One of the winners of this year’s World Press Photo contest, which received over 100 000 entries, is this:
Her name is Maria, and she was photographed by Brent Stirton of South Africa, in a town in the Ukraine. It’s a haunting portrait, of a life with hard edges and no way out. The ravages of drug addiction are written across her body, as is the case for many addicts. Addiction isn’t pretty.
Why is it that such attention is drawn to the fact that she is also a prostitute? Would the portrait be any less poignant if she were on state benefits? Or picked up garbage along the highway? Or worked the night shift stocking shelves in a supermarket? We can’t tell the circumstances of Maria’s life from the portrait alone, but we are invited to make a few guesses when the word “prostitute” is attached to her face. Because prostitution is a LAST RESORT, such a TRAGIC and UNBEARABLE thing that only the most desperate of women would choose. Her life must have been HORRIBLE and UNBEARABLE in order for her to be a *gasp* prostitute. It’s almost as if being a drug addict is INEVITABLE once you have gone down that path to HOOKERVILLE.
Do you own a vagina? Do you want to have some say over what you can do with that vagina? Do you believe you have a right to decide the value of your vagina? Yes? Congratulations, you’re a whore. Here’s a case of heroin to go with your silly ideas about rights and bodily autonomy and value. You can sell access to your vagina for the price of dinner, but once you decide thanks, I’d rather just have the cash, you’ve crossed a moral line that can only be absolved with a wheelbarrow of guilt and cocaine.
Whatever. Here are some ladies who might disagree. They work in legal brothels where they are protected and have a marketing department to help them maximize the cash value of their very luscious, lovely bodies. They’re prostitutes. They might be drug addicts (who knows?). They sure as hell don’t look desperate, or tragic or guilty or in any way dissatisfied with skipping the “what’s your sign” bullshit and heading straight for sexytime.
It comes down to a pretty fundamental right: do you have autonomy over your body or not?
The portrait of Maria is stunning in its despair. But that despair probably comes from a lifetime of circumstances we can’t even imagine and a pain so profound only chemical obliviation can assuage it. She’s a sad, broken, tragic human being, but still a human being for all that. Using the word “prostitute” to describe her, as if that word alone might describe the reason for her despair, denies her humanity, reduces her to a function. Just a dirty whore.
That’s ugly and cruel and really fucking mean. Like she doesn’t have enough problems. Now she’s not Maria, sick and sad. She’s Maria, the whore. Thanks, World Press. Good job.
Equating drug addicts and prostitutes is also bloody insulting to the many, many prostitutes who LIKE their work and have chosen it freely. Check out Maggie McNeill’s blog, the Honest Courtesan if you are need of some enlightenment. www.maggiemcneill.wordpress.com. And before you turn up your nose at the idea of prostitutes ENJOYING their work, ask yourself this: have you ever let a man pick up the check and then fucked him later, because damn that was nice and he’s really hot? Really? Guess what, you’re a whore, too.
Aren’t we all?
Lots of love,