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History And Study Of Prostitution History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Prostitution is often titled as the oldest profession in the world. Actually, there are other professions that were around years before prostitution. This error reveals many of the western traditional views about women, for example, women are property and their purpose in life is to be able to satisfy the desires of men. Since these thoughts are deeply embedded in society, it is hard to imagine a time when they were not obvious statements. Prostitution is very ancient, however, and can date back to ancient cities. The issue of its beginning has almost as many responses as it has historians tackling the subject.

There are various theories about prostitution that fall into basic groups. One theory states that “prostitution is inevitable because nature determines certain roles for men and women, and one of women’s roles is to serve the sexual needs of men.”[1] This theory is common among conventional anthropologists and also contemporary theorists. The socialist view inspired by Karl Marx is that prostitution is “an inevitable result of capitalism.” [1] A widely held view by anthropologists is that “prostitution is a holdover from early matriarchal societies where it was practiced without the negative social stigma that is attached to it today.” [2] The last and most reasonable theory is that “prostitution is a function of a patriarchal and male-dominated society.”[2] This outlook is held by anthropologists who believe that patriarchy is a greater form of social structure, and also most modern feminists.

Prostitution is coupled with other issues that women deal with, such as their social status, employment openings and birth control. Out of these categories, the most important would have to be economic status. During history, prostitutes have been divided into separate groups. The lowest group is the prostitutes that work on the streets. These women were initially slaves, and later on came from the extremely poor. The next group is made up of women who work in brothels or other places like that. These women primarily came from working class environments. The last group is upper class of prostitutes called courtesans. Although there is some haziness between these categories, they are distinguished by their amount of pay, working conditions, number of clients, and social status.

The first class, women of the street, consisted of the women who sell their service by walking the street looking for patrons. In ancient periods, slaves made up the lowest class of prostitutes labeled “temple prostitutes.” Due to their connection to the state religions, historians understood that prostitution had no shame in these cultures. [3] In reality, this connection with the temples was only economic. The slave prostitutes did business in the streets and handed their wages over to priests to support the temples. This was the case in Greece and Rome, among other places. Disorder was created by incorrectly linking these women to the priestesses who took part ritual sex as part of their religious rites. Many historians labeled this as prostitution, although it has no similarity to modern descriptions. Most of the prostitutes worked on the street; however, large brothels were thought of as an simpler way to manage them in Greece and Rome.

Prostitution in the streets was also present in the ancient world. In Greece, street walkers worked in taverns, but also shared the status and name, “whore”, with the slaves in the brothels. The Romans viewed prostitutes on the street to be “sexually ravenous, violent, and likely to corrupt children.” Some of the listed qualities of street prostitutes are related to how women were seen later on. However, the part about them being likely to corrupt children is not the same because the women were supposed to be the ones taking care of the children. The lives of these women were restricted tremendously. In Rome, the street prostitutes had a limited number of places that they were allowed to go and they way they dress was also monitored. Most women saw prostitution as a last resort because they were outcasts in society for various reasons. There was no place in these societies for the women who had no men to look after them.

By the time of the Renaissance in Europe, prostitution had already begun to be regulated. Things like rents, wages, and health examinations were all controlled by the various governments. Fear of syphilis led to the closing of the public baths and also the taking away of the majority of prostitutes to brothels. Sadly, the women who were driven out of the brothels as a result of disease had no other option but to work on the streets. These were the lowest class of prostitutes as well as the lowest class of women.

The most widespread type of prostitution in history was in a brothel. These brothels were establishments where certain numbers of prostitutes met to work and occasionally reside. The women in the brothels were usually not slaves, and although they became prostitutes due to financial trouble, they took advantage of their attractiveness by trying to make money using it. In Rome, there were prostitutes that sometimes worked in brothels, but were most likely found in inns.

During the Renaissance, brothels were a recognized part of the cities, and were controlled to specific areas. Important men were often owners of brothels, and taxes on these brothels were paid to the state. Laws tried to confine all the prostitutes to brothels since it was the easiest way that they could be taxed and counted. Individual medical facilities were created to hold the unhealthy prostitutes, and there was a move in the 16th century that tried to get rid of prostitution that formed shelters and convents for improved prostitutes. [4] Regardless of these efforts, prostitution continued to grow, mainly in the bigger cities where wages were low for women and where many men were in the proficient business class. [2]

The courtesans were considered to be the “best” prostitutes. The lives of these have been praised by historians of many eras. In cultures where it was not acceptable for women to interact in public with men, these courtesans were used to replace them. They are the only prostitutes to sometimes have a large involvement in politics and arts. These courtesans motivated types of poetry and fashion styles. Many of the courtesans came from the upper and middle-classes and had to choose the prostitution because it was the only way that they could attain wealth in their male dominated world.

The courtesans do not appear in the history of the middle ages until the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe. Privileged men had concubines, but the courtesan was not prominent until about the 1450’s. When the classic texts were rediscovered, there was a business for these courtesans again, mostly in Italy. A well known courtesan in Venice, built a safe house for prostitutes in the 1570’s. It was uncommon to have this sort of thing because it allowed the women to stay there with their kids and go outside to work at other jobs aside from prostitution.

Courtesans were considered the high class prostitutes. The lives of these women were great in the relative sense because they were well paid. However, being prostitutes, they were still out casted and seen as women of lower status. Like all prostitutes, they served the sexual needs, and were still considered as being inferior.

The idea of prostitution was gendered. Men never had to resort to prostitution because they were accepted as having prominent roles in society ans when they wanted something from women or in general, the received it with no questions ask. This was different for women, they had to wait to be given something and they could not ask for anything without being chastised because of it.

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