Sex work, I have written, defines the people who do it like no other occupation. Associated with deviance, drug use, mental illness and disease, to be labelled a “prostitute” is to be cast as the lowest of the low. No matter the realities of our experiences, we are thought of as victims and as inherently damaged, either before or as a result of our profession. Worst of all, once a sex worker, always a whore.
-Melissa Petro, Jezebel
And that, right there, in a few simple sentences, sums up the point and power of Inara in the Firefly ‘verse. For all you may disagree with aspects of sex work represented, this comment (and the entire article) highlight just what it was Inara was supposed to flip around. Rather than be the lowest of the low – an attitude still embraced in some parts of the ‘verse and clearly exemplified in Mal – as a whole, Companions were on the top of the social class system a pyramid. (And, in fact, with Nandi, you get to see how Companions themselves maintain social and class structure.)
Inara was not a victim. She didn’t need rescuing, from her choices or her career. There was no societal stigma to her profession, and she certainly would not have been fired from a teaching position for having previously been a Companion.