Whilst on a recent holiday to Amsterdam I became fascinated with the Red Light District, and slightly obsessed with the history of it. There was something so ancient and primitive about the entire area. Somehow it was a contemporary manifestation of how I imagine the brothels of Pompeii would have been. With brothels only being legalised in 2000, the self employed prostitutes of Amsterdam’s Red Light District are something of an anomaly in Western Europe. During the day The Red Light District was a fairly unassuming part of town, with only around half the windows occupied and all the doors to the sex shows firmly shut but at night it was a different world. A whole other calibre of woman occupied the crimson lit windows, and the main drag and surrounding alleyways were crawling with groups of men jeering each other on.
Whilst some of the prostitutes would do their best to attract your attention, rapping their nails on the windows or pulling faces at you, a large portion would just sit there looking bored and on their phones. Once again raising the question that despite having unions, rights and paying taxes, do these women truly want to be there? I found myself tempted to invite a worker of the Red Light District to interview, and discover truly what their lives are like. Is it like any other job, you’re sometimes busy, sometimes bored, the commute to work is a pain and you wish the government took less of your money in taxes? Furthermore, the obvious questions of female empowerment come into play. A woman paying her way in the world by selling sex through legal means can arguably be seen as making an empowered choice. She is exploiting the male libido, advertising herself in the window and then delivering a product. Is this so wrong? I suppose it comes down to your personal feelings on whether sex and the female (and male) body are something sacred or merely a fact of life. Is there a right or wrong in the instance of the Red Light District prostitutes, or is it simply a matter of personal preference?
As the Lonely Planet guide to Amsterdam informs you, the red lights are meant to be flattering for the women, and the black light often used in partnership with the red means that teeth (and white bikinis/underwear) sparkle, attracting the attention of passersby. The average rate for a window is around €100 for a shift (of around 8 hours) and according to the Lonely Planet Guide you can expect to pay around €50 for a 15 minute “quickie”. Meaning prostitution in Amsterdam is theoretically a very lucrative business, even after tax.
Despite what is going on behind closed curtains, the Red Light District feels pretty safe and relaxed, if you can ignore people trying to coax you into their sex shows. There is a strict no picture policy for all of the women working there, yet another example of how theoretically safe the area is. I’ve heard stories of people engaging in conversation with women as they walk past, and people being goaded into purchasing the services of a prostitute and mostly of people being totally fascinated by the whole area.