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Archive for November 21st, 2011

Everywhere one seeks to produce meaning, to make the world signify, to render it visible. We are not, however, in danger of lacking meaning; quite the contrary, we are gorged with meaning and it is killing us.  –  Jean Baudrillard

Language is one of the most important ways humans organize the universe; by giving things names we gain control over them, place boundaries on them, enable ourselves to describe them to others who do not know about them.  The ancients believed that names conferred magical power over people, and hid their true names from strangers; whores do much the same thing by using stage names when dealing with clients.  And while naming is a useful tool, it’s extremely important to remember that such names are artificial and reside only in the minds of humans.  Mark Twain portrayed Eve as naming the dodo because “it looks like a dodo”, but obviously any other name would do as well as long as everyone agreed upon it.  And thereby hangs the tale; very often people try to apply different words to the same thing, or to use specific terms in an overly-broad fashion or general terms in an overly-specific one.  Even worse, they sometimes draw up elaborate definitions for a general term based upon observation of one specific example, and then either insist that their characteristics apply to all members of the class, or else deny that something belongs to the class based upon the fact that it doesn’t fit the definition.  If, for example, my definition of “bird” includes the ability to fly, I might exclude ostriches and domestic turkeys, and if it included the presence of wings I might exclude the kiwi.  On the other hand, if my definition included only beaks and hard-shelled eggs, I might feel justified in classifying a platypus as a bird.

A bird?

I’m sure y’all can see where I’m going with this.  Having defined words like “whore” and “prostitution”, people then attempt to impose the definition upon reality instead of adapting the definition to fit reality.  At its most basic prostitution is the exchange of sex for something of value, and until governments sought to control it that was good enough.  It didn’t matter that it wasn’t sharply demarked from other female behavior, or that some women did it only occasionally while others made a profession of it, or that there was no absolute distinction between a concubine, a mistress and a regularly-patronized courtesan; people used whatever term seemed the best fit for the specific case.  But once patriarchal society began to impose laws and restrictions on women’s sexual behavior the label “whore” carried consequences, which became much more serious once Western societies began to actually criminalize our trade a century ago.  Furthermore, when governments began attempting to draw lines between the whore and the not-whore they began to discover that it wasn’t quite so easy as they might’ve liked; since the “crime” of “prostitution” was defined entirely by motive, the “authorities” quickly found that a too-tight definition allowed the great majority of harlots to escape their clutches, while a too-loose definition criminalized the majority of the unmarried female population.

When the social scientists decided to study prostitution, things grew still more confusing; their arbitrary definitions sometimes conflicted with the legal ones, and since the only group which everyone agreed fell safely inside the sphere of whoredom were the streetwalkers (who were also highly visible), both researchers and cops directed their (usually unwelcome) attention to them…and soon began to apply their observations, opinions, beliefs, fantasies and guesses about streetwalkers to every other whore.  The result?  What was once recognized as a broad and indistinct spectrum of female behaviors was now mischaracterized as a distinct, narrow “social problem”; women judged by the “authorities” to be prostitutes were considered degraded or victimized “criminals”, while those judged not to be were as pure as the driven snow:  It was the old Madonna/whore duality codified into law.

Not a bird.

This sharp distinction is, of course, pure nonsense; as I explained in my column of one year ago today, there are many women who are far more steeped in whoredom than I ever was, but who are not legally classified as “prostitutes” because they pass some arbitrary legal “whore test”.  Among these are “sugar babies”, who are not defined as prostitutes because they only have one client at a time (a legal absurdity which will not be lost on anyone who has read much about courtesans).  Young, attractive women have prostituted themselves on this basis to older men since the beginning of civilization, but now that the internet has streamlined the process and made it more visible the usual busybodies are running about, predicting the imminent collapse of the sky.  This writer of this October 29th article from the Daily Mail picks up where the writer of the Huffington Post article discussed in my column of last August 15th left off:

Events that offer to set up wealthy older men with young cash-strapped women, dubbed ‘Sugar Daddy Parties’, are about to hit Britain after becoming popular in the U.S…The ‘matchmakers’ justify the events by insisting that all participants are consenting adults and ‘nobody has to do anything they don’t want to’ but critics say the parties are bordering on prostitution.  And the scenes from New York venues that have hosted the get-togethers, showing pretty young women hanging off the arms off much older men only add to the sleaziness factor.  On average, fees of $500 per date is said to be common in the U.S., but arrangements worth between $10,000 and $20,000 per month have also been agreed upon in the past, according to its organiser…

The confusion and discomfort of the writer, a lawyer she quotes and some of the women in both articles derive from what I described above:  the attempt to impress definitions on reality rather than observing it for what it is.  The cognitive chain goes something like this:  “Young women are taking money for sex, which is what prostitutes do; prostitutes are degraded, drug-addicted criminal human trafficking victims, therefore SOCIETY IS DOOMED!!!!!!”  To a rational person, of course, the chain would go in exactly the opposite direction:  “Young women are taking money for sex, which is what prostitutes do; these young women are just trying to better their lives or make a living like anyone else, so maybe that’s what most prostitutes are like as well”.  Seeing the world as it is brings clarity and understanding; forcing an ill-fitting interpretation upon it brings nothing but confusion and stress.

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