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Gendered Ethical Self-Creation and Resistance in Sex Work

Elizabeth Smith

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This article examines the question of ethical self-creation in sex work in regard to notions of gender and gendered relations. In order to explore this question, I rely on empirical research based on interviews with nine women in legal/regulated sex work in Victoria, Australia that were undertaken in 2009 as part of a PhD project. The women’s narratives are viewed through a postmodern lens that draws on the work of Foucault and his feminist contemporaries. Specifically utilising Butler’s notion of overplay and Foucault’s later work on ethics, I argue that there are possibilities for women in the sex industry to (re)create their ethical substances – or senses of self – in ways that allow them to resist appropriating dominant and stigmatising discourses about who they are, both as sex workers and as women. The findings suggest that while sex work may appear from the outside to be wholly constructed in gender-stereotyped ways, for some women, it is also a space within which gender norms can be challenged.

Keywords: Sex work, Gendered ethics, Foucault, Care of the self


Bibliography: Smith, Elizabeth: Gendered Ethical Self-Creation and Resistance in Sex Work, INSEP, Vol. 2, Issue 1/2014, pp. 39-53.