this one is not as good and late (extensioned) and i have been doing notsowell lately so yeah.

Representing the Agency of Sex Workers in South Asia

In her essay, "Lifestyle as Resistance: The Case of the Courtesans of Lucknow, India," Veena Talwar Oldenburg argues that the courtesans, or tawa'if, of Lucknow have been and continue to be "independent and consciously involved in the covert subversion of a male-dominated world" (261). They do this through "[celebrating] womanhood in the privacy of their apartments [and] resisting and inverting the rules of gender of the larger society of which they are part" (ibid.) Although, like many sex workers around the world, they are accused of perpetuating patriarchal norms, they actually challenge and reject patriarchy.

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I found myself wondering, throughout this article, about the assumption that sex work is necessarily demeaning unless performed. Oldenburg talks about how it is natural that for sex workers, the heterosexual sex act is seen as more "routine" and "passion and pleasure are simulated or distanced," as it is "an essential mechanism that women, both wives and prostitutes, have universally used to preserve their emotional integrity and dignity" (283). She quotes a sex worker interviewed by Studs Terkel, Roberta Victor, as saying, " 'Of course we faked it... The ethic was: ... You always fake it. You're putting something over on him and he is paying for something he really didn't get. That's the only way you keep any sense of self-respect... You were the lowest of the low if you allowed yourself to feel anything' " (283). I can certainly appreciate and recognize the survival mechanism in play here, necessarily connected to the power structures that are so intimately replicated through sex. However, I find the construction of sex work as necessarily stunting one's emotional integrity, and as solely or primarily something to be resorted to out of desperation, problematic. Oldenburg seems to attempt to tackle this issue to some extent, but her project is more centered on recovering and exposing the voices of the tawa'if, who are so underrepresented in mainstream society.

Works Cited:

Veena Oldenburg, “Lifestyle as Resistance: The Case of the Courtesans of Lucknow” in Feminist Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2, Speaking for Others/Speaking for Self: Women of Color. (Summer, 1990), pp. 259-287.

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