Harper Valley PTA

I must say that while I recognize that all things are potential fodder for newspaper coverage, I still cringe every now and then at some things.  Such is the case with The Forum’s call out of Wendy Marie Jojola’s former role as a PTA president.  Wendy was arrested recently in a prostitution sting.

It is as if the implication is that membership in the PTA denotes some state of model citizenry.  If you believe that you have not spent enough time on the PTA or simply are glossing over the fact that real people, with real challenges still volunteer.  Not that all former PTA presidents find themselves with their photo splashed across the local newspaper after a prostitution arrest; I am fairly sure that is an anomaly.  But life happens to folks – regardless of their good deeds prior or the stature they may have in their community.  It is the state of being human – sometimes folks fall from grace.

In Wendy’s case I am reminded of the song by Jeannie C. Riley called the Harper Valley PTA?  Having put in a number of years on the PTA in California, I always think of that song when I hear “PTA.”  Not that all PTAs are havens for wanna-be power brokers and judgmental hypocrites – but there are enough of them like that to give PTAs a reputation for being an interesting mish-mash of characters.   Human characters with real lives and real challenges…welcome to the PTA.

So Wendy was arrested for prostitution.  And to make it worse it was at Motel 6.  Personally, you couldn’t pay me enough money to be a Motel 6 prostitute (and I mean seriously – even Robert Redford or George Clooney couldn’t pay me enough money to be a Motel 6 prostitute).  But obviously something is going on in Wendy’s life and her moneymaking options were reduced to what they were when she was arrested at the Motel 6 – a damn pity for Wendy and her family.  Who knows why she was there – it could be as stereotypical as the byproduct of a drug problem or as tragic as the need for money to feed her kids.  The point is, no one starts out with the aspiration to be a prostitute when they are a kid…it happens for one unfortunate reason or another.

I struggle with the criminalization of prostitution on a number of fronts.  I do understand the root of laws in this area – it is all about vulnerability and victimization.  The same reasons we are not a society that is completely comfortable with selling sex flows over into other similar concepts like selling organs like kidneys…we don’t want to see folks who have no other choices being taken advantage of and we don’t want the unsavory in society getting a foothold in these type of activities and hurting the naive and uninformed.

But sex…I might argue that we offer it up in trade on a regular basis…maybe not outright to strangers for a prescribed fee for a specific act, but boy have we got a barter system going.  We use sex in this society to get and keep the things we want; to control people’s hearts, minds and wallets; and, even to pay the bills.  We have one-night stands that are the end result of a healthy bar tab…and evenings that start at an expensive restaurant with the expectation that they will wrap up with a private viewing of one’s etchings.

I recently wrote about the sugar daddy and sugar mommy phenomenon wherein older folks make “companionship” arrangements for monthly stipend amounts or beneficial support agreements (quite a bit better than Motel 6 pay I might add).  I balked a bit at this practice – a still seemingly legal enterprise.  I balked at it because it is window dressing on prostitution and when you get down to the bare skin it isn’t that different from charging a prescribed fee for a specific act.  So why not call it what it is – a contractual arrangement for sex and move on?  And if we are going to allow the wealthier folks in society to contract for companionship legally, why are we going to keep punishing the poorer folks for doing the same?

I understand and appreciate the standard concerns about health, safety, victimization, etc. – we can regulate around those.  And yes, it is said that prostitution is degrading  to women, but I would never suggest that we limit the world of legal prostitution to just female prostitutes who have sex with men.  What about male prostitutes who have sex with women or women prostitutes who have sex with women or male prostitutes that have sex with men?  Prostitution, in its best light is nothing more and nothing less than a service for sex.  And sure, ideally sex – which we hope is intimate and which we recognize can have many outgrowths (like pregnancy and potential diseases) – is best in a committed relationship.  But that just isn’t the way it always happens folks and we can’t regulate every hook-up and all the fine-tuned negotiations that go into these arrangements.  Folks have sex every day with relative strangers for a  hundred different reasons; and, while it may seem offensive to the genteel sensitivities of a society that believes in the importance of discouraging sex acts outside relationships, it is an unstoppable phenomenon.

The end result is that those who suffer the greatest impact of our societal disdain are those on the lower economic end of the prostitution spectrum.  Folks who may have once been PTA presidents and have now fallen on difficult times and limited options.  While those folks try and recover from being busted trying to make a few hundred bucks at the Motel 6, other young men and women saddle up with much older partners who pay their bills, take them on trips, and buy them expensive gifts for a like benefit.  So I ask you society – are we the hypocrites of the Harper Valley PTA?

Day nine hundred and forty-seven of the new forty – obla di obla da

Ms. C

3 Responses

  1. Eric

    Good post, definitly many angles I never would have considered. I think you meant to use “genteel” though – way different meaning than “gentile”!

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