Our borders, ourselves: Thoughts on double standards and slut-shaming in the media

| April 11, 2013
Our borders, ourselves: Thoughts on double standards and slut-shaming in the media

I am the Condom Girl -- the one flagged as a suspected sex worker at the U.S. border and subjected to a series of escalating bizarre treatments and attitudes. I had no idea when I wrote my personal account for rabble.ca that my story would result in radio interviews, headlining Metro, more re-tweets than I care to count, and, of course, hate mail. It's been one of the craziest weeks of my life, and certainly the most public.

 There's no doubt in my mind that one reason my story gained the attention it did was that it screamed "sexy" at every juncture. Between adultery, lingerie, condoms, nude modelling, prostitution and a picture of me (young, white, female) which I now realize features my shirt practically falling off, there's no way the media could resist. But another reason I have to suggest is that I was positioned as, and am, so darned privileged that this "shouldn't" have happened to me.

 I wasn't featured nationally in Metro as "Uneducated girl is accused of sex work" but rather as "UBC student." I didn't join CBC's Daybreak show as "Sex worker/adulteress treated as second class citizen" but rather, "Woman files complaint after border crossing nightmare." So long as I was positioned as privileged, and, sometimes by proxy, innocent, my story had shock value. Because when bad things start happening to innocent, educated white people, they could happen to anyone -- or rather, other privileged people. And that is very, very scary.

Discussion of my story has centred around U.S. border control -- as if slut-shaming, whorephobia and rape-supportive beliefs could exist in a vacuum or an isolated social site. True, steps taken at the border were vaguely disguised as measures to prevent human trafficking (although it was never actually brought up; one Aruban Immigration officer did lackadaisically mention that I should tell her if I was a slave), or as necessary to protect the security of the United States or women in general. But the people I met at the border were not necessarily bad people, but rather, (dare I say it) were acting in the context of a slut-shaming, whorephobic and rape-supportive society.

We can't disown their actions as having nothing to do with the status quo that we live in everyday simply because they were border guards or American. Canadian guards have given American friends of mine remarkably similar trouble. And since when has Canadian policy or society opened its arms to warmly embrace sex workers as citizens, as workers, as complex individuals with complex relationships with their work?

Let's not take this opportunity to start patting ourselves on the back that at least we're not that bad -- just because our country could always be worse is hardly cause for celebration. Violence and indifference towards sex workers, especially at the hands of our police, is common place in Canada. And right here in Montreal innocent people are being arrested for exercising their right to protest.

I've stopped answering the point-blank question of whether or not I am, was, or ever will be a sex worker. I like to entertain the half-mad fantasy that no matter whom one has consensual sex with or why, one is irrevocably a human deserving respect and rights. The point is: when sex and sexuality are criminalized, people are made illegal and their rights made moot.

When abusive treatment happens to "actual" sex workers, immigrants, non-whites or people who are otherwise not awarded the kind of power and voice that I was and am, there is, I believe, a generalized apathy.

If I were a sex worker, I might have "deserved" the treatment I received, or my detainment might have "made sense." If I were from a minority group or were not as educated in the English language, my story might not have provoked the shock and outrage that it did. And rather than receiving the reaction "That should never happen to anyone,” often the reaction I still get is "That should never have happened to you."

It's time to broaden the discussion.

 

Clay Nikiforuk is a recent Creative Writing graduate from UBC and lives in Montreal. She is currently writing her first book exploring and critiquing the sociology of sexual assault. When not reading, writing or getting into vehement debates with strangers, she is dancing, taking pictures, and an avid potluck-attendee. To help fund her book you can go to http://www.gofundme.com/jenniesbook 

 

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