It’s been a couple of months since I was hanging out in Davos learning about this year Wolrd Economic Forum.
Davos, Switzerland, January 2019
I have been following up the conversations ever since: about world leaders said to be not acting as role models (or acting as bad role models), the hypocrisy about sustainability, philatropic models or the proposals to adjust taxes for the wealthier amongst us to secure the basic standard of living for all, a conversation the one directly affected seem to be avoiding.
Of course, as the founder of Peppr and Ohlala and the person said to be responsible of # escortgate and “ We all have sexwork to do ”, I follow up on all conversations related to Escorting and sexwork, which I deliberately call ‘paid dating’.
However, I am still a bit confused about the opinionated statements that were going on this year after Davos. It’s the same debates and thoughts we had around #escortgate, a hashtag which went viral, after there were said to be “escorts” at the afterparty of one of the biggest investor conferences in Europe.
I have been wondering how to productively progress the conversation around this morally, emotionally loaded topic, because clearly we are running around in circles.
Why? In none of the articles or posts that I found so far, any constructive solutions were proposed as to how effectively improve the circumstances in this context. Instead what I saw is a whole lot of personal, subjective judgement of people that are sometimes being labeled as ‘escorts’ and how they are not supposed to be around in places like Davos during WEF. I had hoped for a more deliberate, thought through conversation, a dialogue, but mostly what I read is discrimination by stigmatizing and judging people, upon their very personal choice and agreements: how they want (or have to — as most of us do) to make money, to afford a living.
In a grassroots chat group, ‘UnDavos’, I read a very good statement, with which I would like to set the stage:
"As for those purchasing the services? I personally do not believe that I would extend an opinion or judge a relationship between two consenting adults. At Davos. Beyond Davos. What do I know of their personal relationship choices, circumstances or agreements? Yes, agreements.”
And there are all sorts of them, from marriage contracts to short term paid dates, all addressing the same thing: money.
What if we just respect other people’s agreements and choices and instead decrease risks of offline encounters and make it safer for those who are involved?
“I don’t want to be mistaken for a prostitute”
You might wonder, which conversations or statements I was so confused about there.
Let’s look at some statements:
First quote about the existence of Escorts at WEF
“And then I heard the whispers of what happens at night, at the parties, in the hotel lobbies and at the famous Piano Bar where it was an unspoken understanding that some men “took off their wedding rings.” Almost all my male colleagues commented on the presence of female escorts at these venues, many of which were guest-list only, or required a hotel badge to access. A quick online search displayed a number of articles (examples here or here) confirming that the existence of and easy access to escorts at Davos is nothing new, and for some delegates, could be a strong motivator to attend.” Statement found here .
Demand creates supply. It’s as simple as that and from an economic standpoint, I do understand wo/men going there to seek business, in any sense. Also, on that particular one.
However, I wonder:
· What is so bad about the “existence of and easy access of escorts” in the first place?
· Why shouldn’t there be wo/man who get paid to date at the World Economic Forum?
· If it’s true, maybe some men took off rings because they are in an open marriage?
· Why would you care about someone else’s choice? (Unless you are the wife of that person and you have a personal private agreement to stay physically faithful and not take the ring off.)
In Switzerland, at least, if there really were some wo/man who get paid to have sex, it would be legal and regulated — not even a breach of law. For me, these workers should be as much part of the conversation as anyone else in Davos. Actually, given the current political environment in the U.S. around the topic of sexwork, they should definitely be part of the conversations, because this industry screams:
“Please reinvent me and improve circumstances for those who are not protected. Make it safer for everyone involved.”
Some politicians already seem to be having a change of heart. Decriminalisation is their way forward. Going along with all the standing proposals of Amnesty International (such as: https://www.amnesty.org/en/qa-policy-to-protect-the-human-rights-of-sex-workers/).
What else has been subject of the realm on feeling “unsafe” or “discriminated” at Davos.
Second quote about looking at someone
“It’s the kind of place where if a woman turns away to exit a conversation and looks back just quickly enough, she’ll find her posterior aesthetic being carefully dissected by the man who just asked her for her business card — even if he is the CEO of a major bank. When we weren’t being asked how we got here, we were constantly being stared up and down by CEOs, hedge fund managers, finance ministers and embassy heads.” Statement found (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/mariahsummers/what-its-like-to-be-a-woman-at-the-old-boys-economic-forum).
You can’t even look and check out? I do it all the time myself, with men and women. I can appreciate a beautiful person, without having the urge to “hook up with him or her”. We do checkout people all the time — on Instagram and Facebook. But are not allowed to look in real life? Everyone does it. Recently, I have found myself with other people in the office kitchen wondering how cute the new intern is. #Wetoo do it. Remember the Coca-Cola ads, capturing the moment, when the Coca Cola man is simply being objectified. No one has complained about that.
It goes both ways.
Third quote about warnings regarding sexual harassment
“At the Davos opening Women’s Reception, with some male allies in attendance, I asked a question: why is it that in 2019, young female delegates are forewarned about sexual harassment — as if it’s our responsibility to protect ourselves — but the delegates themselves aren’t given training on how (or why) not to harass? There was no answer, other than a murmuring recognition that it was a known issue: many of the women who attended in past years had personal experience of sexual harassment.”
- What is actually sexual harassment?
· Can we come up with a definition?
· Does sexual harassment go both ways?
· Where does it start?
· Where to draw the line?
There is always two sides of the story and I feel like in the realm of the “gender narrative debate” (certain traits assigned to genders because of a gender), we need to let both parties speak in order to find a common ground. What one attempt-to-hit-on-someone finds okay (because it’s the Coca Cola man, and he is cute), the other one feels totally offended.
Of course we could be confused anyway. Every third relationship evolves in a work related context. So that means, including these events, it could be a dating market as well, right? Personally, 90% of my time, I am surrounded by people that I somehow work together. The chances that I meet someone that I want to partner up with, is high. So naturally, events like this is also a space where I might get to know someone, for a night, maybe more. I understand, there is certain limits: If someone runs up to someone during the day time event in a straightforward business context and does a pussy or penis grab (Presidential style?), I understand negative sentiments. But if people (yes, men AND women) hit on each other in a Piano Bar to romantic music, at 2 in the morning, after a couple of glasses of wine or even 4 G&Ts, where people go to hang loose and let the laptop in their hotel room, you cannot possibly be surprised that this is happening. And again: It goes both ways. We all forget our manners sometimes, when we are drunk (or high, or whatever). (On a personal note: The most aggressive hit on me ever, was by a drunk woman, not a man.)
Fourth quote about being mistaken for a prostitute
“I think about what I wear more because there are a lot of prostitutes in Davos, especially at the Piano Bar,” Aase said, referencing the popular late-night hot spot during the World Economic Forum. “I don’t want to be mistaken for a prostitute.” (ibid.).
So are there two types of women: ladies and prostitutes?
In practice: What should event organizers do? Ask everybody, whether or not they are „prostitute“ and if a person confirms (which they will not do anyway) exclude them from the party?
When we gender mainstream almost everything, even adjust anthems of countries, toilet signs, why don’t we just get rid of that particular word too? Or best: all of them: escort, prostitute, whore. Those devaluating terms are connected directly to women. We will not evolve in any of the conversations if we use preconceived terms. We need to let go of these terms. When we talk empowerment, we need to empower all women (or people in general). That certainly includes also those who get paid to date.
I think we could evolve and can do better than continuing to lead a ‘Maria Magdalena’ conversation and how she is not part of the group. We could do so much better and include for a change. Right?
Anybody is welcome to share!
Now, that I have pointed out about my happiness of the apperance of “Escorts” at Davos and elaborated on some specific statements, I would like to start proposing a couple of solutions and quick fixes. Here are some ideas that I would like to propose as to how to progress in this entire discussion:
1. Power of perception
Could you, instead of having a down-looking attitude toward this type of entrepreneur, take it as a compliment?
When in doubt: take it as a compliment!
Flip the coin. Be bold and brave. So what? Maybe that person misread the signs? If he/she thinks you want to be paid to date: just say. ‘No, I don’t‘. This way you are still respecting other people, especially women who do this — as a personal choice entering into an agreement — and you maintain your own integrity. Problem solved. That I find acting out of a position of power, instead of victimizing yourself.
2. Let’s stop this gender blaming!
People can have female and male traits. This makes the whole gender debate almost irrelevant. This is “how men are” or this is “how women are” is simply stereotyping our way to further separation. Even the Davos Vanity Fair – as my legendary professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic calls the WEF – advocates the gender neutrality.
This whole finger pointing and mansplaining doesn’t solve anything but create negative sentiments because we simply sometimes don’t know anymore as to how to behave in certain contexts. I feel like the whole dynamic is ruled by fear, as to what we are not supposed to do, instead of relearning how we can handle each other in certain contexts. Reframe it in a positive way. Look at it as a chance or opportunity.
And it goes both ways, this #metoo. We have to find a common ground towards a #wetoo. From he said, he did, she said, she did. We need to evolve to a “#wetoo are going to solve this together”.
How about heshe?
3. Education is key.
We need proper trainings of all sorts on how to handle each other. Why not invest in our (work) relationships?
Maybe we need to elaborate a guideline. We could design a new sort of “Knigge” or a Code of Conduct on how to behave in a work related context. This could help navigate through some uncertainties, especially if cultures vary across borders and continents.
Or maybe even a defense class to train people for difficult situations. For example: I had a compulsory defense class in middle school. We were trained by really big guys to defend ourselves. The impact in my life? I always feel/felt safe, because though I might be physically inferior, I know some really important tricks. It gave me a lifelong confidence. Maybe that’s what we all have to learn at the end of the day: articulate our intentions properly and (be able to) show the limits.
Imagine a world, free from personal judgement, where “it” would be decriminalized. People active in this field could seek help if they needed it and would pay taxes. The proceeds of the taxes could be used to combat negative forces within this market.
That for me, is a desirable future. One I would like to help shape. What do you think?
Caps waiting to be picked up and worn. Davos, 2019.
Mag. Pia Poppenreiter
Inventor, start-up guru, conceptualist, CEO of Ohlala