"Madam- would you sleep with me for five million pounds?", "The Scarlet Letter", Caste, George Bernard Shaw, Hester Prynne, Hypocrisy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Patriarchy, Prostitution, Reverend Dimmesdale, Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill is credited with the quip, “Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?” Or perhaps it was George Bernard Shaw speaking to an actress.
In either case, in the anecdote, the socialite answers, “My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course.”
Causing Churchill/Shaw to reply, “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?”
Aghast, the Socialite said, “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!”
To which Churchill/Shaw allegedly concluded, “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”
This story, whether told by Winston C. or G.B.S., says as much about the times and character of Englishmen, about hierarchical, patriarchal, hypocritical societies, as it does the mocked socialite cum actress. The story’s intent was to demean the woman, to debase her because she was nothing more than an overpriced prostitute, a woman who would sleep with a man for money, a woman with neither principle nor ethic, but what of Churchill/Shaw? What does that make the spinner of tale? Just a common John, no?
The belief that someone is unprincipled, unworthy, because they would accept money for sexual favors must be counter balanced with the belief that paying for sex puts one on par with the prostitute, whether that level is high, medium or lowest standing. It stands to reason that one who pays for a service must share equally in the merit of the action as the person being paid. It is possible that our story teller was poking fun at himself as well as our unnamed willing participant in sex for pounds, but I doubt it.
No, this quip is pure patriarchy, pure double-standard and unadulterated bull because not only is sauce for the goose sauce for the gander but any Scarlet A placed on Hester Prynne belongs equally on Reverend Dimmesdale and any taint that falls on a sex-worker falls equally on the sex-worker’s client.