Generating Discussion: Continuities and Change

Summary and Reading Connections of “Continuities and Change: Five Centuries of Prostitution in the Caribbean” by Kamala Kempadoo

In this reading by Kamala Kempadoo, she examines the continuities of five centuries of prostitution in the Caribbean. Initially in the 1990’s, prostitution started as a way of entertaining the influx of foreign visitors to the Caribbean. Soon, the Caribbean became notorious for their prostitution and this form of “sex tourism” was sold to foreigners. The author connects the sex trade and prostitution of the Caribbean with Beckles’ article on the fight for power and control over slaves during the period of slavery in the United States. The white slave owners would demand complete access to the black female slaves, including sexual acts, even if the female slave was married. In this way, sex was used by the white plantation owners as a form of control and a way in order to “keep down” the black male slaves. In a similar fashion, the prostitution in the Caribbean is used to manifest control for white men. White men who travel to the Caribbean feel entitled to sex from the black (and dark) women of the Caribbean. Kempadoo describes that the relationship between the white man and the mulatto “came to be represented as erotic and sexually desirable yet was outcast”. This creates an aura of forbidden lust where the white man is free to satisfy his sexual pleasure.

Kempadoo also notes that the sex tourism in the Caribbean focuses its audience to primarily heterosexual males and as a result, a new form of tourism evolved called “romance tourism”. Kempadoo explains that this “romance tourism” seeks to separate itself from prostitution and human sex trafficking as it tends to produce “longer term relationships that are established”.

The author then discusses the racialized and gendered aspects of the sex workers in the Caribbean which leads to the “subordination of women” and to “female sex workers [being] marginalized and disrespected as ‘whores'”. However, for male sex workers, they are not branded with such offensive words such as slut or whore; instead they are referred to as “player, gigalo” and even “hustler”. Thus, their sexuality is not degraded in any way, as they are often seen as “[using] their masculine power to penetrate local economies”. This view depicts male sex workers as hardworking individuals who are using their sexuality in order to move ahead in the specific economic hardships, while female sex workers are seen more predominantly as loose, immoral, and outcast individuals.

Questions:

How has the difference between the portrayal of male and female sex workers in the Caribbean added to the unequal representations of sex tourism? Why are male and female sex workers depicted differently solely based on their gender?

How would sex tourism change if it not only focused on heterosexuality in the Caribbean?

Would government involvement in the regulation of prostitution and sex trafficking complicate or alleviate the anxiety for the sex workers?

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2 thoughts on “Generating Discussion: Continuities and Change

  1. Regarding your last question, I think the effects of governmental regulation of prostitution depend a lot on how they go about it. It can be beneficial if laws are made with the rights and protections of sex workers in mind, but often we don’t see that happen. It reminded me of our (brief) discussion in-class about the anti-trafficking proposition in the last election; on the surface it seemed like a good idea but once you look at it more closely, you see that it penalizes (rather than protects) sex workers. I also think that a lot of times sex workers are reluctant to accept the help of governments for a variety of reasons, like stigma attached to sex work, fear of prosecution, mistrust of the government, etc. I think this especially comes into play for sex workers in already-marginalized groups, because there is definitely a tendency in law enforcement globally to value the rights of particular bodies and classes over others. However, I think if there is a concerted effort to break down these tendencies and protect everyone equally, it can do a lot of good toward curbing the spread of diseases, abuse, and stigma in these communities.

  2. The different portrayals of “sex workers” is evident in this piece. The way the men characterize themselves, you do not get a sense of oppression or shame. They instead champion themselves as men who provide these tourists with all they are deprived of in their nation states. In other pieces we have read, female sex workers are constructed as contaminated, or dangerous. I wish we could have seen a video or read a piece addressing this issue, how do female bodied sex workers see themselves? Because in this piece we learn that in the Caribbean, female sex workers are subordinated and labeled whores. This leads us to look at a larger picture, perhaps a fear of women having agency over their bodies and deciding to empower themselves through sex work. I would assume that if there was an interview of female sex workers describing their work the way the men did, they would recieve backlash and would reinforce these labels placed on them.

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