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Another unfortunate speaks

A few months back I posted about the conflict between feminists and strippers at the Spearmint Rhino strip club in Sheffield.

Writing in the Guardian, Kate Lister both provides an update on that dispute and brings up a fascinating parallel from a hundred and sixty years ago:

Today’s sex workers, like their Victorian sisters, don’t want ‘saving’

In a series of letters written to the Times in 1858, an anonymous sex worker, referring to herself as “Another Unfortunate”, challenges the widespread assumption that all sex workers are an “abandoned sisterhood”. The tone of Another Unfortunate is defiant, proud and attacks the paternalistic moralising of the groups who wish to save her.

I had no idea that such things were allowed to be said in the Times in 1858. I suspect it would not have been allowed in 1958.

16 comments to Another unfortunate speaks

  • Runcie Balspune

    Feminists sound like they don’t want men to be in charge of women, but instead want other women to be in charge of women. It uses the same logic that religious groups use. In reality there is little difference.

  • I had no idea that such things were allowed to be said in the Times in 1858

    The PC version of the Victorian age has at least as much fiction in it as the PC version of the modern age.

  • As a side point, I note a certain humour in the fact that Kate Lister (“lecturer at Leeds Trinity University”) knew of this letter. (And is willing to mar the seamless robe of PC intersectionality by mentioning it.) Could it have once figured prominently in a now non-longer-“relevant” PC analysis? (Her thesis, for example?)

    Because PC technique is to denounce all cautionary warnings as vile prejudice, it always wildly overcorrects whenever it is not just simply wrong. Back in the late 60s, suggesting that the political-correctness of that time on sex could have a down-side got you mocked and denounced. It is a far too over-charitable interpretation to say that PC is trying to clean-up its mess, but there is a past-led-to-present effect here (along with the need to deny PC’s role in it, the customary wild over-correction, etc.).

    (Whatever the background, it’s good that Kate and the Guardian let there be debate.)

  • Patrick Crozier (Twickenham)

    Here’s the original article. I must say the English is suspiciously sophisticated given the lack of education “Another Unfortunate” claims to have. If you have time check out “An Adventure in a Railway Carriage”.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Thank you very much for that link, Patrick. For those wishing to find it on the page, her letter starts at the top of the central column under the heading THE GREAT SOCIAL EVIL.

    The language does seem far too literary to have been written by someone with the background she describes, though she does say that she “commenced the work of [her] education” at the age of eighteen when living “under the protection” of one of her clients who had, in modern terms, talent-spotted her.

    Another possibility is that it was understood by readers that these were not her exact words but something written at her direction by a more educated person, possibly the same man who had been mentioned earlier.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    And in between “An Adventure in a Railway Carriage” and “An Adventure in a Railway Carriage”, I spy “Scarcity of Water – an 1858 story of climate change?

  • Jim Jones

    I used to work in a restaurant in Shepherd Market and I know for a fact that the hookers spend all day watching TV and eating.

  • Fraser Orr

    One of the things I have noticed is how puritanism moves. It used to be that there were enforcement efforts against prostitutes just for their prostitution. But now that doesn’t seem a viable rationale for the police. It seems “my body my choice” got taken a little bit too far.

    So when, for example, BackPage (a classified ad site often used by hookers in the USA), and The Erotic Review (kind of like Yelp for hookers) got taken down (and also when that Football team owner got busted in Florida) the case that is made is not that prostitution is wrong but that these sites are being used for sex trafficking.

    I doubt that is true to any great extent, but I do think it is interesting how the leviathan maneuvers its justifications to suit the changing moral zeitgeist.

  • Julie near Chicago

    As for being anti-prostitution in the time of the Puritans, let us remember that back then syphilis and gonorrhea were rampant, and likely to be lethal.

    And, of course, readily passed on.

    Of course in Libertopia, everyone would be knowledgeable about the dangers of life, and rational, and responsible.

    I don’t think we’re quite there yet, let alone 200-2000-odd years ago.

  • JS

    Matthew Sweet’s book Inventing the Victorians suggests that the Victorians have been greatly misrepresented since the time of Eminent Victorians. The likes of the Bloomsbury Group portrayed the Victorians as one dimensional puritans and/or hypocrites and pretty much everyone has followed their lead ever since. That’s perhaps why there might be surprise that The Times would publish such a letter.
    I’ve only just started it but it’s an interesting and entertaining read so far.

  • Julie near Chicago

    JS, that’s very interesting. I’ve been suspicious for a long time that the “Victorians” have come in for considerable mythologizing, for instance the story that the legs on furniture must be covered because ladies have ankles.

    There are fanatics in every era, of course, but does that really pass the smell test?

    I’ll have to try for a look at the book. Thanks.

  • JS

    Exactly, the coverings for piano legs were to protect expensive furniture, rather like antimacassars protected the fabric of chairs.
    Incidentally, the book mainly concerns the UK but does include a fair amount relating to American Victorians.
    It also demonstrates how many features of society today have their equivalents in the Victorian era. That’s not really a surprise to those of us who think that humans basically don’t change much from age to age, only the external trappings.
    Of course there were puritan types and hypocrites in the Victorian era, just as there are now, but no one would consider judging the whole of today’s society by just those extremes.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Yay, JS! And I’ve often thought that we (from at least the ’70s on) are far more obsessed with sex than the Victorians ever were.
    (Although I suspect this has been a favorite topic throughout human history. 😆 )


    …[N]o one would consider judging the whole of today’s society by just those extremes.

    They would if they were on tomorrow’s left, she said sourly.

  • JS

    If you are interested there is a documentary on youtube presented by Matthew Sweet about the Georgians and their attitudes toward sex. It may be that the Victorians reined in slightly after that but pretty much any era would look tame after the Georgians:
    (Explicit period artworks)

  • I’ve been suspicious for a long time that the “Victorians” have come in for considerable mythologizing, for instance the story that the legs on furniture must be covered because ladies have ankles. (Julie near Chicago, September 28, 2019 at 11:48 pm)

    IIRC, an Englishman writing an essay on US manners (the name escapes my memory at the moment) invented the incident for comic exaggeration (well understood to be so by its readers at the time). He was indeed claiming that mid-Victorian US east-coast society was a bit prissy by contemporary UK standards but the chair-leg decency protectors were just an example of the standard comic method of making your point via wild exaggeration.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Well, I hope and also I daresay you’re right, Niall. Sounds believable to me.

    Still, the story’s been making the rounds for something like 30-40 years now, as I recall, and I’ve seen an awful lot of Victorian-bashing that cite it as a dreadful example of the awful, repressive, overwrought Victorians. We were so much more enlightened after Freud, after all.


    (And I’m sure you know the story that the Queen, visiting one of her princely cousins on the Continent (forget which one), noticed that certain paintings were covered by sheets. When she noticed this, she said, “Sir, do you know how many children I have?”)


    JS. As long as there’s nothing at the graphic level of H. Bosch or Hokusai, I guess I can stand it. And of course I can always always close my eyes and faint. 😆