Sex Work, Student Debt and the Minimum Wage

This article originally appeared on The Beauty Bean. Republished with permission.

This week, a Duke University freshman was “outed” as a porn star. Spotted and confronted by a male classmate, she confessed and swore him to secrecy. Naturally, he blabbed the whole ordeal to his fraternity and tweeted that his new goal is to “fuck her” before he graduates. Classy, right?

In response, the young woman gave an interview to the Duke Chronicle, in which she boldly claimed ownership of her chosen profession, citing financial incentive in the face of soaring tuition (Duke is roughly $60,000 per year) and the freedom to embrace her sexuality:

“I worked as a waitress as a job for a year in high school and not only did it interfere with my school where I was barely sleeping and wasn’t doing my work, but also I was making $400 a month after taxes. I felt like I was being degraded and treated like s–t. My boss was horrible to me,” Lauren said. “For people to tell me that doing porn and having sex, which I love, is more degrading than being a waitress and being somebody’s servant and picking up after somebody and being treated like a lesser, second-class citizen, that literally makes no sense. To be perfectly honest, I felt more degraded in a minimum wage, blue-collar, low paying, service job than I ever did doing porn.” (…)

“I have always been a very sexual person, and I’m also bisexual, but I haven’t ever felt really welcome,” said Lauren. “But when I’m in Pornland, I feel at home. This is where I’m meant to be, with these people who love sex and are comfortable about it.”

When I first read this news story, my immediate reaction was annoyance at the classmate who made it his business to share her secret with the world. But the more I read, the more my umbrage focused on the larger, societal issues hidden within Lauren’s story: the affordability of higher education, the need to raise the minimum wage, and whether sex work is work.

Higher education, especially at top-notch institutions like Duke, is becoming increasingly out of reach for many young people. Consider these statistics: 1 out of 2 will skip college entirely because it is too expensive. For those who do attend, student loans leave college graduates an average of $20,000 in debt, with approximately 10% of graduates having twice that debt to repay. Collectively, American students owe more than one trillion dollars. TRILLION.

Combine those frightening numbers with the stark reality of finding full-time employment after graduation and it’s no wonder Lauren has taken to sex work to pay tuition. And, by the way, having a degree in hand does not ensure you will get a white-collar job in your chosen field: 323,000 recent grads are waiters/waitresses, compared to 80,000 who are engineers. Kudos to those engineers, especially if they’re male; (White) females will make about 77% of their male colleagues, thanks to our country’s lovely gender pay gap.

With hundreds of thousands of college grads (who are likely shouldering debt) – as well as countless others – struggling to earn a living on $7.25/hour, it seems a crime not to raise the minimum wage. And, much like their white-collar brethren, it’s better to be a man in these types of jobs.  Women – especially women of color – are disproportionately affected by the current minimum wage, as they’re more likely to hold low-wage jobs.

How can our economy and communities thrive – financially or educationally – when large swaths of our population can barely make ends meet?

So, the true villain here isn’t a young college student spreading her legs to pay for college. It’s the systemic, institutional discrimination that dispels the myth of the American Dream. And people wonder why we still need feminism.

Categories: Money

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2 replies

  1. I know that there are all sorts of studies about women’s vs. men’s pay but I’m really skeptical that those entry level engineers are seeing a 23% difference in pay correlated with gender. I’ve worked for large organizations – they have well thought-out pay levels and know that if their payment schemes were influenced by gender, they’d find their butts on the losing end of a lawsuit.

    • It seems to me that the wages of the 80,000 entry level engineers are not what this article is primarily concerned with. The many graduates who are unable to land such high-paying jobs still need to pay back their student loans, and they are certainly not all working for large organizations concerned with losing lawsuits. Individuals are paid fairly regardless of gender in those organizations because their employers know that they have the financial means to initiate such lawsuits in the first place.

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