As numerous social historians have described, the attendant features of modern-industrial capitalism—phenomena such as urbanization, the expansion of wage labor, and the decline of the extended kin-based “traditional family”—brought with them new cultural ideologies of gender and sexuality, and new symbolic boundaries between public and private life.3 The development of “work” as an autonomous, rationalized, and prototypically masculine sphere of economic activity outside the home produced a sexual “double standard” and an unprecedented gender division of life activities, dichotomizing women along class lines.4 While white, bourgeois, married women served as caretakers and practiced an ideology of sexual restraint in the private sphere, many working-class women and women of color joined men in the public sphere as wage laborers or as sexually available prostitutes.5 By the early twentieth century, numerous “vice commissions” had been created to study—and definitionally constitute—the social problem of modern prostitution.6
By contrast, the forms of sexual commerce that prevailed prior to this period were self-organized, occasional exchanges in which women traded sexual favors during limited periods of hardship. Early modern prostitution was small in scale, frequently premised on barter, and generally took place within the participants’ own homes and communities. Only with the onset of modern industrial capitalism and an increasingly gendered social divide between public and private spheres did a new class of specially demarcated “public women” come under increasing scrutiny and control. In contrast to the casual and informal exchanges that had previously transpired in coffeehouses, taverns, and pubs, large numbers of women now found themselves sequestered in a space which was physically and socially separate, and affixed with the permanently stigmatizing identity of “prostitute.”7 In the United States, it was not until the Progressive Era in the early twentieth century that a statutory definition of prostitution even existed. As the historian Timothy Gilfoyle has observed, prior to this time the crime of prostitution was primarily “a condition of vagrancy and being female.”8

Elizabeth Bernstein, Temporarily Yours, Intimacy, Authenticity and the Commerce of Sex, The University of Chicago, 2007, p. 23-24

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