Pushing at kids’ assumptions, part eleventy-four: Sex work

Since we moved into the Yonge-Bloor area of Toronto a few weeks ago, my kids have been asking a lot of questions about the sex-related stores they now pass daily. The following is (more or less) a transcript from one such conversation:

Girl (aged 9.5): (big eyes) Mama, look at those clothes!

Me: Yep. Those are clothes.

Boy (aged 11): Yeah, but they’re not “clothes.” [Girl], you know what a stripper is, don’t you?

Me: Dancer.

Girl: … no. No, wait! In the movie Hairspray, there was this guy, and it was during the song “Good Morning Baltimore,” and he went up to people and opened his coat, and I think there was nothing under it.

Boy: That’s a flasher, not a stripper!

Me: That’s right. And do you know what the difference is between the two?

Both: …no?

Me: If you’re seeing a dancer perform, you’ve paid for the opportunity to do so, and you’re in a space in which you have an expectation that there will be nudity. Flashers expose themselves to people without their consent.

Boy: You mean you PAY to see strippers?

Me: … yes. What do you call something you do that you get paid for?

Both: (blank look)

Me: You call it work. Dancers are doing sex work.

Boy: Oh, well I knew that.

Me: And calling them sex workers is more respectful to them than calling them strippers.

Boy: But I didn’t know that!

Me: Now you do, and when you know better, you do better. Got it?

Boy: Got it. I’ve never met a sex worker before.

Don’t be so sure of that.

Boy: (sputtering) MOM! What are you trying to tell me? Are you…?

Me: Sweetie, you’ve seen me dance.

Both: (laughter and agreement)

Boy: Well, then, who do I know that’s a strip- sex worker?

Me: It’s not my place to tell you the specifics of the money-making of everyone you know. My point is that you have no idea who works as a sex worker and who doesn’t unless they tell you.

Well, I know I’ve met a lawyer.

Me: (boggle eye) Uh, yes. But just like you have no idea if you’ve ever met a police officer, or a doctor, or a university professor, you have no idea if you’ve met a sex worker.

Boy: … Okay, I see what you’re saying. You’re right, I have no idea unless people tell me. By the way, have I mentioned today how much I hate how often you’re right?

Me: Yep.



  1. Sarah MacLeod said,

    August 20, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Hearts all over the place. ALL over the place.

  2. August 20, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Speaking for myself (as a “civilian”), I have always found the phrase “sex worker” to be worse than e.g. “stripper” or “prostitute”—replacing an honest word with a cold buerocratic construct. In addition it brings confusion, because my associations when I hear “sex worker” goes to prostitutes, and the stripper so labeled may not find that agreeable. (In particular, seeing that prostitution is often illegal.)

    Further, what matters is not the word, but the intents and meaning behind it. Unfortunately, this most central of realisations where euphemisms are concerned is something that the PC movement has failed to make.

    • August 20, 2011 at 9:40 am

      Having talked with sex workers/sex work advocates who have worked the gamut of what could be considered sex work, I am comfortable with my word choice. I use what I’ve been told is appropriate *by* sex workers.

      You self-identified as a “civilian.” I think it’s fair for me to err on the side of those who work/have worked in the industry. As for words not mattering as much as intent, this is a common argument used for folks who have privilege over other folks.

      Also, the point of this conversation I had with my son was less about words and more about the humanization of people whose position in this world often has them treated poorly and without respect.

      FWIW, prostitution is not illegal in Canada, though it is very difficult to practice safely because of how related laws impact the people who work in the industry.

  3. Amanda Gibeault said,

    August 21, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you! And for your thoughtful reply regarding word choice.

  4. Hazel Cohen said,

    August 21, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    I love this post!!!

  5. Anna-Louise said,

    August 21, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    Awww…big heart. I also thought you might like enjoy the comment my friend posted when I shared your post: “front of our club often people passing with kids or family , some of them saying hi and give compliment for our nice dress or outfits .i like that 🙂 we are part of Canadian sociality .”

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