I spent my spring break relaxing, wondering just how purple bug bites can get, and reading Sociological Images. To be totally honest, I’m seeing everything differently now; I’m more aware of which words are used and why (have I ever mentioned I hate it when straight girls call their friends “girlfriends”? It trivializes female/female romantic relationships) and why something is being aimed at me by a culture that can’t read me very well. Heavy stuff that’s definitely deserving of your time. Naturally, I walked out of that archive panic with a few book recommendations under my belt.
Whores and Other Feminists edited by Jill Nagle
Whores and Other Feminists is the first volume to examine sex work and the sex industry through the eyes of self-identified feminist sex workers – strippers, prostitutes, porn writers, producers and performers, dominatrices – and their allies. Comprising a range of voices from both within and outside the academy, this collection draws from traditional feminisms, postmodern feminism, queer theory, libertarianism, and sex radicalism. Through essay and personal narrative, the contributors liberate the exchange of sex for money from its arranged ideological marriage with sexist oppression, highlighting instead more local questions about particular sex work practices and their interface with feminist thought.
It’s certainly an attention grabbing title, isn’t it? But this is, hopefully, an important piece of work—in a popular culture where sex workers are treated (often rightly) as victims, letting sex workers who view themselves and their work positively to tell their own stories is important. There are different facets to every story, especially one as complex as prostitution.
Whores and Other Feminists was published on July 2, 1997.
Cheap by Ellen Ruppel Shell
An Atlantic correspondent uncovers the true cost-in economic, political, and psychic terms-of our penchant for making and buying things as cheaply as possible
From the shuttered factories of the rust belt to the look-alike strip malls of the sun belt-and almost everywhere in between-America has been transformed by its relentless fixation on low price. This pervasive yet little examined obsession is arguably the most powerful and devastating market force of our time-the engine of globalization, outsourcing, planned obsolescence, and economic instability in an increasingly unsettled world.
Low price is so alluring that we may have forgotten how thoroughly we once distrusted it. Ellen Ruppel Shell traces the birth of the bargain as we know it from the Industrial Revolution to the assembly line and beyond, homing in on a number of colorful characters, such as Gene Verkauf (his name is Yiddish for “to sell”), founder of E. J. Korvette, the discount chain that helped wean customers off traditional notions of value. The rise of the chain store in post-Depression America led to the extolling of convenience over quality, and big-box retailers completed the reeducation of the American consumer by making them prize low price in the way they once prized durability and craftsmanship.
The effects of this insidious perceptual shift are vast: a blighted landscape, escalating debt (both personal and national), stagnating incomes, fraying communities, and a host of other socioeconomic ills. That’s a long list of charges, and it runs counter to orthodox economics which argues that low price powers productivity by stimulating a brisk free market. But Shell marshals evidence from a wide range of fields-history, sociology, marketing, psychology, even economics itself-to upend the conventional wisdom. Cheap also unveils the fascinating and unsettling illogic that underpins our bargain-hunting reflex and explains how our deep-rooted need for bargains colors every aspect of our psyches and social lives. In this myth-shattering, closely reasoned, and exhaustively reported investigation, Shell exposes the astronomically high cost of cheap.
I’ll admit it—I’m cheap. I pick happily through thrift stores and bargain bins when I can, but I’ve never wondered why prices can get so low. This is a situation where I know I can’t go back to being ignorant after reading this, but I think it’s important to know what it truly means to pay low prices for goods.
Laura Shapiro of The New York Times found it soberly fascinating, although Shell doesn’t offer any conclusions or solutions. (Yikes!) Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com calls it “a harrowing document of the pursuit of profit at the expense of our basic humanity“.
Cheap was published on July 2, 2009.