In Margaret Atwood’s novel, Oryx and Crake we are introduced to some idea’s regarding how climate change might impact poor agricultural communities. Oryx is an interesting figure; a beautiful, evasive, charming character with a dark past. Having been born into a poor farming community in Southeast Asia Oryx does not have the privilege of being sheltered from the dark, twisted, nitty-gritty aspects of humanity. Instead, she finds herself a victim of child trafficking… First being sold to become a child beggar and then being forced into sex work. However, the strange thing about Oryx is that she does not seem angry or disturbed about what has happened to her. Instead, she defends her traffickers and states that it would have been worse not to have been sold (121).
In this post, I would like to explore the connection between Oryx’s attitude towards her past, and the realities and culture surrounding sex work in Southeast Asia, with an emphasis being made on Thailand. The article Leaving sex work: barriers, facilitating factors and consequences for female sex workers in northern Thailand, expresses the views of various women with experience in the sex industry. The women explain that prostitution is generally accepted in their communities and can be considered a respectable way to earn a living. Below are some translated quotes from the women:
” I think that it is honest work. I do not steal from anyone. And it is better than asking others to be responsible for us. I can help myself, and I am proud that I can support my family.”
” You can compare this, you work as a labourer and get paid $2 per day, which means you have to work in the sun. After that you come home and there’s housework to do. But for this job [sex work], you can work only a short time and get $25-50. You can eat whatever you want.”
“My hometown takes this profession as a normal thing. The job is necessary….We have to buy food, support our sibling’s education, pay for water and electricity. Nobody says anything negative about it.”
The attitudes expressed by the women in the article closely resemble that of Oryx. For example, when Jimmy becomes angry over Oryx’s past she replies: ” Oh Jimmy, you would like it better maybe if we all starved to death?” (119) This quote implying that her being sold was the better choice, that it is justifiable. Additionally, Oryx mentions that she “traded” with Jack… In exchange for sexual favours, he taught her English, which in her view was acceptable. (141) Oryx also mentions that the act of selling children was considered reasonable in her community. On page 117 it is explained that Uncle En was considered to be a respectable businessman and on pages 118-119 it is mentioned that this was both a necessary and accepted “custom”. It seems that there is a strong chance that Oryx’s perspective is very much influenced by the culture she was born into rather than simply being a personal characteristic.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Manopaiboon, C., et al. “Leaving Sex Work: Barriers, Facilitating Factors And Consequences For Female Sex Workers In Northern Thailand.” AIDS Care 15.1 (2003): 39. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.