Most prostitutes entered the sex trade as girls. This often happens when girls in abusive households run away from home. This happens to teenaged boys as well, who end up renting themselves to adult men.
Another very common way that girls are introduced into prostitution is by men who they believe are their boyfriends. These men shower them with attention for a while, and then tell them they need money. They then tell their ‘girlfriend’ how much money they could make, and if the girl balks, the man often turns abusive or even violent.
These girls aren’t “exercising their agency”. They aren’t making a free choice to rent themselves or be rented out to strange, gross men to use. These girls - the girls who make up the vast majority of prostitutes - are exploited, coerced, and abused by men.
The few women who insist they love renting themselves out to strange men for money and wish it was legal or easier do not take priority over the majority, who are oppressed, abused, exploited, and often literally enslaved.
And the men: Straight, gay, or bi; white, black, or any other race - they are the ones who fight the hardest for legalized prostitution. They are not important at all. Their desires do not matter at all. They are the entitled, privileged group which causes so much suffering, misery, and death with their selfish, capitalist, misogynist demand.
Casual reminder that Fantine CHOSE to…
- sell her hair,
- sell her teeth,
- and ultimately, to become a prostitute.
She also took a lover (who abused her) and did any odd jobs she could find to support both herself and Cosette.
She was modest and sweet and pretty, but she was also strong-willed, resourceful, and intelligent. She was forced into these choices by her society’s values (which is bad enough), but not directly by any one person or group of people; FANTINE ALWAYS HAD AGENCY IN HER FATE. The musical/movie makes it easy to think she was coerced into all these things, but she wasn’t. She chose them. She sacrificed and fought for her daughter, but also for herself. She never gave up hoping that she would live to be reunited with her.
She may have “dreamed a dream in time gone by,” but she was also dreaming a dream of a better future - one which she would share with her little girl.Are you for real?
lets explain a thing.
In the time period that Les Mis is set in, sex work wasn’t the sort of thing one entered into because they had an alternative.
There were courtesans, who were generally educated (and also generally married), but they were the few and blessed, and even they tended to die in poverty.
But a woman like Fantine? She wouldn’t have had many options. Firstly, she sells her hair. Now, since long hair was a sign of status, and women weren’t exactly rocking the pixie in 1800s France, this was a pretty clear marker of a woman in some pretty severe economic straights. It’s unlikely that, having cut her hair, Fantine would be able to secure legitimate and reputable employment until it had grown out, which could take upwards of three years during which she would instantly be recognized as untouchable.
Then she sells her teeth. Now, missing teeth wasn’t AS unusual in 1800s France as it is today, but it was still something to be remarked upon, especially in a young woman. That’s another social marker, and a visible one at that. Once she’s sold those, they’re a permanent sign of her debasement. She’s literally been reduced to what would have been known then as “desperate circumstances”.
Lastly, she sells her body. She sells it to sailors at the docks, and as any basic knowledge of prostitution (in either a historical OR modern context) demonstrates, outside survival sex workers in industrial areas tend to have the highest rates of disease, STI’s, assaults, abuse and mortality. Even as recently as 2006, Vancouver’s Downtown East Side experienced a serial killer preying on women who were in that exact position. He claims to have killed 49, and was hunted for almost ten years before he was caught.
Fantine is a fictional counterpart, but the social structures are the same. Fantine may have “chosen” to sell what little she still possessed, but it wasn’t a choice she made freely, any more than someone who jumps from a high floor of a burning building can be said to be suicidal, or that a sweatshop worker making pennies a day while working 18 hours in abominable conditions can be described as an “employee”.
Fantine demonstrates a LACK of agency, because there were literally no other options left.
That’s the entire point of her arc, the entire commentary Hugo was trying to make about how “immoral” actions weren’t sinful if done for ethical reasons (“sex out of wedlock is a sin, BUT Fantine did it for a good reason so she reappears as an angel to guide Valjean to heaven”).
I don’t understand how someone can know the story of Les Mis and not understand how little choice she had. That’s not a misunderstanding, that’s willful ignorance. I feel like the words “she chose to do it” are often followed by a silent but implied “therefor it’s no one else’s responsibility to help her.” Which completely and entirely misses the point of Valjean’s arc.
And let’s not forget that the reason serial killers can often get away with killing prostitutes for so long, is that the criminal justice system rarely prioritizes the murders of prostitutes. The attitude that no one is obligated to help sex workers “because they chose this life” is what makes it so easy for monsters like Robert Pickton to stay hidden. This is why the “choice/agency” narrative is so harmful. It encourages victim blaming.
Ultimate peak libfem. This is the peakest peak libfem I’ve ever seen.
It’s not a choice when there is no other choice you can make
Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America
i found it interesting that we’ve been trying to get away from the bars-only life from the very beginning. :/ in my softball league, we’re still often sponsored by bars, end up at bars, or have alcohol there at the park.