We’ve noted elsewhere on this blog the new politically correct euphemism for prostitutes: “sex workers.” The term no doubt has appeal to the ideology-minded, for it conjures up not only a brand-new proletariat for the Marxists to go to work on, but a certain entrepreneurial spirit that the government should keep its hands off. The “sex worker”: a designer togs-clad Mayflower Madam with a busy cell-phone and an address-book crammed with the phone numbers of Park Avenue clients.

Theodore Dalrymple, the London physician and master essayist of street life, paints a different and more depressing picture of the life of the average prostitute in the latest issue of The New Criterion. During his youth, Dalrymple confesses, his ideas about the world’s oldest profession were shaped by the stories of Guy de Maupassant, whose literary harlots were invariably jolly, generous-hearted wenches unaffected by the hypocrisy and petty meanness of the 19th-century French bourgeoisie that Maupassant despised. Dalrymple writes:    

“Since then, I have treated a lot of prostitutes as patients. One claimed to be a world-class dominatrix, who jetted round the world to whip the prominent men of many countries on several continents, but for the most part, they have been creatures who look as if they have emerged from the canvases of Otto Dix, razzled by drugs and disease, with crumbling bones and wrinkled skin, beaten into submission by pimps festooned with gold chains and mouths full of redundant golden dentistry. A few have been of middle-class origin, attracted to the gutter by its antinomian glamour, but they have ended up in no better state than the rest.

“There used to be prostitutes like that who solicited on the street where I live, until my next-door-neighbor-but-one organized a local campaign to drive them away. Perhaps it is a sign of my insufficient absorption of the lesson of Maupassant’s stories, but until they were driven away I did not find the removal of used condoms from the bushes and the gutter outside my house a congenial task, and, in my heart of hearts, when I saw the municipal van doing its round to distribute free condoms to those whom we must now called sex workers (What are pimps? Sexual liaison co-ordinators?), all in the name of harm reduction, my feelings as a householder were stronger than those as a doctor, and I wished not that harm should be reduced, but that it should be maximized.”

I agree. Indeed, if prostitutes are “sex workers” and pimps are “sexual liason co-ordinators,” what about madams? Shall we call them “sex-worker middle managers”? Are charge-by-the-hour motel operators to be known as “sexually oriented real estate facilitators”?

While reading Dalrymple’s essay, I was reminded of a particularly scabrous episode of the Jenny Jones show (well, they’re all scabrous–just kidding, Jenny!), featuring as a guest a plump young woman with a baby: Was the father her boyfriend, her ex-husband, or the 69-year-old next-door neighbor who showed up on the show wearing his baseball cap and grinning like all get-out? An outraged female audience member stood up and shouted truth at the young lady: “You a ho!”

Sex worker, indeed.