by Giselle Renarde
I took my mother for a walk a few weeks ago. She won't go on her own.
We walked through the neighbourhood where I grew up. It's not the ritziest area. According to the Rap Dictionary, it has "the dubious distinction of having the highest concentration of subsidized housing in all of Ontario." Lots of gang violence--the kind that's not widely reported because, hell, it's just black people shooting each other so who really cares?
When I was growing up in the 80s, the community had its sights set on cleaning up one particularly noticeable aspect of my neighbourhood: the rampant street prostitution.
I was young back then, and my family had problems of its own, so I'm not sure street prostitution was something I really noticed. Actually, I remember seeing many more anti-prostitution signs than actual prostitutes.
But, as I said, I was a kid. Sometimes kids take things at face value because, if you see something every day, it seems normal.
Although, realistically, of everything that goes on in this world, I'd say prostitution is right up there with falling in love on the normalcy scale. It's always existed, and it always will.
When my mother and I were out for our recent walk, the topic of prostitution came up--kind of weird, in a family that NEVER talks about sex. And it was my mother who brought it up, too. We were talking about the controversial proposal of building a casino here in Toronto. My mom was against the idea because "people get addicted to gambling, and a casino would probably attract prostitutes."
Huh. Is that what casinos do?
Anyway, my mother's general opposition to prostitution surprised me, and not just because I believe so strongly that sex work is real work and should be widely recognized at such. My maternal grandmother and I have talked at length about sex work and we're 100% on the same page:
We believe that sex work is a valid career choice. It existed long before we did, and it's not going away any time soon. We recognize that some people are forced into the trade or enter it for reasons related to poverty and systemic oppression, but we have hopes that decriminalizing prostitution would ease many of the dangers faced by sex workers by allowing them easier access to protection from the forces that now tyrannize and harrass them. That said, the biggest shift is never a legal one. Stigma and sin are so deeply attached to sex work that very little can be gained until those perceptions are dealth with.
My grandmother and I have spoken at length about sex work. For her, it's a feminist issue. She's been my feminist inspiration for as long as I can remember. That's why it always boggled my mind that my mom, wedged between her own mother and me, held such brazenly different opinions.
Maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised. After all, isn't it normal for a kid to rebel against her mother's ways and beliefs? My grandmother was (and is) an unapologetically strong woman. I now realize my mother's got more strength than I gave her credit for when I was younger, but she's rather more on the Marge Simpson side of the scale. And then along came me, and I rebelled again, swinging back in my grandmother's direction.
Prostitution, like pretty much everything else, is a divisive issue among feminists. I'm starting to think there are as many feminisms as there are individuals. But my grandmother laid a path for me, and I walk it whether I'm in my cozy neighbourhood or the rough but familiar one in which I grew up.
I'll mention one more thing--a bit of a tangent to the conversation I had with my mother that day. I'm not sure why, but I asked what her favourite song was.
She said, "These Boots Are Made For Walking."
"Really?" I wondered if maybe she didn't understand the song. I asked, "Why do you like it so much?"
She said, "It's about being a strong woman and standing on your own two feet."
Oh, mom. I'd never have guessed.