Mothers, Mothering and Sex Work. Demeter Press and
Rebecca Bromwich and Monique Marie DeJong have compiled a thought-provoking and timely anthology addressing the often marginalized, seldom heard, and precarious experiences of sex workers who are also mothers. The editors apply a multidisciplinary lens to an often “binary political debate,” in the hopes of highlighting the complexity of the issues and players involved, which cannot, and the editors argue should not, be compartmentalized into rigid categories. By presenting their case through essays, short stories, photographs, drawings, and personal accounts, the editors not only elicit a more comprehensive understanding from readers, but also generate a more empathetic response. The stories are not limited to the North American experience, but also feature tales of the sex trade in Africa and South America finding similarities in women’s roles, prejudices, and lack of agency through a globalized perspective.
This anthology contributes to an emerging field on maternal studies that explores the complexity of the traditional, nurturing mother role, as it moves women from a passive, domestic setting into a public, activist forum. Using sex workers who are mothers implies not only a transgressing of boundaries, but also a delineation of a new space for study, a new “venue to explore and appreciate the maternalities of sex workers as subjects,” as the editors argue. There is often mention of a need for sex workers to create two different personae in order to survive. Sex workers need to keep home life separate from street life, to live life as constant negotiation and redesigning of these two roles often to the detriment of their mental and physical health.
One of the key perspectives addressed by several of the contributors is the violence and constant erosion of self-confidence entailed in sex work. How does their upbringing, their own experience of motherhood lead sex workers into this trade? More importantly perhaps, are there avenues and resources for them to escape a job that preys on their vulnerability and keeps them in a constant state of fear? Indeed, the contributors call attention to a confusing and conflicted law system that does not often act in the best interest of the sex worker by not consulting them with regards to laws that directly affect their livelihood.
The anthology forges new ground in academic feminist writing by approaching the well-known polarization of women as virgins or whores from a new perspective, as the sex worker is the cultural embodiment of both of these roles. By addressing the ways in which women’s labour, be it as mother, or as sex worker, serves a patriarchal agenda, it is possible to call attention to how women’s identities, sexual desires, and social roles as reproducers continue to be repressed by a hegemonic social structure. To contest this binary, the anthology explores in a detailed and compelling manner the traumas and social shaming associated with sex work. Therefore, several of the contributors note how women look to representations of motherhood to redefine themselves, to regain control of their narrative, and to reinvent their social identities.
With its interdisciplinary nature and appeal, this anthology becomes a provocative and useful springboard for further cross-disciplinary research. In fact, the collection itself is a model of intercultural engagement where art, sociology, psychology, and civil action can provide the basis for successful dialogue, and more importantly, provide guidelines for practical agency that could impact the lives of women workers.