No Comment: “Escort Quality, Hooker Pricing”

A sheep. In a sombrero. Next to a vodka bottle. With the tagline, “Escort Quality, Hooker Pricing.”

Where do I begin?

Well, let’s start with the facts: The NYC billboard is part of a Wodka campaign marketing its vodka as high quality and low price. Other billboards in the campaign read, “Lobstah Quality. Chowdah Pricing,” “Great Vodka. Priced Right” and “Christmas Quality, Hanukah Pricing.” After attracting local protest in the Bronx, the “Escort Quality” billboard was taken down at the end of February, but has since been spotted in Harlem above the West Side Highway.

Now, on to the analysis. I heard the punchline of the ad before actually seeing the picture and thought, “Great. Another alcohol billboard with a too-thin, scantily clad woman in a submissive position.”

But I was–if not pleasantly, exactly–certainly surprised. Instead, the advertisement shows a sheep in a multi-colored sombrero nuzzling up to the vodka bottle. Is the sheep supposed to be a stand-in for a women? (After all, the “lobster” ad depicts a lobster.) Were the makers too afraid to illustrate what an “escort” might look like? Does the lamb symbolize purity? Does the sombrero have racial connotations? Or is the whole thing just plain absurdism?

Whatever the case, the mysterious lamb doesn’t take away from the problems with the slogan. This isn’t the first ad that has likened its product to a woman for sale, but in actually referencing prostitutes, it’s probably the most blatant (and strangest).

Especially troubling is the ad’s distinction between “escorts” and “hookers,” which perpetuates stereotypes about different “classes” of sex workers that have very real and very dangerous effects. Labeling street prostitutes with derogatory terms like “hooker” or “ho” feeds into a larger culture that allows violent criminals to target street prostitutes with impunity. Consider the statistics:

  1. Street prostitutes are victimized at much higher rates than indoor prostitutes. According to a 2001 study, 22 percent of street prostitutes had been raped, 37 percent robbed and 22 percent raped, compared to 2 percent of indoor prostitutes raped, 10 percent robbed and 1 percent assaulted. Other studies have found even higher rates of violent crime against street prostitutes.
  2. Historically, serial killers have targeted outdoor prostitutes; experts say this is both because they are vulnerable on the streets and because police may not take reports of their disappearances seriously.
  3. Unsolved murders of a number of sex workers in Long Island, N.Y., and West Mesa, N.M., are suspected to be the work of serial killers. In each case, police were reportedly slow to investigate initial reports of disappearances.

Abolishing the word “hooker” won’t make these issues disappear overnight. But–regardless of your beliefs about prostitution–using language that recognizes that street prostitutes are people with rights is a first step toward changing the attitude that violence towards them is a matter of course.

Wodka, which recently came under criticism for an anti-Semitic ad, is clearly aiming for shock value. So giving them an earful may not deter them, but you can try it here. At the very least, let’s use this as a teaching moment. Privileging some sex workers over others does nothing to make street prostitutes’ working conditions better or their lives safer. Whatever your position on prostitution, which can be a heated issue among feminists, we can all agree that “hooker” doesn’t help matters.

Photo of New York City billboard courtesy of Ms. reader Karen Faye Taborn.

Comments

  1. Someone should try to deface the billboard by adding “Guaranteed to satisfy the discerning tastes of hookers like Rush Limbaugh.”

  2. Goldmarx says:

    The ad featuring the sheep is gender-neutral. Try to remember that “hookers” and “prostitutes” can be male or even transgendered, not just female.

    Wodka should be commended for getting that much right.

  3. Cheap and vulgar, but it doesn’t offend me as a feminist — and I’ve been one since the bra burning days.

  4. Personally, I think prostitution should be legalized and women who chose this line of work set up price controls that afford them equal access to health care, food and living styles. We are still fighting for equal pay, laws against rape, and sexual harassment is on going at the majority of low paying jobs women get sucked into to keep a roof overhead of bastard children and deadbeat sperm suppliers (not to be confused with term ‘father’. What legalized prostitution would do for women is not only give women economic power; it would reduce date rape and unwanted pregnancies caused by men who ‘use’ women. It would give women sex workers legal recourse, when not paid or injured in anyway. It might not be the line of work i or any one i care about would choose, but for those that do or are forced into this due to financial hardship, they would benefit and for those that don’t, this would level the playing field. Maybe we could put up billboards in a couple years after we change a few more laws….slogan would be…”a little drunk is no excuse…if you rape, we castrate!”….or if you don’t pay your [insert derogatory term here],Penal Code Section 1-Article 1 defines the act as theft of service and rape!

  5. …also, we would not need to be called sl*ts for wanting birth control included with our healthcare… if we all as a gender decided together…once in for all to pass on the cost of sex, child bearing …etc. Let’s forget begging for woman’s healthcare– And, let’s impose a country wide moratorium on sex and or sex without reimbursement ….Let’s call this boycott “NO MORE FREE RIDES!”. Before any one says they could not impose this to their liberal nice guy…honey…if he’s not being vocal and standing up against the patriarchal laws and atrocities of women in our own country, he is just as guilty as the rest…and a coward to boot.

  6. This ad is horrific.

    I agree that calling some women escorts and some “hookers” is a way to keep women, especially prostituted women, separate from each other. No woman deserves to think of herself as being a hooker or a whore, and no woman should be called that by others.

    I would also like to help debunk the myth that indoor prostitution, whatever it’s called, is somehow safter than outdoor prostitution. This is simply not true from talking to formerly prostituted women; for example, read Rebecca Mott’s blog at: rmott62.wordpress.com

  7. I think we should very careful about saying it is a fact that indoors prostitution is less violent than street prostitution. I am exited prostituted woman who did mainly indoors prostitution, and now campaign for abolition.
    The violence that is the norm in all forms of prostitution is hushed up by the sex trade profiteers in indoors prostitution. It is normal to be constantly raped, including gang and being filmed for “amateur” porn in indoors prostitution, it is normal to be viciously beaten up in indoors – so it is normal to cover-up murders in indoors prostitution. The difference is that it is easier to hide the violence from the public gaze.
    I now work and communicate with many exited prostituted women who were moved all areas of the sex trade. A common experience is that the more money and power a john has the more likely he will use indoors prostitution – for he he give more time and space to have free rein to be sadistic with no interference – and his money and power will guarantee any damage he does will be cover-up and made a non-event.
    When a john is violent outdoors he mainly moved the prostitute indoors to be sadistic – into his apartment/house, in a car, in a hotel etc. Therefore most violence done to the prostituted is indoors.

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