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The Comforts of Home by Luise White | Waterstones
Print book : English View all editions and formats. Prostitution -- Kenya -- Nairobi -- History. View all subjects. Similar Items. Luise White Find more information about: Luise White. Prostitution and Housing in Nairobi, -- 4. Malaya Prostitution, -- 5. Many of the most-experienced American prostitutes did not end up on the streets at all, but in the mining camps of the American West; these women were sent there, by pimps or gangs or agents, because of their age-not as a punishment, but because they were less likely than younger women to elope with their customers.
In Rocky Mountain mining camps, prostitutes over fifty were not uncommon; their earnings were high, and they were able to support adolescent children. On the Comstock Lode, as the working male population dropped 30 percent between and , the number of prostitutes halved; the percentage of prostitutes between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-nine dropped 30 percent as well, but the number of prostitutes over forty-five increased by 5 percent.
Such generalizations come from a scholarship that privileges prostitutes' physical characteristics over their earnings. In this way, the generalization that women became prostitutes when family ties were weakened is frequently reproduced in the contemporary literature. While this sounds reasonable, is it supported by evidence? Rosen and Hobson provide excellent summaries of surveys, made by vice commissions, reformers, and rescue houses, of prostitutes' backgrounds, and they present fascinating, if dangling, hints about who these women were and why they prostituted themselves.
They came from working-class families in which some of their mothers worked. They were seduced and abandoned, they were tired of work, they came from "bad home conditions," they were lonely and bored. The emphasis on families of origin, not economics, reflected reformers' biases and their ideas about the ability of families to control and support their daughters. The women who became prostitutes in order to support their families through hard times, or the abandoned wives who prostituted themselves to support themselves and their children, even the women thrown out of their homes because they were "ruined anyway,"29 were not the victims of weak families; they were the victims of strong ones.
The daughters whose prostitution subsidized recently indebted cash crop producers 3o or famine victims,31 or even the ten women in Kansas who supported their husbands through prostitution, were living testimonies to a belief in families, that they should continue and prosper at any cost. Sometimes daughters did not believe this, but their parents did. There was, for example, a strong correlation between opium addiction and prostitution in nineteenth-century China, but it was not the prostitutes' addiction.
They were not addicted at any points in their careers but were sold to brothels and procurers to finance the addictions of fathers, brothers, and uncles. In the s agents of San Francisco brothels scoured the Cantonese countryside, trying to purchase young girls from their parents; when they failed to find enough young girls this way, they kidnapped others.
An law allowed Guatemalan courts to send teenage girls who had been declared incorrigible to the debt servitude of licensed brothels, thus relieving the state and parents of the burden of support and the girls' "bad conduct. Finnegan illustrates her book with photographs of ten- and e1even-year-olds, abandoned by widowed mothers orjailed parents in Vic- IO Chapter One torian York, who were rescued before they could fall into "moral danger" and trained as laundresses.
The contrast could not be greater between these young girls and York's notorious families, such as the Varelys and the Bickerdikes, in which the aging prostitute mother "retired into the role of brothel-keeper, pickpocket, or procurer Paul brothel. Many propertied Nairobi prostitutes adopted younger women and designated them as their heirs; these women had contact with their own families but were forming units of descent and inheritance that successfully kept their property out of patrilineal control.
In s South Africa, Jewish pimps made only halfhearted efforts to recruit women locally but sent retired prostitutes and their husbands to Poland to return with teenage girls from Galicia to work in the brothels ofJohannesburg; the same recruitment pattern obtained among the Hungarian, French, and Jewish communities in Argentina between and How is it that the language of reform has become the language of academic description a century or more later? The problem is not that scholars lack an accurate language with which to depict the specifics of prostitution.
Such a language exists, as I shall show, but it is a very different language from that of reformist zeal. It is a language that comes from the work and experiences of prostitutes themselves. Prostitution, Women's Work, and the Family What do prostitutes and their customers do together? Men, for example, rarely visit prostitutes in order to subsidize peasant households, and Introduction II women hardly ever become prostitutes so that they can have sexual relations with men. Nevertheless, these and many other phenomena occur when women become prostitutes and men visit them. How then do we explain what goes on between prostitutes and their customers?
Is there a way to study prostitution that does not draw a firm line between gender and economics, women's work and men's work? Is there a way to show how prostitution links formal and informal economies, casual and wage labor? How do we write the history of prostitution without isolating women in the categories of deviancy and subculture?
I want to begin by establishing what prostitution is and how it is done; definitions of prostitution must come from the labor process of prostitution, not reformers' moralisms. Identifying prostitution as the occasional work of poor women has gone a long way toward situating these women in their communities as lovers, mothers, and wives, often in that order,43 but it only tells us the frequency with which the work is performed, nothing about the work itself.
But it is in the work of prostitutes that we can begin to see the parallels between what prostitutes do for men and what they do for their families. Prostitutes' work is reproductive-in fact, they sell that part of themselves-of male labor power and family formations. Prostitutes perform tasks that frequently include conversation, cooked food, and bath water that restore, flatter, and revive male energies: prostitutes sell sexual intercourse in a relationship, whether abrupt or deferential.
It is possible that a part of the ambivalence toward prostitutes is that they sell as transactions all that is legitimately available in marriage, and that they are paid out of male wages. Thus, prostitution exists in a direct relationship to wage labor and is domestic labor;44 it is illegal marriage. Prostitution is a capitalist social relationship not because capitalism causes prostitution by commoditizing sexual relations but because wage labor is a unique feature of capitalism: capitalism commoditized labor.
There have been some assertions that old, precapitalist forms ofexchange of women, polygyny, concubinage, or ritualized sex with strangers might influence the local conduct of prostitution, or even its persistence. In this book I am concerned with studying the labor processes of prostitution in a way that reveals the two sides of prostitution, what prostitutes do with their customers and what they do with their earnings. It is sex and money that interests me here. The reproduction of male energies, whether to make men more restrained husbands or more efficient wage laborers, is only part of what prostitutes do; they also work to reproduce themselves and their dependents.
But both kinds of reproduction do not necessarily take place in the same context. Economic systems coexist and are often interdependent. The same women who make working life tolerable for wage laborers may use their earnings so that brothers and lovers can avoid wage labor. The same women who cater to the needs of working men may buy houses and rent rooms to wage laborers at rates that impoverish them.
But why do some women reproduce male labor power in the streets, while others do so in their own rooms?
The Comforts of Home : Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi
Much of the literature on prostitution contends that it is better-whatever that means in the study of prostitution-for a woman to be a call girl than a streetwalker, and indeed that the enormous differences between call girls and prostitutes have to do with status. Streetwalkers were "the group with the lowest prestige,"51 who were "dissipated and unattractive," with "spoiled identities" that separated them from other prostitutes.
Moreover, such hierarchies cannot be attributed to women's earnings unless some time dimension is applied: it means nothing to say that streetwalkers earned less-or more-than brothel prostitutes unless we know how long a period we are talking about-a night in June, six months, or six years.
If prostitution is one of the forms domestic labor takes, then where it takes place merely describes the site of the reproduction of male labor power. Whether a woman is on the street or in her own room reflects her access to housing. The conduct of prostitution is determined by where the work takes place, not by a woman's personality, culture, or insecurities. Introduction 13 The site of reproduction determines the form of a woman's prostitution; this contradicts the idea of deviant street networks, which claims that women are incorporated or recruited into networks that place them where their prostitution is to occur.
Much of the literature about deviant careers argues that becoming a deviant-breaking a law or a moral code-requires a redefinition of self in which deviant behavior is appropriate.
My data indicate that women chose one form over another partly because of the availability of housing and the cost of rent and partly because of the rate of accumulation the form provided. Each labor form represents a specific organization of work and a specific rate of accumulation; labor forms reveal precisely what kind of rational economic choice prostitution is. Since most prostitutes have spent some time on the streets in their working livesaccording to my data, in their youth, not their old age-most prostitutes have practiced more than one form but generally identified with one during their careers.