In the archives of the widely popular webcomic The Oatmeal is a strip titled “5 Neat Ways to Use a Hooker.” As implied, the comic is quite degrading and insulting not only to women, but especially to sex workers, promoting a misogynic “use” of women as play things, but with a cool spin.
The comic becomes a sexual health concern when splashed in the face of public opinion because it encourages a throwaway approach to an extremely vulnerable subset of culture: poor women who do not have access to proper medical care. This is a subset that is already marginalized and at greater risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), abuse, and economic and social immobility. It need not be exploited further.
Through the amazing and hard work of organizations such as the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) and The Voices and Face Project, perspectives such as those presented in The Oatmeal can be turn-tabled into proactive and educational sensitivity training for anyone affected by sex work.
This is not the first time The Oatmeal has been put in the spotlight for sexist comics, and the fact that this theme is prevalent throughout the comic is concerning. Matthew Inman, the author, donated $1,000 to Women Against Abuse when he was called out by the video gaming community last April. The gesture is a good one, but what about the next time it happens? And the next time? This rhetoric renders sex workers voiceless and perpetuates rape culture.
If you are a writer or would like to share information with writers about raising awareness for sex workers and sexual exploitation, please check out CAASE’s toolkit: “Engaging Writers in Ending Sexual Exploitation and Harm: A Toolkit and Resource Guide.”