Sexy Steampunk Whore is Sexy

The Procuress, oil on canvas

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In a perverse mood I might suggest that the reason for the existence of stories like The Women of Nell Gwynne's is so that people can refer to female characters as "whores" without guilt or overt irony. I haven't read this book; it just won a Nebula, though, so I assume a lot of writers have read it and I assume it's well-written. I see that it's also part of a series of books that feature this bordello where "whores" are presented as "powerful" by virtue of the fact that they use their "privileged" position to spy on their Johns (let's just call a spade a spade on that last one, shall we?).

(Memo in aside: The vast, vast majority of prostitutes are not powerful in any meaningful way. Publishing a successful series of stories about ones that are is quite a bit like publishing a series about happy, attractive people who happen to shoot heroin for fun, with no negative consequences. You might be able to use it as a platform to make an effective statement about responsible drug use, but the odds are against it. In this case, all you're liable to communicate is an apologia for existing power relationships.)

What's interesting to me right now is that in the first two pages of hits on Google, not one of the reviews makes the tiniest bit of effort to look critically at the hidden premise buried in books about powerful whores: That not only is female sexuality a wonderful way for women to exercise power, but also that it ought to be. That seems to be in line with a common contemporary American attitude toward sex work: That if you're not making money off your body, then you must be a fool or ugly (or a straight male).

I take that back: One does make the tiniest effort -- if you can call a rank apologia for Heinleinian misogyny a critical examination.

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