Prostitution Policy: Revolutionizing Practice through a Gendered Perspective

Prostitution Policy: Revolutionizing Practice through a Gendered Perspective

Prostitution Policy: Revolutionizing Practice through a Gendered Perspective

Prostitution Policy: Revolutionizing Practice through a Gendered Perspective


While widely acknowledged as the world's oldest profession, and often glamorized or demonized in the media, prostitution is a critical part of American culture and its economy, as well as a social problem in need of an updated public policy.

In Prostitution Policy , Lenore Kuo combines feminist social research and legal studies to tackle issues raised by heterosexual prostitution in the U. S. Through the lens of feminist theory, Kuo examines the milieu of prostitutes and the role of prostitution in contemporary society, and how the interplay of those two works itself out in practice.

Moving beyond theoretical analysis of prostitution, Prostitution Policy turns to the complicated problem of formulating a reasonable legal policy that minimizes harm. Kuo discusss criminalization, legalization, and decriminalization as possible approaches, ultimately arguing for a unique form of decriminalization including detailed legal oversight and mandatory social services.


During the summer of my senior year of college, I took a job waitressing at the Dangle Bar, a go-go joint in Madison, Wisconsin. Until then, though my refusal to be 'discreet' about my relatively tame sexual life caused the occasional raised eyebrow, I had always been treated as a 'good girl'—“the kind of woman a man can take home to his mother,” the sort of woman with whom men had to 'mind their manners'. But at a place like the Dangle, men felt free to express traditional patriarchal contempt and devaluation of 'bad girls', and, ultimately, all women without subtly or charade. The simple fact of my working at such an establishment was sufficient for me to be reclassified as a 'bad girl'—making this a decidedly educational summer. Although, on the surface, most of the customers treated me with courtesy, I was aware of a prevailing misogyny which was palpable in an environment, in which in 20th century U.S. culture, women danced, nearly naked, before a group of men.

One evening, an unfamiliar customer pointed to a $50 bill he had laid on his table and asked if I was interested. I fully understood the question, and, in a polite tone, simply answered “no.” From that point on, nothing unusual transpired between us. He was equally polite, apparently respecting that the conversation was closed. He left a normal tip, indicating neither resentment nor embarrassment.

I remember very well the conversation I had afterwards with the bar's bouncer. I remember laughing, expressing incredulity and amusement that anyone would pay what was then a fair sum of money for sexual services when, with little effort, he could have found a co-ed who would have had sex with him for free. (I was very naive!) The bouncer insisted, rather offendedly, that I was dismissing the compliment the customer had paid me—that his offer of money indicated that he found me attractive enough to 'pay for me'.

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