Sex work isn’t an aesthetic

Illustration by Lindsay Hart

Alexia Holloway, Contributing Writer

Branden Miller’s internet persona “Joanne the Scammer” is iconic for her ruthless, conniving and hilarious jokes about scamming others. She influences people to scam and scheme people, especially men, for monetary gain.

This helped further develop “hoe culture” — a culture that normalizes the scamming that Joanne makes videos about. Many women have made “hoe culture” a societal staple, without truly knowing what supporting it entails.

The hashtag #survivingcardib became a trending topic on Twitter after a video resurfaced of Cardi B admitting to having drugged and robbed men to survive. Many people expressed outrage, comparing her to Bill Cosby, who drugged his victims and raped them.

While I do think what Cardi B admitted to was wrong, drugging and robbing someone is not comparable to drugging and raping someone. The tone Cardi B used in the video made it sound like she drugged these men to avoid any sexual contact the two might have agreed upon — not to violate them sexually.

Giving somebody a foreign substance without their knowledge with the intention to take advantage of them is universally wrong. If Cardi B violated these men sexually after drugging them, the Cosby comparisons would be valid. However, I do not agree with trying to equate theft and rape. They are two totally different acts.

The large amount of outrage toward Cardi B, especially from women, shocked me. I was not sure if they were upset that a man who tried to pay for sex did not get his “service,” or if they were upset that Cardi B admitted her truth about something that happens frequently in sex work. Scheming and scamming men has been normalized — to the point where comedic personalities like Joanne the Scammer are able to prosper. Cardi B openly admitted to deceiving men into thinking they were having sex, drugging them and then robbing them. The internet acted as if she committed the ultimate sin.

Much of my confusion over the outrage is that some women on social media claim to “stan scammers.” When someone like Cardi B openly admits she had to scam to make a living, however, these same people say she belongs in jail. While I think it is valid to want Cardi B to face legal consequences, I don’t see the same energy toward men who have committed similar, or more severe, acts.

Kodak Black was recently charged with first-degree sexual assault of a high school student. These accusations have been floating around for about six months, but outrage over the situation did not surface until he made insensitive comments concerning Lauren London after the death of Nipsey Hussle.

Rappers have circulated drugs and guns through their communities since the 1990s. Men excused these behaviors, because these rappers had to resort to illegal activities to survive and eventually make it out of those neighborhoods. In some cases, they brag about street culture — which includes murder, theft and selling drugs — through catchy lyrics and trap beats. But when a woman says she scammed someone to get extra money, not boasting or flaunting at all, she is villainized for it.

This is similar to white kids from middle and upper class families enjoying gangster rap but supporting legislation for mandatory minimums for marijuana charges. They support the perceptions of the culture, no matter how dark and scary it may be, until it becomes real.

Some people think men shower sex workers with money and have no expectations at all. And if people think there are expectations of these sex workers, it is consensual and sweet. But, sex workers have described a different reality.

Sex work is riddled with violence and rape. According to the Urban Institute, 58% of sex workers have experienced some type of violence. Strippers have reported being forcibly raped while in the club. Oftentimes, sex workers cannot come forward to the police, because many people think it is impossible to rape sex workers.

This glamorization of stripping and escorting is damaging, because it causes some people to think that terrible things do not happen in these professions. While the outrage over the video may come from a general dislike of Cardi B, because of her transphobic and anti-black comments, it stems from the glamorization of “hoe culture” and sex work culture in general. I do not agree with what she did, but some women do heinous things to avoid being victims.  

Many people have a Wattpad-level understanding of strip clubs and sex work overall. Strip clubs are not full of men showering women with money out of love and admiration. Sugar daddies are not young millionaires who are just interested in a woman’s company. Sex work is not an aesthetic to appropriate. It is dangerous, risky and can drive some to do contemptible things with the goal of survival.

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