In Mothers, Mothering and Sex Work (Demeter 2015), editors Rebecca Bromwich and
Monique Marie DeJong have curated a unique collection of scholarly research, first-person narrative,
fiction, and visual art about motherhood and sex work.
Jean Hillabold, a former sex worker, BA, MA, and current instructor in the Department of English at
the University of Regina, says this about Mothers, Mothering and Sex Work:
The book will undoubtedly be a great resource for current and former sex workers who need to
see themselves represented somewhere in the culture they live in, as well as for sensitive
outsiders who would like to gain more reliable information about sex work than any mainstream
television documentary or magazine article is likely to provide. A short review can’t do justice
to this book. You’ll simply have to read it yourself.
Demeter Press spoke with the editors about their reasons for creating the book and ongoing
controversies around writing and research on sex workers.
Demeter Press: Why did you create this book?
Rebecca Bromwich and Monique Marie DeJong: In our society, motherhood and sex work are often
placed in opposition; they are framed as mutually exclusive. But they are not. Many sex workers are
also mothers and all sex workers have a mother (some of whom are also sex workers). In the book, we
explore Andrea O'Reilly's concept of “outlaw motherhood” to look at the ways societal structures
create and maintain a division between motherhood and sex work.
Rather than provide answers, we hope to raise political, policy, and philosophical questions in the
minds of readers. How are women and mothers who work in the sex trade viewed in mainstream
Canadian society? How do sex workers—particularly mothers who are sex workers—view themselves?
How do dimensions of social identity such as race, ethnicity, and social class affect sex workers'
choices and experiences? What sort of social activism and law reform is required in light of the
ongoing realities of sex work, prostitution, and human trafficking? We feel that readers, policymakers,
theorists, and the media need to understand sex workers as subjects with agency, not simply objects of
abjection or rescue.
DP: What makes Mothers, Mothering and Sex Work unique?
RB and MMDJ: This is the first collaboration that specifically focuses on the intersection of
mothering and sex work, with special attention on the legal regime in Canada. It explores not only what
is done to sex workers who are mothers under governmental regimes or by exploitative traffickers, but
also the agencies of mothers who are sex workers. In other words, the book is not simply about sex
workers, it is also by sex workers.
DP: Why is it still controversial to talk about—and research and write on—sex workers and their
RB and MMDJ: The recent blog post “Why You Shouldn’t Study Sex Workers,” published on Tits and
Sass, went viral. We fully support the arguments in this post—primarily that sex workers, like
everyone, lead complex, diverse lives (they are not just sex workers) and are often capable of
articulating their experiences directly, without the help of academic researchers.
Indeed, Mothers, Mothering and Sex Work falls outside of the type of work criticized in this blog post.
Our book includes chapters by sex workers, women speaking as subjects rather than objects of study.
From the Call for Papers to publication of this book, we asked sex workers for their opinions, their
writing, and their art—not to be research specimens. Some of our contributors have written
anonymously or through fictionalized narratives. But our intention was to create a space for a diversity
of experience and dialogue and to avoid highly polarized debates that might drown out individual
voices. We hope this book will open a space for insightful and empowering conversations with and
about mothers who are sex workers.
DP: What's next for you?
MMDJ: I've recently acquired a self-publishing business and am really excited about my upcoming
project to promote its relaunch later this summer. I'm designing and creating a pictorial
map/infographic detailing the various publishing and marketing "ports of call" a book journeys
through. This project will inspire and empower authors and help them to understand publishing
timelines, such as when to begin laying the marketing foundation, what it really takes to create a
successful book, how much each phase costs, how to save money, and the differences between
traditional versus artisanal publishing. There's nothing out there like it, so it will be a really useful tool.
RB: I have a new book coming out in October. Looking for Ashley (Demeter Press, forthcoming) examines the 2007
death of Ashley Smith, who died in prison by self-induced strangulation. I argue that the Smith “case”
is read most accurately not as an isolated system failure but an extreme result of routine, everyday
societal and bureaucratic brutality.