Sluts, whores, prostitutes and ladies

Once upon a time, as all good fairy stories go, I was interviewed at a big railway station in Yorkshire, to be a rape counsellor.

I have no idea why I thought I was remotely capable of doing this volunteer post, given that I hadn’t been raped, sexually abused, or knew anything about the seedier side of sex lives. Or much about any sex lives actually.

The two women who interviewed me were the stereotypical image of a stereotypical hetero’s idea of lesbians. Short, fat and with short cropped hair. Not exactly page three.

I considered this, with my stereotypical hetero prejudice aka privilege, in new trendy speak, and tried not to let it put me off.

But I fucked it up big time when they asked me about porn.

It’s the only question I remember. Being a happy 80s babe, with a degree, hungry for money, and life, I promptly answered that it was a good idea for women if they could make money out of it.

They may have asked me the same question about prostitution. I probably answered in the same vein.

I failed the test. If I wrote Americanese I would describe it as an epic fail of the most ginormous proportion. I don’t write Americanese so we’ll stick with I didn’t get the post.

Thirty years on, I might have got the post. Still don’t have the experience, thank goodness, but I do have some awareness of why porn and prostitution are not necessarily such a good thing for career women after all.

In fact the nearest I have got to experience was in Kings Cross, Sydney (Australia for those of you who don’t know where Sydney is). As with its UK namesake, Kings Cross London, there were a few prostitutes kicking around. And a load of drugs. And some international backpackers, of which I was one.

Wandering down the main street one evening – Macleay St for anyone familiar with Sydney – a couple of Americans stopped me. No they didn’t have stars and stripes on their foreheads but they had funny accents and it wasn’t an Australian one. ‘How much?’ they asked. I didn’t answer. But I do remember feeling pleased that someone would be prepared to pay to have sex with me. (Another epic fail on the feminism register).

But what’s the reality of prostitution? Because I saw that side too. The woman who was taken out of the brothel apartment building next door due to a heroin overdose. She’d been found early in the morning, and emergency services were round pretty quickly. Being an early bird ie getting up early, not doing early hours in the morning after midnight, I heard the sirens and commotion and checked it out. And saw the corpse being taken into the ambulance, totally sheeted up.

According to the Washington Post, there’s very little of that any more and sex work is a great industry with lots of money where you meet nice people. Yes?

Or, going back to Sydney, let’s take a look at A Touch of Class in Surrey Hills, which has apparently closed. I’ll leave it to my Aussie readers to confirm that one. Known at the time as the most prestigious brothel in Sydney, it cost an arm and a leg to have sex there. My partner went there. I add quickly a) before he was my partner and b) to have a drink because his drinking mates wanted sex.

But look at this:

At A Touch of Class we have very high standards of grooming, performance, personality and reliability. If you think you will be an asset to A Touch of Class then we would love to hear from you, so please call or email us with your details.

We are always looking for smart, attractive staff between the ages of 18-30 of all nationalities. This could be for Escort or Brothel work, as well as receptionists.

Experience is not necessary, training is provided as a guidance on grooming and technique. New ladies to the industry are welcome. 

Because A Touch of Class are one of Sydney’s leading brothels and escort agencies, we have some of the best rates giving you the opportunity for a luxurious, highly paid, high-class, five-star lifestyle.

You will meet rich, powerful, famous and successful people.

[And you will also meet scruffy urchins from building sites stupid enough to blow all their wages for a few hours sex].

Oh dear. The Leeds railway station lesbians wouldn’t be too keen on that advert though. It’s also ageist I might add.

Regardless of that, there are two underlying concepts around prostitution.


Here is a wiki quote which sums up the negative aspects of prostitution extremely well:

Anti-prostitution feminists hold that prostitution is a form of exploitation of women and male dominance over women, and a practice which is the result of the existing patriarchal societal order. These feminists argue that prostitution has a very negative effect, both on the prostitutes themselves and on society as a whole, as it reinforces stereotypical views about women, who are seen as sex objects which can be used and abused by men.

Even I couldn’t have put that one better. But because I am a fair-minded person – here is the other view:

Other feminists hold that prostitution and other forms of sex work can be valid choices for women and men who choose to engage in it. In this view, prostitution must be differentiated from forced prostitution, and feminists should support sex worker activism against abuses by both the sex industry and the legal system.

A bit like my young and naive view.

And in summary, again from wiki:

The disagreement between these two feminist stances has proven particularly contentious, and may be comparable to the feminist sex wars of the late twentieth century.

Sadly this is an issue. If women (and men, except I am writing about women) wish to sell their bodies for sex – whose business is it apart from theirs? Financially, apart from the revenue, no-ones. But the impact on other women is significant.

Child brides and rape. Sex trafficking. On the increase in the UK and more than 1,000 occurences in Spain this past year. The perpetuation of the view that women are a commodity to be bought. Like a car. Or an iPhone.


Calling women sluts, whores, and prostitutes – or even tarts – is not usually regarded as a compliment.

This part of the post is a response to an exchange with Pink, who wrote about his pal Carolina, who is somewhat antifeminist. On her blog she referred to Marilyn Monroe as a slut.

Personally I would have described her as an actress – who may or may not have slept with a number of men. But that last part is irrelevant.

slut |slət|
a slovenly or promiscuous woman.
sluttish adjective
sluttishness noun
ORIGIN Middle English : of unknown origin.


she dressed like a slut and didn’t act much better promiscuous woman, prostitute, whore; informal tart, floozy, tramp, hooker, hustler; dated scarlet woman, loose woman, hussy, trollop; archaic harlot, strumpet, wanton.

And that, is basically how most people view women who have sex with lots of men. Men who shag around get approval. Women who do it, don’t.

‘Oh, you know that slag down the street,’ hardly compares with ‘Oh, our nice neighbour who is a doctor.’

There is no way that referring to a woman as a prostitute (insert all the above words) is a compliment.

And while I understand the concept of reclamation of language, I quite frankly, don’t buy it.

Seriously, most women who I know, would really NOT want to be called a slut – or a whore, prostitute, hooker etc. Suggesting a woman is engaging in prostitution for a living or just sleeping around is normally regarded as an insult by the vast majority of people, regardless of those who worked at A Touch of Class, or who can command a decent rate for shagging.

I have read far too many blog posts recently where men refer to ‘ladies’. Women do it too.

When men want to respect women and compliment them, they call them ladies. Why?

Because someone calling you a lady implies you are superior, upper class, educated, nice, – not rough, or a fucking whore or a slut.

Let’s get this clear. Women are all the same. We don’t need so-called differential respect. Don’t call us ladies or sluts. Because all you are doing, whether you are male or female, is reinforcing yet more boring stereotypes.

More wiki, as clearly I’m not on my own with this tack:

The word lady is a polite term for a woman, specifically the female equivalent to, or spouse of, a lord or gentleman, and in many contexts a term for any adult woman. Once relating specifically to women of high social class or status, over the last 300 years it has spread to embrace all adult women, though in some contexts may still be used to evoke a concept of “ladylike” standards of behaviour.
In more recent years, use of the word lady is even more complicated. The American journalist William Allen White noted one of the difficulties in his 1946 autobiography. He relates that a woman who had paid a fine for prostitution came to his newspaper to protest, not that the fact of her conviction was reported, but that the newspaper had referred to her as a “woman” rather than a “lady.” After the incident, White assured his readers, his papers referred to human females as “women,” with the exception of police court characters, who were all “ladies.”

White’s anecdote touches on a phenomenon that others have remarked on as well.

In the late 19th and early twentieth century, in a difference reflected in the British novelist Nancy Mitford’s essay “U vs. non-U”, lower class women strongly preferred to be called “ladies” while women from higher social backgrounds were content to be identified as “women.” Alfred Ayer remarked in 1881 that upper middle class female store clerks were content to be “saleswomen,” while lower class female store clerks, for whom their job represented a social advancement, insisted on being called “salesladies.” These social class issues, while no longer as prominent in this century, have imbued the formal use of “lady” with something of irony (e.g.: “my cleaning lady,” or “ladies of the night” for prostitutes). Commenting on the word in 1953, C.S. Lewis wrote that “the guard at Holloway said it was a ladies’ prison!”

Got to love the Mitfords!


You can all look up Wiki on your own.

Drivel by Mary Kenny

Not good for a teenager to be shot in the head for advocating women’s and girls’ rights, but great for men to admire our legs and enjoy that. What a terrible article. I say that extremely seriously. It is appalling. And I will critique far more than that trite shite should anyone wish to argue.

The Washington Post – might as well read – prostitution is good for women.


A Touch of Class

About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
This entry was posted in feminism, gender-specific language and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Sluts, whores, prostitutes and ladies

  1. pinkagendist says:

    As someone who’s dabbled in hookerdom and porn my view is quite different. I think attacking prostitution and words like slut is reinforcing the concept promoted by monotheistic religion that sex is bad and women in particular are not allowed to have it or choose how to have it.
    In the same line, most gay men go through the denial phase. To one’s self and to others. When we’re called gay/fag/queer the initial reaction is ‘no, I’m not’. That feeds into (buys into?) the conservative rubbish that says we should be embarrassed of ourselves. The first time I said ‘Yes, I am, so what? What’s it got to do with you unless you’re also gay and interested…’ was the most liberating day of my life.
    The real problem is we’ve been internalizing conservative propaganda. If a serial killer kills a prostitute they found from a newspaper ad, people say we must end prostitution and ban those advertisements. If a serial killer kills a real-estate agent they found from a newspaper ad, no one says we must abolish real-estate agents or their advertisements.
    As for ladies, I use it mostly in an age context, when I’m referring to older women outside of their presence. Privately, most upper class people use ‘boys & girls’ (in English), which seems rather silly, but I guess it implies affection or something.


  2. free penny press says:

    While I too have no personal experience in prostitution, I am limited in what is right or not right. On one hand if prostitution is controlled or regulated ( as it it is here in Las Vegas, Nevada) it runs neck-in neck with a woman’s choice or free will if you prefer. As with any unregulated occupation, there will be exploration and abuse. On the other hand woman that are prostitutes are sorely lacking inside or trying desperately to cover up pain and non-self worth or to feed that addiction. That is not free will, as they are desperate. As for the names, I have never been called a slut or whore and find that awfully offensive as I do the word cu**. Ladies to me is not an offensive term it’s more a plural form of lady..
    Interesting post…


  3. Good post, even though the ‘red mist’ breaks through now and again. I agree with most of what you say but:
    (1) There may be a view that prostitution (not exploitation, that is something entirely different) is a form of female domination? Only weak males seek this form of testosterone release! (2) Marilyn was a victim of manipulation and gender stereotyping and (3) Sorry if I sound like Godfrey out of Dad’s Army but as I have said before I totally disagree with your opinion about referring to females as ladies. I had this debate with my friends who all agreed that this is how they preferred to be addressed, they absolutely didn’t want to be called ‘women’ and I agreed with them – what would you suggest as an alternative and I’ll put it to them?


  4. bluonthemove says:

    If prostitutes have true freedom of choice, then who am I to try and stop them. In the UK, there is an increasing issue with university students (M+F) becoming part time prostitutes to help avoid the huge levels of debt when they graduate. Is that true freedom of choice, or are they under pressure to go down that route.


  5. I for one appreciate your forthright and challenging views. Taking your bat and ball home is not worthy of you! I took you for a liberal. You play with a hand-grenade, pull the pin, toss it into a forum for discussion and then deny freedom of thought and opinion because people don’t agree with you. That I’m afraid is an example of extremism! Grow up! Your posts can also be offensive – let me give you an example – in at least two you have spoken of your partner ‘bashing’ someone because they don’t fit your feminist, animal rights profile and that, let me tell you, is equally as offensive as the character traits that you find unacceptable and object to in other people. Life is a tapestry, not a single thread. Ponder and reflect and forget the mothballs – influence people through your intellect and ability to debate, not by sulking! email me a response if you have truly abandoned here but would like to continue the discussion.


  6. pinkagendist says:

    I have to respond here because comments were disabled on the newer post. It’s not that black and white. I’d say it’s not even just about language. I consider myself to be a feminist. I also use language you feel doesn’t fit that profile. I don’t think we’re ideologically at odds, but having actually experienced both prostitution and pornography I feel I have a valid point. In regards to language I also feel there’s a point to be made about what’s ‘behind’ what is perceived offensive. Modern society treats symptom as disease- and that’s flawed thinking.
    If someone becomes addicted to alcohol or any other substance, I’d venture to say the substance itself isn’t the real issue. What led a person to consume it is what should be addressed.


  7. EllaDee says:

    You do well to expound so well on so many complicated issues. As with many topics you raise there are no solutions only opinions, all of which are valid. As with many controversial issues I think the circumstances occur for short term gain, expediency but long term overall lend themselves to being less than ideal. As for the terms “ladies” or “lady”, personally they freak me out because I forget I am old enough to be referred to as such. I am also a daughter, grand daughter, sister, niece, partner, defacto, missus… as well a female, girl, person and woman… and I’m ok with all, although the G.O. once well meaningingly gave me a Valentine’s card with the pre-printed sentiment ‘Happy Valentines Day to the woman in my life”…end result = card in bin, but I still can’t fully explain why it pissed me off so much.


  8. Vicky says:

    The sad thing about a lot of prostitutes, is that they are fuelled by drug addiction, they know there are plenty of men around who will pay for their ‘services’, and again sadly, I doubt for one minute those women are remotely bothered what they are called, as long as they get enough money for their next fix. I really feel these women are being taken advantage of, and until that cycle is broken, they will continue to be called sluts, whores etc.
    At the other end of the scale are the ones, who for whatever reason, decide to be ‘upmarket escorts’ I doubt they would be happy to be known by any other name than female escorts, and probably because their ‘upmarket customers’ assume the word lady (lords and ladies etc), sounds more expensive.
    As for calling all women ladies, why then aren’t we calling all men lords?


  9. You’ve touched on many aspects of feminism here. I had a visceral reaction that’s hard to settle into a comment, so I’ll only say a couple of things. I’m often amazed at people who pretend that language shouldn’t have much effect on people. Everyone has a line that can’t be crossed without causing them pain. Why do these same people so often pretend that people who hear them say the “n” word or dismissively refer to women as “ladies” think we should all lighten up?

    Because the word lady is so entrenched in supposed polite conversation, I have to consider the person, what they’re saying and their demeanor before I get riled. And I usually let it pass anyway because those who use it to put me/us “back” in our place, love to argue about it and pretend I’m the one with the problem. All I can do is avoid the person who I can tell wants to make me uncomfortable, or, if they are a coworker or boss, hold my head up and prove that I won’t be pushed.

    I can’t come up with an instance when I knew a person wasn’t trying to turn back time by uttering “lady.” I know I haven’t heard it that way every time, but I recall quite a few instances when it was said with a dismissive smirk. Once especially, “ladies” was oozed by a boss who wanted us to calm down while he subjected us to verbal sexual harrassment. If only we could have quit and still fed ourselves and paid rent while searching for another job where we wouldn’t be subjected to that treatment. And really how would we know?

    I think I concentrated on that seemingly little point, because it isn’t. If it can’t be understood enough to agree on, what chance do we have at honestly addressing the huge issues of rape, sexual harrassment, equal pay for equal work, equal opportunity, etc?

    One last thing, I’ve been called slut by girls who simply didn’t like me. How sad. Without being enlightened, they would have grown up to add to women’s problems, not participate in making things better for society. And if I want to show my knees as part of my idea of attractive fashion, what does that have to do with wanting to be called woman and wanting to be treated as an equally strong and competent adult in a world that has more than one gender? I don’t want men to be diminished at women’s expense. I just want those men who diminish women to stop.


  10. I read your post that follows this one, and I’m so sorry you feel that way. There have been times at SIS when I felt misunderstood when I wanted to discuss empathy (or the lack of it, which I feel is at the root of society’s problems with the big issues), so I stopped blogging about it every time I felt moved to. I understand your not wanting to feel hurt anymore, or feel firsthand how obtuse or cruel some people can be. But I hope the responses you referred to don’t stop you from writing about the big issues, if not here than perhaps woven a bit into things you write elsewhere.

    Your words read like a torrent of passion sometimes. I’ve noticed in my own work that some people hear ‘key words’ and passion and just can’t get past what they think is being said, to what actually is. Sometimes simplicity is key. Fewer words to say more? But then again that doesn’t work oftentimes either. I’m sorry if I’m writing this poorly, but I’m trying to be supportive. I like that you tackle real issues. I like that you’re passionate about them.


  11. EllaDee says:

    I’m sad for your disillusionment with Clouds, and can only say your views have enlightened and informed my own & I have enjoyed the depth and variety of comments ensuing, and for all that I’m grateful. I may (or may not) understand though, it’s hard to be the one doing all the work.


  12. Iquitoz says:

    Sorry to hear about your decision to mothball this blog. I hope I understand your frustration. The topics you have brought up have been interesting and have inspired spirited discussions. I know your other blogs will continue to spark interest. I am one of those many blog readers that rarely comment for a various number of reasons. In my case a true USer from USerland. A brief acknowledgement is always appreciated by a blog author. A thank you for the information imparted or inspiration aroused. Thank you.


  13. Totty says:

    Mothball? Oh, mothballs! Mothballs are for ladies trying to repel the little blighters chewing holes in their argarments. Women don’t have usually have much truck with woolly argarments, and sluts find they make more money with no argarments at all…:)


  14. Hey, interesting post! I just wrote something about being called a slut and it drew me to read similar writings. 🙂 Anyway, I like the term “lady” but then I grew up mostly in lower and lower middle class America. I think of it in a positive light.

    I’m kind of on the fence about prostitution. On one hand I think making it legal would help out women who need money and maybe take away some of the seedier aspects of the industry, but on the other I am not so sure because you open the door to the other side where it can more easily be forced on people and children.


  15. Kyanite Blue says:

    I can’t see you as a mothball person!
    I’m sorry I often feel too inadequate too often, to comment on many of your thought provoking posts but I read them – they interest me.
    They make me admire you too – not a compliment given lightly either I will add.
    You reseach your posts, you write with passion, please don’t let some spoil it for others by stopping you writing here.


  16. Hmmm…the subheading on my blog in “the impolite thoughts of a lady” and now I’m wondering if I should change it because I completely agree with you. The other day I walked past a man on the street who said, “smile sweetheart” and it made me furious. I would almost have preferred a crude, obvious insult. Calling a woman a “lady” reminds me of that. It’s almost as if we know how to respond to “slut” but a “lady” with implications is a lot harder to respond to.

    However, I chose “the impolite thoughts of a lady” as kind of a play on that. I’d love to know what you think.


    • I didn’t reply to any of the comments on this post because I was so annoyed with some of the commenters. And I mean VERY annoyed. I had a conversation recently about how long do you leave a comment that annoys you before you reply, 12, 24, 48 hours? In this case, I just left them all.

      Anyway, 18 months later, I’ll answer yours 😀

      Firstly, I’ve tried to look at yours, but it is really really slow to load. Is it 2014? And have you downsized your photos?

      When I read your sub-head, I had an image of a Victorian woman sitting in her parlour, drinking tea, with the local vicar, thinking, ‘I’d really like to fuck him.’ Is that what you intended with your sub-head? If so it worked!

      It wouldn’t be my choice, but that’s because it’s such a class-riddled noun. When I first started in journalism I was told, there are no ladies here, only Lady Broughton (don’t even know if she existed) but the point was that she was entitled aristocracy and that was the correct usage of the word. Everyone else was a woman when we wrote about women in newspapers.

      As a kid, I was brought up to aspire to being a ‘lady’. Polite, refined, educated, well brought up. Women were rough and working or lower class. And then you read the view of upper class women who really don’t care what they are called because they aren’t aspiring to anything.

      I do think for women to want to be called ladies is grossly pretentious and affected snobbery in the extreme.

      The connotations are amazing. Age, class, birth, education, sexual morals, money – you name it. It’s all there.

      With your blog title, I suspect you are suggesting that ‘ladies’ shouldn’t have impolite or naughty thoughts, so this lady in your blog title is being daring and breaking the mould.

      Except I think you are reinforcing the stereotypical views of what women are, ladies are, what the difference is and what they should and shouldn’t do. Your blog, your title, your choice. My opinion, which you asked for.

      Seriously, don’t change it for me, only if you personally think differently later about the use of the words.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I appreciate your candor and sharing your inner journey of learning about these topics over decades. I wish we could go back and educate your younger self by giving her this post!

    There is an excellent documentary about the adverse effects of working in the porn industry on women and men, from the 1980s, directed by Bonnie Sherr Klein, “Not a Love Story.” Try to get that, if you can. Still true.
    “This classic Canadian documentary is an examination of the p0rnography industry, including strip shows, peep shows, film and magazines.

    “Furthermore, the film explores how a large portion of it takes a degrading view of women in the eroticisation of violence.

    “One of the earliest anti-p0rnography documentaries ever made, it remains as powerful today as it did on its first release.”

    Best to you,



    • Hi Sally

      I’ve just been rescuing people from spam, not just moderation but spam! Overzealous WordPress/Akismet

      I can’t re-educate my young self, but I’ve tried hard with my older self, and try and share from time to time. But, it does feel like pushing whatever uphill.

      Thanks for the link, I’ll take a look. I wonder if everyone was more aware last century? I’m not impressed with anything in these first two decades of C21. Probably just my age.

      Thanks for the visit and comment and sorry for late reply.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I think it is a very well written piece that looks at more than one angle of subjects that are often only ever seen as black or white depending upon the person. And I agree with you. It is unlikely I will agree on everything, I don’t think I know anyone in all truth who does, and if they say they do they are like as not sycophants, and therefore their tuppence is null and void.

    – sonmi


    • Thank you. I still think porn and prostituion are very complex issues, which is probably why it is such a bone of contention within the feminist movement. I can see the individual advantages for well paid sex workers/porn artists of either sex, but that doesn’t outweigh thecdamag it does by reinforcing women’s position in a patriarchal society.

      You could put the same argument for religion. Yes it does some good. It also create wars, provokes killing, decries women’s rights, encourages homophobia, and seeks to evangelise/force conversion. It does more but that will do for starters to suggest that institutionalised religion is not a good thing because of the damaging effect it has/can have/has had.

      I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, as I said, there aren’t a lot of people with my -isms out there. But I think if people wish to disagree a modicum of intelligence/knowledge would be helpful.

      And saying, I know a woman ‘who said that/thinks that’ isn’t the strongest argument against basic feminist principles and tenets. I think discusdion is good but not when it’s based on something as asinine as that.

      I doubt my readers are sycophants, but equally they are unlikely to keep coming back if they don’t like what they read. That’s down to two aspects: content, or writing style. Or maybe both.

      Thank you for browsing and choosing from the pick and mix selection.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. “I doubt my readers are sycophants” – me too. But that tends to leave ones with real interest/kinship/and honesty, even if they do disagree. I have followed and unfollowed many blogs. I try them on to see if they fit, sometimes they are like scratchy school jumpers and I take them off again.

    Pick and mix. The Rough Seas of Woolworths. *laughs*

    – sonmi.


    • Yes, I too disagree with some bloggers and they get very silly for the most part. *shrugs* Move on. But others remain and perhaps we have a more thoughtful relationship after that. Disagreement can be productive.

      At the top of this post are Pink and Andrew. I disagreed with both and vice versa. Yet I was going to visit Pink (he used to live not far from me) but I stupidly broke my ankle. Well, the dog did, but I was still stupid. I remain on good terms with Pink. Andrew however, is the one person I have actually banned for his endless personal insulting attacks.

      Wasn’t sure if you would get the pick and mix reference. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Pingback: Just an everyday in a sexist life | Clouds moving in

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