The New York Post reported yesterday on a shocking story about a young woman named Melissa Petro, a 30-year-old art teacher who has kept her sordid past a secret – until recently.
In an essay she published this month on The Huffington Post, Petro revealed that she’d been a prostitute. In her bio, Petro described herself as a “former sex worker, researcher, writer, educator, and feminist.” But if outraged parents have their way, Petro may be forced to add the word former before the word educator, as well.
Grace Ventura, the mother of a 3rd grader at PS 70, said, “I don’t want nobody that used to do that to be around my kid. People like that should not be allowed to be anywhere near children,” echoing a sentiment most people probably feel. Personally, I don’t have a problem with Petro’s past as much as I do the way she’s willingly flaunting it. The Post reports that Petro was asked by “a sympathetic administrator” to publish her expose under a pseudonym, but Petro refused, saying, “I wish, for her sake, I could.”
That response in and of itself tells me that this is a woman who is more interested in attention-seeking than she is in protecting and guiding the children she’s teaching. I have no problem with the idea of a reformed sex worker/drug addict/alcoholic teaching children – in a way, I think, who better to learn from than someone who has faced hard challenges and overcome them? But Petro seems to have no problem with the idea of sex work as a legitimate career, and though I’m not saying women who choose sex work should be ashamed, I don’t think it’s something that should be encouraged, either. (I think it’s also important to bear in mind that for every well-educated urban sophisticate who chooses “the life,” there are many, many more women who are forced into it.)
As a result of the public outcry, Petro has been “reassigned to administrative duties pending an investigation.” Petro says she knew trouble would find her once she decided to share her story. In her essay, she wrote, “I hope to never again make the choice to trade sex for cash even as I risk my current job and social standing to speak out for an individual’s right to do so.” I’m well aware that many women who proudly call themselves feminists believe that sex work is empowering – or “entrepreneurial” as Petro describes it – but I worry that’s just a comfortable way to spin a form of oppression that can bring big financial rewards – with huge emotional risks. I often think if sex work were as liberating as those feminists would have us believe, why aren’t there more men on the other side of the transaction? I have friends who have “danced” and performed dominatrix work for money, and they seem entirely unscathed by the experience – but prostitution was off the table. Petro admits she “found the lifestyle physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting,” and says, “most women who are found out by the authorities to sell sex would rather be labeled a “victim” (and so entitled to protection) than to be considered a criminal (to be prosecuted and exposed).”
All this in an essay – published presumably without any payment to Petro – chastising opponents of the “adult services” section of Craig’s List. A section Petro agrees likely “facilitated with greater ease the trafficking and exploitation of women and children.”
What do you think? Should Petro lose her teaching position because of her past, um, positions? Would you feel differently if she were against prostitution now as a result of her prior engagement in it?
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