Drawing on more than fifty interviews in both the US and the Netherlands, Wendy Chapkis captures the wide-ranging experiences of women performing erotic labor and offers a complex, multi-faceted depiction of sex work. Her expansive analytic perspective encompasses both a serious examination of international prostitution policy as well as hands-on accounts of contemporary commercial sexual practices. Scholarly, but never simply academic, this book is explicitly grounded in a concern for how competing political discourses work concretely in the worldto frame policy and define perceptions of AIDS, to mobilize women into opposing camps, to silence some agendas and to promote others.
Commercial sex has long been a troublesome issue for feminists. Chapkis, a sociologist and author of Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance, is a self-professed champion of the rights of prostitutes and pornographers. This sets her at odds with those who are opposed to women's participation in "erotic labor" on the grounds that it exploits them. Here, she conducts 50-plus unstructured interviews with women in the trade between 1986 and 1995 in the Netherlands and in Santa Cruz and San Francisco, Calif.-all places where Chapkis lived. The author notes that she reprints fewer than half the interviews, which may reveal a great deal more about Chapkis than about her subjects. The book is shaped into seven main chapters, each with an academic essay about some aspect of the sex trade followed by two or more edited, but graphic, interviews with women in the sex business. The interviewees included "call girls, escort workers, pornography actresses and models, brothel workers, exotic dancers, peep show workers, phone sex workers, street workers, and window prostitutes." Chapkis also personally experimented with buying and selling sex to experience the transactions. Eight black-and-white photos of professional women add to the gritty and realistic, rather than erotic, tone of the book. It is part sociology and part journalism, with a polemic on the rights of women in the commercial-sex business running throughout. The mix doesn't work well, and will likely disappoint the possible audiences interested in sociology, journalism or polemic. (Jan.)