THE OLDEST PROFESSION
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2002
I consider the Oldest Profession as we know it on Earth to be unlikely on Barsoom. A woman not protected by family, or a woman not married, or a woman not royal (high-born) would be...a slave. We have these hints from Gods of Mars and Swords of Mars specifically and, to a lesser degree, minor asides found throughout the Barsoomian series.
As Burroughs portrayed the moral character of the races of Mars, the profession of "pimp" seems unlikely, then again, ERB was writing for the audience of his day and such topics were not usually put into print, even in the newspapers. So, it must be allowed that even if it wasn't written down, it MIGHT have been there all along and just never clarified.
For clarification: Slaves are not prostitutes. Though a slave might be used for sexual gratification by their masters, the slave has no choice in that regard. They have not "sold" their bodies. Prostitutes sell their bodies to obtain income or other benefit, and do so by choice. In social terms the former is reprehensible, the latter is tragic, though under some circumstances can be understandable.
Captives of War
A separate category of "slavery" would be booty of war. Whole nations were not above killing the men and taking the women ... who most likely ended up unwilling wives.
This would be an example of ERB's Fate Worse Than Death refrain in the Barsoomian stories.
On Barsoom, however; I suggest consideration that other forms of the oldest profession might exist based on economic and social need and the knowledge that there are no lawyers on Mars and darn few laws other than tradition.
The surplus female population of Barsoom which is not protected by marriage or family is, if not actually enslaved, would likely be virtual slaves in Barsoomian industry and business—particularly the hotel, inn, and tavern businesses. Girls not wholly bonded (enslaved) to the owners of these businesses, but who are willing employees to the business, might be tempted to provide a side layer of services (sexual) depending upon their personal morality. I do not doubt there might be customers willing to be grateful in a monetary fashion in return for those sexual services.
Yet, it must be stated that moral behavior is the over-riding theme in the Barsoom stories. Barsoomian humans, particularly among the red race, were extraordinarily chivalrous and considerate toward women, or at least gave lip-serice to the concept.
Martian Women, in general, do not feel threatened by men, in fact, they expect protection from men of their own nation and, usually, from men of other nations. Though wars abound and violence and danger is what rules all life on Barsoom, there is courteous society and tradition among the men and women of each nation. Rape, on the other hand, is not unknown: the Fate Worse Than Death was a common refrain in the Martian saga.
The reality is not every woman on Barsoom was a princess nor was every man on Barsoom a prince. The vast majority of Barsoomiams—male and female—strove to embrace those high ideals but the utter reality is there might be a small percentage of the female majority who never attained those high ideals or merely embraced the easy road we might call prostitution.