Calendar Girl (February) Chapter 8: The Mia-Whore Complex

So. This is a chapter where Mia really gets into the whole “I’m an escort, not a whore!” thing. Given the premise of Calendar Girl, this was an inevitable and complicated thing we were gonna have to talk about eventually. I’m mostly bringing this up because – as you probably know – I’m a straight, cis dude. Nobody needs me to weigh in on this.

A few weeks ago I started reading Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things, which is a collection of feminist essays, and – incredibly fortuitously – this same week I got to the chapter about sex work. So today’s post is going to be a little different in that I’m filtering a lot of today’s critical thinking through the words of someone smarter and more qualified than myself. I take pride in feeling like I keep myself well-versed in feminist theory to do this blog, but sometimes I need to take a back seat to the research.

laurie-penny-unspeakable-things
I haven’t finished it yet but I’d recommend it so far.

Anyway, as always, here are the jokes.

Calendar Girl (February): Chapter 8

Mia has eight days left with Alec, leaving the day after his exhibit opens. She informs us that she’s required to make her second payment to Blaine in-person, which is great, since presumably we need to meet the primary antagonist who put the events of this story in motion, you know, eventually.

I should have known all those years ago that getting involved with Blaine was bad news. Never failed. I always got myself into situations with men. At least now, I was being paid to, and after the better part of month, it ended. Move on. No drama. Just a job. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

So, naturally, she immediately begins to describe how Wes was such a great guy.

Wes was the kind of man you fawned over, bragged to your girlfriends about, dreaming of marrying one day. He was not the love ’em and leave ’em type […] Wes asked me to stay. With him. For him. So we could be an us. I sighed loudly.

I mean, it’s totally natural that Mia doesn’t simply know what she wants. But it is asking the reader to be in a lot of places for a story that’s put so little care into establishing basic things like character, or motivation, or seriously why the hell are we on book 2 of a story that’s only happening because of a conflict between two characters who haven’t even shown up yet.

Mia gets a phone call from her aunt/boss about her next client, the heir of a national restaurant chain whose family is pressuring him, “the only male out of five children”, into “finding a wife and having an heir”, because apparently Calendar Girl takes place in the 16th century now.

“Anthony Fasano. Big restauranteur. Owns the largest chain of Italian restaurants across the nation. You know, Fasano’s?”
“Holy shit! I’ve eaten there like a million times. Gin and I love Fasano’s. Best Italian in Vegas!”

Somehow this statement about a fictional chain Italian restaurant made me sadder than how Mia’s dad is in a coma.

inglourious-basterds-bonjourno

“You are coming in to be his on-and-off-again, long-distance girlfriend, now fiance, from the West Coast. He’s bringing you in so you can meet the family and get the heat off his tail.”
“This sounds like all kinds of Jerry Springer.
“Look, Mia, we only care that they pay the handsome fee for your pretty hiney.”

I’m glad someone in this book is sort of acknowledging that none of these clients make a whole lot of sense.

“Besides, another fine male specimen. You could make your extra twenty percent. Speaking of, you received an additional twenty percent on your fees deposited into your account by Mr. Channing and just yesterday by Mr. Dubois. Seems like you’re having a good time,” she remarked.
“I’m sorry… What did you say? […] Wes and Alec paid me… for sex?”
I closed my eyes and felt my heart stop beating. “What the fuck?” I whispered, a deluge of tears formed in masses, ready for the dam to burst and set them free.

Mia’s aunt makes a presumably obvious point.

“Dollface, they’re supposed to pay you.”

Hello, gentle reader. We’ve arrived at The Complicated Part.

hello-there-gentle-viewers
enjoyyyyyyyyyy

So before we dive into this next section, I have two excerpts from Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things that’ll be useful context for the scene that’s about to take place. First is some basic background information about the relationship between sex work and feminism:

Modern feminism lumbers under an uncomfortable inheritance from the women’s activism of the 1980s that stressed sex work as damaging on point of principle. […] Using the phrase “sex work” rather than “prostitution”, something many sex workers insist upon, reframes the debate. Instead of asking what it is about sex that is so bad for women, we can start asking what it is about work that’s bad for everyone. That’s a dangerous question. To argue that sex work is a job “like any other” is not to argue that it is benign, on the contrary. Most jobs are awful, and the fact that some sex workers would rather not do what they do for a living implies nothing more than that: the gas-station attendant and the shop girl would probably also rather not have to do what they do all day […] Sex work isn’t stigmatised because it is dangerous, it is dangerous because it is stigmatised.

Second, Penny actually starts this section of with a bit of a joke:

I have never sold sex myself, mainly because I was advised against it by kind friends in the industry who suggest that my total lack of emotional boundaries and love of horrible grey knickers meant I should possibly stick to the day-job.

So let’s think about these two excerpts, and how they relate to Mia in Calendar Girls. The applicability of the latter is a bit more immediately obvious: Mia’s spent most of the last two books talking about how she falls for every man she has sex with, and while she’s trying to use this all as a growing opportunity, it’s not an opportunity she seems particularly well-equipped for, emotionally. It’s challenging to watch her stumble through this and insist that everything is fine, and I don’t think it’s challenging in the way Calendar Girl wants the reader to find it to be.

As for the first, longer excerpt… well, just keep it in mind as we go into this phone call Mia decides to have with Wes…

“Hey, you.” Wes’s voice came through the line, all salt and sand. “I was just thinking about you…”
“Save it. What the fuck do you think you are playing at?” My voice was razor sharp and held no protection against the bloody sting.
“Excuse me, back up. What’s the matter?” He sounded concerned, but it was all bullshit. Everything between us was a total fucking lie.
“The money, Wes! How could you do that?” My voice croaked, trying to get the ugly words out.
“Didn’t you get it? Oh my God. Is your dad okay? I can come out. I’ll pay whatever you need. Tell me you’re okay, Mia!”

So keeping in mind that Wes followed through on his end of a contractual obligation to pay her for her time and an extra percentage for nudity/physical intimacy…

“Why would you treat me like your whore!” The tears streamed down my cheeks faster than I could wipe them away. […] “I thought what we had meant something. That’s why I didn’t tell you about the fee! I would never have made you pay it. I’m not a call girl! I was like that because I wanted to be, not because you were paying me.”

I mean… it’s fine if Mia doesn’t want to receive money for sex. And it would be fine if she does. Obviously everyone’s got their own level of comfort with the idea. What I think makes this scene difficult to read, however, is how Mia assumes that her take on the concept is one that Wes should share, when they had already agreed upon something else.

“Mia, sweetheart, listen to me. It’s in my contract. […] I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you.”

Oh, also, this happens.

“Why is an extra twenty thousand dollars sitting in my account from you? Millie told me so!”
“Who the fuck is Millie?”
“My aunt. Ms. Milan. It’s her escort service. Ring any fucking bells? Ding, ding, ding!”
“You work for your aunt?” […]
“Not the fucking point, Wes!”

…then why did this come up?

adventure-time-why-does-anyone-do-anything

Mia hears his apology and tells him that what he did hurt, but she gets why he did it, but that she wants to send it back to him. Which kinda seems like the smoothest way forward after an about-face on whether she’s comfortable with selling sex or not, thinking about it.

I am no man’s whore. Time to deal with Alec.

Although, god, this still feels so so so so so so so messy.

She goes down to the studio where Alec is preparing a photoshoot. He, uh, immediately runs up to Mia and starts taking her clothes off… can she at least punch this dude in the face? He keeps ignoring her while she keeps trying to talk to him (puuuunch himmmm), and eventually she caves. He tries to do art anyway, just like the last time he forced Mia to model when she was trying to tell him something was wrong, and then complains. Again. All I want out of the next two chapters is for this dude’s shitty art show to somehow end up with him getting punched in the face. Am I asking for too much?

Eventually, he kicked the staff out.
“Today has been a waste,” he said, anger dripping from his lips. […]
“Well, what did you expect? You want me to finger myself in front of a room full of people, not to mention while I’m pissed at you?”
He stopped pacing, his head jutting back, his hands going to his hips. Almost reminded me of a chick. A hot, manly chick, but the hands-on-hips thing was a total girl move.

I guess there’s always time for some good, old fashioned queer panic.

“And what have you got to be mad about?” His tone was laced with piss and vinegar. It ruffled my feathers just enough to rekindle the fire that I’d kept banked for the last couple of hours. I leaned up and crossed my legs.
“You paid me for sex. That’s the problem!”
He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “And you’re upset with this? Why?”

Oh, god, Alec, don’t get me started again. This has been a real hard post to write.

“I’m not your whore! That’s twice today a man has treated me like I was their fucking whore.”

Wait, what if Mia’s problem is actually that she thinks people can read her mind? That’s a weirdly running thing in this chapter.

”I didn’t have sex with you because of the money! Jesus Christ, why are men so dense?” […]
“We had sex. Your contract states you are to receive twenty percent more for taking off your clothes, and/ or having sex.”
“I thought you were making love to me?” I spat.

Didn’t Mia just have this conversation with Wes? Why are we having the same conversation again?

Are you trying to trick me

“Unfortunately, the eyes of the law might not see it that way.”
“The eyes of the law see that as prostitution! The rule was one of those unwritten things you just do to skate the law with. Jeez.”
“Then unwrite it from your contract. Ms. Milan has the item as an add-on note. No, it isn’t written in the fine print, but your enforcer ensures you receive it.”

Wait, is this or is this not written out in her fucking contract? And how is that legal? I swear both of those conditions change multiple times in these three paragraphs. (Not to mention the first book.)

“Plus, you did get naked many times for the art. The fee is owed to you for that alone.”

CAN WE JUST MOVE ON ALREADY?

It wasn’t the men who had me believing I was a whore. It was me.

Oh. Wow. O… okay. Cool. I… I think Mia… learned something? To return to Laurie Penny, she writes that “social stigma, that system of punishing and excluding sex workers from the brightly lit world of good, pure women who would never actually cash in on the erotic capital that is supposed to be our only power, is still with us”. Calendar Girl and its heroine are both products of that society, so obviously that stigma casts its shadow over this story. But as with all stories, we have to ask ourselves why this story?

Perhaps… this could be a story about Mia at least moving past shaming herself?

I was a lot of things— a daughter, a sister, a friend, an actress of sorts.

Yeah, girl! Yes you are! You contain multitudes!

I was this man’s muse, but I wasn’t a streetwalker, call girl, or a whore.

…ok, we might be straying from the overarching point, which is that there’s no inherent shame in selling-

A slut, maybe, but not whore.

Ok I think we’re done here today.

mean-girls-sluts-and-whores

(Oh, also, the title of the post is a play on the Madonna-whore complex. It seemed applicable.)

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6 comments

  1. wordswithhannah Reply

    This is such a dumb, pointless conflict because it was explicitly stated in the first chapter of the first book that she’d get paid extra if she had sex with them! It would be one thing if Mia only just found this out, or didn’t know and assumed that they paid extra because of sex and didn’t realize they were contractually obligated BUT SHE ALREADY KNEW THIS. SHE KNEW SHE WAS SELLING HER TIME, WHICH MIGHT OR MIGHT NOT INCLUDE SEX IF SHE CONSENTED.

    But I guess it’s such a good argument that we had to hear it twice.

    I think the premise of this series has merit: a serialized, sanitized romp where the main character is a beautiful call girl who gets different interesting, sexy men for a set period of time before moving on to another one. That’s a perfect set-up for erotic novels! It makes for a great, defined series! But holy crap, Carlan can NOT pull off what she’s trying to do here. She gives weight to exactly the wrong emotional points and skates over the conflicts her set-up creates like they don’t exist. Mia probably should have had this crisis of conscience before she accepted the job or possibly after she had sex with Wes, but her character was never really established and she jumped right into bed with Wes without a second thought! Where the hell is this coming from?

    Also, calling it now: Italian guy is GAAAAAAAY and Mia’s gonna be his beard. Please tell me that they’re all going to be stereotypical “Godfather” mobsters.

    And finally: you’re in Vegas and you think a chain Italian restaurant is “the best Italian in Vegas”? GET OUT MORE.

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    • matthewjulius Post authorReply

      I know this isn’t the main point, but I misread the bit about “for a set period of time” and now I’m imaging this series but if Mia were literally traveling through time. And now I’m sad it’s not that. Very sad.

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  2. Pip Reply

    I’m normally pretty articulate, even if I do say so myself, but that “a slut maybe, but not a whore” line has pissed me off beyond words. Why why why does someone who is clearly trying to write a bit of standard erotic fiction, think they can pull off something as nuanced as a woman’s emotional and moral struggle as she ends up being (sort of) forced into sex work? Are all the books you read here self published or something? Because I refuse to believe any editor with even the most basic levels of common sense would publish this shite.

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  3. Jennifer Layton Reply

    This could so easily have been fixed. Mia’s aunt could have called her to say that Wes had recommended her services to his buddies, and they were calling in to hire her. That would have justified her getting angry, and then she would have called Wes, and he would have said that he was only trying to help her get the debt paid off as fast as possible so she could return to him, and he never intended for her to actually sleep with his buddies. Yes, it would have been a dumb thing for him to do, but the whole thing would be a way more believable story line than this.

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