About a year ago I wrote an article on prostitution in Peru, and to this day I'd guess about a quarter of the hits this website gets go straight to that page. Make no mistake, I think prostitution is a nasty business and it's not the kind of "service" that I'm interested in. What interests me is how prostitution is perceived both by Americans and Peruvians, and how that perception reflects on gender relations.
When I first went to Peru at 26, I had gotten extremely used to having a "second citizen" mentality from being a male in the US. People frequently scoff at this statement, but if you really sit and look at the facts there are a lot of ways that American society goes out of its way to provide aid and assistance to women that men simply don't receive (if you want some good examples of "man bashing" just watch "The View," "
Sex and the City," or any program featuring Rosie O'Donnell).
But Peruvians don't treat you like a dirt bag just because you're a white male. Quite the contrary, they treat you with extreme courtesy. Going to Peru is like diving into an ocean of support and I make no exaggeration when I say that I simply felt a lot better about myself as a human being after living there.
Getting back to the issue of prostitution, I remember going back to my host family and mentioning that I had seen what I had assumed to be prostitutes hanging out in Miraflores. My reaction was the typical reaction that an American male is conditioned to have. I said something about how horrible it was that these women would be forced into doing something like that. However, my host mother stopped me right there and gave me a disgusted look.
"They haven't been forced into anything," she said with a scowl, "they're just lazy and they don't want to work."
To have a middle-aged woman tell me that was, as you can imagine, flabbergasting. But as I reflected upon her comment and compared it with my observations, I finally came to understand that she was telling the truth.
You see, American culture for some reason or other likes to put women on a pedestal. Everything that's bad is instantly associated with men, and everything that's good is instantly associated with women. There has been some sort of misplaced belief that it is somehow "respectful" to worship a fanciful ideal when it comes to women, rather than to just see them as they are (the same beautifully flawed beings as the rest of us). Honestly, I don't know why the feminists haven't stood up and tried to tear down this false image...maybe it's because they find it flattering?
Encompassed in this false image is the belief that no woman would ever chose to be a prostitute (women are too pure and angelic for that), instead they are forced into it by evil men. You know, all it takes is about two seconds of looking at history to debunk that horrible myth, after all most brothels are actually run by women. But when people are building their heroes, I suppose they typically pay no attention to truth.
Sure, the horrific case does exist where girls are abducted and made into slaves (Steven Segal anyone?) but as far as I can tell, there are no statistics in existence to show how often that happens. It's odd isn't it, that nobody has funded a thorough study on prostitution when it's obviously one of the main indicators of social stability?
My presumption is that prostitution is far more frequently a case of a regular woman who decides it's a lot easier...maybe even a little thrilling...to pull a couple tricks for some easy cash. And if you expand your definition of prostitution to include the acquisition of goods and services, you'll see that prostitution is rampant.
Here in Wisconsin a friend of my wife's (female) has coined the term "octomom," for women who have kids with various men just so that they can collect the child support. Apparently she knows a half dozen of these women who get anything from $500 to $1000 monthly to support these various children. Is that not a form of prostitution?
Essentially, you can't go into the library without running into a potential prostitute, just as you can't go into the library without running into a potential rapist, thief, etc. The idea of using your sensuality as a meal ticket is EVERYWHERE (incidentally it applies to both men and women).
The thing that got me thinking about this was that some guy recently wrote a comment telling me that I was sick for having a picture of some street workers on this blog. Well, the fact is there are some pretty respectable places in Miraflores where you can't even sit and have a beer without noticing a couple prostitutes walk by. It's not like you're going down to the red light district, it's right there in the middle of the city.
I think the reason the commenter got so angry was that he doesn't have a realistic perspective on the issue. So, hopefully after reading this article, he's been enlightened...but I doubt it.