Sharon O’Neill (right) who wrote the song Maxine with the actress who played her in the Australian version of the music video (which this image is taken from.)
A few days after my Christmas day blog post about whether or not a sex worker should tell her family she is a sex worker, I had a long conversation with a mother of a young escort. Her daughter, the escort, had just disclosed to her family, including the mother who I spoke with, that she was a sex worker. The escort is in her mid-twenties and apparently working part time in an agency in one of our small cities. I have no idea who she is, and she did not tell her family that she is a sex worker as a result of my post, but instead has been open, since she began this work in 2018, with family members and friends, including close family members such as siblings and slightly distant relatives such as second cousins.
The escort’s mother did not consider herself closed-minded, and I agree with her that she is not, but it has greatly upset her as she genuinely feels that her daughter is “fucking up her future” and closing doors to opportunities now that her daughter is putting such private information out there to all and sundry. The escort’s mother and father get no comfort from the sympathy of their wider family. She knows that even though sex work is legal, there are people who may seem to agree with it on the surface, but still have deeply-held negative beliefs about sex work, sex workers and how it will end.
The sex worker’s mother struggled to articulate what exactly the problem is, but I could see that it did not sit well with her and I can understand why, even though we were not able to get totally clear on the reasons she is feeling this way. It is the feeling that is referred to when sex workers are asked “How would you feel if your daughter was to become a sex worker?”
Then I came across the 1983 music video for the song Maxine, by the wonderful Sharon O’Neill which I watched with disbelief. The judgment and victim-blaming in the video made me shudder. I felt that it was disrespectful to all the working girls who have died or been injured while being sex workers. Not at all “Just another fine mess you’ve got yourself into” to quote the song.
Apparently the song was written about a sex worker whom Sharon O’Neill often saw working on the street when they got home to their hotel in Kings Cross, Sydney. Sharon O’Neill said in the NZ Herald, “Back in the 1980s they wouldn’t screen the Maxine video till after 8pm because she goes into the toilets with a razor blade. You’ve got people gyrating like they’re having sex but you can’t show that because it’s drugs. I mean she’s a junkie, she dies. It’s a terribly sad story.” There appears to be no evidence that the real life sex worker died but presumably this increases the gravitas to the song and adds the cautionary tale aspect.
I discussed this video with a young lady whose mother had been a sex worker and she said that when she found out about her mother’s way of making a living, she had a massive panic attack as she thought that her mother was in danger of ending up dying in a horrible way like Maxine. It terrified her.
Lizzie Marvelly, in a 2016 blog post on her Villainess site, An Ode to Maxine, says that the song “is arguably one of New Zealand’s most bewilderingly underrated songs”. She points out that “33 years after its release, sexual violence perpetrated against sex workers is still an issue we’ve yet to effectively address.” Is it really possible to raise the issue of sexual violence sexworkers experience when the job is boxed in with stereotypes related to drugs and sleaziness? (It is also harmful when it is unrealistically glamourised.)
I can also understand the daughter who has become an escort and is proud of that. However just because something is legal, it does not mean that everyone agrees with it. The images related to sex workers are loaded with falsehoods!
People will always talk about it, that talk spreads far and wide, and it is not usually what we would like to have said about us. I have never known gossip to get so twisted as that about sex workers, and it seems worse when it is wrapped up as concern by those who are actually full of disrespect and misunderstanding, pretending to care.
It is excellent to celebrate the value and new awareness that sex work can give to a euphoric new sex worker, but I always advise to keep it on the down low wherever possible.