Book Review: Lydia's Open Door

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Lydia’s Open Door by American Anthropologist Patty Kelly is an intriguing case study about both the hidden and not so hidden aspects of sex work in Chiapas, Mexico. Her book proves the usefulness of ethnographic works where she engages with unconventional ways of knowing in order to determine the complex relationships that help to reproduce gender inequality. Lydia’s Open Door contextualizes prostitution within a political and economic framework revealing how it is impossible to diagnose one without the others. She uses both macro and micro-analysis to deconstruct the variability in how prostitution is practiced, regulated and perceived through space and time. Throughout her ethnography she discusses how globalization and neoliberalism changed the economic climate of Mexico and in turn transformed prostitution into an issue of social hygiene as well as a modern form of exploitation. The retelling of the diverse personal experiences of sex workers in the Zona Galactica, a state regulated brothel, aids in her exploration of how prostitution is constantly being shaped and reshaped by politics, economy, and culture. Through her ethnography it is made clear that explaining prostitution, gender relations, and structural violence is inadequate without deconstructing the complex relationships created by lingering manifestations of repression, violence, and government policy in this region. In this review of Lydia’s Open Door I will first discuss Kelly’s effectiveness in conceptualizing state regulated prostitution as a by-product of neo-liberalism. I will then illustrate the potency of her argument in which she contends that the government regulation of prostitution serves the purpose of further controlling an already marginalized population. Finally I will discuss her strength in advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution all while maintaining a feminist standpoint.

Patty Kelly skillfully begins her ethnography with a recount of the economic and...
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