Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Whores on Campus: The Sex Worker Arts Show Controversy

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Whores on Campus: The Sex Worker Arts Show Controversy

Article excerpt

In 2008, the College of William and Mary forced performers in a touring art show (and their student sponsors) to sign a contract described by the ACLU as discriminatory and unconstitutional. This contract required the art show to comply with state obscenity laws, despite the fact that these laws contained an express exception for performances at institutions of higher education. The contract was aimed only at one group: The Sex Workers' Arts Show. Created by former sex worker and sex workers' rights activist Annie Oakley in an attempt to demystify sex work, the Arts Show was a forum in which the cultural meanings of "sex worker," were redefined and celebrated by those who work in the industry. The Arts Show toured college campuses across the U.S. from 1998-2009, leaving a trail of controversy in its wake.

Many protested the Arts Show as a step on the slippery slope to moral ruin of "innocent" student bodies. The protests involved citizens, alumni and state legislators, who decried the show for, in the words of Delegate Mark Cole, ""turning the public property of the College into a bawdy house venue for pimps, prostitutes and dominatrix." These protests reached a national scale, with conservative news personalities such as Laura Ingraham deriding Annie Oakley on FOX news. Moreover, the controversy over the Arts Show followed it to other college campuses- including Duke and Virginia Commonwealth University. These protests became nothing short of moral panics, compressing cultural anger and anxiety onto the presumed outsider: the scapegoated sex worker. Critics, unwittingly, framed the Art Show as a challenge to the integrity of academic space, due to the Art Show's frank depiction of commercial sex cultures. For instance, Jo Weldon's contributions included teaching an audience member how to dance and twirl tassels, while joking she went to graduate school because she wanted to keep stripping. …

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