Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Hey, Dirty Baby, I Got Your Money

When I talk to female friends of a certain age about great cinematic romances, I will often hear Pretty Woman come up in the conversation. Let me start off by saying that I enjoy the movie but that I also have some questions about it. Perhaps it’s just my cynical nature, but I just don’t buy the whole “rich dude falls in love with a prostitute” thing. I get why the movie might be appealing:  a downtrodden girl gets the opportunity to escape her life (and cramped apartment), swept up in the arms of a client and transported into a life of the finer things. Who doesn’t love being rescued? Who doesn’t like believing that True Love can conquer all? Or, at least transcend the sociocultural taboos of Beverly Hills? For me, part of the allure of the movie stems from the fact that it probably wouldn’t happen in “real” life—there’s simply too much of a stigma associated with prostitutes.

I haven’t thought of this movie in a while, but an ending scene of a recent Private Practice episode made me think about prostitutes. I have to say that I don’t really have an objection to the whole idea, although I certainly wouldn’t ever tell someone to prostitute himself or herself. I’m not going to try to convince you that prostitution is okay, or that you should like it, but there are some things to consider.

What kinds of things do we sell ourselves for? We sell our skills, sell our bodies, sell our souls, and sell ourselves short. And, since we’re selling, how do we know how much we’re worth? We market what we can do in a boardroom so why is it so different when we market what we can do in a bedroom? Is it prostitution if you trade sex for favors? Can we whore ourselves out for things other than money? Do we trade sex for love? Or romance? Or attention? At its core, how does the idea that you’re willing to make a fool of yourself, or break a bone, or shave your head, differentiate you from someone who’s willing to pose naked, from someone who’s willing to have sex? If you distill it down, and money is not involved, how is the whole process different from bartering? And, why is it morally dissimilar? How do the expectations of buying dinner in exchange for the possibility of sex differ? I’m not going to call any of my friends out but some of them have slipped between the sheets for a lot less than a good meal (and they know who they are).

A recent episode of one of my favorite shows, How I Met Your Mother, also talked about reasons why you would have sex. I don’t disagree with anything on the list, but how is having sex to reinforce good behavior not whoring yourself out? You are having sex in exchange for something that you want.

The classic deal, of course, is that women are interested in money/status and men are interested in beauty (and everybody’s afraid of rejection, although men more so). So if we’re naturally trading sex for money on some level, what the big deal with it all? If you are willing to sleep with, and marry, someone who you don’t love in exchange for a life of comfort, how is that not a form of prostitution? Although the example of this scenario that readily comes to mind involves rich/straight White people, you see this same kind of relationship in other subcultures with, for example, a trend of old White men going after young Latin males.

For me, there is nothing inherently good or bad about this whole process—it is what it is. So, what is it to you?

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