As 2011 waved goodbye and we turned our collective attention towards 2012, the year which has attracted more predictions verging on hysteria than any year in recent memory including the year 2000, CNN saw fit to air a 2005 program narrated by Sigourney Weaver, The Two Marys. I settled in to view the television special hoping against hope that someone out there might have actually produced a program meant to adequately address the Whore-Madonna Complex. After all, the title, The Two Marys, certainly suggests some awareness of the ancient dichotomy which has driven a stake through the heart of womanhood by compelling anyone with a vagina to pick a “side” and declare themselves aligned with “good” or “evil.”
While men are afforded a more holistic approach to being human, women are held to an impossible standard literally demanding that which is entirely impossible to achieve. The Virgin Mary mocks every mother on the planet who hasn’t found a way to retain her virginity while giving birth to an angelic baby. And Mary Magdalene would seem to announce the need for forgiveness for any woman who has fallen short of the virgin mother ideal.
Lesley Hazelton, author of Mary: A Flesh and Blood Biography of The Virgin Mother protests “I think there was a very strong-felt need on the part of the church fathers to put women in their place. So, by dividing women into madonnas and whores, they could either be all good or all evil.”
While you might think historical figures from over 2000 years ago are old news, the battle between “good” and “evil” girls continues. Just today, news of Colorado high school student Sydney Spies’ possible lawsuit claiming censorship, hit the headlines in all the major news outlets. Sporting a tiny black top and a short, yellow skirt, Ms. Spies bared her midriff and shapely legs for the camera with every intention that this sexy photo would serve as her senior portrait. But the yearbook editors claimed her photo was unprofessional and inappropriate.
I have heard these adjectives before. Unprofessional and inappropriate are actually code for “slutty.” And what exactly do we mean when we call a woman “slutty?” It can mean vastly different things to different people. But once that label is affixed to a woman, she falls into dangerous territory where almost any mistreatment can seem justified.
The same applies to the label “whore.” While we can refer to men as “man-whores” and “pricks,” the words don’t carry the same sting or stigma. Men can laugh off such labels and watch their credibility and popularity rise with every “bad boy” scandal. Meanwhile, women may lose their homes, their jobs, their children, their credibility, their membership in society and sometimes their very lives. Women who are perceived as “sluts” and “whores” can be potential targets for rape and murder by predators.
And meanwhile, popular programs still tell “dead hooker jokes” with impunity. It is enough to make this sex worker activist want to scream.
As someone who routinely educates the public on the topics of sex worker rights and a sexual bill of rights, I encounter plenty of negative commentary from readers, listeners and attendees. For instance, I often hear variations on the following:
“I think there’s a world of difference between a woman who takes on as many lovers as she pleases vs. a woman who has sex for money. Sex is sacred, not to be monetized and manipulated.”
At first blush statements such as these sound credible. They conform to the current cultural stance and sound “right.” But are such assertions right? Does prostitution necessarily “manipulate” and does monetizing the sex act remove the aspects which can be considered “sacred?”
Frankly, as someone who has worked with domestic violence survivors, I have been witness to plenty of manipulation and lack of sacredness in the context of marital sex. Why does marriage get a pass from us while prostitution remains suspect? I have been married and I have worked as an escort. Both experiences were positive and negative at turns. It all depended upon our intentions. Certainly no piece of paper has the power to distort sacred intentions nor imbue loving intentions where there are none. And that applies equally to the paper used to make marriage certificates as well as hundred dollar bills.
So let’s get real here. Society doesn’t give a rat’s ass about women being “treated with respect” or “being protected.” The current culture is designed to keep women suspicious of each other and divided instead of united. It is designed to deny us access to the same power afforded men and when you get down to it, that power is often defined by sexual and monetary proficiency. I can only imagine the stark raving terror that the good ole boy network must experience when they entertain the idea of the other half of the world’s population gaining control over the holy trinity: birth, sex and money.