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Women's History Speech Discusses Prostitution

By Darshak M. Sanghavi

Paintings depicting prostitution in 18th century Holland often reflected patronizing attitudes towards women, said a Dutch professor yesterday at a Women's History Week lecture.

Lotte Van de Pol--a noted art historian from Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Holland--presented a slide-show with paintings of bordello scenes and addressed the artistic implications of those paintings before an audience of about 40 people at Boylston Hall.

Van de Pol, whose recent works include a compilation of 7000 prostitutes' names from 18th century Holland and a book entitled The Tradition of Female Tranvesticism, asked the audience to analyze the relationship of the paintings in the context of attitudes towards women at the time.

"It is interesting that these paintings had such a market in a predominantly Calvinist country," she said. Prostitution was condoned in Holland, Van de Pol said, because the Dutch hoped it would protect other women from sailors visiting Amsterdam.

The paintings also portrayed women as "selfish, greedy and scheming," said Van de Pol, adding that the works often showed prostitutes who defrauded, stole and drank.

The degrading perceptions of women were not found only in paintings, but also in vulgar songs popular on the streets of Amsterdam in the 18th century, Van de Pol said.

Even today, some Dutch art is offensive to women, although explicit examples have largely been replaced by subtle symbolism, Van de Pol said.

Sponsored by the Committee on Degrees in Women's Studies, Women's History Week started on March 1 and will end this Friday.

Remaining events include a symposium on history and literature department senior essays dealing with women's studies and a lecture on the emergence of the women's studies field.

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