Working Girls: Feminist Views on Sex Work
The term working girls historically has referred to women who earn money through wage labor or erotic labor. Since the late 19th century, policies in the United States have shifted toward the criminalization of sex workers and their clients. As recently as 2019, Congress implemented FOSTA and SESTA, two federal policies aimed at sexual commerce on the internet. In an age of mass incarceration and carceral surveillance, this criminalization affects women of color and LGBTQ people in particular.
In this event, Black Trans Women Inc. Director Diamond Collier and Clayman Postdoctoral Fellow Melissa Brown join Clayman Institute Director Adrian Daub to discuss the ways capitalism and the state have structured society’s understanding of labor and sexuality. How does unpacking assumptions about sex work shift the dialogue around labor and agency in the 21st century?
Clayman Conversations is a series bringing to campus feminist leaders who are driving conversations in their respective fields and who are experts in gender-related subjects that are current and pressing.
About the Speakers
Diamond Stylz is one of the premier voices of the millennial black trans community. She started her activism at 17 when she won a First Amendment rights lawsuit against the Indianapolis Public School system, a victory that allows her to go to the prom in a gender-affirming gown instead of a tuxedo. At 19, she was the first openly trans woman to attend the legendary HBCU Jackson State University where she honed her passion for activism. Currently, Diamond is the Executive Director of Black Trans Women Inc, a national non-profit that is led by Black trans women focused on social advocacy, positive visibility and building strong leadership among advocates, activists, and our allies. We host an annual empowerment conference with trans specific programming that draws from the US and beyond. Diamond is the host and producer of Martha's Plate, a weekly podcast that centers trans-inclusive pro-black feminism and pop culture.
Melissa Brown is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a PhD in sociology in 2019. Her areas of expertise include intersectionality, digital sociology, social movements, and sexual politics.
Melissa's current project centers on how Black women exotic dancers based in the urban South use social networking smartphone applications for advertising and networking. This dataset includes over 31,000 images, videos, and text generated from the smartphone application Instagram, which offers users a social networking platform that facilitates the exchange of various audiovisual content. Melissa uses a mixed methods analysis to examine how Black women exotic dancers perform erotic labor, how the landscape of contemporary strip club industry maps on twentieth century Jim Crow segregation, and how the self-definition and self-valuation of the erotic labor of Black women contrasts with popular culture depictions. This work received funding from the University of Maryland's Behavioral and Social Sciences College Dean's Research Initiative and the University of Maryland Department of Sociology's William H. Form Summer Research Fellowship.
Melissa's previous research on antiracist and Black feminist social media activism has been published in Ethnic and Racial Studies. She is also the digital editor for Black Feminist Sociology, a forthcoming volume edited by Professors Zakiya Luna and Whitney Pirtle.
For more information about Melissa's work, please go to melissacbrown.com.