On the day after the New York primary, a former pole-dancer reflects on the meaning of "whore" and the value of a dollar.
This morning felt victorious when I saw that Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by more than 15 points in New York, exceeding expectations, and picking up 139 more delegates which just sets her more stably on a path to earn the Democratic nomination for president.
I say victorious because it was a perfect backlash to what happened over the weekend, when a group of 100 Bernie Sanders supporters threw a thousand dollar bills at her motorcade, as she headed to a fund-raiser with George and Amal Clooney in Studio City, California, on Saturday.
I, like so many people, am angry that the Sanders supporters fail to understand the fact that the fund-raiser was raising money for down-ticket races—funds that Sanders has directly benefited from in the past, through HillPAC in 2006*, and will likely benefit from again, whether he becomes the Democratic nominee, or returns to the Senate. But there’s something else that is bugging me.
The people throwing the dollar bills at her motorcade aren’t just disrespecting the former First Lady, or the former first female partner at her law firm, or the former first female senator from New York, or the former Secretary of State—though each one of these things is awful enough that they deserve a second mention.
They are disrespecting women who actually work in those industries. Industries that are controlled by men, frequented by men, policed by men. Their rules are written by men. Their prices are determined by men.
I speak from experience: I put myself through school working at a job pole-dancing while people tossed monetary notes onto the stage. The women who go into that line of work often do so because the hours are flexible and the money is good, which is key when you’re trying to complete a degree. Many of the women I worked with were supporting families in addition to going to school. Some weren’t in school, but were nonetheless working in a field that was both legal and contributing to their community’s tax base. We were all honest taxpaying citizens.
No matter: These women are deserving of respect. I was lucky: The club I worked at was owned by a woman and run by her husband, and they were wonderfully supportive and protective of the women who worked for them, and encouraging of our efforts and work in the fields we would ultimately leave their club for.
At that job, there were rules and guards and barriers on hand to make sure that the women onstage weren’t hassled or otherwise treated with contempt or disrespect by patrons (the head of security was an ex–Navy Seal who took his job very, very, VERY seriously).
Because every woman who works in that industry deserves to be treated as a human being, and not to have the conditions of their legal job thrown in their faces.
It’s unsettling to compare the ways my colleagues and I were treated—and we were kept relatively shielded from misogynistic behavior or overtures while we worked at a place dancing for men (and, occasionally, women)—to the first front-running female presidential contender, who has had hecklers calling her a whore, throwing dollar bills at her, and shouts of, “Iron my shirts!” during her first primary campaign. Not because she was dancing on a pole in a temporary job; rather these are acts by other “progressives” and Democrats who are denigrating a woman’s career.
I’ve got a pretty good memory of how the security team at the club I worked at years ago would have responded to a patron behaving this disrespectfully toward a female employee.
The people throwing the money at Hillary Clinton’s motorcade were (to many observers and, I’m willing to bet, to at least a few of them themselves) putting themselves in the role of strip-club patrons. People who voluntarily pay to watch women dance naked, thus keeping the industry alive. And while the folks who frequent the clubs are for the most part respectful, rule-abiding patrons, there are occasionally one or two, as with any job that deals with members of the public, who simultaneously frequent these establishments at the same time that they denigrate the people working at them.
But these particular Sanders supporters did this in the spirit of denigrating her. And that’s hypocrisy. It doesn’t matter that it was all for show. It’s still hypocritical. And it legitimizes the hypocrisy of that behavior—I’m willing to bet money that several of those people have at some point in their lives gone to strip clubs, put down their money on the edge of the stage, and taken in the show, all the while looking down on the women working there right in front of them.
And this is occurring right on the heels of Paul Song’s unfortunate comments last Wednesday, when he said “Medicare for all will never happen if we continue to elect corporate Democratic whores.”
That word: “whore”—it is inescapably insulting and gendered. Which is in and of itself dismaying. Are sex workers undeserving of respect? They work in an industry that, in most countries, is overwhelmingly run and frequented and policed by men. They don’t usually have protection from abuse or harassment. In many cases—not all—they’re on the shit end of an imbalance of power in a system that relies on keeping them from making their decisions freely and of their own agency. It seems as though that would earn our sympathy, and our empathy, especially from those of us who identify ourselves as members of the progressive movement. Like Sanders supporters.
But the argument has been made that “corporate whore” has been in the lexicon for a long time now, and while “whore” might have once been gendered, it’s less so now, and that the throwing of dollar bills evoked her “ties to corporate lobbying,” etc.
I don’t buy those rationalizations. I don’t see this supposed un-coupling of implicit gendering in these insults occurring in society achieved yet no matter what some people seem to want to believe, and I’m tired of hearing people try to defend insulting the first serious female contender for the presidency by calling her a whore.
Should she win the nomination and ultimately the Presidency, I wonder what will be going through the minds of Song and the folks who threw those dollar bills at Clinton on Inauguration Day.
I wonder if they’ll even remember what they did.
I wonder if they’d admit to it if asked.
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