This morning, my attention has been drawn to this. A well-meaning feminist who thinks Jay Leno has hurt women, most of whom he has never met, by using two words. “Victims” of prostitution will now forever remain victims because of Jay Leno. At least, that’s what she appears to be claiming. I’m pretty sure this is not the case, so I took it upon myself to examine everything she said in order to see what is valid, what isn’t and what may or may not make sense. All the quotes to follow are from her, until I state otherwise:

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
3000 W. Alameda Avenue
Burbank, CA 91523

I’m glad she put the address there so I can write a letter of my own.

Dear Jay:
I watched your show for years but I can no longer do so. Why? Because words matter, Jay. Without fail, several times a week, you refer to women in the sex industry as “whores” or “hookers.”

Of course words matter. If words didn’t matter to us, we would not be the ja-y-offend1species that we are. We’d be something else; something else that does not use words. Just ask a zombie!

It is true that the words ‘hooker’ and ‘whore’ gets used a lot on some tv programs. I can’t really comment on the frequency with which they appear on the Tonight Show because I don’t watch it often enough. I have seen the show, though, and I am sure I’ve heard him use those terms. I don’t think, though, him using those terms would be a great reason for someone to stop watching his show. Jay Leno is an entertainer. It is his duty to keep people’s attention. Sometimes, he has to do this using words that are attention-grabbing. Most talented entertainers will do that.

Furthermore, words matter, but so does your reaction to them. Language changes rapidly as a result of people’s reaction to them. Feminists have whorechanged the meaning of the word ‘bitch’ and it is pretty likely that if Whore Magazine is a success, it will change the meaning of its name as well. We don’t need to throw a tantrum at Jay Leno to make this happen. We can do this ourselves.

Jay, did you know that most women, especially in lesser-developed nations, are sold into the sex industry, often by their own relatives?

Unless you have a seriously distorted idea of what the word ‘most’ means, that statement is wrong. Some women do get sold into slavery, sometimes into a situation where they are forced to become sex workers, but it certainly isn’t a majority and it isn’t necessarily the most common way for women to end up in the sex industry.

Did you know that right now, in India and probably many other counties, children as young as three are gang raped for profit and infected with HIV?

How could you possibly link Jay Leno’s use of two words to children being raped in India? Children being sexually abused, in any fashion, is a serious matter and I don’t want to downplay that or to pretend that it doesn’t happen. I do doubt that it happens on a regular basis. I doubt it is some sort of afternoon ritual. But, I know it can and probably does happen. It makes me sad and makes me feel like I’m not doing enough in this world. Of course, tugging at that emotional string is precisely what this sentence was for. Child abuse is a a pretty big deal and it is something that every country should be working to prevent. When you so carelessly swing the issue about, like this, as if it is a club against someone totally unrelated to the problem, that’s completely inexcusable. Shame on you, whoever you are, for using it that way! The children who do get abused in such a horrific manner deserve something much better than someone pinning the blame of their nightmare onto an innocent who couldn’t possibly be connected to it.

That in the United States, the average age of entry into prostitution is reportedly 13?

That’s a lie that has been repeated for a long time, all over the place. Someone did a study on children who were forced into prostitution and then assumed that the numbers in the study on children applied to the industry as a whole. Obviously, that’s really bad reporting. It is really bad science and it is a horribly damaging myth to spread. It is sad that it is such a widespread myth. It is one of those myths that people believe because it is scary, not because there’s a rational reason to believe in it. A quick meta analysis of the information gained from this study on women detained for prostitution, you know, an actual study that collected data on the actual group we’re talking about, the average age the participants started prostituting themselves appears to be 20. Of course, we need far more information and this study has a natural bias because the people conducting the study were after other information. However, applying that data to the question of what the average age people enter prostitution is would certainly be far more accurate than using a study that was only about children entering prostitution.

That one study in Colorado found that prostitutes die at a crude mortality rate of 391 per 100,000 in comparison with non-sex workers, where the standardized mortality for the general population during this same time frame was 1.9 per 100,000?

You must mean this study. Again, this doesn’t really have anything at all to do with Jay Leno’s use of the terms you’re upset about, but some important observations need to be made, here. Firstly, if you read the study, you’ll find that it shows that the cause of death for most of these women wasn’t because they were prostitutes. Correlation is not causation and in increased death rate for prostitutes may not be caused by the fact that they’re prostitutes. According to the study, the most common causes of death were violence and drug use. These are two issues that could more easily be addressed if prostitution were legalized and we could get people help more easily if they are on drugs AND we prostitutes who are victims of domestic violence can turn to the police without fear of being arrested because they did something illegal. A pretty decent argument could be made for the legalization of prostitution, based on this information.

That every prostitute is someone’s son, daughter, sister, brother or mother?

So is every serial killer, florist, asshole and lawyer, but that doesn’t stop us from making edgy jokes about any of them. Well, except maybe the florist. They have to deal with enough trouble in their lives, there’s no need to make jokes about them or invent crass terms to identify them with, those stamen fiddlers!

Jay, using words like “hooker” and “whore” further desensitizes people who barely care when prostitutes die locked up in cages, are tortured, thrown from cars or are left dead near a river.

There is absolutely no evidence that this is true. not a single shred of evidence. Again, we’ve approached a very serious matter and here is the author, flinging horrific events that can and sometimes do happen as if it is some sort of club that should hit anyone who happens to offend her. The abuse of sex workers is a very real and serious problem. Sex workers need to have safer environments and they need protection and they need to live in a safer world. Pretending that just saying a couple words on TV causes these problems belittles women in this situation. It devalues their experience and that can desensitize people to their troubles.

Getting a cheap laugh at the expense of these victims, and yes, they are victims, is pathetic. I really hope you are better than that.

Prostitutes, in general, are not victims because they are prostitutes. Some prostitutes are victims because people are careless. Some prostitutes are victims because they have no protection. Some prostitutes are victims because it is illegal for them just to do their job. Not all prostitutes are victims, though, and trying to make them all into victims is unappreciated and doesn’t help them.

Please take time to educate yourself on the reality of the sex industry. If you took a few hours out of your life to learn the realities of the sex industry in this country and many others, I almost guarantee you would stop throwing those terms around. There is enough pain and suffering in the world without you casually contributing to it with your callous disregard for these victims.

Jay Leno’s use of the word ‘hooker’ and ‘whore’ does far less of a disservice to prostitutes than your rant toward him does. That being said, I do hope that Jay Leno becomes informed about the sex industry. I don’t think it will change his vocabulary, much, but sex workers of all types could use more advocates. People in the sex industry face a great number of issues that tend to get ignored due to bigotry toward the sex industry. It isn’t the bigotry that leads to Jay Leno tossing terms around as an entertainer. Instead, the bigotry that hurts sex workers is the kind that claims they’re all victims, that they’re all drug addicts, that there are no other life options for them and that they’re all horrible people. It is the bigotry that makes excuses for the laws against the industry and for rants against the wrong people that creates the most problems.

I’m not going to leave this post here, though. I’m responding to a letter that was addressed to Jay Leno and posted online, encouraging people to join this person (who remains anonymous) in a writing campaign. I’m going to write my own letter. The following quote is what I will send to Jay Leno.

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
3000 W. Alameda Ave.
Burbank, CA 91523-0001Dear Mr. Leno,

I understand that a writing campaign against you has begun. As far as I know, it at least involves one person, but could involve many. I would like to offer a counter-campaign that could involve just me, or could involve many.

The campaign against you is a complaint against you using the words “whore” and “hooker.” I would like to encourage you to, instead, use these words more. I don’t think you need to increase your random use of the terms, though. Instead, I want you to do just one of the things that the woman who is against you asked. I want you to learn about the sex industry.

The person who has complained about your word use seems to think that if you learned about the sex industry, you would use those terms less. it seems to me, though, that it would be wiser to use what you learn and use the terms more. It would be a tremendous help to those in the sex industry if you discussed how hookers face an incredibly high rate of domestic violence and that because their work is illegal, they can’t easily seek protection from the law. A story like that might require the use of the word ‘hooker’ several times! Likewise, discussing the tendency of the villainization of whores within the media and how it relates to stigmas that people in the sex industry face would allow you to use the word ‘whore’ a lot. I would also like to see you use the word in a more liberal way. Not only do I want to see you refer to hookers as whores, I want to see you refer to everyone in the sex industry as whores. Then, I want you to discuss how the fight against pornography hurts whores because it is literally a fight against society to take jobs away from whores. Whores need jobs, too.

Besides, if local whores are no longer doing the job, we may have to outsource and, as we all know based on our experience with call centers, heavy accents and poorly paid employees make for shitty customer service.

Sincerely,

Sophie Hirschfeld

P. S. Here is where you can find a copy of my response, online, to the campaign against you:

http://sexandscience.org/blog/?p=350

sophiefawkesIf you so desire, you can write to Jay Leno as well. However, please make your letter to him as productive as possible. Popular television shows get a tremendous amount of mail and it is possible that this campaign against Jay Leno could get overwhelming enough without them having some redundant counter-campaign going to them as well. If you do write back, it would be super-awesome if you included a reference to this post, just because I like to have credit for my evil deeds. Also, offer helpful suggestions for the show, don’t just gush over it. I like the idea of any campaign being productive, even though most of them aren’t.

2 Responses to “Oh, Jay, How Dare You Offend!”

  1. I got an idea. Don’t work in the sex industry.

  2. And that’s your solution, j? Doesn’t sound like one.

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