Suggestion: Change the category "Prostitutes" to "Sex Workers"

+14 votes

Under the occupations category there is a category for Prostitutes:

I'd like to propose that we change the title to Sex Workers, a less pejorative and more inclusive category. Not all sex workers are prostituting -- this category would include strippers and some kinds of models, for example.

in Policy and Style by Jessica Key G2G6 Pilot (257k points)
Great topic of discussion!     My first impression,   I doubt  "some kind of models" and strippers fit well in be the category of historical  prostitutes.     This is certainly a slippery slope.  Should there be a separate category for those subjected to human trafficking?

Records of the past identified some women as  "prostitutes"...... but we certainly realize their profession was often a choice of life or death.

So my comment,  if we are to make changes it should be  "big picture".    Leave  "prostitutes"  as a category for those that were identified as prostitutes in historical records.    (Sadly this would include those victims of human trafficking.)

Create other categories for strippers and  models.

Perhaps have a Sex Work high level category under which other professions could be organized? Of course, a lot of people had other professions in addition to their sex work -- historically few people prostituted full time, even those who weren't trafficked might resort to sex work when times were tough, out of necessity or desperation. And many people scrubbed toilets out of necessity or desperation. I ain't looking down on a girl who has to make the rent! 

It's hard to know from historical accounts who was forced into it or not (those who were might fall under the "White Sheep" category in the Black Sheep project).

There's a few profiles here on Wikitree for ladies that were respectable courtesans in their day, who would probably be very offended to be lumped in to a Prostitutes category with the common girls working a corner! That's actually what prompted me to ask for a renamed category.

I do find it interesting that there's a category for Walking Stick Makers, but not a general Sex Worker category! When let's face it, I don't care how high class your family is, we surely all have more sex workers in our trees than Walking Stick Makers cheeky

I would agree Jessica.   But it's a difficult discussion to decide  who should be  labeled as a prostitute.    In my opinion,  the bar should be high.    As you mentioned,  few people prostituted themselves full time.    What really defined their lives?

Here I admit,  I've never given this topic a great deal of thought  (which is why I commented instead of answered)..... but it certainly deserves a sensitive approach.
Sex worker is a relatively new term, it would not be (IMO) appropriate to use on older profiles.
Marion, we use modern terms for other categorization and projects. One example is the Native Americans Project is not called the "Indians" Project. There's also a push here on Wikitree to use "enslaved people" or "enslaved person" instead of slaves.
Jessica, we would not want [[Category:Sex Workers]] on someone from the 19th century. The women were known as prostitutes (among many other slang names).

If you wish to pursue this as a new category structure under occupations,  please follow these instructions for a new structure:
Natalie, thank you for the link. However, I confess I don't know why you said "someone from the 19th century" should not be categorized as a sex worker. Sex work has existed long before the 19th century; that's why we call it "the oldest profession". It's not like it's a bright idea that only occurred to someone two minutes after midnight on January 1st, 1801.
Because that term is a modern construct.
We use modern terms to name other categories and projects here on Wikitree. In any case, Sex Work could just be a higher-level category with 'Prostitutes', 'Courtesans', 'Strippers', etc. as sub-categories.

Dictionary definition:

Prostitute: a person, in particular a woman, who engages in sexual activity for payment.

Sex worker: a person whose work involves sexually explicit behavior ; especially : prostitute.

Whatever other names may be applied besides prostitute, this is the one that has been understood for centuries. And yes, this covers women who had sex to cover the rent, get her child food, etc. Money has never been the only form of the payment. Sex worker is a fairly new phrase; it did not exist even when I was a child. Prostitution is "the oldest profession," not sex work.

In general, I would vote for doing away with the category. It is a label that was frequently used without proof in a derogatory manner toward women whom society (or not-nice other women) disapproved.

I'm with Diane on this one. What is the genealogical value of such a category?
I also agree with Diane.  I really do see the point in " the push to " to modernize terms such as " enslaved" people. Or pretty up terminology.

In general, I would vote for doing away with the category...

What is the genealogical value of such a category?


In general, I would vote for doing away with the category...

What is the genealogical value of such a category?

Excellent recommendation Diane and Danielle.

6 Answers

+26 votes
Best answer
Considering that there are only 18 profiles in the category, most of them in the USA, and even one entered as still living, I would personally do away with this category altogether.  

There are all sorts of women who have been accused of being prostitutes, or of ''loose living''.  The facts of the matter are often hard to come by, and the surrounding circumstances that led them there even more so.  Who are we to assign such a label to them, pray tell?

I don't see a category for gigolos, so why treat women this way and not men?

Away with this category, it cannot lead to a proper use of such, neither from a genealogical point of view nor from a strictly research point of view.
by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (516k points)
selected by Margaret Ferrick
I like the way you think, Danielle!
Completely agree with you, Danielle.
Sex workers are not exclusively women. There have been and still are lots of male sex workers, so the category does single out women.
All the profiles in the category are for women (of course I can't tell about the two unlisted ones). In any case, I don't think it's a good idea to categorize (or in other words, label) them at all.
Agreed. I'm certainly not going to categorize someone as a "prostitute" if I can help it, and I find "sex worker" even worse. I'd vote to remove the category and not replace it.

I suppose the only remote possibility I'd ever use a "prostitute" category would be if someone was blatantly famous for it - and honestly, if there's only a few people who might fit that even in my wildest dreams, there's no reason for a category at all.
Let us not practice revisionism in genealogy for the sake of political correctness.  This category simply does nothing but besmirch the profiles listed within it.  Rather do away with the category altogether.  My great grand children really do not need to know if my great grandmother's sister hooked up for loot occasionally.
If my ancestress or her sister had to turn to such work to support herself, I would like to know about it, but a category does not help me do that.
Some family history is best left buried...
Danielle,  I agree.  It is a good idea to do away with the category. .
+10 votes
I agree with this.
by Joelle Colville-Hanson G2G6 Pilot (133k points)
+11 votes
Don't understand how it came to be a category. There's nothing to be gained by collecting them all together since they existed in all places and for most of history. Lumping all sex-workers together is a bad idea as well, not my specialty but from one end of the scale to the other there's a lot of difference. Why on earth do it at all?
by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (301k points)
Potters also have existed in all places and in most of history, and they have a category under occupations. So do servants, scientists, day laborers, and various sorts of farmers. Putting aside people's ingrained beliefs, sex work is just a collection of occupations. It has been a part of people's daily lives, influenced society, art, and law, and even religion, since time immemorial. The only reason I see not to give sex work a category is that people find it shameful. But people also find slavery shameful and we don't erase slavery here on Wikitree. And yes, these occupations are genealogically significant; none of us would exist today if not for the sexual choices of our ancestors.
potters etc can be grouped by region, and there is a known practice before modern times for parents to choose a spouse for their daughter/son from the children of someone else in the same trade, so does have genealogical significance.

I have known prostitutes personally, and it is certainly not a ''vocation or profession''.  It's a pit some people fall into, very few choose the life.  And is not the same as ''courtesans'' that have existed at various times.
+11 votes

Prostituted women are exploited by the sex industry. Often these women were trafficked into the industry when they were children, and they were unable to escape it, because they were either being held captive or they simply didn't have the resources to leave the sex industry.

If this category is going to change, change it to "prostituted women" or "sex industry."

Prostitution is not a career, it is form of oppression.

Even better, like someone else suggested, get rid of this category.
by Susan Hyatt G2G6 (9.0k points)
edited by Susan Hyatt


Your post probably violates #1 of the new discussion rules. I realized this when I started to respond and realized we could easily go down a political and semantical rabbit hole and I'd be violating that rule as well. I encourage you to edit your post. It may very well get flagged by any viewer or hidden by a moderator. 

I think I figured out how to respond without violating the rules.

I'm not a huge fan of this category either-- whatever it's called. But any number of occupation categories represent oppressed or exploited workers or jobs the person probably never imagined they'd be doing when they were a child.  Should we remove those categories as well?
I took the time of reviewing (most of) the profiles in the category and it has not improved my discomfort with it.

I won't argue where it's been applied to well-researched profiles of transported women. But I was shocked to see it placed on the profiles of minor victims of a serial killer - especially because they were minors, and a very quick research revealed that they were also, at least theoretically, students. The worse of it was that in the case of another victim, a grown woman who worked as a professional cabaret ensemble dancer, there was no occupation category assigned. How to put this? The implication that having walked the streets was more significant than having a "normal" job was not neutral.

I won't even get into the living profiles it was placed on. Isn't prostitution illegal in some countries? It poses the same issues as "Criminal", "Murderer", or mafia-related categories that are found on unlisted profiles.

I don't think renaming the category would help at all.
I see no genealogical value in the category, however named.
I also agree that this whole thing violates the rules.  As does the continuous political discourse on slavery.  This is a genealogy site. The continuous political attitude  and talk of changing terminology based on political views is getting old.
I edited my comment, trying to stay away from the political. I agree with the commenter who said that this category itself basically violates the rules, being a political topic, and no matter what I say about it becomes political.

This being a political topic is a good reason to delete the category. I don't see how it helps with genealogy no matter what we name it.
+8 votes
WikiTree removed all of the Veterans categories, which were popular, yet maintains Prostitutes? I cannot see the logic at all.

My vote would be to remove rather than rename this category. Regardless of which term is used, modern or historical, there is little or no genealogical value for it. For the famous few a note in the biography section would serve better practice.
by John Beardsley G2G6 Mach 4 (40.7k points)

When did this happen? Looks like categorization for veterans is alive and well through stickers

That said, I also wonder what genealogical value there is in collecting in a category all people who were of any particular profession. 

Back in 2017 Jillaine. I'm reasonably sure you took part in the conversations about it at the time.
I have a vague recollection... but then, my recollections of yesterday are pretty vague, too... %~}

When was yesterday?  wink

+8 votes
I believe we have a certain consensus that this category should be deleted.  Categorization project, will you oblige?
by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (516k points)

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