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A friend of mine doing research on historical sex roles in the United States sent me some interesting links describing the behaviors and lifestyle of 19 th century “painted ladies” of the Wild West. Here’s an excerpt worth quoting in full:
In my second post I clarified that I was referring to prostitutes in the western states of the USA, where, in the nineteenth century, prostitutes achieved virtually every goal of early feminism.
At a time when women were barred from most jobs and wives had no legal right to own property, women like Jennie Rogers and Mattie Silks, the queens of Denver’s red-light district, owned large tracts of land and prized real estate.
Prostitutes made, by far, the highest wages of all American women. Several madams were so wealthy that they funded irrigation and road-building projects that laid the foundation for the New West. Jessie Hayman, Tessie Wall, and other madams in San Francisco fed and clothed thousands of people left homeless by the 1906 earthquake. Decades before American employers offered health insurance to their workers, madams across the West provided their employees with free health care.
While women were told that they could not and should not protect themselves from violence, and wives had no legal recourse against being raped by their husbands, police officers were employed by madams to protect the women who worked for them, and every madam owned and knew how to use guns.
While feminists were seeking to free women from the “slavery” of patriarchal marriage, prostitutes married later in life and divorced more frequently than other American women. While women were taught that they belonged in the “private sphere,” prostitutes traveled extensively, often by themselves, and were brazenly “public women.”
Long before social dancing in public was considered acceptable for women, prostitutes in the West invented many of the steps that would become all the rage during the dance craze of the 1910s. When gambling and public drinking were forbidden for most women, prostitutes were fixtures in Western saloons and they became some of the most successful gamblers in the nation.
Most ironically, the makeup, clothing, and hair styles of western prostitutes, which were maligned for their overt sexuality (lipstick was “the scarlet shame of street-walkers”), became widely fashionable among American women and are now so respectable that even First Ladies wear them.
So respectable now that even First Ladies do it. Doesn’t that say it all? In an age when the sitting president’s daughter is shaking her bare ass at cameras and the likely next president’s wife is plastered all over the news in a nude girl-on-girl photoshoot, it’s nearly impossible to remember what generations past thought of how women should behave themselves in public.
Suppose I hadn’t just showed my hand by telling you the following characteristics were all associated with 19th century frontier prostitutes, and try to think of what the following list would conjure in your mind:
Owns property. Likes free health care. Marries later in life. Divorces frequently. Travels extensively, often alone. Avid and inventive social dancer. Fixture in “saloons” (read: bars and night clubs). Brazen and public. Wears lipstick. Overtly sexual makeup, clothing, and hairstyle.
Not so different from the average empowered feminist woman of today, no?
Granted, some things are notably different. The average liberated woman is usually not a fan of owning and using guns, but that’s because they’re even bigger fans of living in lily-white urban enclaves surrounded by effeminate men — not raucous cowboys. They’re also usually not successful gamblers or land owners, but they’ve more than made that up by being drug users and earning male salaries.
Aside from those two things, the average post-feminism woman of today has adopted every hallmark of the 19th century frontier prostitute. Decline alarmism is worth tempering, but it’s difficult to claim that a social shift like this is actually a good thing. I can hardly think of a way to more unambiguously demonstrate that social standards and cohesion have collapsed in the last two centuries, and especially in the last 50 years since the sexual revolution of 1969.
Of course, I am not the first one to make the argument that feminism turns decent women into prostitutes. I am not even the first one to notice this particular pattern at Social Matter. 19th century Americans had good reasons to look down on the behaviors and attitudes of prostitutes and I am certain they articulated them extremely well, extremely loudly, and decisively proved beyond a reasonable doubt that their arguments were superior to the defenders and supporters of powerful prostitutes and feminists. I am also sure that they lost anyway and that we are living in the aftermath.
The traditional view in the 19th century was that women should not own property, should be married early, should never divorce, should be modest, should remain near male relatives, should not hang out in or near bars or saloons, etc. This view was not born from arbitrary misogyny; it was born from a desire to keep ordinary women unassociated with prostitutes and the 19th century equivalents of strippers and camgirls.
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