Social Causes and Costs

Women’s lives have been under scrutiny again in a national scene with the media hype on actor Vhong Navarro mauling for the last two weeks. Deniece Cornejo may represent a number of Filipino women designated with a “character.” Such designation troubles me both as a practitioner of social work and as a womanist or women human rights activist.

This latest symbolism of women’s struggle, children and adults alike tend to favor Vhong Navarro as the “champion” of society and that the “scoundrel” is Deniece Cornejo. This represents how we view women as “women”, labeling women to misogynistic touch, and not as victim-survivors of circumstances.

Men represented by Vhong (and Cedric Lee) are free and are “clean” even as they engaged in womanizing activities and women commodification. Double standard of morality comes into play strongly in this instance where showbiz and the government led by the same ruling elite dominates and is primary over people’s development-oriented governance.

Let me skim on the perspectives towards women as they are caught in the web of exploitation and oppression. Specifically, I thought of unlocking prostitution in this exercise as a form of violence against women.

Definitions of prostitution during the period 1840 to 1870 are fragmented and vague and may best be understood as a diverse range of beliefs that work to evade questions of economic causation and displace the subject on to the arena of morality and pathology.

In his 1842 Lectures, Wardlaw referred to prostitution as ‘illicit intercourse’ and specified: ‘A prostitute is designation of character…To form the character, and to justify the designation, there must be the voluntary repetition of the act; – the giving up of the person to criminal indulgence.’

Prostitution is thus defined as a pathological condition produced by repeated indulgence in illicit and deviant sex. Wardlaw entirely sidesteps economic and social issues and represents prostitution as a moral state.

Across the labyrinth of conflicting arguments and competing analyses, it is possible to identify two dominant images of prostitution. The first representation defined the prostitute as a figure of contagion, disease and death; a sign of social disorder and ruin to be feared and controlled. This construction shifted the focus away from the question of the effects of prostitution on the woman herself and emphasized its effects on respectable society; the prostitute stood as a symbol of the dangerous forces which could bring about anarchy and social disintegration.

The second representation displaced these connotations of power and destruction and defined the prostitute as a suffering and tragic figure – the passive victim of a cruel and relentless society. A hopeless outcast, the prostitute was believed to follow a steady, downward progress ending in a premature and tragic death. But although it is possible to differentiate these two central images, they did not work in opposition to each other. Both worked to define prostitution as deviant and abnormal and sought to separate the prostitute from respectable society through claims concerning her appearance, her habits, her lifestyle and her moral and sexual behaviour.

Certainly, both images could be invoked within a single text, thus activating simultaneously complex associations of pity, redemption and fear/threat. In his History of Prostitution, published in 1859, W.W. Sanger described the system of prostitution as a malignancy which is daily and hourly threatening every man, woman and child in the community, and which for hundreds of years has been slowly but steadily making its way onward. This fearful image of a cancerous growth spreading through society and leaving destruction in its wake was set against a representation of the prostitute as a helpless, pitiful figure inviting sympathy and compassion: ‘[those] truly wretched beings,.…. they present most ghastly and heart-rending spectacles …..subjects for mournful consideration.

Prostitution existed as a powerful and threatening system but at the same time the individual prostitute could be redefined as a powerless and sympathetic figure intent on self-destruction rather than capable of the destruction of society.

 Again I want to be clear that society’s view of prostitution emerged from the misconception that women engaged in it are deviants and therefore have to be regarded as outcasts. Debates center on concern of the “humanitarianist.” It rather focuses on the individual than the environmental forces that affect and influence one’s actions. This springs from an analytical framework devoid of gender and class. (davaotoday.com)

, , , , , ,
comments powered by Disqus