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anthropology

Love for sale

Theses analyze the figure of man in the universe of female prostitution and help towards an understanding of sexual tourism

What motivates a woman to become a prostitute is an old discussion. Mere necessity, or something else, which includes pleasure? Deviation in conduct? Demonization? These are just some questions of a moral (and religious) nature that always arise when the subject is prostitution. A series of theses prepared at the Gender Study Nucleus – Pagu, of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), though, does not just give academic seriousness to the theme, but also reveals the surprising complexity of this broad, not very glamorous, violent fringe universe, and which even involves the neglect of the public authorities as to fighting, for example, international sexual tourism in Brazil.

From the viewpoint of anthropology and the social sciences, it also shows another aspect of the presence of man in this context, which goes beyond the clientele – traders, exploiters of women etc. This is the theme of “The men of the Vila: a study of gender relations in a universe of female prostitution”. The doctoral thesis, defended in February 2005 by Elisiane Nelcina Pasini, deals with the conventions of masculinity and femininity in Vila Mimosa, a traditional spot for low-income prostitution in the center of Rio de Janeiro.

In a slow process of drawing close and investigating, she tried to understand the diversity of men that are led to look the place up for different motivations: sociability, masculinity, work and sex. She concluded that part of these frequenters end up occupying several roles, such as clientele, boyfriend, lover, husband, protector and even “privileged” – situations that keep them present in the place regularly. In the case in Rio, the author explains, protection/care forms a masculine model called “symbolic provider”, fundamental in the universe of values of prostitution. It is associated with financial support, and, above all, to the possibility of conferring a distinctive status on the receiver of the purveying. In proposing this debate, Elisiane intends to unveil elements that go beyond the world of prostitution, so as to offer means for helping to understand gender relationship practices in other social contexts.

A doctor in social sciences from Unicamp, with a master’s degree in social anthropology from the same university, and a social scientist by the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), she has been studying prostitution for almost ten years. Between 1996 and 1997, she investigated the subject in the central streets of Porto Alegre. In the two following years, she did the same in the Rua Augusta region of São Paulo. The interest for the Rio de Janeiro district arose when she realized that that was a possible place for talking to men, since they circulated in the same spots to which she had access. She realized that she could observe both their interaction with women and with other men, “as well as with an infinity of social subjects that are part of the context studied”.

Vila Mimosa was born as a continuation of one of the best known areas of female prostitution in Rio de Janeiro, the old Mangue Zone. After conflicts, expropriations of prostitutes’ establishments and the near extinction of the place, there was a resumption of the activities of the exercise of prostitution beginning in 1979, when the transfer from the Mangue to Vila Mimosa happened. The name of the new place was said to have to do with the district where the prostitutes originally installed themselves. Ten years afterwards, the “vila” was once again to move places, but it preserved its previous title.

The investigation led the scientist to realize the great importance and constant presence of the customers as a component part of the universe of prostitution. According to her, even with their importance, these subjects were little known. “Looking for sexual relations is one, by a long way not the main one, amongst countless reasons that take these men to Vila Mimosa.” Elisiane points out that the frequenters are not exactly the focus of the thesis, but rather the empirical individuals from whom she set off to discuss questions of gender.

Over many nights, at different times and days of the week, the researcher talked with men and women. “I made the places where they carry out the business of prostitution my field of research: I held individual conversations or in groups, I observed the routine, and I also talked about their day-to-day outside of there.” She heard from the informants about what they cooked, what time they woke up, problems with their children, bills to pay, shopping, bad temper, late buses, beauty products, quarrels etc.

Elisiane tells that the study brought enquiries that began to be constructed in two other ethnographic researches that she carried out in Porto Alegre and São Paulo. In the first, she concluded that it was the man-husband, pimp or old customer who protected her, provided for her, financially or in the affective part, and marked a difference of status between the prostitutes. In the other, it would be a woman who protected the prostitute, her affective companion or procurer, the “owner of the spot” – of the place where prostitution is expected and negotiated. In Vila Mimosa, though, this role is masculine.

There were other motivations for being there, besides the mere quest for sex: talking, drinking, looking at the women, while others held some kind of job, like owners or managers of establishments, taxi drivers and salesmen, amongst others. Next, she brought together some elements that made up arrangements for these different models of masculinity: not paying to relate sexually with a prostitute; staying longer in the bedroom; receiving and demonstrating in public the privileges of a prostitute; differentiating oneself from the figure of a customer; making provision for women; obliging the prostitute that has become his wife not to prostitute herself; not to feel jealousy; defending their honor; relating with women and spending money with prostitutes.

Amongst the possible conclusions, Elisiane observes that it is “unbelievable” to realize that the debate on prostitution even today continues to be based on the rules built by the Church. That is to say, by a social moralism, in a division between the good citizen and the bad, without forgetting the place that women’s sexuality occupies in Brazilian society. Furthermore, she goes on, in the area of anthropology, the studies about the theme are scarce, particularly when dealing with men inside female prostitution. “I have always found it right to carry out a research showing what the prostitutes I was familiar with  were showing me: that they were women with practices that are common in the life one lives. By that, I mean to say that they kept up affective relationships, families, or not, used contraceptives or not, went shopping, had problems, joys and choices.”

Sexual tourism
Another little analyzed aspect of prostitution became an objective of the revealing research by Adriana Piscitelli, one of Pagu’s coordinators. “Between prostitution and summer love affairs: gender and sexuality in the context of sexual tourism, in Fortaleza”, carried out between 1999 and 2002, from the anthropological perspective, tried to understand the meanings given to sexuality in the context of international sexual tourism in the capital city of  the state of Ceará.

The study explored the interrelations between foreign tourists and native women, in the modality of this style of tourism in the city, heterosexual. There were eight months of research in various kinds of sources, observation and interviews carried out, above all with women from low and medium classes who maintained amorous-sexual relationships with visitors from other countries, in particular European countries.

Adriana also talked to men of various nationalities who had come motivated by the quest for sex, and to foreigners who took up residence in the city, fascinated by their experience as tourists. She found that the girls involved in sexual tourism were in the range of from 20 to 30 years in age. Some admitted being “sex workers”. Others did not regard themselves as prostitutes and shared the desire for achieving social prominence following the relationships, and often migrated to Europe as wives. The anthropologist realized that the masculine universe was made up of outsiders with different ages, levels of income and schooling. There were those who sought cheap or free sex in a diversity of relationships. Others wanted to draw closer with more stability – like long-term lovers or even in the capacity of spouses. “The contacts established in this universe showed that gender and race ‘acted’ as metaphorical agents of the economic, political and cultural power inherent in these transnational relationships”, she explains.

For the professor from Unicamp, these two categories played an active role in the procedures through which the native men and women were turned into inferiors, and the foreigners, privileged. “However, in relationships that were, in overall terms, an expression of the subordinated position of these women, many of them, by embodying the extreme sensuality attributed to them, opened up ways that destabilized linear criteria of inequality, negotiating, on the basis of the sexualization of which they were an object, their access to material benefits and their position in these relationships.” This happened not only at the micro level of the relations of these couples, but in such a way as to achieve an expansion of their spheres of influence on the local plane.

In a second stage, Adriana did a follow-up of the career of the girls from the previous research who had migrated, in this context, with sexual tourists. In the thesis “Sexual landscapes: images of Brazil at the landmark of international sexual tourism”, concluded this year, she advanced even more into the theme and centered her investigation on the creation and transmission of the target countries for sexual tourism that circulated amongst travelers in search of sex broadcast on specific websites on the Internet in which discussions and exchanges of information amongst sexual tourists take place. “My central objective was to analyze the intersections between gender and nationality and other differentiations present in these texts, considering in particular the conceptualizations of the tourists who choose the Northeast of Brazil as a vacation destination.”

The focus for her analysis was the World Sex Archives website, from two aspects: for being the virtual space most mentioned by tourists in search of sex interviewed in Fortaleza during the production of the first thesis, and the enormous wealth of material disseminated on it, when compared to other analogous websites. “Steered by an interest in understanding how certain poor regions of the world attract tourists in search of sex, while others, also poor and relatively nearby do not, and concerned with understanding the dynamics of the circulation of these travelers, I gathered and analyzed extensively the material (text and photographs) relating to several countries of South America broadcast between October 2003 and August 2005.”

Far from acting as a substitute for sexuality, she concluded, the website makes viable the materialization of sexual contact between travelers in search of sex and local women. World Sex Archives works like a space for collective “socialization”, orientates, on a global scale, “the recreation of codes of sexuality and masculinity associated with white supremacy and a certain idea of western things”. From Adriana’s description, the material shows that the practice of sex distanced from affection acquires importance in maintaining inequalities, permeating this kind of consumption of sex, and indicates that the alterations in the geography of the worldwide circuits of sexual tourism are connected with a series of factors, in which the impoverishment of the countries of the Southern Hemisphere is an aspect of the greatest relevance.

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