Would You?

When it comes right down to it, I think there are two kinds of people in this world:

Those who would work as prostitutes during dire straits, and those who wouldn’t, not for anything.

As for me, I think I fall into the first category. I would be a prostitute if I had to.

Now, before you all freak out about my rash indecency and flippant attitude, let me finish.

Ideally, I would never have to be a prostitute. I think it would be an awful way to live. I am unspeakably thankful I live in a time that affords so many more opportunities to women, than, say, the Middle Ages, when your only choices were to marry someone richer than yourself and hope you could provide a male heir for him (which is really just an unpaid form of prostitution when you think about it, and in the end, you might easily find yourself on the streets anyway should your fertility fail you); or to become a nun and live in a convent, where the odds of you being attacked and raped were still high; or trying to make it as a servant girl to a wealthy master who would very likely expect some sexual favours in your job description anyway, and if not him, than certainly his snooty son…

…I mean, there just weren’t many choices for women back then. As for me, I think I’m the kind of girl who, in a situation like that, might just weigh the odds and go straight to prostitution before wasting my time (and, let’s face it: revenue) with all that other nonsense. If I was just gonna end up there anyway, I mean.

It makes sense. Doesn’t it?

Certainly it would not be ideal. Certainly I would try as hard as possible to avoid falling into such dire straits. I would learn to juggle and try my hand as a traveling gypsy; I would take up sewing and knitting and laundry and cooking and anything else that might provide me with a better quality of life. But in the end, if I couldn’t make it (and indeed if I still, for some strange reason, had the desire to make it {because I’ve always found it amazing how more women back then didn’t just think to themselves, “This life sucketh; I might as well just lay here in the mucky muck and wait for a horse to trample me in the street”}), then I think I would be able to make it as a prostitute.

It would take a lot of detachment, but I could do it.

Fantine did it:

Image from here.

It’s the French Revolution, and people are barely making it as it is; Fantine hooks up with some fast-talking dirtbag, ends up pregnant with his child while he runs off, leaving her to fend for herself. She’s already working insane hours at a factory, but that’s just not cutting it, not with this kid to feed on top of the poverty that she and the rest of the country are already suffering. She has no skills, no education, no family connections, no dowry, not to mention no inheritance to invest or whatever they did before they invented Wall Street—but her daughter Cosette still gives her reason to live, reason to give a damn.

So she whores herself out—what else can she do?

I think I could do it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately {in case you couldn’t tell}, and while I can make a pretty good case for myself working as a prostitute in a different era, under different circumstances, I really can’t picture it for me in this day and age.


A few years ago through a fated turn of events I can’t even begin to explain here, I found myself a tourist in Amsterdam, ambling down the seedy streets of the Red Light District.

As I walked, completely shocked at the women sitting on stools in the shopfront windows, touting their “merchandise” as casually as though they were selling lotion or hair straighteners at a kiosk in a mall, I found myself deep in thought (strange place for self-actualisation, I know): How is it that women in this day and age have found themselves in this position? Sure, I guess some might do it because they like it—there are kinky people out there, any episode of CSI: Las Vegas is evidence of that—but I would guess that, by and large, the majority of modern-day prostitutes do what they do because they have no other option.

And so I wonder, by what stretch of the imagination would I consider prostitution now, in 2010? I mean, I know that in the fifteen, sixteen, seventeen-hundreds I could wrap my head around that kind of desperation for survival; I know that I could do it if I had to—if I lived in a time that provided no other option for women, and I found something in my life worth fighting for, and prostitution was the only way I could make it—I would do it.

But now? Today? Even if I wasn’t married (because this really isn’t a discussion about fidelity so much as survival), and even if I lived in a foreign city with no friends or relatives or money or prospects?

It’s hard to say.

I, who am so blessed to have been raised with every opportunity my parents could scrimp for; I, who have been encouraged, motivated, supported, even threatened to get a university education, to have some knowledge to my name so I might support myself when necessary; I am so ridiculously blessed. During this past month, when Kyle’s job changed, I started thinking about all the ways I could potentially make money, from advertising on this blog, to teaching piano lessons, to working as a proofreader or editor—all profitable jobs I could manage from the comfort of my own home—and I relaxed a bit, knowing that I would be able to make it.

I, who during this past month have started to stress—really stress—about money for the first time in my life, and you know what it is I’m stressing about? Not whether I’ll have money for groceries this month—because that much is a given, always has been—but whether or not buying new contact lenses for both me and my husband might make it difficult to replace our busted water heater.

Really? So scary that our clean, contaminant-free, indoor-plumbed water might be too cold for a comfortable shower? Wow.

And today, while working on a research essay about the objectification of women during the Early Middle Ages—an essay about which, just moments earlier, I was whining like a child for having to open my laptop and do my research and type my thoughts and submit them to a professor who will read my words and provide feedback—it hit me, for just a moment, how stupid I really am.

During my research I stumbled across a passage that said something like medieval women who attempted to educate themselves were not considered ladies, and isn’t it interesting that today, by contrast, women who don’t bother to educate themselves when they have the chance are now the ones who cannot possibly be considered ladies?

Funny how that works.

It made me think of a blog post I read several months ago, of a blogger’s reflections on a poor time in her life. {By the way, if you guys aren’t reading The Trephine, you are missing out; it is easily one of the best-written blogs I’ve read since I started reading blogs three years ago. I’m not kidding; every time she posts [which is not nearly enough in my opinion], I save her posts for last in my Google™ Reader so I can really settle down and enjoy every single word. She’s good.}

Anyway, here is the bit that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I first read it in December:

The really crazy thing about all of this is that I wasn’t ever REALLY poor, not for a moment. “Stubborn” is a much more accurate word. […] I have a degree from an excellent college, impeccable manners, and one hell of a pleasant phone demeanor. Long have I walked with the middle class, and lo, I know of their ways; I can make eye contact and shake hands and speak articulately and thank people for their time. You can’t put a price on that kind of cultural capital, and if you own it, you can never be as destitute as someone who doesn’t.

I am lucky to have it, lucky to have parents who put me behind a cash register and next to a phone starting at the age of thirteen and taught me well. And when I finally got back on my feet again, secured a few good contracts, and could afford my own caramel lattes once more, I didn’t kid myself that my promotion back into MiddleClassLand had been awarded on personal merit. I was just born fortunate, that’s all, growing up in a home full of as many books as I could get my hands on, with parents who weren’t too exhausted or overworked to make sure that I kept my grades up and stayed out of trouble.

This gives me goosebumps every time I read it. I, too, can safely say that none of these blessings I’ve been given are thanks to any merit of my own—not really. Any prostitute in Amsterdam might be living my life had she been afforded even a tiny percent of the good fortune that fell into my lap. What separates me from the Red Light District could be as simple as a mother who went to college and worked in education, a father who read his scriptures and said his prayers, or the Mesa Public Library being just a bike ride away from my childhood home.

I can’t imagine a time in my life that I will feel so wretched, so utterly despairing for money that I will be driven to prostitution. Should I ever find myself there, with my brain wiped clean of all I know, and no other options, yet still with the will to live…I think I could do it. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t think I will ever be in such a hopeless place, but if I am, I think I could do it. That’s the kind of girl I am.

Who knows why I am so blessed, why any of us are so blessed?

I don’t know. I’ll never know.

All I can hope is that I don’t dishonour those less fortunate women by blowing my opportunity.

About Camille

I'm Camille. I have a butt-chin. I live in Canada. I was born in Arizona. I like Diet Dr. Pepper. Hello. You can find me on Twitter @archiveslives, Facebook at facebook.com/archivesofourlives, instagram at ArchivesLives, and elsewhere.
This entry was posted in in all seriousness, introspection, my edjumacation and me, self-actualisation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Would You?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Archives of Our Lives » Would You? -- Topsy.com

  2. Interesting view. I think if I were totally desperate, down and out, no one to help me, (possibly a single mother senario) I still could not do it. I don’t think I could separate mind and body to do that sort of degrating act. I do think that I could bring myself to do something like stripping. (If I really was that desperate of course) When you strip they can look but can not touch which is similar to everyday life. Any guy you walk past in public can look but can not touch with out reprocussions so stripping is not that far of a leap. But stripping is only a modern day solution for the down and out and was not an option for the women of middle ages/medieval times…

  3. Shesten says:

    Um, I would be a prostitute if I had to be. And, I never look down on women who are prostitutes either – they are resourceful – they are finding a way to make ends meet, and I’m cool with that. But I, too, am very thankful for the opportunities my parents gave me behind a cash register and the practical knowledge their work provided me. Invaluable.

  4. I can think of worse jobs. Seriously.

    Thanks for the quote! (I sort of figured my Christmas post would naturally lead to a springtime prostitution post somewhere on the Internet, so I can’t say I’m surprised.)

  5. Ros says:

    Really thought provoking post. Gives me something to think about this monday morning!

    I think a lot of our perceptions of prostitution come from societies ideas of property or right. We, in the western world, tend to believe that we have a ‘right’ to the comforts which we enjoy. Rather than seeing them as a blessing or a gift. When we start to see luxuries, perhaps heating in our house, as a right, it is this mindset which automatically demonises prostitution. This is not to say that I am advocating prostitution, just that society looks down upon it because we have lost the concept of simple survival. So many people live so far away from the breadline, they no longer have the concept of what it means to be faced with no other option.

    I’ll say it again, really good post xxx

  6. Dutch girl says:

    Loved your post. How I miss Amsterdam..! ;-) Seriously, I loved your post because the past years I have become more and more upset by the fact that almost all my friends don’t seem to be able to appreciate their wealth. They all have degrees and good jobs, but somehow they think it’s normal. My boyfriend is Portuguese, and his mom is so poor she gets part of her food from the food bank. Always when we’re there, she receives us with the greatest hospitality. It makes me feel so humble. And it makes me want to shout to my friends: appreciate what you have!!
    I love it that my boyfriend and I are not materialistic and that we appreciate our wealth – the funny thing is, we’re not wealthy compared to our friends, but we think we are!! :-)
    Btw, we have benefits in the Netherlands, nobody needs to be a prostitute. But life is life, sometimes bad things happen to good people. Or people makes choices that others don’t understand. Having a choice is already a privilege.

  7. maureen says:

    Whoa, what a post! I agree that women in history had a pretty rough go of it, and I think I understand the occasional towards prostitution to ensure survival But today, in this day and age, I have a really hard time understanding it.

    The only thing I can think of is if it’s somehow normalized for a woman. Maybe she had a friend who did it, or her mom, or some other women in her life. Maybe, when life gets really hard, this is the low-tier job that you do to get by for a while.

    This is a comparison that is not really comparable: for a while (years, actually) I worked in various call centres. The job sucked, it tethered me to my chair under fluorescent lights, the management made it clear you were just a employee (and to keep your stats up, dammit). There are people, a lot of people, that couldn’t even imagine such a soul-less employment. But I had friends who did it so, when push came to shove, this was the job I went to.

    No, it’s not the same at all. But I do know that there’s a big world out there and some people have different viewpoints than my own. Like you, I just thank God I was born with the advantages of lower middle class. What a crapshoot this life is, isn’t it?

  8. maureen says:

    PS – I just now noticed your tagline. Hmmm, did I see it subconsciously before? Or are we just two people with the same brain?

  9. cyndi says:

    Lovely. It always amazes me how your wonderings can be so eerily similar to mine, despite our completely different points in life. We are struggling, of course only relative to our previous mindless financial life, and I often debate whether I am making the most of the gifts I’ve been given. Thank you for the food for thought :-)

  10. Anonymous says:

    First off, your Google Ads aren’t popping up, so I can’t click on them. FYI.

    Second off… Wow. I’m not really sure how to respond to this. My first thought when I started reading this was, “Oh dear. Grandma will freak when she hears about post.” My second thought was, “Oh Camille, quit going for the shock factor.” And then by the time I got to the end my thought process went something like, “Wow. I wonder what I would do.” So thanks for writing a thought-provoking post that is not full of fluff. This is the type of writing I love to hear from you. And you’re right; we are immeasurably blessed. Thank the good Lord above. And thanks to you for putting life into perspective a little bit.

  11. chelsie says:

    Good news! I got all caught up on your posts. Sorry for being a slacker! It was good reading though.

  12. I thought it was after the French Revolution. After Napoleon even. And Fantine would have been better off if she had kept the child herself. The inn keepers were bleeding her dry and could even be considered the cause of her demise.
    But also, Fantine was never a devout or innocent person to begin with. Remember, she had a bastard child.

    There is a huge difference between someone that is physically forced into fornication and someone that allows her circumstances to force her into it – that chooses to. And what is your life worth if you have willingly given up your virtue? This idea holds only an earthly perspective. What have you done for your child by selling your virtue? Given her food? Or given her a chance to someday take over the family business?

    Also, I like to imagine it was an STD that aided in killing Fantine, so watch out for those.

  13. Cristin says:

    Someone would have to hold a gun to my head for me to be a prostitute. I hope I don’t ever have to find out if that is true.

  14. molly says:

    I think I’d just kill myself. A man who is paying you for sex doesn’t have to be gentle or caring or conscious of how it all feels for you, and would rather die than to constantly go through that garbage.

  15. Amy says:

    I have to admit if I had to I would pimp myself out or become a stripper. Whatever it took to take care or my kiddos.

  16. Beth says:

    I think we can always talk to the person next to us and hear a story or situation that puts ours into perspective. 11 years ago I was a single mother (really single, not single with child support etc) and barely making ends meet – but when I look back at that wow, my son and I were really happy. I am now happily married, have more kids now, don’t really worry about money but I am no more happy today than I was then.
    But I can tell you then or now I would do whatever it took to survive to take care of my kids. But I know that God provides and that’s all that matters…..

  17. Thanks for the reminder of not taking things for granted. I complain too often about petty little things.

    Speaking of prostitution (not a phrase I usually use!)…. here is a link to David’s step uncle that is actually younger than him/our wedding photographer’s blog. He takes photos for the Deseret News and this blog post was about prostitution. Made me think of it in a completely different way! http://miketerry.blogspot.com/2008/08/sting-and-sleepless-night.html

  18. Alexa Mae says:

    Bahhahahahaha I will be thinking of those first couple sentences all day! Thank you friend.

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