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Friday, August 07 2015

Today, we’ll learn about the second trope in this series: The Happy Hooker. It may seem that this trope is a positive depiction of sex work. The women are highly paid, live a glamorous life in beautiful surroundings, and ply their trade safely, without harassment or threats of violence from johns. They do not contract STDs, are not subjected to social stigma, and enjoy a carefree, independent lifestyle. In media, we see elements of  The Happy Hooker in films such as The Girlfriend Experience, American Pimp, and older movies like Belle de Jour, Variety, and of course, The Happy Hooker.

The same elements that make The Happy Hooker seem harmless are the very elements that make the trope extremely dangerous for women that are commercially sexually exploited. It portrays sex work in an excessively rosy light, casting female sex workers as selfless, generous caregivers with no needs or desires of their own outside of providing pleasure to their boyish, kindhearted clients who just want some love. The trope ignores the fact that a reported 95% of those in prostitution have experienced sexual harassment from clients that would be legally actionable in another job setting. It glosses over the fact that 68% of 854 people surveyed in strip club, massage, and street prostitution in 9 countries met criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD, and that 80% to 90% of those in prostitution experience verbal abuse and social contempt which adversely affect them. Worst of all, this trope does not show the reality that 60-95% of sex workers report having been sexually or physically assaulted on the job.

The Happy Hooker doesn’t just give society license to turn a blind eye to the very real issues facing commercially sexually exploited women, it allows us to minimize the violence and discrimination they experience—after all, they get paid to have sex with wealthy, good looking men, so how bad could it be?  It would be disingenuous to treat sex work as a monolithic industry and assume that every sex worker in every part of the world hates the job for the same reasons. Some sex workers may fit the trope perfectly, but most research shows that the majority of women engaging in survival sex—the most common form of sexual exploitation we see at CASH—do not enjoy the work, are not paid well for it, and live a dangerous, highly stigmatized lifestyle.


During a discussion about sex work in the media, a client once commented, “Maria, it’s just a movie. They can’t tell the whole story!” This is absolutely true. However, by educating ourselves on the media-generated myths about sex work, we can better understand the needs of the sex workers in our own communities, and learn to view them as human beings, not a collection of habits, stereotypes, and catchphrases. 

Posted by: Maria AT 09:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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    P.O. Box 160022
    Sacramento, CA 95816
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