For some reason--don’t ask me why--we were in our Theory and Practice of Tutoring Writing class and the topic of prostitution came up. Yeah. I know. Well, our professor Mike, in his pedagogical awesomeness, found an essay in The Writing Center Journal on how writing center tutors were analogous to prostitutes. Yeah. I know. The essay, by Scott Russell, titled “Clients Who Frequent Madam Barnett’s Emporium,” actually managed to be a lot more thought-provoking than the actual jokey metaphor suggested. Sure, there are some obvious problems with this comparison. Both professions have their differences. One involves working with students to facilitate better writing. One involves sexual intercourse. I’m just sayin’.
Probably the most interesting (and most disturbing) aspect of this essay is the section that organizes different types of “clients” (we call them writers over here) into categories that are reminiscent of certain client types that might pay for sex. I’m a little uncomfortable with this idea of categorizing writers into types (and admittedly, so is the writer), not to mention that I’m sure the writers that come in would be less-than-thrilled at the whole paying-for-sex comparison. On the other hand, to Russell’s credit, the categories are pretty funny and I can see some truth in it. I suppose it’s all done somewhat tongue-in-cheek. It’s hard to read about “the Punctuation Fetishist” with a straight face, for example.
Still, he earns his comparison honestly, working quite hard to draw the connection between the struggle for writing centers to gain legitimacy within the university and the struggle for prostitution to overcome the degradations associated with criminality. There’s also a nice observation that some tutors will hide their tutoring identity from their peers in order to maintain a distinction between their student life and their tutoring life that works quite slyly with the prostitute metaphor.
I have to wonder: what is the benefit of making this problematic comparison? Russell sums up by saying that “it is important that we reconsider…the human mechanics that allow for real connections in a tutorial…” (72). This is the final point and while it is a good one, it requires some extra thought on how this is to be achieved. Is categorizing clients something that, as Russell suggests, that tutors learn to do to survive? (72). Do we reject this categorization to instead embrace the “human mechanics that allow for real connections”? If anything, Russell has made me aware of the dangers of categorizing (and yes, I cop to it) and for that I am grateful.