I remember watching the film Pretty Woman as a young, impressionable teenager. I was thirteen at the time and taking tentative steps from a child into womanhood. The boys that were once playmates were suddenly attractive creatures that generated strange feelings and emotions within me. Yes, I was growing up. I looked to society to teach me all about relationships and the balance of power between men and women.
Who could resist the fairy tale love story played out by the beautiful Julia Roberts and dashing Richard Gere? A story of a woman who had fallen on hard times and ended up working as a prostitute on Hollywood Boulevard, only to be saved by a rich, powerful man who magically appeared in a Porsche, and whisked her off to a better life. Like many, I absolutely lapped it up. I mean, it was a love story! Wasn’t it?
That was the problem. Pretty Woman was filmed through a rose-tinted lens. The reality is far, far different. What the film didn’t show was the abuse the character would have suffered at the hands of her other clients. How she would have worked for a pimp who would have taken the vast majority of her earnings. How many prostitutes turn to drink and drugs to deal with the effects of working within the sex trade or experience severe mental health problems. Pretty Women was the film where Hollywood romanticised the idea of prostitution for this reason.
In the past, prostitution was often a course of action that a woman turned to in times of desperate need, as she was unable to work to sustain herself. Even to this current day, many women are forced into sex work as a means to survive, to keep a roof over their head, or feed their children. Still to this day, women who work in the sex trade are frowned upon by society. Many of these women have no option.
During my travels around the world, I have spoken with many women from all different countries who work in the sex trade. Many suffered from mental health issues and resorted to drug use to negate the effects of their work. Every one of these women would have stopped working as a prostitute if they had another option. I’ve yet to meet a woman who truly blooms in the role of a prostitute but I could be wrong.
Over the last couple of decades since the release of Pretty Woman, we have seen the evolution of the sex trade which includes the rise of a culture of young women using their body as a form of currency to make their way in the world. We have witnessed a growing number of women who voluntarily enter the sex profession and say they feel empowered by their actions. We have the rise of the “Sugar Daddy” culture where young women spend time with older men in return for a financial benefit. I guess the question is, are these women in their power or are they victims of a male-orientated culture that still views women as sexual objects for their own gratification?
Which is what prostitution boils down. A service to males who view women as objects that can be bought to be used for their sexual gratification.
It is a question I have pondered over often. Obviously, Pretty Woman didn’t encourage me to go into the sex profession. I can genuinely say that I would never engage in any form of sex work by choice and I’ve never faced such hardship that prostitution is my only option. The idea of a man paying to use or view my body or buy my time repulses me but that’s just my opinion about my body. I live and let live as far as other people are concerned.
What concerns me the most about films like Pretty Woman is the false picture that is painted about the sex profession. How many vulnerable young women have been lured into the world of sex work only to find out that the reality is far different? There’s no Porsche pulling up on the sidewalk for most women who enter the sex trade. No prince charming to whisk them away to a better life.
From my experiences of women of the world who enter the sex profession because they have no choice, they’d gladly get out of the game in a second. They deserve to be heard and helped in whatever way they need.
I guess only time will tell if the growing number of young women entering the sex profession by choice are truly empowered or victims of our male-dominated society.
(c) Samantha Wilson. All Rights Reserved.