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Sexual Labor and Sexual Assault

On to a new chapter. This one is about sex work as reproductive labor. Sex (and more specifically sexual assault) remains a taboo in scholarship on domestic work. Even though it was so common. For this reason I am so inspired by the women who chose to give their testimony. Danielle McGuire’s book, At the Dark End of the Street, gives a great account of black women’s anti-rape activism. She mentions that black women told of being raped by white men in court, at community meetings, and even in church. McGuire uncovers a remarkable history. 

One of my favorite (which seems like an awful word to use considering the subject matter but I digress) narratives that really makes sense of the normalization of rape as a part of domestic work is Endesha Ida Mae Holland’s autobiography, From the Mississippi Delta. This book generated a lot of great discussion when I taught it in my Black Women’s History Class. My students asked a lot of great questions in spite of their visceral reactions to how raw the story is. 

But the other side of this coin is sexual labor. The same circumstances that compelled black women to do domestic work also made sex work a viable option. Analyses of both forms of labor are haunted by stigma and shame. Yet, in my view, they are great places to begin critiquing capitalism and a number authors writing during the Depression made great use of the subject symbolically. 

I had not intended to write an entire chapter on sex work. But a good friend said to me that you can’t deal with domestic work without grappling with the politics of sexuality. So I’m grappling. And its not easy. But writing feels better than conversation. Seems like we still haven’t figured out how to talk about it. 

Currently rereading, I’ve Got to Make My Livin’, by Cynthia Blair. Its a good start. 


About Shana Russell

Woman. Scholar. Liberationist.

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