Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brothel by Alexa Albert

It began with an amazing revelation: Not a single legal prostitute in Nevada has contracted HIV since testing began in 1986. Why? Harvard medical student Alexa Albert traveled to Nevada in search of answers. Gain unprecedented access to the infamous and notoriously secretive Mustang Ranch, Albert reveals a fascinatingly insular world where the women share their experiences with unexpected candor. There's Dinah, Mustang's oldest prostitute, who turned her first trick years ago at age fifty-one. And Savannah, a woman who views her work as a "healing" social service for needy men.

Nevada's legal brothels are an incredibly rich environment for examining some of this nation's thorniest social issues. From problems of class and race to the meaning of family, honor, and justice - all are found within this complex and singular microcosm. And in a country where prejudice is a dirty word - but not as dirty as hooker - these social issues are compounded and deepened by the stifling stigma that has always plagued the profession. But in the end, all of Mustang's working girls are just trying to earn their way to happiness.

Brothel is a landmark work that probes beyond the veil of desire and fantasy in which the sex trade shrouds itself - and uncovers the naked humanity at its core.

What surprised me most, I think, was to discover that most of the women were working to support husbands or boyfriends! These husbands sound like real gems. Others support parents, and both the parents and husbands don't allow the women to return home until they've met their "quota" of a given dollar amount!

I think one of the women, Brittany, said it best: "But, as far as I'm concerned, if you're sending money to a man who wouldn't be with you if you weren't sending him money, then he's not your boyfriend, he's your pimp."

I was also very surprised to learn that the clients weren't required to shower before business took place. Granted, there was a general disinfection of the involved area using an antibacterial wash, and/or baby wipes, but ick!!!!! This is certainly not the world of a high paid escort!

It seemed, sadly, like the majority of the women were almost addicted to bad relationships, and men who use them. But, I guess if you really think about it, that's really the same with most women in the general population.

Also, it also seems like most of the opponents to legalized prostitution are foaming at the mouth religious zealots and not well educated, well informed objectors. At least that's what I got from the interviews in the book.

It was also sad to read that the Ranch had closed - I'd had no idea. I felt a sense of loss reading about the closure. Through the book I felt like I'd gotten to know the women and I was really concerned about what would happen to them post-Ranch. I'm glad the author followed up with most of them and gave us an update.

In case anyone is wondering about my views on legalized prostitution - I'm firmly pro-legalization. I think it should actually be legal in all 50 states.

All in all the book was very readable. The author had a great voice and really strove to understand the women and their world and not prejudge them. I'll give it 8 stars.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆


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