It is possible that the percentage of honest and competent whores is higher than that of plumbers and much higher than that of lawyers. And enormously higher than that of professors. - Robert A. Heinlein
Have you ever played that parlor game where someone names a category (like, say, “animals” or “cheeses”) and everyone tries to figure out which one you are? Like, “if you were a tree, which kind of tree would you be?” Well, we were playing this one night at UNO and someone chose the category “archetypal characters”; it took all of thirty seconds for everyone to agree that I was “the hooker with a heart of gold”. For those unfamiliar with this archetype, she is a woman (sometimes an actual prostitute but not always) who by the sexual conventions of her society is “bad” or “immoral” or “sinful”, but is actually a kind and virtuous person. The fact that this character appears in literature practically since the beginning of civilization shows that at least on some level many humans recognize that a woman’s willingness to comply with her society’s sexual mores has little to do with her actual morality. One can always tell how well a writer comprehends this truth by the way in which he uses such a character; if he depicts her as miserable and fallen and forced into prostitution by circumstances or poverty or a pimp, he obviously does believe that sex truly is bad and dirty and therefore his heroine cannot have willingly entered harlotry. But if he depicts her as an unrepentant whore who makes no excuses for her profession and yet still is good and noble, it is because he recognizes the arbitrary nature of any given society’s sexual rules and therefore understands that virtuous whores, as Heinlein points out, are far more common than virtuous individuals in many “respectable” professions.
Those who have read this column for a while recognize that the latter depiction of the “tart with a heart” is the truer one; I can honestly say that the moral composition of the population of working prostitutes in any given area basically resembles the moral composition of the population in general. There are honest whores and dishonest whores, moral and immoral ones, generous ones and greedy ones, ones who help their sisters and ones who will stab them in the back to make an extra fifty bucks…just like any other people. Despite what cops and bluenoses like to claim, hookers are no more inclined to criminality than anyone else; the way some of these ignorant jackasses talk, they make it sound as though if our trade were decriminalized most would leave it in droves to find some illegal way to make a living! Yes, some streetwalkers and low-end escorts will steal from customers, but that’s because they’re poor and desperate; some hotel maids and minimum-wage retail employees do the same thing for the same reason, but I don’t see anyone calling for those professions to be prohibited. And yes, even some not-so-low-end escorts try to scam their customers for more money; do you honestly believe some mechanics, doctors and lawyers don’t do the same thing? Refusing to obey the arbitrary sexual rules of society does not make prostitutes any more “corrupt” or “evil” than it does homosexuals for the same reason, and though many sluts are far more unscrupulous than whores (because some of them DO want to steal married men from their wives), I’ll bet the average moral retard would consider it the other way around!
Once Linda said to me, “Maggie, you’re so beautiful and so smart, you could easily take these men for a lot more than you do.”
I replied, “That’s as may be, but I can sleep at night.” Yes, as escorts go I was unusually honest, but then I’m unusually honest for a woman, a person, an American, a writer or any other group I happen to be a member of. My innate honesty has nothing to do with my profession; it existed long before I ever accepted money for sex, and did not lessen merely because I gave up one profession for another. My girls all knew that I frowned on dishonesty, so dishonest girls never lasted long at my agency and those who (like most people) might be tempted to occasional “fudging” were discouraged from doing so by my attitude. Yet, I never had any trouble finding girls to work for me, which tells me that escorts are no more or less honest than anyone else.
I think my readers can probably tell that besides being honest, I also have a generous nature; as one of my friends once put it, “When Maggie does well everybody does well.” She meant that when I can afford it I am never stingy with gifts, loans, picking up tabs, tipping, or anything else. As with honesty I’m not alone among whores in that respect; I’ve seen a number of girls who worked for me go broke helping out their families and friends, and both my own experience and that of waitresses I’ve known informs me that escorts, like strippers, are usually big tippers. I think part of that is due to our high income and to our knowing what it’s like to be dependent on the generosity of patrons, but part of it has to be personality-driven because I’ve known some very wealthy people who were terrible tippers, and though generous with money they already have few strippers have any scruples about milking their customers for more to replace it.
Now, I’m not going to go into detail about the “hooker with a heart of gold” archetype; if you’re interested in reading more about it I suggest you look up the Wikipedia article or the one at TV Tropes and Idioms, both of which feature numerous examples. I feel it only fair to warn you, however, that the latter site can be extremely addictive, and since both sites feature user-generated content the quality of the examples can vary widely; the TV Tropes article in particular has some commentary which demonstrates bias, acceptance of stereotypes and subscription to “pimps and traffickers” hysteria on the part of the writers. For the purposes of this article, all I need point out is that whether the character is major or minor and whether the writer allows her to live “happily ever after” (as in Pretty Woman) or feels compelled to redeem her by killing her off (as in Camille) says more about both the writer and his intended audience than it does about actual prostitutes, golden-hearted or otherwise.
Because the very fact that a writer uses such a character in the first place shows that he (at least on some level) recognizes his society’s sexual rules as arbitrary, the most important factor in determining how she will end up is not how he feels about those rules, but rather how he feels about women breaking them. Because even in places and times when our trade is not actually illegal, whores are by our very nature nonconformists; by refusing to meekly submit to one man, by refusing to toil and spin, by refusing to be ashamed of our sexuality, by demanding cash for our favors rather than allowing men to sweet-talk us into giving them up, and by profiting from the male tendency toward promiscuity rather than whining or throwing tantrums over it, we violate every expectation of patriarchal society. Men are either fascinated by our charms or hate us for our power over them or both; women are either jealous of our freedom or horrified by our courage or both, and society as a whole refuses to openly accept us yet would collapse into chaos without us.
By giving his character a “heart of gold” the writer represents her as a good person whose only fault is her refusal to accept the yoke expected of women, therefore her eventual fate demonstrates his belief about what will or should happen to people (especially women) who violate arbitrary standards. If she dies, we can be sure that the writer either believes that “you can’t fight the system” (even if that system is unjust and wrong), or else that female willfulness is a tragic flaw which will destroy even an otherwise-virtuous woman. If she is “redeemed” through the actions of the hero, the writer clearly believes that though female unconventionality is a sin, it is not a mortal one and therefore can be forgiven if the poor deluded wretch sees the error of her ways and happily becomes the property of some man. But the rare example in which the virtuous whore both survives and yet remains unrepentant is indicative of a truly liberal attitude on the part of the writer; by allowing his symbol of noble nonconformity to triumph without recantation, he tells us not only that he believes in a woman’s right to self-determination, but also that he recognizes that arbitrary social conventions have no more resemblance to real morality than pantomime horses have to thoroughbreds.