Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gigi, Irma and Good Girls Like Flo

An act at the Moulin Rouge. These women were essentially under age prostitutes.

As I research Flo in the City, my story about a girl coming of age in 1910 Canada, I am led to rethink my ideas about prostitution. It is clear that that our ideas about prostitution haven't evolved at all in 100 years, and that despite the fact that women have made huge gains in education, and freedom of sexuality, the so-called social evil (as they called it) still exists. And I assume from watching shows like Big Bang and How I Met your Mother, where the nice desirable woman is a bit tarty, that there's little stigma remaining with respect to sexually active women and that the Goddess and the Whore polarities no longer exist. (I may be wrong.) I've also just watched Irma La Douce and Gigi, movie satires based on more biting plays (or books) about the subject of women and their sexuality, where marriage is the happy ending. My head is spinning a bit, trying to figure out where this all fits into Flo in the City.

And as I think about all the articles from 1910 that I have read, I am coming to realize that the existence of prostitution was used to restrict the freedom of ALL women.

Now, I've long believed that all women are prostitutes of some sort, or that it is hard not to sell your sexuality as a young woman. Coco Chanel, who had no connections, was some rich man's consort before she became famous: she used his money to start her business. In fact, this is a theme of Flo in the City, my book in progress about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/. And today, as I see that a Toronto Judge, a female Judge named Susan Himel has struck down 3 provisions of Canada's prositution laws, essentially decriminalizing the profession, I wonder, maybe it is about time.

Here's the opening to the National Council of Women's Report on Equal Moral Standard and Prevention of Traffic in Women. The report states that girls are lured away from uncomfortable homes or boring lives in villages by promises of marriage, then drugged and forced into a life of prostitution in the city. If only women had something to do at night, something safe and wholesome, the problem would improve. (See my earlier blog, Marion Nicholson, feisty and broken down) (There's only oblique mention of the fact that most women in cities aren't paid enough to live in the city.) The report goes on to say the clients should be prosecuted to a greater extent than the prostitutes for prostitution is as much a man's problem as a women's.

"One of the gravest problems which confronts the people of Canada today is the social evil. When every thoughtful citizen has some general idea as to its nature and magnitude, yet few understand, even approximately, the real facts.

In this one vice, 15,000 is spent annually in Chicago alone and no less an authority as Dr. Kelly of Johns Hopkins University has startled the Christian World by stating that white slavery , directly or indirectly, costs the people of American 3 billions of dollars each year!

And regarding Canada, careful investigation has proved that the condition of our Dominion is scarcely less appalling. All of our cities and many of our towns and villages have within their borders palpable evidence of this evil.

It is estimated that on this continent there are over 300,000 girls of the night. And the Vice Commissioners who have investigated say there are ten men for every one of these women. As the life of the girl is so short it provides 60,000 victims to supply the demand. And many of these victims come from Canadian homes.

The great question is this, what shall we do under the existing conditions to lessen the existence of this vice. And how should we convince the general public as to the extent of this traffic and its diabolical methods of working and of the unspeakable inheritance of suffering and degradation it is laying up for future generations.

Moral purity is the foundation of a nation: Canada is building this splendid structure of her Dominion, let us see that she checks this dry rot that is even now eating into her foundations. "

Ah, that PURITY business again. It was the buzzward of 1910, that's for sure. Everyone was seeking purity: in water, in milk, in food, in soaps (Ivory) and in women (just another consumer product). Oh, and also in race... the eugenics movement.

Odd, the Montreal Council did not submit a report on this and it was Montreal, that according to some, had a real problem in this area.