By Sharanya Gopinathan
Is prostitution the oldest profession in the world? Doubtful. I mean, the phrase has been used to describe farmers, doctors, cattle herders and the military. In fact, it was only used to describe prostitution when Rudyard Kipling in his 1889 short story On the City Wall used the term to describe an Indian prostitute named Lilith, and people who used the term shortly after credited Kipling for the reference.
Okay trivia time over. A new television show called Harlots, available on Hulu, which also streams The Mindy Project, looks at the lives of sex workers in 18th century London. From early reports, it sounds quite interesting.
Executive producer Alison Owen told Fresnobee that one of the things they wanted to ensure was that the series is about the female gaze. It wasn’t to be about the male gaze looking in, but the female gaze, more specifically, the “whore’s gaze”, looking out. She also says that the show has much male nudity as female, which is a refreshing departure from most of the stuff you see on television, including on the Game of Thrones, which has been at the centre of lots of discussion on gendered gaze and the preponderance of rape scenes.
You know how Orange is the New Black tells the stories of Black women, which sounds cool until you see this picture of their team of writers and realise that none of the scriptwriters are Black?
— Orange Writers Room (@OrangeWriters) June 2, 2015
Yeah, Harlots isn’t like that. In keeping with the idea of stories of women being framed through the female gaze, its comes from a team of women, and several of the episodes are directed by women too. Screenertv says that the show neither moralises nor victimises, which sounds like it’s on the good side of awesome. So I’m excited to see stories about sex workers that focus on more than just the things television usually tends to focus on when depicting them.
The makers of the show also told Fresnobee that they did lots of research, of course, and one of the books they mentioned is Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, a pocketbook that served as a directory of sex workers in 18th century Covent Garden, London, which, when you read about it, sounds like it was written by biased and slightly petty authors.