Archive for June 29th, 2011

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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