I Am A Whore.

The short story: Biologist Danielle N. Lee, who blogs at The Urban Scientist, gets a request from “Ofek,” an editor at “Biology Online” to write content there for free. She politely declines. The editor responds:

Because we don’t pay for blog entries?

Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?

Lee writes about the experience on The Urban Scientist; Scientific American takes the post down without notifying her.

There are plenty of angles to this story that deserve closer attention. For example:

  • There’s “Ofek,” who deserves googleable public naming and shaming.
  • There’s the commonness of Ofek’s self-entitled attitude among marketeering shits.
  • There’s the acquiescence of science bloggers who enable Ofek’s self-entitled attitude by contributing voluntarily to a crappy content-aggregation site run by a bunch of semiliterates: people such as cartoonist Katie Mcissick (who, to her credit, has demanded her content’s removal), professor Fred Essig, Dr. Michael Joyner, microbiologist Frances Coates, and marine biologist Samantha Craven.
  • There’s the sucker deal that the enablers have made, not merely blogging for free, but also not getting even a link out of the deal—the publication of their work mentions their names (and, in the case of the bloggers—Mcissick and Craven, their blogs) but links to nothing.1
  • There’s Scientific American’s craven conduct in trying to wipe DNLee’s post instead of whacking Biology Online upside the head with a virtual 2-by-4. As Maryn McKenna writes:

    SciAm has silenced a blogger, implicitly criticized her, and explicitly not criticized a partner representative who abused one of their own people. These are not smart or moral actions, and they do not reflect well on a storied and respected brand.

I’m sure others will address all of those angles. I want to talk about the power we give the word “whore.”

To be clear, I’m not talking about the power that DNLee gives the word “whore.” Nor am I talking about the opprobrium that Ofek, Biology-Online, and its supporters (including Scientific American) deserve. I do not subscribe to the belief that the intent of the speaker is irrelevant; Ofek clearly intended the word as a sexist abusive epithet, especially in its contrast to the generally respected occupation of scientist:

Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?

But “whore” would, in a better world, be robbed of its power as an abusive epithet. It would have no more negative connotation than “nurse,” or “psychologist,” or “plumber.”2

Are you an urban scientist or an urban plumber?

All of us—unless we are wholly reliant on others for our survival—exchange something others value for something we value. We exchange our time, our work, and our thought—little slices of our lives—which others value, for money, which represents value, and which we use to buy things—food, shelter, internet service—that we value.

And all of us, unless we are asexual or rapists, exchange something for sex. Buy you a drink? Dinner and a movie? The security of marriage? Some will reject this proposition out of distaste,3 but to an observer of human behavior it’s glaringly obvious: even if it’s nothing more than pleasure for pleasure, consensual sex is a trade of value for value.

If we accept those two propositions, setting aside the emotional,4 moral,5 patriarchal,6 and begging-the-question7 arguments, how do we rationally distinguish prostitution from any other exchange we make, either in the workplace or in the bedroom, so that the sex worker is different (less than a whole person) than the nurse?

Most of us aren’t making explicit exchanges of sex for value. If anything, that makes the sex worker’s transaction more transparent; surely that can’t be a bad thing. Anything a person has to sell, she should be able to sell to a willing buyer for agreed-upon terms, as long as the transaction doesn’t harm a third party.

It is a strange trade, that of advocacy. Your intellect, your highest heavenly gift, hung up in the shop window like a loaded pistol for sale….8

I’ve long thought that the trade of criminal-defense lawyer shares a good deal with that of sex worker. Neither is widely loved or well understood by the general public. Both generally involve ad hoc relationships with people whose need for us, if made public, would embarrass them. For both, confidentiality is paramount.

But there’s this monumental difference: criminal-defense lawyers aren’t getting raped, and are rarely getting murdered, for being criminal-defense lawyers. Sex workers are getting raped and murdered for being sex workers. The reason for this is the same as the reason that “whore” has its power to shock and offend: whore stigma. Acknowledge that people have the right to do with their bodies what they will, and sex work comes out from underground and into the light; allow sex work into the light and sex workers are no longer as vulnerable to those who would prey on them.

How do you get rid of stigma?

I sell my highest heavenly gift for money, cash on the barrelhead. I don’t need to love you, or even like you, to do it (though I’ll admit that makes the job easier). If you want a freebie, I’ve got no obligation to give it, and I’ll probably decline.

Metaphorically9 I am a whore. I don’t claim that that makes me a literal whore, but it damn sure doesn’t make me any better than one. Maybe worse: while whores are just selling sex; I’m selling thought.

Can you claim to be any better?


  1. This makes Ofek a liar as well, since he claims that “by writing and linking to us, you not only receive traffic from us, but it can have a direct effect on the traffic and rank of your blog, and that in turn has a direct effect on advertising revenue.” I do not like liars. 

  2. And damn sure less than “marketer.” 

  3. “Sex is precious, and shouldn’t be bought or sold.” 

  4. “Well, I wouldn’t want to do it, so how can you?” 

  5. “It’s wrong because I say so.” 

  6. “Womenfolk belong to menfolk, who have historically made the rules.” 

  7. “Prostitution harms society.” Okay, how? 

  8. Thomas Carlyle, Lord Jeffrey, 1867. Incomplete, inadequately sourced, and mispunctuated versions of this quotation abound across the Internet. This, per Mencken’s New Dictionary of Quotations (1942), is correct. The end of the sentence is this: “…, will either blow out a pestilent scoundrel’s brains, or the scoundrel’s salutary sheriff’s officer’s (in a sense), as you please to choose for your guinea.” 

  9. Which is, perhaps, the way that Ofek intended it 

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to I Am A Whore.

  1. victoria washington says:

    I find it interesting that prosecutors and judges think any defense expert must be a whore and therefore unreliable; their science, their testing, their evaluations, there opinions…hogwash. My colleagues aften buy into this by saying, among other things, “I don’t want to hire so-and-so because he/she has become a defense whore”. What I find disturbing is the same appellation is not attached to state experts; especially in capital litigation.

    Are you a defense whore or a state whore? Perhaps I should use this question when I vet my experts and bypass a lot of bullshit.

  2. Ric Moore says:

    “I’ve long thought that the trade of criminal-defense lawyer shares a good deal with that of sex worker.”

    Except with the sex worker, negotiation is far less tedious and there is far less foreplay. ~grins~ Ric

  3. Adrian Sloan says:

    And with the sex worker there is a much greater likelihood of a happy ending.

  4. Your analysis of value for value is positively Randian. See Francisco’s wedding speech in Atlas Shrugged. Bravo!

  5. Nick Williams says:

    It’s true–all of us who ply our bitchy little legal trade are whores. It’s not morally unambiguous work like, say, subsistence farming for survival. This was a wonderful post, by the way, and encapsulates what I’ve thought for so long about actual “whores”. One man’s whore is another man’s wife:)

  6. Pingback: Just Between Us Whores | Simple Justice

  7. Josh C says:

    I really don’t understand this claim that any use of “whore” must be sexist, and I especially don’t understand why so many smart people even care that it might be.

    Corporate whore doesn’t refer to sex work and is gender-neutral. Attention whore is the same. In each case, they imply that someone is compromising their principles in return for something tawdry. Why would urban whore be any different? It’s not like there are a lot of other perjoratives for “unscrupulous mercenary money-grubber”.

    Besides that, its completely beside the point. Whatever else, I’m metaphysically certain that Ofek is an equal opportunity scumbag.

    • Mark Bennett says:

      “Corporate whore” and “attention whore” are pejoratives because of the stigma attached to traditionally female sex work.

      Actual whores are female (we have other nouns for male prostitutes—”prostitute,” “escort,” “hustler”—and these nouns are rarely used pejoratively), and are no more unscrupulous mercenary money-grubbers than lawyers, nurses, or plumbers (I choose those three because I imagine that sex work is a little bit of each)…or scientists.

  8. Dan Allison says:

    The expectation that writing is free is everywhere. This is a skill I have spent my life developing. I don’t need “my name in print” or “something for the resume.” I need cold hard cash. Website operators need to pony it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>