Ok, here’s the exercise:
First, imagine your favorite time period or setting to read or write about. Modern times? Well, this still applies in many modern cultures. The 1900s or earlier? A culture patterned after medieval or renaissance times, maybe steampunk? Alright, that’s just the start.
Second, think about what your favorite characters did to make a living. Is your character male? If so, make that character female and think about that again. What did she do to make a living? Is she dependent on a father, husband, or brother to guide that profession?
Let’s raise the bets now. The civilization has enough school teachers. A war or plague has dropped the population of marriageable men way below the percentage of women. Your female character is in a society that values physical strength of men, and the women realize that there just aren’t enough jobs to go around. What does she do to make a living?
I’ve read very few books that encroach upon prostitution as little else but a filthy, condemning trade that turns women into untouchables. Really, only one series has shown me a side of compassion or necessity for women who see no other path but starvation. If you really want to read a compelling fantasy work from an author who looks into the other side of base society, of urchin street gangs, and of the abuse that happens to women out of desperation, check out Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy.
Caution: Night Angel Trilogy is not for the faint of heart. If you’re buying this for your young teen, please read it first. Especially book two.
If you are open to really exploring what happens to the common people in wartime, in a setting that other authors have written about but never really detailed in this regard, find the trilogy and read it. I wasn’t disappointed at all. While discussing research he did for his trilogy, Brent Weeks describes hearing stories from his wife, who was a social worker for kids in gangs. He mentioned the abuse that happens to many of the boys, and nearly all of the girls. Take these children, mature them, and argue that they should know better. Argue that they should find respectable careers. Argue that same point to widows with children, who can’t stand to see those children starve.
Today, a Facebook friend linked to a very educational blog post about prostitution in Victorian England. The milieu I prefer to write and read are not set in Victorian times, but many of the conditions are the same.
You can read the post here: http://samanthabvance.wordpress.com/presentation-page The pictures on this post have been taken from this original website.
I compare this to women I know in my personal life, who have had to work undesirable jobs to support their children. (I live in Reno, Nevada. There are a lot of adult entertainers here. Many of them are single moms.) I also compare this to cultures that have adopted polygamy, not out of a sexual need for the men. They adopted it as a physical need for the women, a way to take care of them.
What circumstances can you imagine that would drive a woman to consider her own body as a commodity she would be willing to sacrifice for something of greater value? And while you consider these circumstances in the work you’re reading, or writing… or as you encounter someone in your life who has made that choice… how does society view her choice?
I would love to hear about books you’ve read that cover this subject with something other than condemnation. Works that expound upon it with compassion, reform, or even simple detail for the milieu. I’d also love to hear your opinions regarding the choice and sacrifice itself.