Archive for June, 2011

We hear only those questions for which we are in a position to find answers.  –  Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s time once again for me to answer reader questions!  If you have one of your own, please email it to me and I’ll be happy to answer you to the best of my ability.

I wondered could you give me a quick definition of archeofeminism and how it differs from neofeminism?

What I call “archeofeminism” is the exact opposite of “neofeminism”.  “Archeofeminism” (from the Greek “archeo-” meaning “old”) is the recognition that men and women are already socially equal by nature, and the only way in which we become socially unequal is by the actions of laws.  Archeofeminists recognize that men and women are by our very natures different; we think differently, act differently and want different things, so though it’s good for a society to say “individuals can pursue whatever path they like,” it’s stupid to expect that large numbers of women will ever want to act and live like men, and forcing people to pretend otherwise is tyranny.

“Neofeminism” (from the Greek “neo-” meaning “new”) is the belief that there are no natural behavioral differences between the sexes and that all gender (other than genital dimorphism) is “socially constructed”.  Neofeminists believe that if infant boys were “socialized” in the same way as girls they would act exactly like girls, even into manhood.  Furthermore, since neofeminists don’t believe in sex differences they believe the female standard of behavior is the only “right” one, and that male behavior is therefore pathological.  Paradoxically, they also believe that power systems arising from natural male behaviors (such as corporate and professional hierarchies and externalized validation) are preferable to less competitive female norms, and that women “should” seek externalized achievement, competition and validation as men do.  The upshot of all this is that they advocate the brutal legal suppression of all traditional gendered behavior, whether public or private; they believe that women who make their livings by traditional female paths such as sex work or marriage should be forced into male-like careers, and that sex should be entirely controlled by the state so as to promote neofeminist ideas of “equality”.  Ultimately, most of them would probably like to see the development of parthenogenesis so that men can be entirely eradicated.

Since you’re a former sex worker and current wife I’m interested in your take on the “Obedient Wives Club”, a bunch of wives who blame high divorce rates and the like on wives not satisfying their husbands.  They’re obviously a fringe group, but I get the sense they’re getting at something real.  How many husbands with neo-feminist influenced wives are unhappy?

In some aspects of their beliefs they’re in the general vicinity of something real, while in others they’re pretty distant.  It’s obviously a dramatic overstatement to claim that “all” male-female issues are the fault of rebellious wives; if couples took the trouble to find out what each needed from the other and to clearly set forth their expectations and make honest compromises and realistic promises, there would be a lot fewer unhappy marriages.  IMHO a lot of the dissatisfaction and unhappiness of modern women derives from neofeminist teachings, specifically the ones which concentrate on a woman’s “rights” in a marriage while pretending that the man has none, the denial that relationship sex is transactional, and the refusal to accept that most men are by nature dominant and tend to feel unhappy and restless if they feel their lives are out of control.  A wife who constantly argues about everything and insists that even the smallest details of domestic arrangements be negotiated (except for sex, over which she retains absolute control) is going to make her husband miserable…and usually herself as well.

I’m sure you’ve read about how transsexuals and closeted homosexuals are usually unhappy as teenagers; they have far higher suicide rates than other adolescents and their early relationships are nearly always troubled.  Why?  Because they’re trying to be something they’re not.  When one is forced by social pressure to conform to a mode of behavior at odds with one’s guts, one is bound to be miserable and to make others miserable as well.  Certainly there are some women who really do prefer to “wear the pants” in a relationship, or who really do enjoy discussing everything to death, but the majority of women are unconsciously disappointed when their husbands allow them to run all over them, and it rots the relationship from within.  This is because most women are attracted to strength and competence in men, and find male weakness and submissiveness repulsive.  The neofeminists claim that’s due to “social construction of gender”, but tell that to lions, bears, elephants and most other mammals.  Most women who try to convince themselves that they don’t want a strong man, and indeed tell every man within earshot the same thing, are miserable if they get what they claim to want and miserable if they don’t because their minds and their spirits are going north and south.  This does not mean I believe this club is right in espousing unquestioning obedience; though some women can handle that sort of relationship and even thrive in it, it isn’t for everyone.  Most women absolutely do want their voices to be heard and their wishes considered; they just don’t want a spineless wimp.

For the sexual part, they’re pretty close to the mark, though they again assign too much weight to the woman’s behavior.  Men crave sexual variety, so even if a wife gives a man everything he wants in bed he may still stray, and if he does so she had better hope he goes to one of those prostitutes the club hopes to drive out of business rather than some available bit of amateur tail.  I do think that most men’s need for variety can be satisfied by sexual experimentation and fantasy inside the marriage, though, and that a wife who gives a husband what he wants in bed as often as he wants it, dramatically increases the chance for a happy, fulfilling marriage for both parties.

I haven’t had very many sexual relationships in my life, and have become so used to masturbation that I can’t have orgasms with other people.  I would very much like to be able to orgasm with my girlfriend, but haven’t been able to yet; do you think that a professional sex worker could teach me to have an orgasm with a partner?

I think it’s certainly possible that an experienced pro might be able to teach you, but of course it depends on your finding the right one.  I suspect your problem might be due to performance anxiety, which means a man worrying that he won’t do a good job, that his partner will be unsatisfied or even look down on him (especially if he climaxes too quickly).  Men who suffer from this worry so much that they often can’t climax at all, which is much worse than coming quickly!  The main cause of the problem (which is far more common than it used to be) is that men are constantly bombarded with the ridiculous idea that women just want to be pounded for hours, and that if the man orgasms too quickly the woman is angry.  While in many cases that may be true to a degree, what men think is “too quickly” and what is really too quickly are two different things; as long as a man can keep going for five minutes, that’s plenty for most girls no matter what porn tells you (especially if he gives her plenty of foreplay).  Many women can’t even achieve orgasm from intercourse at all, and for those oral or manual stimulation is much more important than an interminable simulation of a piston in a cylinder.

The reason a good pro might help is that you don’t have to care about her satisfaction; she is there to help you with YOUR needs, and therefore you can orgasm any time you like without having to worry as you might with a woman you love.  It may take a few sessions before you can achieve orgasm with an escort, and you’ll have to decide for yourself whether several sessions with one girl or with different girls might be better (my instinct is toward the latter because you don’t really want to get too comfortable with one woman; the idea is for her to be a stranger).  If I’m right, once you are able to orgasm with a woman you should be able to achieve it with your girlfriend because the mental block will be broken.  It’s certainly worth a try, and if it doesn’t work you can always try a sex therapist.  The most important thing is that you don’t get discouraged; if your anxieties are causing the problem, the more you worry the worse it will get.

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We have only to remember that virility was one of the special features of the savage woman…we have portraits of Red Indian and Negro beauties, whom it is difficult to recognize for women, so huge are their jaws and cheekbones, so hard and coarse their features.  –  Cesare Lombroso, from an explanation of why whores are subhuman

For most of history, the only people writing about prostitutes were outsiders, mostly men, and as the Christian Era wore on such writings were increasingly based in some kind of moral agenda (with a concomitant bias against whores).  After the Reformation the idea of the prostitute as victim first appeared, and by the 19th century had become the dominant theme in “studies” which, though they often pretended to be “scientific” in keeping with the mania of the day, were actually nothing more than Christian anti-whore propaganda dressed up in scientific garb so as to support the dominant view that normal women were pure and asexual, and therefore any woman who was sexual had to be some sort of monster.  Not that this was her fault, mind you; since all women were regarded as childlike simpletons only unenlightened brutes like the police thought of prostitutes as malefactors.  “Educated” men and early feminists alike claimed that whores were just born that way, rather like mongoloids or congenital idiots, and therefore had to be protected from our own decisions and “uplifted” from the condition into which we had “fallen”.

Unfortunately for these earnest do-gooders, the vast majority of prostitutes refused to be “uplifted” into such soul-stirring and rewarding careers as domestic service or factory work, and further studies continued to reveal that though most whores came from the “degraded” lower classes, some came from solid middle-class families and should have “known better”.  This was of particular concern in the United States, whose prevailing belief-system made the very idea of class unthinkable unless the individual was of one of the “degraded races” (mostly the Negroes, Jews, Italians and Irish).  From such racist manure grew early 20th-century views on prostitution; though most prostitutes were merely lazy criminals of questionable ancestry, white girls of predominantly Anglo-Saxon, French or Germanic ancestry must have been forced into the trade by evil (usually dark-skinned) “pimps”.  This doublethink spawned two contradictory hysterias:  on the one hand there was a mad rush to enact anti-prostitution laws designed to arrest, punish and “correct” prostitutes of low birth and/or dark skin, while at the same time a moral panic arose over middle-class white girls abducted into the “white slave” trade, and a body of laws were enacted to put a halt to this nonexistent social evil.

The First World War gave Europeans something real to worry about, but the panic continued in the United States until the Great Depression served the same function.  Fascism soon reared its ugly head, followed by the Cold War, so anti-prostitution hysteria slept peacefully in its grave for decades.  Oh, the prohibitionist laws were still in place, police departments continued to persecute and bully women who were trying to make a living, and occasionally a moral reformer might attempt to whip up a pogrom against whores, or a maker of exploitation films would attempt to rekindle the “white slave” panic (with drug addiction as a new element in the myth), but for the most part people weren’t all that worried about prostitutes.  By the 1960s early second-wave feminists were talking about decriminalization, and positive portrayals of call girls were becoming more common in movies and television (though black or poor white streetwalkers were still depicted as invariably under the control of evil pimps).

Unfortunately, this upward trend was not to last; the events of the 1960s gave rise to two major reactionary movements which eventually got in bed with one another to plot further violence against harlots.  The neofeminists appeared in the 1970s, gradually took over feminism by cynically manipulating the doctrine of sisterhood, and used anti-sex panic generated by the AIDS scare to completely take over mainstream feminism by the mid-‘80s.  Meanwhile, the changing face of American culture which followed the upheavals of the ‘60s (including feminism, desegregation, the sexual revolution and computerization) added fuel to the long-smoldering fire of Puritanism, causing a conflagration of religious fundamentalism to sweep the country in the 1980s.  And though neofeminism and religious fundamentalism at first seemed bitter enemies, their shared hatred of sex (especially sexual freedom for women) drew them inexorably together, and by the end of the century they had joined forces against porn and prostitution (though apparently agreeing to disagree on abortion).  Fundamentalists began to include neofeminist “degradation” and “victimization” rhetoric in their anti-sex screeds, and found it worked to influence soi-disant “liberal” lawmakers who viewed arguments based in Christian morality as radioactive.  The turn of the century saw the two in a night-shrouded graveyard together, quietly digging up the corpse of “white slavery” and reanimating it to serve their prohibitionist agenda.  But just as the zombies so popular in recent horror films can be recognized as the people they once were, so trafficking hysteria’s congenital racism is still visible under the gangrene and grave dirt.

prostitution equals rape adDon’t expect any of the trafficking fanatics to admit it; in fact many of them take conscious or unconscious steps to hide it.  The neofeminists have converted the racism into sexism, so that rather than being about “inferior races” victimizing helpless WASPs it’s about “oppressive” men victimizing helpless women.  And though mainstream trafficking fetishists are careful to insist that “it happens all over the world,” it should be obvious to even the most obtuse that trafficking mythology has grown along with prejudice against “illegal aliens”, especially those from Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and East Asia.  “Traffickers” are nearly always cast as ethnic, usually tied to foreign organized crime cartels, and a disproportionate number of those women “investigated” as “trafficking victims” are themselves foreign.  As Laura Agustín has repeatedly written, a great deal of the widespread belief in “trafficking” derives from the racist assumption that people (especially women) from developing countries aren’t clever enough or sophisticated enough to plan a migration to a more economically robust country, to seek out those who can assist them in circumventing measures designed to keep them out, and to decide on a means of work which supports them while keeping them below the radar of immigration authorities.

Because overt racism is uncomfortable to many modern people the desire to keep foreigners out is often cloaked in paternalistic concern for their welfare, but because of the admixture of neofeminism with the “white slavery” mythology men who cross borders in an unorthodox fashion  are generally represented as lawbreaking “illegal aliens” or “human traffickers”, while women are more often cast as passive victims (hence the repeated claims that the vast majority of “trafficked persons” are women and children).  Laws based in this dogma often prosecute the husbands or boyfriends of prostitutes as “pimps” or “human traffickers” and dismiss any denial from the woman as the product of “brainwashing”; in other cases, laws designed ostensibly to “protect victims of trafficking” are worded in such a way as to “rescue” underage white prostitutes while criminalizing underage nonwhite ones.  But in every case, anti-trafficking laws are really about separating people into two groups (whether by race, by sex or by national origin) and denying them both freedom by casting the one as competent (and therefore liable to criminal charges) and the other as incompetent (and therefore in need of “rescue” for their own good).  The distinctions allow governments and their supporters to pretend they exercise some form of objective moral discernment, but they are ultimately immaterial to the prostitute; whether she is incarcerated, institutionalized or deported, she is not allowed to live her life in peace, and whether she is criminalized, demonized or infantilized her judgment and right to adult agency are entirely disregarded.

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A decent boldness ever meets with friends.  –  Homer, Odyssey (VII, 67)

Tartessos.  By Theia, what a dump.

I suppose it was my own fault; I should’ve known better than to trust Derinoe.  She was always restless, constantly talking about leaving Amazonia to see Man’s World before being tied down with children and a farm.  Besides, she pointed out, in peacetime there wasn’t exactly any way for us to distinguish ourselves as warriors, which meant that we’d either be stuck tilling our mothers’ fields or having to endure the back-breaking labor of clearing new land without slaves, since we had neither war in which to capture them nor money with which to buy them from the traders.  And though I couldn’t argue with any of that, something told me that signing on as mercenaries to fight in a war at (literally) the edge of the world probably wasn’t an idea which came straight from Metis.  Yet I ignored my misgivings and let Derinoe fill my head full of stories about the Silver Kingdom and the riches we were sure to win.

So now I’m stranded among barbarians with neither money nor food nor knowledge of the gibberish they speak in this benighted land; Derinoe and the others are all dead, and I haven’t the faintest clue of how to get home even if I cared to endure months of travel on one of those awful galleys (a method of transportation so dangerous and uncomfortable only a man could’ve invented it), which I most certainly don’t.  Riding the whole way would be out of the question even if I had a horse, because all I know is that Amazonia lies in the direction of the sunrise and that nearly every nation between here and Colchis is hostile; though I trust my skill with sword and bow, I also know the difference between confidence and suicide.

If I were still a girl I would cry, but I’m a grown woman of seventeen and our goddesses expect Amazon warriors to have courage in the face of adversity.  I can’t just sit here feeling sorry for myself and dwelling on my misfortunes; I need to take stock of my assets.  Let’s see; my wounds are quite minor, my helmet and shield are undamaged and my sword is vastly superior to any of the crude excuses for weapons I’ve seen in the past few months.  My bow is in good condition and I still have (six, seven) eight arrows before I have to start hunting materials to make more, which won’t be easy in a city (assets, now, not liabilities!)  And I have the protective talisman my mother gave me before I left.  Oh, and when fighting men I have the advantage of surprise because they expect me to be as soft and useless as these frail Western wenches.

But that’s about it.  And I’m hungry now.  I can hear the noises of the marketplace from here, and though I’m sure I could probably steal a melon or a loaf of bread I won’t disgrace Amazon honor by stooping to common thievery; I’ll just have to hike out of the city and carefully stalk some game.  That’ll give me food for at least a few meals, assuming I can find something bigger than a rabbit or one of these filthy sea birds that foul this whole city with their noisome droppings.  There now, that’s a plan at last, thank Metis!  Now to figure out which is the quickest way out of town; I think if I follow this large and well-travelled road from the marketplace I’m bound to come to a gate sooner rather than later.

How now, what is that racket?  Even in a place where people habitually shout at one another, that sounds like trouble.  Well, it won’t hurt to take a look and…NO!  I know these people’s ways are different from ours, but this just can’t be right; this girl is no warrior, yet a man beats her as one would beat a dog who had stolen sausages.  By Themis, I cannot ignore this!  It’s over in an instant; the drunken fool never hears my approach, and before he can strike the terrified girl twice more I lay him low with a sharp blow to his head from the edge of my shield.  As he collapses to the ground, his victim’s eyes grow wide and she looks back and forth from him to me as if she doubts the evidence of her senses.

Within moments, I am surrounded by other women, chattering like a pack of squirrels in their incomprehensible gobbledygook.  They’re pointing at my weapons and looking at my fallen foe, and though I can tell from their inflections they’re asking me questions I just shake my head and hold my arms wide in exasperation.  Suddenly, out of the meaningless sounds I hear a few recognizable words; they are spoken in the tongue of Crete, whose people come often to our land to trade!  I immediately turn to the woman who spoke them and let her know that I understand her.  The others quickly grow quiet, and she says that the women are grateful to me for saving their friend and that they wish me to stay for dinner.

As my interpreter conducts me inside, she tells me (I think) that her education enabled her to guess my race, and she asks how I came to be so far from my native shores.  I explain as best I can in my limited command of her tongue, and she repeats it in Tarshi to their captain, to whom I have been presented.  Before long we eat, and though the Cretan woman tries to explain what kind of place this is, and why the man was assaulting the hapless girl, I am not quite sure that I understand.  There is no word in the Amazon language to name this place or the trade of those who live here, and when she eventually gets me to understand that men pay these women generously just to mate with them for an hour I decide that the men of the Outer World are all quite mad.  But mad or not, I exclaim a prayer of thanksgiving when the Cretan, on instruction from her captain, offers me employment here as a guard at a wage five times that I was promised as a mercenary!

Later that evening, my belly full, I do my best to learn a few words of their babble while on duty in the atrium, watching the women’s customers come and go; only once are my services needed, and even then my scowling presence is enough to cow the fat little man into what I take to be an apology to the woman he had apparently threatened.  The Cretan has apparently been assigned to teach me, for she remains with me all night and patiently explains (through constant repetition and rephrasing until I understand) some of the strange things that men pay the girls for beside mating.  She even tells me that tomorrow I will be paid a bonus equal to half of my daily wages if I agree to whip a customer as one whips a disobedient slave, in other words to hurt but not injure.  Obviously I must not understand correctly; I’m sure I’ll grasp it better when the time comes.  But one thing is for certain: in spite of herself, poor Derinoe set me on the right track after all.  In a few years I will be able to return home far wealthier than most women my age, without having to live in filthy camps or face death every day to accomplish it.

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Now I feed myself with most delicious poison.  –  William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra (I,v)

It’s fascinating how different themes which appear in various columns will pop back up later in combination with other themes.  I especially notice it when I’m doing an update column; though each story usually hearkens back to one column most clearly, some items give me several options and this one in particular gave me four.  Like “A Tale That Grew in the Telling” (April 2nd) it demonstrates how myths grow by distortion and exaggeration of statistics; like “The Eye of the Beholder” (May 11th) it provides an example of behaviors which, even if they disgust us, are none of our business; like “Because We Say So” (June 8th) it provides an example of cultural imperialism on the Indian subcontinent, and like “New Reviews for June” (June 18th) it looks at the difficult lives of Bangladeshi prostitutes.  These four major threads weave together with several minor ones to produce something new, yet familiar; the story actually appeared last summer, but I discovered it only recently and haven’t seen the issue discussed elsewhere:

The use of…Oradexon, a steroid commonly used to make cows fatter, is so widespread amongst prostitutes in Bangladesh that the UK charity, ActionAid reports approximately 90% of the country’s commercial sex workers are addicted to the drug.  Why is a steroid meant for cows so popular amongst prostitutes in Bangladesh?  Hundreds of thousands of girls, some as young as 9-14 years of age, are sold into the commercial sex trade business every year.  Oradexon is favored by many brothel madams as a way to mask the real age of their younger child prostitutes while making their figures more voluptuous.  But the drug also conveniently serves as a cheaper substitute for food.  In a country as impoverished and with as high malnutrition rates as Bangladesh, one can get 100 Oradexon pills for less than a $1.

Despite the popularity of the drug, the majority of the country’s estimated 200,000 sex workers remain unaware of the dangerous side-effects of the drug which include heart disease, kidney failure, osteoporosis and heart failure.  The drug is also highly addictive and has intense withdrawal symptoms such as skin rashes and chronic migraines.  According to AFP sex workers in Bangladesh are owned by brothel madams and have to repay their “purchase cost.”  Sex workers themselves want to use Oradexon because the plumper they are, the more clients they get, and the closer they become to buying their freedom.  “The drug is a sex worker’s only ticket to early freedom as it makes her attractive and helps her to get as many clients as possible,” Rokeya, a former sex worker told AFP.

So how can we get the drug off the market and out of the reach of these madams and their prostitutes?…AFP reports that despite legally needing a prescription for the drug, it is readily available in the teashops that populate Bangladeshi cities, and is often even cheaper than a cup of tea.  In demand with madams, prostitutes and clients?  Looks like the presence of Oradexon in the commercial sex scene of Bangladesh will not be wiped out anytime soon.

OK, let’s get this part out of the way so we can get on to my main point:  this story literally made me feel weak.  Drug addiction disgusts me and governments which allow parents to sell their children into slavery disgust me even more.  But anyone who thinks that life isn’t cheap, dirty and dangerous for the vast majority of people in Bangladesh is living in a fantasy world.  Instead of putting pressure on the government to outlaw slavery, clean up its licensing procedure and carry out periodic inspections for underage girls, Western “rescuers” blame prostitution for this evil system, which is rather like trying to dig up a huge tree by its roots instead of just sawing off the diseased branches.  The cultures of the Indian subcontinent do not view prostitution in the same way as moralistic Westerners do, and the trade is as reasonable a choice for the poverty-stricken women there as it is for many women anywhere else.

Which brings us to the issue of agency; rational adult humans must be free to make their own choices, even if others don’t like what they choose.  The problem here isn’t that people are using a dangerous drug; people do that all over the world, every day, for far less pressing reasons than survival and the possibility of freedom.  The problem here is that some people, many of them minors, are being compelled to take the drug by others.  It’s the compulsion that’s the issue, not the drug itself, yet paternalistic Westerners want to compel them in a different way; the author asks, “how can we get the drug off the market and out of the reach of these madams and their prostitutes?” as though “we” have the right to make the decision for them, like a parent taking a dangerous object away from a small child.  Obviously, we oh-so-evolved Westerners know so much more about how to handle drug abuse than these poor, stupid brown folks; perhaps the author would advocate widespread no-knock raids, shooting old people and dogs and locking up a large percentage of the Bangladeshi population?  Rational adults, even impoverished ones in the Third World, have the right to make their own decisions, even if others (myself included) think those decisions are unwise.

But it’s the rare opportunity to see a tall tale in the process of growth which is the most interesting aspect of the story.  The author writes that “Hundreds of thousands of girls…are sold into the commercial sex trade business every year,” even though she also states that the total prostitute population of Bangladesh is only 200,000 (0.24% of the female population, which seems much too low an estimate for an impoverished country).  Furthermore, one of the articles she links says that there are only 17 licensed brothels in Bangladesh, and the other says that the largest of these has 900 workers.  Even if they were all nearly that large, the total number of brothel girls comes to about 15,000, which is to say 7.5% of the estimated total; presumably the rest are streetwalkers, workers in unlicensed brothels and independent prostitutes working from home, but neither this story nor those to which it links tells us anything about them except for the claim made by one of the sources that 90% of them are addicted to this horrible steroid.  The other source, however, says that it’s 90% of brothel workers who are addicted to it, which seems much more believable than 90% of all prostitutes, especially considering that ActionAid, the charity quoted in the story, can’t tell us anything else about them.  In other words, none of these numbers seem trustworthy; there is no correlation between them and they more closely resemble wild guesses than demographic estimates.  How, then, are we to know that this “90%” figure is any more reliable than the claim that “hundreds of thousands of girls each year” enter an industry whose total size is supposedly only 200,000?

It’s tragic that so many people in this world live in poverty, that human beings have to make desperate choices that those more fortunate than they cannot even comprehend, and that those who hold power in some countries cannot be bothered to enforce laws designed to protect the vulnerable, while governments of other countries spend billions enforcing laws designed to subjugate the innocent.  But none of these problems can be solved by lying, exaggerating and distorting the truth, nor by outsiders infantilizing adults and reducing them to chattel with no more control over their own lives than the adolescent brothel-slaves of Bangladesh.

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Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance.  It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes.  A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.  –  Abraham Lincoln

We say it over and over and over again; most of the problems deriving from prostitution only exist due to criminalization, or else are magnified by it.  No business, no work, in fact no human interaction whatsoever, is completely frictionless; the possibility of mistakes, misunderstandings, missteps and malice exist no matter how legal, respectable and transparent the transaction.  But when the State criminalizes a normal, consensual and common form of human interaction it is pushed into the shadows; solid information on the practice becomes difficult to obtain, unethical or evil people can infiltrate the business and use it as a cloak for predatory behaviors, and those who are victimized by such people have little recourse because if they speak up they are likely to be prosecuted by the state as criminals themselves.  My readers are certainly familiar with the increased danger to prostitutes which derives from criminalization; the subject comes up in this column several times a month and is currently the subject of court proceedings in Canada.  But today I’d like to examine two items which illustrate a few problems which affect (in the first item) clients and (in the second item) the general public.

The following is paraphrased from a story which appeared in The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Illinois on June 13th:

Stephanie Leifheit-Wilson (28) of Springfield pled guilty to theft and extorting more than $40,000 from a lawyer (not named in the story) who says he paid her and her mother, Joyce A. Stuebinger (45), to prevent them from disclosing photos of him in a sexually compromising situation.  Wilson and Stuebinger (whose trial was scheduled for June 20th) claim to have seen pictures of the lawyer having sex with a girl who is 13 or 14.

Police got involved at 4:30 AM on February 16th, when the pair showed up at the lawyer’s home in a taxicab; the lawyer’s wife came to the door, but refused to let them in, and Wilson responded by shouting at her “I will go to the bar with the pictures and get him disbarred, you stupid bitch.”  The wife called police, who arrested both women; she told the police a woman had called her home constantly in the previous months, repeatedly claiming she had pictures of the lawyer with a 14-year-old girl.  Police seized a camera and two cell phones from the women, but Springfield Police Chief Mark Gleason claims that detectives have not looked at any images on the devices.  Gleason says he has “discussed” the possibility of obtaining a search warrant with the state attorney’s office; “Something happened, because he was paying this money,” he said.  But the State’s Attorney, John Milhiser, would not say whether he plans to seek a search warrant.

The lawyer told police that last summer he had sex with a prostitute he believed to be 18 or 19, but Stuebinger was hiding in the bathroom and occasionally opened the door during the session, possibly to take photos.  Stuebinger and Wilson began demanding money soon afterward; he eventually paid Stuebinger about $37,700 and Wilson $4,620.  Stuebinger threatened to tell his wife about the prostitute, which would have jeopardized his marriage.  “I could not let that happen to her or my family,” the lawyer said in a written statement.  “I have had a successful law practice…and I believe I enjoy a very good reputation among my fellow lawyers and have the trust and confidence of my clients and I could not jeopardize that as well.”  Both Stuebinger and Wilson have criminal histories of theft and forgery.

Now, a number of things in this story would remain unchanged even if our profession were decriminalized; adultery is legal, but a blackmail threat involving a non-paid sexual encounter might’ve been just as threatening to the lawyer’s marriage and reputation.  And any man foolish enough to ignore a closed bathroom door (not to mention continuing to plug away once that door was opened even once) was bound to get himself into some kind of trouble sooner or later; even if prostitution were legal underage prostitution wouldn’t be, and since he clearly didn’t bother with references he couldn’t have know the difference.  However, if our trade were not underground there would be far fewer criminals masquerading as honest whores, because most clients are far more cautious than this one and their scheme would therefore be less likely to produce results.  Also, if there were legal, reputable brothels and escort services gentlemen with reputations to worry about might be far more likely to patronize them than to pick up bargain-basement hookers of questionable age and ethics (or to send creepy text messages to amateurs, for that matter).  And though a man caught with a legal prostitute might still have to deal with an irate wife, he would not have to worry about the prospect of losing his professional license or being “investigated” by sleazy cops who have already decided he’s guilty of “something” from the very start.

The second item is actually the abstract for a scholarly paper from The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy which was called to my notice by EconJeff:

Approximately 100,000 visitors came to Denver, Colorado and Minneapolis, Minnesota to attend the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.  Economic theory suggests that men in transit can shift demand for commercial sex work.  We estimate the responsiveness of labor supply to these two conventions, focusing on a previously neglected but increasingly important segment of the prostitution market:  indoor sex workers who advertise on the Internet.  Using a differences-in-differences estimator of prostitution advertisements posted on a major classified ads website, we find that the conventions caused a 29-44 percent increase in advertisements in Minneapolis and a 47-77 percent increase in Denver.  Given the key role prostitution plays in the transmission of STIs, these results imply that focusing public health resources on men in transit may be beneficial.

The amount of misinformation contained in this short paragraph is astonishing.  I’m going to let the phrase “increasingly important segment of the prostitution market” slide because though it seems to imply that the authors think indoor workers used to be a minority, it doesn’t actually say that; it’s possible that they understand that streetwalkers are a minority and are merely referring to the growth of internet advertising.  But what is clear is that these scholarly gentlemen have bought into the “gypsy hordes of hookers” mythology, transferring it from major sporting events to political conventions and supporting the claim by misinterpreting the significance of Backpage or Craigslist ads.  The idea that the number of such ads can be correlated to the number of whores is itself a fallacy of the sort those familiar with the Schapiro Group’s shady methodology may recognize, since it pretends that each ad leads to one unique prostitute (a dubious possibility at best, even if one ignores fake ads placed by police).  Even if that assumption were true, the notion that an increase in the number of ads directly corresponds to an increase in the number of available whores would still be false; since visitors don’t know the local escort boards, local girls might take out new and more highly-visible ads to attract their attention.  But this boner, important as it is, pales into insignificance beside the claim that prostitution plays a “key role…in the transmission of STIs”; as I reported in Friday’s column, only 0.4% of STIs in the United States are related to escorts, the group specifically targeted by this study; the effect of conventions on STD transmission which could be ascertained by this methodology is therefore roughly approximate to zero.

What does this have to do with decriminalization, you may ask?  It is precisely because our profession has been forced underground that myths of nomadic flocks of plague-bearing escorts can be taken seriously by even careless scholars such as these gentlemen.  Had they taken the trouble to do any cross-disciplinary research, they would have discovered the work of numerous scholars who could have told them their “theory” was all wet.  But it isn’t unusual for lazy academics to neglect relatively obscure research outside their own disciplines, and the reason prostitution research is obscure is because the subject is taboo and difficult to acquire grants for unless the “researcher” has a demonstrated anti-whore bias which can be counted on to prejudice her work.  Criminalization contributes to both the dissemination of misinformation and the obstruction of proper research, and that affects our entire society.

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You railers of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, you the pious, the moral, the respectable, as you call yourselves, who stand on your smooth and pleasant side of the great gulf you have dug, and keep between yourself and the dregs, why don’t you bridge it over or fill it up…Why stand you there mouthing with sleek face about morality?  What is morality?  –  an anonymous whore in a letter to The Times, 1858

Yesterday’s column was inspired by scanning the 19th-century sections of Whores in History while preparing to write my column of June 19th, and while researching it I was struck by how little most anti-prostitute rhetoric has changed since the Victorian Era.  Oh, many of the moralists now cloak their need to control others in neofeminist jargon instead of Christian jargon, but that makes very little difference and today I’d just like to point out a few examples of it so you can see exactly what I mean.

The general consensus among Victorian “scholars” was that normal women had no sex drive whatsoever, so it was therefore impossible for any normal woman to choose to be a prostitute.  Some argued that all whores were driven to the trade by extreme privation or forced into it by pimps, while others claimed it was due to “laziness” and a desire to avoid “real work”.  But the most popular view of all was that whores were atavisms, throwbacks to a more primitive human type, and many a 19th-century researcher (especially in Germany, Italy and Russia) eagerly sought prostitutes (always streetwalkers, of course) who would allow themselves to be studied and measured; Cesare Lombruso of Italy claimed that all prostitutes, without exception, had receding foreheads and large jaws, and that some had “exaggerated” growth of the labia or clitoris.  He and his cronies claimed that this cherry-picked “evidence” proved that “primitive” African and American Indian women shared these same features, thus demonstrating that whores were more like “savages” than like highly-evolved Europeans.  And since prostitutes were primitive they were also stupid, and thus incompetent to make their own decisions; this of course was used to excuse tyranny like the Contagious Disease Acts discussed in yesterday’s column, because the government could claim it was forced to arrest, incarcerate and “rehabilitate” prostitutes “for their own good.”

Sound familiar?  Except for the modern replacement of “nature” arguments (whores are born defective) with “nurture” arguments (whores are made defective early in life by sexual abuse), the propaganda is virtually identical.  In both cases non-prostitutes with no personal experience of normal female sexuality (then it was men, now it’s lesbian neofeminists) claim that it’s impossible for a normal woman to choose prostitution, and that all of us are driven to it by extreme privation or forced into it by “pimps” or “traffickers”.  As in Victorian times streetwalkers are studied and the observations are then manipulated and distorted to fit the “theory”, which is applied to all prostitutes; we are all victims of child abuse or rape, all drug addicts, blah blah blah.  Many prohibitionists openly call us stupid, selfish and neurotic, and even the ones who don’t insist that we’re incompetent to make our own decisions.  Just as in Victorian times, these bogus claims are used to rationalize tyranny like the Swedish Model or American-style criminalization on the grounds that it’s “for our own good”.  And though one doesn’t hear the claim that we’re “lazy” from neofeminists very often (because they couldn’t blame that on the almighty Patriarchy), it’s still very popular among religious or lawhead prohibitionists (hence the popular decriminalization slogan, “sex work is work”).

By the late 19th century the varying nonsense claims about prostitutes were eclipsed by the lurid propaganda of the social purity movement, which promoted the “white slavery” and “child prostitution” scares in order to further its agenda.  I’ve written about this moral panic, and its modern reincarnation as the “human trafficking” (and more specifically “child sex trafficking”) hysteria on a number of occasions, but this time I’m going to let Nickie Roberts have the floor.  This is a passage from Whores in History describing the “white slavery” hysteria:

…the social purity campaign looked to the lurid to create its agenda, its two abiding themes being ‘white slavery’ and child prostitution.  The ‘white slave trade’, supposedly an organized international traffic in women, was a Victorian fantasy which formed part of the stock repertoire of melodrama in fiction and theatre at this time.  The typical story involved innocent white adolescent girls who were drugged and abducted by sinister immigrant procurers, waking up to find themselves captive in some infernal foreign brothel, where they were subject to the pornographic whims of sadistic, non-white pimps and brothel-masters.  Middle-class moralists were convinced that a ‘traffic in women’, operated by well-established underworld networks, was going on under their very noses, and they had little difficulty in whipping up a public panic about this non-existent outrage.  In fact the reformers based their evidence for the ‘white slave trade’ on the actual international migration of whores, which had begun to be a sizeable phenomenon during the latter part of the century.  With the internationalization of capitalism and the opening of trade routes to the far outposts of the Empire, millions of people were on the move, migrating from Europe to hoped-for better lives in the Americas and the colonies.  Whores were no exception; taking the migratory option to escape poverty and oppression in their home countries, they travelled thousands of miles to live and work in the cities of the USA, Latin America, Egypt, South Africa and Asia.  Men often moved with them, acting as chaperones and intermediaries who would on arrival in foreign cities introduce whores to sex-trade contacts.

How few words we would have to change for this passage to apply to “human trafficking” hysteria!  But this was published in 1992, almost a decade before the hysteria was reborn under its new name and Laura Agustín began writing on the way voluntary migration of prostitutes is intentionally misrepresented as an organized slave trade.  Let’s hope this iteration of the hysteria collapses more quickly than the last one, and that this time we as a culture can drive the stake through its heart well enough to keep it from crawling out of its well-deserved grave ever again.

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Prostitution is pregnant with disease, a disease infecting not only the guilty but contaminating the innocent wife and child in the home with sickening certainty almost inconceivable; a disease to be feared as a leprous plague; a disease scattering misery broadcast, and leaving in its wake sterility, insanity, paralysis, and the blinded eyes of little babes, the twisted limbs of deformed children, degradation, physical rot and mental decay.  –  The Social Evil in Chicago (1911)

In ancient times disease was usually viewed as a punishment from the gods; bacteria are, after all, invisible to the naked eye, and until the development of the germ theory the advent of illnesses seemed mysterious and even supernatural.  The idea that disease is caused by invisibly-small organisms or “seeds” actually dates to Roman times, but because it could not be proven that such organisms existed until after the invention of the microscope in the 17th century, the theory was never universally accepted even in the medical community, much less among the general public.  And even after Pasteur and others had proven the existence of pathogens, the notion of illness as a punishment for sin never wholly disappeared; rather, it merely mutated into a different form thanks to the realization that cleanliness (which, as the aphorism informs us, is next to godliness) tended to greatly reduce the risk of sickness.  Those who led “clean”, well-ordered, regimented and “godly” lives became ill much less often, and gossips might even explain an exception by whispering that the sufferer had deviated from “proper” behavior in some way.  Since the popularization of the germ theory was contemporary with the “Social Purity” movement, the former neatly dovetailed with the latter in the minds of a large number of Britons and Americans and helped reinforce the push to outlaw “dirty” behaviors such as drinking, extramarital sex (especially with prostitutes) and even masturbation.

Even in ancient times prostitutes recognized that certain diseases were more common among their number than in others, but these illnesses of the Classical Era seem to have been viewed as more of a nuisance than anything else; gonorrhea was completely unknown in Europe before the 11th century, and though lesions consistent with some forms of syphilis have been identified in Roman remains, the absence of any clear description of it in the medical literature supports the theory that this was a milder strain to which most people were resistant.  As gonorrhea seems to have come back from the Middle East with the Crusaders, so syphilis seems to have returned to Europe with Columbus; though the “great pox” was well-established among Pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas, the first recorded European outbreak occurred among French troops in 1495, and they seem to have contracted it from Spanish mercenaries.  This cannot be taken as evidence of rampant homosexuality in the French Army, however, because this early form of the disease was highly contagious even through casual contact and was both more virulent and far more lethal; fortunately Europeans soon developed an immunity to this “proto-syphilis”, and by 1546 it had mutated into the venereal form known today.

By the mid-17th century European whores had largely figured out the visible signs of contagion, but unfortunately both syphilis and gonorrhea can sometimes be transmitted by asymptomatic individuals and so even though the rate of infection among better-informed prostitutes was lower than among other promiscuous individuals (such as members of the upper classes), it was still higher than among the less-promiscuous middle classes, giving rise to the bourgeois notion of prostitutes as carriers of disease.  By the early 19th century all but the least fortunate streetwalkers were scrupulous about examining customers; in French brothels the madam herself generally performed the check before allowing a client access to any of her staff, and in English and American establishments the whores were quite as careful as modern girls, lacking only latex condoms as the final precaution.  As one customer of a Storyville brothel (quoted in Whores in History) wrote, “She approached and seized my genital organ in such a way as to determine whether or not I had the gonorrhea.  She did this particular operation with more knowledge and skill than she did anything else before or after.”  But despite such published accounts and the research of medical doctors like William Acton (who despite his moral opposition to prostitution pointed out that whores were consistently healthier than other working-class women due to their precautions and relative affluence), the myth of the “diseased whore” grew and in 1864 the English Parliament passed the first of several Contagious Disease Acts, which were rationalized as measures to root out venereal disease in the armed forces but were actually nothing more than anti-prostitution laws.

The Act created a police “morals squad” which was empowered to define any woman in London as a “common prostitute”, at which point she was arrested and hauled in chains before a magistrate who could order her to undergo a medical examination; if she refused (due to such minor details as, say, not actually being a prostitute) she could be confined to a “Lock Hospital” (basically a prison with a medical staff), forcibly examined and detained for up to 90 days, during which time the staff attempted to scare her out of prostitution while “treating” her with mercury, a largely-ineffective “cure” which even many Victorian doctors opposed.  Many were not sick when they arrived, but contracted other diseases (which of course were always interpreted as venereal) from the unsanitary conditions in which they were confined.  If she survived the “cure”, an unmarried woman so imprisoned would generally emerge to find her children had been sent to workhouses and her possessions sold to pay her rent.  As if all this wasn’t bad enough, a second Act in 1866 expanded the powers of police, forced prostitutes to register and condemned them to “health inspections” every two weeks; the third Act (in 1869) expanded the system to most of the country and inspired an NGO whose members “helped” the police by reporting any promiscuous or troublesome woman (or any one who offended them)  as a “prostitute”, who was dragged away and registered no matter what she said in her own defense.

The Acts were so broad that they caught up huge numbers of unmarried working-class women in their dragnet, and so tyrannical that they even offended the sensibilities of many middle-class people.  One of these, Josephine Butler, campaigned tirelessly against the Acts for 16 years, collecting a large following and eventually winning their repeal in 1886.  Unfortunately, like so many “rescuers” Butler blamed prostitution itself (rather than society’s attempts to suppress it) for the misfortunes of whores, and after her victory turned her efforts to the abolition of the profession.  Her activism, and more importantly that of the sexually-repressed middle-class Christian female “purity crusaders” she inspired, resulted in the wave of prohibitionist laws which inundated Europe and North America for the next three decades; by 1918 prostitution was illegal virtually everywhere in the Western world.

And though the tide of busybody regulation of individual sexual activity has largely receded in most of the civilized world, the United States remains submerged in it and some things are the same now as they were in the 19th century.  Busybody moralists still profess that their efforts to infantilize whores, rob us of agency, hunt us down and destroy our livelihoods are “for our own good”; amateur women are still victimized by laws designed to “get” prostitutes, sex workers still face the prospect of our children being abducted and our goods pillaged by the State, crypto-moralists still believe that puritanical eating regimens and disinfection of everything are the keys to health, and the “dirty whore” stereotype is as popular as ever.  Though the incidence of venereal disease is twice as high in the promiscuous segment of the general population as among streetwalkers and only 3 to 5% of venereal disease in the United States is related to prostitution (compared to 35% from adolescents), the myth doggedly persists that whores spread disease.  When one further considers that some studies have shown STD rates up to 80x higher in streetwalkers than in other types of prostitutes, this means that the incidence of STDs in promiscuous non-prostitutes is up to 160x that in escorts, and that escorts and brothel workers together account for only about 0.4% of the sexually transmitted disease in the United States.  Yet every legalization regime includes mandatory (and often invasive) “health checks”, while 95-97% of STDs are spread by the good, “clean” members of the general population who can legally screw anybody they like without even the most cursory or sporadic health checks and face neither stigma nor revocation of their professional credentials should they turn up infected.

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Exercise, not philosophically and with religious gravity undertaken, but with the wild and romping activities of a spirited girl who runs up and down as if her veins were full of wine.  –  Lola Montez

Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, better known by her stage name Lola Montez, lived her life as she advised women to exercise, running around the world like a wild young girl with “veins full of wine”.  Like so many courtesans she started out in the theater, in her case as a dancer; like Mata Hari she had a prosaic origin, was noted for her precociousness, married too young, created an exotic stage persona which won her the attentions of wealthy men, lived like a “jet-setter” long before there were jets and died far too young (though this last can be said of many famous courtesans).

Eliza was born on February 17th, 1821 in Grange, Ireland, the daughter of Edward and Eliza Gilbert.  When she was two her father (an ensign in the British Navy) was transferred to India, but he died of cholera soon after their arrival and left his 19-year-old wife to care for a toddler alone in a strange country.  The following year she married Lt. Patrick Cragie, who grew to love the child but became concerned with her wildness and precociousness; eventually he and her mother decided her high spirits might be better controlled by an English education.  Accordingly, she was sent to live with Cragie’s father in Scotland, but proved too much for the older man to handle; she soon developed a reputation for pranks (even on strangers) and inappropriate behavior such as running through the streets naked.  By the time she was ten her step-grandfather had enough of her and packed her off to Sunderland to live with her stepfather’s older sister, who had opened a girls’ boarding school.  This arrangement was even shorter-lived; though her art teacher later remembered her as “an elegant and graceful child” of unusual beauty and exotically-dark complexion, he also stated that “The violence and obstinacy of her temper gave too frequent cause of painful anxiety to her good kind aunt.”  Eliza was therefore sent to another boarding school (not run by relatives) in Bath, where she remained for five years until she eloped to India with Lt. Thomas James.

Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler (1847)

This escapade was the source of a great deal of confusion about the particulars of her early life; since she lacked parental permission to leave school or marry, Eliza simply lied about her birthday and origins, claiming to have been born in Limerick on June 23rd, 1818; this became her official birth date ever after, and indeed was even graven on her tombstone in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn.  Since she was not baptized until the day before her second birthday (February 16th, 1823) in Liverpool (en route to India), her baptismal certificate with the correct date remained undiscovered until it was located by biographer Bruce Seymour while researching the second edition of his book Lola Montez, a Life in 1996.

In 1842, Mr. and Mrs. James separated in Calcutta under a complicated divorce agreement which barred either of them from remarriage while the other was alive; whatever the reason for this strange condition, it was later to cause Eliza considerable difficulty.  The beautiful 21-year-old became a professional dancer under the stage name Lola Montez, by which she was known for the rest of her tumultuous life.  She made her way back to London and debuted there the following year as a “Spanish dancer”, but was soon recognized and the resulting scandal drove her to relocate to the Continent, where she quickly became famous for her beauty and fiery temper rather than for her rather mediocre dancing ability.  It is very likely that she only maintained the dancing as advertisement for her real profession, prostitution to a select clientele of wealthy customers; however, she seems to have truly believed that she was a great dancer and that those who said she wasn’t were merely trying to insult her.  And that was bad, because she tended to attack men who insulted her with a whip, and on a few recorded occasions actually shot at them.

After touring across Europe for about a year (during which time she is said to have received 1000 rubles for a “private audience” with Czar Nicolas I in St. Petersburg) Lola met the composer Franz Liszt in Dresden; the two became lovers for a while, but Liszt (who had a considerable reputation as a ladies’ man) soon tired of Lola’s histrionics and fled one night while she slept.  Soon afterward she settled in Paris, where she was accepted into fashionable literary society and was said to have slept with Alexandre Dumas, père (though it is not known whether this was a professional transaction or a personal one).  She then fell in love with a newspaper editor named Alexandre Dujarier, but he was killed in a duel (which had nothing to do with her) in 1845 and she brokenheartedly left Paris and resumed touring.

In 1846 she was hired to perform in Munich, but when the theater manager saw her performance he fired her immediately.  The infuriated courtesan then went to the palace to complain to King Ludwig I of Bavaria about the breach of contract; due to her reputation the King agreed to give her an audience, and he was so smitten with her beauty that he ordered the manager fired and gave her a long contract to dance in the theater.  He also hired her for more personal duties, and was soon deeply in love with her; he granted her an allowance, built her a small palace and even created her Countess of Landsfeld.  Lola easily dominated the aging monarch, and instituted liberal reforms which appalled the Church, the aristocracy and Prince Metternich of Austria, who offered her an enormous bribe if she would only go away.  When Lola refused the money (literally throwing it back at the messenger), Metternich instigated a student riot against her, prompting her to order the university closed.  This was, of course, exactly what Metternich had hoped would happen; Lola’s haughtiness, bad temper and overt control over the King had made her extremely unpopular, and the riot grew into a full-scale revolution which forced King Ludwig to abdicate in March of 1848.  Lola fled to Switzerland, where she remained for a few months before returning to London later that year.

Lola Montez in 1851

It wasn’t long before Lola met and married George Heald, a young cavalry officer with an inheritance, but Heald’s aunt hated her and investigated the terms of her divorce from James; when she discovered the remarriage clause she filed charges of bigamy against Lola, and the couple fled to France.  The relationship was as short-lived as all of her arrangements, and in 1851 she set off for the United States to make a fresh start.  For the next two years she performed as a dancer and actress on the East Coast, then in May of 1853 travelled to San Francisco, where she married a newspaper publisher named Patrick Hull and opened a saloon and brothel in a mining town named Grass Valley.  Hull soon divorced her and returned to San Francisco, but Lola remained for two years, entertaining a number of wealthy and politically-powerful clients and inspiring young Lotta Crabtree, who went on to become the most popular American actress of her time.

By June of 1855 the California gold rush was over, but the Australian gold rush was in full swing so the ever-adventurous Lola decided to profit from it.  Her erotic “Spider Dance” caused an uproar in Melbourne, but the Diggers loved her until she demonstrated her legendary temper against a few hecklers and the editor of The Ballarat Times (who had given her a bad review).  Lola and Australia had had enough of each other by May, so she returned to San Francisco, wrote a book of beauty secrets (one of which was applying strips of raw beef to the face to prevent wrinkles), then went on tour lecturing on feminism and the proper treatment of women by men and society.  The lectures seem to have been heartfelt, because she eventually settled in New York and spent her entire fortune on rescuing streetwalkers, even living among them in a squalid boarding house.  But on June 30, 1860 she suffered a stroke which partially paralyzed her and seems to have induced a mild religious dementia; she recovered enough mobility that by December she was on several occasions seen limping down the street, praying out loud.  She soon contracted pneumonia and died on January 17th, 1861, just one month short of her 40th birthday.  The ever-colorful Lola never failed to surprise observers and provoke controversy, either in her life or after her death, and the various details of her life and legacy are still contested to this day in every country she visited.

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To depend upon a profession is a less odious form of slavery than to depend upon a father.  –  Virginia Woolf

The neofeminist prohibitionists claim that all prostitutes are helpless victims of male dominance, slaves to “patriarchal oppressors”, and even many Americans who are rational but ill-informed have come to believe enough of the propaganda that they think “most” of us are coerced; even some escorts have bought into this notion sufficiently that they believe there are two and only two kinds of prostitutes, free-willed high-dollar independent escorts and pimped, coerced slaves.  This, of course, is pure poppycock; human relationships and even free will itself are never as cut-and-dried as either the neofeminists or the dualists want to pretend.  The notion that all prostitutes (or all workers, or all humans) must be either free or enslaved is a false duality which ignores both the realities of the human condition and the necessities of material existence.

The only people who can truly claim to have made an absolutely free choice to do any kind of work are the Paris Hiltons of the world, those who have a guaranteed inheritance, income and secured future no matter what they choose to do with the present.  Every other person has no choice but to work in some fashion; the choice not to work at all simply doesn’t exist unless one considers starvation an option.  At that point, then, the choice boils down to what kind of work one is able and willing to do.  I’d just love to be paid to do what I’m doing right now – namely, writing about whatever I want to write whenever I want to write it, without answering to anybody – but in the real world very few people who aren’t already bestselling authors get that opportunity.  Conversely, there are lots of things I’m quite able to do, but wouldn’t be willing to do regularly for pay.  As I’ve described before, I eventually settled on sex work as the best way to get everything I wanted career-wise (high income, flexibility, freedom from arbitrary schedules and rules and no confiscatory “withholding”)  while doing something I was already good at.  In other words, escorting provided the greatest advantages for the least compromise.  Eventually I made a slightly different choice, namely housewifery, when I came to a point in my life where it provided an even better fit than escorting had; the money was less and the responsibility greater, but the work was lighter and IMHO even more pleasant.

And I’m not remotely alone; millions of women all over the world and throughout history have chosen prostitution for similar reasons to mine.  Each of them took stock of her assets, needs and preferences and decided that whoring was the best way to accomplish her goals. The neofeminists claim that only women with no other choice decide to become prostitutes, but that’s as ridiculous an assertion as it is simplistic; there are many, many poor, unskilled women in this world who would never choose whoredom, and many, many educated, talented women who do.  Harlotry is not right for everyone, but then neither is teaching, nursing, motherhood, secretarial work or any other career.  All but a very small number of us must work, and everyone who isn’t actually compelled by force to do some particular form of work has some choice, however limited it may be.

But what about those who are literally compelled?  Obviously there are cases like the “comfort women”, but in modern times such forcible enslavement is comparatively rare, as our friend Jill Brenneman can tell you.  Some of what the rescue industry calls “slavery” is actually debt bondage (a condition with which I daresay much of the American middle class is intimately familiar), but some of it isn’t even that; as Laura Agustín has discussed on numerous occasions, a great deal of the “trafficking” mythology is rooted in the racist assumption that people (especially women) from undeveloped countries are childlike simpletons who can easily be manipulated by oh-so-superior Westerners, and so they are “enslaved” by the evil white men and can only be “rescued” by the good white men.  The “rescuers” presume that any foreign woman selling sex in Europe or the US is “trafficked”, when in reality the majority of them come of their own free will and the people who are labeled as “traffickers” are usually simply those who transported them and/or arranged for false papers.  Not to be outdone, the fanatics are now trying to claim that the reason migrants deny being enslaved is not because it’s the truth, but rather because they’re suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”!  They simply cannot accept that some people really do prefer doing sex work to being virtual slaves in a sweatshop, and that they migrate not because they’re passively “trafficked” but because they’re actively looking for a better life than they could find in their own countries.

Of course, pointing any of this out to a trafficking fanatic will merely trigger an avalanche of “enslaved children” rhetoric.  But even that isn’t as it’s represented; as I’ve pointed out before, fewer than 250 underage prostitutes in America report having been coerced into the trade, and their average age at the time they become prostitutes is 16 rather than the 13 claimed by trafficking fetishists.  Considering that 16 is of legal age to consent to sex in 39 American states, I hardly think that qualifies as a “child”.  And in the developing world, 16 is in many cases an adult no matter what the UN may declare; even in the West the concept of 18 as a “magic number” of adulthood is a relatively recent one, and in most of the world such a distinction simply doesn’t exist.  Despite the efforts of ivory-tower idealists to declare adolescents “innocent children”, the fact is that legal minors often do leave home, sometimes with good reason, and many of them survive by selling sex…with nary a pimp nor “trafficker” in sight.

And what of the pimps?  Even though they’re pretty rare, certainly we can all agree that for a man to force a woman into prostitution and then take her money is wrong, can’t we?  Well…sort of.  I’d agree that for a man to use force and intimidation to control a woman is wrong, but the percentage of prostitutes with abusive, controlling pimps is very similar to the percentage of women with abusive, controlling husbands or boyfriends; some men are just bastards and some women are (for whatever reason) willing to put up with it, and whores are no exception.  At the most basic level, what is a pimp but a man who is supported by a woman’s work?  Sex work is work like any other, so a prostitute supporting a pimp who lacks a literal hold on her is no morally different from any other woman supporting her husband or boyfriend with any other kind of work.  Personally, I think for a wife to support an able-bodied man who isn’t a full-time student is pretty creepy, but I wouldn’t want it to be illegal because people have the right to make their own decisions, even if I or others think those decisions are bad, stupid or self-destructive.  Besides, so-called “anti-pimping” laws do much more harm than good; under many legalization regimes it is illegal (usually felonious) to “live off the avails” (i.e. derive a large portion of one’s support from someone else’s prostitution), which means that a prostitute is barred from being married, supporting adult family members such as university-age children or invalid parents, or even hiring employees such as secretaries or bodyguards.  Such laws are so obviously discriminatory that they were struck down last September in Ontario and Indian sex workers are fighting them, too.

Real life is not like a silent melodrama; the baddies do not all wear black hats and sport waxed moustaches, and many of the women who are tied to the railroad tracks are there because they consented to be and will not appreciate ham-fisted attempts at “rescue”.  There is a whole spectrum between the party girl whoring herself for thrills and the chained sex slave, and the number of prostitutes at the one end is no higher than that at the other.  The vast majority of us, like the vast majority of the human race, exist in the murky grey area between absolute freedom and abject slavery, trying our best to balance the pursuit of happiness with the toil necessary for survival.

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Mine is the Month of Roses; yes, and mine
The Month of Marriages! All pleasant sights
And scents, the fragrance of the blossoming vine,
The foliage of the valleys and the heights.
Mine are the longest days, the loveliest nights;
The mower’s scythe makes music to my ear;
I am the mother of all dear delights;
I am the fairest daughter of the year.
  –  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The apparent path of the sun will cross the celestial equator at 17:16 Universal Time today, which is to say 12:16 Central Daylight Saving Time.  For those of us in the northern hemisphere this means today is the first day of astronomical summer, but for our friends in the southern hemisphere it is the first day of astronomical winter; so while today is the longest day of the year in the north, it’s the shortest in the south.

I must admit that as an adult, I’ve never been a fan of summer.  Of course, as a child I was thrilled to be out of school and spent the hottest part of each day reading, but once I entered the working world summer just meant longer, hotter days and much higher electricity bills.  In South Louisiana the summers are particularly oppressive; actual temperatures there rarely exceed 33 Celsius, but since the humidity is generally over 80% it feels like an oven and even the shade offers little respite.  Nor are the evenings much better; due to “Daylight Saving Time” darkness doesn’t come until almost 9 PM, and both the buildings and the very air itself store up heat through the long, sultry afternoons and don’t often become noticeably cooler until well after midnight.  While I was escorting there were many evenings in which I emerged from air-conditioned hotels after 3 AM to find myself glowing with perspiration before I could make it to my car.  And when I was in my teens and twenties, I tended to lose weight every summer because the heat often stole my appetite; in those intervals when I lived alone my summer meals might consist of egg salad sandwiches, and I was a cheap date because sometimes all I could manage was a milkshake, a sno-ball or maybe a glass of iced tea with an order of onion rings.

As I got older I grew to tolerate the heat more, then once I moved farther inland it wasn’t nearly as bad.  The summers are shorter here (in New Orleans it’s often brutally hot from early May through the end of September) and the humidity isn’t nearly as high; though it isn’t unusual for the temperature to climb above 40 several times in July and August, the drier air means it’s much cooler in the shade and the temperature usually drops to the low 20s at night.  Of course, like most modern people I don’t rely on the beneficence of the sun as our ancestors did; for them summer was the time of growth, the season when their crops moved toward harvest and the season of snow was farthest away.  And of course, in Northern Europe the summers are far milder than they are in the American South!

For our ancestors, and for modern pagans, Midsummer was the festival commemorating the sun at his zenith; as is my Sabbat custom, here is an essay from my witch friend JustStarshine on the spiritual significance of the day:

The Significance of Litha

The Latin for solstice – solsitium – literally means “sun stands still” and refers to the way the sun seems to hang there without moving on this the longest day of the year.  In the northern hemisphere this will take place on June 21 at 17.16 but the day can vary from year to year between June 21 – 24.

This time, which heralds the shortening of the days, has been marked throughout recorded history by different cultures.  In witch law it is often given the Saxon name “Litha” and on the Wheel of the Year occupies the position immediately opposite the Winter Solstice or Yule.

According to old folklaw summer begins at Beltane (May 1) and ends at Lammas (August 1) with the Summer Solstice between, which has given it its other name, Midsummer.

For witches this is a time of celebration when we can sit back and enjoy what we have and thank the Goddess for what she has given us.  It’s a time of year when we feel nearest to the Holy Grail, a cup of happiness given by the Goddess.

But it’s also a time of change.  The sun is at his strongest but from now on his strength begins to wane and we, too, must change, since we cannot hold on to the golden moment however much we may want to.  The Wheel must turn; it cannot stand still.

During our ritual we meditate on what is currently bringing fulfillment and what we need to do to make further changes in our lives.  We visualize these changes, see them as though they have already happened and then attempt to see life as it would be afterwards. 

May all my readers, no matter what your beliefs, find happiness in what you have already and experience an increase in your fortunes even as the days decrease in their length.  Blessed Be!

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