The chastity belt: It's ba-ack!

Indonesian massage parlors are "protecting" female workers by forcing them to padlock their pants.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published April 30, 2008 10:00AM (EDT)

Just last week an Italian politician proposed that women wear tracking devices around their ankles to protect against rape. Now, massage parlors in Indonesia are requiring that female workers wear chastity belts to protect themselves from customers' sexual advances. What's next -- widespread use of the "Saber Tooth Speculum," fashionably monogrammed steel purses complete with a padlock to ward off muggers, or, better still, full-body armor designed especially for the ladies? Silly us, we women could already have all the social protections we have long fought for if only we had sooner embraced this paternalistic dystopia!

The Los Angeles Times reports that following the closure of all brothels in the tourist destination of Batu, several massage parlors have forced their female masseuses to wear padlocks across the zippers of their pants. Franky Setiawan, owner of Doghado Massage Parlor, says his workers were "bombarded" with demands for sex and he simply wanted to make sure they felt safe: "We had a hard time rejecting this kind of client because they try over and over and over again, persuading our workers with their dangerously sweet words." (Yes, I'm sure their "sweet words" presented the true danger and were the real reason for padlocking women's privates.) Setiawan holds the locks and keys behind the cashier's counter; before a masseuse attends to a customer, she has to retrieve a padlock and have her lady-bits safely locked away. He adds, "Because the masseuse knows the drill, she usually pees before that. And when the client is done, the masseuse comes to the cashier, and the cashier opens the padlock."

This chastity belt craze has, of course, stirred quite a controversy. Meutia Fardia Hatta Swasono, Indonesia's minister for women's empowerment, says, "It is not the right way to prevent promiscuity. It insults women as if they are the ones in the wrong. It is not that we oppose the administration's effort to uphold morality, but the problem is their way of treating masseuses as if they're all committing prostitution." A reader wrote into the Jakarta Post to suggest that "customers' hands should be chained too to prevent them from sexually harassing the masseuse." That sounds about as reasonable an idea as instituting chastity belts for masseuses! Which is to say: It's friggin' bonkers.

Here's an idea: Why not set up a security camera in each massage room? Instead of locking and unlocking the masseuses' padlocks, the cashier could monitor the activity in each room. After all, a lock on a woman's zipper might complicate or limit sexual advances, but it certainly won't eliminate them. But, that's the thing, I suspect this chastity belt movement is simply a superficial attempt at protecting the industry's image amid the country's severe crackdown on pornography and sex work, and that it has nothing to do with protecting women's rights.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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