Give Me a Break

Everywhere I look or hear there is the idolisation of the “whore”. It is on TV, in the cinema, at art galleries, in advertising. It is in books, in radio discussions, discussed in parliament.

The “whore” is everywhere, making the reality of prostituted women’s and girl’s lives invisible.

For the whore is the image of the prostituted woman as viewed by men who wished to continue their “right” to buy or sell women or girls. The whore is shown as liberated and glamourous with an rare glimpses of a dark side.

As a film addict, I have seen the whore in too many films.

Most often it is the bad girl who has a heart of gold.

The whore in films can contrast with the good woman who will appear dull and without a sense of adventure.

Dietrich often played the “whore-role”. She was the classic male fantasy of the bad woman who nearly drives the male mad with her sexual wiles. As the bad whore, Dietrich would play with her sexual role, flirting with men and women.

This was acceptable for she was exotic, Dietrich was unknowable.

This image of whores was common in Hollywood in the 30’s and 40’s. Orson Welles often had bad women who used their bodies to gain power.

This image has become a myth which harms real prostituted women.

The myth that all prostituted women will use their sexuality to manipulate men. That the prostituted women are in control.

And added to that myth, another myth that prostituted women are exotic, are not like the “good” women. No, prostituted women are there for fantasy and sex, not to know as a human being.

These myths are highly dangerous.

When prostituted women and girls are said to be manipulative, this will assure their word is disbelieved. If a prostituted woman or girl states she has been raped or tortured, it place her as vengeful or a liar.

If prostituted women and girls are shown as having control, it makes invisible the structures of the sex trade.

It makes invisible that the vast majority of prostituted women and girls are controlled by manager and/or pimps. That the prostituted women and girls have their rights stripped away.

They do not have the right to choose the men who buy them. They do not have the right to complain if they are raped or physically abused. Many will not have the right to basis medical care. 

They do not have the right to demand use of condoms. They have no right to say no to sexual acts that may disgust or terrify them.

No the vast majority of prostituted women and girls are a million miles away from having any control. They are no Dietrich.

By saying prostituted women and girls are “exotic” whatever their background, is an encouragement to say this group of women have a different attitude to sex to the “good women”.

It allows men who buy prostitutes to imagine that this group of women will do and “enjoy” any sexual fantasy.

For “exotic” women don’t feel pain, they don’t get degraded – no the more dirty and dangerous the sex, the more the prostitute will want it.

“Exotic” can mean the transport of women and girls from other continents to spice up the local sex trade. “Exotic” can be a man feeling he has dirty sex with drugged up local street prostituted girl or woman.

“Exotic” is an excuse to torture and rape, and then make out that the woman or girl loved every moment.

Exotic makes the prostituted woman or girl be nothing but a fuck-object.

Classic Hollywood “whore” imagery has nothing to do with reality of living as a prostitute.

In many films, the whore is an alternative morality. This concept of the whore is common in high-brow arts.

In paintings, the courtesan is seen ideal sexual companion for the rich male. She is in novels, plays and some films. She is shown as an intellectual equal. 

She has more power than the marriageable woman.

But is the courtesan a reality or another dangerous male myth.

Often the courtesan-figure has power, but will loses it all and may be degraded. She must not be shown to be competing with men.

And what is a courtesan power. However rich she may become, however much she in the powerful circles, in the end the world will view her as a “common whore”.

In our culture, the courtesan had become the high-class escort.

She is portrayed in many films, TV programmes, novels and plays. The high-class escort is our way of pretending that prostitution is harmless and the woman’s free choice.

The image of the high-class is painted as a dream for girls to aspire to. It will give lots of money, an independent lifestyle and maybe a rich man to marry when they get bored.

That image is everywhere, “Pretty Woman” is just the tip of an iceberg.

But the reality for many high-class escorts is they have as little control as any other prostituted woman or girl.

There is nothing to stop men raping , beating or even murdering an escort.

The mental damage of having to have sex with men who may degrade or use violent is no different for a high-class escort or a street prostitute. Neither have the right to say no.

Both have high rates of PTSD if they can leave the sex trade.

To oppose the image of the courtesan/high-class escort, there is the image of the street prostitutes or forced prostitution, to show the ugly view of the sex trade.

Often this view is through patronising eye, in which prostituted women or girls are helpless victims who has little or no expression. This is the common portrayal in crime fiction, TV crime drama, and gangsters films.

In these portrayals, the prostituted woman or girl is just there to show the evil actions of the males in the foreground.

The silence of these prostituted women and girls give the impression that there is little that can be done to prevent the violence of the sex trade. It is made to appear it is an endless problem, and is outside the reach of the “real world”.

There is no suggestion that prostituted women can and do resist the violence. There is no suggestion that some prostituted can and do find ways to exit the sex trade.

Instead, in the majority of popular culture the prostituted woman and girls may exit the the ugly side of the sex trade by being murdered or rescued by a “decent” man.

By portraying these women and girls as voiceless victims, it makes them into nothing. This can give permission to men who choose to buy women to treat them like dirt.

It makes a reality of murder, rape and torture. For these women and girls are nothing, so where’s the harm.

To end, I will say there are a few positive images of prostituted women.

I have always like Toulouse Latrec for his ability to show prostituted women with compassion. I find his etchings and painting very moving.

There are films that shown the mental damage of being a prostituted woman.

“Klute” with care debunks the myth that being a high-class prostitute is safe. “Klute” is brilliant at showing the mental damage that Bree, the escort, has. How detached she has become, how she has forgotten who true self is. This film reminded me of cold detachment which is important to survive being in prostitution long-term.

“Mona Lisa” have a terrifying image of the violence in both high-class prostitution and street prostitution. There is a coldly filmed rape scene, that show how high-class prostitution can be a vicious world. The fragile attempt of love between the two prostitutes is very moving, for there too much mental damage for the love to last.

“London to Brighton” a recent English film is am amazing and gut-wrenching of terrible mental and physical damage of street prostitution. It also is show the reality of child prostitution.

All these films show the prostituted women and girls as rounded humans beings. They all damaged mentally by being a prostitute, but they are all more than just the role of the prostitute.

When exiting the sex trade, it is almost impossible to be open, when surrounded by the images of the “whore”.

For it hard to say about the scars when all around there is a belief that it was a happy life. Or it may hard to speak out when there are glamourous views of the violence done to prostitutes. 

When in TV, paintings, books, and films, the murdered or tortured whore is the ideal victim. Her death means nothing but an excuse for a plot, she is nothing.

So how can the real violence be spoken of, when the fictionalised image is so convincing. The reality is just too sordid, or dull to be heard.

Speaking out about prostitution is so hard when all around the whore fiction dominates.

But there will always be women who will speak out, slowly eroding the image of the whore.  


4 responses to “Give Me a Break

  1. This was a great post, Rebecca, I really enjoyed it. It’s a great analysis of the strategies patriarchy uses to make prostition appear fun, or harmless, or liberated, in the so-called ‘artistic’ sphere..

    To your list of films showing the reality of prostitution, I would add an Australian movie called “The Jammed” that came out last year, about sex trafficking in Australia. I haven’t had the chance to see it yet, but allecto says it is good.


  2. Because so much of culture is made by men, and reflects the world seen through their eyes, they lump women in prostitution in with women who are promiscuous or mistresses, because all of them are sex objects to the men. The men see their own fantasies, the fantasies (and lies) that other men sell them, and recreate them in media.
    And whenever I hear about prostituted women being “saved” by johns, I have to cringe.
    As always, thank you for this post.


  3. Terribly sorry for the double-post, but have you seen “Monster”, the movie that Charlize Theron won an Oscar for? It’s very triggering, but an unsettling and realistic biopic of a highway prostitute who became a serial killer (and not as trashy as it sounds).


  4. Excellent analysis Rebecca of how male-defined ideologies of women’s sexualities always but always neatly exonerate men’s sexual predatory behaviour whilst simultaneously reducing all women to either virgin or whore! This is why women in prostitution are always depicted as being ‘exotic’ and always but always wanting and needing to sexually service men’s sexual appetites.

    Or, to put it another way women are not human beings because they are just men’s sexualised objects. Why else were some women labelled courtesans because this feeds into myth female sexuality is dangerous and must always remain firmly under the control of male determined moralities. As you so rightly say, Rebecca irrespective of whether a woman is a high-class ‘call girl’ or what men term a ‘street walker’ in men’s eyes such women are still dehumanised dirty objects – never ever human beings.

    Bottom line is women’s sexuality unlike men’s sexuality continues to be subordinated, controlled and policed by men for men. Real female sexual autonomy is still a myth but we must continue to challenge male-defined notions of morality and female sexuality. Why else are men termed ‘lovers’ if they happen to be involved in extra-marital affairs whereas women who have extra-marital affairs are termed a man’s mistress. It is all about male ownership and control of female sexuality.


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