Hooker Look in Fashion as Porn Becomes de Rigueur
by Barbara Sumner Burstyn
November 3, 2003
At a party at this year's Toronto Film Festival, I suddenly realized I was surrounded by hookers. From the skin-tight trousers that revealed a part of the rear anatomy normally reserved for builders to the skimpy tops that put a smile on my husband's face, these women had all the requisites - except they weren't prostitutes. They were average young women out for a good time.
Later, on TV, I caught comedian Bill Maher on the issue. "Over here, over here, it's me, I'm the real whore," Maher screeched, portraying the difficulty the genuine hooker is having these days, distinguishing herself from ordinary girls.
And then it dawned on me. It's about pornography.
Over the cheeseboard at a dinner party, all the men round the table admitted to accessing porn on the internet. I-porn, as it's now known, is no longer a secret dalliance. For internet-savvy young men it's a mainstream activity.
While there's nothing startling about men viewing pornography, it's the change of status, from deviant to de rigueur that is remarkable. Gone is the over coated trip to the back-street purveyor.
Today, accessing porn could not be easier. So I've been doing an informal survey over the past few weeks, asking all the young men I know if they have viewed I-porn. Almost all said they had.
Admittedly my sample group - mostly white, employed, reasonable, middle-class human beings - is not representative of general society. But that's the point. Porn is now so commonplace as to be openly acceptable to the group that would have in the past fought hard to keep it a dirty little secret.
"It's a soft-core thing," said one friend I questioned on the ethics of his viewing habits. "Female exploitation is the hard-core scene. I don't know anyone into that."
He might be right. He directed me to a handful of the most viewed I-porn sites. While there was a lot on display, it was difficult to work up an outrage.
Instead the images were almost ironic: super-attractive girls playing up to male fantasy, as if they were spoofing male desire just because they could.
But here's where it gets interesting. When I-porn first showed signs of expanding, the industry - today in the United States it's a $10 billion to $12 billion industry, equal to Hollywood's total annual box office - commentators warned that men would go off the rails.
Andrea Dworkin, the feminist activist, predicted the easy accessibility of porn would lead to sexual mayhem. But she was wrong.
Sexual crimes in general, and particularly stranger-sex attacks, are on the decrease in the Western world. Meanwhile, in places where accessible pornography is almost unheard of, sexual crime is still a big issue.
An expose by a Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail, revealed the horrific fact of South Africa's infant-rape crisis. That country was depicted as being a "rape-prone" society, and one commentator described a culture of entitlement to the sexuality of women and children.
Additionally, a New York Times article this month revealed that in some French communities gang rape is the highest it has ever been. The article described traditional, often immigrant, communities - where women enjoy little respect and boys grow up "hopelessly confused or ignorant about sex" - as being places experiencing the most sex-related crimes.
While the problems of endemic sexual abuse are far more complex than can be covered here, it is possible that pornography is not one of the drivers. But that doesn't make it harmless.
An article in the New Yorker on the explosion of porn interviewed numerous young men who all bemoaned their inability to sustain real relationships and their preference for the easy out of their porn-lives. Women said the effects of rampant I-porn use by almost all the men they knew was affecting their intimate lives and causing them to feel they could never measure up.
And that's where the girls dressed as hookers come in. Porn and porn characterizations (Britney, Beyonce, Christina, et al) are setting the standard.
If the multi-billion-dollar porn industry figures are anything to go by, far more men than we care to admit are being reared on porn as their predominant sexual diet. In their skewed porn-life women are always willing, always hot, and they always like it.
So while for real hookers the outfits and attitudes are conscious tools, things to be discarded at the end of the night, for the average young woman caught up in the modern dating scene there is little alternative to appropriating the accoutrements of prostitution (and more frightening, little consciousness about it).
No wonder the women at the Toronto event were acting and looking like prostitutes. How else could they engage in the age-old dance of attraction and mate-seeking?
While the early fears of an avalanche of sexual crime following in the wake of easily accessible pornography may be proving unfounded, it's the spread of a different kind of sickness that is most worrying: the emotional anesthesia of an active porn-life that damages not only male perception of women but also women's images of themselves and consequently all their intimate relationships - perhaps for life.
Barbara Sumner Burstyn is a freelance writer who commutes between Montreal, Quebec and The Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. She writes a weekly column for the New Zealand Herald (www.nzherald.co.nz), and has contributed to a wide range of media. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website to read more of her work: http://www.sumnerburstyn.com/.