Interview with Dr. Williams
When it comes to prostitutes and their clients, the dynamics of a relationship are not very straight forward. The clients benefit because they receive sexual services and companionship, while the prostitutes can sometimes receive luxurious gifts and affection. The question of exploitation comes up when reviewing the client-prostitute relationship. Who is exploiting who? Are they equally exploiting each other? Should outsiders judge this type of relationship?
A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Erica Williams came to our class to discuss her book Sex Tourism in Bahia and answer any questions we had. Our primary focus, which was chapter 6 Se Valorizando (Valuing Oneself), was how the prostitutes felt about their work.
The concerns that an outside person might have for the prostitutes is often not what they themselves worry about. Dr. Williams noted in her interview that she was often surprised with regard to the prostitutes concerns. They were not worried about being exploited by the men, but focused on more practical issues such as abusive clients, clients unwilling to pay, and police brutality. The things that an outsider would
Dr. Williams noted that sometimes the women actually feel empowered by their job. She used the example of a woman who liked sex and men would use her for that aspect without payment. As a poor woman, it was more beneficial for her to be paid for it. So she became a prostitute to get paid for doing something that she enjoys and would do for free with men regardless. Therefore, in a way, this prostitute creates a career doing something she enjoys. However, if the same women was better financially stable, or in a more giving situation where money was not an issue, she would more often than not choose to be in the sex working business. As Williams makes clear, it really just depends on the woman, her situation and her perspective on sex work as a whole.
Moreover, some women treat sex work formally, as a business, refusing gifts over payment. While some women view sex work as an opportunity to travel, fall in love, and become cosmopolitan citizens regardless of their status, others are more detached. These women prefer the money, criticizing those who accept gifts, such as televisions or beds, stating that these women are exploiting themselves. Once again, Williams did not have a final verdict on what sex workers prefered, money or gifts, and stated that it really depended on the woman and her perspective on sex work once again.
Another question Williams was able to answer was whether or not the sex workers felt safe. Often times, the sex workers had systems to differentiate the different dangers. And as Williams wrote in her book, the women had quite a tight knit community amongst themselves. The sex workers had retired sex workers who managed much of the business, helping them and looking out for them. And as Williams stated, Brazilian citizens were often the more aggressive of clients, or criticizers. Brazilians didn’t understand sex work, and viewed the women negatively, while other cultures valued the women, treating them much better such as the gringos or filipinos.
Overall, William’s interview was a great way to discuss Sex Work in Bahia. By engaging in conversation, and having our questions clarified, greatly benefited our group and the class as a whole.