Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Jacobin) (Paperback)

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Recent years have seen a panic over “online red-light districts,” which supposedly seduce vulnerable young women into a life of degradation, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s live tweeting of a Cambodian brothel raid. But rarely do these fearful, salacious dispatches come from sex workers themselves, and rarely do they deviate from the position that sex workers must be rescued from their condition, and the industry simply abolished — a position common among feminists and conservatives alike.

In Playing the Whore, journalist Melissa Gira Grant turns these pieties on their head, arguing for an overhaul in the way we think about sex work. Based on ten years of writing and reporting on the sex trade, and grounded in her experience as an organizer, advocate, and former sex worker, Playing the Whore dismantles pervasive myths about sex work, criticizes both conditions within the sex industry and its criminalization, and argues that separating sex work from the “legitimate” economy only harms those who perform sexual labor. In Playing the Whore, sex workers’ demands, too long relegated to the margins, take center stage: sex work iswork, and sex workers’ rights are human rights.

About the Author

Melissa Gira Grant is a writer and freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Glamour, the Guardian, the Nation, Wired, and the Atlantic. She is also a Contributing Editor to Jacobin.
Her website is

Praise For…

"Collectively as a society we've got a whole bunch of tangled, warped intuitions and policies towards the exchange of money for sex. Melissa Gira Grant does a remarkable job of rigorously teasing these apart and righteously scrapping those she finds wanting. Her work has been hugely influential in how I think about sex work and outright changed my mind on a number of points. She's a must read.”–Chris Hayes, All In With Chris Hayes

“An important contribution to debates around sex and work, and deserves to be read by anyone who wants to get beyond tired and damaging understandings of both.” –Nina Power, author of One Dimensional Woman

“Thoroughly researched, eminently readable...Keeping the focus on ideas instead of autobiography has an impressively unsettling effect, as we're forced to acknowledge the writer's boundaries, and our own voyeurism.”– Village Voice

"Gira Grant is one of the most interesting policy thinkers in the country when it comes to sex work, and this short book introduces and outlines her thinking on the matter." –Mike Konczal, Washington Post

“An informative and extremely worthwhile addition to the existing body of literature on sex work.” –Stoya, adult performer and Vice columnist

“Learn, listen, take heart—this is the real deal.” –Susie Bright, sex and culture critic, and founder of On Our Backs

“Well-researched and provocative … A vital text on an incendiary topic.” –Lily Burana, author of I Love a Man in Uniform and Strip City

“Gira Grant weaves her way through sanctimony and hypocrisy with wit, eloquence, insight, and a dose of necessary outrage.” –Laura Kipnis, author of How to Become a Scandal

“Makes precisely clear that a culture that polices, silences and marginalizes women who sell sex is
a culture that cares nothing about women. Period.” –Janet Mock, author of Redefining Realness

“As self-appointed saviors like Nicolas Kristof command mainstream media attention for their crusade on behalf of trafficked women, Melissa Gira Grant provides a sharp and powerful counternarrative, a layered, justice-minded critique of such interventions as well as a much needed skewering of ‘carceral feminism.’ An important, illuminating and engaging read.”– Liliana Segura, Senior Editor, The Intercept (First Look Media)
Product Details
ISBN: 9781781683231
ISBN-10: 1781683239
Publisher: Verso
Publication Date: March 11th, 2014
Pages: 144
Language: English
Series: Jacobin