06/28/2007 01:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Economics of Being a Pretty Woman

I just realized something.

In Pretty Woman, Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) offers Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) $3,000 to spend a week's worth of time with him. I was 12 when I saw the movie for the first time, so obviously the implications of this number escaped me. I'm a little older and wiser, so let's do some handy long division:

$3,000 divided by 7 days is $428.50 per day. Since Vivian is a hooker (with a heart of gold, I know, I know), and hookers don't work regular 8 hour workdays, it is safe to assume that Richard Gere hired her for a full 24 hours a day. $428.50 divided by 24 hours comes out to $17 per hour.

$17 per hour?!

If my recollection serves me right, this figure was the result of a sassy, increasingly heated negotiation between both parties (him clothed, her naked and encased in bubbles, no power differential here). And what was Vivian's reaction to his final offer? She yelped with pleasure, then duck dived under the freakishly soapy bathwater, and popped up, grinning wide like an Alaskan seal on crack.

Now, I may be overlooking some key points here. $17 per hour isn't too shabby. In 1992, Clinton had just initiated a minimum wage "hike" from $3.80 to $4.15. By these standards, our girl Vivian's doing good. She's definitely making more than the 16 year old Dominican kid at McDonald's. If she were to retain that hourly wage rate, that would work out to $45,696 annually. Which is certainly more than I raked in at my first corporate job, straight out of college. However, let's be fair. A one-time, $17 per hour engagement is hardly a windfall. Worse, it does not justify Edward's barely concealed "your gravy train has arrived" smirk. More realistically, Vivian might accumulate enough stash to make that important symbolic transition from storing her cash in the toilet water tank, to stuffing it in her mattress. "But wait," you say. "Let's not forget that she does get to kick it at the penthouse suite in the Wilshire Beverly Hills, swill champagne and strawberries, attend the opera in diamonds (borrowed, mind you), and go shopping on Rodeo Drive with his platinum credit card."

Fair enough.

On the other hand, Vivian also suffers the humiliation of getting kicked out of upscale fashion boutiques because they "don't serve people like her," the anxiety of having to learn how to eat a proper seven course meal with tricky silverware, the identity-obliterating designation of herself as Edward's "niece," a near rape by George "shrimp store" Costanza, and the ensuing cognitive dissonance at the end of their 7 day fee agreement, when she has to pack up her things and go back to turning tricks on Hollywood and Vine.

Only after we see her shattered self-esteem and uncertain future (apparently, an opera-going hooker is a sad hooker), does Edward save the day by pulling up to her place, overcoming his acrophobia, and taking her in his arms. They live happily after after in domestic bliss, and Vivian continues to create controversy at derby races by whooping and making fart sounds like Arsenio Hall.

A woman's dignity, salvaged for $17 an hour. In the words of Pickering in My Fair Lady: you said you'd make a woman, and indeed you did. Well played, Edward.

And how about that awesome soundtrack?