I was re-reading Iceberg Slim recently (as you do), and wondering what exactly it is the anti-sex brigade mean when they go around calling people "pimps".
I've been called a pimp before. By
Julie Bindel, to my face, and I laughed because it is so ridiculous: I
have never profited off of anyone's erotic capital but my own… and
arguably Billie Piper's, though that makes me no more and perhaps
significantly less pimp-like than (say) her agent and the show's
I don't get particularly offended by such
obviously over the top labels. But the word itself has started to crop
up more and more in the arguments surrounding sex work and the proposed
laws regarding prostitution. Take for example in Ireland, where the
widespread assumption is that all sex workers are a) women and b)
"pimped". Both of these are demonstrably and flagrantly not true, and
yet are found in virtually any media coverage of the topic which is
heavily influenced by an unholy coalition of extreme religious groups
and extreme radfem ideologues.
The side issue dogging
the proposed changes, that is, the discourse about what exactly
constitutes trafficking and who exactly is trafficked, is of course
pretty openly racist - both the words and the imagery. This has been
covered in some detail and extremely well by eg. Laura Agustin, whose work on the topic I highly recommend.
Typical "trafficking" propaganda: shades of White Slavery all over the place.
Anyway, back to the concept of "pimp". Now we all know, or think
we know, what a pimp is, and much of this archetype comes from highly
fictionalised misrepresentations of Mr Slim's own work.
Go on, you know exactly what people mean by the word. What "pimp"
implies. A man who runs women, lures them with money and romance, then
turns them out to whoring, often beaten, always drug-addicted.
And he is black.
Starting to sound like casual use of "pimp" is dog-whistle racism, isn't it?
For the life of me I have never met a person even
remotely like the stereotypical pimp, and yet I "know" they exist,
largely because I have been told so over and over again. I've met
streetwalkers, both drug-addicted and not; escorts and call girls, same;
not one ever had what popular imagination would classify as a "pimp,"
but then I keep getting told I'm not representative, so maybe the
literally hundreds of men and women, cis and trans sex workers I've met
are just "not representative" too?
Occasionally you also hear talk of the "Eastern
European gangmaster", but for some reason the class- and
racially-evocative term "pimp" comes up far, far more often. Could that
be because plain xenophobia just doesn't inspire the troops in quite the
same way bald racism does?
Independent sex workers who organise their own affairs
and work solo. Roommates who share a flat and both happen to sell sex.
Managers running escorts agencies with a dozen or so girls they mostly
interact with by text. Massage parlour owners. Women whose house is used
by other sex workers, so technically I guess are madams. People who set
up message boards and internet forums where clients and sex workers
talk among themselves and with each other. All of these are people who
get called "pimps" by the anti-sex lobby.
A guy in a
crushed velvet suit on a street corner, keeping his girls high and
working the neighbourhood? Not so many of those to the pound.
let's say he really is out there, because we all keep getting told he
is. This working-class black man in the loud clothes who is sexually and
physically aggressive and probably has a criminal record. This "pimp".
you think his choice of work isn't somehow constrained by society too?
That he wouldn't rather be earning money some other way? Because anyone
with any sense can surely suss out that a lot of activities, both legal
and illegal, would be far more profit and far less hassle than running
Iceberg Slim: hustling because it's not as if you were going to save him and his mother from poverty, were you?
This is the reality of waged work, all waged work, whether sex is
involved or not. No one, but no one, has "free choice". If you think
otherwise, remind yourself what you wanted to be when you grew up, and
reflect on how exactly you ended up where you are now. Did you freely
select from all career choices in the world, ever? Or did you choose as
best you could from the options offered by your abilities and (more
crucially) your circumstances? You know, like Iceberg Slim did?
Some folks seem especially resistant to acknowledging
the truth about work, so I'll underline it some more. Entire towns in
the North weren't full of miners because everyone there just happened to
have the aptitude and preference for that sole job, but because it was
the only job going. NE Scotland isn't full of fishermen because they
have a particular concentration of people whose life's dream was to
catch fish, but because that's what the job market offers. Everyone's
outcome is the product of limited choices, from streetwalkers to the
Queen. And no one's suggesting she needs to be "rescued" from her lack
of career options.
If you want to improve someone's options, you
address the things that constrain their choices in the first place.
Poverty, addiction, education, to name a few. Not take away the only
choices they have.
The pimp as we perceive him is a low-end tough. He's
not exactly a criminal mastermind. And unlike a lot of the people who
talk about "pimps" and whatnot, I know criminals. I have seen that life
up close and fucking personal. I have lived in their neighbourhoods and
their houses, and even in their families. I know that anyone who runs a
business in the way the supposed pimp supposedly does is making little
money, if any. What's 50% of that £10 anal bareback the anti-sex lobby
claim is available in red lights everywhere? A fiver? Yeah, that sounds
logical. Now pull the other one.
I know that his power - again, if he exists, because
even when I was living in Cracktown, Pinellas County I saw shit that
would stop your heart but I never once saw a "pimp" - is a power of an
extremely limited kind. The power of someone with few and possibly no
The anti-sex lobby's fantasy use of the term "pimp" is
bogus and it is racist. Anyone who claims otherwise is being purposely
disingenuous for the sake of striking fear into white, English-speaking,