"Freakonomics" Authors Tell You How to be a Good Prostitute
Good news, ladies. You, too, can make millions by charging for sex! And you'll just have a slam-bang, gee-golly splendiferous time doing it, too -- at least if you absolutely adore the sort of men who pay for it. Be warned, however: Disliking those men will consign you to the minimum-wage ranks of sex professionals, forever longing for the big bucks you could be earning, had you only an appropriately chipper attitude.
Such is the advice of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, of Freakonomics fame. They are back with a new book, Superfreakonomics, and recently they unveiled a bit of it in the form of an excerpt about how to succeed as a prostitute.
Freakonomics, of course, is the science of choosing an appropriately wacky or controversial subject (sumo wrestlers, abortion), applying a little economic analysis to it and coming up with a shocking conclusion that will make people blog about you. In that respect, the how-to-charge-for-sex piece was a no-brainer. Expressing any opinion about prostitution will bring on outrage (and attention) from one corner or another, no matter what your opinion turns out to be. Of course, if you are aiming for maximum impact, it helps to be -- as Levitt and Dubner are -- really, stunningly, remarkably wrong.
Levitt and Dubner build their piece around a comparison of two prostitutes: Allie, who works from her bedroom and makes between $350 and $500 an hour, depending on the client, and LaSheena, who works on the streets and probably makes about $350 a week, based on statistics (some information -- any information -- as to LaSheena's specific circumstances and earnings probably would have helped the comparison, but Levitt and Dubner seem, in this instance as in many others, not to have bothered learning about their subject).
LaSheena and Allie are the Goofus and Gallant of sex work, at least in the warped little scenario laid forth in the Superfreakonomics excerpt. Arising, as Levitt and Dubner seem to assume they do, from absolutely no context whatsoever (the fact that Allie is probably white, and that LaSheena is probably not, is never once addressed, for example; neither is the personal history of LaSheena explored in any detail, though we hear about Allie at excruciating length) they are not actual women so much as they are flattened-out, hollow caricatures of Success and Failure. Allie is a good prostitute; she has succeeded. LaSheena is a bad prostitute; she has failed.
What has LaSheena done wrong, you ask? Simple: She doesn't like being a prostitute. "I don't really like men," she is quoted as saying. This is an interesting statement, which the authors fail to follow up. Why doesn't LaSheena like men? Has she been beaten? Has she been raped? Is there a man taking a cut of her money? Was she forced into this job as a child by a man, by a boyfriend she loved, by sheer poverty? And has she seen the ugly side of men too often in this job to trust any?
Hey, here's an interesting thought: Maybe LaSheena doesn't like men because she's trapped in a cycle of poverty, and one of the only ways for her to stay alive is to have sex with men, whether or not she really wants to. Maybe that's enough to make LaSheena dislike men. We'll never know, however, because Dubner and Levitt don't ask. They don't care to humanise her. She's the Goofus in the scenario. Her poverty -- which is assumed to be entirely her fault -- is only there to provide a counterpoint to Allie's shining example.
Boy, oh, boy, does Allie ever love being a prostitute! Why, do you know that she just went ahead and did it on a whim, as a sexy adventure, and not because of any nasty old compelling factors like poverty or addiction or a man literally arranging for her to be raped over and over again and taking money from her rapists or anything like that? Well, it's true. The Freakonomics gentlemen said so!
They make a point of letting us know that Allie "liked men, and she liked sex." And do you know what men she especially likes? Why, her clients, of course. Allie "is the kind of person who sees something good in everyone". Isn't that nice? She credits this for the fact that she is so successful -- and so do Levitt and Dubner.
Say, here's another nicety that Levitt and Dubner genuinely thought was a sane and intelligent thing to write down and publish: Allie's clients "treat her, in many ways, as men are expected to treat their wives but often don't". And Allie, in return, is like the "ideal wife", who "is happy to see you every time you show up at her door. Your favorite music is already playing, and your favourite drink is on ice. She will never ask you to take out the rubbish."
How this qualifies as wifely behavior, outside of reruns of "Father Knows Best," is unclear. But Levitt and Dubner seem genuinely convinced that this one-sided scenario of happy subjugation and infantile, pampered narcissism is good for everyone involved. Allie gets a MacBook! Doesn't that prove that it's working?
Levitt and Dubner seem, at some point along the line, to have missed out on the fact that women have inner lives, lives which do not revolve entirely around servicing men and which may in fact require some servicing by men along the way. It's evident in the way they extol Allie for getting such unmitigated joy out of subjugating herself to her clients.