Tag Archives: Sexuality

Prostitution is Increasing in Society: Why?

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I have seen how prostitition has increased in the just-over-a-decade that I have been in the sex industry (I never ever imagined this would have been my life!). I became a prostitute a few years before the Internet Escort Craze began. At it’s peak in 2008/2009, the Craigslist Erotic listings truly changed the nature of the sex industry. Later, websites like Backpage would also act as a popular medium for sex workers and clients to connect. I jumped on the Internet craze a bit late, starting in late 2010. In essence, I have witnessed a LOT of change in the sex industry from my early days until now. The pivotal change is how the Internet made sex work more easily attainable for both clients and sex workers. The Internet mediums for selling sex, in alignment with the 2008 economic recession, also led to an increased number of women joining the sex industry due to economic woes.

The Internet, however, increased negativity for women in the sex industry. More and more women were joining the sex industry, and yet standards within the sex industry became more degraded. The price of sex, for one, has barely increased in line with monetary inflation. Instead, the inflation of women has cheapened the price of sex. As a result, many sex workers have to truly lower their dignity and price to attract clients. When I began sex work just over a decade ago, there was no such thing as “quickies” as a high-class escort. Now, there are beautiful women who will do it all for much less. I feel deeply sad whenever I see escort ads —  I had never heard of “15 minute specials” or things like “blow and go.” I can’t even look at those ads anymore without feeling immensely sad at what the lives must like of the women who post such ad’s. Moreover, it makes me sad (and scared) to imagine there are men who will contribute to a woman’s worth being reduced to a quickie or “blow and go.”

In my case, I was able to maintain the same standards that I had from the beginning of my sex work days, thankfully. This is because I had the ability to work low-volume, or part-time. Most prostitutes don’t share my experience, however. Most are subjected to having less control over their bodies, which leads to severe emotional (and sometimes physical) trauma from their work. Despite all the sadness I have felt all these years, I cannot even dare to imagine the pain that most other prostitutes experience (again, my situation is not comparable to the majority).

Why is Prostitution Increasing?

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The answer is: Society is increasingly losing it’s humanity. Inequality is increasing. Unhappy, stressed and overworked people are increasing. Relations between men and women are more conflicting. The family unit is decreasing. Wisdom/morality is decreasing. All of these social ills are related and are the result of a capitalistic world system based on consumerism (ie: $$$$$$$$$). When people are unhappy or stressed, most will resort to various outlets (drugs, sex, porn, food) to cope.  Prostitutes fill a void for the men who visit them.

In times of increased stress, the demand for prostitutes will increase (this is the world we live in now).

For clients, prostitutes are an escape from a stressful work week, stressful responsibilities, etc. People, in general, are stressed more so than ever before in history, and thus there is an increased demand for escapism (the sex industry is one form of escapism for men). Are prostitutes a healthy outlet for escapism? There is no simple answer, because men visit prostitutes for a wide variety of reasons and at different frequencies. In essence, the demand has risen, and thus the supply (prostitutes) has increased.

I have traveled quite a bit of the world, thankfully. From my travels and my anthropological studies, I observed that only certain societies can allow prostitution to thrive. Despite prostitition being “the oldest profession in the world,” not all societies in the past had the conditions for prostitution to occur. Historically, more simplistic societies with a strong emphasis on kin/family had no reason for women to prostitute themselves. Many simple societies had little sense of individualism, so therefore it would be extremely rare for an individual to be neglected and left on their own to care for themselves. A woman is prone to become a prostitute in a context where she is neglected in some form and left to fend for herself —- such a phenomena can only occur in the society that has the conditions where exploitation and inequality can occur. In the current global context, a woman has very little security to protect her well-being and thus many can be easily ‘pushed’ into sex work. It’s an unfortunate reality.

I live in a city where there is a high ratio of women who are in the sex industry in some shape or form.

I remember sitting on a train a few years ago, and I overheard two college girls casually discussing sugar daddies. One girl was telling her peer that she really needs to considering getting a sugar daddie online to help pay her bills. Both girls looked like completely normal, typical college girls. It was a shocking realization for me, because when I was a teen I would never imagine “normal” girls casually discussing schemes on making money by through sex. But clearly I was out of the loop, because THINGS HAVE CHANGED. When I was 16 years old, I had no idea what an escort was! But nowadays, young ‘normal’ girls know all about the sex industry — they know (thanks to music and social media) that a viable option for them is to became an escort, cam girl, sugar baby, stripper, or porn actress. Now, the sex industry has become normalized. It’s even glamorized (for the dark purpose of indirectly trafficking more girls into sex work).

Hip Hop, Social Media & the Entertainment Industry is Making Prostitution ‘Cool’ 

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Celebrities like Amber Rose are promoting apparel that tells women to proudly say they are a “hoe” or “slut.”

“You’re such a fucking HOE, I love it!”

Kanye West and Lil Pump in ‘I love It’

“Fuck him and I get some money. Yah! Fuck him then I get some money…”

– Cardi B with G-Eazy in ‘No Limit’

THE NEW PIMPS are popular music entertainers and other celebrities:

They hook their viewers by telling them it’s fun to take drugs (smoke a lil weed to dumb and numb them down ), which then weakens and makes the victim complicit in their exploitation. 

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a young man or woman these days (mind you, I am talking as if I am super old…..I am an old soul!). Young minds are so impressionable. A young girl these days faces tremendous pressure from the most soulless, superficial role models. The most popular music ‘artists’ are ones promoting women to literally hate their natural selves. They glamorize a woman’s worth based on her ability to be being a sex object. This kind of objectification was around when I was a teenager too, but it was not to the extreme that it is today. When I was a teen, there was NEVER any popular music that was openly telling me to sell my body as a prostitute. I was in my late teens when I entered sex work and I had literally no idea of what I was getting into. But nowadays, things are much different. Young girls may already know about escorting or sugaring as a career option due to sex work becoming mainstream. Instead of the traditional pimps, celebrities are the new pimps, telling women to become sex workers, to be petty. And now, many women are actually doing it since it has become so mainstream (escorts, strippers, porn actresses, cam girls, etc). Women will have less hesitation to join the sex industry when it is NORMALIZED and ENCOURAGED by pop culture. It’s truly heart breaking, because these women are led to believe lies of empowerment and happiness through false propaganda. Even some escorts will pimp out other women by selling the false image of a luxurious lifestyle. What women are not told about are the consequences of living such a life, and moreover how materialism only creates a VERY short-lived sense of fulfilment. No woman feels empowered when she is treated like an object (where her inner qualities are rejected or ignored). There is short term joy for newbies to the sex industry, but the long term consequences always contain harm, exploitation and psychological distress. As mentioned, almost all sex workers will resort to drugs, drinking, and other harmful habits to cope with the lack of wholesome love that led them into sex work.


Given that the Internet explosion of sex work is still relatively new, it will be very interesting to observe the long term effects of this new attempt at making sex work ‘cool’ and ‘trendy.’ 

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**For any of my readers unfamiliar with street slang, a “hoe” is the same derogatory meaning as a whore, slut or prostitute. 

Dear Readers: What do you think? Have you, too, also noticed the expansion of the sex industry? Are there any things that influenced you to the sex industry?

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Clients, Escorts & All: How You Behave When No One is Watching Defines Your Character

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The increasing apathy towards others makes it apparent that there is a war against love and belonging in society. Disunity is being promoted on a grande scale in subtle ways — for what purpose? Disunity, destroying bonds, destroying love — they all serve the purpose of making us mindless drones, consuming endlessly. I try hard to not let this realization harden me, though it is a battle at times. I am aware that goodness still prevails in humanity. I’ve witness many people become jaded by the rampant trends of shallowness, but I remind them that wholesome goodness still remains in the margins. Like anything of true beauty, goodness is often a hidden gem and not apparent so easily.

It is said that the true mark of a person’s character is how they treat others. For me, I further evaluate ones goodness based on how they treat the most vulnerable people outside the public eye. Prostitutes get to see a spectrum of empathy and apathy in humanity in ways that, perhaps, the average woman does not see. We see how men behave when they are outside the surveillance of society -when they are anonymous.

Sadly, a lot of ‘nice’ people in public can be the exact opposite behind closed doors — especially when their identity is anonymous and they are situated in a setting where they cannot be touched by the law. A client, for instance, may behave very differently with a prostitute than with others in a public setting. He may disregard common decency and respect when dealing with prostitutes, because he knows he will face no backlash since his identity isn’t being exposed. Thus, it is often behind closed doors where ones’ true colors are exposed. All prostitutes have their own share of experiencing such a soulless character. Indeed, not all clients fit into this heartless persona. Thankfully, almost all of my clients personally are decent men. Indeed, a client who treats prostitutes with respect, kindness, and dignity is a wholesome being — such a persons kindness is genuine when they behave morally outside the public gaze.

What is worrisome is that the complete disregard of a woman’s soul and emotional well-being (a women’s mind and soul completely divorced from her body) is increasingly becoming MORE common in society — and not just towards sex workers. When apathy becomes the norm, how are people to trust others? When hatred and exploitation of certain peoples becomes the norm, how can there be hope?

There is hope, of course. Goodness still exists in a rampantly shallow society, though in the minority. And indeed, hard hearts can be softened..

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Baran (2001)

For this post, I want to analyze and recommend a film that is dear to my heart, a film that inspires the softening of the heart. A very simple, yet deeply meaningful film by the talented Iranian director Majid Majidi, titled Baran. Though the film Baran has nothing to do with prostitution, it is a film that has brought me to tears in relation to my work as a prostitute. But beyond that, the film Baran has immensely valuable lessons of humanity that have become so foreign to many of us.

The story in Baran is situated in modern day Iran, in the context of neighbouring war-torn Afghanistan. Millions of Afghan refugees fled to Iran in recent decades to flee war, and what emerged were profound xenophobic views towards Afghans living in Iran. The xenophobic attitudes of Iranian society towards Afghans is common place, comparable to the bigoted American view of illegal Mexican immigrants, or bigoted Gulf Arabs attitudes towards their migrant workers. In Baran, the reality of Afghans in Iran is depicted by illustrating how they work in slave-like jobs, were severely underpaid compared to Iranian or Turkish workers, and had limited-to-zero access to government social welfare provisions.

What is compelling about this film is it addresses the topic of basic humanity: genuine love (which is selfless) and belonging, and most importantly, it addresses the societal conflict that PREVENTS genuine forms of love and belonging from taking place. Indeed, there are endless forces within modern society that attempt to seal our hearts and replace love with synthetic versions (or hate). One might ask: Why are certain vulnerable groups treated with such hostility and degradation? How does one become a apathetic person who commits injustice to the vulnerable?

Baran teaches the viewer that a hateful, apathetic person is often the product of the their respective societal norms. In other words, if one lives in a society that embraces hateful attitudes towards a certain group and constantly spews propaganda to continuously demonize them, then inevitably the majority of the populace will internalize this societal norm. In the case of Baran, the main character Lateef, a Turkish migrant worker (viewed as more ‘dignified than being a ‘lowly’ Afghan worker) epitomizes a young mind who has internalized the prevalent xenophobic attitude towards Afghans. He behaves incredibly cruel towards the Afghan characters in the film, initially. His hate is based off not his own observation and experience, but rather through xenophobic societal norms. Lateefs’ cruelty is far more grave given that the Afghan workers, in particular, had no social or legal protection in Iran. Thus, cruelty towards marginalized groups, generally, face no repercussions or backlash. Moreover, when someone internalizes xenophobic attitudes, their cruelty is perceived as nonproblematic and in some cases, justified.

Change is Possible – A Hard Heart can be Softened

What strikes me is the climax in this film, which occurs when the initially cruel character, Lateef, has an epiphany — a life changing realization. Lateef realizes he has made a grave immoral mistake by abusing and neglecting the vulnerable. He is filled with remorse. I view Lateefs’ epiphany and realization of his faults as his mark into manhood/adulthood — he, initially, had zero care or empathy for others. He was hot-headed and careless, thus demonstrating his immaturity and lack of empathy. Empathy is a quality that marks one into maturity — a child does not know empathy. For instance, a baby or child cries out to its Mother when it needs something. A child does not yet have the capacity to be considerate of the Mother’s well-being. But as adults, one of the most noble traits to acquire that breaks one away from childhood is empathy. Empathy requires the realization that ones own actions affect others. Lateef came to this realization when he was faced with the ugliness of his own behavior towards the voiceless Afghan workers, which haunted him. And how did he come to this conclusion?

Lateef went upon his own journey of realization by going outside his own circle to observe the life of downtrodden people — namely, the despised Afghan refugees working in Tehran. He was brought to tears by witnessing the the hardships faced by the Afghans (poverty, hopelessness, humiliation, loneliness). By witnessing the hardships they faced, Lateef realizes how blind he was to the xenophobia towards Afghans in Iranian society. Essentially, the lesson learnt here is this: it is easy to condemn, exploit and dismiss people or groups when you have not known them personally or have experienced life from their perspective.

Finally, the most serene aspect of this film, which usually brings me to tears is how Lateef seeks to redeem his morality by giving up his own comfort (he gives his entire years worth of salary and life savings to the vulnerable Afghans). Lateef is irreversibly changed by this epiphany into a wholesome, responsible and moral young man. Lateef, himself, is relatively poor, but considers his plight as an impoverished Turkish migrant worker as a paradise compared to the plight of Afghans. So, thus, he gives up everything he has, his money and even sells his own identity card — a card that will disrupt his own well-being if he is without it. Lateef hopes that by giving aid he will redeem not only his past immorality, but he is also performing his moral responsibility as a man towards the female protagonist, Baran. What is compelling is that not a single soul knows about Lateefs’  act of generosity — he sought no reward, no recognition, no recompense for giving his lifes’ savings away to the vulnerable. What is this gesture other than the expression of utmost selfless love? Finally, at the end of the film, the expression of content that Lateef expresses with his smile is the epitome of true love. I urge you to watch this gem of a film and witness the very subtle messages of humility yourself. SubhanAllah

My heart melts while viewing this film for the immense morality it portrays, which is something so rare and beautiful –something so deeply lacking in today’s modern society — selfless love. How many of us can say we love without expectation? How many of us can say we give altruistically towards others, anonymously perhaps, without any expectation? Indeed these are questions I have to ponder and understand myself. How many clients are kind and respectful to prostitutes without putting her comfort in jeopardy? How many clients can retain kindness to a prostitute despite not getting what they had hoped for? It is indeed a mark of strength and courage to retain selflessness in today’s world. Even if we desire to love others selflessly, it is immensely difficult in a climate that tells us to focus on inflating our own egos. But I still have hope– I still believe, and have seen at times, that there are beautiful souls among us. The degree of humanity expressed in the film Baran is something one can only dream of. I suppose I, personally, still have a child-like desire to be loved by another truly selflessly — we yearn for this feeling that we had as children (to be loved selflessly by our Mothers and Fathers, if we were blessed to have them both or at all). Indeed some people were not blessed to experience the selfless love of parents, so I hope that those people, in particular, are blessed with the most sincere love from others.


To readers, keep your hearts soft — Don’t feel down if you cannot attain the love/gratitude that you desire for yourself. Sometimes, one must forget about themselves and spread love for those who are lacking the most love in society today.

It is my hope that this post beckons one to ask themselves: How do you treat others when no one else is watching?

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A History of Courtesans In South Asia — How Colonialism lead to the Degradation of the Lives of Prostitutes

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Ghazala Javed, popular Pashto singer killed in 2012 by her ex-husband

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I recently submitted an essay about the history of Courtesans in South Asia. It’s quite lengthy, but I thought it would be of interest to those interested in how notions of gender and sexuality changed dramatically with regards to modernity. Here is a brief summary of some key issues:

1. Notions of gender and sexuality in Non-Western parts of the world were quite relaxed and fluid compared to today’s context. 

2. Colonialism projected European discourses of gender and sexuality onto the world and posited prude Victorian morality as ‘superior.’ These discourses were adopted and internalized by many leaders of the non-West. 

3. To understand the ‘strict’ norms of sexuality in certain parts of the non-West today, one must look at how colonialism changed former notions of gender and sexuality. 

My own interest in this topic was sparked by common stereotypes that I hear about men from South Asia or Islamic parts of the world. More often than once, I encounter white-European clients whom are often quite shocked when I tell them that my lovers of the past and present have been Muslim men — they become more shocked when I tell them that I prefer men from my own culture, or similar backgrounds. The common thing I hear is, “But don’t Muslim, or brown men, treat their women terribly? I usually giggle slightly and say something along the lines of, “My dear, that’s not true. There are good and bad in all people” And then, if they are interested to hear, I give them a little history about how the Western media is obsessed with portraying the non-West (namely Muslim-majority countries) as oppressive, especially towards women. It is an unfortunate reality that many people have accepted incorrect discourses (constructed stereotypes) towards certain cultures, which has inspired myself and many others to challenge this narrative.

I started my essay by talking about the 2012 murder of a popular Pashto singer, Ghazala Javed, and how her death can easily fall into the widespread “Oppressive Brown/Muslim Man” narrative. Ghazala was killed by her ex-husband, allegedly on the grounds that her career as a mujra, a combination of both singing and dancing, was considered morally shameful for a woman. Yet contrary to popular Western narratives, female entertainers like Ghazala Javed, historically more broadly known as courtesans, were once held with cultural significance and social esteem in many parts of South Asia. Ghazala Javed was of Pashtun descent, an ethnic group in Pakistan and Afghanistan, more recently known for their affiliation with the Taliban. Pashtuns, in particular, are often stereotyped for their rigid control over women, which became more pronounced with their association with Taliban fundamentalism.

The media’s portrayal of certain Islamic/South Asian cultures as cesspools of male violence against women is an ongoing trend, a continuation of Orientalism. In 1978, professor Edward Said wrote Orientalism, in which he argues how knowledge of the non-Western world, the Orient, was imagined through a Western lens. Western writings about the Orient, which Said called Orientalism, were presented as objective knowledge — meaning, they were presented as factual. In reality, however, European Orientalist writings about the Orient were shaped by dominant European ideologies, such as social Darwinism. In Orientalist writings, cultures of the non-West were viewed as static, or unchanging, and essentialist, meaning peoples of the non-West were all essentially the same. The framework of Orientalism helps to show how dominant Western stereotypes about women in South Asia do not depict the reality necessarily. Many stereotypes today about the non-West stem from colonialism, which portrayed peoples of the non-West as ‘inferior’ and thereby valourizing the West as ‘superior.’ Such stereotypes had a powerful effect, and manifested in various forms of colonial rule. In essence, colonialism irreversibly changed the roles of men and women in colonized parts of the world. It is particularly interesting to note how colonialism changed notions of gender and sexuality in colonized parts of the world. For this post, I will focus on how colonialism degraded the status of the esteemed courtesan. 

Tawaif

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Depiction of Courtesans relaxing in the kotha

South Asian Courtesans Before British Colonial Rule

Prior to high noon of British colonialism, courtesans were esteemed in the sense that they were able to attain wealth, exercise power and hold status in society independently of male control. The memoir of the Lucknow courtesan Umrao Jaan, provides one insight into the life of courtesan before and after the establishment of the British Raj in 1858. Historian Veena Talwar-Oldenburg attributes how Umrao Jaan’s elevated lifestyle coincides with testimonies of other courtesans of the early colonial period. As Talwar notes, courtesans constituted a matriarchy, where they were able to run their lives, thereby subverting patriarchal norms that existed outside the kotha. The kotha, or female apartments, were spaces where females held authority, where they could exercise their agency over men, such as clients, musicians, male servants, etc. Many courtesans were highly skilled in Urdu and Persian literature, kathak dancing, singing and various other arts. In many parts of precolonial India, the arts of the courtesan were highly praised and patronized by the wider society. For instance, a courtesan was not only courted by men, but courtesans were also summoned by women to perform at weddings, ceremonies, etc. From these snap-shots, it seems courtesans were not simply sexual objects with no significance, but were instead valourized as artists, offering an amalgam of entertainments beyond just sex. The historical role of these women is in stark contrast with their fate after colonial rule and independence.

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From 1858 onwards, British colonial rule fundamentally changed the social fabric of South Asian society. Many British narratives expressed the urgency to bring ‘civilization’ to uplift Indians from their alleged primitiveness. The very idea of ‘civilizations’ stems from social Darwinist theory, in which cultures were ranked on an evolutionary scale. In this European ideology, Europeans were ranked at the top as racially ‘superior’ whilst peoples of non-West were considered primitive, backwards, inferior, uncivilized. The British often posited their ‘superior’ treatment of women as a justification for their superiority. In British colonial India, the British expressed ‘humanitarian’ agendas to ‘uplift’ Indian women from ‘barbaric’ cultural practices, such as child marriage, polygyny, and the esteemed courtesan tradition. If these practices were deemed ‘inferior’ then it indirectly was juxtaposing the British Victorian womanhood as ideal. Such colonial discourses were influential in the 19th century, because the British had the imperial power to assert their dominance on a global scale. Said’s framework of Orientalism, however, shows another dimension to British narratives of ‘protecting the brown woman.’ Many European discourses were strategic in denouncing cultures of the non-West, as stereotypes were powerful ideological tools to maintain imperial interests. In other words, in order to gain support for imperial exploitation of the South Asia, the British had to portray their missions as ‘humanitarian’– to bring ‘civilization’ to people of the non-West. While social Darwinist ideology is dismissed as pseudo-science today, it is important to note how influential such stereotypes would become when pertaining to gender. In the mid-19th century onwards, Indian male nationalists, fearing to fall behind on the so-called evolutionary scale, were keen to show that their women were ‘civilized’ along British ideals of womanhood. The ‘ideal’ Indian woman became redefined along the lines of Victorian morality — she was now domestic, chaste, and hailed as the ‘Goddess’ of the house. This new ‘ideal’ woman was in conflict with former notions of gender, especially for the courtesan, whose livelihood gradually became constructed as ‘immoral.’

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Oil Painting Depiction of an Elegantly Attired Courtesan

This new ‘ideal’ woman, projected by British colonial discourses, became internalized and promoted by Indian male nationalists from the 19th century onwards. These new gender ideals also became institutionalized, and resultantly had dire implications for courtesans. One major blow to courtesan tradition was the 1864 Contagious Diseases Act, a British law that mandated state regulation and control over the bodies of courtesans, subjecting them to mandatory testing, thereby reducing their agency and reducing them to what the British envisaged as a common prostitute. The 1864 Contagious Diseases Acts were propagated to protect women from sexual diseases, but it also indirectly functioned to stigmatize ‘unregulated’ sex as ‘unhygienic,’ thus giving prostitutes a stigma of being ‘dirty.’ In 1892, the Anti Nautch Movement was another aim to stop the courtesan traditional, and had wide support by both the British and educated Hindu elite who collaborated with the British. In 1893, in The Wrongs of Indian Womanhood, a British missionary named Mrs. Marcus B. Fuller dedicated an entire chapter to denounce the ‘nautch’ tradition and endorse the Anti-Nautch Movement. In her words, she described nautch girls (courtesans) as “rich, beautiful and very attractive, besides being witty and pleasant in conversation; and they are the only women that move freely.” Ironically, this description she gives of courtesans is what she considers immoral, or “disgraceful” and overall, a danger to social harmony. It was during the late 19th century when prostitutes became posited as ‘The Great Social Evil’ by European missionaries and moralists. Clearly, Mrs. Fuller was an advocate of colonial ideals of ‘ideal’ womanhood. Interestingly, she posits the clients, or patrons, of courtesans, as victims of the courtesan’s seductive power and thereby men are “wasting” their money on these women. Mrs. Fuller’s account was not out of the ordinary, as even British men related to her view. In 1851, the infamous British explorer Richard Burton wrote about courtesans whom thrived in Sindh, and like Mrs. Fuller, he seemed quite displeased at the social esteem given to these women. Accounts like Burton and Fuller echo the prevailing Victorian discourse of gender and sexuality that ‘ideal’ women should be chaste, domestic. Indian male nationalists, keen to prove they were ‘civilized,’ often supported campaigns against courtesans too. In effect, laws and campaigns to regulate women’s bodies gradually lead to the degradation of South Asian courtesans. Despite crackdowns, however, the courtesan culture continued to exist, yet now marginal, criminalized and stigmatized due to new colonial realities.

European critiques of South Asian culture were not without protest. In fact, many nationalists saw reviving their cultural traditions as a form of anti-colonial protest. While the courtesan represented elements of traditional culture in South Asian society, revivalists, however, seldom embraced the once noble courtesan tradition. One would assume being anti-colonial would mean rejecting the colonial gender discourses that were projected onto South Asia, yet ironically anti-colonial discourses were often propagated by Western-educated Indian elite, who’s views were heavily fused with European ideologies. Hindu revivalists, for instance, often wanted to revert back to an imagined ‘pure’ ancient Hindu past, and European notions of what it meant to be ‘pure’ heavily influenced their modern interpretations of ‘purity.’ Because the recent courtesan tradition was associated with elite Islamic culture, Hindu revivalists often discredited acts from the Islamic period as not part of the ‘pure’ Hindu past. Even Mahatma Gandhi adopted this flaw; he was determined in his anti-colonial stance, yet was not keen on the courtesan tradition. Tula and Pande explain this irony, “nationalists saw them [courtesans] embodying everything that a modern, educated Hindu woman would not do.” Rather ironic, yet many nationalists and their supporters, including women, adhered to new discourses of ‘ideal’ womanhood. These attitudes continued into the post-1947 contexts of independent India and Pakistan, and thus the modern nation-state is not without its colonial legacies. As historian Shahnaz Khan notes in “Zina and the Moral Regulation of Pakistani Women,” women became, “the biological and cultural reproducers of the nation. As such, their sexuality is a valuable resource that is utilized to service their families and the nation” In other words, Khan highlights how gender control became vital to the nation-state, as it’s instrumentally used to retain hegemonic power. Therefore, any potential support for the courtesan tradition would be undermined because it poses a challenge to the prevalent and internalized discourses of ‘ideal’ womanhood. In any case, women who continued to entertain or sell themselves did not have much of a voice, but instead those in power were deciding their fates. The practice of silencing a group, and stereotyping them was, however, a strategic practice from colonialism onwards.

Pashtun tribal 19th Century

Pashtun Tribals in the 19th century

            The colonial discourses on the Pashtun people provide an interesting insight as they were often stereotyped as the most culturally ruthless groups in South Asia. In many contemporary and colonial Western accounts, their violent ‘nature’ was often described in essentialist ways. For instance, R. E. Newman’s Pathan Tribal Patterns describes how Pashtun culture follows a strict adherence to a code of honor, or Pakhtunwali. In reference to them, he notes, “The tribal people are most renowned for their physical acts of violence.” Newman also notes how women are tied to the code of honor, where “zan, zar, and zamin (woman, gold, and land)” are part of a man’s honor. In Newman’s view, it’s as if the Pashtun ‘code of honor’ remains static, ahistorical. Recent scholarship, however, has shown how and why such stereotypes came about.  In The Pathan Unarmed, Mukilika Bannerjee makes used of Said’s Orientalism to explain how the British colonial discourses were influential in demonizing the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and colonial India. In 1840, British attempts to conquer Kabul were defeated by the Pashtuns, and thus arose British discourses vilifying Pashtun people. In other words, the British, with their imperial arrogance, had to show ‘face’ by showing that they were only defeated because the Pashtuns were culturally ‘barbaric, brutal, violent,’ etc. This does not mean the Pashtun were actually hostile people, yet the British constructed them in negatives ways to uphold British status-quo. Unfortunately, these stereotypes were widely disseminated. Popular literature, such as Rudyard Kiplings Kim, for instance, echoed this stereotype of the ‘fierce’ Pashtun tribal man. These stereotypes of Pashtuns continue today and were reinforced in new ways with the Talibanization of North-West Frontier provinces after 9/11.

Unlike today, Pashtun notions of honor were different when considering they were once able to accommodate and even valourize the existence of courtesans. Therefore, notions of honor that remain today cannot be considered culturally ahistorical. As historian A.T. Fildis notes, “honour is a relative term and can be defined and redefined in various socio-economic and cultural contexts with different attributes and its sources and meanings varying from culture to culture.” In “Dancing Girls of Swat Valley,” Shaheen Buneri compares the historical esteem of courtesans in Swat, Pakistan to their position today, where such women are held with contempt by the public society.  Buneri interviews a woman named Nagina, a modern mujra, who states “We don’t have any respect in society (…) Generally we are not considered morally good people.” The fact that modern ‘dancing girls’ do not have any social respect is quite puzzling, given courtesans of Swat, in particular, once were held with high regard. Before the inception of Pakistan, the region of Swat was a princely state, ruled by a Wali. Under the Wali of Swat, the arts of the courtesan were patronized and embraced, and even one Wali is said to have married a courtesan. Even the writings of colonial moralist Mrs. Fuller, despite condemning courtesans, noted that courtesans of the North-West Frontier provinces were “treated with as much courtesy as if she were a princess descended from a distinguished royal line.” Like other parts of India, courtesans in Swat were subject to the same gradual degradation that came with colonial influence. Like Indian male nationalists, Pashtun men also became courted by the allure of nationalism, with its European ideological underpinnings, between 1930 and 1947. And of course, women came to be redefined by nationalists as the bearers of culture and nation. Thus, new notions of womanhood also shifted Pashtun notions of honor with regards to new realities.

pakeeza-tawaif

Bollywood’s adaptation of a life of a courtesan in “Pakeezah,” starring the lovely Meena Kumari. A courtesan could seduce and mesmerize her audience whilst fully dressed, and therefore was not an insignificant object.

From Artist to Object

            In Pakistan, as with India, the former tawaif (courtesan) tradition gradually died out in terms of its traditional function within society. It transformed into a degraded state of commercial sex work, with some women also providing imitations of the courtesan tradition by way of singing and dancing along with selling sex. In “Performance, Status and Hybridity in a Pakistani Red-Light District: The Cultural Production of the Courtesan,” Louise Brown provides an ethnographic account of more recent sex-work in the once thriving kotha district of Heera Mandi in Lahore. Brown’s research shows how realities in independent Pakistan, where prostitution was made illegal in 1960, shapes the lives of the women who continue to live and work in Heera Mandi. Brown notes that some of these women do attain wealth and prestige for short periods in their youth, yet wider social attitudes towards these women remain hostile. Thus, even if a courtesan is desired or gains wealth, it remains in secret and as Brown notes, “it is highly unlikely to be translated into power and status outside the brothel quarter.” Unlike the past, Brown also notes how most clients of today’s courtesans do not have an appreciation for the traditional arts of the courtesan, which coincides with Buneri’s interview with Nagina, a mujra who claims her clients are “more interested in my body rather than in my art.” It’s clear that modern courtesans are in a degraded state, which is an implication of colonialism and aftermath. What is more unfortunate is the overwhelming majority of women in Heera Mandi, according to Brown, were selling their services to overcome economic hardships. Buneri’s research also highlights how many Pashtun women from Swat, due to the poverty after the Taliban insurgency after 9/11, fled to Peshawar where many had to sell their bodies along with singing and dancing to survive. The popular Pashto singer Ghazala Javed, also from Swat, moved to Peshawar and is said to have resorted to singing and dancing to escape poverty. The current unfortunate realities of courtesans and sex-workers stem from the colonial period and the resulting powers that intensified the role of the ‘ideal’ woman within society.

Iqbal Hussain Painting Mujra Tawaif

Poverty & Despair: Iqbal Hussain Painting of Heera Mandi prostitutes in their ‘down-time.’ Iqbal Hussain is a famous painter known for his ‘un-glamorous’ portrayals of modern, impoverished prostitutes in Heera Mandi. Interestingly, he is the son of a former courtesan from Heera Mandi in Lahore.

The Impact of Fundamentalism on Gender and Sexuality

Like the Hindu-fundamentalist revivalism that started in the nationalist period in India, post-independent Pakistani leaders also had their own Islamist fundamentalist agendas.* In 1979, General Zia al-Haq implemented Zina Laws, aiming to criminalize any sexual acts outside of marriage. As Shahnaz Khan notes in “Zina and the moral regulation of Pakistani women,” Zina laws were part of the 1979 Hadood Ordinances, which was General Zia al-Haq’s “first step in his Islamization policies.” As Khan notes, Zina laws were intended to create a ‘moral’ and just society in Pakistan, yet her and others have argued that it was a process of the state aiming to regulate the bodies of women. In other words, Islamic fundamentalism has nothing to do with the true ideals of Islam as a religion — it is important to note the difference, since fundamentalist agendas re-interpret religion for political motives. With regards to sex-workers in Pakistan, the Zina Laws were not entirely enforced, yet it compelled sex workers to be more discreet, made them vulnerable to criminalization and overall, further discredited their livelihoods. After September 11th 2011, when the U.S. launched war on the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Taliban fled to the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. In Swat, the Taliban were extreme towards women, in that women were not allowed to go to school or work. These measures were the Taliban’s interpretation of a ‘pure’ Islamic society. Yet again, Taliban fundamentalism is a political movement that has nothing to do with essences of Islam. For courtesans in Swat, the Taliban insurgency is said to have drastically disrupted their roles, as “women and villagers affiliated with the arts” were first targeted and banned. Given that Islamic fundamentalism was widespread, it would indeed influence social attitudes. One can speculate that Ghazala Javed’s ex-husband, her murderer, internalized fundamentalist rhetoric, and likely saw her career as a singer and dancer as ‘un-Islamic.’ Yet how can female entertainers be considered ‘un-Islamic’ if they once were tolerated in pre-colonial Islamic societies? The Taliban, therefore, like other fundamentalists, are painting their discourses with colonial gender ideologies. Moreover, when fundamentalists condemn courtesans or other female performers, they fail to note how many of these women are resorting to this work out of economic hardship. Shahnaz Khan notes how poverty plays a role in contemporary Pakistani society: “Families with little means to cope with increasingly inflation and chronic unemployment often find that their daughter’s sexuality is a valuable asset.” Islamic fundamentalism, like Hindu fundamentalism, is a consequence of European colonialism and has been intensified by new post-colonial global realities. The implications are that women, today, are left in a vulnerable position, as there seems to be no fight against discourses of using women as cultural markers. With regards to Pakistani women, Tahmina Rashid depicts their murky position within society: “In Pakistan, the female body has been politicized to such an extent that it functions as a battleground for ideological, philosophical, and religious debates and agendas between pseudo-modernist military regimes and traditionalist mullahs.”

The 2012 murder of Ghazala Javed highlights how certain women are in South Asia are caught in the deadly rift between new state regulations and fundamentalist agendas, both implications from colonialism. The media propagates the vulnerability of South Asian women as a cultural problem, yet media representations ignore historical and socio-economic aspects that have made the conditions for violence against women to occur. Without historical analysis, then Ghazala Javed’s murder will be considered just another ‘honor killing’ that’s typical of South Asian/Islamic cultures. When the problematic notion of ‘honor killing’ is accepted, then it takes away from the fact that European colonialism and it’s legacy caused social disruption to such an extent that it played a defining role in establishing the conditions for violence against women today. Cultural essentialist notions on the oppression of women indirectly, as Eva Reimer notes, posits the West as a role model for better treatment of women, thereby ignoring how Western women too are subjected to oppression within the nation-state setting. It’s clear that Orientalist stereotypes still holds sway and continues to valourize the West as the ‘ideal’ to aspire too. The fact that contemporary courtesans today, seen as ‘dishonorable,’ were once the most esteemed of women in many parts of precolonial South Asia makes cultural essentialist narratives invalid. Therefore, it is the onset of colonial discourses that disrupted former notions of gender and lead to the problems today. And unfortunately, the colonial ‘legacies’ of gender are still yet to be untangled. Yet at least with more understanding of how gender is constructed, shaped, changed and remade, then individuals can be more accepting of those who do not fit with the current ‘ideal.’ Perhaps Ghazala Javed would still be alive if her ex-husband and her community were aware of how notions of gender and sexuality were once embracing of women in her position, rather than see them as women ‘with no honor.’

*Note: The term ‘Islamist’ is used to refer to fundamentalists, which are political movements that uses the rhetoric of reviving an imagined ‘pure’ past. The violent and oppressive aims of certain Islamist movements have nothing to with the religion of Islam. A great quote from the film Water (2005) captures fundamentalists of any kind, “Disguised as religion, it’s just about money.”

Bibliography

Banerjee, Mukulika. The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition and Memory in the North West Frontier. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Brown, Louise. “Performance, Status and Hybridity in a Pakistani Red-Light District: The Cultural Production of the Courtesan.” Sexualities 10, no. 4 (2007): 409-423.

Buneri, Shaheen. “Dancing Girls of the Swat Valley.” World Policy Journal 28, no. 3 (2011): 73-81.

Burton, Richard. Sindh and the Races that inhabit the Indus Valley. New York: Oxford University Press, 1851.

Fildis, A. T. “The Historical Roots and Occurrence of Honour-Related Violence in Non-Muslim and Muslim Societies.” Journal of Women of the Middle East and the Islamic World 11 (2013): 1-15.

Forbes, Geraldine. Women in Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Foucault, Michel. A History of Sexuality, vol. 1, 1978.

Fuller, Mrs. Marcus B. The Wrongs of Indian Womanhood. New York: Young People’s Missionary Movement, 1900.

Khan, Shahnaz. “Zina” and the Moral Regulation of Pakistani Women.” Feminist Review, no 75 (2003): 75-100.

Kumar, Deepa & Stabile, Carol A. “Unveiling imperialism: media, gender and the war on Afghanistan.” Media, Culture & Society 27 (2005): 765-778.

Massad, Joseph. Desiring Arabs. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007.

Newman, R. E. Pathan Tribal Patterns. New Delhi: The Caxton Press, 1965.

Pande, Rekha., & Tula, Meenal. “Re-Inscribing the Indian Courtesan: A Genealogical Approach.” Journal of International Women’s Studies 15, no. 1 (2014): 67-82.

Rashid, Tahmina. “Militarized Masculinities, Female Bodies, and ‘Security Discourse’ in Post-9/11 Pakistan.” Strategic Analysis 33, no. 4 (2009): 566-578.

Reimers, Eva. “Representations of an Honor Killing.” Feminist Media Studies 7, no. 3 (2007): 239-255.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1995.

Sarkar, Sumit & Sarkar, Tanika., eds.  Women and Social Reform in Modern India. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.

Talwar, Veena. “Lifestyle as resistance: the case of the courtesan of Lucknow, India.” Feminist Studies 16, no. 2 (1990): 259-287.

 

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Fruit Fly

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As I tidy my kitchen, I gaze at the fruit flies devouring the juices of my leftover fruits and drops of honey that seeped out of its container…

Isn’t it a marvel of how when something oozes beyond it’s confinements it provokes an attraction; separate entities become bonded as one by this irresistible liquid. For a quick second, I applied this metaphor to our bodies — oozing of fragrant juices, seeping out….ready to ignite the attraction of another. It doesn’t require further explanation as to why some lovers have referred to the valley between one’s thighs as ‘honey’…honey that drips for a purpose.

One day, my lover asked me, “How did these (fruit) flies get here?”

I live high-up, where little buggers cannot reach such heights. Only when the nectar of these fruits seep out do I see these flies appear from who-knows-where….

How is it they, these little buggers, can detect this sweet, juicy nectar from so far away, from so high above the earth?

It’s the simplest, most majestic manifestation of beauty — this magnetic-like desire to feast on delicious juices …that require far journey’s and distances, and, perhaps, even self-annihilation to attain such bliss. After all, the poor little fruit flies are very susceptible to fatality (via human annoyance) during the quest of their desire.

My little fruit fly, once so devoted to it’s nectar…..completely seduced by the scent, taste, feel, the beauty of the sweet nectar that continuously seeps out, that awaits.

Sadly, like the moth gets burned by it’s attraction to the flame, a little fruit flies intense devotion for nectar was cut short and zapped dead.

I understand the longing…..the devotion to an unknown fate….such beauty is worth all of one’s life.

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Smell Fetishes: The Allure of Body Scents / Odors

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Indeed it is the 5 senses (touch, taste, smell, hear and see) along with mental stimulation that makes great intimacy and love. In the sex industry satisfying all of these qualities is possible but rare. In most cases, clients seek to stimulate one or multiple of their senses. One sense that many clients desire for sexual arousal is: satisfying their ‘scent’ sense. Artificial fragrances, such as perfumes, are only one part of the scent desire, but natural scents are what heighten arousal. One of the first things most clients do when we meet is embrace me in a hug, which instantly they detect my fragrance and natural scent.  This is usually followed by them starting to kiss and lick my body, from my neck, lips and breasts. Then gradually, they will taste their way around the meanders of my body. The common pattern is kissing and tasting her body, from her neck to her breasts or between her legs. For some, scent by-way-of-tasting is secondary to sexual penetration. For others, scent is the main feature of a sexual encounter.

Some men have a desire for scent that goes beyond the conventional; it’s essential to their arousal. Often, they exceptionally desire the ‘taboo’ areas. The ‘taboo’ areas could be the feet, the underarms, the anus and buttocks, etc. Of course, they are only ‘taboo’ in the sense that they are unrecognized/unacknowledged in popular discourse on sexuality. In Western medical discourse, this ‘smell’ fetish is known as olfactophilia. Though, I disagree that it should be categorized as a ‘condition’ or something ‘strange.’ If anything, the ‘taboo’ areas are extremely erogenous areas that can bring great pleasure. Sadly, a lot of people feel embarrassed about their ‘unconventional’ desires. For some men, it’s often easier to express these desires with a prostitute rather than their own wives or partners.  I’ve had men who specifically requested to lick my ass, or ‘worship my booty’ as one client says. Some men like to lick this area whilst performing oral sex, and quite honestly, I love it.

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The other day, I was laying on stomach on bed, completely relaxed. A married client of mine was kissing my legs, working down to my feet. He started kissing my feet and then said, “There is a lot of sex at the feet.” After, he proceeded to lick between my toes. Before he feasted on other regions of my body, he would stop for a brief moment to inhale my scent. He would inhale it as if it had an intoxicating effect, and then he would dive in and taste. He made sure to put extra attention in all the taboo areas, especially between my legs and between my bum, which excited me past my tipping point. Experiences like these compel me to ponder: but why? For some, it is the allure of social stigma, the ‘taboo,’ which drives their excitement; it’s this idea of being in a subordinate position. For others, it is more biological where the scent, alone, triggers sexual gratification. I recall my ex-fiance requesting to lick the sweaty parts of my body after I just finished exercising. For him, it was very erotic, which I, now, understand his attraction to natural odors.

The most memorable ‘scent’ client I had was a young 19 year boy I met while I was working overseas for a short trip. I worked at small high-end brothel establishment for a brief few weeks. I met him on my first day, and then he insisted to book my entire shift whenever I worked. Our last encounter was an 8 hour booking, which he enthusiastically paid for each portioned hour. What makes him memorable, in an odd sense, is that we never had sex. I saw him numerous times until the end of my holiday, and each time his main desire was two things: my companionship and my ‘taboo’ areas. Most ‘scent’ driven men usually want intercourse alongside licking and tasting, but this particular client was different. He was completely satisfied with kissing and licking my hands, feet, between my legs and my buttocks. I would lay on my tummy, and could simply relax while his face was between the cheeks of my posterior. To be quite blunt, he loved to bury his face in my buttocks and lick my ass. At the same time, he was also impeccably respectful and he always asked permission first. His desire puzzled me back then, but now I understand his attraction to scents.

In my own preferences, scent is one of the essential components of sexual chemistry. Scent is what ignites my desire to reciprocate. Scent has a lasting affect, which makes me long for it after wards. However, in terms of clients I seldom desire to indulge in their scents, unless I’m really attracted to them. Rather, my scent desire is reserved for someone I love. Scent is beyond just perfumes or ointments, but rather it’s the addition of natural scent that is unique to each individual. It cannot be simply mimicked by artificial means, because the natural scent of another person is part of the phenomena of sexual chemistry.

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