Here via Miss D, who said:
I’d really like to talk about the depiction of sex workers in fantasy literature. As a sex worker I often find it alienating and upsetting.
This article is a pretty good rant about the treatment of sex workers in sci-fi and fantasy. It’s worth a look to get a handle on some of the reasons why so many depictions of sex work in made-up worlds fill people with squick.
The only fantasy literature I’ve read recently which depicts sex work is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Let’s just put it out there that George R.R. Martin is, as far as is known, a cisgender straight White guy. While in and of itself nothing remarkable, when examining the dynamics of his works, the fact that he’s on the more privileged side of gender, race, and sexuality is worth mentioning.
That said, let’s look at how he portrays sex work in his series (feel free to cheat by watching Game of Thrones).
The two most prominent sex worker characters in ASOIAF thus far are Roz and Shae. I’m going to be honest and say that I find Martin’s prose to be . . . let’s say laborious, thus me skimming for the most part until I get to the parts and characters I like. So if there’s another character who’s a sex worker, feel free to fill in whatever gaps I leave.
As I recall, Roz and Shae are:
And just in case you didn’t hear, they’re prostitutes.
What’s wrong with this? Well, because that’s pretty much how they’re defined. They’re not interesting, well-rounded women who make a living at a particular trade. Their entire identities are centered around them exchanging sexual favors for money.
What do they like to do besides have sex with their clients? Don’t know. Why are they pursuing this trade despite the risks (namely pregnancy and STIs, since there are apparently no condoms or birth control pills in Westeros)? No idea. Who is important to them other than their clients? No idea. Everything about these women – their likes and dislikes, their hopes and dreams, their important relationships, everything that makes a person a person – centers around them getting paid for sexual favors.
Sex work is ubiquitous in Westeros. Besides these two named sex workers (can’t call them characters since they have no inner lives beyond what their clients want of them), there are a lot more who are nameless sex workers differentiated only by hair color and skin tone. Y’know, like Barbie dolls!
I don’t think I need to explain why this is completely fucked up.
Yes, yes, grimdark fantasy, oldest profession, blah blah blah. But doesn’t it make you wonder why sex workers are presented as empty vessels for their clients’ desires? Doesn’t it make you wonder why you rarely see sex workers as three-dimensional human beings who just do a job? Doesn’t it make you wonder about the text’s attitudes towards gender and sexuality?
Does it make you wonder? If so, what does it make you wonder?