Presenter Information

Grace Files, Rhodes CollegeFollow

Date

4-30-2020

Description

This paper explores the ways in which late 19th century American prostitutes have been presented by historians. While some historians have portrayed prostitutes as hapless victims of patriarchy, others have insisted that this narrative robs these women of their agency. Prostitution was empowering for many women financially, allowing them to enter into societal spheres and roles previously reserved for men. Neither of these narratives fully does justice to the situation of prostitutes in the late nineteenth century. Many women were victimized; many others were bold transgressors of gender norms. Oftentimes, prostitutes' lives were a mix of both. These women did cross social boundaries in ways that helped to resist the patriarchal society they lived in, and their accomplishments and achievements in doing so must be recognized. However, their lives as prostitutes and madams ultimately served to reinforce the patriarchal structure of society, even as some of their actions confronted the norms that structure created.

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Apr 30th, 12:00 AM

Who Were They Working For? Sex Work, Working Girls, and Patriarchy in the Late Nineteenth Century

This paper explores the ways in which late 19th century American prostitutes have been presented by historians. While some historians have portrayed prostitutes as hapless victims of patriarchy, others have insisted that this narrative robs these women of their agency. Prostitution was empowering for many women financially, allowing them to enter into societal spheres and roles previously reserved for men. Neither of these narratives fully does justice to the situation of prostitutes in the late nineteenth century. Many women were victimized; many others were bold transgressors of gender norms. Oftentimes, prostitutes' lives were a mix of both. These women did cross social boundaries in ways that helped to resist the patriarchal society they lived in, and their accomplishments and achievements in doing so must be recognized. However, their lives as prostitutes and madams ultimately served to reinforce the patriarchal structure of society, even as some of their actions confronted the norms that structure created.