This New Yorker profile of Gloria Steinem is a turd sandwich. The magazine’s usually flawless editing process let through an outlandish, completely unsourced claim that “[i]n America, sex trafficking is said to be as high today as in any other country.” By that reckoning, I am said to be Dagmar Midcap’s gigolo, because I just said it. There is simply no way that a country that is at peace domestically, with a few very local exceptions, and has police that would be in the top decile for effectiveness, discipline, and accountability among Third World countries, has the world’s highest rate of sex trafficking. It’s just unbelievable. And, as I noted, that claim was made without any stated basis or attribution whatsoever. Maybe it was a sneaky psy op to teach the English-speaking world about the wrongfulness of using the passive voice. The same paragraph goes on to note that “[f]emale genital mutilation…is now practiced within the diaspora here, despite a ban dating from the Clinton Presidency.” In case we wish to be further outraged, I should note that premeditated murder continues to be practiced within the British diaspora here, despite a ban dating from the incorporation of Jamestown. It’s truly shocking.
After a stumbling series of asides on various subjects vaguely related to feminism or to Gloria Steinem (“Poo had started organizing as a student….”), the profile wanders into its feature dumpster fire: Steinem’s concern-trolling of prostitutes. The appalling backstory to this concern-trolling campaign is hinted at here and there in the profile, but only in passing, probably because various parties to this mess would prefer that we not piece together the puzzle. Steinem had a chaotic childhood: her mother was too mentally ill to properly raise children, and her father was a feckless bohemian who took the family on the road for months at a time before walking out on everyone and moving to California, where he “lived out of his car,” coming back east only for annual visits. Obviously there would never be any sort of mercenary motive to the young scion of such a family letting herself be wined, dined, and sixty-nined by a big name in New York publishing, nor would there ever be so much as a tacit sexual quid pro quo to such an arrangement. Steinem’s involvement with Zuckerman was as pure as the driven snow; in no way whatsoever did she look or act like a sugar baby to that financially well-endowed Canuck. Her attraction to the Big Z was every bit as romantic and unsullied by crass temporalities as Jackie Kennedy’s midlife crush on Grecian hunk Aristotle Onassis.
What does Steinem find so objectionable about prostitution, which she has never in her life even kinda sorta practiced with a dorky Canadian dandy with an affected highbrow New York honk?
Two debates that have played out online particularly trouble Steinem. One involves the idea of prostitution as sex work—a legitimate trade that women can decide to practice, and which should be protected through legal regulation, as advocates argue, rather than one that women are forced into, as Steinem is inclined to believe. “The word ‘work’ can be double-edged,” she told me. “The problem of legitimizing the sex trade as work, the way it’s done in Germany, for example, is that ‘work’ has consequences, one being that you are required to do just that—work—and if you refuse to accept a client, or to do something a client wants, you can be fired, or worse.” Then, there’s the matter of choice. Steinem finds it unlikely that anyone actually chooses to be a sex worker, certainly not when she’s twelve years old—roughly the average age of entry into prostitution—or when the rate of trauma and injury among prostitutes is comparable to that of soldiers in wartime, or when what qualifies as consent, in legal terms, may not be consensual at all but enforced. There are exceptions, she says: “Women who make their own arrangements, privately and directly, with a client, and whose only worry is likely to be a big bill from the I.R.S.”
Say, a client like Mort Zuckerman. Putting out for the Judeo-Anglo-Quebecker dork with a lot of money is cool, but putting out for randos who go home after they’ve blown their loads is, like, totally yucky, and it’s unbelievable that any woman would ever choose to do that instead of, making a dollar over minimum wage to wipe the asses of demented, belligerent strangers at a nursing home. The ass-backwards thing about Steinem’s comments on Germany is that Germany today has one of the least servile or slavedriving mentalities on earth, as a direct reaction to the horrors of Nazism and the Holocaust. Germany also has a large number of independent streetwalkers who turn away troublesome clients at will and call the police to deal with ones who won’t stop bothering them. Germany and Switzerland are terrible places to try to rape a prostitute, and the Netherlands is close, if at all, behind.
Of course no one involved in the publication of this profile checked with a real working girl or a real client to see whether anything Steinem and her buddies made a lick of sense; they were all too busy believing whatever they were told by professional feminists who have it in for hookers and really have it in for clients. It would have been a buzzkill to learn that whores insist on very clearly giving or denying consent for specific sex acts, just as it was a huge buzzkill for Steinem’s fellow-traveler Sarah Jones to hear realtalk from storefront hookers in the Netherlands when she went undercover:
“I wanted to have this experience,” she told her friends at Steinem’s. But it was the prostitutes themselves—“the politics” of their indoctrination—who unsettled her. “It was very fraught for me to hear them rage against the anti-trafficking movement in America,” Jones said. “They talked about ‘sex workers’ rights’ in Western Europe. They said, ‘We are voluntary migrant labor here. We have health care, education, a safety net. We like our jobs.’ I asked those women, ‘If you had a daughter, would you want this for her?’ ”
It couldn’t be that they were outraged about their colleagues being kidnapped by the police in the course of a moral panic and afraid that the same hideous regime might upset the safe, stable workplace environment that they currently enjoyed. This being the New Yorker, there’s no mention of the absurdity of a playwright who’s working on a documentary about brothel workers in the Netherlands trying to tell the brothel workers that they’re the indoctrinated ones, and that she, with less than three weeks’ experience sitting in a brothel window, is the one who really understands what it’s like to be a ho.
Of course these bitches are all about the Nordic Model. Obviously any reasonable hooker would want the police to arrest her incall office manager and harass her clients just to keep her safe. And of course they peddle the bogus claim that the average prostitute enters the trade at the age of twelve.
These women want hookers to be traumatized and ashamed. Their trauma and shame at the horrors of having put out for strange men for big money are the only hope that their betters have of convincing them to do restaurant or domestic work for small money. The real slavedrivers here are the ones accusing “pimps” and the like of being slavedrivers. The ones proclaiming the urgent need for women’s independence are the same ones trying to shame independent women into submission, because it’s the wrong kind of independence.
The mystique of the black pimp would evaporate like so much morning fog the moment people realized that the black pimp is actually Richard Sherman doing back-office work for an escort agency, calling the accountant with a question about tax withholding rates. It’s unlikely he’d see the need to wear a purple zoot suit for a job like that. As they say, pimpin’ ain’t easy. Half the time, it ain’t even interesting. On the other hand, we might be able to get an extra hard boner for the police if we learned, without any help from the New Yorker’s feminism desk, of course, that cops are the real champs at the forcible rape of prostitutes, and of their own wives.
As that Atlantic City call girl with the rusty blonde hair and the Bono sunglasses said, “I ain’t Captain Save-a-Ho. I can’t save a ho….It ain’t easy bein’ a ho, now!” The incredible list of drugs she rattled off in the midst of that tirade are only the tip of the iceberg. Just be glad that Pickton was too shambling to be hired by the RCMP, and not American enough for the NYPD.
Do we still wonder why women who would never agree to their own disenfranchisement or banishment to the kitchen and the nursery refuse to call themselves feminists?