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Prostitutes, Wages, and Wives: Part II

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The New York Times reported this past February that Iraqi women who have lost husbands, children, parents, and friends have great difficulty finding help. Timothy Williams writes that "among Iraqi women aged 15 to 80, 1 in 11 are estimated to be widows, though officials admit that figure is hardly more than a guess, given the continuing violence and the displacement of millions of people." A few women take the government stipend that runs about $50 per month and $12 per child. A few women live in the government trailer park in Baghdad called Al Waffa, or "Park of the Grateful," which houses 750 people. The Iraqi government's efforts to provide more support are currently stalled, and certain attitudes prevail that a woman would only spend the money unwisely anyway, as she lacks education about financial management. So many women remarry and some turn to prostitution.

War, upheaval, lack of education, limited options for survival leading women to marriage and
prostitution is also an old story. And probably the best way to see the connections is through the dictum of Deep Throat, the old Woodward and Bernstein snitch, to "follow the money." Just follow the money.

Lena Edlund and Evelyn Korn present an economic model that connects the wages of prostitutes from medieval Europe and Japan to modern-day Los Angeles to the value of wives. (See "A Theory of Prostitution".) Edlund and Korn observe that prostitution was mainly "low-skilled, labor-intensive, female, and well-paid." Their research finds that prostitutes are paid well because they are "compensated for forgone marriage market opportunities." Edlund and Korn found throughout history that wives and prostitutes are competing commodities, but wives have the edge because they produce children who are socially recognized from the father. The more a society values wives, the more a prostitute's wages increase. Of course, cultural tolerance is also a factor on the price (that is, less tolerance causes a higher price). Also, their economic model showed that as men's and women's incomes increased, prostitution declined. Improved education and economic prospects for women go much further than moral denunciation to decrease prostitution.

The connection between prostitution and wives has a long history in the written word. Here is a sampling in descending chronological order:

What is marriage but prostitution to one man instead of many? -- Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus

Marriage is for woman the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution. - Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals

To the moralist prostitution does not consist so much in the fact that the woman sells her body, but rather that she sells it out of wedlock. -- Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse - William Blake, "London"

On women in late medieval England:
...women's largest economic impact on London's economy, mercantile trade, and the stability of its government and society lay in the transfer of wealth through marriage. - Barbara Hanawalt, The Wealth of Wives

People may guess and interpret the text up and down,
But I know well, without a doubt, God bade
Us expressly to increase and multiply;
That pleasant text I can well understand.
And also I well know that he said my husband
Should leave father and mother, and take me;
But he made no mention of number - of bigamy or of octogamy;
Why should men speak evil of it? - Geoffrey Chaucer, Wife of Bath's Prologue

They shall not take a wife that is a whore - Leviticus 21:7