Will sex work lose its stigma if it is legalised?
Writing a book about sex trade was challenging for German writer Nora Bossong. She spoke about the book and the nuances of the trade in Germany and worldwide, at the session ‘The Business of Sex’ at the literature fest. She was in conversation with activist-author Nalini Jameela and Reshma Bharadwaj.
The demand for legalisation of the sex trade came up for discussion. “Germany was one place where activists, politicians and others came together and brought out a legal framework for sex work,” Reshma said.
Nora said the feminist movement voted for legalisation in Germany, as it believed women would not be stigmatised. It worked half way but Germany became a hot spot for prostitution, she said.
When she did the interviews for her book, she realised what happens when a body and money are connected. “Some feel legalising it makes it normal while others believe in the larger cause of removing the stigma,” she said.
Nalini Jameela said, “When a client pays money, he believes that he owns the body.” She observed legalisation hasn’t worked elsewhere, and blamed “moral double standards.”
“I realise that the secretive behaviour of the trade is what makes it not work. The change has to come from within,” she said.
Sex workers in brothels and on the streets function differently. “The sex worker by herself has a stigma that she is doing something wrong, and the client carries the same guilt and so does the community. I am not sure how to convince the society, but the mindset of the sex worker and the client should change,” she said. Nora believes it is difficult to rid the trade of exploitation. “Even if one country or place manages to do it somehow, the problem moves elsewhere,” she said.
Jameela, who wrote the book ‘Autobiography of a Sex Worker’ 14 years ago, said, “There would be certain punishments by the police when they found out that one was a sex worker, but once I wrote it, I realised that writing is a mighty weapon.”
On The Side
What pushed you to write your book?
The question of equality, since Germany is a country where we talk about equal rights for men and women. If one looks at this sex workers, it is still so unequal.
When I did my research, I often heard the term parallel universe being used; it is a lie.
The session was called ‘The Business of Sex’. Is what sex workers do a service or a business?
It is both. It is a huge business when one looks at brothels where the women don’t earn a lot of money but the owners do.
It is also a service and there are certain specific possibilities for sex work in a more self-confident manner but currently exploitation rules.
Did you look at the global situation of sex workers or just Germany?
The most common issues globally are: there is inequality, there are bad situations where the woman doesn’t have enough financial resources, and young girls have boyfriends who exploit them in the sex trade.
I did my research in Germany but I also checked the scene in Europe.
She initially connected to Nancy Drew, and then to Emma in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
Novelist Sujata Parashar was in conversation with author Nandita Bose at a session titled 'In Search of Wacky Female Characters'.
Nandita initiated the session by saying she and Sujata wrote quiet stories, stories about real life and stories that make an impact.
Sujata, also an activist, said, “My focus was always on stories and never on characters. This continued till I picked up The Famous Five and the Nancy Drew series. I could relate to Georgina who had a fiery temper and Nancy Drew who was multi-talented.”
After reading extensively, Sujata couldn't find anything she could connect to till she came across Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
“The character stayed with me, there was something odd and flawed about her which made her more human and relatable. I also connected with Elizabeth Gilbert from 'Eat, Pray and Love'," she says.
Her character Sheena from 'In Pursuit of Infidelity' (2009) is a neglected wife going astray. “In my first draft, she reveals about her infidelity but the publishers asked me to change the plot as Indian readers wouldn't be able to accept the book,” she says.
Her publisher wanted a sequel and that is when she wrote 'In Pursuit of a Lesser Offence'. "It's a simple story of a woman in a bad marriage. Her zest for life doesn't stop and she falls in love again, this time with a married man. The conflict and the dilemma are what I tried to show there," she says.
'The Temple Bar Woman', Sujata's latest, is about a sexual violence survivor. “It's a Bollywood kind of story. It's a journey of a school teacher who is a gang-raped and thrown into a brothel, and how she avenges herself. It took me a few years to write the book, as I was told that I should also write about rural women," she says.
She visited GB Road in Delhi and a similar red-light area in Singapore and compared the two.
Unlike other sessions, towards the end of the session, the audience was asked questions by Nandita and Sujata. The question 'Three steps to be followed to prevent sexual violence?' met with a quirky reply from an audience member, 'There needs to be a school for flirting for the uneducated.’
On the side:
Sujata Parashar answered questions from Metrolife.
'In Pursuit of a Lesser Offence' was published in 2014. Do you think it would have done better now?
With the recent verdict on adultery, yes, I feel both my books would have done better now. But these stories come to you and you cannot determine when they should come out.
Did you feel weakened when you had to change your plot for the publisher?
Yes! I did feel bad. After the book came out, I also got emails from readers saying, 'Your character got to eat the cake and have it too.'