Tag Archives: sex slave

Moulin Rouge!: Smashing the ‘happy hooker’/sex slave dichotomy

Baz Luhrmann’s 2002 movie about naive young Christian (Ewan MacGregor) falling in love with Moulin Rouge dancer and sex worker Satine (Nicole Kidman) tells a nuanced story of love and sex work.

The Moulin Rouge nightclub and brothel is owned by Harold Zidler. The movie follows Christian as he writes a play that is to be performed there and pursues Satine, finally recieving reprocity and having to keep their love a secret from the jealous Duke who wants to marry Satine. All of the characters’ success and happiness (and, for Zidler, his livelihood) depends on Satine keeping the violent Duke happy by ceasing her sex work. This is reminiscent of the great cultural burdens of honour that women historically carried/still carry in some communities; if they lost their virginity it was a betrayal and tragedy to their families.

Although Satine is what we in 21st-century Britain would think of as more of a ‘sex slave’ since there was no welfare state in her time (so if she didn’t do sex work she would starve), she is portrayed as enjoying her work and as having agency. She is capable of building healthy relationships – friendships with the other characters and being in love with Christian. Satine can recognise unhealthy or abusive relationships (the Duke’s possessiveness and, in a sense, Harold Zidler for using her for business).

Best of all, when Satine becomes the victim of attempted rape, this is not portrayed as an inherent risk of sex work or as Satine’s ‘fault’ for being a sex worker. Instead, the Duke’s abusive, insecure, violent character is to blame.

Of the two men interested in Satine, the one with the rescuer mentality (a desire to ‘rescue’ sex workers from their work) is the evil abusive character. Christian, while struggling with jealousy, seems jealous only of the Duke and diesn’t go as far as demanding Satine stop doing sex work, as the Duke does by requiring a contract from Zidler that “binds Satine to me”.

None of the characters are stereotypes. Zidler is both the unscrupulous pimp and the concerned father-figure; Christian is a respectful, loving boyfriend but still toys with jealousy. And Satine says that she must do sex work to survive – “A girl has got to eat/Or she’ll end up on the street” and that she has ambitions beyond the sex industry (to be an actress, the next Sara Bernhardt) but, at the same time, she obviously enjoys her work and is capable of manipulating clients (such as using love, sex or charm to get the Duke to invest in the play). This portrayal seems quite odd to some participants in the current sex work discourse; how can one want to exit sex work, yet enjoy it, be proud of it and not want to escape the industry to a life of luxury by marrying the Duke? Significantly, Satine does not realise her dream of “flying away” and “leav[ing] all this to yesterday” but instead dies in the Moulin Rouge.

The Duke’s possessiveness, Christian’s love, Zidler’s business plans and Satine’s ambitions were really just dreams all along – Satine had tuberculosis and would never have lived long enough for any of this to be realised. All that was real was their love and her sex work.

A good point in the film is when Satine talks of escaping the Duke and the Moulin Rouge with Christian; however Christian isn’t rescuing her, she is choosing her destiny and wants to depart with Christian as equals.

Satine also only began to have wishes of exiting prostitution when she was told of an opportunity the Duke was affording her to become a celebrity, and this feeling only intensified when she fell in love and her relationship with Christian became her priority. So, without these two men entering her life, Satine would have remained happy to be a sex worker.

In addition, Satine is a well-rounded character who has a talent for acting and enjoys socialising – she isn’t a cardboart-cutout prostitute.

Sex work is not portrayed as either degrading or empowering in the film. It seems to be just another job, seen alongside the other characters’ jobs of acting, singing, dancing, writing and the arts – ( indeed, even interchangeable with the arts, as the sex workers dance in the Moulin Rouge and act in the play, and the actors (and writer) date and form friendships with the sex workers. The play itself is about a sex worker, and Christian’s novel, which narrates the film, is about the Moulin Rouge; Satine’s ambition is to act.)) All of these professions are shown as falling under the Bohemian Revolution spirit of Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love. The Duke, who stops Satine’s sex work, is the one character who is opposed to these ideals – “I don’t care about your ridiculous dogma!”.

In general, Moulin Rouge! does not fall prey to either side of the happy hooker/sex slave dichotomy, but embraces the good and the bad of sex work without demonising, glamorising or dramatising it; it’s just another way to make money in a corrupt and unequal society.

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Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Film, Sex work


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If you’re a happy hooker you must be in denial: my rambling thoughts

I just really need to post this before I get onto posting the next part of the Diary. And after that, I’ve got an ex-call girl’s blog to read. It’s important to me that I read it, as she regrets sex work and if I’m to regret it, at least this is a last-minute chance to stop it, though of course I doubt I will. But it does pain me to know there are others who regret it, it always did even when I studied prostitution at uni. And she sounds quite like me – formerly proud to be a prostitute and charging up to a thousand or two for a few hours.

Anyway, this post is not directed at anyone; that much will hopefully be obvious by the general/non-specific nature of the writing, but I just want to get that out of the way before some random person comes along and thinks the post was aimed at them (which has happened to me in real life, with talking). This post only contains my thoughts and is not meant to be factually-based, reasonably argued or carry a message unlike other posts on this blog, nor does it represent my views on anything.

The post

I’ve seen some shit in my time – stuff I can’t tell you guys, because you wouldn’t believe it. Professionals – teachers, social workers, police – I’ve seen them lie. I’ve seen them surveillance, make up horrible accusations behind peoples’ backs and write them down and tell other professionals, discriminate certain family forms, and nobody can stop them because there are no laws to stop them. It’s all council or department policy. The Ombudsman, MSPs, the General Teaching Council, the police complaints commission…you can complain but you can’t do much to stop it happening. I’ve seen them do it to others. And to me. My life wasn’t sad or tragic. It was happy and fun. But it was more unbelievable than the most tragic stories I’ve read. Speaking of tragic stories, read the wordpress blog ‘Bipolar for life’ if you’ve got a strong stomach and some tissues handy…and yes, it’s triggering.

So, yeah. I’ve seen stuff. I’m tough. Bad stuff is just normal to me. I grew up with it. I had a loving family and a wonderful childhood, but I knew there wre evil people out there – people I should’v been able to trust. But even with the constant monitoring, observation and lies, there was one thing that remained inviolate: my personality. My sense of self, my experiences, my emotions, was never touched. It was never cast into doubt. Oh, my intelligence was – I was autistic and had learning difficulties, they lied, even though I was top of the class. But they never said I was depressed or attacked my personality. And it was a unique personality. Yeah, I’m bragging, but I’m not asking anyone to read this. This is for me, written for me because I don’t know if anyone else understands or wants to know.

Anyway, it was a unique personality. I’ve never been like other people; people say I think outside the box, am quirky or crazy, and will do anything. And I know I don’t react to things in the usual way; I don’t feel sad or stressed very easily, for one thing, and I’m weirdly confident. I sometimes have to mimic emotions, because although I’m capable of more empathy than most people, I do not naturally show it in facial expressions. And I’m tough because Asians don’t have much emotions; they don’t feel as sad. I was raised by an Asian mother and taught not to cry or be cowardly. And I’m tough because of what was done to me by those professionals. Once you’ve been through the fire, the flames are powerless to burn.

They couldn’t harm me, because I had a family who loved me. But the last few hours, for me, have been stressful – something that does not happen to me often. Usually, things are just irritating. A few things are annoying. I am not my usual carefree happy self, and it was to be expected; I knew this journey might make me a bit weirded out or stressed. I thought it would be the sexual stuff, or my friends’ reactions, or religious people hating my blog, but it’s none of that. It’s people being so sure that I’m a victim, or in denial, or not doing this by choice (and these statements didn’t come from the same person, so please nobody comment claiming I’m talking about them. I’m not even going to say whether the statements were tweeted, texted, comments, Facebook messages, emails, whatever. Because, you see I’m not talking about these particulat individuals. Who they are doesn’t matter even 1%, and I’ll tell you why: it’s the whole attitude that’s damaging. When you think that just because some sex workers didn’t choose it, or regret it, and force that story into the mouths of all sex workers, you take away their personality. You devalue and eradicate their story. You make their job, blog, views, writing, sex activism, etc worthless and meaningless.

And there are far too many people out there doing that. That’s why it doesn’t matter who these individuals are – one was going to come along someday. Brooke Magnanti got a lot of flak from the radical feminist and the anti-sex work crowd – and no, they’re not the same thing. I know that. It’s just that at the political level, their interests overlap. Like how in Sweden sex work is criminalized for feminist reasons (and recently a student sex worker was suspended from college for sex work even though it was legal as only clients are criminalised, not the sex workers.) (Story on the Harlot’s Parlour, WordPress.)

I guess I was prepared in a way by following other sex workers on Twitter – I realised that their lived experiences were often silenced by anti sex work NGOs and activists wanting to present all sex workers as trafficked sex slaves. And I have been reading Glasgow Sex Worker’s blog since before I started my own, and in it she does express a lot of frustration at this. But I didn’t realise how bad it makes you feel until tonight. Well, I guess I’m a real sex worker now – once you’ve had your story taken out from under you, all your vivid, precious experiences (good or bad) dismissed as denial, as future therapy fodder, sexual slavery, a short-term happiness that will later turn to regret – and (apparently) all for a deal that isn’t a good deal anyway because I’ll get £4k for virginity but other sex workers make £4k in a night – (not that I’ve ever spent the night with Roland or performed a sexual service lasting more than 20 mins, so getting £1,000 each time for a few hours of spanking and 20 minutes of oral seems good to me). And not that I was trying for the best deal (for reasons described in my posts ‘Kalika’s Q and A’ and ‘Selling Virginity: 25 tips’.)

I don’t see myself as a sex slave and even if I did in the future, it doesn’t make me feel good that people call me a sex slave now. Wait till I see myself as a slave before telling me that. When people put words in others’ mouths, they are attacking their personalities, lives and memories – not just the stories. It would be unthinkable to tell an unhappy drug addicted sex worker that they are really happy and enjoy sex work; that their unhappiness and desire to leave the industry is an illusion. You wouldn’t tell a rape victim they weren’t raped. Yet it’s totally normal and accepted for people to tell happy or neutral sex workers that they are really in a bad situation, that they’re victims, not happy or neutral at all.

I heard the other sex workers getting upset and raging over this but I didn’t know it feels so bad, worse than anything, than the professionals’ lies, than being bullied at school. Ironically, sex work made me happy – well, I’m always happy, so maybe it had a neutral effect – but it is their comments that make me feel sad. I felt fine and proud of it until they said their stuff, casting doubt on my emotions, that I’m not really proud, just in a bad place. That later on I’ll regret it and won’t be proud. Which isn’t true, as other ex-call girls don’t regret it, including two of my “favourites” who provide fascinating information – Maggie MacNeill and Dr Magnanti herself. They quit decades and years ago respectively, but they don’t regret it. And lots of other ex- sex workers on the web and Twitter don’t regret it either.

And there are lots of things to regret in life, anyway. Marrying the person you’re divorcing. That one night stand with the fat guy who now won’t stop following you around. Having an abortion or not having an abortion. Dumping your boyfriend. Cheating. And lots of other non-sex related things.

I do feel really bad for those who started streetwalking when underage, or who were pimped out by relatives as young children (it happens very occassionally in America) or do it to feed their drug habit, and all the other situations. But that doesn’t mean all sex workers have the same sad story. Some stories are happy, some sad, most neutral. The same sex worker can have good, bad and neutral experiences. The story of a 15 year old junkie streetwalker isn’t going to be the same as the story of a career woman who does sex work on the side from her house, or a student who works with an agency, or a graduate in a massage parlour. The happy hooker isn’t representative, but the sex slave is not representative either.

Where’s the blue WKD and chocolate when you need it??

Why is the world so complex anyway, and why does it happen? They blamed Brooke for telling her story – for ‘glorifying’ sex work, but all she was doing was telling her story. Freedom of speech. Then she was offered a book deal. And suddenly that was bad. It wasn’t just a book or a blog made into a book, it was an enemy of women. Where’s the line? If I’m just deluding myself, but she’s glorifying sex work, is it because my blog is obscure but her book was a bestseller? Is it how successful your writing is that determines if you’re a gender traitor or merely a sad sex slave?

And when a story about bad sex work experiences is told, it’s ‘raising awareness’ and ‘dispelling myths’. But if it’s a happy or neutral experience, it’s ‘playing the happy hooker’, ‘being a Belle de Jour’ or, in my case, being in the honeymoon phase of my descent into trauma and drug addiction.

I need chocolate. Chocolate makes everything go away. I think if Roland were here right now, he’d write ‘sex slave’ on my chest. I’ve been so horny all day, all the days since two weeks ago. I was going to check out kinky dating sites today. Sometimes I feel like banging my head against the wall out of sexual frustration. I wonder if it’s as bad for boys.

Ok, I’m going to stop now. Diary time! The next installment coming up now…



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