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Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Emperor's Club: Get Off Our Backs

The Emperor’s Club. It makes me wanna scream!

I know. I know. The rest of the Anglican world is in an absolute flummox about the deposition of John-David Schofield. I, on the other hand, am reeling from the “all-Spitzer-all-the-time” that’s all the news in the Tri-State area.

That would be Eliot Spitzer, the now former Governor of the State of New York who resigned in disgrace after being caught with a $1,000 per night ‘call girl’ in a prostitution sting of an organization known as “The Emperor’s Club.”

This would be the same governor who gained enough political capitol as the State Attorney General by bringing down two ‘high-end’ prostitution rings and the promise to bring ethics back to state government to win a sweeping victory a little over a year ago.

The media shark-frenzy has been merciless – as merciless as it was to NJ Governor Jim McGreevy and former President Bill Clinton and Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Bakker and . . .well, you probably know the Litany of Sinners better than I.

I suppose that’s as it should be. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, the better example they make. Right?

Well, I agree that those in high places fall farther and harder than most, but that’s what happens when you live in the rarefied air of political esteem in a position of public trust.

Here’s my question: If they made a better example, then why does the problem persist? Why did Eliot Spitzer fall after Bill Clinton’s debacle?

Ah, right. “Boys will be boys.” “You know, all men are scoundrels.” “How can you tell when a man is lying? His lips are moving.”

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

And, no, not so much.

That’s just a lot of hooey, far as I’m concerned. I know lots of men, normal, healthy men – hetero, bi and homo – who not only know a commitment when they make one, they keep it.

Is it something about power? ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’, as the saying goes. Well, the only difference between Eliot Spitzer and Jack, the Bar Tender at Charlie’s Aunt, the local town ‘watering hole’ here in the pristine suburbs, is that no one cares about what Jack does in his spare time. Just mix a good martini, Jack.

Oh, and then there’s the rather large difference in the price they pay for ‘services rendered.” Jack is still “a John” hiring a “$2 whore” and Eliot is “Client 9” paying $1,000 a night for a beautiful “escort”.

‘Arm candy’ is more expensive than a box of Godiva Chocolates, you know.

Personally, I’m less concerned about all that. What is really disturbing to me is how this underscores the prominent role of sexism and inequality in our culture. Rarely, if ever, do the ‘Johns” get prosecuted. In Spitzer’s case, the only reason he was brought down is due to the fact that the woman he was with was transported over state lines – a violation of the Mann Act of 1910.

The ‘prostitutes’? Well, we know what happens to them, don’t we? Even Scripture has great disdain and very little pity for the women who work in the oldest profession. But, oh, those boys-who-will-be-boys! Ain’t they something, though?

That’s not even it. I went to the webpage for “The Emperor’s Club.” There, disembodied pictures of women are rated according to a “diamond rating.” ‘Kristen’, the woman who ‘escorted’ the governor on the Eve of Valentine’s Day, was rated a 3 diamonds score – approximately $1,000 per night – placing her in the middle range of a rating system that tops off at 7 diamonds or $4,300 per night.

Mind you, ‘the girls’ only receive a portion of that. The margin of profit goes to the owners of The Emperor’s Club.

Not exactly a news flash, is it?. Whether we are talking about the Mill Girls of Lowell, MA at the turn of the century or the women who are Buyers for Macy’s, it was ever thus. Studies show that even in the church where there is a woman as Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies is also a woman, gender-bias and pay inequality run rampant among Episcopal Clergy who are women.

The NY Times is reporting that ‘Kristen’ is actually Ashley Alexandra Dupre, a 22 year old woman who left her Jersey Shore home at the age of 17 to pursue a career in music. That's her picture at the top of this post.

She has a dream, our little Ms. Ashley, to rise above the broken shards of her past and be a successful performer. And hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do in order to achieve her dreams, right? I mean, this is America, the land where you gotta be brave because nothing is free – not even the American Dream.

Ms. Dupre is quoted as saying, “I just don’t want to be thought of as a monster.” I guess she didn’t realize that achieving your dream can sometimes be a nightmare - especially for a woman.

Here’s what’s sticking in my craw: The diamond-rating system. If you look at the home page of The Emperor’s Club, under the faceless parade of legs in black silk stockings, g-strings on curvy hips and tight buttocks and red lace bras on bodacious breasts, there are anywhere from three to seven diamonds, depending upon how each . . . ‘girl’ . . . is rated.

The higher the number of diamonds, of course, the more expensive your evening will be.

It’s like the Westminster Dog Show!!!!!

I don’t know whether to be sick or disgusted; to laugh or cry.

So, the first question, of course, is why do these beautiful women do it? Surely, with that beauty, that physical perfection, those obviously well placed connections and access to networks of influence and power, they could get jobs as models and make $1,000 per hour rather than for an entire night. Right?

I’m sure I don’t know. That’s not even the question I want to ask. I want to know why the oldest profession is still in business.

I want someone to explain to me the reason why it is that we live in a world where there is a woman who running for the Democratic nomination as President of the United States who is the Senator from the same state as the Governor who is engaged in prostitution.

Does anyone else but me catch the irony of this?

Of all the things that make me angry and sad about this whole tragic mess – the ruination of a political career, the humiliation of Sila Spitzer, his wife, and their children and their families, the anguish of the family of the New Jersey woman who was Spitzer’s ‘call girl’ whose identity has now also been revealed in the NY Times, the chaos in the state government of New York – is that prostitution is still an acceptable ‘profession’.

That people still make money, literally on the backs of women. That women – beautiful women – continue to be seduced by the lure of ‘easy’ money, and the illusion of power and prestige and all the other trappings of the heterosexist, misogynist dominant cultural paradigm.

The Emperor’s Club, apparently revealed the vulgar transparency of arrogance, political corruption and blind ambition of a leading state official. In so doing, it also revealed something about the world’s oldest profession and something more about the world’s original sin.

Eight years into the dawn of the New Millennium, and the naked truth is this: sexism and misogyny continue to thrive in our post modern world, in the midst of the sophistication and polish of The Big Apple, of The Capitol City of The World.

As Flo Kennedy once said, “If we had come a long way, no one would still be calling us ‘baby’.”

I hope we keep Eliot Spitzer, his wife, Silda and their three young daughters in our prayers. I hope we pray for the State of New York, that it may recover from this time of scandal and move on to new leadership with Mr. Paterson, the first African-American governor of his state, and the first man who has vision impairment to be governor anywhere.

I hope we pray for Ashley, that she may come to know that she is not a monster, but that she might also learn that selling your body to achieve your dream can cost you your very soul.

And, once we get up off our knees, I hope we work to find a way to keep women off their backs as a position of sole support for their lives and their dreams.

The ancient Chinese proverb is that women hold up half the sky. You can't do that unless you're standing upright, claiming your full dignity as a child of God.

Of all the lessons this awful time will teach us, I hope we listen most closely to this.


Caminante said...

In Sweden, the person purchasing the transaction (sigh, 'services') is the one arrested, not the woman who is being paid.

What absolutely boggles my brain is the amount of money spent, $80K. It's beyond comprehension... and, as you said, little of it goes to the woman.

Bill said...

Elizabeth writes: “I’m sure I don’t know. That’s not even the question I want to ask. I want to know why the oldest profession is still in business.”

I think that the oldest profession is still in business because we call it sin. It’s still in business because it was and still is a male dominated world. If it wasn’t “sin”, if it wasn’t lurid and risky, and titillating would it still be so popular?

In the ancient religions of the Fertile Crescent it was part of temple worship. They had both male and female temple prostitutes. Gilgamesh speaks of temple prostitutes in the ancient Babylonian classic. In Greece, unwanted female babies were left on the street. If they were lucky they would be picked up by the priestesses of Aphrodite, who would raise the girls to be temple prostitutes. Males were not excluded from this treatment. With the maturing of Hebrew law, male prostitution was condemned and prohibited.

After battles, any males above the age of puberty were summarily killed. The women, girls and boys were taken off to be slaves. Being a slave, you were the property of the owner and he did with you as he pleased and this included sex. In my view, this is more accurately defined as rape than prostitution. In exchange for sex and doing what you were told, you were given your life. You might even be given a higher status if you were chosen as one of the warriors favorites.

Prostitution is the act of engaging in sexual intercourse or performing other sex acts in exchange for money. It was also done just to get something to eat or a place to sleep. It was a morality defined by the ancient religions that made it a sin, made it illegal. In those cultures that didn’t ascribe to our religious tenets it was simple another business.

I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss prostitution at the same time as fidelity. They are two different things. Fidelity implies that you are faithful to your loved ones. Prostitution means you are selling or buying sex. If the two happen to be involved in the same situation, it’s coincidence. There are cultures where prostitution is not considered a violation of fidelity to your spouse or family. There are cultures where you can legally have multiple spouses. We always look at these things from our own little Judeo-Christian world. The world is a lot bigger than that.

So, why is the oldest profession still in business – because there are customers. There are still those willing to pay for something they can’t get through their own character. There are still those willing to try something illegal, exciting, exhilarating and yes, even sinful. And of course there are those willing to take advantage of the situation, young men and women who see this as a way to earn some fast hard cash. Most do it for what money will buy, but there are those who do it for the thrill.

Let me ask a question. When we had prohibition in this country back in the roaring twenties, did it work??

toujoursdan said...

They have been buzzing about the Spitzer story on Canadian news here for the past few days too. Every bit of the story, including analysis was shown on CBC News. The only interesting bit of it was when they brought in a psychologist who discussed Spitzer's personality makeup. The psych speculated that Spitzer may have a "dare devil" personality.

Some people get a addictive thrill from the danger of bungee jumping, parachuting, scaling tall buildings without safety equipment or swimming with sharks. Others, like Spitzer, may get a similar thrill out of the "danger" of doing something illicit like having sex in public bathrooms, flashing strangers or frequenting prostitutes. The thrill initially comes from doing something out of "normality" but then comes from pushing the limits. The longer you go without getting caught, the more emboldened you become. This is why he got to the point where he didn't hide the transactions, his phone number or his name - even though he, as a prosecutor, is aware that these clues are used to bust people doing similar things.

In both cases, regular people look at these folks and wonder "What are they thinking?", but it's like a drug, actually. Once they are caught, many reflect and wonder what they were thinking too.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I think another telling thing about Ashley's tale is that part of her becoming an "emperor's club girl" was that she had lost her previous "boyfriend" who was helping her maintain her $3500/month apartment.

I realize $3500/month for lodgings in NYC ain't anywhere near the same as $3500/month in Kirksville, MO, but there are still some serious unresolved issues here. I sense a serious dose of "stuff makes me happy" in this. So to avoid losing her stuff, she went out and strutted her stuff in the world's oldest profession.

The whole trend of young girls admiring the bratz/princess lifestyle really bugs me. The fact people now make padded bras for 9 year olds (and that my cousin's little girl begged for one at Christmas) really weirds me out. Giving 18 year old girls a boob job or a nose job for a graduation present really REALLY weirds me out.

We are allowing young girls to grow up believing that looks, lifestyle, and loot are the keys to happiness, and not reinforcing lifelong qualities of character as marks of a "happy woman."

I am always somewhat bemused at how some people get incredibly nervous that I never desired to color my hair as I started going gray. I come from a family of prematurely gray people, so I always figured, "So what?" Personally, I think it's a very nice salt 'n pepper at this point and it speaks nicely to my wisdom and experience in middle age. But I am amazed at the number of people who will out and out tell me I ought to cover it (including my mother--her line is "Well...people see you and then they KNOW I have to be tinting MY hair." Well, DUH, Mom; you're 71. I imagine they figured that out already.)

But I fret greatly that we are rearing a generation of young women who will have all the wrong priorities in life, and will lack the inner strength and beauty that makes truly "noble women." Sigh.

susankay said...

And if they DARE prosecute the "escort" and not the "escorted" I will do something unfit for one of my years. -- just haven't figured out what it would be.

Grandmère Mimi said...

FWIW, if I were his wife, I would not be out there under the lights with the mics and the cameras sharing his shame. There is sharing, and there is sharing. That goes too far.

And David Vitter is still in the Senate representing Louisiana.

Kate Morningstar said...

Kirkepiscatoid -- all those things you say about the shallow values with which our young women are bombarded are true. AND they also apply to our young men. Which is why the men keep buying the pretty girls.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Sick or disgusted? Why must we choose?

And why oh why do the most self-righteous among us end up doing exactly the thing we condemn?

And what about the wife and the daughters? Yuck.

Jim said...

Mercedes Lackey, who lives in a very different faith tradition but often makes a lot of sense to me, defines evil as ultimate greed. I think she has a point -- consider if you will how many of the ten suggestions are about not taking or seeking what is not ours.

Which I mention because it answers, perhaps, your question about how why prostitution exists. It exists because there are men and women who express their greed in terms of sexual acts. Acts that are not an expression of love but of self centered taking -- greed. Some of them are 'johns' some of them are 'prostitutes' but the truth is they are doing the same thing -- using sexuality not for love but to fulfill their own greed, be it for cash, control or some odd ball activity.

Some would excuse adicted women who are selling themselves for their drug of choice, but in fact, that is still greed. Some men want to be excused because their spouse does not 'understand men's needs' but again, I see greed.

So, that is why I think. That we see this as mostly men buying from women says more about how power is distributed in our world than anything else. I suspect if we lived in a world where women were more powerful, we would see similar conduct, with different proportions.


FranIAm said...

"Personally, I’m less concerned about all that. What is really disturbing to me is how this underscores the prominent role of sexism and inequality in our culture."

Thank you for saying this and for all that you expressed in this post.

Living here in Albany NY the fray was even more intense and included a local radio station having a "Client #9 Weekend" in which one could win "high-roller weekends in Vegas."

However, so many are obsessed with the sex and not the sexism.

Deep sigh. God have mercy on us all.