I hate the word “just” — it’s so often attached to offensive and degrading bull. That “just” is meant to boil the sentiment down to the “truth”, as the speaker sees it. It’s supposed to add extra oomph to invective. It’s supposed to reduce the world to black and white. When I hear or read it in the context of sex work, it acts like a spotlight on the misogyny of whatever else is in the sentence.
This word comes around an awful lot when people want to criticize sex workers of any stripe. It can come from any gender, any age, any walk of life. Someone pronouncing you “just a [insert slur here]” is seeking to degrade you and split themselves by doing that.
“You’re just a whore”. Let’s look at this common one. Whoever utters this one against someone who is monetizing their time and sexuality is doing several things:
-They are implying that there is an unbridgeable gap between “whore” and “good girl”: This pits women against each other. It’s vile, but often effective. When you’re a woman working, earning your living, there’s one socially acceptable script, and it’s impossible.
You’re supposed to be compliant, cheerful, durable, quiet, absorb the needs of others and be happy for the privilege. These are not the qualities of human beings, they are the description of a paper towel.
Any woman putting herself and her needs first deviates from this compliance, and upsets people.
It upsets men that have been conditioned to think that women may only do certain things and still be human; it upsets women that have invested their energy into following that script, putting year after year into that lotto and hoping for a payoff in terms of financial stability.
-They are revealing that they think there’s an inherent morality in types of work: This pits working people against each other. Say you have a job at a coffee shop chain. Say you have one in a call center. Say you have one in a cubicle. At its heart, aren’t you selling your time and skills there as well?
Aren’t you expected to put on an emotional performance and persuade customers or clients to do business with your firm? The only difference is people like me do it for themselves. One is not more spiritually pure than another — we’re all rolling around in the filthy, filthy money.
Not to mention, sex workers are small business owners. They are highly skilled, tech-savvy, and adept at marketing, audio/visual work, and more. The stereotype of lounging around just waiting for money to drop falls flat as soon as you talk to someone in this field.
Laziness doesn’t last here, even if we cultivate a leisurely appearance. We have a word for this: entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is supposed to be a good, old-fashioned, American quality. Funny how it’s no longer acceptable when a woman decides to market her time and sexuality.
-They are admitting they don’t like women making money: This is the heart of the matter. “You’re just XYZ” has been levied at women in every conceivable job. I really think that the bulk of anti-sex worker rhetoric is largely the same as any other misogynist rhetoric.
The “logic” goes that women are supposed to be dependent, meek, grateful, and ignorant of their own value. We should accept whatever scraps we can get, and content ourselves with genteel poverty if luck doesn’t grace us. When we decide to make our own luck, that’s when people who have invested heavily in this thinking get mad. Clearly, we are cheating at life.
This is where it gets personal for me. When I see accusations like the “just”, I recall my own experience. I got it a lot myself before I started doing phone sex, and even alongside it, when people decide to judge my vanilla pursuits.
I’m just a hobbyist.
I’m just not capable.
I’m just not intelligent.
I’m just not realistic.
I’m just not confident enough to get a real job.
I’m just not aware of how the world works.
I have not had a single job, sexy or not, where people haven’t “just-ed” me. I’d be lying if I said I was swimming in money at any point of my resume. i’d be lying if I said I was never stressed out over work or money, even doing this job. But I am paying my bills and saving my pennies while not hating my job every day. I can be refreshed and energized even as challenges mount. Because I’m a woman doing all of this on my own terms. And that pisses people off.
I know that policing women’s language use is not a good thing to do, but if there was one word I could eliminate from my gender, it’d be this. “Just” in the sense i’ve been discussing is dangerous: It downgrades our work. It hides our talent. It “justifies” paying us less or not at all. Beware the “just” and consider what its true motives are. Then blast it out of the park.