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Aunt Pythia’s advice

October 5, 2013

Sorry for the lateness of this column. Aunt Pythia slept in this morning and then went for a beautiful bike ride in Central Park. It’s perfect biking weather: somewhat chilly and cloudy, so the sun doesn’t get in your eyes and you don’t get overheated. You guys gotta try it!

However, Aunt Pythia didn’t forget you guys and she wants you to enjoy today’s column and of course she urges you as always to:

ask a question at the bottom of the page!!

By the way, if you want more, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia.

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

Why is it that in this country we can accept that a lobbyist is a valid job description and a valid job but we can’t accept a sex worker?

The profession is legal in Europe, why not the US?

Short and Sweet

Deat S&S,

I wasn’t sure whether, after that first sentence, you wanted lobbyists banned or sex workers made legal. To tell you the truth I coulda gone either way.

So yes, I agree, it’s interesting to think about A) what the hold-up is on legalizing sex work and B) what the pros and cons are of sex-work being legal.

As for the politics, after writing this post about the GOP mindset I’m really not surprised that we haven’t gotten consensus.

As for the pros and cons, I’ve thought about this before, and since I don’t have the actual data I am going on these assumptions I’ve gathered from various reading on the topic, which would all have to be verified:

  • Protecting sex workers makes the profession safer for the workers. It means, for example, that they can call the cops if the clients misbehave, not to mention demand things like health insurance and regular HIV tests like porn industry actors.
  • It also has economic effects. For example, legalized sex workers probably makes buying sex cheaper (and safer), as well as not-quite-sex stuff like topless bars and lap dances.
  • So, in particular, there are plenty of current U.S. establishments that would lose money if sex-working became legalized, specifically places that have super expensive legal almost-sex things and possibly even more expensive illegal sex things for sale. Of course if they moved quickly they could capture the new market.
  • Also, keep in mind that, although safer when legal, sex-work is still dangerous. And if it were more widespread it would affect more people, meaning it might be a net negative thing to do. Kind of like how alcohol is more harmful than heroin because it’s so widely used.

Going back to the original question, how about we just outlaw lobbyists?

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

We know you live in New York. But what are your favorite cities or places that you’ve visited?

Curious

Dear Curious,

There are two kinds of traveling for me: with my kids and alone or with other grownups. When I travel with my kids, I basically just spend time with them. But when I travel alone or with other grown-ups, I do it to meet the people living in that place. I am not visiting to see historical things or to view what that culture’s elite considers its finest works.

I don’t like museums or monuments or historical sites, I never have. I like talking to the people currently living somewhere, and I like exploring how they actually live day to day. I’d rather see their markets than their art. Partly this is because I don’t get art but mostly it’s because I think it’s fascinating to see the differences in average people’s lives and how that informs their mindset. I walk around for hours in their cities and intentionally fall into random conversations at the shop or at lunch or at coffee or at a live music performance. That’s a perfect day for me.

Since everyone shops, and everyone eats, and most everyone talks to people when they do this, I’m pretty neutral to exactly where I go. I always find something fascinating about any place I visit, be it Vermont or Prague.

The only place I’ve ever gone where I found the surroundings more interesting than the people is on my honeymoon, when we went to Alaska, and I got really into geology. And the most fascinating and engaging people I ever met were in Accra, Ghana.

One last thing: I love traveling and I would do way more of it if I didn’t have 3 kids. In fact that’s one thing I am truly jealous of for people with no kids, that they get to travel so much. Enjoy that!

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m from Europe. There are some fairly strong cultural differences between countries, but also some common trends. One is anti-US bashing (e.g. NSA stuff, Iraq fiasco, guns and abortion laws…). To the point that I know some academics who actually refuse to travel to the US.

And yet, I’ve been there a couple times and am well aware that there’s a sizable liberal community, especially on the coasts, and some places like the Boston area or the Silicon Valley seem quite attractive to me. 

So to my question: what advice would you give to a hesitant European (who has no family issues yet, but not a large wallet either)? Land an IT job, and then fly there and just give it a try? Or maybe you have observed many Europeans going back after a couple years?

Patriotism Is Dangerous

Dear PID,

Important question: are people objecting to living in a country with those kinds of policies? Or are they objecting to living in a country where everyone wants to personally own a loaded pistol so they can kill anyone trying to have an abortion?

Here’s the thing. There’s the policies, and then there are the people. While it’s reasonable to avoid living in the U.S. because of it’s insane policies, especially as a non-citizen, it’s of course not reasonable to assume that every city is filled with people who are insane.

For that matter a friend of mine, who is not a descendant of Europeans, tells me that Europeans are hugely racist – not everyone, and not everywhere, but it makes him not want to travel to Europe. So we see the flip side of the coin, namely you can also have reason avoid a country that has reasonable policies but unappealing people.

I’m not really answering your question, but I do want to challenge you (and your European academic brethren) to think about it more carefully. In New York or San Francisco you won’t find a lot of people supporting the policies you despise, but then again you will be in some sense a part of that system even so.

As for what you should do: I know LOTS of Europeans who come here and love it, and still hate lots of the policy. My husband, for example. Of course I am less likely to meet people who leave. So do with that what you will.

Aunt Pythia

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Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have a problem with this guy I was platonically interested in, because he seemed interesting conversation. Unfortunately, he turned out to be quite a self-centered person, so while having intelligent thoughts, his overflowing self confidence makes it less fun to be around.

Worse, he is sexually interested in me, despite my very clear messages that this is never going to happen. He claims freedom of speech of some sort and openness between friends. For a while he used opportunities when we meet at various social circles to kiss me and try to touch me, and once even made some loud embarrassing comments in the presence of a crowd.

I thought I had this under control, as we are both in stable, long term relationships, and I could handle this shit. Indeed he stopped for a while, but recently started texting me again. I don’t want to make a big scene, because innocent people may get hurt, so I try to be civil when we chance to meet, but I do wonder whether there is a particular angle at which I can kick him in the balls to get the message across.

Half Of The Time Intolerably Embarrassed

Dear HOTTIE,

Ooooh I like your sign-off.

OK so just to be SUPER CLEAR about this: have you told him in no uncertain terms to stop? Have you said “I want you to stop trying to be sexual with me, right now”? Have you texted him back with the words “please do not text me”? I will assume you have since it is CLEARLY not enough to think he will get the hint just because you guys are both in stable long-term relationships.

In other words, when you say you’ve given him “very clear messages” I need to believe that you mean “I said no”. Many many men do not hear “no” until you actually say that word, so please promise me you haven’t expected him to pick it up through certain looks or the way you don’t respond to a stolen kiss.

Okay, now that that is out of the way, I am surprised you are willing to talk to him at all. Are you still friends with him? Do you want to be? It sounds like you are somewhat ambivalent, which I think may be the problem here. He might be reading your continued interest in being his friend as sexual interest, or at least as a lack of sexual rejection.

My advice: next time he texts, ignore him altogether, and go ahead and block him now if that is hard to do. Next time you see him in person, if he tries something, take away his hand and say you’re not interested, and that you’re planning to talk to his long-term partner about how he can’t seem to stop trying something even though you’ve rejected him multiple times, and you’re going to ask his partner for advice on how to get him to stop. If he laughs or otherwise ignores you tell him you’re serious and might follow it up with a restraining order.

In other words, make it clear to him that it’s really not OK, the way he’s been acting, and that you are willing to risk real discomfort in relationships (especially his) to get this resolved. It has nothing to do with your relationship, so don’t feel threatened if he says he’ll talk to your long-term partner.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

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Please submit your well-specified, fun-loving, cleverly-abbreviated question to Aunt Pythia!

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. October 5, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    re: Travels with kids.
    I realize you usher your own little tour group around whenever you travel with kids (forgotten your gaggle’s ages) which limits your range of activities, but we were very fortunate to finally get to Paris with our daughter and her two kids (age 16 and 6 at the time). Like you, we were somewhat apprehensive about the situation. I mean, Paris, cultural centre of the western world (in its day), and us – well – babysitting at least part of the time. (Our daughter was there as a working artist on a Canada Council grant and was free mostly evenings and weekends).
    Unlike you, we love museums and culturalish things: like you, I love talking to any and everyone I can, even if my French is somewhat sketchy (Canadians don’t have all that much of an advantage, eh?).
    What a wonderful time we had! It was early summer which helped weatherwise, of course, and Paris turned out to be great for both kids and adults!
    With our grandson, there were parks and playgrounds dotted all over the city, always just a few steps from shops, cafés or a bakery. Best of all, he seemed pretty comfortable chumming up with other kids in the park and – voilà – instant connections to locals and expats from as far away as New Zealand living there.
    We also enjoyed the museums, but not necessarily the ones you’d expect. In three weeks we walked past the Louvre several times on our way to the Tuileries – a fave park of his – but never went in (lineups, way too much to see, especially with a kid). With the help of books like “Secret Paris” and a couple of guides for people with kids in tow, we sought out and found instead all kinds of out-of-the-way and fascinating sites, like the Musée des Ars et Métiers (engineering) and a real joy called Musée de la chasse et de la nature, perfect for him with its blunderbusses, stuffed wolves, and cabinets of bones, scat and feathers, and for us, too, as it’s one of the most intelligently laid out natural and cultural history museums we’ve ever seen.
    We took the Métro everywhere, which is much more fun through a kid’s eyes and far less expensive than cabs.
    Our granddaughter, who is also a social and cultural butterfly, led us to areas replete with markets and unusual book and clothing stores that we might not have visited otherwise. On a couple of occasions, she convinced me to join her on a late night ride on a couple of the ubiquitous Velib’ bikes. We ended up once with a stroll along the Seine past partiers down by the river and under the lights of the Eiffel Tower. The other time we made for the Place de la Bastille and walked through the side streets which were full of people and crowded, smoky boites, which perfectly embodied our idea of Parisian night life.
    All in all, we had a blast!
    Kids can open up very cool travel experiences you might never have on your own.

  2. N Shanakr
    October 5, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    I am brown guy who spent a semester studying mathematics in Central Europe. The impression I got was that the racism is Europe is qualitatively different than US. In some parts of US I am concerned about police harassment due to xenophobia and fear of the “other”. In Europe everyone is super polite but just under the surface exists this deep “social Darwinism” based racism. There was a veneer of condescension to all on conversations, and if an overtly racist comment was made it was shrugged as one of things not to be said in polite society.

  3. kt
    October 8, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I am going to argue with your reply to Half of the time… It’s important to really clearly say no, but the red screaming flags are in “I don’t want to make a big scene, because innocent people may get hurt, so I try to be civil when we chance to meet…”

    Auntie Pythia, don’t you remember any young women who were so hamstrung by the need to be polite and “nice” that they couldn’t make their own thoughts known? Who didn’t say things or make scenes because someone else might feel bad? Who took responsibility for other peoples’ emotions on some subconscious level?

    HOTTIE, you are not responsible for anyone else feeling good or not feeling bad about themselves and the waves you may cause by being very clear will soon smooth away into calm waters. Be direct & don’t censor yourself. Telling the guy publicly to stop his behavior (if it’s public behavior) at this point is totally fair. He will just keep taking advantage of your politeness if you continue to worry about politeness.

    • October 8, 2013 at 11:15 am

      I don’t think your advice is inconsistent with mine! But thanks for making it even more clear.

  4. G.
    October 15, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Hi Cathy! Your blog is tops. If I may be picky, I think the “alcohol is more harmful than heroin” analogy you used is a poor one. My understanding is that one of the benefits of decriminalising/legalising sex work is that it will help reduce the stigma associated with sex work, which will lead to safer working conditions. A better analogy might be that of the marriage equality movement: while being queer is unsafe (compared to being straight), this can be changed by changing the way queer people are perceived, which in turn can be influenced by legal institutions like the marriage act and the tax code. The problem I have with your argument is that it can get us into vicious cycles of the form

    Don’t legalise certain behaviours because it attracts discriminatory behaviour (say, violent bigots) –> people take the cue that those behaviours are wrong in some way and feel justified in discriminating against those people (say, assaulting them) that behave in that way –> don’t legalise those behaviours.

    where we can replace ‘certain behaviours’ with sex work, homosexuality, etc.

    All of this is of course predicated on the belief that it is possible for sex work to be safe in a way that most recreational drugs will never be safe (mod science science science).

    • October 15, 2013 at 7:20 am

      I wish I could agree, but I can’t quite. There’s something intrinsically dangerous about sex – even if you can take away people’s weird attitudes towards sex workers. For example, there are sexually transmitted diseases, and then there are the enormous and deep feelings and vulnerabilities that emerge when having sex – for men as well as women – that make it so that being a prostitute will never actually be safe.

      Agreed that respecting sex workers would help though.

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