The Veil of Fantasy and its Concealment of Double-Binds

(I am so sorry, this never published!!!)

By Emma Weisberg

When reading Fantasy Islands: Exploring the Demand for Sex Tourism, I was struck by how many contradictions and double-binds were intertwined into sex tourism. For instance, men and women of many races, ethnicities, and nationalities are exoticized and otherized to become objects merely for their clients’ pleasure. However, while their “otherness” is systematically used to dehumanize them and make them appear “unnatural,” many clients also desire a romantic fantasy. Davidson and Taylor write that “Many clients want the prostitute to be a ‘lover’ who makes no claims, a ‘whore’ who has sex for pleasure not money, in short, a person (subject) who can be treated as an object” (455). This makes me think about cases of rape, when after an assault the perpetrator will argue that the survivor was “asking for it.” In other words, the survivor was supposedly making sexual advances on his/her own will, which allows the perpetrator to walk away with a good reputation and without repercussions. Similarly, male and female sex tourists who argue “sex is more ‘natural’ in Third World countries, that prostitution is not really prostitution but a ‘way of life,’” allow themselves to walk away with a clean reputation, claiming that they only partook in the action because it was the “norm” (Davidson and Taylor, 455).

Double-binds not only exist for the male/female sex workers but also for the sex tourists themselves. While men who engage in these practices are labeled ‘sex tourists,’ women are considered partakers in ‘romance tourism’ (Taylor, 43). While not every woman is searching for romantic relationships, this term ‘romance tourism’ creates a veil of acceptability and hides the use of dominance and exploitation. Western female sex tourists take advantage of their intersectionalities (race, socioeconomic status, nationality, etc) to find power in themselves and to utilize control over others. In these situations, women “can experience sexual intimacy without risking rejection; they can evade the social meanings that attach to their own age and body type; they can transgress social rules governing sexual life without consequence for their own social standing; they can reduce other human beings to nothing more than the living embodiments of masturbatory fantasies” (Davidson and Taylor, 464). Women sex tourists get to live out their own fantasies of dominance, ones they never have access to in the western world where they are expected to be subservient to the white male.

On a different note, what I find so interesting about these articles is that they discuss how fantasy is an integral part of the act of sex tourism. Fantasy can create illusion; fantasy can romanticize; fantasy can conceal the truth. Fantasy can also allow sex tourists to deny their actions. For instance, in Female Sex Tourism: A Contradiction in Terms?, Taylor writes how none of the women she interviewed used the word “prostitution,” “because they employed gendered constructions of sexuality to read their own sexual encounters” (50). If these women do not use the word “prostitution,” then this word—and all of its connotations—is not a part of these women’s thoughts and perceived actions. In this instance, we can understand how much words can socially construct reality or, oppositely, how the lack of words can conceal it.

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6 thoughts on “The Veil of Fantasy and its Concealment of Double-Binds

  1. Your comment about how we construct people of color as “asking for it” is a good one, but I think it can be expanded upon. I believe that women and men who wield a great deal of economic power become privileged enough to start entertaining Robin Thike’s idea that “I know you want it”, which is slightly different. In American culture, the male is deified, so his body is to be wanted by the disparaged women. Once a privileged and oblivious person from the west enters a country like the ones discussed in the articles, they feel that their body should be desired because we have been otherizing and orientalizing things for a very long time.

    Patrick Gallagher Landes

  2. Zoe Halpert

    In Fantasy Island, Davidson and Taylor quote Hartsock, saying that hostility and domination, rather than intimacy and pleasure, are the main aspects of Western sexuality. I found this thoroughly disturbing, though it reminded me of the idea that sex is about power. I suppose it makes sense then, that when it comes to sex tourism, power and privilege play an important role. This also relates to the fact that many tourist-aimed prostitution industries are built off of the supply of sex workers for foreign military personnel.

  3. Sophie Sharps

    Emma, I really appreciate that you touched on the idea of the socially constructed nature of language. We have discussed this in our class before, but it still amazes me how much words and the vocabulary we use can construct our realities. Because women do not refer to their actions as prostitution, they do not face the same consequences that others would. Because we do not actually have language for male prostitutes (other than gigolo which is slightly different), we cannot even fathom female sex tourists pursuing and exploiting men. Language choice impacts our social realities and changes the way we understand our actions.

  4. Bianca Scofield

    I was also disgusted how many sex tourists used race as a justification for prostitution, as if all people of a race participated in prostitution. One of the most degrading aspects of sex tourism is that it implies that these women and men of different races are exotic. This implies that other races besides caucasian is deviant or a lesser race that is only enjoyed sexually as a treat. These sex tourists would rarely ever actually marry a person from a different race, but it is okay for them to exploit and have paid sex with them. I can’t even begin to fathom what that feels like as a local.

  5. Gracie Hall

    Like Emma and Sophie I was fascinated by Taylor’s deconstruction of language. Specifically, her analysis of the words “prostitution”, “exploitation” and “victimization” and how none of these words have an inherently gendered description, but nonetheless have become so deeply gendered. Their ties to womanhood and femininity certainly reinforces gendered power roles. Therefore when these words are used outside their normal gender connotations, for example women exploiting men, or men as victims or prostitutes it is shocking because these stories are often hidden from the general public.

  6. Karen Cardona
    The whole idea of men and women sex tourist having different terms to identify them is extremely interesting. Men tend to simply go for a one night stand to purchase sex and then simply forget about it, women on the other hand tend to hire male prostitutes for longer than a night. The exotification of bodies tends to happen due to the racial factors, the tourist tend to be wealthy Europeans going to seek sex in places such as the caribbean creating this “exotic” scene of beaches and hot bodies. I challenge our class to not only look at the gendered dynamics but how socio-economic and racial privilege really plays a part in the sex tourism industry.

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