Opinion: Did you hear the one about the dead hooker?

 

Anonymous Contributor

 

We need to talk about dead hooker jokes.

I see a lot of comedy. I’m a comedy fan, a comedy reviewer and a comedy blogger. 

I’m also a sex worker. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that comedians, along with the general public, don’t expect sex workers to be present. We are invisible. If we’re considered at all, it’s like the shots you see in the press: a faceless woman on a dark street corner leaning into a car, one leg flicked coquettishly upwards; an anonymous entity.

In terms how the general populace views whores (incidentally, at this point in time, the word ‘whore’ is like the ‘N’ word, in that I’m allowed to use it but you’re not); we’re still in the dark ages. Imagine back to the time that Oscar Wilde was obliged to hide his sexuality in plain sight whilst being persecuted by the law and you’re getting close. I’ll save you looking up the year – that was back in 1895. 

122 years later, prostitutes, hookers, ladies of the night, courtesans, escorts and call girls (the term generally accepted these days is sex workers) are all still in a similar position socially. Why should comics be concerned with using us as a punchline; they wouldn’t think for a single minute that there was a one of ‘them’ in the audience. No one is wearing fishnet tights and a leopardskin coat with twenties bursting out of her bra, for God’s sake. I keep mine stashed in my knickers. 

So, I go to gigs. I laugh for the most part, and occasionally I cringe. Until you’ve been the repeated butt of the joke, you probably don’t notice that you’re being picked on, but comedy frequently has a target, and people tend to kick down. In the case of sex workers, we are two steps below human beings, one step below women and one step above rats. If you need confirmation of how mainstream this view has become, have a look at JK Rowling’s ostensibly feminist tweets about how it’s filthily misogynistic to call Theresa May a whore because surely there can be no worse insult. 

Sometimes, whorephobia (for that is the name of this phenomena, oh yes, we have a technical term for everything these days) emanates from ignorance. And you know what, ignorance is ok, everyone’s learning. We can’t all walk around being permanently aware of everyone’s finer feelings, especially in comedy where quick thinking is key to the job.

I was at a show a few months back when one of my favourites comics improvised a gag where he alluded to a ‘whore’ being a bitch or a slag. I cringed, as usual, but I enjoyed the rest of the show. The following day I tweeted the comic and explained my offence, he was contrite, apologised, and admitted that it was an off the cuff remark which, given more time, he likely wouldn’t have repeated. Fair enough. The problem is, most of the time, sex workers don’t speak up and identify themselves, for pretty obvious reasons. Stigma ensures that we remain invisible and thus allows us to still be the butt of the jokes. 

dead hooker
One of the memes tweeted out by the London Dungeon this year.

Sometimes people are not as keen to be called out. Last Valentines day, The London Dungeon tweeted a series of memes. The image above is one of the most appalling; which I assume was their desired intention. When they were taken to task about the nature of the campaign, they took the classic ‘I’m sorry if you’re offended’ line, which translates to ‘fuck off, we’re entirely unapologetic’.

Normally these instances cause a day of annoyance on twitter, and then we all move on. But recently, things got pretty damn serious. Firstly, an indoor sex worker was murdered in her flat a couple of miles from my house. Suddenly. this wasn’t such a funny punchline. Then today, I read a post by Janey Godley, a comic I greatly admire. She’s a no-holds-barred, straight down the line, smack-a-mens-rights-activist-in-the-face kinda gal, and I love her because she makes me feel not quite so alone in a scary world.

Janey was angry, and rightly so, at the horrifically misogynistic shit that gets hurled at female comics; particularly by stag parties. Sadly, Janey’s way of expressing her anger was to suggest that misogyny, violence and anger not be aimed at ‘women’, but instead be saved for that special breed of sub-woman, the hooker:

“I wish someone would open a huge stag strip bar in Glasgow so that the giant groups of angry men can go there and scream their hate at women and not come to comedy clubs…you are asking female comics to accept abuse because you can profit off a group of men whose mentality [was] so skewed they should’ve chipped in their money to hire a hooker and then killed her by taking turns kicking her up a dark alley…”

Even typing this turns my stomach. Janey is an ally, a good feminist. Sex workers are so peripheral on the vision of civil society that she thought it was OK to draw a parallel with nasty men being dicks to female comics at gigs (and I don’t doubt for one minute that they are horrendous, and it’s something no woman should have to suffer at work) with them instead expending their pent up woman-hatred by killing a prostitute.

I wrote to Janey and said as much, and although she didn’t reply, she did go on to amend her post to include the point that violence towards sex workers is not OK.

It’s a small concession, but I have an unpleasant feeling in the pit of my stomach that it’s a battle that’s far from being won.

I’m still not laughing.

 

This post is in remembrance of Romina Kalachi, 32, who was murdered at her home in Kilburn, London on May 29 this year. Police stated that she was targeted because of her profession as a sex worker. You can make a donation to Ugly Mugs, a national charity which works to protect sex workers, here.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Opinion: Did you hear the one about the dead hooker?

  1. Brilliant piece. I’ve reread it a good few times and I’m shocked at what Janey godley wrote.that been thought on,mulled over and time spent on it. Not an off the cuff remark.
    To the annonimus contributor. Well written.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous? Brilliant – at least I put my name to my words.
    My mother was murdered by her boyfriend -I understand violence against women – it was a reference to a film where stags kill a hooker. I am not and never have claimed to be a feminist.
    I would rather be creative and say things that get criticised than do nothing and be an anonymous critic.

    Like

    1. Nice thought provoking piece, and well written too.
      As for Godley? Clearly here is a woman who doesn’t like to be challenged. She seems to have a poor grasp of written English if she doesn’t get the reason for anonymity. The author makes it fairly plain why she chooses to conceal her identity. I would have thought the penultimate sentence is a bit of a give away really, even for the most hard-of-thinking.
      Either way, since when does anonymity disqualify an opinion? Democratic governments are elected on this very principle…(so they say anyway).

      Like

    2. There are clear reasons why a sex worker would want to keep their identity private on a public forum. Sex workers are subject to stigma and violence, and it is often highly unsafe for them to be ‘out’.

      This person isn’t hiding at all, they actually have come to you on this issue, personally, under their own name (and didn’t receive a response from you). They just didn’t want to publicly out themselves, which is absolutely legitimate.

      Like

    1. The author of this piece wishes to retain her anonymity for safety reasons. I’m passing on her message as follows:

      I’d already privately messaged you and introduced myself as a fan of yours. I’d hoped I could make my point quietly and in private as I have done in other cases without need for public debate, however, I didn’t receive an answer from you. Janey, having been a fan of your comedy and listened to your podcasts I thought that you were a feminist. I apologise if that was the wrong conclusion.

      I don’t feel there’s any other way to wrap this issue up except as a difference in opinion and the need to say that I’ve spoken to several men on the same topic but they’ve tended to rethink and apologise. However, I’m sure there are many male artists out there who would take a similar stance to you and rest assured I’ll be writing a similar piece about them.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s