Rubin and “White Slavery”

Hi everyone! I’m Margeaux. A third-year TAPS and English major with a minor in German.

Rubin states, “These [Victorian] campaigns [against “white slavery”] produced the myriad prohibitions against solicitation, lewd behavior, loitering for immoral purposes, age offenses, and brothels and bawdy houses” (269). In her introduction, Rubin discusses the different ways that society was and still is trying to protect the “normal” people from “deviants” through various laws prohibiting acts of homosexuality and pornography and other deviant sexual behaviors. What interested me about the concept of white slavery, is, at first glance, it seems like through a campaign against “enslaving” white people, by making them prostitutes and other types of sex workers, political forces were trying to protect white people from becoming “impure”. By making brothels and prostitution illegal, perhaps their intention was to prevent white people from experiencing these “abnormal” sexual experiences and from having abnormal sexual thoughts and thereby making themselves impure, a similar reason to why they try to drive out the homosexuals and other types of deviant sexual behaviors. They arrest those who are offending the normal people, those who run the brothels tempting the men and those who make the young women prostitutes making them dishonest and embarrassing to the rest of their race. They arrest those white people who attended these deviant sexual events to make an example out of them, showing the rest of the “normal people” that when you deviate, the results are not good. They arrest particularly everyone and anyone who’s participated in sexual events in the public sphere in order to prevent others from following the example. It was like the communist prevention movement, those who tainted the minds of others through communism were arrested and those who allowed their minds to be tainted were arrested in order to prevent the further spread of communist ideas to susceptible minds.

The basic concept of the campaign against white slavery is the prevention of sexuality from leaving the private sphere. This way, no young woman will get wrapped up in the world of prostitution and no white male will be persuaded to make himself impure by attending a brothel. This campaign is similar to the “abstinence only” campaigns of high schools, trying to keep sexuality quiet and stuck in the private sphere, discouraging young men and women from having sex and then discouraging them from deviating from the norm further by having a child together rather than aborting it, thereby making an example out of them too, “See what happens when you deviate from the norm?”.

Later in the introduction, Rubin discusses SIECUS (Sex Information and Education Council of the United States) and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and how many believed they were attempting to “‘destroy racial cohesion,’ by exposing white people (especially white women) to the alleged ‘lower’ sexual standards of black people” (273). This brings in a new kind of race aspect to this campaign to keep white people pure. Rather than keeping them from simply performing deviant behavior of their own accord through prostitution, or by witnessing deviant behavior in the form of a brothel, they were now attempting to protect white people from exploring sex through the lens of a black person. This is simply another tactic to keep sex as private as possible, by telling people: keep to your own race, your own class, your own partner, only do it when you’re married, and don’t show your sexuality in public.

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One thought on “Rubin and “White Slavery”

  1. Sitara Satish
    You bring up a good point here in that they tried to discourage any sort of public appearance of any form of sex or sexuality. They focused on white girls being enslaved, but they did not mention black girls. You mentioned that “they were now attempting to protect white people from exploring sex through the lens of a black person.” Does this mean that black people openly divulge in acts of homosexuality, meaning that gay men openly kiss their lover in public or do something that indicates that they are gay? It seems that these two organizations and people like them tried to protect only white people and not black people. So it is OK if a black child is exposed to sex, but not for a white child? I know that race is the reason for the difference, but this is just absurd. They didn’t focus on or mention the recruitment of black girls to brothels. The focus on white people makes black people sound like sex-crazed animals ( I know that is very extreme), but I just can’t wrap my head around the differences.

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