Once upon a time, in what now seems like a lifetime ago, I was a 21 year old divorcee with a young child and rather dim prospects for my future. Having made the decision to drop out of high school in the middle of my senior year only to run off and get married only then to end up pregnant two months after marriage, meant I had not prepared for my financial future. Like many young girls, I thought when I said ‘’I do” it meant happily ever after. The only problem is that an 18 year old girl and a twenty year old boy aren’t really prepared for a child much less a life journey so it really wasn’t a surprise that thirteen months after our son’s birth, the marriage officially died.
When my marriage ended I was fortunate that I actually had a job, I seem to recall it paid something like $10 an hour and this was back in about 1994 so while it wasn’t a fortune, it was enough to eke out a living. I was living in a basement apartment on the northwest side of Chicago in an up and coming neighborhood, so rent was cheap, granted there were the occasional gang fights but in my youth it seemed like an adventure. My largest expense was daycare which thankfully my ex assisted with but it still meant money was tight. There were times when I had to get diapers and food on credit from the local corner store, and I often picked up diapers at the dollar store. Ever so thankful that I had a dollar store that sold 5 diapers for a buck.
However the “good” times ended when the inside sales department of the publishing company I worked in was closed. I went from a stable job with a stable schedule to having to work two part time telemarketing jobs and manage with a two year old. One of the jobs was in downtown Chicago and the other one was located near O’Hare airport which if you aren’t familiar with Chicago I will say they were not close to each other and I logged in a lot of time on public transit. Eventually that breakneck schedule combined with parenting wore me down and my mind turned to a rather dark place.
I was newly 21 with a body in tip top shape, and for a brief period of time I flirted with the idea of working in the sex industry. I was desperate and I needed money without having to spend 3 hours a day on trains and buses. So I did what many a young women in need of money has done for years except that my career as a sex worker never got off the ground. I went to the local strip club, only to be told they had met their quota of Black girls. Seems you can’t have too many of the dark skin honeys, it’s bad for business. I applied for a job as a lingerie model, but despite telling me I got the job, they never called me for work. In a real moment of desperation, I even applied to be a masseuse…the kind who deals in happy endings. That too never went any place. At the time I was devastated, how could I not even get work that any woman should be able to get? I never found out the answer but years later, my first full time social service gig was house manager at an agency that worked with women getting out of prostitution. The women I met in the course of that job made me grateful that my idea to capitalize on my body never went anyplace because what I would have lost was far greater than the hard times I endured.
So why am I telling you this? I read this story today and it appears that women especially college educated women looking to exchange time (or bodies….) for cash is a growing area in these hard economic times. Based off the number of folks I know online who have shared this piece, it’s clear for many this is the first time they have heard of such things but the truth is this has been going on for years. From my own failed attempts at entering the sex business as well as my work with women escaping the industry, I can tell you the average girl next door is often hiding secrets you would never know. I mean shit; you don’t exactly announce it at the dinner table. Yet like some of the women in this piece, they often minimize what it is they are doing, instead choosing to see what they do as different from the stereotypical street walker when in actuality they both do the same job. A john in a car in an alley who pays for a $20 blow job is the same as a “refined gentleman” who pays $500 for a show and dinner but at the end of the date expects to get blowed on satin sheets. Women may minimize this as it seems the women in the piece did but they are doing the same job, just like that guy working the fryolator at Burger King and the sous chef as Charlie Trotters are both in the service industry. Just the one guy has a better working environment and gets paid better but they are in the same overall industry.
I am oddly enough not against sex workers or the sex industry as a whole but and this is a big but how many women are doing this work because they have no other choices and are thus forced to do it? When your only options to survive are sex work, it’s not a choice its survival. The fact that many more well educated women are openly desperate enough that they are signing up for sites like the one in the HuffPo piece does not speak well of our future as a nation but that’s a post for another time.