Meeting “The Queen”: Sex Work and Women

When I met MJ, a sex worker, we spent almost eight hours talking. She has a delicious sense of humor; she has a joke for everything- “perhaps to make life more livable” –she says.  We were sitting at a grocery store in the north of Bogotá, in the middle of a huge street, where cars often get crowded in order to reach the following avenue.  This is, however, one of the wealthiest zones in the city.

MJ told me that she would take me to many places where prostitution takes place. As she described some of them, she started to talk about her experiences in each of them. In one of them she had a fixed schedule: from 9am to 5pm.  She arrived there through a newspaper advertisement. Drugs, alcohol and smoking cigarettes are not allowed there. It is a traditional family home. Nobody, except its clients, would ever suspect that prostitution is allowed there. When sex workers enter the house, they must turn their cell phones off: the client is the only one that matters.

MJ told me that the dynamics of prostitution vary widely from place to place; she started to describe the more than 22 sites of prostitution within the street where we were sitting. “In rich neighborhoods” –she explained- “prostitution is camouflaged as massage locals.” She then told me about El Dandy, a place where she is known as La Reina (The Queen). In El Dandy, MJ says, women learn to have character. If you don’t have a character there, “they will eat you standing up and without a condom.”

I just came back from the X RAM, a Latin American Anthropology Congress that was held in the National University of Córdoba, in Argentina. In the university, I saw a very interesting mural that was painted by an organization of sex workers who defend the legalization of prostitution and its recognition as a form of labor. The mural says: “Prostitución no es igual a Trata” (Prostitution is not the same as trafficking). When I asked MJ how did women who exercise prostitution prefered to be called, she told me that they preferred to be called simply women, because their work does not have the same benefits as other legal jobs do. However, she argues that keeping sex work illegal does benefit young women because they can earn more money without having to comply with strict schedules; fixed and prolonged working schedules would not allow them to take care of their children.

Vargas- Colombia- Sex Work
Mural painted by AMMAR. Córdoba, Argentina.

Posted by Laura Vargas- MA Candidate at CLACS/NYU

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