Ever since I saw Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd with the scene between Judge Turpin and Anthony, where Turpin mentions his 'drawings', I've always wondered about the credibility of the script:
Oh yes... such practices. The Geishas of Japan, the concubines of Siam, the catamites of Greece, the harlots of India. I have them all here, drawings of them. Everything you've ever dreamed of doing with a woman. Would you like to see?
Although I love the movie and have the soundtrack on my phone, this scene greatly offended me, mostly because I already knew Geishas were NOT prostitutes, and so it got me thinking, were the others as incorrect? That's what we'll see.
Geishas: Popular misconception! Geishas were not and still are not prostitutes. Yes, Geishas still exist, and they are located in Kyoto, Japan. A Geisha can be compared to a monk in some ways. Although being a Geisha is actually a job, it is also a way of life with a small community, strict rules and attires, etc. Geishas were and are hired to entertain guests at meetings or social gatherings. They make traditional tea, dance, and generally chat with guests. Although guests can fantasise if they want, there is a strict no touching rule. Now, some of you may think; but, don't they sell their virginities to the highest buyers?! And here is my answer; you probably watched or read Memoirs of a Geisha, which was written by Arthur Golden, an American man who was sued by Mineko Iwasaki, his retired Geisha consultant, for defamation of character as soon as his 'biography' was published. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. However, Mineko Iwasaki later published a biography of her own which drastically differs from Arthur Golden's. Which do you believe? An actual Geisha or an American man who "researched it"?
The only real reason Geishas are thought of as high-class prostitutes for wealthy business men is due to
Hollywood American soldiers stationed in Japan during World War II. The soldiers needed entertainment, and not having an equivalent in their own culture, they could not understand the role of a Geisha. So, to provide, faux-Geishas came into being. These women dressed similarly and sold themselves to soldiers, who, unused to Japanese culture, could not see the subtle differences in dress and attitude. All they knew was that women in kimonos who were selling themselves were referred to as 'Geishas'. Prostitution has become illegal in Japan since then, but the misconception stayed and some people still believe Geishas to be in some sort of human trafficking business. Think instead: a clown hired for a birthday party. A Geisha hired for a business meeting.
Concubines: These are a little more difficult to explain. In the simplest sense of the word, concubines weren't prostitutes, that is, they weren't paid for their services. Concubines were in relationships similar to a matrimonial relationship, but without being married. This was usually because of lower social statuses or other such reasons. Men of higher social statuses kept concubines as well as wives, and the only real difference between the two was a wife had a dowry while a concubine did not. Many men kept multiple wives and concubines just for the sake of it, while others took concubines to produce heirs when the wife/wives were not able to. Some concubines were slaves, but most of the time they were women who willingly entered into the relationship, or at least, the family was willing. Being a concubine brought monetary stability, and wasn't looked down on in the least. Some concubines could even get "promoted" to wife in certain instances, such as providing a son. Concubinage, as it's called, wasn't solely practiced in Siam, now known as Thailand. The practice goes as far back as Ancient Greece and Rome and concubines are often mentioned in the Bible. As the world evolved, so did concubinage, although it did so for the worst, until all that was left of it was white slave owners taking their black slaves. Of course, concubinage was unofficial abolished with slavery. Concubines are now simply identified as mistresses.
Catamites: I laughed when I researched this. I just downright snorted and choked on laughter. Catamites, indeed from Ancient Greece, were in pederastic relationships. Pederastic, from the Ancient Greek paiderastês, is commonly defined as "the love of boys". Yes, catamites were young men ranging from thirteen to twenty. I didn't know Judge Turpin bowled for both teams!
Although not strictly prostitutes, catamites were pretty close to it. In Ancient Greece, it was considered wrong to be gay, but to counter, actually engaging in homosexual acts wasn't frowned upon, or at least to some extent. Anal and oral acts were reserved for slaves and prostitutes, while a catamite was allowed to preserve his honour; being the receiving partner was considered demeaning. Art from Ancient Greece instead portrays intercrural (between the thighs) acts. However, being in a relationship with a catamite was only something the higher, sophisticated society could do. The role of a catamite changed depending on the situation; sometimes, being the young lover of an older and socially higher man was a sort of initiation for the military or for religion. As a rule, the catamite was always younger, and socially lower than his lover. Essentially, the relationship was one of power. Any other variations, such as switching the dominance, was strictly prohibited. In other situations, pederasty was considered a part of a man's education or introduction into society, and a "beloved", or eromenos could later become the "lover", or erastes. Other times, catamites are portrayed as companions, or friends who would help their lover, be it sexually or simply dressing them or fetching water. Catamites are almost always mentioned affectionately, sometimes in a fatherly way. The relationship lasts only until the beloved reaches maturity or ceases to be an adolescent, and many writings highlight the fact that some lovers and beloveds stayed friends for a long time afterwards.
Harlots: Although India very definitely had prostitutes, I can find nothing about harlots. Harlots does mean a prostitute in our contemporary times, and is often used to refer to prostitutes in the Renaissance or Enlightenment era, along with courtisans. However, the word has nothing to do with India or it's culture. It stems from the Old French herlot, or arlot, circa 1200, meaning a vagabond or idle rogue, usually male. It is only circa 1400 or 1500 that the word becomes associated with women of lewd occupations and only in the 20th century to a particular time in history.
So there you have it, although Sweeney Todd, I think, is a good movie, never trust what you see or hear! This applies to everything.
I would just like to stress out the point that us "westerners" often misunderstand other cultures, and through word of mouth, the damage done is almost unrepairable. Please, don't condone stereotypes and misconceptions such as these. Additionally, please never believe what Hollywood tells you. Especially when it's portraying an "exotic" or "foreign" culture. Educate yourselves!