‘Tis the strumpet’s plague/To beguile many, and be beguil’d by one. – William Shakespeare, Othello (IV, i)
In a reply to my column of July 18th, Sailor Barsoom said “Everybody talks about streetwalkers and pimps, but I hear that pimps aren’t as common as they used to be,” to which I replied “They were never as common as they used to be.” I promised to explain this more fully, and today is the day. As we have discussed before, most people think the vast majority of whores are streetwalkers; they also believe that nearly all of us have “pimps”, men who dominate and control us, beating us up and taking our money. Ignorant men like to believe this because it reduces the whore to a slave under male control; cops like to believe it because it lets them pretend they aren’t the chief danger in our lives; neofeminists like to believe it because it feeds into their lurid fantasies of male oppression and the whore as damaged, exploited victim; legislators like to believe it because it gives them an excuse to harass us even in countries where prostitution itself is legal; Hollywood likes to believe it because it’s tawdry and provides material for cheap melodramatics; and moralists like to believe it because it gives them something to “save” us from even though extramarital sex no longer carries a social stigma. The fact that the pimp as he is generally imagined is actually relatively rare does not matter to any of these people; after all, if the facts do not conform to the theory it is the facts which must be disposed of.
We’ve all played the game of looking for shapes in the clouds, and many have taken the Rorschach test which asks what we see in inkblots. The ancients made pictures out of the stars, and fundamentalist Christians used to take great pleasure in playing records backward in order to “find” Satanic messages therein. The human mind is very good at imposing order on chaos, and this is harmless unless we start to delude ourselves that what we see is actually there. Unfortunately, many people do just that, and others to whom they point out these imaginary patterns usually see exactly what they’re told they will see. This is a universal tendency of the human psyche, and not one limited to the stupid or weak-minded; many a scientific experiment has been ruined because of “experimenter expectation”, the tendency of even the intelligent mind when confronted with data it does not comprehend to interpret that data according to its preconceptions. Put more plainly, when any person looks at something he does not understand, he tends to see exactly what he expects to see. So when an outsider looks at a whore’s life, he tends to interpret every non-customer male who has any kind of relationship with her as a “pimp”, because of course everybody knows that all whores have pimps.
If we’re going to talk about the men who aren’t pimps, it’s probably a good idea to start by defining what a pimp is in the first place. Once all emotion and exaggeration is stripped away, a pimp is essentially a manager (and indeed some girls even call their pimps that). He may book calls or provide housing for the girl, advertise for her, protect her, and arrange for bail if she is arrested; in return for these services she pays him a percentage of her earnings. As in any business, there are good managers and bad ones, and a bad pimp can be very bad indeed; the fees he demands could be wildly out of proportion to the services he provides and he might use coercion, intimidation, violence or even more extreme means to have his way. But the same thing could be said of husbands or boyfriends; what makes a pimp different? Now, at this point I must disclose that I am very prejudiced against pimps; the idea of an adult man being supported by a woman grates on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. However, I am trying to view this subject dispassionately, and as I said in my July 14th column my dislike for something is insufficient grounds for banning it. In a way, I’m almost as much of an outsider to the reality of pimps as you are; I have never had a pimp, and only rarely encountered girls who did because they’re quite rare in the world of escorts. In all fairness, I don’t know for a fact that even those were pimps; it may merely have been my perception. And though it galls me to have to say this, is a non-abusive pimp really anything different from a low-class, low-rent, unprofessional escort service? I’ve run into service owners who were only barely above the level of pimps; one in New Orleans whom I will discuss at length later was referred to by escorts who had left her service as “Pimp Mama” because of her lack of concern for her girls and her frequent attempts to control them by threats and histrionics. Despite my dislike, is it right to oppose pimps merely on principle, even if they treat their girls well and actually give them their money’s worth as good escort service owners do? In good conscience I must say no. The government must judge criminality on the behavior of an individual, not merely his status, and the right of individual choice MUST be respected in a free society, even if the majority don’t like that choice.
The stereotypical pimp is male, but in most times and places prostitution was a female business controlled by females; until recently streetwalkers always ran their own shows, and most brothels were owned and managed by women. The only places in which this was not true were those in which the state controlled the brothels, and even in those most were still run by women and the only men involved were the government bureaucrats sent to collect the state’s cut. Considering that these governments gave whores nothing but the promise that they would not be beaten, raped and arrested, they could be considered the first pimps. This system of “toleration” became widespread (most notably in France) in the early 19th century; though prostitution was not technically illegal, the police were given wide powers to “control” prostitutes and generally did so by what later generations called a “protection racket”, squeezing whores of every level for money and beating, raping and/or imprisoning those who refused to pay up. I find it terribly ironic that modern police tend to be so sanctimonious about pimps when they in fact were the first men to use violence to control and exploit whores, and even today tend to be a much greater danger to those at every level of the profession.
Pimps as we now know them did not appear until just before the turn of the 20th century, when the widespread “purity movement” (an outgrowth of early feminism which was also responsible for such brilliant ideas as Prohibition and attempts to prevent little boys from masturbating) pressured legislatures throughout the West (especially in the US) to ban prostitution outright rather than merely seeking to “control” it. Since under these new laws women could in many cities be arrested on suspicion of prostitution for simply walking in the street unescorted, streetwalkers began to employ men either to escort them so as to throw the police off, or to keep a lookout at the ends of streets so the whores could rush inside when the cops showed up. And when a whore was busted despite precautions, a male contact who held some of her money could arrange bail. In other words, the first true pimps appeared as a direct result of the criminalization of prostitution, which puts modern “anti-pimping laws” on shaky moral ground indeed. Sadly, this is not the only time in which the government’s excuse for some tyrannical law is the suppression of a problem which would not exist but for other tyrannical laws. If prostitution were not illegal there would be no need for pimps, and the streetwalkers who keep pimps only do so because they fear the cops more.
Even among streetwalkers, though, the stereotyped abusive pimp is fairly rare. American studies show that fewer than half of all streetwalkers have pimps, and of those that do the majority of them control the pimps rather than the other way around. The English Collective of Prostitutes estimates that fewer than 10% of English streetwalkers are encumbered by a “heavy ponce” (abusive pimp) and French estimates are lower still, about 5% of streetwalkers. Using the English estimate as a median between the higher American and lower French figures, and applying it to our standard 15% estimate of the percentage of all whores who are streetwalkers, we arrive at a figure of roughly 1.5% of all Western prostitutes who are controlled by pimps. This is a far cry from the “vast majority” claimed by the anti-whore propagandists who infest government and the feminist movement, and similar to most estimates of the number of women with abusive husbands or boyfriends.
Given these figures it seems likely that there are more pimp wannabes in this country than actual pimps. So, who are all of these men that the authorities and neofeminists claim are pimps? Many of them are simply boyfriends or husbands of whores; my own husband could have been accused of being a pimp from 2004-2006, a period when my income exceeded his by a narrow margin. Some are just male friends or roommates, including gay prostitutes. Others are men employed by escorts or call girls as drivers; some girls prefer not to worry about parking, and it’s nice to know there’s a big burly man nearby who knows exactly which hotel room one is in should a problem arise. Still others are dependent family members, such as minor sons or invalid fathers or brothers. The assumption that any man who keeps company with a whore and isn’t a customer must be a pimp has its roots in the old Madonna/whore duality again, specifically the virulent 19th-century “whore as monster” variety, because it pretends that whores are abnormal and therefore incapable of having the same sort of romantic, familial or economic relationships as any other woman.
As I said in the first paragraph, though, most people never let the facts get in the way of their preconceptions, especially when there’s political coin to be made. So in many countries (such as Canada and the UK) where public opinion and/or feminist pressure has caused laws criminalizing prostitution itself to be repealed, there are still plenty of laws which criminalize nearly everything a prostitute might do either to perform her trade or even just to live, and some of the most pernicious of these are the “living off of the avails” laws. These laws, supposedly intended to control our old bogeyman the pimp, criminalize any person who is supported even in part by a whore. So though prostitutes themselves are no longer criminals their boyfriends, university-age dependent children, invalid parents, other prostitutes with whom they share expenses, or anyone else they as much as ASSIST with money are. Thus whores are once again made pariahs, prohibited by law from having families or even roommates, while the legislators can feel “progressive” about repealing their old discriminatory laws and replacing them with ones intended to “protect” us from domination by males (except, of course, for the male government officials who write laws to control us and collect “fines” from our earnings). So at the end of the day abusive, controlling pimps who steal whores’ money and give them nothing in return really aren’t that rare after all; they just have government plates on their pimpmobiles and wear uniforms or judicial robes rather than garish outfits with silly hats.