The Prostitution of Sexuality

NYU Press

In 1979, Kathleen Barry's landmark book, Female Sexual Slavery, pulled back the curtain on a world of abuse prostitution that shocked the world. Documenting in devastating detail the lives of street prostitutes and the international traffic in women, Barry's work was called powerful and compassionate by Adrienne Rich and a courageous and crusading book that should be read everywhere by Gloria Steinem. The Los Angeles Times found it a powerful work filled with disbelief, outrage, and documentation . . . sexual bondage shackles women as much today as it has for centuries.
In The Prostitution of Sexuality, Barry assesses where we are 15 years later, how far we've come and, more importantly, how far we have still to go. Shifting her focus from the sexuality of prostitution to the prostitution of sexuality, Barry exposes the practice of teenage sexual exploitation and the flourishing Asian sex tour industry, emphasizing the world-wide role of the expanding multi-billion dollar pornography industry. The work identifies the global conditions of sexual exploitation, from sex industrialization in developing countries to te normalization of prostitution in the West. The Prostitution of Sexuality considers sexual exploitation a political condition and thus the foundation of women's subordination and the base from which discrimination against women is constructed and enacted. Breaking new ground, Barry convincingly argues for the need to integrate the struggle against sexual exploitation in prostitution into broader feminist struggles and to place it, as one of several connected issues, in the forefront of the feminist agenda.
Barry concludes the book with a sampling of strategies-- international, regional, local, and personal--that feminist activists have employed successfully since the early 1980s, highlighting new international legal strategies for human rights resulting from her work.
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About the author

The author of the acclaimed biography Susan B. Anthony, KATHLEEN BARRY teaches in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
NYU Press
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Published on
Jul 31, 1996
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Pages
390
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ISBN
9780814712771
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Health & Fitness / Sexuality
Psychology / Human Sexuality
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Feminism & Feminist Theory
Social Science / Gender Studies
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“In her new chic outfit, she looks like anything but a stewardess working. But work she does. Hard, too. And you hardly know it.” So read the text of a 1969 newspaper advertisement for Delta Airlines featuring a picture of a brightly smiling blond stewardess striding confidently down the aisle of an airplane cabin to deliver a meal.

From the moment the first stewardesses took flight in 1930, flight attendants became glamorous icons of femininity. For decades, airlines hired only young, attractive, unmarried white women. They marketed passenger service aloft as an essentially feminine exercise in exuding charm, looking fabulous, and providing comfort. The actual work that flight attendants did—ensuring passenger safety, assuaging fears, serving food and drinks, all while conforming to airlines’ strict rules about appearance—was supposed to appear effortless; the better that stewardesses performed by airline standards, the more hidden were their skills and labor. Yet today flight attendants are acknowledged safety experts; they have their own unions. Gone are the no-marriage rules, the mandates to retire by thirty-two. In Femininity in Flight, Kathleen M. Barry tells the history of flight attendants, tracing the evolution of their glamorized image as ideal women and their activism as trade unionists and feminists.

Barry argues that largely because their glamour obscured their labor, flight attendants unionized in the late 1940s and 1950s to demand recognition and respect as workers and self-styled professionals. In the 1960s and 1970s, flight attendants were one of the first groups to take advantage of new laws prohibiting sex discrimination. Their challenges to airlines’ restrictive employment policies and exploitive marketing practices (involving skimpy uniforms and provocative slogans such as “fly me”) made them high-profile critics of the cultural mystification and economic devaluing of “women’s work.” Barry combines attention to the political economy and technology of the airline industry with perceptive readings of popular culture, newspapers, industry publications, and first-person accounts. In so doing, she provides a potent mix of social and cultural history and a major contribution to the history of women’s work and working women’s activism.

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