Ideas and laws affecting sex work: notes about female prostitution in Portugal
Schouten, Maria Johanna
Sociology - Centre of Social Studies (ubi_CES) Universidade da Beira Interior Covilhã, Portugal
Bessa Ribeiro, Fernando
Economia e Sociologia UTAD Vila Real, Portugal
This paper addresses some of the results of a recent elaborate research into female prostitution in border areas between Portugal and Spain. An aspect to be highlighted is the stigmatization of the sex workers, an attitude closely connected with the prevalent representations about female sexuality. The social opinion in the western world about sex workers, considering them as either "victims" or "bad women", is all too often based on stories about them rather than on their own stories. In the proposed paper, the phenomenon and conditions of female prostitution will be discussed in the light of the life stories obtained from the actors and with consideration for the historic and social context.
There are striking parallels with, or rather a continuation of the ideas about sex workers which emerged in the nineteenth century, the period of "disciplinization" of sexuality in the terminology of Foucault. In the course of that century, the dominant scientific discourse and consequently the emerging middle class came to view the female prostitute as an anomaly, who should be condemned or helped - in any case should abandon her activity. These aims were reflected in social and political action and in legislation. Despite changes such as the much increased migration and the facilities of international contacts, a look at those nineteenth-century debates is worthwhile for an assessment of the present situation.
Prostitution constitutes a topic in the contemporary political debate in several European countries, where recently new legislation has been adopted or is currently being prepared. The highly diverging or even antipodal character of these laws convey the diversity of viewpoints about prostitution and the actors involved in it, thus attesting to the value of a consideration of the socio-cultural and historic studies about mercantile sex.