Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Amy Stanley's "Selling Women"

Amy Stanley is Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan, and reported the following:
Well, I hope Ford Madox Ford was wrong, because page 99 is not very exciting! It does, however, provide a good summary of the argument I developed in the first half and a hint of what’s to come. Page 99 concludes a chapter on the sex trade in Nagasaki, which was a port of foreign trade throughout the Tokugawa period (1600-1868). Prostitutes there were legally recognized and confined to a “pleasure quarter,” but they were allowed to leave their district to see foreign clients. This chapter is not about prostitutes’ relationships with foreigners per se, although I do discuss some women who cohabitated and had children with “barbarians.” Instead, it’s about how prostitutes and their parents negotiated the shogunate’s legal regime by conforming to cultural scripts that cast them as dutiful daughters and protective parents. Interestingly, parents remained involved in their daughters’ lives long after they entered brothels, and some even arranged marriages for their daughters while they were still working. Prostitutes also continued to support their parents. Some left the brothels temporarily to nurse ill relatives (or so they claimed), and a few even became involved in smuggling rings at their families’ behest. Although these activities contravened the interests of brothel keepers and occasionally broke the law, shogunal officials tended to side with prostitutes and their families when they presented themselves as upholding the values of the patriarchal household. As a result, prostitutes could passively resist brothel keepers’ authority and clear paths to marriage and motherhood by relying on their parents’ support.

Page 99 explains that by the latter half of the Tokugawa period, these opportunities were increasingly rare. In Nagasaki, where officials kept close watch on prostitutes and their foreign clients, magistrates continued to insist that the business of prostitution should be compatible with the maintenance of stable patriarchal households. But prostitution had begun to expand into other types of places, notably rural areas, where officials prioritized economic growth. They were reluctant to impose restrictions on the sex trade, and women were trafficked farther from home. They could not rely on their distant parents to speak for them, and they faced hostility from local people who believed that they destroyed marriages and corrupted village daughters. As the logic of regulation gave way to the logic of the market, prostitutes became symbols of a dystopian future in which everything – including the most intimate human relations – would be for sale.
Learn more about Selling Women at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue