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Working Girl Review

Updated: Apr 1


Sophia Giovannitti opens her debut memoir, Working Girl: On Selling Art and Selling Sex, with a quote on subversion from Brain Holmes: “On the left, the economy had traditionally been seen as the opposite of art, just as the act of selling is the opposite of the spontaneous gift. But the aesthetic strategies of the ‘counterculture’... could be exalted and set to work. The margins become the center; the art of transgression becomes the commodity.” From Verso publishing, Working Girl sets out to be an anti-capitalist critique of art, sex, and work. Yet, Giovannitti’s confessional conceptualizations of sex work as artistic study left me questioning whether this book truly represents the interests of the sex working community. Do platformed voices have a responsibility to the communities they speak on—particularly if they are oppressed? If so, did Giovannitti uphold her end of the bargain?

The thread running through Working Girl is its alignment of the art and sexual economies—both operating in informal spaces, bearing the marks of unregulated capitalism. A fair comparison, but start tugging at the power differentials between the two industries, and Giovannitti’s thesis begins to unravel. Illegality in the art world is not faced with the same level of consequence experienced by those selling sex; art collectors’ tax evasion and arms deals are shielded from scrutiny by the industry’s prestige, while sex workers are increasingly surveilled. Protected by the legitimacy lended to artists, Giovannitti’s identity as a sex worker can be shielded from public judgment; protected by disclosures of privilege, she defends herself from community criticism. The ability to move freely between these positionalities doesn’t represent reality for most sex workers. The “boundlessness” sought in Working Girl, while poetically described,disregards the systemic racist, classist, and ableist restraints many sex workers face.

Some of its analyses are spot on: poignantly-put assessments of alienated labor, whorearchy, and how (through it all) sex work has remained an occupation providing flexibility, autonomy, and an alternative to other exploitative work. These conversations – especially led by sex workers – must be had publicly, but I’m unconvinced that Giovannitti’s political insights are not overshadowed by her romanticization of sex work as some dark and beautiful art. In the first chapter, she tells the biblical tale of two mothers, tasked by King Solomon to cut the baby – both claiming as their own – in half. An analogy is made between Working Girl’s artist/whore protagonist and the scriptural characters: she is the real-mother, faux-mother, and jeopardized baby, too.

She writes: “Getting what you want means giving something up; every solution is beautiful,

violent.” Relatable as some of the stories in Working Girl may be, does bolstering the narrative

that sex work is a “scam” – associating it with “a human appetite for violation” – cross the line

between normalization and trauma-porn, fetishization of experience, and a continuance of the stigma that sex work is inherently abuse?

If books on sex work were published readily, perhaps Giovannitti’s narrative would not have to hold so much gravity. Rather than be inherently politicized, it could be one of many consumable perspectives. As it stands, Working Girl feels more artwork than radical analysis, and leaves much to be desired in its representation of both sex work and anti-capitalism.


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