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Wandering About as She Pleases: Prostitutes, Adolescent Girls, and Female Slaves in Cairo’s Public Space, 1850–1882

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Abstract This paper examines how women who “wandered about” public spaces were perceived in police and court records of Khedival Egypt, in the period from 1850–1882. In the context of growing cities, rural immigration and manumission of slaves, the Egyptian authorities sought to monitor the urban streets and clear them of “undesirables.” Such control measures, this paper argues, were dictated by gender. By examining cases involving runaway and manumitted slaves, adolescent girls and prostitutes, as well as official laws and regulations, this article shows how the mobility and visibility of women in public spaces was regulated and controlled. While male unregulated presence in the streets was deemed to be a security concern in very limited circumstances, the unsupervised presence of women outside of the fold of family or community connoted sexual misconduct. Where young girls went, whom prostitutes interacted with, what women chose to wear, and what black women were doing outdoors—all of these were becoming state concerns.

Affiliations: 1: Hebrew University of Jerusalem


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