The Prism of Prostitution in a Feminist Lens

By: Khamylle Anne E. Mendoza

Integrated with liberalization, the paper cogitates about the idea of prostitution through a Feminist approach. The film, Pretty Woman, evidently manifests the unprincipled pursuit of women’s lifestyle—including the sex workers’ desolating negotiation with their prospects at the foot of Rodeo Drive in the heart of Beverly Hills. That being so, the paper strives to annotate the favorable outcomes of being cognizant towards the subtle explication underlying within the theory of feminism and the cinema industry.

             The film was directed by Garry Marshall, its main characters were Julia Roberts who played as “Vivian” and Richard Gere as “Edward”.  The film, basically, is about a prostitute who fell in love with a businessman and vice versa. It is more of a Cinderella plot—taking the princess and puts her in the real world, creating a chick flick with a bit of edge and a whole lot of heart—but this time, the leading lady is not an absolute pristine. Some viewers applauded the execution of the characters per se, however, it is still inevitable to have numerous number of people who exclaim that the film failed to fulfill the audience’s hopes and expectations. Gere and Roberts have a very good chemistry, but this feel good fantasy is fastened with some absurd messages about love, prosperity, and deep pockets.

             Behind the exasperating suffering and unjust treatment towards women who aim to acknowledge place in the community, “she” is finally playing a significant role in the general public today as a communist, a politician, and an economist—these women paved the way put an end to the unjust treatment towards womanhood. However, although feminism has been generating debates all over the world, some women are still struggling every single moment casting for their rights (Green, 2000).

             Feminism, on the other hand, is believed to be the total representation of women’s difficulties (Narayanaswamy, 2016), issues (Farley, 2003), and impediments where, at the same time, equal opportunities in societies are being controlled by men (Millner, Moore, & Cole, 2015).

             Despite the heartbreaking dissociation and the rigid disproportion in society, women were still able to rise up each time expressing their own thoughts and manifestations considering the fact that feminists were able to feel (Clover, 2017) and encounter the hardships and suffering of women (Brunschot, Sydie, & Krull, 2000) in Patriarchal societies. Feminists, therefore, started to eliminate all the possible obstacles that could prevent movement or access towards social and economic opportunities for women, and to give an impression that a woman’s worth is never determined primarily by the gender. With that, the promotion and awareness of equality started to spread all over the world—making it a symbol of just treatment without any prejudice or partiality; making people believe that men and women deserve equality in all social rights.

             Feminism also took shape into Hunburtine Auclert’s journal entitled, “La Citoyenne as La Feminitè” where the author attempted to indicate the faults of male domination in a very much disapproving way, and to claim for women’s rights. Whether a social movement or a political movement, feminism definitely made the women’s oppression a point of convergence (Walters, 2018). The word feminism was first used during 1871 in a French medical text to refer into a certain termination in development of male sexual organs who were medically perceived as people suffering from feminization—a development of external female characteristics by a male (Fraisse, 1995). Afterwards, the term was further flourished by Alexandre Dumas, a French writer, republican, and anti-feminist who exclaimed that even though Fraisse used feminism to signify feminization of men, it is indeed a virilization—an imbalance in sex hormones—of women in terms of politics (Chandran, 2016).

             On the other hand, there are various classifications of feminism that came from studies of feminism per se and feminist theory. A basic version of this categorization divides feminisms and feminists into three varities: (a) Liberal Feminism wherein people campaign for equal rights for women within the structure of the liberal domain; (b) Marxist Feminism where feminists relate women’s oppression to the capitalist realm of production; and (c) Radical Feminism where feminists perceive men’s supremacy as an outcome of Patriarchy.

             Although it is a fact that feminist movements have been more vigorous during the past historical periods, it would perhaps be more precise to see feminism not as developing waves but as an augmentation of a concept and movement from the past era. Nevertheless, there are people who point out that supporting feminism does not automatically make a person a feminist. However, it is also by no means that a person does not have to be a feminist to support equal rights (Thouaille, 2018). With that being said, feminism is believed to have its own concept and practices, hence, past studies stated that feminists can be instituted as a discipline, but can never claim women as its realm.

             Not to mention, there was a Third Feminist Wave which appeared in the early 90’s and still emerging up to date. Rebecca Walker used the expression “Third Feminist Wave” to allude towards the activities such as women in pornography, sex work, and prostitution (Hulusjö, 2013). Walker believed that this concept would definitely eliminate the stereotypical, accustomed, and standard pictures of women through removing ideas like sexist language unjust phrases used for women.

             Similarly, pro-prostitution feminists exclaim that prostitution and other disposition of sex work can be a reasonable choice for people who choose to take part in. On that account, the idea of prostitution started to be differentiated from forced prostitution (Cawston, 2018). In the perspective and context of the current social and economic condition of women at the present time, some people suppose that sex work could only perpetuate women’s subordinate social position. However, some feminists firmly believe that prostitution is not morally wrong. In fact, the people who show approval in relation with sex work legalization say that it can help women build careers for themselves, which can be quite emancipating. Thus, sex work can be turned into a very safe and profitable venture for women (Bucher, Manasse, & Milton, 2014). In their perspective, prostitution is not exploitative of women and under the proper conditions, can actually serve as a benefit (Pitts & Kawahara, 2017) since some women may enjoy occupation that allows them to assume control of their own bodies and just freely express their sexuality (Cawston et al, 2018; Epstein & Moreau, 2017).

             Through the rationales mentioned, stronger fortifications came into practical view. Past studies attest that sex workers could also receive benefits such wherein self-defense and sufficient knowledge towards sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are the matters of greatest importance followed by supplementary benefits such as health insurance and sick day (Melrose, 2004; Spitzer-Hanks, 2016). Apart from that, feminists profess that sex workers have the right to refuse during unwanted circumstances and privileged as well to limit the monetary portion that handlers can take. With that being said, if sex workers are being offered the same benefits offered to people in other industries, it can be considered as a legitimate work as well then (Edelman, 2011; Helle-Valle, 1999).

             Pretty Woman has already been reviewed by some people from different industry and by sex workers too for not showing a sensible and practical idea of what can be achieved or expected in that kind of living, and for romanticizing the “knight-in-shining-armor-client” fantasy. However, since this paper strives to examine the film more positively from another angle, it is ideal to elucidate the fact that there is a justice to these criticisms even though some people, who have a lack of experience, claim that the film is a total allurement of prostitution. Divergently, those individuals who seem to be distracted by film’s “allurement” of prostitution are actually more disturbed by the following contentions: (a) that a prostitute is an individual; (b) that prostitution is occupation comparable to other forms of labor; and (c) that abuse of a prostitute is the sole responsibility of the abuser.

             However, Vivian’s personality shown in the film proved stereotypical assumptions wrong. She never used illegal drugs; her backstory involves some awful relationships but no explicit sexual trauma. Her intelligence continuously surprised the viewers. Obviously, Vivian’s only reason for becoming a sex worker was her desire for financial self-support and her struggle to pay rent. Evidently, this notes Vivian as a unique & exceptional prostitute, who deserves to be loved, respected, and rescued because she is absolutely incomparable. In that manner, the film attempts to show the significance of combatting the possible hazards of prostitution that is through recognizing it as a legitimate work.

            This perception and feeling towards a certain film can be related with the two basic Freudian notion—voyeurism and fetishism. These terms have been used to elucidate what precisely woman represents and the feelings that evoke men’s emotions. For voyeurism, is associated to the scopophilic instinct wherein men are able to acquire please by just looking at a particular object. Some people say that Pretty Woman is kind of a nasty film, but how come other people see it in a deeper way? And them focusing on a sexual way. Mostly men. On the other hand, a similar impression was enunciated as well by Laura Mulvey. According to her, there are two components that must be discussed: First, men tend to take an action or possession, rather than to simply stare which is contrary to what women can do. Second, the objectification of women is not for the purposes of eroticism, but more of what women try to pose.

             The waves of feminism mentioned above were completely persuaded by the significance of the evolution of feminist theories by all the available means (Liinason & Alm, 2018; Parashar, 2016), making people believe that the continuous growth of such studies could make the matter more buoyant and effective (Koobak, 2018). As a result, people started to give proposals about various laws and politics about the roles of women such as motherhood and even womanhood as well as some compelling talking point for woman particularly gender (Bartlett & Henderson, 2016), sort, and sexuality (Hester & Squires, 2018).

 Above all, I must say that Pretty Woman is not a total representation of prostitution since, for me, it has personified a positive support of a woman’s negotiating borderlines within romantic relationship and a positive seal of approval of personal worth as well. Pretty Woman is a beautiful movie! And to describe it as “anti-feminist” is another way of giving importance to the sexist stand of white knights over the actual concerns of enthusiasm and consent.


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