The Naked Philanthropist

Written By Kendra Summers, For The Globe

This month, a Los Angeles based model who refers to herself as “The Naked Philanthropist” developed a system she hoped would motivate people to donate money to the Australian wildfires. “The Naked Philanthropist,” or 20-year-old Kaylen Ward, announced to her Twitter followers that she would send her nude pictures to anyone that donated $10 or more to the cause. After a few short days, Ward raised more than $500,000. All of the money donated goes directly to charity, without a single cent entering Ward’s account. As of this moment, Ward reported raising an estimated $1 million in donations and plans to keep increasing her numbers. Although her cause is indisputably ethical, Ward isn’t exempt from the criticism that comes with her efforts.

Many people, (predominantly men), took a stand against Ward’s work. Her critics called her nearly every sexist slur under the sun. She also received threats in her direct messages from those that don’t support her cause. Some have even gone as far as to encourage that she remove herself from all social media. While this type of aggression towards sex workers isn’t anything new, it’s important to analyze the reasons for the hostility.

To most people, sex work isn’t a “normal” profession. It’s taboo, something you try to avoid falling into and keep very quiet if you do get involved. However, sex work isn’t as uncommon as people seem to think it is. With the rise of OnlyFans, Chaturbate, and other sex work social services, people are getting involved in sex work more frequently than ever. Even at its lowest entry point, (college students sending pictures of their feet in exchange for tuition money), there are many people dipping their toes into the world of sex work. Ward isn’t an anomaly, but rather a representative of a new kind of professional career.

After seeing the large amount of donations that stemmed from her Twitter offer, Ward decided to expand her services to the 50,000 followers on her Instagram account. Soon after, Instagram disabled the account for violating its terms of service, specifically because of  her “sexually suggestive content.” She hadn’t posted any lewd photos, she simply stated what she intended to offer to her followers on Instagram. If the “sexually suggestive content” is the issue, why haven’t accounts like Playboy been taken down? What about Penthouse Magazine? Hustler? Pornhub?

The magazines and websites I’ve mentioned above face no threat of deactivation. Along with their content being safe from Instagram’s removal policy, they all share one major thing in common: they all focus solely on their appeal to male desire. The pictures Ward is sending aren’t fundamentally different than that of the models in Hustler or Playboy. The monetary contribution from her clients isn’t different.

Men are the primary consumers when it comes to the products of sex work (nude pictures, videos, audio clips), but they seem to have an issue with it once it isn’t curated specifically for them. Men have gotten used to female sexuality being marketed towards them, being created for their consumption above anyone else’s. The female body and form is beautiful and should be shared, specifically with them. You can show your body, but certain conditions apply. Women are using the frequency of male consumption to their advantage, and men aren’t exactly thrilled that they aren’t in control for once. Now that it isn’t being marketed for them and them only, they aren’t on board with it.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to all men. There are certainly men that aren’t bothered by sex work, and it should be the responsibility of these men to change the course of the conversation surrounding it. Male voices are a dominant discourse in our society, and to normalize this work we need them to advocate for the cause. I encourage these men to use their voice for good, and speak up against those that vilify this field of work.

Surprisingly, men aren’t the only ones that seem to have a problem with this career path. A few women, (even those that consider themselves feminists), spoke up against Ward’s charity. Complaints from these women range all the way from “You should respect yourself more than this!” all the way to “How dare you post this on a website where my children can see it!”

A common argument against sex work is that the profession demeans these women, bringing them down to a level where they exist purely for male consumption. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In actuality, sex work provides women the opportunity to embrace their bodily integrity, rendering them completely in control of the pictures/videos they send to their clients. It’s okay to decide sex work isn’t something you want to do. It’s okay to not involve yourself with the community. It’s not okay to use your personal beliefs to slander someone else’s career choice. These women deserve respect whether you align yourself with them or not. You cannot call yourself a feminist without including sex workers in your advocacy.

Wildfires or no wildfires, sex workers deserve respect for their career choice. They’re no different than the rest of us. In the same way that I’ve chosen journalism as a career, or someone else may have chosen accounting, these individuals have chosen sex work and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The lack of exposure is the bulk of the hostility aimed towards this profession. No matter how “woke” we think we are, we could all benefit from a little sex work education. If you’re someone that feels apprehension towards sex work, it’s a really good idea to educate yourself more on the topic. Expose yourself to lives outside your own, explore a few articles, read personal accounts from sex workers that share their experiences through online forums. You might feel differently after a few hours of research.

Above all, just remember to be respectful. Whether it’s journalism, accounting, sex work, or anything else, people are people regardless of the nature of their occupations. Treat people the way you’d want to be treated, and everything will be just fine.

Side note: You can donate to the Australian wildfires (with or without Kaylen Ward as your motivation) through Google’s South Wales Bushfires non-profit organization. Any amount you donate helps.