Pretty Woman Just Turned 25 – So I’m Ruining It For Everyone

‘Sex work - it’s a day at the races!’ Weirdly, the makers of Pretty Woman did not choose this as their tagline.


by Daisy Buchanan |
Published on

I love to laugh. I love Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. I love movies set in LA. And as I’m not much older than the film, I’ve seen Pretty Woman on more occasions than I have fingers to count them on. Mostly at half term sleepovers, when my adolescent brain was soaking up all sorts of questionable values from it. And now, director Gary Marshall’s rom com hymn to the hilarious things that happen when women sell their bodies has just turned 25.

Pretty Woman is a classic love story, in that it’s about two people from wildly different background overcoming adversity and falling hard for each other in unlikely circumstances. It also made me wonder where I could find a wealthy boyfriend who might take me shopping - instead of making me want to develop some wallet fattening business acumen of my own. Also, that it’s worth sucking up to a boyfriend’s awful, awful mates if he takes you somewhere fancy, like the polo. It also made me think that George from Seinfeld probably believes he’s entitled to have sex with you if he ponies up enough cash, no matter how strongly you feel otherwise.

Pretty Woman made me wonder where I could find a wealthy boyfriend who might take me shopping - instead of making me want to develop some wallet fattening business acumen of my own.

The anniversary made me want to revisit and reconsider the idea of the charming sex work comedy, especially after comedian Kate Smurthwaite had some shows cancelled at Goldsmiths Universitywhen it was thought that protesters might picket the event. Although it doesn’t come up in her show, Smurthwaite supports the ‘Nordic model’ when it comes to sex work - she thinks that buyers should be prosecuted, but not the sellers. Critics have accused Smurthwaite of whorephobia. Sex workers want the right to do their jobs in a safe and profitable way, and admittedly that is much harder when your clients are made into criminals.

I believe all women should have the right to pursue any line of work that they wish to. I have friends who have worked in different areas of the sex industry, during different periods of their life, and every one of them was doing what felt right and logical at the time. More seriously, I believe that the sex industry is always going to exist - and even if you think that’s a moral outrage, or just generally very depressing, it makes more sense to recognise this and put laws in place to protect everyone involved and keep them as safe as possible.

However, I am keen to ruin everyone’s favourite childhood sex worker movie for them by saying that Pretty Woman romanticises and celebrates the idea that women are for sale, and that does not help anyone. Over the weekend, there was a piece in The Times about women in Russia going on a course in order to learn how to attract a rich husband. So far, so frothy - but it also included an interview with a graduate, Oliona, whose boyfriend pays for her apartment as well as ‘the basic Moscow mistress rate - $4,000 dollars a month [and] a car.’ According to the interview, Oliona fears her boyfriend is getting bored and she’s searching for another professional girlfriend gig, even though she has to ‘be careful - [the boyfriend] has one of his bodyguards check up on me.’ 22 year old Oliona worries about ’18 year old girls breathing down my neck’. She’s one of many women who are dependent on men’s money in a buyer’s market. She doesn’t seem empowered, and you don’t get the sense that she’s really able to set her own terms.

We’re quick to criticise women who chase rich men. But in Russia, and the rest of the world, how many women get the support, advice and inspiration they need to make their own money?

She goes on a date with an oligarch who ‘was giving out $100 bills to girls for blow jobs’. She describes the club - beautiful young women queuing out the door and clamouring to get in while seriously wealthy men watch and choose them from another floor. Reading about Oliona, I realise that in some parts of the world, some people think Pretty Woman might come true for them. Russia has the highest level of wealth inequality in the world. We’re quick to criticise women who chase rich men - they’re ‘golddiggers’ - but in Russia, and the rest of the world, how many women get the support, advice and inspiration they need to make their own money? If some women choose to become sex workers, we have to support that choice, but if women had more opportunities to create their own wealth, would they still want to sell sex? If we had a greater number of women in parliament and more female CEOs, would critics of the NMP3 campaign be less anxious that women might be denied a livelihood if they can’t show their nipples in The Sun?

Ultimately, any career plan that entirely depends on you making money from your youth and hotness isn’t really a plan at all - certainly not one that will provide you with a pension. As much as I love Pretty Woman I think it has contributed to a culture in which women, much more than men, are expected to be sexy, stunning and available for purchase. When women have as much earning power and as many professional opportunities as men, all we’ll be able to afford to think much more liberally about sex work. Until then, we have to watch our rom coms with caution, and remember that twinkly, handsome client Richard Gere is a myth - and the reality involves entitled oligarchs throwing $100 bills and demanding blow jobs from desperate 18 year old women.

**Liked this? You might also be interested in: **

Somethings's Gone Seriously Wrong When Sex Workers In Germany Are Doing It For Big Macs

Meet The Woman Behind Spain's Self-Proclaimed School For Whores

Woman Who's Slept With 10,000 Men Advises Women On How To Find An Alternative

** Follow Daisy on Twitter @NotRollerGirl**

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us