Friday 29 July 2011

Sexual services at sea: highly productive

My Google Alert for 'women, sea' has just come up with this interesting insight into sex and gender on Scandinavian ships in the 1950s.It relates to the provision of sexual services, and to accepted incest.
In an obituary of nurse Jennifer Worth (pictured) The Telegraph mentions that Worth worked with another midwife, 'Chummy' who was sent 'aboard a Swedish cargo ship one stormy night to deliver a baby for the captain’s daughter, a 35-stone blonde called Kirsty, who thought she had a stomach upset.
'Kirsty, Chummy was shocked to learn, was “the ship’s woman”, cheerily servicing the 20 crew members, including her father, at least 10 times a day. “I keep the men happy and happy men work hard,” said Kirsty matter-of-factly.'
The reference to this very pragmatic 'prostitution' appears in Worth's trilogy: Call the Midwife (2002), Shadows of the Workhouse (2005) and Farewell to the East End (2009).
The wider question, of course, is "Is this an anomalous situation in Scandinavian merchant shipping? Or is it the tip of a huge iceberg?"
The highly opportunistic practice has implications not only in relation to sexually transmitted diseases. (There would have been a loop of infection and re-infection, from shore encounters with sex industry workers).
It also suggests a very unusual power structure aboard, both democratic (intimate access to the master's daughter) and collective collusion in illegal incest.
And it underlines the way the ship at sea is an exceptional space where the moral values of land life do not necessarily operate.

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