In: English and Literature

Submitted By qwertyasdf
Words 1054
Pages 5
One can learn a great deal about women’s history from studying women in a particular situation. Discussion of prostitution, a topic that has long excited widespread interest, incorporates ethnographic, historical, philosophical, medical, religious, and sociological elements and can tell much about different societies’ attitudes toward women. Popular attitudes toward prostitution also provide information on a particular society’s beliefs about race, class, gender, and age, as well as eugenics and hygiene, not to mention gender difference in marriage. The variety of sources described here can be employed as a model for students interested in other women’s history topics.

Courtesans, or upper-class prostitutes, are among the women often mentioned in traditional histories, from the hetaerae of Ancient Greece, through the Byzantine Empress Theodora, to Diane de Poitiers, the 16th-century mistress of Henri II, King of France. Courtesans have been the subject of Japanese woodcuts, “Pictures of the Floating World,” dating from the Edo Period , and of European portrait painters.
Some, like the Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry, the mistresses of French King Louis XV during the mid-18th century, came to wield significant power. These women, however, represent only a small percentage of prostitutes, many of whom lived—and still live—in poverty.
Both men and women have been employed as sexual laborers throughout history. When Western governments began attempting to regulate prostitution during the 19th century, however, their policies concentrated on the sexual behaviors of women. Journalists, moral crusaders, and politicians discussed prostitution in newspapers, periodicals, parliament, and public speeches or discussions. Novels reflected contemporary female stereotypes associated with prostitution (the “weaker” morals of women or the “dirtiness” of women from…...

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