Thursday, October 21, 2010

China's New Sex Workers

When I first read this piece about young female students hiring themselves out as mistresses I noticed several things, some perhaps only existing inside my own head:
1. The title of the piece is "For some Chinese college students, sex is a business opportunity." But the business opportunities then discussed are a) a rich male pimp and b) lots of female students whom the pimp calls gold-diggers.

2. I then noticed that the article gives no numbers. We have no way of knowing how common this upper-class prostitution is or how common prostitution in general might be in China. It's impossible to tell whether this is one of those pseudo-trends or something intended to fascinate readers because it's about paid sex. Paid male-focused sex, naturally.

3. The value judgments in the article are of obvious interest:

Ding calls himself "an agent, a fixer," but his job is all pimp. He started out small: fliers passed on the street to the chauffeurs of expensive cars. He has found his niche arranging long-term, cash-for-sex arrangements between wealthy men and aspirational students, taking a 10% commission off the top.

He is nonchalant about the work, even vaguely proud. He insists that he is doing a service to the men who don't want to hire streetwalkers, and to his middle-class, ambitious and frostily pragmatic college friends.

"Most of the girls are financially comfortable, but they see their classmates carrying Louis Vuitton or Gucci bags, and they're jealous," he said on the phone from Shanghai. "These girls want to have better lives."


But the motivation is strong. The young women are coming of age at a time when China's family structure has eroded and staggering class divisions mean living, for the first time, in a country where shiny things are dangled carelessly under the noses of those who can't afford them.

In China, everybody seems to be selling something these days. Advertising crowds the skyline and the roadsides. A closed country has opened up in a span of decades, and is experiencing an economic boom that has introduced new desires and an "anything goes" mentality.
Note that the pimp in the story sells women. But he gets off fairly lightly, compared to the women.

4. The article wears the usual eye-patch, the one commonly applied in these kinds of stories so that we focus on the women selling sex, not on the men buying sex, and so that we don't ask why the men have the money that the women so desperately appear to want:

Just a few decades back, premarital sex was looked down upon by respectable families. Now, some members of those families are not just having premarital sex; they're selling it.
See how the buyers of the sex were disappeared there? I'm pretty sure that they, too, come from respectable families.

You know what I find odd? How very ahistorical all these commercial sex pieces tend to be. If you don't know the history of prostitution, pornography and so on you will not be able to write about the topic with both eyes open. And if you ignore the invisible-but-huge elephant (perhaps masturbating in the background?): the fact that these sex markets are for men while the workers are mostly women, you are also going to ignore the huge imbalance of power, the one which hides behind that eye-patch.