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This Film Helped Me Look At Sex Work In A Whole New Way

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I made a vow, at the beginning of my third year of college, to explore movies beyond my usual rom-coms and contemporary blockbusters. This meant watching a lot of old school classics, historical depictions, and documentaries. Of all the documentaries I’ve come across since then, none has shaken me to my core the way “Black and White and Sex” has.

Actor Katherine Hicks as Angie 1.

Set in present-day Australia, the movie is scripted as a documentary, enacting an interview between a sex worker named Angie and the director. And the title gives you the impression that the movie is going to break down sex in terms of black or white, right or wrong, good or evil, doesn’t it?

WRONG. The movie follows the bold experiences, thoughts, and philosophies of Angie, who is played by eight different actors; and there is nothing black or white about her.

With the distinct clap in the very beginning, the film wakes you up, demands your attention and begins to change the way you think about sex work.

Sex Workers Aren’t Like The Ones You See On TV

Angie is an enigmatic hypnotizing individual, constantly changing roles and personas, both figuratively and literally, all through the interview. The fact that you never really know who Angie truly is, or even if any of the women you see is Angie, only adds to her depth and the movie’s uniqueness. You first see this transformation when she nonchalantly states “I have a science degree“. The director disbelievingly asks for confirmation, and she corrects “Organic Chemistry“. As soon as the director snickers, Angie challenges him with “What, a hooker can’t be educated?”

Angie defies the misconception that all sex workers are illiterate, drug addicts, with numerous children and no better way to support them than sex work.

There Is A Lot More To Sex Work Than Sex

Most people think of sex workers as slaves forced into the life. However, Angie shatters that too by admitting that she joined the profession mainly because she needed a job in college, and sex work pays well. She further discloses the pressure, expectations, and responsibilities of being a sex worker because there is a difference between being an amateur and being a professional (sex worker). Angie reveals that there are many layers to the job – such as dumbing down, because most clients don’t get turned on by overly smart girls.

Actor Michelle Vergara Moore as Angie 5.

Angie explains that sex work is hardly one dimensional, which is why often they perform different services, one of which is ‘kisses and cuddles’ – the client doesn’t really want sex, instead they want companionship in the form of just kissing, cuddling, and talking. Other services sex workers provide are ‘passionate’, where the sex worker pretends that to be the client’s lover and they make passionate, life-altering love. Then there’s ‘the girlfriend experience’, in which the client and sex worker pretend to do couple-y stuff like going on a date, having tea, and talking about their feelings, which ends in sex. And there’s also ‘rough sex’ which may or may not including multiple partners, sex toys, objects, or BDSM. Often it is up to the sex worker to figure out the difference between what clients say they want and what they really need. In most cases, Angie says, sex workers become the means for people to blow off some steam and let themselves be 100% authentic. According to Angie “the wives should love us. They don’t, but they should“. And despite the bad rep, she still proudly says “I love what I do“.

In Sex Work, What You Pay For Is What You Get

The back and forth of ideas and the challenging of one another that occurs between Angie and the director is one of the crucial elements of the movie. You can see it in the beginning when both individuals are testing the water, then they beginning to tempt and challenge one another. Angie explains sex work as “a job. J.O.B. And the sooner everyone figures that out the sooner we’ll get proper occupational health and safety.”

Over the course of the movie both interviewee and interviewer go through a rollercoaster of emotions, sometimes being vulnerable, aggressive, flirty, and friendly. This is a representation of the how dynamic and multidimensional sex work can be. In this context, the sex worker takes up whatever persona or fantasy the client pays for. My favorite is when Angie exerts her power over the director and takes up the role of a dominatrix by making him take off his clothes and wanking himself to her satisfaction. This detail of the movie flips the perception that sex workers are at the mercy of their employers, because in Angie’s world she has the power and control.

A still from the movie.

A Candid Explanation Of What Sex Is Really Like For Men And For Women

The most eye-opening thing about the movie, according to me, is the way Angie defines and unravels intercourse. She opens up about how women are harder to read therefore more complicated to please, unlike men who are very straightforward. She says the other difference between men and women is that the one is dry and the other is wet. She also breaks down the controversy of a woman’s orgasm and how clueless men truly are about it. She pokes fun at the director, commenting on how most people can’t recognize which orgasm is real and which is fake. Further, she explains how for women, unlike men, it is often an overwhelming combination of both pain and pleasure.

The film pushes us to think more deeply about sex work. In almost all communities, it is perceived as work for the damned or immoral. This is as true in Australia as it is in India. However, Australia’s decriminalization of prostitution in 1995 has proven to support claims by UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International that in order to stop or decrease exploitation in the sex industry it would be better to support decriminalisation of prostitution.

Studies in 1995 and 2005 found no evidence of recent trafficking of female sex workers in Australia . So what does this mean for the Indian sex industry? Taking Angie as an example, this means there is a possible future where people can take up sex work as an actual career choice without fear of persecution. The government’s acknowledgement of sex work as an actual profession will prove to be a major step to eradicate forced sex work and slavery, as well as act as a mean to rehabilitate members of the industry into society.

And for all our sake’s, it is high time we accept there is nothing black and white about sex.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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