Monday, 23 May 2011
Helen Self, Prostitution, Women and Misuse of the Law: The Fallen Daughters of Eve (Cass, 2003)
This was a really excellent study of official policies in the UK towards prostitution with an emphasis on the post-WWII era and an intensive focus on the Wolfenden Committee. As with Mort's work on the Committee, one gets the very strong sense that however much there was some degree of openmindedness towards homosexuals (at least ones who were more or less chaps like us), most of the committee members had their minds made up already about prostitution. Self is good on the contradictions - on the claims that it wasn't about morals, it was about public order and decency, while having a very stigmatising and pathologising view of the women involved. Again like Mort, shows that there was a very narrow construction of what counted as expertise, which drew a line excluding all the various women's organisations who had been dealing with the problem for nearly a century. Attempts to amend the law have been piecemeal and ad hoc and ineffective (a lot of it comes down to specific on the street policing, which varies wildly by area) and have even tended to make things worse for the sex-worker. Strongly indicates the lingering attitudes about the prostitute as a particular kind of person who can be defined and categorised and separated out, and how uphill the struggle has been to suggest that men's implication (as customers rather than ponces or pimps) is part of the problem - and this only really got dealt with in terms of kerb-crawling as public nuisance, in ways that tended to endanger the working women.