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Author Topic: Prostitution in the Old West  (Read 16083 times)
Madame Dufaux
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« on: February 01, 2010, 06:40:02 AM »

(Note: I asked Estwee about the possibility of expanding the child boards in the "roleplaying professions" section here, to include other common professions of the time. The one that came immediately to my mind was prostitution. So please bear with me as I make this introductory post).

SO, you want to role play a parlor girl, courtesan, working girl, painted lady, soiled dove, whore, saloon girl -- a prostitute.

Where do most typists start? With clothing. Typically, it's the most frilly, flamboyant outfit available in Second Life -- silk stockings, rhinestone bustier, the whole nine yards. It's a fabulous costume, certain to turn the heads of the gents (ahem).

You land at the welcome HUB and rush past the signs urging you to read about life in the 19th century American West, thinking you already know everything you need to in order to make your RP debut, thank you very much.

Here you are sauntering down the street, ready to make your big RP splash, when suddenly someone IMs you. "Uh, hello and welcome, you appear to be new -- are you aware that costume isn't really appropriate to wear on the street?"

"Of course it's appropriate," you reply, "isn't that why they're called streetwalkers?"

I can't tell you how many times I've had this IM conversation with new characters in Deadwood. Many, many female avatars wander in with a head full of ideas about prostitution in the Old West that they got from watching Hollywood movies.

There are as many myths about the prostitutes of the Old West as there were "soiled doves" (a common term for prostitute at that time, for those who aren't familiar).

Probably the biggest myth that new roleplayers buy into when creating a working girl character is that they had glamorous lives and clothing. Certainly the upper class courtesans and parlor girls were dressed sumptuously for their upper class clients. They weren't necessarily well educated, but they could carry on a conversation and knew which fork to use for the salad.

Most of the high class parlor houses, however, existed in larger cities, and only came later to the boom towns of the West as the wealth of the land began to pay off.

In the early days of Deadwood's gold rush, in mid-1876, it was estimated that approximately 90% of women of the camp were “painted ladies.” Women amounted to between 100 to 150 for the entire Black Hills area, perhaps constituting between 1 percent and 2 percent of the population, according to Watson Parker, author of "Deadwood: The Golden Years." That's at the rough estimate of about 10,000 residents at the peak of the gold rush.

When the Deadwood sim reopens in a few weeks, it will be a chaotic, lawless camp, made up of an assortment of tents, wagons and crude lean-tos to house its rapidly expanding populace, which will consist mostly of men who've come to the area to strike it rich in the gold fields of the Black Hills.

With that influx of prospectors will come folks with entrepreneurial interests, who will set up shop on the first flat, vacant parcel of land they can find, to provide food, clothing, liquor, tools -- and sex.

The women providing that last commodity in these early days of Deadwood will not be dressed in silk stockings and rhinestone bustiers. They will be women who may or may not have come to Deadwood of their own volition. Some will have been lured there under false pretenses, thinking they would be filling jobs as cooks or laundresses.

Many of them will be escaping already desperate lives, thinking that life in a mining camp couldn't be much worse than what they'd already endured. Some will come to the grim realization that they have unwittingly sold themselves into sex work.

Most of these women will probably have traveled to Deadwood with little more than the clothes on their backs. Already poor, the dresses they wear are threadbare at the elbows, where the sleeve rubs against the washboard. The skin on their hands will be red and calloused from scrubbing with harsh lye soap and carrying buckets of water from the creek to the washtub.

Some will not be able to speak a word of English. Others may be addicted to alcohol or opium. Suicide or murder will be the tragic end for some.

But the lot of the "painted ladies" of Deadwood was not entirely bleak. For some, it was an opportunity to flee the restraints of Victorian society and become a woman of independent means. Historically, there were a number of real life women who came to Deadwood and made their fortunes as madams.

Don't take my word for it -- there are several very good resources about prostitution in the Old West. Get started with "The Painted Ladies of Deadwood," a feature on the "Legends of America" website. Shooting Star Enterprises, a company that specializes in historical reenactment education and supplies, has a informative page devoted to "Entertainers, Hurdy Girls, Soiled Doves and other Ladies of the Evening." A book I highly recommend on the subject is Anne Seagraves' "Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West."

Postscript: I should explain why the typical "saloon girl" costume is not appropriate for streetwear in an Old West sim.

"Costume" is the key word here. "Saloon girl" is a loose term for women who worked in saloons as barmaids, dancers, and prostitutes. Depending on the saloon, a woman could serve as all three, or only one or two.

A "saloon girl" dress is essentially a uniform -- a costume worn when a woman is working in the saloon, entertaining. The shiny fabrics and feathers, the short skirt, the low cut bodice and bare arms, are part of the entertainment factor.

This stands in sharp contrast to the "proper" fashion of the day -- long sleeves, high necklines, ankle length skirts.

Here we get to one of the double standards of Victorian fashion -- while modest clothing was expected of respectable ladies conducting their daily business in public, at formal evening events it was perfectly acceptable for decolletage and the porcelain skin of feminine shoulders and arms to be put prominently on display (pale skin was a sign of a woman of better means who did not have to do manual labor outside in the elements).

Meanwhile, a prostitute might be seen in public doing her day to day errands with a low neckline on her dress -- this suggestive attire being a not-so-subtle advertisement of her profession.

To start off the discussion, I'll leave you with this food for thought: I think one's success in the role has everything to do with being able to throw out every single notion of modern womanhood and start from scratch.  Grin

What do you think roleplayers need to know about 19th century "soiled doves" in order to portray them in an authentic manner?
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BlackJack Landar
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« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2010, 12:28:39 PM »

Asto, great post to kick off this discussion. 

You had mentioned briefly the working conditions of the "soiled doves".  From my reading, the only ones who had it fairly soft were the high end courtesans.  The average working girl lived and worked in conditions that could be charitably considered as squalor.  Many worked in "cribs", small one room shacks divided into cubicles large enough for a cot.
Physical danger was a constant threat to working girls.  Their customers might beat or occasionally kill them.  They also faced abuse by the owners of the brothels.  Al Swearengen of the Gem Variety Theater being a case in point.  His girls were usually noted by the bruises and other injuries they would incur from him or his henchmen.
As a means of escape many would turn to alcohol and or opium.  Quite a few committed suicide when the life became to much for them to endure.

So, how does one fit all this into the rp?  You could use this information as background to build the character you wish to play.  Is she a whore because her husband died or was she duped into coming to town, only to be faced with the prospect of becoming a whore or being turned out into the street. 

Every role has unique challenges and oppurtunities, for the prospective DW soiled dove, do a bit of research and have fun!
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Glen
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« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2010, 07:37:47 PM »

Good post. Yah I think alot get the saloon girls confused with the actual working girl. I think they should have alot of the information Asto posted in the OOC walk through area so they knew the truths on working girls via saloon girls for when they choose their character.
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Estwee Vansant
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« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2010, 11:11:38 AM »

Absolutely, Glen! You read our minds!

Addison and I are working on some a series of character notecards that newbies can use to help choose what they want to play and have some tips on how to do it well. This post will be very useful in getting folks up to speed with the demographics of the 1870's community.

If anyone would like to start separate topics about other character types (miners, investors, tourists, business owners, etc.), please do so! Smiley
 

Good post. Yah I think alot get the saloon girls confused with the actual working girl. I think they should have alot of the information Asto posted in the OOC walk through area so they knew the truths on working girls via saloon girls for when they choose their character.
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Ernst Osterham
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« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2010, 02:40:24 PM »

Huzzah!  Prostitution sub-forum!

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Carrie Dubrovna
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« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2010, 02:37:49 AM »

What do you think roleplayers need to know about 19th century "soiled doves" in order to portray them in an authentic manner?

My response has more to do with roleplaying than actual info for people who want to RP as prostitutes. When I am RPing as Daisy it is just that, RP, and if she goes upstairs the RP continues. This is something that is not expected by most people who are going upstairs with a prostitute. I don't know how other Old West sims do it. in some sims the prostitute charges Lindens, and the point is to satisfy.

I think that has nothing to do with RPing.

I think in the restart we need a new idea of what whoring in DW is. I think there is a lot of potential good RP that is not happening because people think that being with a whore means having poseball pixel sex, and it's all moaning and actually trying to get each other off. It should just be RP. The whore maybe tries to steal a wallet, or she looks bored or forces a smile, and the guy is thinking about his wife and just doing what he came to do. Or if it is a classier joint, the man and the whore could have a relationship of sorts. Maybe he confides in her and she sells him out. Maybe she hears powerful men say all kinds of shady things. There are a lot of things that could be happening.

However,  since everyone thinks they are going upstairs to actually get off , no one goes upstairs.

I don't think people need to even get their AVs buck naked for this. Daisy just has a cuddle pillow on her bed so the AVs don't have to stand there like goons.

Maybe there would be two kinds of prostitutes in DW. Those who are in it for money and uh...satisfying, and those who are RPing as whores for the sake of RPing. Would we need to differentiate somehow? I dunno.

Would you be more inclined to go upstairs if you knew it wasn't going to be some ghastly scene of "Mmmmm" and "Ohhhhh"?
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Ezra
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« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2010, 03:41:54 PM »

That is a really good post September.  I do think if people knew it was rp only, they would be more inclined to go upstairs.  It would get around pretty quick which girls are doing rp and which are charging Ls for a service.  IMHO, the rp girls will see a lot more business. 
I like the idea of a soiled dove trying to lift a wallet or blackmailing someone.  That would be fun to rp.
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Cici
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« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2010, 04:03:53 PM »

Miss September,

Some thoughtful writing and I applaud you for exploring a hot topic (pardon the pun).

Quote
It should just be RP. The whore maybe tries to steal a wallet, or she looks bored or forces a smile, and the guy is thinking about his wife and just doing what he came to do. Or if it is a classier joint, the man and the whore could have a relationship of sorts. Maybe he confides in her and she sells him out. Maybe she hears powerful men say all kinds of shady things. There are a lot of things that could be happening.
What you outline here is what I would expect of a role play sim. However, several sims have allowed themselves to be used as approved escort services, or the soiled doves put out tip jars, which encourages their customer to pay for services rendered. Since we should not have pay in order to role play with someone, you can see the confusion.

(on a side note: I fully understand and approve of a saloon, etc putting out a tip jar. People are paying lindens for that business. That is entirely different than paying someone to role play. If the house chooses to share those tips with employees, that would be nice but up to them.)

As I am not technically a Deadwood citizen, it is not my place to suggest how you might correct this. But you mentioned other sims and I have witnessed the confusion this issue causes many, many times. The female players interested in role play are driven away by the expectations, while the male characters (are they really characters or johns?) looking for virtual pleasure are angry when it is not provided-particularly if they have already tipped the dancer. In their mind, money paid should equal services rendered. Sadly, the issue becomes further muddled when some of the female characters DO and some DON'T. Yet each is asking for tips.

If I had to step out on a limb, I would decide if I wanted to provide a place to role play or a place of rl/virtual prostitution. I'm not knocking either, as we know SL has room for both and some rp sims use soiled doves to generate traffic. I'm only suggesting that I would draw a firm line one way or the other and end the confusion. I apologize for my impudence, just offering my unsolicited opinion.

One more note: I'm sorry Daisy is dead. You did a wonderful job in portraying a fantastic character from what I have seen. Very unique. I hope Deadwood will not be losing your fine sense of characterization with the reset.
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Dio
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« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2010, 04:47:27 PM »

This is a real interesting discussion.  And yes I think a lot more people would give it a shot if rather that pathetic pixel poking, the act of coitus for profit was actually rp'ed out with things like:

Grungy Bob: *wonders if he has to take his boots off for this*

Frisky Kitty: *yawns, stubs out her cigar, and lies back on the dingy sheets of the bed*

Grungy Bob: "Been so long, hope I remembers how this all works."

Frisky Kitty: "Oh, I reckon yer a gonna recollect soon enough, sugar."  *Smiles like a waxworks mannequin*

Grungy Bob: *remembers how it works*

Frisky Kitty: *feels a burning sensation and thinks "Damn...I better go see Doc Morpork again."

Seriously though, something like that would be lot more entertaining than "oh baby, oh oh"

And I think Cici has a really good point about the desirability of having the type of upstairs services being clearly delineated up front, so there are no misunderstandings or disappointments.  And yeah, it would make sense that rather than mixing the two types, you pick one: either it's going to be happy pixel poking, or its going to be creative rp--but don't try to mix both in the same context.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2010, 04:49:24 PM by Dio » Logged

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Neil
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« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2010, 05:42:54 PM »

Huzzah!  Prostitution sub-forum!



Agrees with the sentiment and scans eagerly for a multimedia component
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Madame Dufaux
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« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2010, 05:51:22 PM »

Quote
Maybe there would be two kinds of prostitutes in DW. Those who are in it for money and uh...satisfying, and those who are RPing as whores for the sake of RPing. Would we need to differentiate somehow? I dunno.

Would it be plausible as the town gets built up again to have each of the major saloon/brothels, i.e. the Gem and the Bella, be differentiated as one being for RP only and one providing actual "escort services" (while still in character, of course)?

It could be part of the introduction people would get up at the HUB before coming into town.

Quote
The female players interested in role play are driven away by the expectations, while the male characters (are they really characters or johns?) looking for virtual pleasure are angry when it is not provided-particularly if they have already tipped the dancer.

I'd really like help with having a better "retention rate" for lack of a better term. My perception is that we've lost out on a lot of potentially good RPers and RP; as time has gone on we haven't emphasized the guidance and encouragement needed to retain new players who are interested in this aspect of RP -- and I think this category of RP does require some "mentoring" to an extent.

I think we did this pretty well when The Flame was open... in part because we sat down and outlined via notecards, which we gave to prospective employees, about the expectations, i.e. they didn't have to be prostitutes, they could work only as barmaids or dancers if they wanted to.

For those who did want to RP as parlour girls, we differentiated them from the regular employees by wearing red dresses; as part of our welcome to our customers that information was imparted almost right away to avoid confusion.... though RPing "mistaken identities" was part of the fun of the place.

What's probably also important to impart to newcomers will be that there won't be much privacy this sort of RP, as all the "business" will be taking place initially in wagons, tents and hastily built shacks.

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Glen
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« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2010, 06:12:45 PM »

*coughs heavily* boy that would make an interesting mentor class "How to be a prostitute 101" Or the "19th Prostitutes for Dummies" guide book, lol. Now that would be great  Smiley
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Merryann
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« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2010, 06:55:57 PM »

Hmm...with the numerous escort services available in SL, I'm not sure why Deadwood would need to be among the number.

It sounds like it would cause a lot of ic/ooc problems to provide 'real' escort services while 'in character'.

If someone feels the need to enjoy themselves to that degree, fine. Become an escort, pay for an escort-in an escort sim. Then come back to Deadwood and role play.

My greatest worry in this is what it would say about Deadwood to the greater community, and what type of 'players' it would attract.

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Ernst Osterham
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« Reply #13 on: February 06, 2010, 07:03:25 PM »

Alright, perhaps this will only display my own ignorance, but I'm not sure I see the distinction others are between "happy pixel poking" and "creative rp."

In either case, both parties are trying to simulate or at least act out a sexual act.  The difference as I see it isn't of kind, but rather of quality.  "Happy pixel poking" which I assume involves two people jumping on poseballs and starting to type "ahhh...yeah baby...oh yeah...etc" is still RP.  Deadwood is an IC-all-the-time sim so by definition is has to be.  It's bad RP though, in the same way as when Generic McBadass who shows up and without any decent emoting or chat starts shooting the place up yelling, "I'm a badass m****f****" is bad RP.

The way I see it, either you are RPing sex or you are not.  If you are, you might as well do it in an interesting manner.  It doesn't necessarily have to be "erotic," it can be violent, arousing, boring, painful, mechanical, loving, dull, eruptive whatever the characters make it.  Just as real-life sex is.  It's unpredictable.  It might be a whore who is high on opium and totally out of it and a miner with syphilis who just drank two liters of booze and can't perform.  Or it might be a quick yet satisfying roll in the hay that leaves both parties smiling.  It all depends on context.  Poseballs seem entirely incidental to this, and in many cases are actually a hindrance to quality typed RP.  There use or disuse doesn't seem to be the differentiating factor in anything.  

The real alternatives as I see it are between "RPing sex" and essentially "fading to black."  The latter is what happens in RL western RP.  You pay your RP paper money to the "prostitute," you both go out behind a building for a few minutes and stand there making pointless smalltalk and staring at the wall, then come back out and the "deed" is done.  Such a thing would work in DW, girls could take the johns up to their room, sit there for a bit and come back down, but such a thing isn't really "creative RP" to my mind.  It's more just avoiding the RP of prostitution altogether because it is unwanted.  Some people may prefer that, in the same way that some people likely wouldn't care to RP other bodily functions, but it seems a different debate than "happy pixel poking" versus "creative rp."

Merryann, as for "escort services," unless we are talking about the use of voice chat or webcams, I'm not sure DW would ever be considered truly a place for that.  If a woman charges lindens for RPing sex in DW, that would seem entirely in-character and perfectly fine RP.  In the same way that merchants in DW charge lindens for products, or rents on buildings are paid in lindens.  Or if a woman wants to just accept pretend "RP money" and just enjoys the RP aspect that's equally fine.  I have a feeling that any SL escort who comes to DW and tries to charge high rates in lindens and who doesn't have any RP skills in the sim won't find very many customers. 


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Glen
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« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2010, 07:35:54 PM »

This is an interesting topic, but out of the rules for deadwood

"VI. Private encounters of "intimate" nature is to remain in IM. Any active body parts that chat are to be turned off. Age-play is strictly prohibited.



This sim is a mature roleplay sim. It is mature because of the style of roleplay in a rugged old west town environment. Sex... encounters of such in the brothels of the sim will be conducted in IM's only, no open chat will be allowed, and any 'special' body parts that have open chat will be turned off in sim. In other words, if folks can hear you performing, you won't stay long.

Players with child avatars are strongly requested to remove themselves immediately from any scene involving sexual interactions. Players with adult characters, please refrain from using sexual gestures, animations, emotes, or chat while there is a child avatar present. Refer to Linden Labs age-play guidelines for more information."

So how far in creative RP can you go, before it has to go IM?
« Last Edit: February 06, 2010, 07:37:38 PM by Master Glendevon » Logged

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