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Diablo Cody’s Candy Girl (2005)

I was outed the other day as a stripper. I tracked down everyone involved in the gossip chain, found the weak link (who sent me an apology letter), and then asked one of the recipients of this hot morsel of Big News in a Small Town out to coffee. She told me she was surprised that I was nude dancing but she didn’t really care; she thought it was kinda neat and had I read Candy Girl? I would love it, she told me. It’s all about a cool girl stripper. I hadn’t read it but I’ve heard a smattering of talk in the sex worker scene about it. So I decided to read it, seeing as how, as my Small Town friend demonstrated, it’s the modern touchstone to answer every civilian girl’s fantastical question: “What’s it like to be a stripper?”

Here on Tits and Sass there’s general disagreement on the quality of this book. Kat likes it. Catherine doesn’t. So it’s kind of appropriate that I’m writing the review because I generally like 93 percent of the book and abhor 7 percent so deeply, I want to scream at Diablo Cody, “Are you fucking serious?!!”

Let’s start with the good.

The Early Erotic Review or Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies (1757)

Harris’s List is an 18th century catalog of London prostitutes complete with (real) names, addresses, and descriptions of each, and it proves to me just how much men throughout the ages have loved reviewing prostitutes. They love it today, they loved it 250 years ago, and my guess is that even most Egyptian hieroglyphics and ancient animal cave paintings will one day be recognized as elaborate codes indicating which slave or wild woman gave the best BJ in exchange for some fruit. Not that it’s all about crude physical congress; Harris’s List attests that johns have always valued good education, witty conversation, and pleasant demeanor in their paid companions while frowning upon arrogance and high prices. There’s also an astonishing amount of sexism on display with the regular endorsement that if she weren’t such a fallen slut, Suzy Hooker would have been a proper lady. (“Notwithstanding the unfortunate bent she has taken;” “if she had not quitted the path of virtue.”)

Harris’s List was published annually for 38 years and written by various authors over that time, but the copy I read was one compiled from versions by original scribe Samuel Derrick—inspired by a pimp, though not a pimp himself—who, according to academic Hallie Rubenhold, died in love with a courtesan he couldn’t afford. That’s sweet cosmic justice since Derrick, or at least the narrator’s voice he assumes, is a bit of dick, though I’ve admitted before that I almost categorically hate reviews and those who write them, so I might be biased. You can judge yourself with the following choicest tidbits. Which lady would you visit?

Disclaimer: I am not a scholar of old-timey prostitute reviews, but I will do my best with these translations.

Spoiler Alert: Girlvert by Oriana Small AKA Ashley Blue (2011)

This is the first book I’ve read that I had to set down because it caused me to have a heaving fit (on two separate occasions, actually). As in, certain muscle groups in my body involuntarily contracted in a desperate attempt to push something that I had read out of my throat. Those were just about the only times I was able to set the book down. Oriana Small really puts it all out there: the good, the bad, and the cheese dick*, letting readers do what they might with the information presented. It’s dark and it’s honest and you’ll never once hear Small refer to any part of her own anatomy as a “ding-ding.”

It seems that Oriana Small can’t really tell the story of her career as Ashley Blue without also sharing the story of her first love, which she can’t properly include without the cocaine. There’s plenty of coke-fueled drama, so it’s surprising that I enjoyed this book as much as I did; I don’t especially want to read about cokeheads any more than I want to be cornered by them at parties. And yet, I found myself engrossed enough that I opened a rental account at the local porn store. I started with a video from the Girlvert series, the namesake of the book. They’re sort of the XXX equivalent of The Bad Seed.

Off the Street (2011)


I was excited to read and review Off the Street. The true story of Las Vegas vice cop Christopher Baughman, leader of the Pandering Investigation Team (PIT) and Human Trafficking Task Force, it seemed like the perfect read for a sex-work-loving, law enforcement supporter such as myself.

The story begins when a prostitute on the Strip is beaten for two days by her pimp, who’s also the father of her son. Baughman becomes her crusading investigator, despite the victim’s objections to leaving her attacker. Baughman seems to understand the cycle of violence and abuse with which he’s so familiar, and acknowledges the woman’s reluctance to assist in the case. He acknowledges that there are indeed “bad” cops:

“I understand that the power of the badge can only amplify qualities in a person. For instance, a good man with a badge can only amplify qualities in a person. … There are others who carry a badge and feel an automatic sense of entitlement. They might bend over backward for some citizens, but declare in the same breath that any ghetto is just a self-cleaning oven. These men have also become my enemies. I have no use for them. They have dishonored their position, slighted the city I love and tarnished the badge that I carry.”

Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005)

I can’t quite say I disliked Female Chauvinist Pigs—though as a sex worker I feel like I should, as it grossly misunderstands and oversimplifies my industry. Author Ariel Levy discusses how women’s participation in modern “raunch culture” is a step backwards for both feminism and the sexual revolution. While earlier generations focused on sexual freedom as related to pleasure and intimacy, the supersexualized post-Girl Power years seem to be more about sexual commodification and performance. As Levy says, “The glossy, overheated thumping of sexuality in our culture is less about connection than consumption.”

Levy brings up good points about the way that mainstream society has appropriated the sex industry, and how women have began imitating the douchiest of men in their objectification of one another. She talks about misogyny within lesbian and trans communities, and some of the general failings of the modern feminism and the sexual revolution. “Raunch” poses as a result of  both movements, but actually betrays them. According to Levy, “This is not a book about the sex industry; it is a book about what we have decided the sex industry means … how we have held it up, cleaned it off, and distorted it.”

I agree with the general assertions in Female Chauvinist Pigs: L.A.-style hetero porn culture (which has seeped into mainstream Hollywood culture) has messed up our heads and sex lives. Looking and acting like a sex worker, without actually getting paid, has become hipper than ever. I find this particularly irritating for actual sex workers: it devalues what we do as work and performance, rather than the acute narcissism and approval-seeking that’s fashionable in pop culture.