Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan

Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan

Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan

Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan

Synopsis

This book traces the social history of early modern Japan's sex trade, from its beginnings in seventeenth-century cities to its apotheosis in the nineteenth-century countryside. Drawing on legal codes, diaries, town registers, petitions, and criminal records, it describes how the work of "selling women" transformed communities across the archipelago. By focusing on the social implications of prostitutes' economic behavior, this study offers a new understanding of how and why women who work in the sex trade are marginalized. It also demonstrates how the patriarchal order of the early modern state was undermined by the emergence of the market economy, which changed the places of women in their households and the realm at large.

Excerpt

Amy Stanley’s wonderful book demonstrates once again Joan Scott’s insight that the analytical perspective of gender changes our understanding of the big picture. Stanley uses women’s experience of prostitution to reinterpret two big changes that bookend the early modern period of Japanese history: the Tokugawa shogunate’s establishment of a status-based social order, and the commercial boom that would eventually spell that order’s doom. In the process, she also revises longstanding Eurocentric assumptions among feminist scholars about the relationship between stigma and female agency in the context of the sex trade.

The standard assumption of past scholarship (to the extent that it has considered women in this context) is that the status system imposed in the seventeenth century was bad for women, because it subordinated them to household heads, defined them in terms of normative family roles, and denied them individual autonomy. But in a striking act of revisionism, Amy Stanley poses the question: “bad for women” compared to what? She organizes her inquiry around a comparison of the condition of prostitutes under the paternalistic status system with both what had preceded it and what followed its demise. These comparisons highlight how much women actually gained under the Tokugawa order, and how much some lost when that regulatory regime broke down under the pressure of market forces.

Key to Stanley’s argument is the insight that almost any form of order would have been preferable to the bloody chaos of the Warring States era, during which women had suffered at least as much as men. Ieyasu’s great achievement was to . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.