Sex Work: Within And Without The Male Gaze
By Cherry Jubilee
I recently learned the term “male gaze”, which may seem absurd coming from a 38 year old woman who's been entrenched in the world of women and women's accomplishments since a young age. Blame it on my lack of formal study. But, I learned. I learned by Googling after interviewing an older feminist. And, in retrospect, I learned from experience.
The male gaze is very evident when you work in sex work. I've performed as a burlesque dancer, which some say falls outside the lines of sex work. Others say burlesque falls squarely in the lines, seeing as the art is steeped in the traditions of 1950s pin-up and performance. Burlesque, whichever view of it you take, turns the male gaze on its head.
Women in Burlesque choose not only how to represent their sexuality, but also how and where to give men access to it. The stage is vaudevillian: the interplay between female and male, the heavy subjects of sex, dating, and relationships made trivial with fun and frivolity. What can weigh us down when everything is a tap dance or a song or a waving fan or a rollicking beat and a shimmy and a shake? It’s light and music and your body in time. You are the whole world. And the only men in sight, save for the audience who waits with bated breath on your every movement, are drag kings or carefully genteel MCs.
But, the male gaze slams you when you step off the burlesque stage. I've worked as a nude erotic model, and, while you may argue that nude modeling for an art school is not sex work, modeling your private parts for sale to private collections certainly is. It went smoothly for two sessions. I would pose with my legs open, laying back so the artist could get full access, and he would coat my pussy and lower torso with latex to hold the plaster mold in place and make it easy to remove from my skin. Then he poured the plaster over the latex to form a casting.
The process was the same with my breasts, and my castings were intended to become bronze sculptures. His work was lovely; he had a number of previous plaster castings in his studio garage and showed me earlier vulva work from another model he’d displayed in a silk-lined deep frame. There were other examples, pictures of work he'd sold abroad to private erotica collections. This was in his private residence and all seemed well at first. Then, he became flirty; on the third session, he propositioned me for sex.
I asked to leave, and he paid me and made no further advance. I was lucky, but I drove away angry. Why is my work showing my body equal to asking for sex? It's the same when I mention dancing. While the stage is a safe zone, I often find it dicey to mention working in burlesque. It's a little too sexual for some people. Why is sex both a commodity and a no-no? And working in sex feels like both a commodity and a no-no or sometimes not a profession at all.
I'm looking for more opportunities. I always am. I almost became a cam model but decided against it for multiple reasons. I don't have a traditional porn body, though am more interested in that avenue these days. Mostly, I'd like to do sex positive work wherever I can find it. And, I would like to be treated with respect while doing so, before, during, and after.
Sex work is part of my life, and, while I'm also a survivor, it's not because of sex work. I don't feel shame for what I do, nor does my husband. He certainly does not suffer from the male gaze; in fact, he does the cooking and much of the house work, including the laundry. I sit and write. And look for more sex work. It's a life, and we all deserve to get paid and respected for doing it. And we all deserve to be lifted outside of the male gaze and treated like the goddesses we are.
And I, and others like me, will fight and speak and speak again until we're there.
But why, you say, do you publish under a stage name, a pseudonym, a nom de plume? Cherry Jubilee, to be blunt, is a safe name. Because not only is the male gaze strong and real, but our country is conditioned to relegate sex to the sidelines. I am not welcome to be an open sex worker and a writer/artist who works in a variety of genres. Do you know that some sex workers also work as teachers? Do you know how well that knowledge goes over? It would be a good thing for many of America's children if their parents could grow up and show up to the sex-positive, anti-shame table, but we're not conditioned that way.
I'll let you ponder that one.