Selling Our Bodies and Our Souls

Prostitutes are not the only people being exploited and humiliated on a daily basis.

Eran Wolkowski

Two years ago, Channel One’s “Mabat Sheni” documentary program presented a story we produced on the rehabilitation of prostitutes and their integration into society. Work on the documentary, directed by Dalit Kimor, involved intensive exposure to a world filled with prejudice, embarrassment and sorrow. At one point we interviewed a 60-year-old woman, who had been a prostitute for many years before leaving it behind and seeking a conventional job. Kimor asked her what the biggest challenge had been when she stopped working as a prostitute. “The hardest thing was to stop viewing my sexuality as the only means of attaining what I want – to convert expressions of physical affection from something cheap into something that I share with a partner, rather than selling it to him. This is still a part of who I am, like something seared into my body.”

As I imagined the agony associated with this elderly woman’s rehabilitation, Kimor responded. “But there are women who aren’t prostitutes who do the same thing,” she noted. “When they want their partners to do something they don’t want to, sex is part of their method of persuasion. When they try to land a desirable job, they’ll put on bright lipstick and wear tight-fitting clothes. Using one’s body to get what you want is much more common than people realize.” Silence enveloped the room. Are we surrounded by prostitutes? Are we prostitutes, too? Does attraction between men and women not have other avenues of interaction in a capitalist world?

As time passes, I’m more and more convinced that Kimor was right, and that the word “prostitute” – which has become a derogatory term to depict someone willing to do anything, no matter how exploitative and humiliating, for a pittance – applies to so many of us women. This relates not only to sex or payment in physical terms, but to give-and-take transactions that operate on one principle: For money and pleasure, I’ll do anything; without monetary reward, I’m not moving an inch. For example, when I suggested to my son’s class that they participate in reconstructing a crumbling kindergarten, one kid put up his hand, saying he opposed the idea. “These are only kindergarteners. Until they grow up and are able to repay us, too many years will have gone by!”

Is there really a difference between selling physical intimacy for cash and selling a clothed and righteous body in exchange for a salary, when one is working for harmful and exploitative agencies? “There is no difference!” said a friend of mine who knows a thing or two about this topic. “I prefer to sleep with my sugar daddy for a few hours a week – where we both know the terms – than to work in a bank and offer loans to desperate people who will never climb out of their predicament, collecting a bonus as I plunge them deeper into a hole.”

My friend is right. Are we, the “regular” people, pursuing a standard working life? Nonsense, we’re all prostitutes! Another example: Following the latest lawsuit filed by the house manager in the Netanyahu residence, the first lady’s emissaries claimed that all is well and that all he wanted was tenure in his job. He wanted to keep working there and to continue being humiliated, and only bureaucracy stood in his way. Why wouldn’t he want that, Mrs. Netanyahu, when the labor market during “your” term in office has collapsed? He knew with great certainty that if he didn’t continue being humiliated in your kitchen and living room, he’d be humiliated somewhere else.

What happened there? Just like our interviewee who decided that her body would no longer serve as currency, trying desperately to join the world of normative people, the house manager tried to rehabilitate his lost dignity and change things. The cold shower he received reminded him that, for now, Europe’s representatives here are not about to apologize for their exploitation, since they deem compensation for an insult as legitimate.

This is the clear message coming from the highest echelons – in exchange for money, one has to keep quiet and perform whatever duty one is charged with. This message has trickled down and seeped so deep that it has poisoned any cultural or moral well. We, like cursed and wet dogs, drink this water and figure things out. Are we frustrated? Of course we are. What are we doing about it? Do we dream of changing the system or fighting it? Of course not. Our dream is to burrow into it, becoming part of it, to learn the exploiters’ codes and to one day put our own feet up on a table and give orders to others.

It seems as if no one gets worked up about prostitution any more. Individually and collectively, we have been weakened as a society, and our boundaries have become unrecognizably blurred. How can we get riled when bloated organizations – who in effect deal in economic exploitation – employ condemned employees with the purpose of rolling more capital into their bottomless pockets?

How can we get excited when MK Adi Kol (Yesh Atid) sells her integrity for the right to be the silent protégé of Yair Lapid? Prostitution as a form of consciousness has become an integral part of our lives.

We don’t stop anymore for nuances such as self-dignity and respect for others, and divest ourselves of any principle of solidarity in exchange for a small piece of security. We, the regular people, have turned our normal working lives into a bordello. Our only aspiration is to work in it as the madam.

Avishag Shaar-Yashuv