Inara

Inara Serra (played by Morena Baccarin)
Inara is what's called a Companion, which is kind of like a prostitute. The key difference is that a Companion chooses her own clients, and is considered to be upper class. Here's where I kind of take issue with the show, because the tone seems to imply that this makes her empowered. Prostitution, from Inara's perspective, is only a bad thing because the woman is victimized and objectified. I would disagree with the show's conclusion, and say that while the idea of Companions avoids some of the evils of prostitution, the fact that she makes her living sleeping with other people has problems in itself. It separates the sexual act from the expression of faithful and permanent love and commitment. This career would have some serious negative impacts on Inara's ability to form relationships with other people (friendships, too, not just romantic relationships). And this is not to mention the effect it has on the psychological well being of any of her clients.

Even though the show tends to lean more towards favoring Inara's opinion of her career, it does present another side. Mal cares about Inara, and makes it clear that he disapproves of her career. He goes to great trouble to show that he does not think she should be treated like an object. This might not be apparent at first, because he refers to her as a "whore" (albeit with his tongue placed firmly in his cheek) when the "proper" term is Companion. But we see that this is not done to objectify Inara, but to show his distaste for her line of work. It's meant more as an insult to the idea of Companions than it is to Inara herself.

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