Leach Kemon, Katie (Class of 2004)

In a letter from Niger, Katie Leach-Kemon ’04 reflects upon her current work in the Peace Corps. In particular, she discusses the relevance of last year’s honors thesis research on French women in the eighteenth-century public sphere. Katie writes: “In my senior honors thesis, I explored popular discussion about prostitutes as a social problem in 18th-century France. Much of this discussion was rooted in a general fear concerning women’s participation and subsequent influence in the public sphere. Today, one year later, I am working as a health volunteer in a highly religious Muslim community in Niger. The other day, a woman in my town was arrested on charges of prostitution. The punishment? The town officials shaved her head. The pages of the honors thesis that I wrote at William and Mary were flashing before my eyes: shaving the heads of prostitutes was a common punishment in early 18th-century France. Not only was the punishment similar, but also the Nigerian officials’ attitude towards the prostitute mirrored the attitudes of 18th-century French society. “What happened to the man who was found with her?” I asked. “Nothing. It is the prostitute who must be punished since she wanders around and seduces the men, causing them to sin,” I was told. Working in Niger has provided me with an incredible experience to work and research at the forefront of the the fight for women’s rights. After my two-year service is complete, I plan to pursue a Master’s Degree in International Development with a concentration in Gender Studies.”

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