Thoroughly Modern Madam: 4Thoroughly Modern Madam-
an interview with Rebecca Rand (part 4)
Didn't you have workers that were allies?
Yes. But other people would bitch and I would say, "Everybody makes what they're worth." I'm sorry. Part of it was, they wanted to feel that they were each entitled to make the same income, which is nonsense. They are not. Some are prettier. Some are friendlier.
It's not really what you are worth that is the point. It's what men will pay you. People don't like to think of their value on the sex market as equal to their worth.
In the long run you make what you're worth. Some people work harder. Some people are more enthusiastic. Some people don't like it. Some people are terrifically, stunningly gorgeous. Some people dress better than others. I said, "It's not hard. I can make a list of all the things the guys pay for. It's not a matter of you turning yourself into what you don't want to. Do what you want. Blondes make more money than brunettes. Big tits make more money than small tits. Thin girls make more money than fat girls. Young girls make more money than old girls. Girls who make noise make more money than girls who say no. This isn't a hard thing to figure out.
My dream about prostitution is that, at the same time we need to make money and offer them what they want, at the same time it's important to influence them, change their priorities, develop their taste for older fatter women, because they'll ultimately be more satisfied, and we can keep our incomes going. I have something at stake in that. I like to help them develop their tastes.
You can do that. But you gotta start out with what they like. It wasn't that hard for me because I went to work when I was twenty-four. That's not old, but it's old to start, because most of the other women are younger. I wasn't that pretty. I never had big tits. I made tons of money because I know something about men which is that, whatever it is they think they want, they don't really know. What they want, truly, is someone who'll listen, be enthusiastic, act like they're enjoying it and make them enjoy it and forget about what time it is. And if you can give that to them, it doesn't particularly matter whether you have big tits or not, but it will when they come through the door, making their first selection, and it will matter to a certain number of guys who are fetishists. For the average guy who calls up on the phone who doesn't know what he wants, he'll say, "I want somebody about twenty to twenty four, slender, tall with big tits and blonde hair. They all say the same thing. That's because they don't know how to say, "I want somebody who's really enthusiastic and can just relax and have a good time, is imaginative." A customer's not going to tell you that. So it's your job to show him what he really wants.
But as far as walking through the door, I just told the women, there's some things that you have control of and some things you don't." But I got tired of people sitting around bitching that they weren't making money, and they would not do their hair, not put any make up on, and not even look up at somebody and smile when they came in. I have to tell you.. The first thing we had a big conflict about... because one of the things I did was listen to customers...you have to listen. I mean, I was a prostitute. And every guy who came in I asked, "Why did you come here instead of the ten other places you could have gone?" And I would listen. This is before I ever bought the place and I would pay attention to them. If you want their money, you had best pay attention. The first thing I learned was that cleanliness was a big seller. Most of these places were dumps because nobody cleans them. So we put up a cleaning list. There are six or seven people and everybody on each shift has to do one job, which takes you about ten minutes. And all the other places, the girls come in and they sit. Nobody does anything, so nobody else does anything and they all sit on their ass. The place gets filthier and filthier, to the point where guys are afraid to come in. As long as there is somebody coming in, they never ask themselves why the one who didn't come in didn't come. I mean, I fired a girl once because she went in the room to see a guy with rollers in her hair. She was stunningly gorgeous. She was terrific. She had customers lined up to see her. She didn't realize that just because you have a lot of customers doesn't mean you can take them for granted, treat them like shit and do anything you want and they will still keep coming in. She used to make them wait really long. They all do that. To me it was like, when they guy is ion the room and they shut the door, within one minute I want you in there. I don't want you sitting around sucking cigarettes, waiting till the soap opera ends. Get in there. Give him the time he paid for. Get ready for the next customer. And they'll go, "He'll wait." "You don't get it. He shouldn't have to wait. He doesn't like to wait. We're not gaining anything by making him wait. Just go take care of him. Get your ass in the room." We fought about that all the time. And customers that I have known for years and years say it's endemic. They go to a sauna and it's extremely uncomfortable to be laying on a bed or a table with a towel wrapped around you, all alone, and they'll let you wait a half an hour. If she's busy, that's different. But they will sit there and finish their lunch, finish their cigarette, watch television, talk on the phone to their boyfriends...do you like to be treated like that in any business? Even in the check out line in the grocery store. I'd hate it. The employees had to be sensible. They had to contribute to the success of the business, and if they detract from it, it's going to hurt both labor and management.
I never owned a business, but it seems like, if they have problems, they should be able to negotiate with you through a worker's organization.
The thing is, most of these places aren't run. The few big ones, the reason they are organized is that somebody's cracking the whip. Most of them have no management. The women come to work and they make a pot of coffee and they sit and watch TV and they do things however well they please. They let somebody in or they don't let him in and they charge what they want and they treat them how they want. They just do exactly as they please and they do a really poor job.
It seems like we should have schools to educate women about how to run collectives, so that they can create and work in the best environments.
There are a few problems. They don't think about the long term. They don't think about the concept of building a business. Whenever I saw a customer, all I thought about was what I could do to get him to come in next week. Other women don't think like that. What they are thinking is how can they get out of the room as quick as possible and get away from him and go back to the TV show. They never give any thought to "How do I get him to come back next week?"
Well, we need an academy for prostitutes.
But that's illegal.
I'm not so sure that it is as illegal as people assume. There's always free speech. We are deconstructing legality. I mean, what are they going to do? Priscilla Alexander says she is going to set up the Institute for Prostitution Studies. We could visit massage parlors and give workshops.
You have to put yourself in the position of the customers to run any business successfully. At the same time you have to think about the community and you have to think about the workers. That's true of every business, that you have to try to look at all three positions and come out of it. I started a policy of, somebody answers the door, brings the client in, introduces him to everyone who is there, puts him in a room, and, ideally you have a manager present and the manager comes in and asks who he would like to see. You can't imagine the shit I got from the women. I mean, they just went crazy.
It is harder because then you have to feel competition with the other women.
But you're better off if he sees the woman sitting next to you, because the next guy who comes in, she won't be out there and then they'll just be two of you. The more we keep everybody busy, the better off we are.
Well, for us, it's true that the guys didn't necessarily always want to go with the woman he wound up with, but our customers were mostly tourists anyway, and we didn't want to put to much pressure on ourselves to get repeat business. I mean, with the cops we were under enough pressure as it was. Another thing is, some women would prefer not have regulars. And the whole short-as-possible thing. A lot of women don't like to be in the situation for that long.
You're right. But Minneapolis is not a tourist town. We totally depend on the men who live here. So, I have just had, over the years, continuous conflicts with women about how we were going to run the business. One client told me that he was in a place in New York and they put you in a room right away and then the women come in individually and say hi. You might be intimidated from being overly friendly with the guy when they other women are sitting there because they'll criticize you. You can be much more natural and be yourself if you can walk into a room and just say something by yourself. So I changed it. And I got a lot of shit about that. They had to get up and walk.
From my perspective, I'm one of those women who never was into big money. I wanted to spend my time in a relaxing way, make as much as I could, get some inspiration for my work and some stories. And it was most important to me to have a relaxing, non-pressured atmosphere.
After being in it for a number of years, I started seeing that my problem was that everybody did not have the same motivations for being there that I had and that I had to learn to accommodate myself to people's different ways of feeling about the business, different ways of working and different expectations about what they wanted out of it. And at the same time, they had to accommodate themselves to the fact that they were part of a business organization, that this was not their living room. It was not okay for them to dress however they felt and come in when ever they felt.
What about in a collective?
You're really into this collective stuff. I'll tell you, that was a dream of mine, too, but in all the years I worked, I met hundreds of women, but there's a mere handful of women who could work independently in a collective. It requires something that almost no one has, that is, the ability to manage money. The people in the collective need to have a common philosophy of business.
What I'm concerned about is, while we're trying to present models about how to work together in San Francisco, decriminalization, legalization, what kind of systems we want, we really do have to draw up a plan, here.
It's very difficult. Women working together are going to have some agreement about business practices.
We need options. If you want to work at an intense, competitive, money making place, or if you can work there, then do that. If you want to work in a hippie pad, then do that. It should be up to you where you work.
It's just like a bar. Some waitresses can wear little cute dresses and others dress in jeans. Some places are upscale and some are biker bars.
It's about class. There are going to be class divisions in prostitution as long as there are in society. It's unfair that people always point the finger at us and our classism.
Prostitution is really just like any other business.
I always hear that it's really important to treat prostitution like any other business. On the other hand, there is a reality that the women really are more vulnerable. It is true and is hard to fit it into the free market.
Why is it different?
It's different because there's so much stigma. So many trips in our heads.
But if you can knock out the stigma. You have to choose. I had this one woman who was really gorgeous and really terrific and she made tons of money. No one wanted to work with her because she did every customer, unless she was busy. And then somebody else might get a chance, but she was really top notch. But the problem was that she was so fragile, that if she was sitting there and a guy came in, ever, if she had had five customers and no one else had had one yet, if the sixth guy comes in and he asks for one of the other women, she would cry. Literally, go in a room and cry. And one time, I had a customer who liked her a lot and one day he came in and she was busy and so he saw someone else. And after he was done, she went up to him and she said, "Don't let those girls pressure you into seeing them because you could always wait for me." She eventually quit and went to outcall, because on outclass, you don't have that competition. You don't know when they see somebody else. That girl needed help.
We were thinking of forming a trade guild that offers services, like maybe health insurance and counseling.
You could provide psychological evaluations that tell women whether they are suited to this occupation. The problem is you can't keep people out of it. Sometimes I try to talk people out of it. I will talk anyone out of it who tries to tell me they can do it behind their husband or boyfriend's back. Eventually, he's going to find out and there's going to be a big blowup. If you're trying to get out of your marriage, and you don't care, then well and fine.
Last, about your future. You don't have a career now.
I don't know what direction to take. There are tugs and pulls in a couple of different directions.
Are you going to keep dealing with prostitution as an activist?
It's not something I could walk away from. I don't know about an organization. There's starting to be in the gay and lesbian community, the beginnings, in an embryonic state of a reaction against the overwhelming sex phobia of the local movement, which is very, very MacKinnonite. The just buy this stuff wholesale. A couple of publications have emerged that are taking a somewhat different stand. I have connections to some of those people. The guy who writes an alternative gay newspaper. We have a mainstream gay newspaper, and then we have the radical paper. So there are different communities, an arts community of people who are of like mind. What I would love more than anything is a prostitutes' organization. I don't know how to do that. People could hardly show up for work, let alone show up for meetings.I tried to organize a union and they really made fun of me. WHISPER. Yeah, an organization for prostitutes run by management. I didn't want to run it. I wanted them to run it, but they weren't going to. But, see, the worst part of their working conditions is not the boss. The worst part of the police department.
We could try to organize in Nevada.
Continued... Thoroughly Modern Madam (part 5)