Freedom and whores are the most cosmopolitan items under the sun. – Georg Büchner
In order to get around the “consenting adults” argument and negate the obvious symmetry between arguments for abortion rights and those for the right to have sex on one’s own terms, modern prohibitionists often argue that whores are incapable of rational adult decision-making and must therefore be “protected” as adolescents are supposed to be “protected” by age of consent laws (a subject for another day). Prohibitionists refer to us as “prostituted women”, passive and childlike creatures suffering from “false consciousness” due to childhood trauma or drug abuse; when we insist that we endured no such trauma we are said to be lying, delusional or afflicted by “repressed memories”; and if we insist that the men with whom we are personally or professionally involved have not coerced or abused us in any way we are said to be suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”. To support these blanket statements, bogus “studies” of incarcerated streetwalkers are used to make pronouncements about the entire range of whoredom; as I’ve said before, this is rather like doing a methodologically-unsound story of failed hot-dog pushcart operators and then extrapolating the results to all restaurants from food trucks to mom-and-pop diners to fast-food chains to five-star palaces.
That’s why one of the primary missions of my blog is to prove that hookers are no more alike than the members of any other profession. Just as there is no single doctor, plumber, salesman or teacher personality type, so there is no single psychological profile that can describe all (or even most) hookers. One of the ways I demonstrate this range is by featuring (about once per month) a “harlotography”, a short biography of a whore from history who became famous for one reason or another, and even a quick look at the wide range of reasons for their fame is enough to illustrate some of the many differences.
Some of them attracted attention (sometimes of the unwelcome sort) for their success; Josie Arlington and Lulu White owned the two largest brothels in New Orleans’ famous “Storyville” district (center & far right in photo), while Deborah Jeanne Palfrey’s Washington, D.C. escort service eventually became too profitable to escape federal attention. Similarly, the wealth and popularity of the hetaera called Phryne drew legal persecution from the jealous politicians of Athens. And while Ching Shih was also attacked by the forces of government, it was on the seas rather than in court: her career as a brothel-whore eventually led to one in piracy, and she became the most successful pirate commander of all time.
Ching Shih’s success came from being noticed by a powerful man, the pirate commander she married and later succeeded after his death. This is almost certainly the most common means through which harlots are remembered by posterity: the hetaera Aspasia was the consort of the Athenian leader Pericles, and Rhodopis may have become a concubine of the Pharaoh Amasis II. The Madame de Pompadour was the mistress of King Louis XV of France, Nell Gwyn that of King Charles II of England, and Theodora the wife of the Emperor Justinian, who made her an Empress (the Eastern Orthodox Church later declared her a saint).
Theodora and Nell Gwyn (the model for this painting) attracted their patrons’ attentions through another facet of their shared profession: acting, which was up until the early 19th century indistinguishable from harlotry. Dancing was another way for courtesans to advertise their charms, and among those famous for doing so were Lola Montez and La Belle Otero. Another was Mata Hari, though of course she is best remembered now for being executed (probably unjustly) as a spy in 1917. Nor was she the only courtesan to meet that fate at the hands of a French government; Olympe de Gouges was guillotined by the Jacobins in 1793. De Gouges had become quite well-known as a writer of feminist and abolitionist essays, and she and I aren’t the only literary whores; Veronica Franco and Su Xiaoxiao were highly regarded for their poetry. In more recent times, a French streetwalker was discovered while singing in the street and became famous under her stage name, Édith Piaf.
Of course, a few women reverse the usual process and become hookers after they’re already famous; though Madame Pompadour and Theodora won their titles via whoring, the Princess de Caraman-Chimay and the Empress Valeria Messalina had their titles first. And some, alas, never get to enjoy their fame; the five victims of Jack the Ripper are only remembered because they crossed paths with one of the earliest serial killers, and were it not for the diabolical fascination he still exerts on so many today their names and stories would have remained as obscure as those of the many other prostitutes murdered by serial killers since then.