25:29
TED2015

Sarah Jones: One woman, five characters, and a sex lesson from the future

Filmed:

In this performance, Sarah Jones brings you to the front row of a classroom in the future, as a teacher plugs in different personas from the year 2016 to show their varied perspectives on sex work. As she changes props, Jones embodies an elderly homemaker, a “sex work studies” major, an escort, a nun-turned-prostitute and a guy at a strip club for his bachelor party. It’s an intriguing look at a taboo topic, that flips cultural norms around sex inside out.

- Polymorphic playwright
Tony Award-winning monologist, UNICEF ambassador, firebrand and FCC-fighting poet -- Sarah Jones assumes as many roles offstage as on. Full bio

This is a play called "Sell/Buy/Date."
00:12
It's my first since "Bridge and Tunnel,"
which I did on Broadway,
00:14
and this one, I -- thank you --
00:17
I've excerpted it just for you,
so here we go.
00:21
Right. Class, let's be absolutely certain
00:29
all electronic devices are switched off
before we begin.
00:32
So class, hopefully you'll recognize
what you just heard me say as the -- ?
00:38
Very good, the cellular
phone announcement.
00:43
Right? This was also known
as a mobile phone.
00:47
So you'll remember, people of that era
00:51
would have had an external
electronic device, right,
00:53
something like this,
00:58
and they all would have carried
one of these around with them,
01:00
and amongst their biggest fears
was the sheer mortification
01:03
that one of these might ring
at some inopportune moment.
01:06
Right? So a bit of trivia
about that era for you.
01:10
(Laughter)
01:12
So the format of today's class is
01:15
I will be presenting multiple
BERT modules today
01:17
from that period in history, right,
01:21
so starting circa 2016.
01:24
And remember, this was
the very first year of the BERT program.
01:26
So we've got quite a few
of these to get through.
01:31
Bear in mind, I will be living
into various different bodies,
01:33
different ages,
01:37
also what were then called races,
or ethnic groups,
01:39
as you'll remember from Unit 1.
01:43
And -- (Laughter) -- and along
the gender continuum,
01:45
I will be living into males as well.
01:48
It was quite binary at that time.
01:51
(Laughter)
01:52
Also, don't forget, we are reading
the book module
01:54
for next week's focus on gender.
01:57
Now, I know some of you
have requested the book in pill form.
01:59
I know people still believe
ingesting it is better for retention,
02:03
but since we are trying to experience
what our forebears did, right,
02:08
let's please just consider doing
the actual ocular reading, okay?
02:13
And also, how many people
have your emotional shunts engaged?
02:19
Right. Please toggle them off. Okay?
02:24
I know it's challenging, but I want you
to be able to feel the entire
02:26
natural emo range, all right?
02:31
It is essential to this
part of the syllabus.
02:33
Yes, Macy?
02:37
All right. I understand.
If you're unwilling to --
02:39
All right, well, we can discuss
that after class.
02:43
All right, we will discuss your concerns.
02:45
Just relax. Nobody's died
and gone to composting.
02:48
Okay. After class. Okay? After class.
02:52
Let's just get started, okay.
02:57
This first subject identified
as a middle-class homemaker.
02:59
Remember, these early modules
03:05
in these people's full identities
were protected,
03:07
and this allowed them to speak
more freely on our topic,
03:11
which for many of them was taboo.
03:15
Okay honey, now,
I'm ready when you are.
03:20
No, sweetheart, I said,
I'm ready when you are.
03:23
I'm freezing.
03:28
It's like a meat locker in here
in this recording studio.
03:30
I should have brought a shmata.
03:33
All this fancy technology
but they can't afford heat.
03:35
What is he saying? I can't hear you!
03:40
I can't hear you
through the glass, honey!
03:43
There you are in my ear.
03:46
Oh, you can hear me?
03:49
The whole time.
03:51
Oh, yes, I am a little chilly.
03:53
Yes, oh the cold is for the machines,
the new technology. Okay.
03:57
Yes, now remind me again, you're recording
not only my voice but my feelings
04:03
and my memories? Right.
04:09
Yes, BERT, yes, I read about it.
04:12
Bio-Empathetic Resonant Technology.
04:14
Right, right, so people will be able
to feel my experience
04:17
and my memory? Okay.
04:22
No, right, I'm ready.
04:24
I just thought you were going to give me
a test to see how my memory's doing.
04:25
I was going to tell you you're too late,
it's already bad news.
04:30
No, no, go ahead, honey.
04:34
Oh, that's the first question?
04:37
What do I think of prostitution?
04:39
Are you soliciting me, young man?
04:43
I've heard of May-December romances,
but what are you, about 20 years old?
04:47
Eighteen? Eighteen years.
04:53
I think I have candies in my purse
older than 18 years old.
04:54
(Laughter)
05:00
I'm teasing you, sweetheart.
No, I'm comfortable with any question.
05:04
Sure. So about the prostitution --
oh, sex worker, sex worker.
05:09
No, just in my day, they called it
prostitution, not sex work.
05:15
Oh, because it includes pornography also?
05:19
Okay.
05:22
No, well, I guess when I was a girl,
05:24
we didn't really have
a name for that either.
05:26
We would have said dirty magazines,
I suppose, or dirty movies.
05:29
Well, it's not like what you have
with the Internet.
05:34
No, well, I don't mind sharing.
05:38
My late husband and I,
we were a very romantic couple.
05:41
Lots of tenderness, you understand.
05:47
Well, as you get older, you know,
at one point I thought my husband
05:51
might be helped by using
some of the pills men can take,
05:55
but he wasn't interested in those,
06:01
so I thought, what about maybe
watching an adult movie on the Internet?
06:04
Just for inspiration, you understand.
06:10
Well, at the time, neither of us
were very good on the computer,
06:13
so usually, if we needed help
with the Internet,
06:18
we would just call our children
or our grandchildren,
06:21
but obviously, in this case,
that wasn't an option,
06:26
so I thought, I'll have
a look myself, just to see.
06:30
How difficult could it be?
06:35
You search for certain key words
and you look --
06:38
Oh wow is right, young man.
06:41
You can't imagine what I saw.
06:43
Well, first of all, I was just trying
to find, you know, couples,
06:46
normal couples making love,
06:51
but this, so many people
together at one time.
06:55
You couldn't tell which part
belonged to which body.
06:59
How they even got the cameras to
capture some of this, I couldn't tell you.
07:03
But the one thing they didn't capture
was making love.
07:07
There was lots of making of something,
07:14
but they took the love part
right out of it, you know, the fun.
07:19
It was all very extreme, you know?
07:23
Like you would say,
with the extreme sports.
07:27
Lots of endurance,
07:31
but never tenderness.
07:34
So anyway, needless to say,
that was $19.95 I'll never get back again,
07:37
but it only showed up on the credit card
as "entertainment services,"
07:44
so my husband was never the wiser,
07:48
and after all of that,
07:51
well, you could say it turned out
07:55
he didn't need the extra
inspiration after all.
07:57
Right, so next subject is a young woman
-- (Applause) --
08:03
Next subject, class,
is a young woman called Bella,
08:07
a university student interviewed in 2016
08:10
during what was called
an Intro to Feminist Porn class
08:14
as part of her major in sex work
at a college in the Bay Area.
08:18
(Laughter)
08:23
Yeah, I just want to, like,
get a recording of, like,
08:26
you guys recording me,
08:29
like a meta recording, or whatever.
08:31
It's just like this whole experience
is just, like, really amazing,
08:34
and I'd like to capture that
for, like, Instagram and my Tumblr.
08:38
So, like, hi guys, it's me, Bella,
08:42
and I am, like, being
interviewed right now
08:45
for this, like, really amazing
Bio-Empathetic Resonance Technology,
08:49
which is, like, basically where they are,
like, recording, as you can see
08:55
from these, whatever, like, electrodes,
09:01
the formation of, like, neuropeptides
in my hippocampus, or whatever.
09:03
They will later be able
to reconstitute these
09:10
as, like, my own actual memory,
like actual experiences,
09:12
so other people can, like,
actually feel what I'm feeling right now.
09:19
Okay. Okay.
09:24
So, like, hello, BERT person of the future
who is experiencing me.
09:26
This is what it feels like to be,
like, a college freshman,
09:32
and also the, like, headache
that you are experiencing through me
09:36
is the, like, residual effect
of the Jell-O shots which I had last night
09:41
at the bi-weekly feminist
pole dancing party
09:48
which I cohost on Wednesdays.
09:51
It's called "Don't Get All Pole-emical" --
(Laughter) --
09:54
and it's in Beekman Hall,
09:57
and, what else, like,
10:02
non-Jell-O shots are also
available for vegans,
10:04
and, oh, okay, yeah, totally, yeah, we
should also focus on your questions also.
10:08
So for your record, I am, like,
a sex work studies major
10:17
but minoring in social media
10:22
with a concentration
on notable YouTube memes.
10:24
(Laughter)
10:27
Yes, well, of course, like,
I consider myself to be, like,
10:30
obviously, like, a feminist.
10:33
I was named for Bella Abzug,
who was, like, a famous, like,
10:35
feminist from history,
10:40
and, like, also I feel that it is, like,
important to, like, represent women
10:42
who are, like, sex-positive feminists.
10:49
What is sex-negative?
10:54
Well, like, I guess I would ask,
like, what do you think
10:56
sex-negative is? (Laughter)
11:01
Yeah, because, like, the terms that we use
are, like, so important, because, like,
11:04
we call it sex work because it helps
people understand that, like, it's work,
11:09
and, like, you know, just like there are,
like, healthcare providers
11:16
and, like, insurance providers,
11:21
like, we think of these workers
as, like, sex care providers.
11:23
Yeah, but like, I don't think of myself
like, providing direct
11:30
sex care services per se as, like,
being a requirement
11:34
for me to be, like, an advocate.
11:38
Like, I support other women's right
to choose it voluntarily, like,
11:40
if they enjoy it.
11:44
Yeah, but, like, I see
myself going forward
11:46
as more likely, like,
protecting sex workers',
11:49
like, legal freedoms and rights.
11:53
Yeah, so, like, basically,
I'm planning on becoming a lawyer.
11:56
Right, class. (Laughter) (Applause)
12:02
So these next two modules
are also circa 2016.
12:03
One subject is an Irishwoman
with a particularly noteworthy
12:07
relationship to this issue,
12:11
but first will be a West Indian woman,
12:14
a self-described escort
12:18
who was recorded at a
sex workers' rights rally and parade.
12:20
She was interviewed whilst marching
in full carnival headdress
12:26
and very little else.
12:30
All right, you want me
to start talking now.
12:36
Yeah, I told you, you can
put those wires anywhere you want to
12:38
as long as it don't get in the way.
12:41
Yeah, no, but, tell me again
what the name of -- BERT? BERT.
12:45
Yeah, I was telling you, you know,
I think I have in all my time
12:50
I have had at least one client with that
name, so this won't be the first time
12:53
I had BERT all over me.
12:56
Oh, I'm sorry,
13:03
but you got to get into the spirit of it
if you're going to interview me.
13:05
All right? You can say it.
13:08
No justice, no piece!
No justice, no piece!
13:10
But you see the sign? You get it?
P-I-E-C-E. No justice, no piece of us.
13:12
You understand?
13:18
Right, so that's the part
where I was telling you
13:20
is that when I first came to this country,
I worked every job I could find.
13:23
I was a nanny; I was a home care attendant
for all these different old people,
13:27
and then I said, child, if I have to touch
another white man's backside,
13:32
I might as well get paid
a lot more money for it than this,
13:36
you understand?
13:39
Pshh, you know how hard it is
being a domestic worker?
13:41
Some of these men, they're heavy.
13:44
You have to pick them up
and flip them over.
13:46
Now, I let them pick me up
and flip me over, you understand?
13:49
Well, you have to have a sense of humor
about it, that's what I think.
13:53
No, but see, listen,
13:57
you find me somebody who don't hate
some part of their job.
13:59
I mean, there's a lot of things
about this job that I hate,
14:02
but the money is not one of them,
14:05
and I will tell you, as long as this
is the best possibility
14:07
for me to make real money,
14:09
I am going to be Jamaican-No-Fakin'
if that's what they want to call me.
14:11
No, I'm not even from Jamaica.
That's how they market me.
14:15
My family is from Trinidad
and the Virgin Islands.
14:19
They don't know what I do,
but you know what?
14:23
My children, they know
that their school fees are paid,
14:25
they have their books and their computer,
14:28
and this way, I know
that they have a chance.
14:31
So I'm not going to tell you
that what I do, it's easy,
14:34
I'm not going to tell you that I feel --
what's that you said, liberated?
14:37
But I'm going to tell you
that I feel paid.
14:42
Right. (Applause)
14:46
Thanks, that's lovely,
and just the cup of tea, love,
14:50
and just a splash of the whiskey.
14:53
It's perfect, that's grand.
Just a drop more. A splash. Perfect.
14:55
What was your name? Peter?
Is that right, so, Peter?
15:00
Right. So that, that is
the unique part of it for me,
15:03
right, is that I ended up in both,
15:06
first in the convent, and then
in the prostitution after. That's right.
15:10
(Laughter)
15:14
So one woman at the university
here in Dublin, she wrote about me.
15:16
She said, Maureen Fitzroy is the living
embodiment of the whore-virgin dichotomy.
15:20
Right? (Laughter)
15:25
Doesn't it sound like something
you need to go into hospital?
15:27
Well, I've got this terrible dichotomy.
15:30
Doesn't it.
15:32
Right. Well, for me though, it was,
as a girl, it started with me dad.
15:33
I mean, half the time, when he
spoke to us, it was just a sort of
15:37
tell us we were all useless rotten idiots
and we had no morals, that type of thing.
15:40
And I certainly didn't
do myself any favors.
15:44
By the time I was 16,
15:48
I had started messing about
with this older fella,
15:50
and he wanted it to be
our little secret,
15:53
and I did as I was told, didn't I,
15:56
and when that got back to me dad, he
had me sent straightaway to the convent.
15:59
Well no, that older fella, he would still
come to find me in the convent.
16:06
Yeah, he'd leave me notes
16:11
tucked into the holes in the brick
at the back of the charity shop
16:12
so we could meet.
16:16
And he'd tell me how
he's leaving his wife,
16:17
and I believed him, until I got pregnant.
16:20
I did, Peter, and I left him a note
about it in our special place there,
16:25
and I never did hear from him again.
16:30
No, I gave it up for adoption
so it could have a decent life,
16:33
and then they wouldn't let me
back into the convent.
16:39
No, my one sister Virginia gave me
a fiver for the coach to Dublin,
16:42
and that's how I ended up here.
16:46
Well, surprise, surprise, I fell in love
with another fella much older than me,
16:48
and I always say I was just so happy
because he didn't drink,
16:53
I married the bastard.
16:59
Well, he didn't drink, but he did have
just the wee heroin problem, didn't he,
17:02
and -- That's right, and before I knew it,
17:06
he was the one who turned me on
to the prostitution, my own husband.
17:09
He had me supporting the both of us.
17:13
I was 18.
17:15
Well, it wasn't Pretty Woman,
I can tell you that.
17:18
That Julia Roberts,
17:22
if she'd ever had to sleep with a man
to put a few pounds in her pocket,
17:25
I don't think she'd ever
have made that film.
17:29
Well, for your record,
17:32
my opinion of the legalization,
I'd say I'm against it.
17:34
I just, I don't care what
these young girls say.
17:38
You know, living like that,
you're just lost,
17:40
and, you know, I'm 63 years old.
17:43
I'm still trying to find who I am.
17:46
You know, I never was a wife or a nun,
17:49
or a prostitute even, really, not really.
17:53
Nobody ever asked who I wanted to be.
17:56
They just told me,
17:59
and if you legalize it,
18:01
then you're really telling these girls,
"Go on and get lost for a living,"
18:03
and a lot of them,
they'll do as they're told.
18:07
All right, so four perspectives
from four quite -- (Applause) --
18:10
four quite different voices there, right?
18:15
One woman saying sex itself is natural
but the sex industry seems to
18:17
mechanize or industrialize it.
18:22
Then the second woman considered
sex work to be empowering,
18:24
liberating, and feminist,
though she, herself, notably,
18:29
did not seem keen to do it.
18:32
The third woman, who actually was
a so-called sex worker
18:35
did not agree that it was liberating
but she wanted the right
18:39
to the economic empowerment,
18:43
and then we hear the fourth woman
saying not only prostitution itself
18:45
but proscribed roles for women in general
18:48
prevented her from ever
finding who she was, right?
18:50
So another fact most people did not know
18:54
was the average age of an at-risk girl
being introduced to the sex industry
18:56
was 12 or 13.
19:02
Also consider that the age
when all girls in that society
19:04
first became exposed
to sexualized images of women
19:07
was quite a bit earlier, right?
19:10
This was a doll called Barbie, right?
19:13
I initially thought she was an educational
tool for anorexia prevention --
19:18
(Laughter) --
19:21
but actually she was considered by many
19:22
to be a wholesome symbol of femininity,
19:26
and often young girls began
what was called dieting.
19:30
Remember this? This was
restricting food intake on purpose
19:33
by the age of six,
19:37
and defining themselves
based on attractiveness
19:39
by around that same time. Right?
19:42
Yes?
19:43
Right, Bradley, okay, excellent point.
19:45
So there was a lucrative market
in that society in convincing all people
19:47
they had to look a certain way
to even have a sex life, right?
19:52
But girls, especially, were expected
to be "sexy" while avoiding
19:56
being perceived as "sluts"
for being sexual. Right?
20:01
So there's that shame piece
we've heard about.
20:04
Yes.
20:07
Valerie, right? Okay, very good.
20:08
Of course, men were having sex as well,
20:10
but you'll remember from the reading,
20:13
what were male sluts called?
20:15
Very good, they were called men.
20:18
(Laughter) (Applause)
20:20
So not easy living in
a world like that, right?
20:22
Though it was not all bad news either.
20:28
Most women in the early 2000s
considered themselves empowered,
20:30
and men generally felt they were
also evolved in this area,
20:34
and, in fact, most people would have
been aware of issues
20:38
like human trafficking, for example,
20:41
but they would have seen that
as quite separate
20:43
from more recreational
adult entertainment.
20:45
And so we'll just very briefly, class --
we don't have a lot of time --
20:48
we'll just very briefly hear from a man
20:51
on our topic at this stage.
20:54
So this next subject was interviewed
on the night of his bachelor party.
20:55
Dude, can you, all right,
can you just keep it down?
21:03
I'm trying to talk to BERT right now.
21:06
Oh, your name's not BERT.
21:09
BERT's the name of the, oh, all right.
21:11
No, no, no, totally, it's totally fine.
I'm mostly sober,
21:13
so I just want to be helpful.
21:16
Yeah, and I totally believe in causes,
yeah, like, all that stuff.
21:20
(Laughter)
21:23
And actually, I'm wearing Toms right now.
21:25
Yeah, Toms, like, the shoes,
21:28
like, you buy a pair and then
a kid in Africa gets clean water.
21:32
Yeah. Totally.
21:36
But what was the question again? Sorry.
21:38
Of course I believe in women's rights.
I'm marrying a woman.
21:41
(Laughter)
21:45
No, but I mean, like, just because
I'm in a strip club parking lot
21:48
doesn't mean that I'm, like,
a sexist or whatever.
21:52
My fiancee is totally amazing,
she's totally a strong girl, woman,
21:55
smart woman, like, the whole thing.
21:59
Yeah, she knows I'm here. She's probably
at a strip club herself right now,
22:01
like, as a joke, same as me.
22:05
My best man, I told him
he could surprise me,
22:07
and he thought this would be hilarious,
22:09
but this is not something.
22:11
Yeah, we all went to B school together.
22:14
Wharton.
22:17
(Laughter)
22:18
Yeah, so, dude, can you guys --
22:19
All right, but it's my bachelor party,
22:22
and I can spend it in the parking lot
with Anderson Cooper if I want to.
22:24
All right, I'll see you in there.
22:27
All right, okay, so Anderson,
22:31
so, like, first of all, stripping,
22:33
but then, like, all the other things
you're talking about,
22:37
prostitution and all that stuff,
that's, like, not the same thing at all.
22:39
You know? Like, you keep calling it
the sex industry or whatever,
22:43
but it's like, if the girl wants
to be an exotic dancer
22:46
and she's 18, like, that's her right.
22:50
Whoa, whoa, I hear what you're saying,
but I just feel like people,
22:55
they just want to make it seem
like all dudes are just, like, predators,
22:58
that we would just automatically
go to a prostitute, or whatever.
23:01
Even, like, when I pledged, you know,
like when I rushed my fraternity.
23:05
My brothers who I'm close to,
those guys, they're all like me.
23:10
We're just normal people, but, like,
there's this myth that you must
23:13
be that guy who is kind of an asshole,
and like, all bros before hos or whatever.
23:17
And actually, like, bros before hos,
it doesn't mean like what it sounds like.
23:21
It's actually just like a joking way of
saying that you care about your brothers
23:26
and you put them first.
23:30
Yeah, but, you can't blame
the media, either.
23:33
I mean, like, if you
go watch "Hangover 2,"
23:35
and you think that's an instruction manual
23:38
for your life, like,
I don't know what to tell you.
23:40
You know? You don't
watch "Bourne Identity"
23:42
and go drive your car
over a gondola in Venice. (Laughter)
23:44
Well, yeah, okay, like, if you're
a little kid or whatever,
23:49
of course it's different, but --
23:52
Yeah, all right, I remember
one thing like that.
23:54
I was at this kid's house
one time playing GTA,
23:59
uh, Grand Theft Auto?
24:03
Dude, are you from Canada? (Laughter)
24:05
So, like, whatever, with Grand Theft Auto,
24:09
you're this kid, like, you're this guy
walking around or whatever,
24:12
and you can basically, like,
the more cops you kill,
24:16
the more points you get,
and stuff like that.
24:19
But also, you can find prostitutes
24:21
and obviously you can do
sexual stuff with them,
24:24
but you can, like, kill them
and take your money back.
24:27
Yeah, this kid, I remember he ran over
a couple of them a few times with his car
24:32
and he got all these points.
24:36
We were, like, 10, I think.
24:39
It felt pretty terrible, actually.
24:43
No, I don't think I said anything,
I just finished playing and went home.
24:46
All right class, so then there were men
who had more than just
24:52
a passing relationship to this issue.
(Laughter)
24:55
The next subject described himself
as a reformed and remorseful pimp
24:59
turned motivational speaker,
25:04
life coach and therapist,
25:06
but if you want to know more about him,
you'll have to come to the entire play.
25:08
Thank you so much,
you beautiful TED audience.
25:12
I will see you for "Sell/Buy/Date."
25:16
(Applause)
25:18

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About the Speaker:

Sarah Jones - Polymorphic playwright
Tony Award-winning monologist, UNICEF ambassador, firebrand and FCC-fighting poet -- Sarah Jones assumes as many roles offstage as on.

Why you should listen

"Chameleon-like" barely describes the astonishing ease with which Sarah Jones slips in and out of the characters in her solo performances -- as many as fourteen personae in her Broadway hit Bridge & Tunnel. Critics marvel not only at her ability to perfectly mimic accents and mannerisms, but also to seemingly reshape her body, down to pupils and dimples, in the blink of an eye.

Jones' performances showcase a biting political awareness, and she has received commissions from Equality Now, the Kellogg Foundation and the National Immigration Forum to address issues of injustice and inequality. She is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has given multiple performances at the White House at the invitation of President and First Lady Obama. Jones is now at work on a new solo show called Sell/Buy/Date, commissioned by the Novo Foundation. She debuted material from it at TED2015. She is also working on a commission for Lincoln Center Theater and a television project based on her characters.

More profile about the speaker
Sarah Jones | Speaker | TED.com