by: Eva Juniel
Let’s start by clarifying that “prostitute” is a negatively stigmatized and stereotyped word for sex worker. A sex worker is an individual who receives money or goods in exchange for sexual services. This can include a variety of services, not just sexual intercourse. You may be thinking, “Okay but that sounds just like a prostitute”. Technically you aren’t wrong. However, if you use the term ‘prostitute’, you are contributing to a long history of shaming, systematic oppression, and cultural incompetence. When it comes down to it, these are just people who are doing their jobs. It seems that there are a lot of misconceptions of sex work, who knew?
The term sex worker was coined to put an emphasis on WORK and to create a connection between sex work and “regular” work for people outside of the industry. Sex is kept behind closed doors, or in the wide-wide open. Those are the extremes, that is understood, but we can all safely assume sex is a private matter for most. When sex workers are brought into the conversation most people have already built an image in their head of what they think a sex worker is. They may think of a person who resembles that of Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver (which was actually an example of trafficking), Or Keisha Knight Pulliman’s character in Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail. That being said, these stories can actually exist but to assume and to apply these narratives to most if not all sex workers is at bare minimum highly problematic. The only part of these stories that is true for all is the lack of systematic protection and systematic targeting of women in the sex work industry. For far too long sex workers have had narratives that weren’t their own shoved down their throats by people who don’t know a thing about their true struggles, their true passions, or their truth. Since sex workers have a different approach to the supposed monolith known as sex. People on the more ‘closed’ end of the ‘open-mindedness spectrum’ tend to not listen or pass hasty judgements as to what they think sex workers are doing.
40-Year-Old Virgins and Meet the Fokkens are two documentaries that help dispel the false narratives of sex work. Channel 4’s documentary 40-year-old Virgins is about, “Two Virgins [who] take tentative steps toward intercourse when they commit to intensive sex therapy in the U.S.” which is available on Netflix. Before watching, be aware that this content involves sexual intercourse and sex talk. Meet the Fokkens is a documentary about 70-year-old Fokken twins, who were Amsterdam’s oldest prostitutes until their recent retirement. The documentary itself takes an unusually lighthearted look at the lives of sex workers, which are indeed often filled with humor and absurdity. This portrayal of the Fokken’s lifestyle was difficult for some film critics to comprehend. One New York Times critic stated that since the film does not explain why the Fokkens twins chose a life of sex work, the film fails to be anything more than “another sad story about whores”.
Despite critic reviews, the Women’s Resource Center is here to dispel the false narratives of sex work and provide more universal expression of sex work. There are some positives and negatives about each film mentioned above, but both of them are rooted in or molded by the hands of sex workers themselves.
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