We at Woman UP have been all atwitter about language, what with all the news about Tiger Woods: To skank or not to skank is the question. What do you call the women involved?
It is a brave new world when parents are more likely to learn curse words from their kids than the other way around.
And when “prostitute” appears in the same sentence as “PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science,” as it does in Delia Lloyd’s post on London’s real-life belle de jour Brooke Manganti, well, you have to re-evaluate your vocabulary.
I submit that we have a love-hate relationship with prostitution. “Call girl,” “courtesan” and “geisha” imply a bigger price tag, but also an air of refinement and the probability of sparkling conversation as a prelude to hot sex.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have “hooker” and “whore,” along with the quaint euphemism, “lady of the night.”
Today everyone knows “exotic dancer” means stripper. There’s the rub with euphemisms. Over time they lose their ability to obfuscate. Brothels are to massage parlors what hospitals are to surgery centers. The same things go on, but the latter does not allow sleepovers.
Am I the only one who thought the 1990 film, “Pretty Woman,” was the silliest Cinderella tale ever? Oh right, Julia Roberts is gonna give up turning tricks and go back to school in order to win over Richard Gere. Yeah, I can just see him picking her up at the community college in his Porsche.
No doubt the filmmakers felt pressured to rehabilitate a lowly prostitute. Since “Pretty Woman” was a big hit, perhaps they were right to do so.
But times are changing. If “Pretty Woman” were made today, maybe the two lovebirds would instead be boarding an executive jet to begin a hedonistic lifestyle on his private island. They just might decide to skip the phase at the dreary community college. (Little known fact: Many community college and dormitory architects also design prisons.)
Remember Woody Allen’s dream date: The Whore of Mensa?
Singer/songwriter Richard Shindell turned Mary Magdalene — whose role in history had already been disputed from Harvard Divinity to Broadway — into a fallen woman with a modern sensibility:
My name is Mary Magdalene
I come from Palestine
Please excuse these rags I’m in
But I’ve fallen on hard times
But long ago I had my work
When I was in my prime
But I gave it up, and all for love
It was his career or mine
Jesus loved me
This I know
But why on earth
Did I ever let him go
He was always faithful
He was always kind
But he walked off
With this heart of mine
In terms of pure sound, the icky, clinical word “homosexual” was inferior to “gay” and “queer.” The gay community took note, and grabbed those former slurs and ran with them.
You can cower and whine, or you can be a bitch. In the next century maybe women will find a nice middle ground, but, unfortunately, we’re not yet there.
There was a time when an advocacy group called Bastard Nation would have been unthinkable. No, instead you’d see an unwieldy, alphabet-soup name like Adopted Children Together for Open Court Records (ACTOCR, with ochre wrist bands, perhaps).
As for whores, when you hear people say skanks are just hookers without the brains to charge, whores look downright smart. We already knew hookers were hardworking. And if this economy doesn’t improve soon, some of us may be asking for leads.
We need a new word, though. Skank will never sound right. How about Belle? Belle Watling was a successful businesswoman. She had Clark Gable. Under the circumstances, we can forgive her allegiance to the Confederacy.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2009]