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Immoral or Empowered?
April 10, 2003 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Whether she is called a geisha, a courtesan, a prostitute, or a dominatrix, women who make their living by offering intimate, one-on-one companionship to men (sexually or otherwise- as is more often the case) have been around since day one. Often reviled, marginalized, and belittled, are they truly the hapless victims and social parasites they are often portrayed as? Or is this sort of profession really one of the few areas where an intelligent woman can achieve financial security and prosperity, even in a patriarchal society? (note: I am well aware that sex is not normally part of the deal with geishas and dommes. However, they are frequently lumped in this category.)
posted by evilcupcakes (50 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Or is this sort of profession really one of the few areas where an intelligent woman can achieve financial security and prosperity

There are millions of women, intelligent and otherwise, who have independent financial security and prosperity without having used any aspect of their sexuality, including myself. But I concede that the countries where this is possible are few in number.
posted by Summer at 9:05 AM on April 10, 2003


It should be legal, the US is unusual in that regard. Most of the negative stereotypical results come about because it is illegal. This is a womans issue to figure out what they want, womens freedom to choose or not. The notion that women are forced into it and forced to stay by men is absurd in this day and age.
posted by stbalbach at 9:07 AM on April 10, 2003


"Lick my fricken toes, you worm!!" Whaaaa-Cha!

Heh.

There's nothing better than an intelligent woman achieving financial security by intimidating and beating the snot out of some moron with a psychosexual malfunction...
posted by Perigee at 9:16 AM on April 10, 2003


stbalbach,

I agree that prostitution should be decriminalized, but you're wrong in saying that women in the US aren't sometimes forced to stay in it by men. Bouncing at strip clubs put me through university. One of the clubs I used to work at would make offers to girls from various countries, mainly Costa Rica. These women were very much indentured servants, and I found out that at least some of them were forced into prostitution on the side.

There's also a difference between being an escort and being a street walker. If you're a street walker with a pimp you may have voluntarily entered into the agreement but you can't voluntarily get out of the agreement.
posted by substrate at 9:18 AM on April 10, 2003


...some moron with a psychosexual malfunction...

Because if it ain't hetero and vanilla, it's clearly a malfunction.
posted by Jairus at 9:20 AM on April 10, 2003


so decriminalise prostitution, and make pimping illegal.

In fact, prostitution isn't illegal in the UK. Soliciting (standing on the street corner) and running a brothel are.

There is nothing legally wrong with a woman selling her body or time as long as she doesn't advertise and she is alone at that address.
posted by twine42 at 9:25 AM on April 10, 2003


I don't see why soliciting, advertising or running a brothel should be illegal. The more legal barriers you remove, the harder the pimp's job becomes.
posted by Summer at 9:32 AM on April 10, 2003


There are millions of women, intelligent and otherwise, who have independent financial security and prosperity without having used any aspect of their sexuality, including myself.

Actually, I was speaking more historically (as well as addressing other parts of the world where women don't have as many career options). In the past, when there were few opportunities for women outside of marriage and hard labor, this kind of work could give her financial security and independence- and even in some cases high social status.
posted by evilcupcakes at 9:35 AM on April 10, 2003


if you're supposedly aware that geishas are incorrectly put into the category with prostitutes, why do you persist in doing it?
posted by dagnyscott at 9:36 AM on April 10, 2003


I am absolutely in support of legalized prostitution. I recall reading a statistic one that many, many cops are in favor of it as well, and they had all sorts of reasons why that sounded very solid, but I have no idea what that statistic was or why.

Good morning! No coffee.
posted by padraigin at 9:37 AM on April 10, 2003


I don't see why soliciting, advertising or running a brothel should be illegal.

Soliciting and Brother-related crimes are on the books because of their impact in a community. While one person soliciting may not be a problem, if a few dozen prostitutes show up on your average residential block, rent a house, and set up shop, odds are that there's going to be a property crime increase in that neighborhood, possibly followed by drug trade, etc.

Not that prostitution itself is the problem, but the manner that prostitution seems to self-organize in North America makes it very easy for crime to develop in those areas. Having soliciting-related laws on the books is, in essence, a way to keep prostitution decentralized, and keep police resources away from preventable petty/property crime.
posted by Jairus at 9:42 AM on April 10, 2003


In Hungary prostitution is legal, but pimping is not. That has not made pimps go away. Actually, the trade goes on pretty much as it always did, with brothels, streetwalking, and pimping intact.

If you are going to classify geisha as prostitutes, why stop there? How many bar waitresses are paid to act as surrogate wife-figures to lonely old men who want somebody to pour their coffee and listen to their problems?
posted by zaelic at 9:43 AM on April 10, 2003


Because if it ain't hetero and vanilla, it's clearly a malfunction.

You said it. If I want to listen to "Pac Man Fever" while being tied to the shower rod and have my wife hit me with frozen salmon chunks while she dances around me smoking a big cigar, wearing a gas station attendant's outfit, and sporting oversized clown shoes - it's my own damn business.

And it's prefectly normal.
posted by bradth27 at 9:44 AM on April 10, 2003


Another view.
posted by rushmc at 9:47 AM on April 10, 2003


Jairus, it's not that brothels will bring crime and drugs into a community, though I concede that there is probably a correlation between pros and drug use. Brothels will more than likely pop up in already depleted communities where there is less law enforcement, less watching by the authorities, i.e., places where crime is already thriving. I don't see how prostitution brings crime, other than in itself it is a crime, and if it were not a crime, and regulated, taxed and unionized for the workers, then crime has a more difficult time infiltrating if it is regulated.

The US needs a red-light district. Instead of people complaining about porn and drugs in their communities, zone it legally into one segment and make sure there is police protection on the streets. Make it less dirty and more the reality, which is that more people than not want access to porn, sex workers and illicit drugs. It's not like these things are not thriving already. It's stigma is part of the appeal of the criminals.
posted by archimago at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2003


Hello!

Look at the statistic, look at the stereotypes, look at the cases in point. It's an act of desperation and self loathing more often than it's not. Must I be the only feminist around? It's the oldest profession because patriarchy is the oldest social order around.

The way to make women financially secure and independent is to let them be doctors and lawyers and bus drivers and ....
posted by jjrr at 10:07 AM on April 10, 2003


archimago: I'm not suggesting that prostitution is directly responsible for other crime, but traditionally that's what's happened in North America when prostitution has grown in an area. That could be as a result of our stigmatization of sex work, and because it's considered a 'deviant' thing, that other deviant activities are drawn to that area, or a thousand other reasons. It's correlative data, not causal.

A red-light district would be a good idea, if the police were committed to keeping it safe, and the government was committed to keeping it safe. Without support from both ends, it'd get pretty messy.

jjrr: How is calling sex workers desperate and self loathing a feminist point of view? Prostitution is as old as Goddess worship, which was certainly not a patriarchal age.
posted by Jairus at 10:11 AM on April 10, 2003


if you're supposedly aware that geishas are incorrectly put into the category with prostitutes, why do you persist in doing it?

Because, as I stated in my post, society, particularly western society, tends to lump the art of geisha in with the concept of prostitution. I was also trying to emphasize that often it isn't the actual sexuality of the situation that people are uncomfortable with, it's the idea of a woman selling her time, talents, and charm to a man and a man's willing to pay for it.
posted by evilcupcakes at 10:11 AM on April 10, 2003


Here in Nevada, where prostitution is legal (in some counties), it is quite heavily regulated. While I'm pretty certain the employees of the brothels aren't making themselves rich in the profession, I dont think they're being particularly oppressed either. As for an associated crime rate link, I doubt brothels ever promote behavior any worse than that seen at a rowdy night at the local bar of your choice. My hyperlink doesn't seem to be working, but check out www.nvbrothels.com for some info (some links NSFW) as well as www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_Nevada
posted by elendil71 at 10:29 AM on April 10, 2003


So save me a place
In a $10 grave
With those who took money
For the pleasure they gave.

-Leonard Cohen
posted by Danf at 10:31 AM on April 10, 2003


jjrr: I consider myself a feminist and support the decriminalization of prositution, just as I support a woman's decision to do anything else she pleases with her body. Many (not, I realize, all) of the negatives and dangers inherent in sex work today stem from the illegality of the act (it's easier to exploit/abuse/kill someone in a situation where she has no protection under the law), and from the way our culture marginalizes those "dirty women" who have the gall to see their own sexuality as a commodity that they can use as they see fit (social ostracism makes the industry more likely to attract or encourage those with drug problems and other already-marginalized groups).

Is sex work for everyone? Hell no; I wouldn't want to be a prostitute - but then, I wouldn't want to be a bus driver either.
posted by hilatron at 10:46 AM on April 10, 2003 [1 favorite]


I don't know about your city, but in Denver there are brothels everywhere. They are called spas, massage parlors or escort services, but it's the same thing, and the officials look the other way.
posted by kozad at 10:58 AM on April 10, 2003


note: I am well aware that sex is not normally part of the deal with geishas and dommes. However, they are frequently lumped in this category.

re dominitrix, perhaps not intercourse per se, but that would be a narrow view of sex. I'm curious if people are defensive with pairing geisha and prostitutes together because of the negative connotations of the latter?
posted by G_Ask at 10:58 AM on April 10, 2003


Because if it ain't hetero and vanilla, it's clearly a malfunction.


All the things that don't involve pain or humilation are fine and dandy by me, even if they are not something I particularly want to do. For the most part, I don't think it's anyone else's business what someone does sexually or who with. However... if you enjoy pain and/or humiliation as part of sex, there is just something fundamentally fucking WRONG with you. No person should ENJOY pain or humiliation. It's not PC to say so, but come on, everyone knows this deep down. How many people would be happy if, someday down the road, your grown daughter or son told you that they were in a slave relationship with someone they are subservient to, call "Master", and get beaten by during sex?
posted by CoFenchurch at 11:11 AM on April 10, 2003


I want to listen to "Pac Man Fever" while being tied to the shower rod and have my wife hit me with frozen salmon chunks while she dances around me smoking a big cigar, wearing a gas station attendant's outfit, and sporting oversized clown shoes

*quonsar enters, slaps $100 bill on the table.*

well, i'm out.
posted by quonsar at 11:22 AM on April 10, 2003


CoFenchurch
First of all, have you ever been bitten or scratched during sex and enjoyed it? It's not that unreasonable to enjoy pain. It doesn't have to even be that extreme, like being spanked lightly or even blindfolded. It's not that big of a deal.

And most BDSM relationships are mutual and change. Today the slave, tomorrow the master. This is like a normal relationship, where the power between the couple may change back and forth from day to day, although perhaps a little more exaggerated.

Furthermore, it's not like they really are a slave. They have contracts and agreements what is ok, and not ok. And if one person breaks the contract, the person involved may leave them, and they will have serious problems convincing another sub to join a relationship with them.
posted by stoneegg21 at 11:27 AM on April 10, 2003


jjrr: Are male prostitutes also on the margins of the patriarchy? There are plenty of male pros working the streets/classifieds.

I hate to break it to the feminists in the crowd, but that argument doesn't float anymore. There are enough women in power positions in all fields to be equally responsible for the perpetuation of a society that pushes women into the streets in acts of desperation. At least in the U.S., women have every opportunity as men. If you do not see how far society has progressed then you want to be a victim.

If a woman chooses to become financially independent as a sex worker, who are we to judge her method??
posted by archimago at 11:27 AM on April 10, 2003


Nerve.com News of the Week on School for prostitutes opening in Amsterdam
I just got back from my first European trip to Germany and Amsterdam. Me and my girlfriend took a stroll thru the Red Light District for kicks. I was amazed by the number of shops advertising "Live Sex Shows" and "Live Fucking". I was also dumbstruck by the women lined up in windows wearing lingerie. Some of them looked like they had been doing it for a while; meaning that they looked very weathered and old and like nothing I would ever want to be with. But I was also shocked to find the alleyways with glass doors which behind sat some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. It was very surreal. Myself, ever the stupid tourist, tried to take pictures of the nice looking ones, (no doubt so I could go home and say "Dude! Look at this whore in the window!!) and found them drawing the curtains in front of them and peeking later to see if I'd put the camera away. Only then did I get the realization that these were real people doing this.


I came back from the trip with a sense that the Europeans have a lot of stuff right that we don't, though I still love the USA.

When I read this article earlier today I found that the madam of the school says "Women should not be prostitutes. Women with enough self-esteem don't do this kind of work," which, coming from her mouth puts it in a new perspective for me.
posted by daHIFI at 11:29 AM on April 10, 2003


odds are that there's going to be a property crime increase in that neighborhood

actually, the worse offenders in these terms are shopping malls and retail centers. crooks go where the money and goods are. predators go where the prey is. go to any police department in any suburban area where intense retail development has recently occurred and they will give you statistics that tell the story - sharp increases in property crimes and accompanying increases in assaults, rapes and other crimes against persons. i guess commerce of all stripes should be banned. :P
posted by quonsar at 11:52 AM on April 10, 2003


re dominitrix, perhaps not intercourse per se, but that would be a narrow view of sex.

I completely agree with you. however, having worked in the S&M field in the past, I know that many dommes get rather defensive if you even remotely imply that their occupation involves sex.

I think again that this is one of the reasons I included geishas as well as dominatrix and prostitutes. There is more than the raw exchange of bodily fluids going on here. I believe it's the intimate psychological component people find threatening. Most dommes never take their clothes off, yet the are more stigmatized than most strippers.
posted by evilcupcakes at 11:57 AM on April 10, 2003


Stonegg21, if you think that BDSM is a nation of switches, you've been playing talky-talk on the Internet too much. They're a Vast Minority in the community.
posted by Perigee at 11:59 AM on April 10, 2003


I think I posted this the last time this subject came under discussion, although without, perhaps, any kind of commentary. I'm not sure.

There's a website that reviews "working girls" called Punternet. I find it very interesting, though not, perhaps, for the reasons intended by the site's designer. The voices of the customers in this business tend not to be heard, and it is informative to read their motivations, what they want and what they think they want. Some of them are articulate, others barely literate. You can also click through to the Working Girls' own sites and those of the establishments where they work, again very enlightening as long as one keeps one's critical faculties about one.

There appear to be a lot of very young Eastern European women working in the business in London. I suspect they are not wholly in charge of their own destinies, but am prepared to be corrected on that point.

The most popular factors seem to be Value For Money and The Girlfriend Experience, which I find rather sad. But I suppose I'm not in a position to comment.

There's also a messageboard to which both Working Girls and Punters post, which might again be informative.

I probably ought to avoid sites like this: As a man I find pornography (which this literally is) oppressive and manipulative and - yes, I suppose - degrading and possibly more offensive than most women do these days. That is not a comment about what I feel about what people ought or ought not to do, nor is it a comment about sexuality. It is simply my response to the business.

Should it all be legal? Of course. Almost everything that people can enter into rationally should be legal and regulated. But I don't see why that should put it beyond criticism.

(In case you were wondering, I got the link via ntk.)
posted by Grangousier at 12:14 PM on April 10, 2003


...I know that many dommes get rather defensive if you even remotely imply that their occupation involves sex.
I can't argue with one's personal preference, and thank goodness there are a variety out there.

I think again that this is one of the reasons I included geishas as well as dominatrix and prostitutes. There is more than the raw exchange of bodily fluids going on here. I believe it's the intimate psychological component people find threatening. Most dommes never take their clothes off, yet the are more stigmatized than most strippers.

I'm glad you included geishas. I mights also add the Greek hetairai. A hundred opinions and twice as many definitions of "prostitution". Thanks for this post.
posted by G_Ask at 12:25 PM on April 10, 2003


Not the best link of hetairai, but I couldn't resist ("Hooker Heroes"-- ha).
posted by G_Ask at 12:31 PM on April 10, 2003


jjrr: What we may be witnessing here is the male gaze filtering the information. If it's ok, if the prostitutes enjoy it, if they are wondrously expressing their modern sexuality, then there is less of a stigma for men to patronize these workers. Or fantasize about them (not that I think that's wrong). Or not support social programs that might give these people some help. I agree that entering the sex trade is very, very rarely some sort of political act of self expression.
posted by rainbaby at 12:33 PM on April 10, 2003


A point: a lot of people don't enjoy their jobs, or are humiliated and degraded at work. Sex need not be involved for this to be the case.
posted by Songdog at 12:51 PM on April 10, 2003


At least in the U.S., women have every opportunity as men. If you do not see how far society has progressed then you want to be a victim.

archimago, while I agree with your conclusions, I have to say that your statement is factually incorrect. Women learn less per hour than men in this country still, and have fewer advancement opportunities. This is a far cry from being a victim, wanting to be a victim, choosing prostitution as a trade, or other notions of society's "progress" but when the US's largest private employer systematically underpays its female workers, and continually fails to promote them in any sort of merit or seniority based way, it's hard to ignore that there is some sort of dscrimination going on. I'm not whining about it, and I'm not saying there haven't been many other important advancements, but there is still a long way to go.
posted by jessamyn at 2:07 PM on April 10, 2003


a lot of people don't enjoy their jobs, or are humiliated and degraded at work.

damn straight.
posted by quonsar at 3:12 PM on April 10, 2003


It should be legal, the US is unusual in that regard. Most of the negative stereotypical results come about because it is illegal.

First I've noticed the police ignore it until the people from the area start complaining about it; seen this both in California & Texas.

But there is some rhyme to it being illegal. Notice where it is illegal; the sleazy side of the city. The last thing we need is for our cops wasting their time answering a domestic dispute because some guy can't keep his pecker in the right hole. So you don't have two woman battling it out, over some smuck.
Most wives know that there husbands are cheating with a hooker yet they don't care because he comes home to her in the end. Plus she done with him & gets what she wants, the credit cards.
The hooker is making a buck, no care either.
But how to keep the paths from crossing from a police prospective. The wife is not about to go to the sleazy side of town to track her husband's fling down, if one day she gets upset. Nor will the hooker be hanging out at the same establishments as the wife either, she on the other side of town. So keeping it illegal, wink wink; in a sense, wink wink; keeps their paths from never crossing. The police know this, why they also turn a blind eye. That is how you keep all sides at peace.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:59 PM on April 10, 2003



Women learn less per hour than men in this country still, and have fewer advancement opportunities.


Come again?
posted by lalas at 4:15 PM on April 10, 2003


Come again?

earn
posted by jessamyn at 4:29 PM on April 10, 2003


{the two above}
Hey! no soliciting you two :P
posted by thomcatspike at 4:37 PM on April 10, 2003


What Jessamyn said.


Are male prostitutes also on the margins of the patriarchy? There are plenty of male pros working the streets/classifieds.

When they are teens who have been kicked out of the house for being gay and have to prostitute themselves in order to survive, yeah then they are.

For example, a while back an organization that helps gay kids wanted to open a homeless shelter for them in the Castro. Huge uproar from people who didn't want their property values dimished. I bet some of the same people who rallied to block approval of the shelter in their neighborhood go down to Polk St. (the gay red light district in S.F.) from time to time, cruising for teenage hustlers. Bastards.

But I see the problem as larger than can be described by the word "patriarchy". People who "have" want to continue having and want their families to be "haves" too. They don't want to share it with the "have-nots". The "have-nots", in their opinion, are okay as long as they are providing a service, otherwise they are a threat to their prosperity and sensibilities that must be kept in their place. In the past most of the "haves" have been men; now, there are quite a few women "haves" as well.

I support the right of anyone to choose prostitution for a career, provided that they are not coerced, doing it to support a drug habit, or doing it so they can afford a meal and maybe a place to sleep for the night. The fact that so many people are doing it for the aforementioned reasons should be the thing that outrages you, not prostitution in and of itself.
posted by echolalia67 at 4:43 PM on April 10, 2003


patriarchy is the oldest social order around.

Really?

I grew up in a matriarchy, and it seems to me that most places, under the surface, are.


That's why men drink more, IMHO.
posted by spazzm at 5:42 PM on April 10, 2003


I was also trying to emphasize that often it isn't the actual sexuality of the situation that people are uncomfortable with, it's the idea of a woman selling her time, talents, and charm to a man and a man's willing to pay for it.

Anyone with a job sells their time and talents, and many people sell their charm that would never be considered in the same class as prostitutes. Most people who work in customer service are selling their charm to the company they work for, and indirectly selling it to everyone who patronizes that company. So is the only distinction that it's a female worker and a male employer or client? Of course, prostitution doesn't always work that way, so that can't be it...
posted by dagnyscott at 9:25 PM on April 10, 2003


I've always wanted to own a brothel. And wear Mae West outfits. Especially the hats. I love the hats. I never wanted to be a prostitute...but being a Madame always looked like fun.
posted by dejah420 at 10:50 PM on April 10, 2003


I don't think any of you who claim to want prostitution legal have the slightest idea how such a thing would dramatically alter common every day society. This is an ancient and tired debate. The fact is simply this. Men are in power. If prostitution goes unchecked, especially if you can remove male-dominating pimping from the picture, eventually the 'madames' who control brothels will amass a rather hefty financial status, and those madames would become very influential in the community and politics in ways which more prudish and old-fashioned types would find despicable. Now, imagine these madames and the ladies who they employ were to find a way to unionize. They'd be more powerful than any other union in the history of the planet, with the ear (and *ahem* other bodyparts) of any powerful gentlemen for whom they happen to provide services.

Prostitution is illegal, and has been since the dawn of mankind, because allowing a woman to utilize her sexuality unconstrained by laws would eventually turn any civilized society into a matriarchy, where attractive and manipulative women control the economy and the influence of the men in society.

This wouldn't be a bad thing if the attractive and manipulative women happened to have the best interests of humanity at heart, but in my experience, attractive and manipulative women, the kind of women who would be most ideal in the profession in question, are not the ideal kind of woman for global domination, as they're usually rather self-centered and reactionary. The Mother Teresas of this world do not tend to become madames in brothels, whether the profession is legal or not.

That kind of power in the kind of hands that... well, I'd like to see prostitution legalized but at the same time I would not necessarily like to see the ramifications of that. Perhaps it's best to leave well enough alone. Perhaps it should happen. It's not going to happen.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:54 PM on April 10, 2003


I hate to break it to the feminists in the crowd, but that argument doesn't float anymore. There are enough women in power positions in all fields to be equally responsible for the perpetuation of a society that pushes women into the streets in acts of desperation. At least in the U.S., women have every opportunity as men. If you do not see how far society has progressed then you want to be a victim.

Women who come from stable homes in prosperous areas have a good chance of getting good jobs and leading independent lives in Western societies. That doesn't mean society is run by women. The majority of decision makers - politicians, judges, business leaders etc - are still men.

Where the old order asserts itself is where the benefits of society - education, wealth, respectability - can't protect women. As echolalia67 points out, prostitution is the last resort for the abandoned, poor and abused. There are male prostitutes but I'm willing to bet they're much fewer in number than female prostitutes.

When there's no protection from society, men turn to violence and crime, women to prostitution. The strong feed off the weak. Those who think that feminism has no relevance anymore to western societies should read about what happens to young girls on poverty-stricken estates in France. The old hatred of women, disgust at sex and desire to humiliate is always there, just waiting to come out.
posted by Summer at 3:27 AM on April 11, 2003


Prostitution is illegal, and has been since the dawn of mankind
That's not true. In most countries it is legal.

Now, imagine these madames and the ladies who they employ were to find a way to unionize. They'd be more powerful than any other union in the history of the planet, with the ear (and *ahem* other bodyparts) of any powerful gentlemen for whom they happen to provide services.
In Holland the prostitutes are unionized. The social order has not collapsed. Everybody involved is happier.
Legalization, trade unions and acceptance will be the demise of the mafias
posted by talos at 4:52 AM on April 11, 2003


CoFenchurch
...if you enjoy pain and/or humiliation as part of sex, there is just something fundamentally fucking WRONG with you. No person should ENJOY pain or humiliation.

You, my friend, are obviously a moron.
posted by eas98 at 7:50 AM on April 11, 2003


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