Monday, November 23, 2009


Two interesting stories broke recently. One revealed the true identity of Belle du Jour, best-selling author and felow blog sensation. The other reported on James Partridge, founder of Changing Faces, becoming the UK's first facially disfigured newsreader. An interesting juxtaposition, right? Faces being given to causes.

Sex workers now have Dr Brooke Magnanti as a sort of figurehead for just how well adjusted and successful they can be, whilst Partridge's new role provides some much needed representation for the disabled. A debate, relatively small and one-sided was stirred up by the new newsreader, with most people agreeing that by hiring him Channel 5 had taken a positive step. Only a few voices disagreed, accusing the station (unsurprisingly) of using Mr Partridge as a publicity stunt, the usual argument from the usual candidates who find everything this side of Doris Day sensational.

The debate however was puny compared to the cacophony around the artist formerly known as Belle du Jour, who scored front page news on countless papers when she revealed to India Knight that she was, shockingly, a real person. And not just a real person but an attractive one and a research scientist to boot. I expected that perennially popular debate, "Should prostitution be legalized?", to be trotted out but sadly it was not, which is something of an enormous missed opportunity.

Generally the consensus is one of relief. Dr Brooke Magnanti, the woman behind the books, the TV adaptation and the blog is everything she said she was, no-one has been duped! (There's no JT LeRoy fall-out here.) As an added made for TV touch, it transpires that she only did it for cash because she couldn't get Ph.D funding. You couldn't make it up, and she didn't. She doesn't regret it of course, but she doesn't do it anymore, overall quite a dull expose.

The hullabaloo concerning her coming out was really only interesting for the fact that it revealed little to nothing unkown, besides a strange obsession cherished by many. Critics were fixated that BDJ was a man, they saw it as the only logical explanation of her. As India Knight herself put it on Radio 4, "I thought she had to be a man, because the idea of the prostitute who loves her work is such a male fantasy."

Come on India, dear, pull your head out of your Anya Hindamarch handbag for just a second; have you ever met a prostitute before? Out of the several I know, the majority do enjoy their work, and yes, the majority of them are women. The dominatrixes and the craigslist call girls alike, both enjoy the economic freedom and even, dare I say it, having sex with men for money.

The idea that all sex workers are victims is the kind of thing you expect from CSI investigates, but the Sunday Times? I'm not saying, that nobody is ever forced into sex work, repressed by it, trapped in it or hurt by it, of course I'm not. But what I am saying is that the insistence that BDJ was a man writing his sexual fantasies in the form of a female-voiced blog speaks loudly to the attitude that still dominates towards women and sex. It's the same attitude you find in ludicrous books like "Act Like a Lady. Think Like a Man" which advise women to use sex as a business strategy to barter for what they want in a relationship. Both express the dreadfully outdated, and frankly sexphobic, idea that only men want sex, whilst women put out only when they have to, for economic gains.

Amazingly there are women who do enjoy sex, and do it for its own sake even.( My Auntie Dot ran away to Brighton last week to shack up with a toy-boy lover, leaving the husband of 40 years behind, and I doubt it was the promise of higher social status that prompted the move.) Women can enjoy sex, prostitutes can enjoy their jobs, but that's probably a little too much for us just now thank you, so we'll just stick still and all enjoy the fact that Dr Magnanti is a charming, blonde lady whose now seen the light.

There's something dreadfully mercenary about BDJ's new human incarnation, it makes her an entirely loveable, honorable figurine up there on the shelf with culture's most pleasant tart's with hearts (but no cunts). Her gimmick (anonymous former hooker telling almost all) has been refreshed and now, stepping out from the shadows her lovely, throughly acceptable face, tinged only with the slightest glamour of scandal shines brightly on a wealth of magazine covers, a celebrity is born. (Mr James Partridge appears on rather less front pages).

Wouldn't it be marvelous is someone like the Scarlet Harlot became the face on the cover of the broadsheets with her opinions (and considerably wider) experiences for all to read? Someone who actually had interesting things to say on sex? Oh well, one can dream. And here's to Auntie Dot, long may the sun shine in Brighton, here's hoping she starts a blog too.

Brooke Magnanti

James Partridge

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