?There are women who search for love, and there are those that search for money.?
Today, the term woman simply denotes one’s sex. It does not define her character, morals and values, or even her profession. However, this was not always the case. At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century, during the Progressive Era, there was a drive for reform. Various social problems became targets for investigation and intervention: child labour, juvenile delinquency, corruption in city government and police departments, and prostitution. These things were newly discovered social problems; the only differences during this period were the new assumptions, strategies, and expectations of a broad organization of activists. Progressive reform actively decided to take more of a role in regulating the social welfare of its citizens, and those private and public spheres of activity could not be disentangled. Prostitution was an issue that underscored the relationship between home life and street life, wages of ?sin’ and low wages of women workers, double sexual standards and transmission of venereal disease. The late nineteenth century response to prostitution revealed the competing ideologies within Progressive reform activity over social justice and social control.
?Most attempts to ?deal with’ prostitution have consisted almost exclusively of more or less vigorous attempts to suppress it altogether ? by forcing the closing of brothels, and by increased police activities against individual prostitutes and against those individual places, such as taverns, where prostitutes frequently solicit.?
This paper seeks to prove that the reformers were unable to stamp out prostitution during the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century for a variety of factors. First, I will look at why women in the late nineteenth, and early twentieth century became prostitutes. The gender differences between sex roles will be analyzed in relation to prostitution. Finally, the various failed attempts to abolish prostitution will be discussed.
?Legally [prostitution] is often defined as the hiring out of the body for sexual intercourse.? Some say that the exchange of money does not need to take place. Albert Ellis, one well-known sexologist and author would define prostitution as, ?A woman or a man engaging in sexual relations for non-sexual and non-amotive considerations.? This definition would therefore include ??girls who trade their sexual favors for food, entertainment or other gifts.? Each individual may have different views as to what a prostitute is or how they feel about them. During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century reformers, for example, wanted to eradicate prostitution. It was looked at as the cause of all evil and poverty, among other things. But, it was over the place, girls supplying their bodies for the males’ high compulsion to satisfy their sexual desires.
Canada’s industrial development equipped many women with outlet for their skills and energies in addition to the home and other work places. With all the improvements in transportation and communications, growth of the cities is the availability of new consumer goods provided in an age of national growth. However, with all of this came economic and social tensions. Most Canadians were concerned with the presence of certain ethnic groups, poverty in the cities and an increasing crime rate. With this new found awareness of social problems, came the belief that by identifying and classifying problems the nature of the world could be reformed to insure a moral, civilized society.
There are many reasons why one would choose upon a career of prostitution. They range from quick money to language barriers (most girls were foreign born or their parents were foreign born), from curiosity to alcoholism. ?Most prostitutes are believed to have started at a young age and despite much talk about ?white slavery’, no cases were ever found of a women unwillingly detained in a brothel.? Up until about mid way through the twentieth century a large percentage of all the women engaged in prostitution were professional prostitutes, registered or widely known to be such, and often working in brothels.
? A the 1916’s Unemployment Commission had observed, working girls seemed to be unable to stick out jobs for more than a few months, and many were so frivolous and irresponsible that they were justifiably dismissed. Frustrated that they could not afford material pleasures, they were easily ?led astray’ by persuasive gentlemen ready to pay?
Looking at the root causes of why women choose to become prostitutes will show one of the reasons why reformers were unable to abolish it. Research and investigation done in the early twentieth century debated the issues of why one would become a prostitute. Prostitution was believed to be a grave social evil. Some believed that women’s wages were rather low, thus driving women to turn to prostitution. However, after ??treating hundreds of prostitutes for seven years, the mission [Toronto rescue mission director] had not found a single women who had been driven by low pay to her ?misdeeds’?. It was then concluded that the low pay was not the solitary of primary cause of prostitution. ?It was pointed out that girls who struggled to survive on 5-6$ per week managed to ?retain their virtue’ proved, first, that it could be done and, second, that something other than poverty namely, moral weakness accounted for women’s downfall.? But how could you possibly say that women were naturally immoral when it was men that were engaging in these acts with the prostitutes. All of these reasons explain why become harlots, but, if it was not for men who pursued these women then there would be no money or demand for the victims to fall into the trap of prostitution.
Physicians have always asserted the strengths of the male sex drive but have been more ambivalent in their attitudes towards female sexuality. Women were the child bearers and child carers, and so it was very important for them to remain ambivalent in their attitudes towards female sexuality. Prostitution was linked to male dominance in economic, political, and social life, and viewed the sexual double standard as an extension of the imbalance of power between the sexes. The Victorians and many of their descendants believed in a balanced society; each sex complimented the other thus if men had a strong sex drive, women, in order to maintain the balance, were weaker. Sexually active women were believed to be acting against their very nature. It is one of the reasons that being a prostitute has long been a crime in this country. Until recently, going to a prostitute has not; men who used the services of prostitutes were simply succumbing to their ?natural’ drives, where as the prostitutes were acting in an unnatural fashion. In the early part of the twentieth century the medical profession gave support to the idea that most prostitutes were feeble minded. It was the female behavior, not male, that was considered deviant. The majority of the women were seemingly content to submerge themselves in their families, to subordinate their own ambitions to those of their husbands or male children, to remain uneducated and even ignorant, unable to enter into masculine conversation, there was always the minority who did not or would not. Often the only other thought to be alternative for such rebellious women was prostitution. This is not to imply that women’s life in the past was bleak and unfulfilled, or to agree with the more ardent feminists that women were little better than slaves; unlike slaves, the wife could usually deny her sexual favors to her husband. Despite the harshness of women’s lives most of them adjusted their position.
?Many were at least as well off as their husbands or brothers: the women of the frontier shared equally with the male, as did the women of the lower classes; in pre-industrial societies the women was usually man’s economic partner. But here social life was certainly more circumscribed, and she was still the ?weaker vessel’ who could not be trusted with her own future.?
Prostitution has persisted in our society throughout many centuries despite continuous attempts to suppress it by religious, moral and legal prosecution. Humans all have sexual urges that exist from the moment of birth, but paying for them is considered immoral.
?There are three major systems for dealing with prostitution. These are Regulation, Suppression and Abolishment. None of these systems have been found apt to eliminate anyone of the disadvantages of prostitution, although each system has managed in its own way to restrict or reduce them.?
The nineteenth century regulation was in effect but abolition is the common route for the twentieth century. ?Regulation is a system where by women practicing prostitution are registered with the police and are controlled by means of rules, the avowed object of which is to safeguard public order and decency on one hand and public health on the other.? Those who upheld regulation believed that it was impossible to eradicate prostitution therefore it should be controlled. It sounds great in theory but the amount of energy that is involved in keeping track of who is registered and all that goes on behind the policies eyes.
?The suppression of prostitution is the total prohibition imposed on acts of prostitution and other activities that promote, organize or facilitate prostitution.? This makes prostitution a criminal offence, punishing the prostitutes and the clients for engaging in it. When applied properly, a system of suppression does not eradicate prostitution but it drives prostitutes underground. Therefore one more system failed in the attempt to annihilate prostitution.
The final and most commonly used system during the twentieth century was abolition. ?Abolitionists are those who oppose all statutory enactment’s or police ordinates authorizing the registration and medical examinations of prostitutes and the existence of licensed brothels.? So long as the average human male is endowed with a vital sexual urge that cannot be generously satisfied and is economically in a position to provide some material reward in consideration for his sexual release, prostitution will inevitably exist.
Across Canada many upper and middle class educated women joined the movement to reform. Many organizations formed, the largest and perhaps most influential women’s organization was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). This group was formed to stop the liquor trade because the women of WCTU believed that alcohol was the root of all societies ills; crime, poverty, and sexual immorality.
Prostitution is an enigmatic and controversial subject. Streetwalking will always lead to a corner in democratic societies with capitalist economies; it invades the ground of intimate sexual relations yet calls for regulation. A society’s response to prostitution goes to the core of how it chooses between the rights o some persons and the protection of others. In nearly every society past or present, the public has sought to control the prostitution economy through the female prostitutes themselves. Yet prostitution has been resistant to nearly all efforts to suppress it. The progressive reform portrait of the prostitutes women enslaved was simplistic, but the present day representation of prostitutes as female entrepreneurs is equally na?ve. The image of the prostitutes as working women, featured films, books, and television and radio talk shows seem to seek to demystify prostitution, to strip away the glamour and sensationalism. These images represent a conscious attempt to reject the portrayal o prostitutes as outcast women, deviant actors, and criminal types prevalent in the popular literature and scientific journals of the last century and a half. These images of prostitution reveal a retreat from an era of social justice campaigns that sought through economic and social programs to remove the sources of prostitution.
Benjamin, Harry. Prostitution and Morality. (New York), The Julian Press, Inc., 1964.)
Bullough, Vern L. The History of Prostitution. (New Hyde Park, New York, University Books Inc., 1964)
Report of the Special committee on Pornography and Prostitution. Pornography and Prostitution in Canada. (Ottawa, Canada, Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1985.)
Sion, Abraham A. Prostitution and the Law. (London, England, Western Printing Services Ltd., 1997.)
Strange, Carolyn. Toronto’s Girl Problem: The Perils and Pleasures of the City, 1880-1930. (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1995.)