As the tune of “Bad Girls” filled the Michigan Union
Pendleton Room last night, various members of the sex industry put
on a medley of performance art, narratives and music to a packed
house.

Kate Green
TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily
Community members and University students await the beginning of the Sex Workers Art Show in the Michigan Union Pendleton Room last night. The show highlighted what organizers describe as a negative stigma applied to the sex industr
Kate Green
TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily
Sex Art Worker Blake Martinez plays guitar to open the Sex Workers Art Show held last night in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union. The show featured demonstrations by strippers and narratives by sex workers.

Strippers, prostitutes, phone sex operators and dominatrices
shared their talents and experiences with an enthusiastic audience
in an event sponsored by the University group rad.art
collective.

Co-sponsored by Radigrrl, Students for Choice and Students
Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, the evening gave
University students and community members a better picture of the
lives of “sex workers.”

Annie Oakley, organizer of the show, said she hoped to dispel
social and economic myths that plague sex workers in their
careers.

“Our goals are to get people to confront stereotypes about
who works in the sex industry,” she said.
“There’s a lot of mythology and fear built up around
the industry.”

Oakley rejected the idea that some forms of sex work, such as
prostitution, are harmful to women’s interests.

“Really what is anti-feminist is the idea that women
can’t make decisions for themselves,” she said.
“The charge that women are degrading themselves is classist
and racist, and often made by upper-class feminists who will never
have to make the decision (to enter sex work) for
themselves.”

When asked about the relevance of sex work to the University
community, Oakley said, “I think college-age people are
pretty politically active. I hope that they can incorporate sex
work positivity into their understanding of feminism.”

One of the performers, Carol Leigh, also known as Scarlot
Harlot, called for a greater acceptance of sex workers and the
decriminalization of prostitution.

“Culture itself defines us as ‘whores’ or
‘sluts,’ but we as sex workers also need to be
recognized as cultural identities, not just as workers,” she
said. “Decriminalization is not the solution to all the
problems of prostitution. It’s merely a beginning.”

In her book “Unrepentant Whore: Collected Works of Scarlot
Harlot,” Leigh mentioned that in 1992 her video “Outlaw
Poverty, not Prostitutes” was part of an exhibit censored by
the University’s Law School. Since then, Leigh says she has
seen society’s opinion of sex workers improve.

“At this school there is vast support to hear the voices
of sex workers,” she said.

Audience members held a variety of opinions about the issues
addressed in the show.

First-year Rackham student Carla Pfeffer expressed her interest
in the topic of sex work and the room for improvement in current
laws. “I came to the show because I wanted to learn more
about sex work and see it given a voice in a public place.
It’s one of the few professions where women make more (money)
than men,” she said.

She added that the conditions governing sex work in the United
States are much more problematic than they need to be.
“That’s because in the U.S., sex work is criminalized
and there aren’t the same protections for sex work,”
she said.

Dearborn resident Cristy Smaidy, who attended the event, said
she feels tolerance for sex workers is a greatly needed commodity
in today’s world.

“I think we are a society that is very quick to judge.
People tend to make themselves look better by putting others down.
I don’t judge. I just observe,” she
said.

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