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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: February ::
Re: Money and Prostitution
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0220  Wednesday, 2 February 2000.

[1]     From:   William Proctor Williams <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 01 Feb 2000 11:48:24 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0212 Money and Prostitution

[2]     From:   Frank Callahan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Feb 2000 15:12:12 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0212 Money and Prostitution

[3]     From:   Bradley D Ryner <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Feb 2000 15:16:56 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0212 Money and Prostitution

[4]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Feb 2000 16:16:44 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0212 Money and Prostitution

[5]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Feb 2000 16:38:25 -0500
        Subj:   Comparisons are Odorous


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <
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Date:           Tuesday, 01 Feb 2000 11:48:24 +0000
Subject: 11.0212 Money and Prostitution
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0212 Money and Prostitution

In answer to some of Jan Stirm's questions:

"Does the comparison hold today in different geographical areas?  (Upper
Manhattan vs suburban Wisconsin, for example?)  Was there a standard
price in London, or did it vary?  Do all prostitutes charge the same
amount?  Did they then?"  I assume London and I assume an "ordinary"
prostitute.  But, you would have to ask the person who proposed this
comparison for I was not the one, nor do I know if it has any validity.
I suppose others who were at that MLA session could speak up.

"I think most of us would find it easier to use a combination of
wage/salary ranges for various labor activities and costs for various
commodities to get a sense of relative costs."  Here lies the problem
with comparative costs since for almost any activity one can think of
there have been vast changes in technology (few farm laborers use horses
or oxen any more to plough land, very few people make shoes by hand, and
almost no accountants use quill pens); and almost any commodity is
subject to the same difficulties in comparing prices (we can buy fruits,
vegetables, and meat from all over the world at any time of year at,
frequently, a fraction of the cost an Elizabethan would have paid could
they have gotten them, and there are WalMart, Macdonalds, Marks &
Spencer, not to mention e-commerce).  The difficulties in making such
comparisons are immense and when I asked if anyone knew an easy or
difficult way to do it I meant it.

Prostitution is a disgusting and degrading trade, but it exists, and
existed, and may, no more than "may," be one form of labor or commerce
which has been subject to fewer changes due to technology than any
others we can think of.  What the proposer at the MLA session felt or
meant I have no way of knowing, but the possibility is one which
probably should be considered even if it is finally rejected.

William Proctor Williams

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Callahan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Feb 2000 15:12:12 EST
Subject: 11.0212 Money and Prostitution
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0212 Money and Prostitution

I too have heard the assertion and have always taken it as "tongue in
cheek".

Perhaps the comparison is used because prostitution is referred to as
"the world's oldest profession".  What other "profession" crosses time
so thoroughly?

Also, perhaps the comparison is used because the asserters do not
perceive a volatile supply and demand issue as with the price of wheat
or the cost of labor.  I guess the demand (and supply) of prostitution
services is deemed to be pretty constant.

Who knows...

Frank Callahan
Bowie, Md.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bradley D Ryner <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Feb 2000 15:16:56 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 11.0212 Money and Prostitution
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0212 Money and Prostitution

I couldn't agree with Jan more that the idea of using prostitution as a
baseline for comparing money over time is "both uninformative and
downright offensive."  What troubles me most about the premise is the
attempt to justify it by claiming, as the participant in the MLA session
did, that prostitution "was the only thing for which the technology had
not changed."  This claim posits the female body as a transhistorical
commodity which necessarily has a specific value independent of the
economic an ideological systems in which it is located.  The assumption
being that because the female body hasn't gone through the same obvious
changes in production that bread has in becoming wonderbread, it is
(always has been, and always will be) a commodity of the same worth and
that the "value" of the female body is not something assigned to it in a
specific economy, but something natural to it.

Of course, this is not true.  Historically, the "value" placed on the
female body has been subject to concerns of market and ideology
(dynastic concerns, cultural imperatives that a bride be a virgin,
etc.), and many "technologies" have indeed affected this market (from
the chastity belt to the whalebone corsets to the bellybutton ring).
The suggestion that the female body can be used as a benchmark in
determining value discourages investigation into the systems which have
made the female body a commodity, and by doing so, helps to perpetuate
these systems.

I should note that I've consciously made the assumption that the
prostitutes in the proposition were intended to be female.  This seems
to be the case most times that the word in used, hence the need for the
term "male prostitute."

Best,
Brad Ryner

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Feb 2000 16:16:44 -0500
Subject: 11.0212 Money and Prostitution
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0212 Money and Prostitution

The concept of a "night" with a prostitute (male or female) is itself
class-bound. Those who might be described as the proletariat of sex
workers charge by the single act, not the night. And, without straying
into detail inappropriate for a G-rated Listserv, the range of
commercially available acts depends not only on personal sensibilities
but on sanitation. The latex condom is also a technological object that
has had a significant effect on prostitution, so it is not quite true
that this is an industry that has not been affected by technology.

Dana (Shilling)

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Feb 2000 16:38:25 -0500
Subject:        Comparisons are Odorous

Era-by-era economic comparison is difficult because meanings and
interpretations change, even of things that might seem primordial. For
instance, prices for microwave popcorn can't be projected very far back,
of course. Throughout most of human culture, there has been a substance
known as "bread," but it hasn't always been in the cash nexus (whether
bread is prepared at home or purchased is culturally determined).
Furthermore, today even poor people have access to foods other than
bread, whereas for much of human history bread represented a very large
part of everyone's diet, and virtually all of the diet of the poor.

Even something as seemingly unchanging as sexual desire is also quite
culturally determined. Some people experience sexual desire as a
visitation from the Devil, properly tackled with prayer or, in extreme
cases, by exorcism. Others might respond by self-stimulation or some
form of partner activity, with both individual and cultural variations
as to which partners are acceptable for which acts, and whether paying
for sex is sinful, simple pragmatism, or a waste of money in a household
with numerous servants whose consent was considered irrelevant. All of
these factors affect the salience of prostitution in the sexual "diet,"
just as availability of other foodstuffs affects the salience of bread
in the literal diet, and thus the market.

Dana (Shilling)

PS--I love talking to academics. Around here, "privilege" is a verb and
"gaze" is a noun, whereas everywhere else, it's just the opposite.
 

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