Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Neocolonialism in the sex trade

November 7, 2005
I was wearing the only two-piece bathing suit I own, the brown one with black curvy designs that I bought in Antigua the summer we visited my grandmother’s grave. Usually, on trips to the beach, I wear a one-piece suit complemented by a pair of basketball shorts to cover the child-bearing hips I inherited from my mother. I have always concealed myself, not because I am uncomfortable with my body, but because I could never get used to being the sexual object of someone else’s gaze. However, since it was the first time I was at a resort without my family and, instead, with friends my age, I thought that exposing a little more of my body would enhance the already-liberating experience.

Not surprisingly, within minutes of stepping foot on the beach, illegally set aside for hotel guest only, one of the scuba instructors was professing his love to me. I thanked him for his compliments and told him that a long distance relationship would not work out anyway. He pleaded, “Pero no hay distancia en el amor. No hay fronteras,” (But there is no distance in love. There are no boundaries). I smiled at his attempt to court me the way he must have succeeded with other foreigners. He went along his way, but not before telling my friend that she and he would make handsome Dominican babies. I was not insulted that my future offspring were not good enough for him. After his leaving, I was finally able to escape to the mesmerizing music the sea’s reunions with the shore create.

As the earth started on its daily retreat from the sun, my friends and I took that as a sign to make our own retreat from the beach. I insisted that we stop for a drink to take full advantage of the all-inclusiveness of the hotel. On my way to the bar, I noticed a table of German, maybe Dutch, men who were calling each other’s attention to me. I tried to ignore their stares, their sexual appetite for me, but they watched me the same way a lion watches its prey. These four men suddenly made me aware of my body. They raped me with their eyes.

In passing their table, they attempted to get my attention by muttering, “Saludo,” each in their own gringo way, but I had already noticed them; their effort was unnecessary. I returned their greeting only to be polite. They wanted me to stop. I did not. When I finally reached the bar, I ordered a refresco (soft drink) and realized that these men must have thought that I was a Dominican prostitute among the sea of fair-skinned beach-dwellers in the city with one of the highest rates of sexual tourism, Sosua.

With a plastic cup of Coca-cola in my hand, I had no choice but to pass these same men again. They continued to examine my brown, exotic skin intently. I avoided eye-contact because I did not want to know what their eyes desired to express to me. Their blatant objectification was sufficient. I did not need to know anymore. To them, I was just sex, just what they were probably looking for.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Outside of every bar and club in the small Northern pueblo of Sosua, they sat still with their legs crossed and backs upright, resembling dolls on display in a store’s window front. Their faces, although expressionless, were perfectly painted with make-up; their hair nicely styled. Their bodies were adorned with the best flashy outfits they must have owned. These women were on sale for the highest bidder.

Prostitutes gathered on every corner, every cranny, selling their services. White men paraded the streets, some with these dark-skinned women already by their side, others still searching for their own doll to purchase, to own for a few hours. I lamented for all the women, and men, of the world who feel that they must resort to prostitution just to make it to the next day.

Suddenly, I realized in the middle of crossing a street that this was a form of colonialism. Foreign men come from all areas of the globe to this tiny, impoverished town to buy sex, to establish their power with money. The town’s inhabitants have no choice but to sell their bodies for a few pesos, as there are not many opportunities to earn money to support their families. The sex market is booming in this quiet town. The town inhabitants do what they have to do.

They are powerless to the foreigners who come in and flaunt their power. Instead of being raped by force, as natives were in the past, they are lured to do what they probably do not want to do by the foreign money they need to survive. They are objectified and dehumanized the same way Dominicans were during colonial times by conquistadores. So many years later, they are still powerless; they are still sex slaves. To these foreigners, who are mostly white, they are not regarded as people, but as objects of sexual satisfaction. They are just sex, the same way I was just sex to the four men at the resort who are probably roaming these very same streets looking for their own Dominican doll.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dena, I love the way in which you tie in the touris sex trade market, with neocolonialism, for that is exactly what it is. The roles haven't changed much, it's just that now, there are different titles. I love you sista. Please continue to write....


9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing that I am reading this from you, because I am currently taking a class on women criminals(ie:Prostitutes) post 1870 in America. So it's an amazing insight that I gain from you. I hope that soon enough we'll be able to talk about this face to face, as I have started to do more thinking about the existence and Identity of the prostitute. I feel that a lot of the time, a prostitute is identified, objectified, and analyzed through the males that she services. She is judged because of her line of work and she is dismissed because of it.
What I mean to say, in less words, is that I think it is high time that someone payed attention to the soul behind the image. Not just just the sex, not just the men, but the woman, beyond her sexual identity...who simply happens to be a prostitute.
yeah...this would be fun to talk with you about.
I was so glad for this little piece of you seriously!!
keep on writing chica.

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your style of writing makes for a very nice, easy read. However, your analogy on Prostitution and the Conquistadores does not ring entirely true.

Most of the women in the prostitution trade are in it to feed their babies. They have babies not because of the tourists, but because of the local men taking advantage of them at an age where they should still be attending school. It is the Dominican men that are the Conquistadores, not the tourists.

You may be appalled by the situation, but to put the blame entirely on the tourists is not correct. They may be enablers, but they are not the cause of the problem.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Dena Simmons said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment and for your compliment on my writing style. I understand what you are saying about prostitution and tourists. I understand that women prostitutes do what they have to do to support their families. It's sad, quite frankly, but extreme poverty makes people make decisions that they otherwise might not make.

I also understand that Dominican men are just as much to blame for the prostitution. You mention: "They have babies not because of the tourists, but because of the local men taking advantage of them at an age where they should still be attending school." I agree. There is no connection between this post and my research on teenage pregnancy although there could be a small link. I agree that some older men in the DR take advantage of younger girls, and because of many factors (the girl's not knowing about contraceptive methods, the man's coaxing the girl not to use a condom, the girl's fear of mentioning a condom without having her man think that she is cheating, etc.), girls end up with unwanted pregnancies.

I know that prostitution is legal in the DR and that Dominican men support the trade just as much as the foreigners. However, the trade is booming where the money is--and that is where the tourists are. And, you are right. Tourists are not to blame entirely. However, there are some undertones of colonialization that I just wanted to point on in my post. Have you see all the American (US) and European sites for Dominican women? My post was not a way to blame just the tourist but a way for me to express my anger of being degraded by the foreign men who thought I was a prostitute. Perhaps, I come across strongly, but I had to express what I felt, and I think it is important to see how very much the Dominicans are still affected by colonialism now a days, be it in the sex trade or not.

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