I don’t know where I found this 1972 book but I have devoured it at least half a dozen times in the 20 years it has occupied a prime spot in my bookcase. "Gentleman of Leisure: A Year in the Life of A Pimp" is about Silky and the seven girls working for him, in their own words and with terrific black and white photos by Bob Adelman in the classic 1970s photojournalism that I love so much.
Not long after my husband was arrested for domestic violence, I happened to pick it up again. I was astonished at how much I related to the voices.
Now that I understand domestic abuse, I can give a name to what so resonated with me, and it is “Power and Control.”
The parallel with domestic abusers and pimps (pimps maybe being different from sex traffickers because pimps forge an emotional relationship with their victims) was reinforced when I interviewed Milli for my Finding Our Voices: Breaking the Silence of Domestic Abuse project.
Milli, serving a prison term for drug possession, was a prostitute and then a madam. She said that as a madam she was the abusive one in the relationship, in how she controlled the girls working for her.
This is what she said about her first boyfriend at the age of 15: “Everything was peachy at first. Once I realized I couldn’t go home that’s when things took a turn for the worse. Just like with whores and pimps. Make them believe you’re going to be there for them, you’re going to take care of them. And he made me feel like that at first.”
In Finding Our Voices, an architect, a nurse, a journalist, a prison guard, and a prisoner all basically go through the same thing because the men they have the misfortune to give their heart to are all about using a set of deliberate tactics that are in the pimp's playbook, and revealed on the Power and Control Wheel, in order to get and keep power and control.
“Power and Control” is the very definition of “pimp.” And weird to think that if you are living in a 15-room mansion on top of a hill with multiple credit cards as the wife of someone who is widely-admired, or walking the streets and giving all the money you make to someone who is reviled by society, the same damned thing is going on.
Here are some quotes from “Gentleman of Leisure” from the pimp and three of his girls. For anyone who has been, or is, in an abusive intimate relationship... Can you relate?
Silky | The Pimp
“Styles have changed in pimping. You don’t just leave a girl in a closet for eight hours because she makes you mad. Modern pimps use psychiatry.”
“My girls decide to share my life themselves. It’s their decision. A girl might leave and I might go get her. But usually I’m real, show her my charming self, and she chooses to stay.”
“I just try to make myself important to her. The only way she can be with me is my way. When I feel she’s swept, I make my points.”
“I ask her to gamble her life for me. She takes an oath to dedicate herself to me.”
“If my emotions got the best of me, if I couldn’t control myself, it would be dangerous. I must treat all my girls equally and with cool. I’ve got to control them.”
“Not many men are capable of being completely in charge. I am. If a woman complains I do not respond in a sympathetic fashion. I treat her like a child. I might even beat her up a bit. It gives me no pleasure, but sometimes it works. Really we should be able to discuss a problem and eliminate it. But if she acts like a child I have to treat her like one. I have to be a man— three hundred sixty degrees.”
“A girl makes a sacrifice for me. The only greater sacrifice would be for her to jump out of a window. A girl gives up her home, her relationship with her family. I become her whole life. That means our relationship is more passionate and romantic than most.”
Kitty | One of Silky's Prostitutes
"I say to myself ‘Silky, the money I give you is what’s making these things possible for me.' But he puts it in my head that I can’t make it without him. I’m really believing him.”
Lois | One of Silky's Prostitutes
“A boyfriend or husband would not have the same strictness. He wouldn’t say, ‘If you don’t do this, you’ll get punished.’ With a square guy you have equality and you do what you want.”
“I am constantly quiet around Silky. We’re all supposed to be. He does let you speak freely— to a certain extent. Until you start giving your opinions.”
Sandy | One of Silky's Prostitutes
“Now [Silky] doesn’t have to tell me. If I have a problem I think it out. His way.”