Behind the Red Light

I have a problem with hating men.  

It’s kind of my go to response to sexism, domestic violence, and the sexual trafficking and forced slavery of women and girls throughout the world.

This weekend, I started reading Half the Sky.  It was written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Sheryl WuDunn and her husband, New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof, to showcase how gender equality is crucial to ending global poverty.

I’m only three chapters in and the atrocities committed upon women from the brothels in India to the family homes in Pakistan, had my blood boiling.  And my heart filling with disgust for men.

Amsterdam; not far from the red light district

Amsterdam; not far from the red light district

But then I remembered the day my husband Jason and I stood on a bridge overlooking the Red Light District in Amsterdam.  

We watched as the girls posed in windows and the men stared and debated whether or not they could afford it.  The girls were dressed in corsets, thigh highs, and coated in an inch thick layer of makeup.  A tourist pulled out his camera to snap a picture of these objects in the windows, but the girls saw him and immediately turned sideways to hide behind the window frames.  

(Don’t kid yourself.  Yes prostitution is legal and regulated in Amsterdam, but the people in the windows are girls. It is a known fact, most are brought in very, very young from poor, Eastern European countries.  In places where sex for sale is allowed or even just tolerated, such as Las Vegas, it’s not hard to find a 14-year old beaten into it. By the time they’re older, they may be prostituting willingly, but very few start without gross and violent coercion.)

European "frat boys". But let me be clear, this was on a canal. I have no idea if any of these particular gentlemen would ever visit a brothel.

European "frat boys". But let me be clear, this was on a canal. I have no idea if any of these particular gentlemen would ever visit a brothel.

It was still light outside, maybe four or five in the afternoon, yet a crowd of beer drinking European frat boys were already filling the narrow street.  The girls stretched their bodies in uncomfortable angles to entice would be buyers, but we could easily see the look of disdain in their eyes for the pathetic display in front of them.  

My heart broke.  I hated it.  I was pissed off.  I wanted to cry.

Just as Jason and I were about to leave, a man walked out of one of the brothels.  He was overweight and balding.  His chubby face was bright red and coated in a layer of sweat dripping down his forehead.  He stumbled out the door and turned left, away from us, before quickly turning around, as if in a confused daze, and making his way back toward our direction.

I added vomiting to my list of urges.

“Do you see that?” I asked Jason incredulously.  

It was clearly a rhetorical question and I was about to go into a tirade of how disgusting the man was, when Jason suddenly answered, interrupting my line of attack.

“Oh yeah. The shame.  Look at that...it’s written all over his face,” Jason said.

Shame??? What shame?

I hadn’t seen it, but I looked at the chubby man’s face again.

And there it was.

There was something more than physical exhaustion hanging heavy on his hunched shoulders.  He seemed embarrassed. He looked ashamed. It was as if he were enticed into believing this was what he wanted, and once he got it and the fuzz cleared, he felt hollow.  

A red light in the distance...

A red light in the distance...

Like he knew he’d done something off.

Suddenly, I was looking at this Red Light District and seeing something else entirely.  I saw an empty lie being sold to the highest bidders.

The lie said...I will make you feel good.  I will satisfy.  I will give you what you want.

And yes, those girls may satisfy for a moment, but I believe cheap sex isn’t really what men want either.  That at the end of the day, they too can’t help but think this is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister.  That in the aftermath, they suddenly see past the lipstick and high heels to the person underneath.  The person with real feelings, with a real soul, with a real life.

And they hate themselves more than I ever could.

And maybe that leaves real hope for the other half of our sky.