Fair Pay For A Fair Night’s Work

One of the main tropes concerning prostitution is that the customers are “exploiting” the girls. The dictionary definition of this term is not terribly relevant; people have in mind the more or less Marxist usage based on the concept of surplus product, whereby a worker is paid only a fraction of the value he creates through his labour, the rest going to his employer as profit. Now, if a customer pays 200 euros for an hour with the girl, but she receives only 100, the other half going to the house (which is in fact far more than is normal in legalised sex industries), then most people would consider this exploitation. It is not unreasonable for the sex worker to pay a percentage to such individuals as facilitate her work or provide her with genuine services, but 50% would seem alarmingly greedy to anyone except the tax authorities. Even so, it should be noted that it is not the customer who is exploiting the girl in the Marxist sense here, but the madam.

If, however, the same customer pays the same 200 euros to the same girl, who is now an independent contractor and gets to keep it all and purchase her own services (e.g. website design), it is by no means clear why this is exploitation in the same sense, since there are no rent-seekers taking their cut. Her labour is not now alienated, but she is almost in the position of the pre-capitalist guild craftswoman, lacking only formal letters patent following satisfactory submission of her masterpiece.

Somewhere in people’s minds must therefore hover the notion that an hour of her time and sexual services is worth vastly more than 200 euros in some absolute or metaphysical sense, so that she is being drastically underpaid. That would certainly constitute “exploitation” as generally understood.

On what basis, however, can we price an hour of her labour otherwise than in terms of what the market is willing to pay for it? How should we set the price – by government fiat, and if so, as what?

Those who see prostitution as exploitation of the worker by the customer need to take a look at prices. In the circles in which most of us move, virtually the only service providers who can charge such hourly rates are lawyers. That is, if we go to an in-call girl, massage studio or sauna in the various European capitals for one hour, it will set us back between 100 and 300 euros. There are even more expensive girls too; but then again, there are even more expensive lawyers. This is, of course, why women enter the profession voluntarily. The inchoate idea haunting the minds of people who consider 200 euros an hour to be gross underpayment must necessarily be that her sexual services are invaluable in the strict sense of the word, that is, beyond price. But arguments from the sacrality of sex and economic arguments are like apples and oranges; if people consider that sex should never be exchanged for cash, that is their privilege, but then they should be using the language of sin and sanctity rather than the quasi-Marxist rhetoric of exploitation.

In other contexts, the ancient concept of the Just Wage, which is independent of what the market sets (because markets can be rigged), rests on some valuation of what the worker needs to be paid to have a decent life. If a Bolivian tin miner is paid so little that he cannot eat properly but must chew coca leaves instead merely to keep on his feet, we call this exploitation out of our sense of human dignity. There are indeed prostitutes who make so little, or are so horribly ripped off, that they cannot live a decent life; but there are also prostitutes who make vast sums of money in a short time. A woman working in a brothel to pay a debt once remarked, “It isn’t easy money like they say, but it’s quick money.” And not all choose to blew it all on fast living, these are merely the ones we get to hear about; for the girls who use the amassed capital to start a business remain forever unknown to journalists and moralists.

Something that astonishes and attracts new entrants to the profession is the great amount of money that men are prepared to pay to have sex with them. Not for supermodels only, but for quite ordinary-looking women. In consequence, many girls feel flattered and validated by being offered such a lot of money for a brief access to their bodies, particularly if they have issues with self-image and self-confidence; and what woman doesn’t? In their eyes, it is they who are exploiting the men, in that they are getting such a lot of money in return for what might, by some, be considered to be rather little. For not everyone considers her genitalia to be the Castle of the Holy Grail. Hard as it is for many women to believe – namely those women who are accustomed to generalise from their own sentiments to speak on behalf of their entire sex – there do exist party-girl types who ask themselves, “Why don’t I get paid for what I enjoy anyway?” and – very much depending on their working conditions – sometimes find the work congenial.

Observation of punting behaviour suggests that the value of money is highly variable: men will walk to save on the metro or object to the price of a lady-drink, and then happily pay a girl 200 euros upfront, with no guarantee of a pleasant experience. Indeed, in so few other businesses is there so little right of complaint; the customer’s chance of getting his money back for poor service is invariably zero point zip nada. Men who would make a fuss about being sold a defective consumer gadget for twenty euros shrug off a disastrous punt that cost them two hundred. Now, you can get quite a lot of things for 200 euros, most of which last longer than an hour. Clearly such men are driven by something, perhaps by the extreme male dependence on women on which Camille Paglia has written so eloquently.

But when we have one party in the grip of a compulsion and to scratch the itch is willing to part with money that they would never spend on anything else, and another party who charges them high prices, with no right of complaint or refund, we would normally say that it is the first party that is being exploited by the second. An analogous situation might be between the addict and the dealer; but who is advocating jailing the addict for exploiting the poor little pusher?

Posted on February 10, 2012 at 12:08 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE NAME OF THE GAME, Who Is Exploiting Whom?

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