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White men with buckles

Is it easier to buy sex when the prostitutes are "the others"?


[chronicle] In recent years there has been a strong focus on making Norwegian prostitution reality more international. But Norwegian men's prostitution habits have in reality been international for a long time: They have bought sex abroad, perhaps more sex than they have bought in Norway, something we must remember in the debate about globalization and prostitution.

Norwegian men buy sex from non-Norwegian women both at home and abroad. But very little attention has been paid to the motives men have when buying sex from different groups of women. In the prostitution environments, however, women with different backgrounds tell about differences in customer bases. It is about doing your niche now, if you do not want to compete on price. This is about how the women dress and what they say, but also about where they say they are from and who they say they are.

Not just gender.

The literature on prostitution customers is first and foremost about the reasons why someone buys sex at all. There is a stigma attached to it; it is politically and morally problematic in Norway, and it can be difficult to reconcile with ideals of sexuality and masculinity. Buying sex must therefore be justified, both in customers' lives, in meeting with others and in research.

Prostitution has primarily been seen in the light of structural and symbolic aspects of the relationship between men and women. This is because much of the political fight against prostitution has been driven by the women's movement, and a widespread assumption that it is indifferent to the customers from whom they buy sex; they buy access to the female body, and it does not matter what kind of female body it is. There is little reason to believe that this is true.

Prostitution is associated with other symbolic and structural differences, such as class, ethnicity, and "race." Class has always been an important reason why some women are available in prostitution, and why some women appear more attractive than others. But more than before, what is for sale is clearly linked to ethnicity and "race". Maybe there is something about the status of foreign women as "the others" that lowers Norwegian men's thresholds to buy sex from them?

Enclave with a different logic.

Buying non-Norwegian sex can be more attractive than buying Norwegian sex in several ways. Firstly, this is about making foreign women more accessible. That is at least true in Norway now: There are few ethnic Norwegian women left in the visible prostitution.

Some women are particularly noticeable due to skin color, and groups of foreign women may offer sex at a lower price. In many countries prostitution is very accessible because it is more widespread and because prices are almost always lower.

Second, customers may find it more "lawful" to buy sex from specific groups of women. We know that many women find themselves in prostitution because they lack other opportunities. We also know that prostitution life is hard and that women are developing protective mechanisms. In Norway, awareness of this is particularly strong, but some still buy sex. It may be just the men who do not endorse the Norwegian approach to prostitution. But that doesn't seem to be the case: Smette (2003) and Kippe (2004) show that customers in interviews and in online forums try to combine prostitution with gender equality ideals. If women represent "the others" in some way, it might be easier. In the destination country for sex tourism, a framework is created that legitimizes and enables sex purchases. In Norway, too, enclaves are formed with a different logic and other reasons for buying sex than the one we see in Norwegian prostitution. Thus, men who are integrated into the Nordic gender ideology can buy non-Norwegian sex, but not Norwegian sex. The power of the meeting is different with "own" women than with foreign ones.

Myths and fantasies.

Furthermore, it can be a normalization of buying sex embedded in notions of "the others". There are notions that some women are more suited to sex or buy-sex, because they are hornier, gentler and more fond of satisfying men. Women from some countries appear to be more feminine and sexual, these are well-known notions of both Russian and Thai women. Prostitutes are fantasy objects. That foreign prostitutes are portrayed in ways other than "own women" does not only occur among men who are considering buying sex. The media coverage of "Russian prostitution" in Northern Norway created new stereotypes of Russian women and East-West relations. The portrayal of women who might otherwise have lowered the threshold for potential customers. We have seen the same thing in the debate on Nigerian prostitutes; Women are portrayed as different in ways that make it easier to buy sex from them and easier to treat them poorly while doing so.

Sex as a means of power.

Buying foreign sex can also be understood as a hostile act. History is full of examples of prostitution and militarization. But it can also create conflicts to allow own soldiers to have paid or free sex with the enemy, perhaps especially on occupied land. Then perhaps it was safer as the Germans did during World War II: German troops were followed by their own boats with women from the occupied countries to work in brothels, and in Norway there were among other French women who sold sex to the Germans.

It doesn't even have to be war for lying with someone's women to be avenged. We even have Norwegian examples of this. Contact magazine E-zone, one of the most important advertising sites for indoor prostitution, recently had an article titled "Payback tour Murmansk 2006". The pretext reads: “The starting point for the trip to Murmansk was to have sex with as many girls as possible, change the girl the following morning and use them for everything they are worth. That way, we were going to take some revenge on sneaky Russians who steal all our resources and kidnap officials in the north. "

Rich white men.

Both accessibility, fewer moral scruples, notions of foreign women as "the sexualized others" and sex purchases as hostilities are possible grounds for Norwegian men to buy foreign sex. This is possible because Norwegian men travel out into the world and into the prostitution arena with their privileges: They are often white, they represent the hegemonic western culture and they have money. They buy sex from men and women who do not have the same privileges. Norwegian men do not buy sex just because they are men or because foreign women come here, and we should be careful to act on such simple explanations. n

The article is written by May-Len Skilbrei, Researcher at Fafo

In the near future, Ny Tid will reproduce several texts from a lecture marathon in connection with the 20th anniversary of the Center for Women's and Gender Research at the University of Oslo on 5 September.

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