I should say new girl crushes, actually, as I have two. Their names are Jean Johnson, 64, and the late Shirley Landells.
Last week Tom and I were flicking between channels when we came across a documentary on SBS called A Lady's Guide to Brothels*. Filmed in 2008 and narrated by journalist Nicky Taylor, it follows these two members of the Hampshire Women's Institute (a group rather similar to our own CWA, I imagine), on their crusade to legalise brothels in Britain. They're not madams or shrewd businesswomen looking to turn a quick pound. They're just regular British women, mothers and grandmothers who want to make prostitution safer for the girls involved.
It all started after 5 prostitutes were murdered in 2006. Jean felt enough was enough and so raised the subject of prostitute safety with her local branch of the WI. After receiving almost unanimous support from the 7,000+ members of the WI to investigate the licencing of brothels further, Jean and Shirley did so, in no small part by taking off on a world tour to investigate legalised prostitution.
A quick look at Jean and Shirley affirms that they're not the sort of people you expect to see sitting in an Amsterdam window touting for clients. And yet that's exactly what they do, albeit fully and rather smartly dressed. Shirley, 73 at the time of filming, even gets a wink.
Later, in Nevada, they meet Airforce Amy, who shares her case of sex toys and a special upside-down move, before the ladies don pink flufffy robes and join the line-up at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. Their final stop is New Zealand, where they view several small owner operated brothels, known as SOOBs.
Determined to understand what life is like for working girls, these two feisty ladies ask some hard questions and willingly expose themselves to things they didn't even know existed. I daresay it will take me a long time to forget their expressions when they come across something called an 'Ass Midget' in a UK sex store.
Once back in the UK, they quickly set about using their learnings to convert an old campervan into a best practice brothel-on-wheels, complete with towels, condoms, talcom powder and a panic button. They drive it around English villages to show to their fellow WI members before heading off in said campervan to hand-deliver a petition calling for the licencing of brothels to Westminister and Downing St.
What I admire most about these two ladies is the grace with which they set about their tasks. Always polite and considerate, they treat every person they speak to with dignity and respect, thereby changing the prostitution issue from one of morality to one of humanity.
Brothels remain unlicenced in the UK but Jean is still fighting. After the death of Shirley in October 2008, she stepped it up. No longer satisfied with just legalising prostitution, Jean now wants to get rid of the stigma attached to it. As she says in an interview with the UK's Daily Mail, the girls involved are "somebody's daughters, somebody's granddaughters, somebody's sisters."
Thank you to Jean and Shirley for reminding us that all of our girls - regardless of their profession - deserve to be treated with respect.
*You can watch A Lady's Guide to Brothels at the SBS website by clicking the link above.