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, Moira Weigel traces the beginnings of American dating to the turn of the 20th century, when a new class of young, single women entered the workforce.
These women were the servants, factory workers, and saleswomen in the United States’s industrializing cities.
For the first time, single men and women could meet unsupervised, supporting the United States’s growing consumer sector by participating in leisure activities together.
“Shopgirls,” department store clerks whose primary skills were good looks, poise, and charm, used the same techniques to get a date as they did to make a sale.
In order to gain access to restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, and the many other new consumer services proliferating around them, they had to attract and please men, who enjoyed higher earning power.
“Ever since the invention of dating,” Weigel writes, “the line between sex work and ‘legitimate’ dating has remained difficult to draw and impossible to police.” Many early female daters were arrested because “[i]n the eyes of the authorities, women who let men buy them food and drinks or gifts and entrance tickets looked like whores, and making a date seemed the same as turning a trick.” Weigel notes that there is still debate about “what exactly makes sleeping with someone because he bought you dinner different from sleeping with someone because he paid you what that dinner cost.” On websites like Seeking Arrangement.com, a rich “Sugar Daddy” can seek a “Sugar Baby,” an attractive young woman he will support in exchange for sex and companionship.
Despite the evidently transactional nature of such a relationship, many men seeking this arrangement like to imagine that they are not hiring a prostitute, as Alana Massey has observed in , specifying on their online profiles that “no pros” need apply. ¤ Shopgirls, Sugar Babies, and sex workers all perform what the sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls “emotional labor.” Weigel defines it as “work that required workers to manage their feelings in order to display particular emotions.” “We speak of ‘service with a smile,’” she writes, “but in many jobs, the smile the service.” Sex work is the ultimate in emotional labor, an industry in which workers have to simulate intense emotions of affection and sexual attraction.
Weigel writes about how a false division between public and private at the time of industrialization devalued the work that women were expected to do: “The idea arose that work was what someone else paid you money to do. Women came to believe that raising children and taking care of a husband were instinctual, as if “it was simply in their natures to do anything for love.” interrogates these beliefs and “instincts.” Emotions, the book argues, are as socially determined as they are personal, as “[t]he possibilities of how we feel arise from those we feel among.” Weigel’s book is more than a history of dating; it is a history of feelings.
They thus provided a service that men, in turn, paid for.
Women’s love lives became work in a way that was, from the beginning, ambiguous.