I was thinking about the TV show Hung. It’s a show starring Thomas Jane, who plays a Ray Drecker, a school teacher-turned male prostitute. Whether it portrays the life of a male prostitute accuratelyornot, I can’t be sure. But it does a good job of glorifying the life of a gigolo. Thomas Jane goes around screwing women for money and it is, for the most part, all fun and games. And it makes me wonder: when will American media have a TV show that puts a woman in the same position as Ray?
Every time we read about female prostitutes in the news, it’s always a sob story about human trafficking and the disgusting filthy things that they are forced to do in order to pay off deviously devised debts by their manipulative handlers. Whenever we see a sex worker in the media, they are always portrayed as poor suffering souls who are essentially sex slaves who can’t defend themselves. They are always positioned as weak and powerless. And just like the popular imagery of the pornographic actress, sex workers are often assumed to have gone through terrible sexual abuse in the past: why else would they do the things that they do?I am sure that there really are sex workers who have been sexually abused in the past. I am sure that there are sexworkerswho have been forced into their situation, and that there are those who are kept there against their will. Surely these inhumane things occur in the real world, and with frightening frequency. These cases surely deserve to be given media coverage, and surely things like that need to be stopped.But what about the women who enjoy sex work? What about the women who join the trade of their own free will? What about the women who are happy with their chosen employment, just like Ray Drecker?
I suspect that it will be a very long time before the American media would allow for such a portrayal. I suspect that the way that the media presently portrays female sex work is driven by a patriarchal undercurrent. Oh, lookatthepoor helpless girls, says Father Media. They are powerless to help themselves, so we must intervene and expose their hapless situation. By portraying sex workers in such a way, they perpetuate the notion that women are powerless. Female sex workers are rarely ever portrayed in a positive way. They usually have a damaged element to them, a convenient explanation for their decision to have sex for money. This traumatic past helps to diffuse the responsibility for their decision: it’s not her fault that she chose to become a prostitute because she was sexually abused when she was eleven years old.
At the same time, Father Media produces the image of the empowered male prostitute in Ray Drecker. For some reason,wedon’t really try to protect men who become sex workers. Men who have sex for money are not seen as being exploited by women. I imagine that the implication is that women cannot exploit men because they are underneath men in the same way that a peasant cannot be thought of as exploiting the king. Men who are gigolos can take care of themselves by the simple merit of being a man.
I don’t believe that the media can never tell us the truth of prostitution. The media will serve only to obfuscate the truth. There certainly are horror stories that are true to life. But those are the only ones you will ever read about. After all, who wants to hear the story of the woman who happily makes over $100,000 of tax-free income by working less than twenty hours a week? Who wants to hear about how she had a perfectly normal childhood, and how she thought it was a great way to make big bucks after she discovered the trade during her stint as a masseuse? Who wants to hear about how she gets to fly out to Vegas on a whim to gamble and party with friends on New Year’s? That sort of story completely destroys the archetype of the weak willowy woman who must be saved from her demons, the same patronizing archetype that has oppressed women for ages. The day that we see a TV show telling the story of a strong confident woman who has sex for money is the day that marks significant progress for society, and a significant victory for feminists as well.