Episode 13: Culture and Sex Work

How is sex work like that guy in Mad Max: Fury Road who rode into combat playing a flamethrowing guitar? We talk about that in this episode of The Skeptical Pervert!

This episode was delayed by a misadventure with COVID-19 and a hard drive crash. but it takes more than that to keep us down. In this episode, we examine how the concept of ‘sex work’ varies across different cultures, and along the way talk about colonization.

This is even more complicated than the ‘what is sex work?’ question, not only because every culture and society treats sex work differently, and often says completely different things about sex work altogether, but it’s sometimes hard for people from one society even to be able to tell if something in a different society is sex work.

We’re not professional anthropologists, so we invite you to muddle through this with us, and if you have any comments, let us know! The transcript is below.

Franklin: Welcome back to yet another episode of The Skeptical Pervert, where we take a rational, evidence-based look at sex! I’m your host, part-time sex toy engineer, and token cishet guy, Franklin! And yes, this podcast is The Skeptical Pervert, not Skeptical Perverts. A listener got in touch recently to point out that the website is Skeptical Pervert, but we keep saying “welcome to Skeptical Perverts.” So a shout-out to the person who noticed! We are three, but really only one.

Joreth: As another part of the not-so-holy trinity, I’m your co-host and kinky, sopo, ace, chicana, feminst Renaissance cat, Joreth! My gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but you may address me as “my lord”.

Eunice: And to bring up this triadic rear, I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, grey-ace, poly woman, bringing my genteel East Asian British viewpoint and a corresponding addiction to tea. All the tea, all the time.

Franklin: We’re knee-deep in our miniseries on sex work, so today we’ll be looking at sex work in different cultures. Sex work has been a part of…well, basically every human society in the history of ever, but when you take something as complicated and fraught as sex, you’ll inevitably get a zillion different takes on what sex work looks like.

Joreth:  Boy, where do we even start with this one?  We learned from the first part of our episode on History that even the very question isn’t the right question, because what we think of as “sex work”, and the word “prostitute” in particular, has not always been the case. And once we started looking, not just at different times in history, but in different cultures and in different languages to boot, shit got real complicated real quick. Speaking of different languages, please excuse our terrible Western accents. Many of these words we’ve only read and never heard spoken and are in languages we do not read or speak ourselves, so we apologize in advance for mangling them.

Franklin: A thorough descent into this topic could easily fill many weeks and perhaps three or four Ph.D. theses, so we’ll do the same thing we did before and just lightly skim the highlights and call it good.

We struggled a bit with how to approach this episode, and finally settled on looking at some of the myths that have surrounded ideas about sex work from different societies, and the ways that entertainment and sex work have blurred over time. Eventually, we decided to talk about the blurred line between sex work and entertainment. 

Eunice: This was a topic that kept waving at us from the periphery, throughout our research. In the last episode, we mentioned the Winchester Geese, who were licensed prostitutes in an area that was just outside what was then medieval London. Because it was outside of city limits, it didn’t have to follow the city rules. This allowed for the emergence of all sorts of illegal activities like prostitution, as well as entertainments like bear and bull-baiting, and also…theaters! For instance, Shakespeare’s Globe, which is probably the theater that people are most likely to know, was originally located in the “red light district”. And medieval London was far from the only time or place to conflate theatrical or artistic entertainers with sex workers…I mean I guess you could consider them both a form of entertainment, right?

Joreth:  One of the things that got us started down this rabbit hole is that Eunice and I both have some adjacent experience with sex work and also with entertainers in different cultures. For instance, I spent some time as a professional Bollywood performer. Westerners like to think of belly dancers (which I was not, but Westerners don’t really care much about the distinction), but they like to think of belly dancers as sexyfuntimes akin to hiring a stripper for a bachelor party. But we weren’t doing anything particularly sexy, we just had outfits that showed off our midsections and a lot of isolated muscle control.

And then there was the question of cultural appropriation. Our entire troop was made of non-Indian dancers, and I had to square that somehow with my own concern for stepping out of my lane. When I expressed my concern to some of the Indian clientele who came up to thank us for our performances, I was told, not in so many words, that they really appreciated non-Indian women doing their dancing because they didn’t like it when Indian women danced for money. That was too close to prostitution for them. Indian women were expected to have cultural skills like dancing, but to hire themselves out as dancers … well, that wasn’t so cool. But us “white” women basically prostituting ourselves for them?  eh.

Eunice: You know, sometimes that confusion of entertainers for sex workers was sort of reasonable, because hiring them for sex work on the side was definitely not unheard of. Of course, the fancy ones were usually very expensive, as befits the long training they had to go through for their main skills and talents. Often, though, those roles started off as being non-sexual and then over time ended up shifting so that they included sex work. 

Like the Geisha in Japan, who were incredibly highly trained, expensive and high class dancers, singers and entertainers. They were the equivalent of those court mistresses we mentioned in our last episode, very highly educated over long periods of time. These were women who entertained wealthy and powerful men at dinner events and the like, and were expected to be scintillating and witty conversationalists who would also dance or sing for you, or recite poetry, or play refined drinking games, or whatever else. They were confused for sex workers by the American GIs during WW2 because many women needed money during an unstable period so they billed themselves as these beautiful and exotic Geisha to sell sex, and the American men didn’t know the difference. So over time, this became part of Western assumptions about Geisha, and that never really went away again.

Franklin: Interesting observation. We do see jobs in many societies that start out non-sexual and become sexual, and I wonder. Is there perhaps a thing going on that certain jobs, like personal entertainer, require a certain degree of wealth and stability in a society, and the more refined those jobs get, the more time they take to master? Then if the society changes so that somehow it becomes less prosperous or less stable, the people who’d invested in jobs that require a high degree of training in matters that aren’t well suited to an impoverished or unstable society find themselves falling on sex work. I wonder, if we were to look through history at examples of jobs that started out non-sexual and became sexual, would we see that shift correspond with, say, war, or financial crisis, or famine, or other social disruption?

Joreth:  Well, we’re about to take a look at some that I suspect will show at least some correlation, particularly since, when certain professions lose their protection from the government or become outright banned, those workers become more vulnerable to abuse, and therefore either turn to sex or have sex required of them as part of their job because they’re more vulnerable… and the spiral goes downwards.

Franklin: I remember when I first saw the Mad Max: Fury Road movie, someone asked why on earth Immortan Joe’s army had that guy who plays guitar on the warmobile with the huge speakers. And I said, wealth display. When you have a certain level of resources, certain professions become a wealth display…but I wonder what happens to those professions when the society can no longer support them.

Eunice: Well as I mentioned before, that’s WW2 and the Geisha, right? They lost a lot of their leverage and status. In fact, that started even before WW2—the original Geisha were not only purely entertainers, but men, and definitely not available for sexual favours. In fact, the word literally translates to artist or artisan – “gei” means “art” and “sha” means “person”, more or less. They would basically entertain customers who were sitting around waiting for their turn with an Oiran – the most expensive and highest class of courtesan. But it was WW2 that really signaled the death knell for the industry. These days, there’s a tiny number of Geisha in comparison to what they were before.

Joreth:  Apparently “what happens to those professions when the society can no longer support them” is exactly what happened to the Devadasi of India. Between the 6th and 13th centuries, Devadasi had a high rank in society and were exceptionally affluent because they were seen as the protectors of the arts. The practice became significant when one of their great queens decided that certain women who were trained in classical dancing, should be married to the deities to honor them. The women who were chosen to become devadasi were literally married to the deity, so they were to be treated as if they were the goddess Lakshmi herself. 

It’s a fairly long and complex history, with lots of regional details, but then the British came and ruined everything, as colonizers do. Reformists and abolitionists considered the Devadasi a social evil because they couldn’t tell the difference between artists and prostitutes. They also portrayed the Devadasi system as “prostitution” to advertise the supposed grotesqueness of Indian culture for political means, even though the British colonial authorities officially maintained most brothels in India.

Since the Devadasi were equated with prostitutes in a deliberate political smear campaign, they became associated with the spread of the venereal disease in India. During the British colonial period many British soldiers were exposed to STDs in brothels, and Devadasis were misunderstood to be responsible. In an effort to control the spread of STDs, the British Government mandated that all prostitutes register themselves. Devadasis were required to register, because the Brits insisted that they were prostitutes. The British also established Lock Hospitals to treat women with STDs, but many of the women admitted to these hospitals, including many Devadasi, were first identified through the registry and then forcibly brought to the hospitals. A number of these women were confined in the hospitals permanently. 

Eunice: So what you’re saying is that it’s exactly what we speculated would happen—when a profession becomes a wealth display, the people in the trade are exalted, respected, in some cases even revered, and then when the society can’t or won’t support them anymore, they fall from grace. Then they’re forced into precarious positions in order to survive. I mean, we haven’t been able to find a huge amount of research on this, but it makes sense. If anyone knows of any research, we’d love to read it! Send it to the usual place. And you know, looking over history, it seems like that happened in multiple places, right around the time that the British Empire came calling, with their Western European colonialist assumptions about women, especially wealthy or powerful independent women, and how they got that way. It must have been by selling their bodies, nothing else makes sense, right? Not like they were exceedingly well trained and educated, or high level religious figures or anything! 

Franklin: One thing we see over and over in conversations about sex work is how sex workers ‘sell their bodies.’ People will say that about sex workers, but not about other entertainers or professionals. The idea that sex workers ‘sell their bodies’ has always seemed a bit strange to me. After the transaction is over, the sex worker’s body still belongs to them! We don’t say the same thing about other professions where people make their living from physical services, like massage artists, physical therapists, or models.

Joreth: I got into an argument with an ex of mine that still angers me to this day. It’s a long story how we got from the main issue to “no partner of his will be a sex worker”, but what I remember most was my argument that I, at the time, had a manual labor job and was also moonlighting as a professional Bollywood dancer, both of which were purely physical jobs – one requiring a great deal of skill and training and one being something literally any able-bodied (and some less-able bodied) person could do with no training, so how was I not “selling my body” when sex workers are? I literally trade my physical labor for a paycheck. It’s only different if you put a moral price on one and not the other.

I have always worked in manual labor, briefly as a professional dancer and as a laborer in the entertainment industry for 30 years. By any definition used to apply to sex work if you take the specification of “arousal” or “genitals” out, my jobs would qualify as “selling my body”, but that phrase is never used to apply to my work. 

Eunice: There’s something really interesting about that phrasing too — some physical jobs, like being a surgeon, or an artist, or a plumber, are referred to as ‘selling your skills’, whereas sex work, almost singularly amongst jobs involving physical labour, is referred to as ‘selling your body’. And if you think about it, there’s a very gendered split between the things that are considered ‘skillful’ and those that are not. Historically male jobs are practically never seen as ‘selling your body’, even when it’s purely manual labor with almost no training required. So why, then, is sex work referred to as ‘selling your body’ when, say, being a soldier isn’t? Even though the army owns way more of you than a sex worker’s client ever can or will.

Joreth:  Like my stagehand work – a traditionally male-dominated, heavy manual labor industry, some parts of which require no training. It’s clearly trading the labor of one’s body for pay, but it’s an industry associated with men so we don’t describe it that way.

Eunice: Exactly. And think about jobs such as a massage therapist, which is seen as a mainly female job — they are certainly trained and skilled! Same with dancers in all different forms of dance throughout history. Yet there’s been a conflation of massage and dance with sex work both now and throughout history, even when the product is not intended to be erotic. I don’t know many people nowadays who would consider classical ballet, for example, to be erotic dance, but at one point, oh boy were ballet dancers considered open for sexual exploitation. There was even a brothel that operated in the Paris Opera Ballet in the 19th Century, apparently, catering to the wealthy (male) patrons. In reality, the vast majority of sex work is most definitely skilled labour, and not only that, the majority of it isn’t even physical. A huge proportion of sex work is actually emotional labour. 

Franklin: I suspect the emotional labor portion of sex work is often the most important bit.

Joreth:  We saw that in our conversation of Only Fans, didn’t we?  The reason why people are willing to pay for cam work, some of it not even fully nude, let alone explicit sexual activity, is because the clients are paying for interaction with the sex worker. I mean, The Girlfriend Experience has gotten wildly popular, especially ever since that phrase made it into the mainstream lexicon. 

And then there’s the whole issue that pretty much most of heterosexual sex is this sort of background hum of emotional labor any time women have sex with men, but that’s a rant that could take us way off track. 

Franklin: We talked in an earlier episode about what kinds of activities ‘count’ as sex work. It would be easy to say sex work is any work in which a person is paid in money or other things of value to shag a client, but that definition isn’t really adequate when you consider, say, a person selling naked photos of themselves on the Internet. A lot of people would call that ‘sex work,’ even though no sex is involved.

And strangely, we don’t usually think of Playboy models as sex workers in the same way a person on OnlyFans might be called a sex worker…and it gets even murkier when someone does nude modeling in other contexts. If that Playboy centerfold is a sex worker, is the person who models for a life drawing class? If you go down this road, you can split hairs so fine even an angel can’t dance on them.

Joreth:  By that same logic, certain kinds of marriage would be considered sex work (and don’t think people haven’t made that argument before!)  Especially before women had rights to own property, have their own bank accounts, etc., they often used marriage as a means to security. 

Eunice: There’s the concept of ‘maintenance sex’ in a committed relationship, and that’s having sex when you don’t really feel like it, in order to keep your relationship going. If that’s not a form of ‘sex in exchange for the continuation of benefits’, what is? Courtesans throughout history made the exact same deliberation.

Joreth:  And go back not all that far and marriage is basically the merging of two properties and sets of assets in exchange for offspring, right?  But call that “sex work” and you’re either a feminazi or an MRA (ironic, isn’t it?).

Franklin: So we’re left in this weird limbo where sex work definitions proposed by the Sex Workers Outreach Project are more about intention than action — if the intended goal is sexual arousal, it’s sex work. But we don’t look at other professions that way — are you an architect if your intention is to erect a building? Regardless of how you get there?

Eunice: They just like some forms of public erection more than others, clearly.

Joreth:  I have words to say about the guy who built my last apartment back around the turn of the last century by himself if we’re going to start calling him an “architect” just because he intended to erect a building. Not a single straight line or right angle in the place!

Eunice: Hah, my apartment building was a new-build, finished in 2015, and I have many many words for them. Not exactly complimentary words either. They apparently couldn’t tell the difference between 6 amp and 36 amp circuit breakers.

Franklin: Clearly many architects don’t really want to be architects. They’re only in it for the paycheck. It’s sad that society forces them to do something they clearly wouldn’t want to do just to survive. What else can we expect but the spread of dangerous electrical work that endangers the public?

Joreth:  Right, so the Geisha and the belly dancer / Bollywood dancer are the two non-Western forms of misunderstood entertainers that we’re most familiar with, and probably a good portion of our audience is most familiar with. But most cultures had an equivalent class of entertainer that danced the edge between public performance and “private” performance.

[Tina Turner “Private Dancer”]

Eunice: There’s something interesting about how the more historical a form of entertainment, the less likely it is that people these days think of them as being undertaken by sex workers, whereas many of the styles of female-dominated entertainment that originated in more recent times are more likely to be associated with sex. If you think about it, pole dancing is right in the middle of that transition, right? It originated as a form of erotic dance, but it’s been moving into a more quote-unquote respectable place, with competitions and dance classes and such. It’s sometimes just seen as a non-sexual form of athleticism and exercise these days. In fact, there’s even a campaign to include competitive pole dance in the Olympics!

Franklin: Which is the opposite of what usually seems to happen, where entertainment dominated by women starts out non-sexual and then moves into sex work.

Joreth:  I think we can probably chalk that up to the modern feminist movement, which gave women enough power to take a stigmatized activity and fight for legitimacy. Throughout history, women have had very little power, so it was much more likely to go the way of the Geisha and Devadasi. Take the (and I’m about to mangle some words here, I apologize again for my terrible American accent), take the Yiji [eeCHEE], for instance – same story:  high class Chinese courtesans who were highly trained, skilled artisans and performers who could be hired by private individuals as well as be employed by the State. Then after the Qing [zching] dynasty, around 1644, they were banned from being employed by the state which made them dependent on the patronage of private clients, which then morphed into prostitution, as male clients started to demand sexual favors in exchange for patronage. Yiji were usually taken as girls from brothels and trained up, and then they often raised their own daughters to be their successors.

And then there’s the Awalim from Egypt. This is a fascinating bit of history… apparently they didn’t start out as general artisans or dancers, but were originally singers. Plus, an almah didn’t display herself when she sang. They often sang from behind a screen or from another room during weddings or other “respectable” events, which rendered them exempt from Exile. And then something happened very similar to the Geisha. Ghawazi were belly dancers from poor backgrounds, which of course were looked down upon because class politics, who only danced for money and occasionally had sex for money. They started being called Almah, so the awalim very suddenly became associated with low class erotic dancers in the 19th century, in spite of not being dancers at all originally. So in 1834 their performances all got banned for being too low class even though they had nothing at all to do with the erotic dancing and prostitution of the group who took their name.

Franklin: There’s definitely something going on here. When you have a prosperous society, a female entertainment caste becomes a wealth display, but if your society isn’t egalitarian, it’s not like there’s a lot of career flexibility for women. If the society goes to war or faces some economic crisis, male entertainers can learn another trade, but if you’re a woman in a patriarchal society, you might not be of marriageable age any more, and it’s not like you can go back to school to become a lawyer or something. So, yeah, it seems quite logical that women-dominated entertainment castes that develop in a wealthy society tend to dissolve into sex worker castes in times of hardship. 

Look at the Tawaif in North India. They originally trained children of noble rank in the arts and, thanks to colonialism, when the East India Company came around in 1856, they lost favor and had to turn to prostitution to survive, although the profession lasted at least until 1947. One famous Tawaif, Malka Jaan, created the very first Indian song recording in 1902. Another one, Jaddanbai, became a master music composer, singer, actress, and filmmaker. They were the first singers to record on gramophone but lost popularity when movies became a thing.

Joreth:  Yes!  There was a Hindi-language period drama adapted from a book called Devdas, made in 1955, that depicted one of the principle supporting characters as a Tawaif!  It’s rated like one of the top Bollywood films of all time and is noteworthy for its cinematography and lighting as well as its acting. This particular adaptation is  considered to be a powerful depiction of the prevailing social customs of Bengal in the early 1900s. And the reason I know of this film is because I had the opportunity to perform a screen-accurate live performance of the big Bollywood number, Dola re Dola, from the 2002 adaptation, where I played the role of the Tawaif in the scene. 

It’s this wonderfully tragic love triangle of a young man and woman in love, but torn apart by class, so the man throws himself into drinking and prostitutes in despair, where he meets the Tawaif he uses as a substitute for his lost love, and she falls in love with her client. The dance number was the lost love confronting the Tawaif and, more or less, asking her to take care of her love because she is prohibited from being with him herself. It’s very nearly poly, actually. This was a super hard number to perform, and we didn’t have the benefit of camera cuts to do some of the transitions. Anyone interested in Indian period dramas, Bollywood movies, and almost-poly films, I recommend checking out Devdas.

Eunice: If we’re recommending movies about sex workers now, I’m going to drop in a suggestion that we watch Sakuran, which was adapted in 2006 from a manga about a young girl who is sold into a brothel and tries to adapt, very reluctantly, to being trained to be a courtesan. Of course, only one girl can be the oiran, the most sought-after position, and she follows the usual predictable path of responding to powerlessness by dedicating herself to becoming the best so she gets to be the one with the power. The story may not be particularly unusual or special, but it’s a gorgeous film, amazingly vibrant and colorful, and with a modern soundtrack—it’s a lot of fun.

Joreth:  I’d be up for watching that!

Eunice: You know, we need to do one of your movie marathons on this, Joreth. How many movies do you think we could get Franklin to sit through in a row?

Joreth:  Let’s find out!

Franklin: Getting back to the podcast…the Ca Tru of Viet Nam were highly skilled, high class performers and entertainers who became associated with prostitution and therefore systemically repressed and nearly died out when the Communists took over in 1945. Like the Geisha, it is now being revived as a form of classical art—like Eunice was just saying, the more ancient a form of entertainment or art becomes, the more likely it is to be perceived as ‘respectable.’ An art or entertainment form that’s dominated by women in times of prosperity tend to blur into sex work in times of conflict or economic difficulty, then get rehabilitated by nostalgia into traditional—meaning respectable—forms of expression again.

Joreth: There’s a sort of Mad Max “I live, I die, I live again” going on with the female-dominated entertainer class. A lot of these professions start out respectable and as wealth displays by having only the wealthy, either individuals or governments, sponsoring or patronizing super skilled women artisan classes, and then when circumstances remove that wealth, such as war or colonization, the class is downgraded and turns to prostitution. But then, with enough distance in time, nostalgia for “culture” tends to bring back the art form as “classical art”, and it once again becomes a wealth display, because without patrons or governments sponsoring the artisan class, really only women with a certain amount of wealth, privilege, or power can even afford to learn the ancient tradition by paying for classes, costuming, etc. So it comes full circle. And it plays out repeatedly across cultures.

Eunice: Except that now, those women are making the choice to learn those arts, rather than being taken as young children into training.

Franklin:  There’s something really interesting going on here. The fact that we see this pattern play out over and over in so many different cultures suggests the history of not treating women as people has been incredibly pervasive all throughout the world. If women and men were treated equally, I don’t think we’d see this particular cycle over and over again. We don’t see this with male-dominated entertainment castes.

You might argue that men rather than women historically tend to be the target consumers of sex workers’ services, but that simply loops right back around to the same idea. Patriarchal societies control women’s sexual behavior much more than men’s. Women don’t have the freedom, or the power, to patronize sex workers. 

Joreth:  Yeah, we’re talking about wealth displays here. Patronizing sex workers is not always about wanting sex, historically it’s often about having the power to control the sex. If women held more systemic power, we might see more male sex workers throughout history.

Eunice:  As an interesting but slightly different example, Kisaeng [keysing] were women from families of the lowest status in Korea who were trained to be courtesans for the upper class, with skills in fine arts, music, poetry, prose, dancing, etiquette, needlework, medicine, etc. They were generally employed by the government, and performed at court functions. Although they were respected artisans, they stayed at the lowest class in society, unlike most of the other entertainers we’ve talked about. Again, they weren’t technically sex workers—in fact, government officials could be punished severely if they were found to be frequenting them, but of course, technically didn’t stop it from happening in practice. Because they were essentially a slave class, one could be born into it, sold into it, or even forced into it. Apparently, women from the aristocracy could be forced into being a kisaeng if they violated sexual mores of the time, which if true is another interesting departure from the usual pattern. I’ll bet it would have been a powerful tool for keeping young women’s sexual drives in check. Unlike most societies, where that “if you misbehave you’ll be thrown out and destitute and end up as a prostitute” line is impressed on wealthy young women through implication rather than outright said, this might be the most explicit example of it being used as a threat that I’ve ever seen. What aristocratic young woman would risk it, if it were a real and legal threat that she could see with her own eyes? Assuming it actually ever happened, that is. Honestly, I’m hesitant to give it much weight. Given that kisaeng’s careers generally peaked at 16 or 17, and typically ended by the age of 22, most girls were trained at a very early age, so it seems like there wouldn’t have been much time for an aristocratic girl to have done anything sexual before she was too old to be trained! Another source I saw said that the young daughters of fallen yangban aristocrats would be selected to be a kisaeng, which seems much more likely to me. Once again, women paying the price for the actions of their male relatives. 

Franklin:  In 1650 the Kisaeng were officially made slaves of the government. In 1894, the class system was abolished during one of Korea’s reform periods, freeing the Kisaeng in theory, but much like our own history of abolition, theory and practice are the same in theory but different in practice. The Kisaeng effectively remained enslaved in practice for a long while later, still performing but now without government protection. Because of their lower status and their familiarity with the populace, they often provided intel to the government and were coopted by invading armies and forced to perform for them, leading to some Kisaeng becoming rebel spies and assassins, like we saw with the French prostitutes we talked about last time.

Joreth:  In reading about the history of Korea with respect to the Kiseang, I stumbled across the story of Kim Man-deok, from the island of Jeju.  She was of the commoner class, Sangmin, and the daughter of an aristocrat and a diver.  This is fascinating, see, on this island, the women were the breadwinners, who supported their households by diving for abalone, shellfish, etc. and the husbands stayed home and took care of the kids and the home.  This same commoner class also included merchants, but for some reason did not allow women to be merchants.  She was made a kiseang but somehow managed to free herself because of her father’s nobility, and then turned to trading.  She became a successful merchant because of the connections she made as Kiseang.  She became, like, the richest woman at the time, but then donated all her money back to her island during a time of famine.  So, here once again, we see that when women get wealth and power, they tend to give it back to their community, as we saw with Western madames.  

The history of Korea is rich and diverse, and the kiseang in particular is quite complex.   There were 3 different sub-classes of Kiseang – the Ilpae which were the most prestigious with the highest skill level and performed for the most important events; the ipae were usually over 30 years of age who could only perform at private functions; and the Sampae who were the lowest rank who could only perform for small, unimportant events and it was this subclass that was often forced to perform sex work.  In addition to 3 sub classes, they could also be divided into 3 groups – those who belonged to the capital government, those who belonged to the local officials, and those who belonged to the military.  I recommend reading up on Korean sociology and on the kisaeng in particular and there will be links in the show notes.

Franklin:  So, this is really common through many cultures: an artisans-turned-prostitute class that started out as a highly skilled and respected artisan caste, then some shit happened that led to members of that class either becoming associated with sex work or started incorporating sex work to survive. And then if that culture had a few decades to settle down and move up on the world stage and give women some amount of power and autonomy, that artisan class might get revived under the heading of “classical art,” making it respectable enough for women of means to gentrify it. I think if an alien race ever wanted to study sociology of the human species, they could find a wealth of academic questions to answer here. Hell, human sociologists might want to take a closer look at this pattern. 

Eunice: Any academics amongst our listeners looking for a thesis subject?  You’re welcome. 

Franklin: So that’s what we’ve got for this episode of the Skeptical Pervert. As always, you can find us on the web at skepticalpervert dot com, or on Amazon or Libsyn or Spotify or Apple Podcasts or your podcatcher of choice. If you like what you hear, why not spread the love? If you have an idea for something you’d like to hear us cover, email us at contact@skepticalpervert.com. The Skeptical Pervert is copyrighted by Joreth, Eunice, and Franklin. Show editing is done by Joreth, and the website is maintained by Franklin.

Joreth:  And remember, if you find your culture about to be colonized or completely disrupted, don’t have the misfortune of being an upper class female artisan!

Eunice: Or, at least wait to be born until your art gets gentrified!

Franklin: We dance, we fuck, we dance again!

Joreth:  Hmm, a porn version of Fury Road would be … interesting to watch.  Next Squiggle Movie Night?

Eunice: Is this a Rule 34b, if we can’t find it we have to make it, kind of situation?

Franklin: Definitely!

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