Melissa Gira Grant is a New York-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Nation, the Washington Post, Wired, and The Guardian. Her book, Playing the Whore, will be published by Verso this year.
Yes," Eliot Spitzer told host Chris Hayes on MSNBC, he is a feminist. Hayes had just played him a clip in which Sonia Ossorio, the National Organization for Women's (NOW) New York City chapter president, denounced him for paying for sex. "Do we want an elected official," Ossorio asked, who has "participated in sustaining an industry that we all know has a long history of exploiting women and girls?" Spitzer countered that, as governor, he passed a tough anti-sex-trafficking law (never mind that he broke part of it). It was a conflict you rarely see in public: two people competing for feminist cred over sex work—Spitzer the prosecutor (and repentant customer), Ossorio the spokeswoman (that sex workers never asked for). As is often the case, their sex trade bona fides don't extend to actually having done sex work, but in using sex workers to make a political point. What they missed was that they were shouting from the same side of the stage: Both NOW's Ossorio and comeback-hopeful Spitzer believe the feminist thing to do is enact laws that result in taking power away from sex workers and putting more of them through the criminal-justice system. Both present losing propositions, where those who suffer most are women who are already among the most marginalized and criminalized individuals in our society.