Trick or Treating
"Treating" girls were very keen on distinguishing themselves from prostitutes of course, never accepting money for sex outright and believing they remained morally above prostitutes because they could still grow up and settle down with a husband some day. However, as this activity rose in popularity, prostitution experienced a dramatic decline and became a much less prevalent part of American culture. Further, by the 1950's at least 50% of women were engaging in premarital sex, even if these women rarely talked to each other about it and even if at least some of this premarital sex was happening with only one man who the woman at least intended to marry. The practice of "treating" layed some important groundwork for this shift and opened up a gray area between prostitution and chaste virginity. Further, as you may have already noticed, "treating" sounds an awful lot like that peculiar custom of our own day, "dating." Embedded underneath the squeaky clean, mainstream practice of dating are at least some distinct echoes of prostitution.
Which raises the question in my own mind, as a sometimes-heterosexual radical feminist who opposes prostitution and sees it as a replication of many of the worst aspects of patriarchy, how do I think about something like dating? A.K.A. am I just a total fucking hypocrite after all? Good question Reader. Now, I do understand there are some differences between dating and prostitution. Presumably with dating you go out with the same fellow several times, presumably you sort of kind of like this fellow, presumably there might be something you could term an "emotional bond" there.
And I also realize that since the sexual revolution did such a grand old job of liberating us women, our sexuality is no longer just a commodity for exchange. It's about our own pleasure, our own choices, our own needs damnit! Or at least we sure like to think so. And maybe I'm being a little old-fashioned in the first place bandying about a word like "dating" which is like sooooo outdated. I'm informed that those of my generation prefer "hanging out" and "hooking up" and that we're all liberated enough nowadays that we can even have sex without dating or love or anything with NO PROBLEMO WHATSOEVER. But I also think that sexual obligation remains a big part of whatever the hell you want to call dating. Many women still use sex to get men to like them and many still use sex to achieve economic or financial gain. And many men still feel that if they pay for your dinner, they oughta get sex in return. Indeed, many men seem to feel that they should get sex in return for, you know, existing.
But back to the point, is this kind of sexual exchange ever anything but anti-feminist or at least non-feminist? Is it ever anything but a betrayal of ourselves as women, a survival tactic that we employ to deal with the ever present burden of patriarchy? Where do us holier than thou heterosexual feminists get off thinking that the kinds of sexual exchange we engage in are any different from those that prostitutes or porn stars or strippers engage in out of economic necessity? How do we Other these women to make ourselves feel better and how do we lie to ourselves about what sex means to us and how we use it? In the end, I'm against women being forced into situations where they must trade their bodies to live whatever the circumstances may be, whether you're a prostitute trying to pay the rent or you're Mollie Sue trying to be nice so your man will like you. The spectrum may not be as wide here as we would like to believe and I think it's important that we're honest with ourselves and we stop pulling any punches when it comes to recognizing and revolting against patriarchy in all it's forms.