I put all my wrap-up energy into this list of the best sex work writing of 2013, so this will be short and sweet. Mostly, because most of my writing this year is in this book, which you can have come March 11, 2014:

Which now looks like this:

Books. They are inferior to blogging only in that at present, you just have to trust me about what’s in there.

Now here’s what you can read right now:

The War on Sex Workers, my feature for Reason, was my most widely read piece this year.

Sex work at the Super Bowl: the myth and its makers, for The Guardian.

Girl Geeks and Boy Kings, my review of Kate Losse’s book on Facebook for Dissent, runs right into my take on the branding of corporate feminism for The Washington Post. (Terminating in this brief follow-up, “Like” Feminism, at Jacobin.)

Who speaks for women who work in the adult industry?, for The Guardian.

For The Nation, I covered the Supreme Court case challenging the US’s decision to make HIV funding contingent on opposition to sex work.

Anti-Prostitution Pledge Heads to Supreme Court
Ending Prostitution ‘Central’ to Ending AIDS, US Tells Supreme Court
How the Anti-Prostitution Pledge Hinders AIDS Prevention
Supreme Court Strikes Down Anti-Prostitution Pledge for US Groups

For In These Times, I reported on cases of violence against women in the sex trade, and on transgender women in particular.

Sex Workers Rise Up After Fatal Stabbings, on #justiceforjasmine and #justicefordora
Better Treatment of Trans Women by Philly Police Could Have Averted Brutal Murder, on the murder of Diamond Williams

Amnesty International, human rights, and the criminalization of sex work, a behind-the-scenes on sex work policy for The New Statesman.

Spitzer v. Sex Workers, on what his campaign would rather we forget about his politics, for The American Prospect.

Don’t Trust Feminists Fighting to Keep Sex Work Illegal, on anti-sex work campaigners, for Talking Points Memo.

Betty Dodson’s Feminist Sex Wars, a long and wonderful interview for Truthout.

What the New York Times (and France) Got Wrong About Prostitution, taking up the trend of forecasting “trends” towards treating sex workers as victims, for Slate.

The Red Light and the Cloud, a history of the future of sex work, and maybe my favorite of the year, for Medium.

One of the consequences of being so in the book is I gave better interview than blog (sorry, blog). Here’s two using words I liked the most, for Autostraddle (by Carmen Rios). And one using the microphone: Radio Dispatch Live.

Along the way of writing, though, I got to travel and give some really rewarding talks, at Duke University and at Yale, and for the Labor and Working-Class History Association. Since those are folded into the book, you will have to wait.

So here’s to 2014, when I get to hand you this book and do this in person, right? Let me know where you are. I might be there.

No more debate. And ignore the johnalism. Those are my writing resolutions for 2014, after pulling together (with your help) this year of excellent writing on sex work.

No more debate – because reporting and analysis on sex work issues go way beyond the predictable pro/con, ”are sex workers responsible for the subjugation of all women? discuss!” thing, and to quote every sex work rescue program out there, we’re better than that (and if you haven’t noticed, shake your feeds up).

Ignore the johnalism – because even though those guys are still out there filing the same cliched copy (saviors gotta save), they are so clearly outnumbered, and they are outdone.

(White Savior Cat, by Scott Long)

And maybe I’m inured to the exploitation of journalism, or maybe I’m just becoming an old softie, but I noticed a lot more news stories that treated sex work absolutely uncontroversially. Like here, as evidenced in this kind note from New Orleans based journalist Alison Fenterstock on her favorite piece:

In the grand scheme of things it’s not especially awesome or groundbreaking, but I write for a mid-sized, mainstream metropolitan daily paper and was pretty pleased they went for a Super Bowl strip club story that extensively quoted an actual stripper on how not to be an asshole in strip clubs during the Super Bowl (for customers) and basic advice on how to stay safe if you had traveled to New Orleans to dance during the Super Bowl. It ran on A1 and about a year later, still gets hits every day from people Googling “New Orleans strip clubs.”

Simple, servicey, and yet still so unusual that I had to add a category for just these kinds of stories, “News Stories That Treated Sex Work Like A Real News Story.”

And now, from the depths of my Instapaper and sex work twitter to you, the list. (Oh, also: I didn’t include my work on this list. My 2013 writing is over here.)

2013: The Best in Sex Work Writing

Crime & Law Enforcement

Dragged Off By The Hair’: An Indian Sex Worker Recalls a Raid, Parker, Tits and Sass

Exposing Bullshit: Extorting Sex Work Clientele Isn’t Helping, Tizz Wall, Medium

New York’s Condom Bait-and-Switch, Emily Gogolak, Village Voice

New York Cops Will Arrest You For Carrying Condoms, Molly Crabapple, Vice

Operation Cross Country VII Roundup and Comments, Emi Koyama (in which Emi goes the mile most newsrooms did not and crunches the numbers on a coordinated, national FBI sting operation)

On LGBTQ Youth, Condoms and Police Stops, Olivia Ford,

Police officers accused of rape get a pass from the LA Times, Rania Khalek

Soho police raids show why sex workers live in fear of being ‘rescued’, Molly, The Guardian

The Big Ripoff: TER, The Texas Murder Acquittal, and the Myth of the Vulnerable Client, Charlotte Shane, Tits and Sass

Economics & Labor

Branded: The Fight for Employment After Sex Work, Kitty Stryker, Slixa

Fired for doing porn: The new employment discrimination, EJ Dickson, Salon

ICTU: Denying Sex Workers a Workers’ Identity, Wendy Lyon, Irish Left Review

‘I’d rather be a sex worker than a beggar’, Ilija Trojanovic, The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Is Exotic Dance… Dance?!, Susan Elizabeth Shepard, Pacific Standard

Gag Order: Sex Workers Allege Mistreatment at, Kate Conger, SF Weekly

“Getting Away” With Hating It: Consent in the Context of Sex Work, Charlotte Shane, Tits and Sass

Glimpses of history in Storyville’s 3 remaining buildings, Kathy Reckdahl, The Advocate (New Orleans)

The myth of seductive money, Calico Lane

Reflections on Minneapolis madams and the city’s red-light districts, Marlys Harris, MinnPost

Sex work and gentrification, Dan Bledwich, Overland

Tales of, Maggie Mayhem

Taking the Boom Out of the Boom-Boom Room: Why Are Strip Clubs Banning Rap?, Susan Elizabeth Shepard, Complex

Transition, Danny Wylde

What It Was Like to Work at the Lusty Lady, a Unionized Strip Club, Lily Burana, The Atlantic

What Prostitutes, Nurses and Nannies Have in Common, Robin Hustle, Jezebel

Wildcatting: A Stripper’s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown, Susan Elizabeth Shepard, BuzzFeed

Gender & Sexuality

Black porn, white pleasure, Feminista Jones, Ebony

Ethical sluts and “dirty whores”: Straight talk about sex work, Melinda Chateauvert, Salon

The Feminist Sex Wars and the Myth of the Missing Middle, Gayle Rubin, at Susie Bright’s blog

Gender inequality and sex work, Molly, A Sex Worker in Glasgow

Memorial draws controversy over invitation of speaker Janice Raymond, Mercedes Allen,

NWC2013: write-up & some opinions, Jennifer Moore (n.b., this long, well-researched post defies categorization, and is an essential read on sex work and the politics of exclusion)

Sex workers need support – but not from the ‘hands off my whore’ brigade, Selma James,  The Guardian

Transforming Pornography: Black Porn for Black Women, Sinnamon Love, Guernica

Unhappy Hooking, or Why I’m Giving Up on Being Positive, Sarah M.

When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland, Tressie McMillan Cottom

Why are we afraid to talk about gay porn?, Conner Habib, BuzzFeed

Why I never signed the No More Page 3 petition, Zoe Stavri


Cold Case, Good Cause, Matthew Lawrence, Providence Phoenix

Sex Workers Embrace Obamacare, Erika Fink, CNN

Higher Ed 

Campaigners for sex workers face bullying and bad data, Belinda Brooks-Gordon, The Conversation

FYI, Julie Bindel: Your Ideas About Sex Work Research Affect Sex Work Students, Sarah M.

On Good Research, Lori Adorable, SWOP-NYC

Why Pornography Deserves Its Own Academic Journal, Lynn Comella, Pacific Standard

Human Rights

Activists Campaign Against Philadelphia Judge Who Ruled Rape as Theft, Tara Murtha, RH Reality Check

Both Transphobic and Whorephobic: The Murder of Dora Oezer, Caty Simon, Tits and Sass

Equality Now, or Else?, Parker, Tits and Sass

Forty Years in the Hustle: Q&A with Margo St. James, Anne Gray Fischer, Bitch

Misery to Ministry: Kathryn Griffin’s Prostitution Rehab in Texas, Kate Zen, Slixa

Rescue is for Kittens: Ten Things Everyone Needs to Know about ‘Rescues’ of Youth in the Sex Trade, Emi Koyama

Sex imperialism, Scott Long

Sex slave story revealed to be fabricated, Simon Marks and Phorn Bopha, The Cambodia Daily

Talking to Sex Workers About Fighting for Their Rights, Feminism, and More, Lauren Rankin, RH Reality Check

The “Ugly Truth:” Ad Campaigns about the Sex Trade Will Always Fail…, Hadil Habiba, Prison Culture guest post

“What Antis Can Do To Help,” Part 1 and Part 2, Lori Adorable, Tits and Sass

What India’s Sex Workers Want: Power, Not Rescue, Michelle Chen, In These Times

Law & Policy

Arizona’s Tenacious Laws Against Sex Workers, Jordan Flaherty, Truthout

Canada’s Supreme Court Striking Down Prostitution Laws, Brooke Magnanti, Reason

Enduring (the) Myths: Sex Work, Decriminalisation and the Nordic Model, Nine, Feminist Ire

I am a former escort. Trust me, criminalizing prostitution doesn’t help, Matthew Lawrence, The Guardian

Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores, Laura Agustín, Jacobin

Red-light greenlight: Sex work at the brink of legalization, Justin Ling, The Coast

Sex Workers in France Resist Attacks on Their Liberty, Michelle Chen, In These Times

Something Rotten in the State of Sweden, Nine, The Toast

Treating Sex Work as Work, Maggie McNeill, Cato Unbound

What Prostitutes Can Teach the Canadian Government, Samantha Majic, Washington Post Monkey Cage blog

When XXX Doesn’t Mark the Spot, Yasmin Nair, In These Times

Media Criticism

Cold Cases, Susan Elizabeth Shepard, The New Inquiry

Condom debate offers another chance to explain porn personnel to us, Gram Ponante

The Feminist Porn Book, Caty Simon, Tits and Sass

Feministe Can’t Just Make Their Sex Work Problems Disappear, Chris Hall, Literate Perversions

Mira Sorvino, CNN child-sex series ‘shameful’ for Cambodians, Michelle Tolson, Asian Correspondent

On the Importance of Writing Accurately About Sex Work, Stoya, Vice

Sauna Raids and Silenced Sex Workers, Mrs Misandry, A Thousand Flowers

Study Abroad, Charlotte Shane, The New Inquiry

Why Is The Canadian Media Still Referring To Sex Workers As Prostitutes?, Sarah Ratchford, Vice

Why This Video Needs to Fuck Off, eithnecrow (also awarding this one, ’2013 Best Response To An Upworthy Headline’)

Memoir & Personal Essays

How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, Amber Dawn

Prose & Lore, the Red Umbrella Project literary journal

News Stories That Treated Sex Work Like A Real News Story

Argentina’s prostitutes – mothers first, sex workers second, Roberta Radu, The Guardian

California Prostitutes Win Victims Compensation, AP

Louisiana Overhaul of Discriminatory Law: Hundreds Cleared from Sex Offender List, Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams

Police Harassment In Louisiana May Be Increasing The Number Of People Dying From AIDS, Tara Culp-Ressler, ThinkProgress

Porn and Banks: Drawing a Line on Loans, Chris Morris, CNBC

Porn industry trade group halts production for third time this year, Massoud Hayoun, Al Jazeera America

Sex workers meet to demand rights, Ambika Pandit, Times of India

Politics (Electoral)

The Twitter feed of Lynsie Lee (and this decent interview)

And yes, I am including the Sydney Leathers sexting how-to


Stoya, Pop Star of Porn, Amanda Hess, Village Voice

How porn star Courtney Trouble is starting a queer revolution, Lynn Comella, Las Vegas Weekly


The Feminist Porn Book
(Valerie Solanas referring to the text)

The Feminist Porn Book has been one of the more fun books to take along on the subway. With this hanging out in my purse over the last few weeks and back in the headlines for unfair labor practices, I took the chance to interview some porn performers and producers about porn as women’s work, and how feminist porn can be a feminist labor issue. That’s up at the Guardian.

Maxine Holloway and Bella Vendetta had way more to say than I could fit in print, and I wasn’t able to get in one of my favorite excerpts from the book, from an essay by Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood, on the resurgence of anti-porn feminism and its’ complicated relationship with the internet:

“…the current wave of antipornography campaigning draws on the arguments of the 1970s and 1980s antiporn feminists but do so in interesting ways – for example, although they build on the central tenets of Andrea Dworkin’s analysis of the misogyny and cruelty of pornographers, they posit this as a prescient account but one that could never have envisaged the ‘juggernaut’ of the Internet… this complex narrative of nostalgia and futurology is a central theme in these accounts where pornography is acknowledged as an already exisiting feature of the landscape, but one that has developed outside the knowledge of ‘ordinary’ adults and needs urgent redress.”

There’s also been some fascinating conversation on Susie Bright’s blog, about how the book positions the current sex positive community with or possibly against the late 1970s and early 1980s contributions of feminists, particularly those who identified as sex radical feminists.

In an open letter to the editors of The Feminist Porn Book, Gayle Rubin (whose “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” is an essential text) writes that in both the introduction to their book and in media surrounding it, the editors seem to be proposing a “middle ground” between what could be read as “extreme” ideologies held by both sex positive and anti-porn camps. “This way of framing the history of debate over pornography within feminism is not uncommon,” writes Rubin, “but it is dead wrong.” She continues:

“This version of the story requires mischaracterizing most of us who were involved in the early arguments by casting us as unreasonable extremists who celebrated pornography without qualifications. It fails to recognize that we– essentially the first generation of feminist critics of the antiporn movement– made most of these so-called “reasonable middle” points in the late 1970s and early 1980s, back at the time when the porn debates first ignited.”

Responding to Rubin, the editors write:

“While noting this tremendous diversity and productive potential [in porn], sex positive feminist critics have not yet fully analyzed the tremendous production of feminist pornographies that has emerged in the past fifteen years. When we say these pornographies have been “lost in the middle,” we mean that critical work on emerging forms of feminist pornography needs to be engaged if we want to continue to advance the cause of sex positive feminism. That’s what our book is intended to do.”

It’s true – most writing about the sex industry in the last fifteen years (not that I just did a lit review, but I did) focuses on first-person storytelling about workplace experiences. Porn performers are often under-represented in this literature, and porn producers (even if they are also performers themselves) are often not represented because they occupy a management role. There’s comparatively less work exploring the production or business side of any sex industry. (There’s also a whole other conversation to be had, about whether or not producers or managers are sex workers, or should be part of sex workers’ spaces (and literature), but it’s somewhere The Feminist Porn Book does shine, in bringing together people who both perform in and produce (and study) feminist pornographies, in the same space, even if they aren’t on quite even footing.)

I wonder if this is why Tristan Taormino responded to my piece, which concerned feminist porn as labor, by saying she didn’t think the performers I spoke with were “representative,” which I disagree with. I’ve heard one of the frustrations I wrote about – that feminist porn doesn’t pay what “mainstream” porn pays – quite a bit, both from colleagues in porn at the time I was working, and from those who still work in feminist porn. This issue of pay deferential isn’t just about what an individual producer can or chooses to pay; it’s about resources, and how under-resourced women’s work and women’s own businesses are. It’s something I’d love to read more about, from performers’ perspectives. (Here’s one take on the question, of how to pay and pay fairly, from a feminist porn producer, Ms. Naughty.)

Back to Rubin, though. Her generation of feminist porn thinkers brought a class politics to their porn politics, one of the most important contributions of the early sex radical feminists, and one that has almost been lost. It’s one of the more challenging things to me about explaining “sex positivity” to those who have no idea what it means (most people), because I find myself digging for a politics of sex positivity, and to find it, I end up back quoting Rubin, Carole Vance, Amber Hollibaugh, Ellen Willis – women who were producing a theory of sexuality and feminism thirty years ago. (In fact, the legendary Barnard Conference on Sexuality was held here in New York in 1982. I wish was had thought to produce a reunion or tribute. I’d love to be in that room.)

In this early sex radical writing and thinking about sexuality and feminism, the actual production of feminist porn might not yet be present (it can’t really yet be), but what is much more upfront is a grounding of this whole enterprise, of sex and gender, in questions about power and class and inequality. Talking about compulsory heterosexuality and motherhood, the uncompensated labor of sex and sexual reproduction, and all the connections between the devaluation of women’s labor and women’s sexuality are what sex radical feminists used to destabilize anti-porn feminism’s recapitulation of female virtue (whether within straight or lesbian monogamy).

These women are the roots of this work, and more urgently, they are the roots I don’t know that my generation (X-ish? Y-ish?) has yet to fully add our own analysis to – of what the questions of power and inequality raised by sex radicals thirty years ago mean to sex positive feminists today. This book is one step in that direction, but it leaves me wanting more, and a more that will require reincorporating the analyses of labor and class that (honestly, most) feminism has sheared off since the 1980s. In trying to understand this gap in analysis and shared history (which is I think what we see in these two open letters), I want to better understand where “sex radical” and “sex positive” feminisms converge and split off from one another. I don’t think they are the same thing, and I think we lost something when “sex radical” (mostly) dropped off the radar. If this transition, from sex radical giving way to sex positive, mirrors anything like the parallel changes in queer and women’s movements, it follows a time, moving from the 80s to the 90s, of an underclass getting more visible, and later, getting more respectable, while still preserving an underclass within the people just barely formerly known as the underclass.

I know it might be hard to to conceive of “sex positivity” as respectable in anyone’s eyes. But just as when Pride went corporate and when feminism becomes a corporate slogan, when “sex positivity” became closely identified (if not entirely identified) by sex toy stores and sex positive porn, where did our ways of talking about inequality go? (Fave exploration of this I’ve ever read is this 1999 piece by Mimi Thi Nguyen, for Punk Planet.) Where are those analyses being developed (over a coffee counts, I’m not just talking classrooms) and where can others find them? The ground work has been done; it’s just a matter of reaching back and asking new questions. (And I’d love to hear your questions, about feminisms, sex positivity, and inequalities, here.)

Feminist author and activist Kat Banyard’s arguments against the sex industry (in the Guardian over the weekend) are so flat they could have come from the original GIF craze era. This isn’t unique to Banyard; I’ve heard the same shabby claims from many different kinds of people who also have no expertise in the trade, be they university professors, journalists, NGO workers, or policy makers.

So for the sake of having a handy reply, here we are – a typical anti-sex work argument, using Banyard’s words as just the most recent example of a quite exhausted line of thinking, set to motion pictures and annotated for your future reference.

“Commercial sexual exploitation has been industrialised, on a global scale, and the profits for a small few at the top – pimps and pornographers – are astronomical.” [1]

“You can’t commodify consent.” [2]

“The inherent harm at the heart of this transaction we see evidenced in the astronomical rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.” [3]

“It’s often argued that it’s just like stacking shelves. That it is ordinary work, just like any other work. But if you’re stacking shelves, is it a bit different if your manager says: ‘Right, before you go at the end of your shift can you give me a blowjob?’” [4]

“People see it as an inevitable aspect of our life that commercial sex is now firmly embedded in society, and the point is there’s an alternative.” [5]

“It’s not inevitable. As a society we can choose whether or not it exists.” [6]


[1] Figures on sex industry profits are notoriously unreliable, as the majority of what is considered the sex industry operates within a larger informal economy. Sometimes you’ll see the estimate that [the sex industry/sex trade/sex trafficking/sex slavery – it's never clear what they mean] profits “87 million a daythrown about, which appears to be extrapolated from an ILO estimate of global profits from forced labor. That – as an economist friend pointed out – is about a dollar a day per adult male in the US. That’s not even a real sex trade figure, mind you. The exception is the mainstream porn industry, which self-reports its own profits – which are also quite easy to debunk if you dig a bit: here’s Forbes doing just that in 2011, challenging a report that porn nets $12-$14 billion annually, which is still not very much money using that “how much per US man per day” model. But you know, “astronomical” at least sounds big.

[2] This grossly exaggerates what is being sold in a commercial sexual exchange. Though it would make for a fascinating argument if extended to other forms of labor – can we commodify consent to offer child care, food preparation, psychotherapy?

Perhaps Marx has something to offer on this one?

[3] More astronomy metaphors! This seems to be pointing towards a survey of incarcerated women who had been involved in the sex trade from 1998,  which was conducted by an anti-prostitution advocate who submitted this study as testimony before courts as evidence for criminalizing prostitution. A Canadian court refused to accept this as evidence in a case in 2010.

[4] That would be sexual harassment, not sex work. Feminists fought long and hard to create a workable definition of sexual harassment. Let’s not wreck it just to claim that sex workers, unlike other workers, have no expectation of consent at work.

[5] Here is where it’s not useful to make a “world’s oldest profession” defense. Instead, you could point out that the only significant “alternative” offered by sex work opponents to date has been prison. (Or a laundry that looks like a prison. Or a sweatshop that looks like a prison.) For opponents to sex work, an “alternative” is usually understood as an alternative sexual outlet for men, not alternative employment for women.

[6] We actually can’t, as a “society,” “choose” whether or not sex work exists. (What a notion, btw, “choice,” re: those who want to eradicate sex work! So for Banyard, “choice” is just a neoliberal fantasy when it comes to sexual expression and power, but when it comes to abolishing sex work and sex workers’ livelihood along with it, that is an unproblematized choice?) What “society” (which is not a flat object) can do and has done, through the power of the state supported by business, is to marginalize sex work and in so doing marginalize sex workers as people. It can, with the law as an instrument, coerce sex workers out of sex work. That is quite different than “choosing” to end sex work. But that is, from the code of Hammurabi to the brute arm of Giuliani, how that “choice” has been expressed. We can have no meaningful proposal on the “end” of commercial sex without proposing an end to patriarchy and to capitalism. Let’s stretch our imaginations, young feminists, shall we? It’s what we’re here for.

by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Melissa

Nick Kristof is a big fan of workplace evaluation for teachers—so we hope he won’t mind if we gather and share the following by way of conducting a performance review of our own.

The occasion? This week Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half The Sky premieres on PBS as a two-part mini series, providing an opportunity for his audience to step into his well-worn white savior shoes. From this unique vantage point, viewers will survey the lives of young women whom Kristof and WuDunn have chosen as the best ciphers for their agenda, to, as the subtitle of their book puts it, “turn oppression into opportunity.”

Yet even linguistically, something nags about that title: one does not go from being oppressed to being opportuned—or do they? Perhaps a better question to ask is: for whom does Kristof’s particular mode of humanitarianism provide opportunity? Some young women may benefit, certainly. But NGOs, private-public partnerships, and other enterprising (and entrepreneurial) young do-gooders are jumping into the fray, too. All turning oppression into opportunity—but ultimately not doing much about eradicating the oppression in the first place.

When Kristof is not proposing dubious schemes for advancing women’s rights—like arresting sex workers in order to “rescue” them from prostitution, or enthusiastically supporting the creation of “sweatshops” to accommodate sex workers and other women in the global south—he is marshalling support for such “solutions,” enlisting folks from George Clooney to President Obama, and from evangelical youth missionaries to the United Nations. Everyone seems to love that he’s created simple solutions (Video games! Donating money! Building schools!) but few note that such “solutions” fail to address the deeply embedded, long-standing, structural problems that cause poverty and gender inequity in the first place.

Let’s not forget that although Kristof may position himself like a walking, talking, reporting NGO, Kristof is not himself a charitable venture. He is a media-maker: his job is to talk and get talked about. Each young woman’s story that he tells bolsters up his own brand; each solution he offers casts himself in a prime-time starring role.

Nicholas Kristof: A Collective Evaluation

The Soft Side of Imperialism (Laura Agustín)

Here he is beaming down at obedient-looking Cambodian girls, or smiling broadly beside a dour, unclothed black man with a spear, whilst there he is with Ashton and Demi, Brad and Angelina, George Clooney. He professes humility, but his approach to journalistic advocacy makes himself a celebrity. He is the news story: Kristof is visiting, Kristof is doing something.

In interviews, he refers to the need to protect his humanitarian image, and he got one Pulitzer Prize because he “gave voice to the voiceless”. Can there be a more presumptuous claim? Educated at both Harvard and Oxford, he nevertheless appears ignorant of critiques of Empire and grassroots women’s movements alike. Instead, Kristof purports to speak for girls and women and then shows us how grateful they are.

The White Savior Industrial Complex (Teju Cole)

I want to tread carefully here: I do not accuse Kristof of racism nor do I believe he is in any way racist. I have no doubt that he has a good heart. Listening to him on the radio, I began to think we could iron the whole thing out over a couple of beers. But that, precisely, is what worries me. That is what made me compare American sentimentality to a “wounded hippo.” His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated “disasters.” All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need.

Be Aware: Nick Kristof’s Anti-Politics (Elliott Prasse-Freeman)

Kristof’s ability to frame and deliver the world’s horrors to millions—in a way that keeps those millions coming back for more—seemingly should make him worthy of the hero worship that has attended his rise. Indeed, what is worse than a privileged bourgeois population that knows nothing of the way the other half (or rather the other 99 percent) lives? And yet the devil as always remains in the details—or in Kristof’s case, the lack of details. For, when exploring why Kristof has become a high priest of liberal opinion in America (arrogating the right to speak on almost any sociopolitical phenomenon, provided it involves an easily identifiable victim), we crash into what can be called Kristof’s anti-politics: the way his method and style directly dehumanize his subjects, expelling them from the realm of the analytical by refusing to connect them to systems and structures that animate their challenges.

Mr. Kristof, I Presume? (Kathryn Mathers)

All of the copies of Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky were checked out of the libraries of nearby universities last summer. My students know that there are problems with the development and aid industries and can even offer biting critiques of celebrity interventions in aid programs in Africa. But they believe that they can do it better, that their generation understands the failures and can solve them, and that their intentions are pure enough to overcome the cynics. Their confidence is made possible in part by the examples of individual young Americans just like them establishing and running educational, health, and technological programs in Africa trumpeted by a serious journalist like Kristof in a serious newspaper like the New York Times. Kristof’s writing about humanitarianism in Africa makes possible a very limited but accessible form of aid by asking his readers to focus on what they can do and the importance of one individual saving another. So, no, I do not want to write about Nicolas Kristof. But I must, because he has claimed such an authoritative voice in conversations about Americans’ relationship to Africans that he has somehow made the act of writing about them an actual intervention in the lives of poor people in the world.

You need Nicholas Kristof (Dan Moshenberg)

If you’re an African girl in trouble, there are only two things you can rely on. Your courage … and Nicholas Kristof. At least, that’s what Kristof would have us believe.

The story Kristof tells is the story he’s told before. This time he’s in Sierra Leone. A 15-year-old girl named Fulamatu is raped by her neighbor. This happens repeatedly, and Fulamatu remains in terrified and terrorized silence. She loses weight, becomes sick. Finally, when two girls report that the pastor had tried to rape them, Fulamatu’s parents put two and two together, and asked their daughter, who reports the whole series of events. They take her to the doctor, where she is found to have gonorrhea. Fulamatu lays charges against the pastor, who flees.

That’s where Kristof comes in… He argues for US Congressional passage for the International Violence Against Women Act, but his story suggests a more important line of action. The story says, if you’re Black and a girl, in `a place like Sierra Leone’, you better have the phone number of a prominent White American Male. You need Nicholas Kristof.

Obama, Please Ignore Kristof For Now (Melissa)

Nicholas Kristof has been issuing ad-hoc Presidential guidance on the sex trade for years now. The archive of his editorial column in the New York Times serves as a record of his proposals. In 2004, he “bought the freedom” of two women working in brothels in Poipet, Cambodia with the intention of returning them to their villages. Kristof wasn’t prosecuted under US law for the purchase of sex slaves — he wrote of this sale as an “emancipation,” and in 2005, he was back in Poipet to check up on the women. One had returned to prostitution, prompting Kristof to offer another round of recommendations to President Bush, pleading with him to commit the United States to a New Abolitionism. Now he’s back with his 2009 agenda, delivered like the others, as a kicker to his column. In it, he asks that the Obama administration pressure the Cambodian government to bust more brothels, on the premise that the risk of going to jail for selling sex will hurt brothel owners’ profits and will protect more women from abuse and violence. Yet such stings and raids are already the centerpiece of a disastrous crackdown on Cambodian prostitution.

Nick Kristof to the rescue! (Irin Carmon)

The narrative proceeded in a familiar fashion: There were villains, even some with military ties; then there is a rescue. Kristof tweeted, “Girls are rescued, but still very scared Youngest looks about 13, trafficked from Vietnam.” And then, “Social workers comforting the girls, telling them they are free, won’t be punished, rapes are over.” He was accompanied by Cambodian anti-trafficking activist and forced-prostitution survivor Somaly Mam. Post-presidential niece Lauren Bush chimed in perkily, “Awesome reporting by @NickKristof as the (sic) raided a brothel in Cambodia with @SomalyMam this morning!” The trouble is, nothing involving sex work is ever quite as cut-and-dried as a sweeping rescue.

The Rescue Industry (Paper Bird)

During the Egyptian Revolution, when the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof was wandering Midan Tahrir giving the uprising his ponderous approval, I told friends that if Mubarak wanted to get at least one pesky journalist off his back, he need only give Nick directions to Clotbey Street — the capital’s ancient red-light district — and tell him there were girls who needed saving. Such is Kristof’s passion to rescue misused and trafficked women that he would have dropped everything to head there. And given that Nick permits no struggle for human freedom to go on without him, the revolt would surely have been suspended, and Mubarak would still be in charge.

A human trafficker defends Cambodian sweatshops (Erik W Davis)

Kristof suggests that an expansion of bad sweatshop conditions (and despite relatively better conditions, Cambodian factories are largely sweatshops) is a solution to poverty. He’s full of it. His heart might be in the right place, but he’s stopped using his reason. The factories are not doing the job that development economists expected it to do from the beginning, which was to industrialize the country and expand the off-farm job base (and therefore, reduce poverty). Today, 91% of Cambodian heads of households still list agriculture as their primary employment, and at least 80% still live in the impoverished provinces. The factories won’t expand (indeed, as I point out, they are rapidly shrinking) just because Kristof thinks that the scavengers at Stung Meanchey dump could use a better form of subsistence.

FarmVille (Maggie McNeill)

If Kristof had ever demonstrated some actual regard for the complex and often contradictory desires, needs and behaviors of real women I might not read this subtext into his silly game, but he hasn’t; females of every age are simply props to him, little game-pieces whose function is the aggrandizement of Nicholas Kristof. He treats the real lives of sex workers as FarmVille players treat the existence of their virtual creatures: as things to be manipulated for profit and “points”. He uses the stories of girls to build up his own reputation, exaggerating their lurid details and reworking them into enslavement porn from which he reaps the profit while condemning others as “pimps” (talk about pot calling kettle black…) He participates in Hollywood cowboy “brothel raids”, then never stops to wonder what happened to the women he “rescued” afterward. And he no more bothers to consider what the girls he “rescues” and writes about might want than a FarmVille player considers the desires of his digital farm animals. To Kristof, individual women are as interchangeable and passive as endlessly-duplicated digital beasts, and our function is to stay wherever he puts us and earn him money and status.

Have your own “critical take”?

Let us know in the comments.

Anne Elizabeth Moore has been working in and around young women’s issues in Cambodia for five years. Her book Cambodian Grrrl has been suggested as a Half The Sky alternative, for folks made reasonably uncomfortable with white neoliberal portrayals of feminism. 

Melissa writes on gender, sexuality, politics, and more often than she would like, on badvocacy like Half The Sky. She is indebted to the sex worker rights’ activists around the world and in Cambodia in particular for their firsthand accounts of the damage this dude has wrought.

If you are reporting a story about sex work that requires sex workers as sources, and you find yourself blindly emailing escorts on the Internet for quotes? Stop. You don’t have sources and you probably don’t have a story. You have what your readers already have – the Internet.

Magic Mike isn’t a critique of capitalism, even if it is a stripper movies about dudes. “I don’t understand why if a guy is naked in public, it’s comedy,” asks Diablo Cody in an interview with Marc Maron many months before the movie came out, which is circulating again now. ”And if a woman does it, it’s tragedy.” Because sexism, okay, but also, because herself. Because a few seconds before that Diablo says she “wouldn’t be here today” if she hadn’t “put walls up,” if she had “surrendered to it.”

At the same time Diablo was blogging from her peep show booth in the Midwest, so was I, in California. I did it longer than she did. Am I a real stripper? Did I “surrender”?

Unlike anything else you can do for money, including dangerous things, in sex work, needing the money is somehow the dangerous part. And it’s considered a lesser motivation than “intellectual” ones.

Marc Maron didn’t ask me (he asked Diablo, a writer), but: I’m a writer by necessity. I get paid for intellectual reasons: I can’t afford to do what is necessary for me – to write – without it being my job.

“It always looks better in the rear view,” a former drug addict and journalist advised me once, on talking about sex work and how I did it, as a journalist myself.

“There’s no such thing as gonzo journalism in this,” I told the interns at The Nation at a seminar last week. There’s no such thing as “doing it for the story.” While you’re “making your name” as a sex worker, you aren’t: you’re making your rent. There’s your body, and there’s the story, and at least to start, they’re both in the the same place.

(A twist: in Sheila McClear’s excellent memoir Last of the Live Nude Girls, she recounts both the divey strip club she worked at and the way she wrote about it at the time for publication, but without revealing she had worked there, until she wrote about it again for the memoir.)

Diablo Cody and Channing Tatum, each in their own way, stripped towards Hollywood. Magic Mike stripped towards – it’s not clear, actually, at the end of the movie. He stripped towards love? Artisanal furniture? Maybe he didn’t strip towards anything. Maybe he just quit. Can’t you just quit and change jobs? Without indicting the life you lived and worked at before that moment? Without it being a statement? Without taking swipes at the people in the rear view?


Cartagena brothel, Meridith Kohut, NYT

All this slideshow package from the New York Times, “Life Inside a Brothel in Cartagena,” makes me want is to set each photo alongside the home bedroom photo of each worker. Or better, any other woman in Cartagena.

1. FIRST LOOK!: in which one photograph will launch some clicks (winner: New York Daily News)

2. CREATIVE TAXONOMY: “excort”  (winner [again!]: New York Daily News)


“a short jean skirt, high-heeled espadrilles and a spandex top with a plunging neckline”


5. HER LOST CLUB SINGLE (predicted: Gawker)


Re: this whole Secret Service “sex scandal” that began in the Colombian city of Cartgena just ahead of a summit attended by President Obama, I just can’t. Is that a bored-whore posture? Oh no, another prostitution scandal! Loosely involving a Democrat (or a Democratic regime), which guarantees nothing good can come from it on the Left, and lots of madness will come of it on the Right, and just about nothing good will come of it for any of the sex workers involved. I first heard about it late Friday night in the Washington Post, and aside from speculating what headline the New York Post was going to go with (ICYMI: SECRET SERVICED), I tried to just let. it. go.

Now today it’s A1 above-the-fold in the New York Times, so I guess it’s back? Or I have to say something. Okay.

Charlotte Shane, over at (my favorite sex work blog) Tits and Sass already covered the possible corners this story will get dragged into – the legal status of prostitution in Colombia, the martial status of the agents involved, the role of the military in the cover-up, sketchy feelings about national security, and, lest we forget, the spectre of “sex slavery.” You could just read that and stop if you wanted.

But the thing the Times did that I was hoping someone with a reporting budget would do? Get an interview with the woman “at the center of the scandal!” as they say in these things.

At least women get to be at the center of something? Though truly the thing at the center of this scandal is yet another man trying to cheat a woman out of her pay.

(Did that sound sort of second wave? It was on purpose.)

The thing that no one really knew as this thing broke, and that I suspected had to be part of the story… as it’s ridiculous that of upwards of a dozen Secret Service and military dudes in a hotel, all conniving to shut up a woman one had paid for sex, that there was only one woman being paid for sex? (Come on.)

What happened was this: solidarity, motherfuckers. There were (at least) two escorts working together, looking out for each other in the club where they picked up their clients (no matter what the Secret Service bro insists, that he was shocked that there were prostitutes in that bottle service section). That as soon as one of the women was facing difficulty in getting paid by her client, she could storm across the hall and get back-up.

That’s just so beautiful.

And the kind of thing, under most anti-prostitution law in the US, that could get you charged with pimping, pandering, or conspiracy.

Sex workers here do it anyway, of course: have each other’s backs. It’s not front page news to us. Neither is it that clients will, on occasion, try to rip you off. But that you can incite an international incident over it? That’s just beautiful.