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Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk

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A provocative history that reveals how sex workers have been at the vanguard of social justice movements for the past fifty years while building a movement of their own that challenges our ideas about labor, sexuality, feminism, and freedom   Documenting five decades of sex-worker activism, Sex Workers Unite is a fresh history that places prostitutes, hustlers, escorts, cal A provocative history that reveals how sex workers have been at the vanguard of social justice movements for the past fifty years while building a movement of their own that challenges our ideas about labor, sexuality, feminism, and freedom   Documenting five decades of sex-worker activism, Sex Workers Unite is a fresh history that places prostitutes, hustlers, escorts, call girls, strippers, and porn stars in the center of America’s major civil rights struggles. Although their presence has largely been ignored and obscured, in this provocative history Melinda Chateauvert recasts sex workers as savvy political organizers—not as helpless victims in need of rescue.   Even before transgender sex worker Sylvia Rivera threw a brick and sparked the Stonewall Riot in 1969, these trailblazing activists and allies challenged criminal sex laws and “whorephobia,” and were active in struggles for gay liberation, women’s rights, reproductive justice, union organizing, and prison abolition.   Although the multibillion-dollar international sex industry thrives, the United States remains one of the few industrialized nations that continues to criminalize prostitution, and these discriminatory laws put workers at risk. In response, sex workers have organized to improve their working conditions and to challenge police and structural violence. Through individual confrontations and collective campaigns, they have pushed the boundaries of conventional organizing, called for decriminalization, and have reframed sex workers’ rights as human rights.   Telling stories of sex workers, from the frontlines of the 1970s sex wars to the modern-day streets of SlutWalk, Chateauvert illuminates an underrepresented movement, introducing skilled activists who have organized a global campaign for self-determination and sexual freedom that is as multifaceted as the sex industry and as diverse as human sexuality. 


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A provocative history that reveals how sex workers have been at the vanguard of social justice movements for the past fifty years while building a movement of their own that challenges our ideas about labor, sexuality, feminism, and freedom   Documenting five decades of sex-worker activism, Sex Workers Unite is a fresh history that places prostitutes, hustlers, escorts, cal A provocative history that reveals how sex workers have been at the vanguard of social justice movements for the past fifty years while building a movement of their own that challenges our ideas about labor, sexuality, feminism, and freedom   Documenting five decades of sex-worker activism, Sex Workers Unite is a fresh history that places prostitutes, hustlers, escorts, call girls, strippers, and porn stars in the center of America’s major civil rights struggles. Although their presence has largely been ignored and obscured, in this provocative history Melinda Chateauvert recasts sex workers as savvy political organizers—not as helpless victims in need of rescue.   Even before transgender sex worker Sylvia Rivera threw a brick and sparked the Stonewall Riot in 1969, these trailblazing activists and allies challenged criminal sex laws and “whorephobia,” and were active in struggles for gay liberation, women’s rights, reproductive justice, union organizing, and prison abolition.   Although the multibillion-dollar international sex industry thrives, the United States remains one of the few industrialized nations that continues to criminalize prostitution, and these discriminatory laws put workers at risk. In response, sex workers have organized to improve their working conditions and to challenge police and structural violence. Through individual confrontations and collective campaigns, they have pushed the boundaries of conventional organizing, called for decriminalization, and have reframed sex workers’ rights as human rights.   Telling stories of sex workers, from the frontlines of the 1970s sex wars to the modern-day streets of SlutWalk, Chateauvert illuminates an underrepresented movement, introducing skilled activists who have organized a global campaign for self-determination and sexual freedom that is as multifaceted as the sex industry and as diverse as human sexuality. 

30 review for Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk

  1. 5 out of 5

    Morgan M. Page

    I, for one, was not expecting that I would be quoted in the book's final paragraph, but it was a delightful surprise! Enough about me - Chateauvert charts the course of the American sex workers' rights movement. Along the way, Chateauvert helpfully provides not only historical context but details how activists worked, how they won, and what can be learned from their failures. The book ends in 2012, right before the rise of digital censorship-based attacks on sex workers' lives and incomes which I, for one, was not expecting that I would be quoted in the book's final paragraph, but it was a delightful surprise! Enough about me - Chateauvert charts the course of the American sex workers' rights movement. Along the way, Chateauvert helpfully provides not only historical context but details how activists worked, how they won, and what can be learned from their failures. The book ends in 2012, right before the rise of digital censorship-based attacks on sex workers' lives and incomes which have resulted in the harmful SESTA-FOSTA legislation that activists today are fighting against - a subject that begs to be written about in depth by whoever next takes up the role of sex work activism historian.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stefani

    I gave this book my very best, I went into it with the most open of open minds, and I just didn’t like it at all. Now, let me explain a little about myself here. I believe that prostitution and sex trade work will exist no matter how illegal we try and make it. It always has existed and it always will as long as there are people willing to pay for sex. I believe that a lot would be accomplished by legalizing prostitution. For the rest of this review please visit my blog, Written Among The Stars I I gave this book my very best, I went into it with the most open of open minds, and I just didn’t like it at all. Now, let me explain a little about myself here. I believe that prostitution and sex trade work will exist no matter how illegal we try and make it. It always has existed and it always will as long as there are people willing to pay for sex. I believe that a lot would be accomplished by legalizing prostitution. For the rest of this review please visit my blog, Written Among The Stars I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher, no guarantees or promises were made in exchange.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Hoogterp

    I'm surprised by other reviewers comments. Firstly, the subtitle is from stonewall to slutwalk: one reviewer seems to have forgotten that and focused on the so called lack of discussion of Stonewall; which is incorrect since the first essay discusses stonewall and the beginnings of sex worker activism per se. Secondly, another reviewer claims a lot of acronyms are used that likely will confuse a reader. That's not true. Acronyms are used but each are discussed and they didn't stroke me as carele I'm surprised by other reviewers comments. Firstly, the subtitle is from stonewall to slutwalk: one reviewer seems to have forgotten that and focused on the so called lack of discussion of Stonewall; which is incorrect since the first essay discusses stonewall and the beginnings of sex worker activism per se. Secondly, another reviewer claims a lot of acronyms are used that likely will confuse a reader. That's not true. Acronyms are used but each are discussed and they didn't stroke me as carelessly bandied about as to lose a reader. Thirdly, it was claimed in another review that this wasn't entertaining enough. This wasn't meant to be "entertaining"--a serious of salacious sex tales, so that reviewer missed the whole point of the book. It was claimed in multiple places that this was high academic reading. Admittedly I have two masters degrees, but I know people without a college degree who would have no trouble reading this at all. The language is jargon free and the style is smooth and easily read. Granted, if you have the attention span of a gnat and thought you were going to read gossip or some erotic tales then you'll be thrown by the book....but the idea this is highly academic in style like some sociology technical manual, if such things existed, is ludicrous. The book is written for the sociologist as much as the average person. The book is decent but not a comprehensive history of sex workers rights movements. It's nonetheless fascinating when discussing feminism and sex worker rights. I highly recommend this to anyone interest in human rights.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Beth Winn

    can be dense read for some but lots of history and commentary on modern sexworker rights movement

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I wanted to give this book a good review because it is my first gotten through Goodreads Giveaways. However, while the book is well-researched and meticulously foornoted, it is much too clinical for the casual reader. Was this Chateauvert's dissertation? The author is at her best when discussing personalities rather than movements. The chapter headings were cool. Otherwise, I did not find this book at all entertaining. And the only reference to Stonewall is that the riot started when a transgend I wanted to give this book a good review because it is my first gotten through Goodreads Giveaways. However, while the book is well-researched and meticulously foornoted, it is much too clinical for the casual reader. Was this Chateauvert's dissertation? The author is at her best when discussing personalities rather than movements. The chapter headings were cool. Otherwise, I did not find this book at all entertaining. And the only reference to Stonewall is that the riot started when a transgender sex worker threw a shoe through the window. Not a lot of information to base a subtitle on.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    Chateauvert tells the overlooked history of US sex workers’ fight for sexual freedom and the end of moralistic discrimination against them. She tracks the movement parallel to the women’s and gay right’s movements from the 1970s onward, highlighting the uneasy relationship between and among these groups. She also seeks to highlight the numerous local movements started across the nation to fight back against everything from police brutality, to abusive working conditions in strip clubs, to being Chateauvert tells the overlooked history of US sex workers’ fight for sexual freedom and the end of moralistic discrimination against them. She tracks the movement parallel to the women’s and gay right’s movements from the 1970s onward, highlighting the uneasy relationship between and among these groups. She also seeks to highlight the numerous local movements started across the nation to fight back against everything from police brutality, to abusive working conditions in strip clubs, to being scapegoated during beginning of the AIDS epidemic. This endeavor to give all credit where it is due, while certainly worthwhile, does push the book towards reading like a reference encyclopedia for all these organizations. While the dedicated reader will undoubtedly be able to follow the multiple fronts on which the movement advanced, the lay reader may be left confused as to the current goals and strategies of the movement.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Katie Barefoot

    SENSATIONAL. Sex Workers Unite is a academic history that documents sex worker and the social issues surrounding it from 1969 to the present day. I initially found this work a little hard to get into because the writing is very dense, but the subject matter and presentation made it impossible to stop! If you’re looking for an important read to add to your TBR pile, I suggest this one! Favorite quote: “The sex industry is big and weird and varied, and there are a lot of different issues that face SENSATIONAL. Sex Workers Unite is a academic history that documents sex worker and the social issues surrounding it from 1969 to the present day. I initially found this work a little hard to get into because the writing is very dense, but the subject matter and presentation made it impossible to stop! If you’re looking for an important read to add to your TBR pile, I suggest this one! Favorite quote: “The sex industry is big and weird and varied, and there are a lot of different issues that face people who are in the industry by circumstance, choice, or coercion. The industry is not a monolith and there are lots of things that need to be done to improve the lives of the people who work within it.”

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Didn’t finish. I picked it up because this is a topic I’d like to learn more about. While very well-researched, I found the lack of personal narratives and detached, objective tone hard to get engaged in. So perhaps this is more of an “intermediate” level reading on the subject. The history and details, while interesting, weren’t able to “latch” onto an already existing internal framework for me to truly get the learning and insights I was hoping for. Maybe I can come back to it some day. (If an Didn’t finish. I picked it up because this is a topic I’d like to learn more about. While very well-researched, I found the lack of personal narratives and detached, objective tone hard to get engaged in. So perhaps this is more of an “intermediate” level reading on the subject. The history and details, while interesting, weren’t able to “latch” onto an already existing internal framework for me to truly get the learning and insights I was hoping for. Maybe I can come back to it some day. (If anyone has any recommendations on this topic I would welcome it!)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    I like the idea of this book and the purpose for which it is written, but the chapters were slow and a lot of the key people hard to keep track of and follow. The intent of this book is fantastic, and it was interesting to learn some of the more recent history of the sex worker movements in the US, but the execution made it really hard to stay focused on what was going on in this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    Not entirely sure how to rate this. Read it for class, and I'm still unsure as to the target audience. It made good points, but was very "preaching to the choir." Add in a couple of bizarre references to the Regency and I'm scratching my head. Not entirely sure how to rate this. Read it for class, and I'm still unsure as to the target audience. It made good points, but was very "preaching to the choir." Add in a couple of bizarre references to the Regency and I'm scratching my head.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tatao Burduli

    Nice to review facts, but the author is definitely not a writer.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Roen

    Very enlightening, attention-grabbing, and a great read for anyone who wants to learn the history of the sex work movement and learn better ways to support sex workers.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    I received Sex Workers Unite for free in a Goodreads giveaway. and I’m really grateful that I did. Despite the provocative title, it was well researched, useful for both casual readers like myself and more serious academics. Gloria Steinem once wrote that we should listen to people, not paper, and Chateauvert does just that. Instead of talking about sex workers, she talks to them, delivering their words right to the readers. She discusses the absence of sex workers in the civil rights movements, I received Sex Workers Unite for free in a Goodreads giveaway. and I’m really grateful that I did. Despite the provocative title, it was well researched, useful for both casual readers like myself and more serious academics. Gloria Steinem once wrote that we should listen to people, not paper, and Chateauvert does just that. Instead of talking about sex workers, she talks to them, delivering their words right to the readers. She discusses the absence of sex workers in the civil rights movements, in feminist politics, in the gay rights movement, and in our societal discourse in general. Sex workers are talked about, talked down, to and even as we demand their services, shamed for existing. With a passionate tone, Chateauvert sets out to provide examples for activists and confront the stereotypes and stigmas about sex work. Unfortunately, the examples that Chateauvert provides don’t provide a clear map for making sex workers’ lives better, as she would have hoped, but they do show readers where to start-by listening to the workers themselves. Her work highlights the resilience and self care that has kept sex workers alive and fighting, stronger than society gives them credit for. Sex Workers Unite is a fascinating read and one that leaves you reconsidering every preconceived notion you had about sex work that you ever had.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I won a copy of Sex Workers Unite from a firstreads giveaway. It is clear from this book that Melinda Chateauvert is entrenched in the struggles of sex workers (be they strippers, escorts, porn stars, or rent boys), and well-versed in the history of their political organization. The empowering title, a call to action in itself, alludes to the proactive nature of the activities profiled in the text. Chateauvert is interested in the sex workers that don't just lay back and take it (forgive me, coul I won a copy of Sex Workers Unite from a firstreads giveaway. It is clear from this book that Melinda Chateauvert is entrenched in the struggles of sex workers (be they strippers, escorts, porn stars, or rent boys), and well-versed in the history of their political organization. The empowering title, a call to action in itself, alludes to the proactive nature of the activities profiled in the text. Chateauvert is interested in the sex workers that don't just lay back and take it (forgive me, couldn't resist the pun), and covers five years of political organization within the United States. As someone who lost a university president in part because he stood up for the student's right to host the Sex Workers' Art Show, I was surprised at how much I didn't know about the movement(s). For practical purposes, this is not a book that is going to get a wide audience. It is very in-depth, there are a LOT of acronyms, a lot of endnotes, and a lot of moving parts. Chateauvert's thoroughness keeps this from being a book for the average reader. I was interested, and it took me about 50 pages before I was really getting into the book and the history. That said, there are some really sassy, choice figures and anecdotes that keep this book moving and the reader interested.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Will

    *I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway.* It takes a lot for a book to make me want to stop. Chateauvert (who has a lovely French last name) is angry. Her passion for sex worker equality is admirable. I love long non-fiction books, but the tone here was too blatantly angry for me to enjoy the book. The subject is fascinating, and the writing is well done, but Chateauvert clearly does not hold men in high esteem, to put it nicely. As a man, I was offended slightly by both her attacks an *I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway.* It takes a lot for a book to make me want to stop. Chateauvert (who has a lovely French last name) is angry. Her passion for sex worker equality is admirable. I love long non-fiction books, but the tone here was too blatantly angry for me to enjoy the book. The subject is fascinating, and the writing is well done, but Chateauvert clearly does not hold men in high esteem, to put it nicely. As a man, I was offended slightly by both her attacks and her characterization of the entire male gender as morally corrupt. So I stopped after a few chapters after desperately trying to push through. Again, the topic is fascinating and Chateauvert addresses it with fervor, but her radical views were a little too much for my sensibilities.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sydney

    I really wanted to enjoy this book. The author and I share every viewpoint, and I was very excited to read about the history of sex workers' rights and their continuing evolution. But I deeply resent whichever person told the author that she ought to resort to dramatic narrative language to get her points across. The language and structure are immature, and leave a lot of facts to be desired - in the sense that, while based on facts, and relaying facts, the whole book sounds like a Lifetime Movi I really wanted to enjoy this book. The author and I share every viewpoint, and I was very excited to read about the history of sex workers' rights and their continuing evolution. But I deeply resent whichever person told the author that she ought to resort to dramatic narrative language to get her points across. The language and structure are immature, and leave a lot of facts to be desired - in the sense that, while based on facts, and relaying facts, the whole book sounds like a Lifetime Movie version of reality. I am grateful for this book's bibliography, but that is the only portion of the book I ever intend to revisit.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emmy Gregory

    Great topic. Tedious rant of a book. The language is too dry and complicated to follow easily, and the grasp of the issues at stake is not complex enough. I get that she wants to be supportive of sex workers - I do too. But it feels rather as though the sex workers themselves are simply being used by the author to make whatever points she personally believes.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tony Parsons

    a book I would luv 2 win/read

  19. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa Lu

    Really informative albeit a bit dense at first with tons of facts thrown at you

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rosie

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sage

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ben Miller

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chanelle

  24. 4 out of 5

    Michael Jepson

  25. 5 out of 5

    Fenna

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jaime Stern

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kim Kelly

  29. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matt

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