Hellllloo! Wow has it been some time! That’s my bad, people. As you may know, I live in Barcelona, Spain and here they take not working in August very seriously and damn did it rub off on me. But here we are! Welcome to Her Me Out the podcast, where you listen to me talk for a bit about some things that matter hopefully to a lot of you and to more people in the near future. I’m Charlie Brook, and I’m thrilled to be back bringing you another episode of the podcast.
As a refresher, this podcast is all about watching some of our favorite movies from the past and talking about how they have perpeturaped us. Yes, that is a word that is a mix between perpetuation and rape because perpeturapetion is the after effects of the perpetuation of rape culture in the media. That’s a whole lot of variations of a lot of the same words, but basically we’re talking about moments in movies that when you watch them now you’re like ouch that one hurts in the uterus or ooof that’s why I’m like this.
But do remember, it’s a very normal thing to occur and we do not have to necessarily beat ourselves up for loving what we love - but yes we should probably take some time to reevaluate why we love them and how it informs our ways for behaving in the world and our natural responses to the patriarchal structures around us.
On that note, before we get to our movie, I’d like to take a moment to talk about our natural responses to the patriarchal world around us. More specifically, the patriarchal bullshit that surrounds women more than we even have the capacity to care to process. I mean really sometimes you can’ t even fein a response to low level sexism because it’s so normal and emotionally exhausting.
But okay, what specifically am I talking about? I don’t want to be the kind to just throw around the term patriarchal bullshit without backing up my claims with concrete examples.
So I was talking to one of my badass lady friends recently about one of these kinds of moments that happened to her. She was having a conversation with a male and he apparently said to her that he doesn’t believe that women dress up for themselves, as in wearing heels, make-up, or wearing sort of revealing clothing. He believed that this was something that women are always doing for men.
Which is just such an unnecessary thing to say. And completely reveals that he knows nothing about the female experience and definitely hasn’t done much to learn about it, otherwise he would understand the daily struggle that women go through extracting themselves from a society that has always expected them to make choices surrounding men and is only really just now taking into account our right and desire not to. He clearly doesn’t understand how it feels to wonder if you do something, like shaving your legs, because you like it or because the patriarchy convinced you that you like. He doesn’t understand what it feels like to never be able to make the right choice because if you dress up then people, like him, think it’s only for men and if you dress down, they think it’s because you’re trying to take a stand against this culture or they just call you nasty and devalue all of your worth because beauty is a woman’s main asset right? Basically, his comment is just basic, overgeneralized, misinformed, and unintelligent.
And my badass lady friend was asking me how I would have responded to him if I had been in that situation. (Something that me and my badass lady friends ask each other all the time because it’s so freaking hard to get it right)
What I told her is that I have no idea what would actually come out of my mouth in the moment. I wish I could say that I’d be articulate, that I would explain the shit out of why his statement is so um what’s the word dumb and that it’s coming from a very misinformed place. I wish I could splurge all of the feminist theory that I have inside of me at this face until I see the shame pour through and that he’d say, wow I’m sorry I’ve never thought of it that way. I’ll definitely consider listening to women share the actual female perspective before making statements about it. But of course, what usually comes out in moments like that is emotion or anger. Or nothing.
Especially when I was younger. I think it’s really a skill you have to learn in those first few years of discovering feminism, sad it has to be something to discover, but we have to learn how not to immediately go into an angry place that shuts down all access to a productive discussion. Or worse give them exactly what they expect, an irrational, emotional girl. It isn’t fair, but it is what happens.
As you get older, you learn how to not get angry but it’s still hard to respond well.
Because it is very difficult to respond in a way that feels both good for you as a person sticking up for women while also actually helping the other person learn, understand, and grow. It is such a special, delicate balance. But I think the important thing to know is that it’s okay if you don’t get it right. I mean how in the world should we be expected to? First of all, we’re already dealing with trying to understand our own place as strong, independent women in a world that is really only half listening to that after a history of being told that we shouldn’t bring it up. So no, you shouldn’t feel bad after some dingus says one of these non-statements that you don’t know how to respond well to. Or you do know how to respond well to but in those moments everything you know goes out the door because it’s just too damn overwhelming.
It fucking sucks. It doesn’t feel good.
First, you’re sad because there’s another dude who just doesn’t get it. Then you feel mad at yourself for not sticking up for something that you care a lot about. You feel betrayed by yourself for not articulating something that you know so well. And you feel embarrassed for freezing up or for quote unquote letting them win the argument.
And that all fucking sucks!
But as another of my very amazing badass lady friend always says after these moments, when you’re feeling really shitt about yourself: it’s not on you to explain it to him it’s on him to understand. I know that means not a lot when it comes to how much we want to change the world, but just know that it’s not your job to educate him. And he’s the fool and you can feel good knowing that he’s making a fool of himself in front of you (and all of your closest friends that you’ll undoubtedly tell because omg what a twat amiright?)
And from now on, we can practice these moments together. We can get better! And we can learn this skill. It’s all about being very calm (even though they don’t deserve it), very cool (which you already are omigod) and say something that’s clever but very sassy (I know it’s unbelievably hard but I believe in you!)
So what do I wish would come out of me in that moment?
I’m thinking something along the lines of: Wow that’s an interesting thesis you got there, bud. But until your statement about the motivations of women actually takes into account the motivations of actual women that you’ve spoken to, I’m sorry your research isn’t really interesting to me. Thanks anyway though!
Then you peace the fuck out and go text all your lady friends about how well you just did.
And if it didn’t do well, still text them! They will make you feel better because they understand. And if you don’t know who to text, then contact me!! I’d love to talk to you about how to respond in these situations because we’re all still learning. So go to my website HerMeOut.com, you’ll find my email there or go to my Instagram Charlooobrook and send me a message. And let’s learn these skills together!
Alright, now that we’ve really woken up, it’s time to talk about one of my all time favorite movies and just how damaging it may or may not have been!
Want to watch something that will make you cry for the rest of the day, because it’s both horrifyingly upsetting and also doesn’t do great things for sex workers? Then Moulin Rouge is a prime selection.
Okay so Moulin Rouge is a 2001 movie musical directed by Baz Luhrmann so you already know you’re going to love it or hate it, and in my case I LOVED it and will stand behind that - because hello movie musical. But, as we’ve learned on the Her Me Out podcast, there is still space to question why things you love are not always perfect.
So if you haven’t seen it or you don’t remember, Moulin Rouge is about a young Ewan McGregor who plays a writer named Christian, who loves love - but says he’s never been in it. So he moves to Paris to find a new life and through a random string of events - namely that an Argentinian falls through the roof of his apartment, and he demonstrates how amazing he is at writing song lyrics on the literal spot by pulling the song the hills are alive with the sound of music out of his butt - after this he gets hired on to write the musical for the Bohemian revolution that they’re going to pitch to the Moulin Rouge.
Side note: The movie features a lot of songs you already know and loveeeee and some originals as well. And my deepest regret is that I cannot play any clips of music for you because copyright but no one can take my voice away from me so Ima do my best to slide in some music moments as silly as that may be.
So, Young Ewan and a fun group of lotsa men, show up there that night, where the Sparkling Diamond - or Satine, played by a stunning Nicole Kidman - is performing that evening. She’s a very popular sex worker at the moulin rouge. That evening, her pimp, Harold Ziegler, has organized a meeting with her and the Duke because he’s planning on investing in the moulin rouge if he’s like happy with the situation.
But the issue is young Ewan also thinks he’s having a private meeting with her to talk about the musical, and so she mistakenly seduces him instead. And it isn’t until after they’ve fallen in love during the course of Your Song by Elton John, I mean who wouldn’t fall in love if young Ewan was singing that to you, but it isn’t until after that that they realize there’s been a mix-up. But by that point it’s too damn late.
So the rest of the film is about how they hide their love from the duke, who has claimed Satine as his own, as they develop this musical that’s being funded by him. So not great.
Plus, it turns out that Satine is *spoiler alert* slowly dying throughout the whole movie. So that’s a game changer!
It’s a movie about love. It’s a movie about music. It a movie about thinking you have ownership over someone’s body when you just don’t.
Now the biggest conversation that this movie brings up is sex work. This is one that I’ve been a bit hesitant to talk about because I cannot personally speak to this experience, and I think it’s very important that people who can speak to it play the largest role in contributing to the conversation. But what I will present to you is both research that I’ve done on what sex workers think about the movie Moulin Rouge, as well as the general argument and surrounding theory, and my promise, that if someone listening to this is a sex worker and feels wrongly represented that you can come join me on an episode to ensure that I get it right - I would actually really love that.
And, before I get into, I’d just like to be very clear and say sex work is work.
So with that, I’ve got three chapters for you, let’s get into it with Chapter one.
Chapter One: One day I’ll fly up your ass.
Okay, so there’s this big tension in the feminist movement. It’s something I’ve spoken a bit about in the past, but haven’t really quite sunken my teeth into because it’s complex. And that is the discussion about female empowerment and what that looks like for women across the board.
Because we’re in this stage in the process of gaining equality, where we’re trying to empower women to make their own choices and be the masters of their own bodies and minds, a tension almost immediately develops between this discussion and the discussion of sex work.
It all really starts with the fact that we, as a society, love to judge sex workers. It’s like one of our oldest narratives, as it is one of the oldest professions in the world. And I don’t think I even need to say but we’ve always had in general this very negative stigma to the idea of sex work. For example, the fact that so many people still use derogatory terms like prostitute or whore, not understanding that those terms continue to spread the negative attitude and history onto people who are just doing their job.
And this conversation gets, I don’t want to say worse but it gets more tense when we bring in the conversation of feminism. Because a lot of feminist theory says that we need to detach women from this need to make choices surrounding men and male attention. And as I’m sure you can imagine or maybe have already have felt yourself, there’s a tension point there that starts to develop when we talk about hetersexual sex work. This idea that it’s still just a way of women giving in to men’s desires when women choose to be the objects in this exchange.
We’re still talking about a choice. A choice of how to use our bodies and what for. And that’s the number one rule of feminism: to give women the autonomy to decide how to present their bodies, exist in their bodies, and own their own bodies in whatever that means to them.
But our long history of seeing sex work as indecent and salacious continues to create this negative idea about sex workers in our collective minds - but feminism cannot look down on that choice nor question it. And really, a big thing that a lot of us are missing is that we can’t be feminists who say yes I support sex workers but also trying to figure out how to save them from having to be that.
Because that’s one of the main issues that comes up when we talk about how we view sex workers in our world. We always think that they need to be saved or that they don’t want to be doing what they’re doing, which is part of the problem.
And why do we think this way?
Well, I’m glad you asked, let’s take a look at what Moulin Rouge has to say about it. MUSIC
So in this movie, young Ewan goes to the nightclub where Satine is working. That night, she does this amazing mix of diamonds are a girl's best friend and material girl, and in the middle Zieglar explains to her the thing about the Duke coming and her needing to impress him so that they’ll get him to invest in the theatre. And that’s when Satine reveals that she doesn’t actually want to be a sex worker but a quote unquote real actress.
CLIP FROM MOVIE
So this is important because in almost all representations of sex workers that we see in the media, they’re portrayed one of two ways: the first, as helpless, delicate, someone that needs to be saved from the “sin” of their work (and the thing that saves them is usually love, we’ll get to this later on) and the second is a glamor icon. And in the case of this movie, it’s both!
But this entire movie is just a representation of how sex work is dirty and a sin, and something that Satine needs to be saved from by one of the various men in her life. I mean for goodness sake, the names of the two main characters are Christian and Satine, which are way too similar to Christ and Satan to be a coincidence.
And Zieglar also refers to them as … something from the underworld.
CLIP FROM MOVIE
So we continue to see this representation of how Satine needs to escape her life and how she’s going to fly away one day. If her pet bird in the cage wasn’t enough, even Zieglar often calls her different names for birds, like little sparrow, because they really wanted to nail in this metaphor that she is a bird trapped in a cage. And while I’m sure there are some sex workers who are using sex work as a way to pay their bills and maybe in the future plan to do something else, that does not mean that they are necessarily trying to escape it or need other people to save them from the profession. That is a huge misconception that we have about sex work because of all of our representations of them in the media.
I’ll quote insert name, a sex worker who recently appeared on the Season of the Bitch podcast who said, “We don’t need a savior unless we are specifically asking for one.”
So another part of that is, sex workers are always defined by their job when we represent them. Whereas a character who happens to be a lawyer wouldn’t exactly change your mind about who they are as a person, sex work does that to us.
Here’s another really great quote by Jordan Quinn, an artist who is also a sex worker. Her projects are cool because she comments on how sex workers have long been seen as muses to famous artists but are rarely seen as artists themselves (again because sex work defines you, once you’re that it’s like all you can be). Anyway, she says: “Whether you think it’s wrong, or you're indifferent to it, whether you view us as helpless or empowered, whether a person enjoys the job or hates it, we're all human and we all deserve the right to work safely and on our own terms.”
So that’s really the whole thing, isn’t it? Sex workers aren’t really given the ability to work on their own terms because we love so much to dictate their working conditions and the ways we view them without asking their opinion. Because, in the eyes of many, their profession shouldn’t be allowed to be a thing at all. So yah. Basically, as feminists we need to actually live up to our definition of feminism by reminding ourselves that sex work is work. And thinking they need to saved from that work is stigma. Because then it becomes about respectability politics. Meaning, we don’t like to give sex workers their own platform to participate because we don’t respect them. And that’s a problem.
Tying it back to Moulin Rouge, I get that this storyline makes for a very dramatic movie full of lots of emotions, but then at least put another sex worker into the narrative who represents another side of the story and balances out our perspectives on the sex worker experience. They were already in the movie, hired and everything. So put them in. And like probably consult more workers before you represent them!
Okay so that was part one of the sex worker rant in relation to this movie, but don’t think I’m done yet.
Chapter 2: Come what may, I will love you as long as long as you do what I say
Okay so this is another very important part of what Moulin Rouge does when we’re talking about sex workers. And that is make it seem like they are not capable of love unless it is saving them from being a fallen woman living a life on the streets.
CLIP FROM MOVIE
We hear a lot of language in the film that basically says that sex workers can’t fall in love or don’t deserve love, one big example being the memorable Roxanne number performed by the Argentine with colorful lyrics like this...
CLIP FROM MOVIE
Oy vey, this implies that sex workers aren’t capable of experiencing real love in tandem with their job. Which is unfair and incorrect. And it leads us to believe that sex work is inherently evil. Like it’s anti-love. And that both things can’t exist at the same time. Which again, if you asked real sex workers you would undoubtedly get a different narrative. One that is probably much more interesting than this one anyway.
And the other part of it is, the public’s confusion over what is being sold. Here’s a quote from another sex worker, Lily Vye, in actual response to this movie:
“The truth is, sex workers are not selling their selfhoods. They are selling their service, their time, and and their labor, and the conflation of sexuality and selfhood is a dangerous and common one that creates anti-sex worker biases.”
So the big problem that we see happening here is a misunderstanding of what sex workers are exchanging. Which is something we can also see with the Duke, who has some major control issues and believes Satine is his property, for example:
CLIP FROM MOVIE
Which like amazing character performance by Richard Roxburgh, but also dude you are paying for her time and labor, not for her love and bodily-autonomy. It gets so bad, that when she goes to him and then changes her mind about the exchange, he sexually assaults her and attempts to rape her because he believes that he’s owed that, but luckily she is saved when one of her friends knocks him unconsious. Sidebar this character that does that is the only person of color in the film and his name is literally Chocolate so that’s not great.
But anyway, she escapes, finds young Ewan and they decide to run away together. And that’s when she tells Zieglar:
CLIP FROM MOVIE
Which like makes for a very dramatic movie moment but again, we’re just brought back to the fact that she feels like property in this job and that she needs a way out of it. Which is not an accurate representation of a lot of sex workers.
Another quote from Vye, “Unlike Satine, I do not feel trapped or like property, nor do many sex workers I know, and Moulin Rouge’s depiction of sex work as inherently degrading is hard for me to swallow.”
But, I would gander that no moment is more difficult to swallow than this one:
So after she says this to Zieglar, he tells her that she’s dying. And that if she leaves they’ll kill young Ewan. So he tells her to lie to him and say she never loved him. Which is probably the stupidest thing you could do because of course he isn’t just going to accept that. I mean why can’t she just explain to him that she’s dying.
Anyway, she lies to him and it’s heartbreaking. But, as we learn the show must go onnnnnnn so we get to the evening of the show and young Ewan shows up at the theatre trying to pay Satine for the time they spent together to make himself feel better that she broke his heart. They somehow end up on stage and he very publicly explains...
CLIP FROM MOVIE
So that’s super upsetting but the interesting thing is watching this before I think we hated it in a “how dare you question her love for you kinda way” but watching it again it’s more like a “how dare you question whether or not sex workers deserve love” kinda way. Like by giving her money he’s basically saying that her love for him didn’t exist that it wasn’t real and wasn’t possible because she’s a sex worker, and so that makes her “damaged goods.” Or that she couldn’t possibly want anything else from him but money.
And I know that all of this makes for a very exciting yet terribly devastating love story, but at what cost. We don’t have enough representations of sex workers in the media and rarely do they get a say in how its done. And representations like these do us few favors in reestablishing a healthy rhetoric for understanding sex workers actual lives, needs, and wants. Which matters because now you have people passing laws that really affect them.
Okay so we have finally reached chapter 3. This is a shorter one, and something that we’ve touched on before.
Chapter 3: Spectacular spectacular, no words in the venacular can describe how dumb it is how few women are allowed to beeeeeeeee in this movie
Okay so I know it’s so normal to watch movies from most eras of time before like right now and see the screen dominated by men but like goddamn it’s still terribly upsetting. And don’t even get me started on historical accuracy because women were there, what were they doing.
I mean the whole crew of fun characters that are young Ewan’s Bohemian friends are ALL men. There is a drag queen in the first like 2 seconds, but no women. The Duke who has a blast with his mad character work, Harry Zieglar who also gets to be fun and weird. And all we get is the unlikeable woman who blows Satine and young Ewan’s cover…
CLIP FROM MOVIE
God, nobody likes her. And it’s such a bummer because women never get to be the fun people in the crew. How many movies have we seen where there’s a motley crew of fun, weird male characters and the designated female is still just like mostly there to fall in love with the protagonist. We were basically told, as women, that we don’t have time to develop fun, wacky characters because we should be focused on the hefty task of being the only woman that’s allowed in the crew.
Also, as I said before, this whole movie is about the sex worker experience. And that’s super interesting, definitely something that if we were going to represent it correctly is a really great story to be told. And yet, the other sex workers are barely shown.
And on that note, the movie barely passes the Bechdel test (if you haven’t heard before it’s the test to see if women have been represented well, criteria a. More than one woman in the movie. B. they have to have a conversation. C. The conversation can’t be about men.
So the only conversation between 2 women in the whole film is this…
CLIP FROM MOVIE
And that’s how Moulin Rouge perpeturaped us!
Okay, I do recommend this movie, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed watching it again. The music is amazing and so many tears.