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Sexual labor as labor has long been a controversial topic in academia and one critical support to sexual workers is from legal scholars Jennifer James, Jan Withers, Marilyn Haft and Sara Theiss(1975). Evidence could be found to reveal the discriminatory situation which sex workers are facing but the scholars claim that such third-party perspective is unnecessary here. They emphasised that there would be no difference between a woman choosing to be a clerk-typist or a prostitute if it is out of her own will.


Immediately the stance was challenged by three forms of argument. First, there is no such thing as “prostitutes’ consent” and therefore, prostitution would be slavery instead of work. Second, the working nature of prostitution could be considered as ‘only doing what comes naturally’ and some believe that having sex or companionship could not be counted as profession nor accomplishment of any sort. As the radical feminist D. A. Clarke(1993) argued, ‘the mechanics of sexual stimulation are so basic and lack complexity’. The third objection, as well as the most famous one, is that sexuality is always an undividable part of oneself and the selling of sexuality would be fundamentally selling of ‘self’ (Pateman, 1988). Some refute by claiming that the sale of ‘self’ do not only exist in sex industry, but also in all productive labor under capitalism: process of alienation by Marx. Pateman differentiates prostitution from wage slaves because no other job other than prostitution would involve buyer’s unilateral rights of using women’s body directly.


In seeking autonomy in sexual industry, Pateman believes that boundary maintenance is essential in work with physically and emotionally intimate attachment. Scheff (1983) explored the notion of ‘sex workers as emotional labor’ by applying sociological perspective in it. He pointed out that emotions are shaped by cultural ideologies and can be inwardly felt and expressed. Emotion is thus producible, performable and exchangeable. Audre Lorde(1984) questioned if manipulation of emotions in intimate act and sexual desire is plausible. Her argument lied on whether ‘the erotic’, which is non-instrumental and ‘true’, can be performed. She further illustrated the idea by using pornography as example. Pornography denied the power of the erotic, in her opinion. Instead, it suppresses true feeling and  ‘alienates the unalienable’, which is women’s authentic feeling.

Hochschild(1983) raised the view of designating emotion as serving a signal function. She argued that emotions signal secret feelings and some hopes, desires, expectations or fears are not apparent to others, and to people’s own conscious. It could be something organized and socially engineered into some kinds of ability which could be performed. This, later became a very significant point of view in the discussion of emotional labor in sex industry, as it succeeds in transforming the unavoidable objectification of sex workers to a systematic, skillful and separable job.


Hochschild then elaborated her view and suggested that sexual workers should make good use of the sense of estrangement in doing the job. As sometimes prostitutes’ customers do not only desire for mere sexual relationships, but also the experience of intimacy within the whole process of sex. Knowing how to build up a character by recalling from past experiences is crucial and she rejects Lorde’s view on the objection of manipulating emotions. Instead, she thinks that sex workers could summon or create emotions through the process of ‘deep acting’, acting the experiences as real both to the customers and to themselves. By this, it causes feigning to be much easier by making it unnecessary. Moreover, such ‘deep acting’ could be practised and improved. As a result, Hochschild concluded that objectification of emotions could be something contributive: awareness and expression of feeling. There is no necessity in romanticizing the relationship between emotion and self, but such method has already achieved to create sex workers a less destructive process. That is, by controlling emotion well, it would be used as a useful tool in boundary maintenance, as pointed out by Pateman.


However, women in sex industry still face potential danger due to intensity of work, maturity of the workers, customer attitudes and cultural biases,etc, according to Hochschild. Male customers usually justified their ideology of serving their emotional needs by believing female workers ‘owe’ them respectful service. It was rooted from the traditional image of women’s deferential behavior. Unfortunately, women in sex industry remain unsecured due to the static biases towards them. Although to certain extent, the act of emotional labor raises the degree of autonomy of women in performing their job, reviews show difficulties for them to escape from shadow of social prescription and condemnation.

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