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Marginal Groups

bred

Posted 16 April 2007 - 10:02 PM

Prostitution and Moral Order

During the Reformation, particularly from the 1520s, many of Europe's brothels were closed. However, prostitutes continued to have a hard time (no pun intended). Prostitutes were given inspections for disease and cleanliness and in some cases these were carried out by male doctors.

The brothel was supposed to make the city safe for 'respectable' women. In the Early Modern period a respectable woman was a married woman as women were referred to in terms of their relations to men, although they could be citizens in their own right. Women who were not prostitutes and walked the streets alone at night risked being mistaken for prostitutes. On the other hand, prostitutes were legally forbidden to have a maid accompany them on the street. A distinction was made between 'respectable' women and 'common' women. Brothels helped keep 'respectable' women sexually inaccessible while prostitutes were seen as very sexually accessible and not as social equals to their clients. There was a prevalent belief that prostitutes should not have the right to choose clients and that they were the property of all men and so should be available to any paying client. In some towns it was not possible, in the eyes of the law, for prostitutes to be raped as they were thought of as being owned by all men.

In the Late Middle Ages the brothel was not an unfamiliar place to the youth. To go to the brothel was seen as part of becoming a 'real man' and boys as young as twelve or less visited the brothel, partly in an effort to strength male bonding. Clerics were usually not banned outright from brothels, more often they were just forbid to stay overnight. The broad function of the brothel was as a leisure institution. Sexual contact was not allowed under other circumstances before marriage, such as at dances, fairs and church ales so brothels encouraged male virility in a controlled and unique environment. In some ecclesiastical towns the Church derived revenues from the local brothel. An Augsburg confession manual ranked being a prostitute as a greater sin than single people fornicating but less than seducers and masturbators!

The brothel keepers had control over the activities of the prostitutes. For instance, they could be required to spin yarn all day before serving clients at night. Baths and food were included in the rent and it was assumed that there was no need for the prostitutes to leave the brothel. In many cases prositutes were forbid to leave the brothel, even to go to church. The 1428 Ordinance of Augsburg allowed prostitutes to leave the brothel upon payment of one gulden, which was apparently to give them the 'chance to reform'. However, they had no economic support and making a new life from scratch was an extremely difficult task, if it was possible at all. Just after the beginning of winter each year many towns held a ritual of town purification in which prostitutes would be forced to leave. However, they soon returned.

Prostitutes were outlawed in all sorts of ways. In their dress, they were forced to wear a broad green stripe on their veil to distinguish them from 'respectable' women. They were forbidden to wear wreaths or silk. While 'respectable' women had strict guidelines to ensure they dressed conservatively and with elegance fitting of a woman, prostitutes could get away with dressing less conservatively, although they were of course looked down upon and seen as an undesirable Other. Contact with prostitutes could give a bad reuptation for a man and expulsion from his guild. Their outcasting was similar to that of the Jews. Both Jews and prostitutes performed important functions in the city but both were denied full citizen status. Jews were even excluded from city residence after the mid-fifteenth century explusions. Sex between a Jew and a Christian was theoretically punishable by death.


Source: Roper's 'The Holy Household'

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