Working Girls

Working Girls ★★★½

Unique in that it tells a story about sex workers with absolutely no titillation, which is more than worthy of noting. That’s not what really grabbed me about it, though. What drew my interest was the story this movie tells about class, labor, and commodification. It’s a movie about using objects as social signifiers: women comparing shoe brands, yes, but also customers trying to signify affection by giving the workers gifts. Or the pharmacist who signals his opinion of Molly’s status by noting how much birth control she’s buying.

Educational status is both a threat to the economic signifiers (“don’t condescend to me”) and irrelevant. Molly may have gone to Yale, but it doesn’t mean a thing when compared to the wealth of reasons why she’s seen as an object. She’s not just a sex worker, she’s a sex worker who has to hide her actual sexuality even from her co-workers. When a Harvard-educated customer shows up, the Ivy League connection is just an uncomfortable moment.

Yet in the end economic success also isn’t meaningful; Lucy shows us that. Lucy makes good money off the women, but it won’t ever enable her to step up a class no matter how many shoes she buys. When she’s showing off her purchases, the last and most precious item is silk panties, because that’s the only real hold she can get on society. 

This, the thesis of the movie: education doesn’t matter. Money doesn’t matter. Class mobility is an illusion; the system is designed to keep people exactly where they are. It’s all about who pays who, as explicitly explained by Molly’s second to last customer. 

Her last customer does offer her a way out. But it’s just changing owners, so if she takes him up on it, it’s just another illusion of escape.