And they shall burn thine houses with fire, and execute judgments upon thee in the sight of many women: and I will cause thee to cease from playing the harlot, and thou also shalt give no hire any more. - Ezekiel 16:41
I feel compelled to ask possibly a few more…
Generic statements, so I don’t have to write a whole book, in order to frame the questions below. Truthfully, I’m having a hard framing the question succinctly so I’m trying to carefully blurt out what’s in my head as clearly as possible….hope it makes sense…
In the U.S. (and other places), the major religions are monotheistic. Of these, when they speak of ‘God’, it is basically identified/understood as being male (as a protector/father figure). There is no balancing feminine “force” in these religions that gives the feminine side equal consideration/status/dominance. Male “ideals” are predominant, female ones are … not as dominant . Even though the core teaching of the morals/ethics of these religions are frequently non gender specific, there is a sense that there is a male deity watching over and guiding things/events.
Do you think that religious views are *the* major factor in people believing what they do about prostitution (girls needing to be protected, male dominance, immoral, etc)?
Regardless of the answer above, do you have any info/data/good links/thoughts on how prostitution is viewed differently by countries (in current times, nothing ancient) where there is balanced or less pronounced “male dominant” deity (are prostitutes socially better off, worse off, or basically the same)?
I don’t think monotheism is really the culprit as much as patriarchal culture is. Despite neofeminist dogma about prostitution being a manifestation of patriarchy, the truth is actually the opposite: Prostitutes had our highest status in the ancient Goddess-centered cultures because we were rightfully viewed as the gateway between mortal men and the great Feminine Principle. It wasn’t until the patriarchal cultures succeeded in subordinating the Earth Mother to the Sky Father that our status started to slip, and that preceded monotheism in most of the Western world by several centuries. For example, by the 6th century BCE free temple prostitutes in Athens had largely been supplanted by slave-girls given to the temple as donations, and the Athenian leader Solon tried to eradicate secular prostitution by establishing cheap state-owned brothels and persecuting streetwalkers (as discussed more fully in my July 31st column). In general, male-dominated governments are not really happy about being unable to control prostitutes, and maladjusted men are unhappy that women they don’t own can demand (and get) generous compensation for their sexual favors while men cannot make similar demands from women. Just look at all the TV and movie fantasies (such as Hung) of male prostitutes who can make a good living from an adoring female clientele, or of male pimps controlling harems of beautiful hookers. These shows are about as realistic as your average cartoon, yet insecure men love to make and watch them because they’re a fantasy inversion of the uncomfortable truth: That women control male access to sex, always have, and always will.
That having been said, I think Judeo-Christian religion is a major source of the West’s extreme version of the Madonna/whore dichotomy (and thus an aggravating factor in the generally shoddy Western treatment of prostitutes). To understand the reason for this, it’s necessary to go back to the origins of the Hebrew people. The Hebrews were one of a number of Semitic tribes who probably entered Egypt during the rule of their Hyksos kinsmen in the 17th-16th centuries BCE; thus, they became rather unpopular when the native Egyptians overthrew their foreign overlords and restored native rule with the 18th dynasty (“Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.” – Exodus 1:8). And though it is highly unlikely that they were actually enslaved as in the traditional conception, it is very likely that they were subject to severe discrimination and probably persecution as well. Then sometime around 1300 BCE, a lesser Egyptian prince whom history calls Moses forged himself a bloodline and in partnership with the Hebrew leader Aaron offered to lead the tribe back to Canaan, land of their ancestors.
Moses was no fool; though he had been passed over (no pun intended) as heir to the throne he had been schooled in leadership as every prince was, and well understood what was needed to forge a loose agglomeration of related clans into a nation worth ruling. He seems to have favored the monotheistic model of his ancestor Akhenaton, but transferred Aton’s characteristics to the Hebrew deity El-Shaddai, whom Moses referred to as Yahweh (“I Am that I Am”). Unfortunately for Moses’ plans, the Hebrews were not yet ready for monotheism and were perfectly happy to continue in the polytheistic ways of their ancestors and cousins. Moses soon recognized the need for a set of strict laws and customs which would unify his followers into one tribe, a “chosen people” separate and distinct from all the related peoples of Canaan; when he decided to codify the laws and pronouncements he attributed to Yahweh, he therefore included prohibitions against nearly everything the Canaanites did. If you’ve ever wondered why Mosaic law bans such innocuous activities as eating shellfish, now you know; the desert-dwelling Hebrews were unused to them anyhow, so Moses forbade them as a “Canaanite food”. Since the Canaanites were a settled agricultural people (unlike the Hebrews, who were nomadic herdsmen) they had a well-established system of religious fertility rituals, most of which had sexual components. Hence the plentiful sexual prohibitions in Mosaic law: By specifically banning the Hebrews from every kind of sexual behavior which formed a part of one Canaanite religious ritual or another (including male homosexuality and women having sex with animals), Moses kept the Hebrews from participating in those rituals and thereby prevented them from being tempted away from the cult of Yahweh.
But barring Hebrew women from becoming temple prostitutes certainly didn’t keep the Hebrew men from patronizing native ones, so the successors of Moses (the Judges and later the prophets) developed a robust tradition of condemning harlots and harlotry wherever they saw them. Since the Hebrews were staunchly patriarchal and thereby had the same public misgivings about our profession as every other patriarchal culture (discussed above), they developed unusually vicious anti-whore rhetoric which was if anything only intensified in their religious heirs, the Christians and Muslims. But while most majority-Muslim countries still have official bans on prostitution, most enlightened majority-Christian countries allow it to one degree or another (though many of these, such as Canada and the UK, practice institutionalized hypocrisy by decriminalizing prostitution itself but criminalizing every activity which is involved in its practice).
Here is a map of the world which shows the legal status of prostitution country by country. Nations where prostitution is banned are red, those in which it is restricted in some way are beige, and those in which it is at least technically legal are green; there is also a table below the map which explains the exact legal status country by country. Note the illustrious company the United States chooses to be in; practically every other “red” nation is either a majority-Muslim state, a totalitarian one or one which has only recently emerged from totalitarianism. Contrast this with the green nations: All of Western Europe, most of Australia, all of the Western Hemisphere except for the US and a few tiny, poverty-stricken third-world states, and even several African countries. The few “restricted” countries include Japan (where every kind of prostitution except “full service” is legal), India (much like Canada but worse), Norway and Sweden (where it is illegal to buy sex but not to sell it).
Looking at Bredstick’s final question in light of this map, I think we can safely say that there is very little correlation. The patriarchal Judeo-Christian sky father is indeed pre-eminent in the prohibitionist Muslim countries and the US, but Europe, Australia and certainly South America are primarily Christian and yet grant their women rights denied to us in the US. China and the former Soviet Bloc countries have no officially recognized religion, yet engage in the same paternalistic control of women’s bodies as the largely-Christian United States. The two countries Sailor Barsoom mentioned which have prominent female deities (Japan and India) are not exactly known for the high status of their women, and they restrict their whores with the same kind of arbitrary legalism as is present in de facto criminalization countries such as the UK. If I had to pick one factor which seems to correlate most closely with the legalization status of prostitutes, it would be the general attitude toward sex in that country; most Europeans and Hispanic people have far healthier attitudes toward sex than the prudish Americans, Muslims and Marxists who run the majority of prohibitionist states.