Monday, February 7, 2022

Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women by Alexa Albert

 I've been reading this book on the DL for several days. I impulsively bought it at a thrift store several years ago because the idea of legal brothels has always fascinated me. I'm of the belief that prostitution should be legal, because a) it's going to happen whether or not it is, and therefore ought to be regulated by the government and b) acknowledging prostitution and other sex work as actual work (which it is) will afford protections for the men and women who participate it.

Alexa Albert seems to be of this belief too. After accepting an internship for sex studies and family planning, she had to make a public health study and decided to focus on condom breakage in brothels. Specifically Mustang Ranch in Nevada. While at the brothel, Albert lived with the women, heard their stories, and even watched some of them at work (yes, this means exactly what you think it means), and the end result was this interesting tell-all about some of the most interesting women I've ever read about.

I think BROTHEL debunks the Pretty Woman myth that a lot of these women are just waiting to be saved. Many of the women Albert interviewed enjoyed their work and some were long-time veterans. I thought it was interesting and sad how a lot of them had bad experiences dating ex-clients, because these men would hurl their past careers in their faces the first time they got angry and act like these women ought to treat them like saviors. I liked the camaraderie and competition between the women, and I thought it was interesting how Albert interviewed a Republican senator who was opposed to prostitution. It was very telling, I thought, that he wanted to end prostitution for their own protection but had zero interest in implementing any social programs to help them once they lost their jobs. The "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality is pretty typical of Republicans, and they seem to be blissfully unaware-- or simply pathologically indifferent-- to the fact that a lot of the people they're hurting with their policies might not even have bootstraps, or boots, to pull themselves up with.

Anyone who is interested in sex work (intellectually curious, I mean) will really enjoy this book. It's a little dated, as I believe the author did these studies in the late-90s/early-2000s, so it ends up kind of being a snapshot of sexuality and female empowerment during the Bush administration as party and raunch culture was nearing its zenith. Most of these women seemed to have pretty ordinary lives, they just had an extraordinary job, so I think it sheds a lot of stigma surrounding sex work, too.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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