I present the story of Deng, a woman who lives and works in a medium-sized city in China, as a sex worker. While China may seem a world apart from the UK, the situation for sex workers is almost exactly the same, and this story is the culmination of my research on the subject in the two countries. In both the UK and China, sex workers face challenges, good days and bad days, hopes and disappointments, as we all do. Unlike most of us, their work is fraught with society’s prejudices: that all sex workers are exploited, helpless, trafficked, or lack the basic ability to understand and direct their own lives.
To see all sex workers in this way is perhaps the most dangerous thing that we as a society can do. It isolates them from their communities, relegates them to a life without legal protection, access to healthcare, and leaves them more vulnerable to abuse by the police and clients. By ignoring their agency, we erase their humanity.
What does sex work have to do with gender equality? Like all women, sex workers are judged by the sex they have (too much of it, and not the right kind). Despite many organisations, collectives, demonstrations, and conferences led by and for sex workers that point to the contrary, many assume that no woman in her right mind could possibly choose to do sex work. Women like Deng challenge these assumptions.
With thanks to Deng and Dida