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“You see me first as a whore, and then as a person … but I’m a lot of other things too. I’m good, I’m bad – but I’m not black and white.”

Finally, a film about sex workers that actually treats “whores” as people, and puts up its middle finger to a culture of sexphobia and slut-shaming. Rather than recycling that familiar narrative of the desperate sex-worker, riddled with drugs and STIs, Black & White & Sex actually develops a powerful character, and challenges the belief that adult sexuality is somehow morally dangerous or wrong.

The narrative in Black & White & Sex unfolds over the course of an interview conducted by a “director” who questions and is questioned by a female sex worker named “Angie”, played by eight different actresses. Although the “director” displays very ill-informed ideas about sex and sex work over the course of the film, it’s actually very helpful, and I daresay engineered that way, as it’s in Angie’s fiery responses to his probing questions that we learn the most. In the film, he seems to represent the everyman’s view of sex work, which opens up the way for Angie to provide a useful critique. She calls him out on his problematic views, identifies the various types of discrimination she and other sex workers must endure, and implores him to recognise her humanity over the stigma of her profession.

The director’s decision to have eight actresses take on the role of Angie is wonderfully inventive, and as I see it, an act of resistance. The film’s refusal to put forward a single, uniform image of Angie curbs the viewer’s desire to stereotype, or homogenise sex workers – such a representation could have been alienating. Rather, we’re introduced to a diverse group of women who have explicitly chosen sex work.

The multiplicity of Angie also seem to be a nod to the description of Angie as a “chameleon”, with no fixed identity, at least in the context of her job – not even a fixed name. I think this says something important about the multiplicity of desire as well; if Angie must be a “chameleon” in order to accommodate the sexual preferences of her clients, then sexual preferences clearly cannot all be satisfied by one simple routine. Clearly, people like different types of sex: submissive, dominant, etc etc – and none of this is gender-specific. Such a notion may seem obvious, but I think it’s actually sort of radical. As a society, we tend to package desire into one sexy little marketable box, but people are freakier than that.

Black & White & Sex actually does a really good job of representing fringe or contentious sex practices, like fetish and BDSM, making them an important part of the narrative towards the end of the film. It’s nice to see a representation of kink that doesn’t sensationalise its freakiness, or tut-tut those practising it for their “risky” behaviour.

I also like how Black & White & Sex discredits the taboo that suggests sex worker’s can’t like their work.  This taboo, undoubtedly stemming from society’s sex-shaming culture that sees women enjoying sex as somehow unladylike or crass (see: slut-shaming), is challenged by Angie’s declaration that “I liked sex before I was a sex worker – and most of the time, I liked sex AS a sex worker.” The line is pleasantly emphatic, leaving no room for the director to rationalise Angie out of her feelings.

The film asks us to see sex workers as more than victims, complicit to some malicious scheme, but rather as people with agency, and importantly, feelings. The film asks us not to other sex workers, or consider them moral vacuums. When the “director” asks Angie if she approves of sex trafficking, and she responds incredulously, “do YOU?” , it’s a jarring moment – we’ve actually ceased seeing sex workers as people. We consider them aliens. And that’s not reeeally ok.

There’s much more I could say about the film, but basically, I just want to high five the people who made the film for debunking all the shaming myths arounds sex workers, and just being generally progressive and great about topics like sex and kink. This isn’t to forget that the film was also very enjoyable and humorous, with a (generous) dash of eroticism, and spectacular performances all ’round.

I had the privilege of speaking to John Winter, the writer/director/producer of the film, after the screening. He told me that he didn’t want to tell a story about all sex workers, but rather, about one particular sex worker. It seems peculiar, given Angie has eight reincarnations in the film, but it’s also rather apt. Winter makes no claim of universality for his representation of sex workers, and in doing so, doesn’t disrespect the possibly divergent experiences other sex workers. I think it’s very sensitive, and very progressive.

If you’re planning on seeing the film (which you should), I understand it has a couple of sessions left in Sydney – tickets can be purchased here. You can also follow @blackwhitesex on twitter for updates on new screenings around Australia. In the meantime, check out out the trailer:

With the Kyle Sandilands debacle going on, now is a good time to think about the misogyny often directed at Women With Opinions. Sandilands obviously has trouble accepting criticism, and arguably, has trouble avoiding the necessity of it to start with, but what has particularly struck me about the whole charade is his blatant misogyny.

Sandilands has had disputes like this before: in early 2011 he lashed out at Rove McManus. He let out a great deal of expletives over an incident, using words and phrases like “prick”, “asshole”, or “a piece of shit cable host”. Offensive, but compare this to his descriptions of female journalist Ali Stephenson as a “fat slag”, “fat bitter thing”, “little troll”, and “bullshit artist girl”. And then there are the memorable quips: “your hair is very 90s” and “you haven’t got much titty to be wearing that low cut a blouse”.

There is clearly a discrepancy between the sort of language Sandilands feels is appropriate for men, and that with which he feels comfortable calling out women. He makes “moral judgements” of a sort about Rove, but reserves slurs about hair, breasts and weight for his female critic. It’s absurd, and almost comical to imagine Sandilands declaring Rove’s haircut “very 90s” as a way of invalidating Rove’s point; and yet when he directs this comment at Stephenson it’s loaded with such venom as to, at least in his view, deligitimise her point of view.

In general, when Sandilands talks about Stephenson, his language is belittling and cruel. He doesn’t dignify her with the description of being a woman, but rather refers to her as a “girl” and uses the adjective “little”, suggesting a lack of experience and education (which in his view, he trumps). He is obviously trying to assert his superiority by any means.

And let’s take a moment to consider his use of the adjective “fat” as an insult, which is clearly how he intended it. I’m going to state the obvious and say that fat is not an insult, or at least that it shouldn’t be, seeing as size says nothing about the moral character of a person. Not only is Sandilands perpetrating sexism in refusing to acknowledge the comments of a woman and centring in on her appearance instead, he is also perpetrating a hatred of fat women that is entirely unfair and blatantly discriminatory, possibly provoking a whole heap of nasty insecurities.

The overarching problem with Sandilands’ responses in these situations is of course his tendency to make personal attacks on commentators rather than address their point, but what is most interesting is the degree of difference between his treatment of men and women. Why does he see commenting on appearance as an effective way of dismantling the opinions of women, but not men? It seems Sandilands didn’t get the memo when patriarchy went out of fashion.

What is worrying is that so many others also didn’t seem to get this memo. Sandilands is a misogynistic man, but his problematic attitude towards women is unfortunately backed up by a whole host of people, both men and women. Sandilands is not the only misogynist we know.

A lot has been said recently about the slurs directed at women writers on the internet. UK opinion columnist Laurie Penny recently spoke out about the harassment she has suffered at the hands of keyboard warriors. She described an opinion as “the mini skirt of the internet”, speaking from her own experience of receiving hundreds of abusive, sexist emails and responses commenting on her appearance and sexuality in an effort to shut down her point of view.

It’s frightening how common this sort of thing is for women, just in general. Harassment like this is everywhere, and the ignorance or acceptance of it perpetuates the idea that it’s ok. The good thing to come out of the Sandilands fiasco is that it’s finally being called attention to, and people are starting to recognise that certain types of language or outbursts are entirely inappropriate.

Kudos to Holden, The Good Guys and other sponsors for taking a public stance against the sexist behaviour displayed by Sandilands. The companies deserve all the good publicity pouring in after their actions for quite successfully sending the message that misogyny is not at all inconsequential.

In defending Ali Stephenson, one of the major troubles will be checking our own responses and resisting the persistent urge to call Sandilands ugly and “fat” himself (many have already fallen victim to this). Instead, let’s focus on Sandilands’ questionable moral character, and educate him through intelligent discourse about what makes a quality debate and/or considerate bahviour. Hopefully the memo will eventually get through that patriarchy isn’t really cool.

Michelle

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