This cross-post by Scarlett Harris was previously published at Filmme Fatales and appears as part of our theme week on Representations of Sex Workers.
Sex workers get a bum rap in most aspects of society. In April 2013, publisher Mia Freedman and author of The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Brooke Magnanti, butted heads about the use of the word “prostitute” and whether it’s a valid career choice for our daughters on Aussie talk show Q&A; the murder of sex worker Tracy Connelly in Melbourne in July sparked protestations as to why her death wasn’t given as much attention as, say, white, middle-class Irish immigrant beauty Jill Meagher’s, also occurring in Melbourne; and we still stigmatise the exchange of sex for money despite it being one of the oldest occupations in the world and, to my mind, a necessary one.
Many pop cultural representations of sex workers tend to play into the notions that they need to be “saved” or are less than: Leaving Las Vegas, Lovelace, Pretty Woman. One that shines a refreshingly progressive and nonchalant light on sex work is 2012’s For a Good Time, Call…, starring Ari Graynor and Lauren Miller (who also cowrote the effort).
College enemies Katie (Graynor) and Lauren (Miller) are forced to move in together by their mutual gay bestie, Jesse (played by Justin Long), after a series of unfortunate events sees neither one being able to afford to live alone in the Big Apple. When Lauren discovers Katie pays the bills by working for a phone sex line, she decides to help her make it into a viable small business, and before long Lauren’s in on it, too.[caption id="attachment_7930" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Lauren Miller in For a Good Time, Call …[/caption]
While the roommates and their friends don’t bat an eyelid at their supposedly sordid occupation—Jesse wants to be involved, Katie meets her sweet, unassuming boyfriend via the hotline, and a prospective employer of Lauren’s applauds her for her newfound laidback demeanor—not everyone is so impressed. Lauren’s WASPy parents are mortified she ditched (read: was fired from) her long-time publishing gig in order to “listen to guys jack off,” as her father puts it.
Not to stoop to their level, but phone sex is probably the most banal of all possible sex work avenues to go down (pardon the pun!); big bucks can be made from any location without mandatory sex or nudity. Talk about a low-risk, high return investment! If anything, Lauren’s parents should be proud of their daughter’s entrepreneurial skills and her ability to turn a profit in a hostile economy, not slut-shaming her based on very little information. (Granted, the dildos on the coffee table and the g-string bunting strewn across the lounge room as the revelation is made probably don’t lend themselves to acceptance.)
If they looked beneath the surface they’d see that Lauren’s sexy, loudmouthed pole-dancing roommate who once peed in their daughter’s car (“It was a graduation present!”) has actually never had sex. And that the seemingly successful career woman was unhappy in her “boring,” passionless relationship and uninspiring publishing gig. The differences that once saw Lauren and Katie clash in college now bring them closer together in an alternate version of the heteronormative rom-com, where female friendship reigns supreme. Quite a contrast from the hooker sex-worker-with-a-heart-of-gold-who-needs-saving-by/from-a-man trope of the above mentioned Pretty Woman, Lovelace, etc.[caption id="attachment_7931" align="aligncenter" width="500"] For a Good Time, Call …[/caption]
But For a Good Time, Call… doesn’t think of itself as better than other films with sex workers as their protagonists, with Lauren using Katie’s virginity against her as a metaphor for her insecurity when they have their first major fight, a prevalent attitude that buys into virgins being lesser versions of sex-having humans. As Vivian in Pretty Woman resents Edward for making her “feel cheap,” Lauren’s treatment of her housemate brings up feelings of worthlessness for Katie. “You make me feel like I’ll never be good enough for you,” she cries. It seems we can’t win either way: women are slut- and prude-shamed no matter our real or perceived bedroom habits.
Above all, For a Good Time, Call… is a rom com about best friends; screw the menz. Unlike in the above mentioned sex worker movie cache, men are not the moral of this love story.
Scarlett Harris is a Melbourne, Australia-based freelance writer and blogger at The Early Bird Catches the Worm (soon to be undergoing a revamp; stay tuned!).