Always ones to stir up controversy about our long-held beliefs, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner have a new book out, SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.
Along with arguing that the world is actually experiencing a cooling trend, which has been hotly contended all over the net, there is also a less debated chapter on prostitution.
In it, Levitt and Dubner compare two women – “call girls” if you will – who brought in two very different brackets of money. One, “LaSheena,” worked on the streets on the South Side of Chicago and made about $350 a week; the other, “Allie” worked in her apartment in a “chic” Chicago neighborhood and made the same amount per hour. Why the difference?
Well, according to an excerpt from the book:
[Allie] is the kind of person who sees something good in everyone — and this, she believes, has contributed to her entrepreneurial success. She genuinely likes the men who come to her, and the men therefore like Allie even beyond the fact that she will have sex with them.
LaSheena, on the other hand, doesn’t like “turning tricks.” Her reasoning? “Cause I don’t really like men. I guess it bothers me mentally.”
You don’t have to read far into this excerpt to see that Levitt and Dubner make Allie’s life out to be some sort of Cinderella/Pretty Woman/Business Week character (she “she represents the ideal wife: beautiful, attentive, smart, laughing at your jokes and satisfying your lust“), while LaSheena barely necessitates a mention, except to open up the piece for comparison value.
Blaming the Victim
But something deeper is at work here, as Sady Doyle notes in her rebuttal piece, Prostitution, for fun and profit.
For one, “the fact that Allie is probably white, and that LaSheena is probably not, is never once addressed,” along with the reality that we learn about the inner workings of Allie, while no real history of LaSheena’s life is outlined.
Did LaSheena have no other choice but to be a prostitute? Was she beaten by some of the men she had sex with? Doesn’t really seem to matter to the authors.
The overwhelming feeling that comes off the page is that LaSheena’s poverty is LaSheena’s fault.
Hey, here’s an interesting thought: Maybe LaSheena doesn’t like men because she’s trapped in a cycle of poverty, and one of the only ways for her to stay alive is to have sex with men, whether or not she really wants to. Maybe that’s enough to make LaSheena dislike men.
Interestingly enough, although Allie “enjoyed her work,” she got out of it because she was tired of hiding it from her family and friends, and, most importantly, she understood “her commodity was perishable.” I think that statement just took women back 200 years.
Probably my absolute favorite part of this whole damn story is the moral that Levitt and Dubner end with:
So the real puzzle isn’t why someone like Allie becomes a prostitute, but rather why more women don’t choose this career. You have to like sex enough, and be willing to make some sacrifices, like not having a husband (unless he is very understanding, or very greedy).
Thanks, Levitt and Dubner, for your amazing insights on prostitution and what it means to be a woman.
What do you think of Levitt and Dubner’s take on prostitution? Share your thoughts below.