Sex & Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina

Sex & Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina

Sex & Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina

Sex & Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina


A study of prostitution necessarily examines questions of power, class, gender, and public health. In Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires these questions combine with particular force. During most of the time covered in this provocative book, from the late nineteenth century well into the twentieth, prostitution was legal in Argentina. Fears and anxieties concerning the effect of female sexual commerce on family and nation were rampant.

Donna J. Guy looks at many aspects of the debate that followed an escalating demand for prostitutes by Argentines and European immigrants. She discusses the widespread fear of white slavery, the merits of medically supervised municipal houses of prostitution, the rights of local governments to restrict the civil liberties of citizens and foreigners, the censorship of literature and music dealing with the plight of prostitutes, and the potential criminality of unsupervised working women who might abandon their families. Guy also describes attempts to deal with female prostitution: rehabilitation, modifications of municipal bordello laws, and medical programs to prevent the spread of venereal disease. She makes clear that the treatment of "marginal" women by liberal politicians and doctors helped promoted policies of repression and censorship that would later be extended to other unacceptable social groups. Her study of how both local and national government in Argentina dealt with these women reveals important links between gender, politics, and economics.


Dangerous Women: Legalized Prostitution

The lurid white slavery stories about Buenos Aires were only partially true. But traditional histories of the capital city, which barely mentioned the prostitution problem, were also inaccurate. Could Buenos Aires be both the city some described as the "Paris of South America" and the place others scorned as "Sin City"? Moral reformers and urban historians looked at the Argentine capital through a stereoscope that held two completely different pictures. To reconstruct an image that incorporates both perceptions, we must return to Buenos Aires between 1869 and 1914 to trace the impact of urbanization, immigration, and white slavery and examine their relation to legalized prostitution.

In 1869 Buenos Aires was a bustling port city with great potential for economic growth. Ruled by dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas until his overthrow in 1852, in 1862 the city was named the temporary national capital. Though it was still marked by colonial architecture, narrow, muddy streets, and an often insalubrious climate, after 1870 the appearance of streetcars and new urban construction allowed its physical dimensions to expand.

From this modest but promising start, Buenos Aires soon blossomed. After 1880 it became the permanent national capital, and bold intendentes (mayors) redesigned old colonial streets to permit construction of wide avenues, government offices, theaters, and subways. Fashionable stores, cafés, restaurants, and banks soon dotted the elegant downtown, adding to the glamour and glitter of this apparently opulent capital.

Argentine residents fabulously wealthy from commerce and land speculation went to Europe to acquire culture and buy merchandise unavailable at home, inspiring the phrase "rich as an Argentine," and in response to rags-to-riches stories, millions of Europeans emigrated to the Rio de la . . .

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