex work; you have to work out your boundaries, what you like and are comfortable with. It’s an exciting process so it’s always a very interesting job, even if it isn’t always fun or hot.
Maja: Would you like it to be different?
X: I wish there was no money in the world at all, but sex work is not a bad way to make a living if you compare it to other jobs. Of course I wish no one had to do it just because they felt like they didn’t have any other option. There is a big difference between the sex work I do and women who are forced to walk the streets for economic reasons such as drug addiction or poverty.
The more you rely on money the narrower your options are. If people know you are in a desperate situation you are at a much higher risk of being exploited. I am not dependent on money to survive in the same way, but of course I can still make bad choices and step over my boundaries by mistake. I have the option to say no, but sometimes I need to try something before I find out I don’t like it and will say no to it in the future.
But it is my only option to get to do what I want to be doing without compromising what is more important to me. I could perhaps make commercials and make a living out of that and still have time to do my own film work on the side, but I don’t want that.
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE
I think it is worse to work for a big company than to sell sex to an individual. I get the money directly. I see how it is playing into the bigger picture; the fact that some have the power to buy whatever they want and some have to do what they don’t want in order to survive. But in terms of money, it's an easy transaction, I do it, get the money and it’s over. But then again, the person buying sex from me might run a big company – so of course it’s all connected.
Maja: I can see how sex work can make sense on a personal level, but in my opinion there is a collective problem in the commodification of the female body, or offering female desire as a service. You are not representing yourself when you are working, but selling a fantasy of a desirable woman created as part of a history dominated by patriarchal power structures. If you are contributing to the fantasy that female desire can be purchased and owned for a period of time you are offering it as a commodity. Does that not create or sustain a problematic attitude towards women as a collective?
X: I think it’s pretty fucked up that you can buy that service and as well as many other things in the world. I think a lot of sex work definitely plays a part in the creation of what a desirable women should be like and how she must look, especially in porn.
What I read and hear is that a lot of sex worker experience is that their clients overstep their boundaries less often than the men they meet outside of sex work. The rules are very clear and most clients are respectful of them. The power structures exist everywhere and as long as men have more money and power than women, this is going to be a problem. Likewise, as long as this inequality exists some women will use their sexuality to obtain power. This is visible, for example, in the music industry or even in marriages. In a way, plainly buying and selling sex makes it simpler and the power structures clear, which means you can negotiate the deal and have more space to say no and be more emphatic with your boundaries.
But maybe the fact that sex work exists makes men or people think they can own and unrighteously obtain that service. We have to think about which factors that could lead to anyone thinking that they can, for example, rape another human being. I can’t say that I think that the actual act of selling sex is one of them. If you look at other services that you can buy, for example therapy, a manicure, a ride with a taxi, do people really think they can steal those things just because you can buy them? No! So rape (i.e. the “stealing” of sex) is not caused by the existence of sex work.
But I do think that doing sex work, and looking into the phenomenon of what sex work is, made me see the power structures more clearly. For example, I see how my class background and nationality, or not being seen as an illegal immigrant (which I kind of am, ha-ha), and not being addicted to drugs affect how much power I feel I have. I get to see from up-close that having a lot of money brings about a certain kind of power. Many of those affected by this are men. How much of the money in the world belongs to men...? There are many sides to everything, and of course it’s unfair that some people have so much money that they can spend thousands of dollars on sex every week while others need to do whatever to get money to buy food and shelter.
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE
The only way around sex work is to empower the people who are offering it by giving them a choice. You have to give them more options of how to live and support themselves rather than just taking the option of sex work away.
There is a lot of activism within the sex worker movement to support women who want to get out of sex work or to help them improve their conditions. A lot of sex workers I have met, and who are regarded as victims in society, had to leave their home countries to support their families. They are really strong women. Travelling across the world illegally to make a better life for your children is an incredibly brave thing to do. So it is important not to confuse ‘victim’ with being weak and helpless.
Maja: Do you see any problems with sex work on an ideological level?
X: Yes I do see problems on an ideological level, but then I see those problems with almost any work. For me in a way it’s a lesser of two evils.
Maja: Would you do it if you didn’t earn money?
X: If we lived in a society that was based on trade rather than money I would do it, but it takes a lot of energy so I would not want to do it if I had to do it everyday.
Maja: Do you feel like a victim?
X: No, or yes, I’m a victim of this society and the way society views sex work has made me feel victimised. The stigma makes me feel like a victim. Sometimes people don’t even want to listen to my experience and that is the strongest sense of being discriminated against that I've ever felt.
When people critique banks they can still understand that a banker needs to go to work to make a living. They don’t necessarily pity him as a victim. Sex workers are often seen as victims or, if they freely choose to do sex work, it’s often seen as morally wrong, much more so than choosing to be a banker.
You also have to remember the people who buy sex
People rarely pity the lifestyle of the buyers of sex services. They could be working so much that they don’t have any time to make friends, a family or any kind of long term intimate relationship. If they are happy working so hard, it’s not up to anyone to say that is not a valid life. I think it’s the same with sex work; no one else should tell me if it’s a good job for me or not. I don't have to work as much this way, it makes me flexible and I can spend time on the relationships that are important to me.
Looking at the bigger picture, I think this system of prejudices could be compared to BDSM. I think a lot of women feel turned on by being dominated but they feel guilty about this because it goes against their political beliefs. I think you first need to explore what you actually feel before judging things as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. After that, you can start challenging it.