Browse Exhibits (3 total)

Grisettes: Then and Now

In the early 1800s in France, the grisette was a young girl who left the countryside to pursue a new life in Paris. She worked in the world of fashion, often as a seamstress. A rich university student would seek out a grisette to live with him and help with domestic chores. The two would then have a mutually beneficial relationship. Learn more about aspects of the grisette and where they are now by browsing our exhibit!

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Legal Brothels: Past & Present

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This exhibit looks at the experiences of brothel sex workers in legalized systems of prostitution from both mid-nineteenth century Paris and contemporary cities. Legal brothels allow the state to maintain control over the area and the workers involved in the operation.

Generally, the state tracks the employees in sex work, monitors working and living conditions, financially regulates the business, and ensures compliance to laws and regulation. Examining legal brothels in 19th century Paris and contemporary legal brothels in Nevada, Amsterdam, and Tuxtla, this exhibit parallels past and present daily life, state regulation, public perception, and clientele. The historical portrayal of brothel women is grounded in Alexandre Parent-Duchâtelet’s On Prostitution in the City of Paris, official archived police documents, personal accounts, and various other French artifacts from the period. Ethnographies, academic studies, and articles encompass our analysis of modern brothel workers.

While legalization enhances brothel sex workers’ legal status and promotes health and safety, it also permits the state to introduce regulations that exploit the industry and its workers. Additionally, brothel sex workers still face oppression and experience stigma, creating tangible disadvantages that limit their autonomy.

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From Lorettes to Escorts: Media Representations of Female Sexworkers


In 19th century French literature and art, the lorette was a sexworker, typically of the working class from different cities across France, whose goal was to improve her social standing in Parisian society through lavish gifts from her wealthy clients. While not always successful, lorettes aimed to achieve enough social mobility to fool members of the elite into thinking that she was one of their own. Although the lorette was made popular through caricature and satire, and later in famous novels, there are references to real-life lorettes in the work of Alexandre Parent du Châtelet, Maurice Alhoy and Paul Gavarni. In these media representations, lorettes are simultaneously fetishized for their sexual prowess and feared because of their materialism and greed, which threatened to financially and morally degrade members of Paris’ elite.  

The modern-day equivalent of the lorette is an escort. An escort is a sexworker who accepts cash and sometimes luxury gifts from elite clients in exchange for her work so that she may gain cultural and social capital. Escorts are racially and ethnically diverse and are not limited to women. Just as lorettes were portrayed in writing and art, escorts are shown in modern media, like television and film, but they have autonomy over their own stories. In these stories, they become the protagonist of their own narrative by making their own decisions about their clientele, personal lives, and finances, rather than being depicted as a reliant, subservient and malicious character like the lorette.

The increased autonomy that an escort has in media representations has evolved from the objectifying male gaze seen in 19th century literary examples of lorettes, demonstrating the transformation over time of attitudes towards sexwork and female sexual empowerment.

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