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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Selling Sex: No Laughing Matter

Jeff Richmond: When we were first dating, some of the guys at Second City said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be a hoot if we go over—’

Tina Fey: ‘—over to the Doll House. We’ll go to this strip club ironically.’ I was like, ‘The fuck you will…’

In 2008, erotic dancers in Minnesota were charging about $300 an hour, but I would only have to pay $20. It was my second year at Carleton, and a group of my friends had decided to hire a stripper as a surprise for a girl’s birthday.

I had some knee-jerk Asian discomfort about this, but I shrugged it off. After all, this was Carleton. We’d probably end up paying some bemused woman $300 to play Scrabble with us for 20 minutes, which was hilarious, and besides, we’d get to meet a real live stripper! How delightfully plebeian.

A week before the event, I received an email thread discussing the details. Did we want a blonde or a brunette? Piercings or tattoos? They did some research, and attached pictures of our options – a bunch of twenty-something-year-olds ranging from mildly attractive to incredibly hot.

After observing these women circulate on Zimbra for a few days, I had to wonder. Did they ever cross over into prostitution? Did they have other jobs, or families? The more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed that I might actually watch one take off her clothes for money and pretend to enjoy it.

To be clear, I had no objections to sexual freedom. At women’s college, it had been everywhere I looked – naked people laying out in the sun, transsexual people on my sports team, people who had sex with homeless men in public bathrooms talking about it at dinner. I’d gotten so used to this that when I came to Carleton, I had trouble understanding why some students thought of it as a sexually liberated place. Carleton had the GSC, and plenty of streakers, but it seemed obvious that these exceptions proved the rule.

Still, this was entirely different. Just for the hell of it, we were about to hire an actual sex worker.
It surprises me that the ethics of prostitution is still a source of debate. Some people argue that it can be done by choice and not by circumstance of poverty and/or abuse, but for me, this claim will be pretty empty until most sex workers (and customers) are able to deny that it’s the last job they’d want for their daughters and sisters.

If you asked Carleton students if they’d ever consider stripping, I’m sure the vast majority would say no. Our culture is based on shyness. We have trouble going on dates out without the aid of CSA (see Screw Your Roommate), we can’t appear naked in public without sprinting (see streaking), and most of us can’t even dance fully clothed in front of an audience without getting hammered first (see Ebony).

None of this is bad on its own. People tend to be guarded about their sexuality because it’s important to them, as it should be. But everyone deserves this. When you pay a stripper to do something you’d never do yourself, you accept that her sexuality is less valuable than yours. Outside of Carleton, I know two people (one male and one female) who’ve had sex for money; both said they didn’t like how it made them feel.

It can often be entertaining to view college life as a parody. For small things like substance abuse, it’s pretty harmless. (As a sociology professor at SUNY put it, “When people ask me why college students [binge] drink, I say, “Why not?”) But once your choices involve other people, it’s important to remember that the things you do are the things you actually do. Hiring a stripper as a joke is still supporting an industry that exploits people in atrocious ways. We live in a world where human trafficking is a massive and fast-growing industry.

We also live on a campus where sexual assault happens. Most upperclassmen know this. I’ve witnessed and experienced sexual misconduct more than once.

When Carleton’s revised Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response policy showed up in my mailbox a few weeks ago, this was all I could think about. Despite their laudable efforts to streamline the process, no amount of re-wording and re-structuring could change the atmosphere that caused people to stay silent.

But this atmosphere is nothing more than the sum of many individual attitudes towards sex.

Today, I honestly can’t remember whether or not my friends went through with their plan. Does it really matter? Maybe not. Maybe injustice anywhere isn’t a threat to justice everywhere. Maybe I just need to lighten up and have a better sense of humor. Then again, maybe even the funniest woman in America would have felt the same way.

“…I love to play strippers and to imitate them. I love using that idea for comedy, but the idea of actually going there? I feel like we all need to be better than that. That industry needs to die, by all of us being a little bit better than that.”

-Vanity Fair, January 2009

-Hannah Watson is a Carletonian columnist

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