Thursday, December 10, 2009

Belle de Jour RULES!!

It’s no secret that I LOVE Belle de Jour – her writing, wit, intelligence and personal courage continue to be very inspirational to me.

As such, I have read and supported her award winning blog since it’s debut in 2003. For those of you who are unfamiliar with her, Belle de Jour had been the nom de plume of a celebrated British erotic author, who was also a London call girl for two years.

On Nov. 15, Belle revealed her true identity is Dr. Brooke Magnanti, of Bristol, England, a noted scientist.

She disclosed her identity in a voluntary interview with the London Sunday Times. Brooke’s specialist areas are developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. She has a PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science and is now working at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health. She is currently part of a team researching the potential effects on babies of their mothers' exposure to toxic chemicals.

But, from 2003 to late 2004, Brooke worked as a prostitute via a London escort agency; she started blogging as Belle de Jour — after the Buñuel film starring Catherine Deneuve as a well-to-do housewife who has sex for money because she’s bored — shortly into her career as a call girl, after an incident she thought funny enough to write down.

She charged £300 an hour for her services, of which she got £200. The average appointment lasted two hours; she saw clients two or three times a week, “sometimes less, sometimes a great deal more,” she has said.

As Belle de Jour, Brooke has written four books in addition to her always fabulous blog about her work in the sex industry. The media furor triggered by her decision to disclose her true identity continues across the UK.

Because I am an avid fan, I have carefully sifted through the media deluge on both sides of the Pond since her stunning announcement. Many have been mildly interesting, some have been insulting, some poorly written, but a very few have been really, really terrific. I am posting one of the best of the bunch, a column that appeared in Newsweek, penned by Raina Kelley. Whether you read it here, or online at Newsweek doesn’t matter, just be sure you take the time to read it!

Honestly, as a former journalist, I’m very, very jealous: It’s the column that I wish I had written!

Please check back here often, because I plan to continue to post great news articles, interviews and columns devoted to Brooke.

So, here’s a hearty CHEERS to both Ms. Kelley, and always to one-and-only – Brooke!

By Raina Kelley

“Unless you’ve been in solitary confinement, you’re aware of the fact that Belle de Jour, blogger, former prostitute, and head of the Diary of a London Call Girl publishing empire has revealed herself to be Dr. Brooke Magnanti, research scientist at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health.

"When she’s not blogging about her past sexploits, she using her Ph.D. in informatics, epidemiology, and forensic science to research the effects of pesticides on children. How’s that for an unexpected spin on the whore-with-the-heart-of-gold theme? I’m kinda jealous of her, I have to admit. Magnanti is like a year of feminist studies rolled into one. I would have loved to be the first credible candidate for one of feminism’s holy grails: the empowered sex worker — able to expose herself to patriarchal fantasies of male domination without becoming damaged goods.

"We may have to add her to our pantheon of saints right up there with Susan Faludi and Katha Pollitt. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more level-headed and reasonable explanation for becoming a call-girl than this one by Magnanti:

“'I couldn’t find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn’t have my Ph.D. yet. I didn’t have a lot of spare time on my hands because I was still making corrections and preparing for the viva; and I got through my savings a lot faster than I thought I would...What can I do that I can start doing straightaway, that doesn’t require a great deal of training or investment to get started, that’s cash in hand and that leaves me spare time to do my work in?'”

"Is this woman a scientist or what? Now before you go all ballistic and chastise either myself or Dr. Magnanti for our lack of moral fiber, let me add two things: working as an escort is not illegal in the United Kingdom. Yup, prostitution is above board in England — it’s the activities that make sex work a nasty dangerous enterprise that are illegal — no streetwalking, no pimps, no brothels. Secondly, the idea that prostitution is the only commodified form of erotic activity is crazy. Consider the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition for a moment—$6.99 and all you get is the illusion of female sexuality. Magnanti may well be the rare woman who can, as Gloria Steinem put it to Vermont Woman, “'experience sexuality as power.…It’s not sexuality that’s the problem, it’s whose sexuality and why?'” That’s also why I can love Belle de Jour and still condemn human trafficking, the prostitution of children, and pimping without appearing hypocritical or naive.

"And lest you think I dodged the whole morality question, let me answer in more detail by punting to a smarter mind. In Feminist Issues in Prostitution, Sarah Bromberg asserts that our stern disapproval of call girls stems '“from an underlying assumption in conventional morality that involvement in prostitution will necessarily have degenerative effects on a person leading her to other criminal activities...Prostitution is not a profound condition of degeneracy and in many instances it may be a self-regarding expression of a person surviving in the best way given their skills and opportunities.'” Take that, you Puritans!

"So, I’m a big fan of Dr. Magnanti now; I might even buy her new book, Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men. I have a feeling her point of view might be more interesting than the play-hard-to-get, treat-men-like-untrainable-dogs claptrap we women usually get. [As it turns out, the start of chapter one hits the "men are like untrainable dogs" metaphor pretty hard. I guess some stereotypes are hard to break, even if you're a pioneering scientist/call girl.]”

Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men, published by Orion Books, hit store shelves in the United Kingdom on Oct. 1. Not yet available in the US, it is widely available at UK bookstores, or via Amazon’s UK division.

When you’re there, be sure and check out Belle’s other books: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, September 2005; The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl, May 2007; and Playing the Game, June 2009. Not a ringer in the bunch – trust me!

— The Curator


  1. This is a little off from the post but... Have you had the chance to read the discussion here PhD students selling sperm, eggs or their whole bodies for clinical drug trials and/or medical research when they run out of money? What an interesting and curious parallel, and one that exposes so clearly the biases and awkwardness surrounding sex in our socities. Brooke is gifted with a remarkable mind and a self-awareness and self-acceptance from which we all can benefit, scientifically and otherwise. I do hope she will be ok in the long run.

  2. Dear Icarajeri: Yes, I have read that discussion, similar to one revolving around transplant organs! They made that illegal for obvious reasons, but baby-making donations are still OK. You are absolutely right about the issues it raises regarding our attitudges/biases about sex. I agree that Brooke is a gifted writer and then some, and also hope she'll be OK. I think she will, she's a tough cookie and her head is on very straight (no sex pun intended.) She waited to reveal her identity until she was sure she could handle the furor. Thanks for writing!

  3. She "rules?" I beg to differ. This woman has done relatively nothing to evoke earnest discussion of prostitution. Rather, she has waived off all of her critics (many very open-minded) as "feminists" (egads!) "Conservative" "sex-negative" and "need to get laid." Yes, if you do not agree with the notion that BdJ rawks, you can pretty much count on some trite catty remark from her. Tell her she's the coolest thing evar and she will coo at you and tell you to buy her books. no thanks. I'll wait for someone who's not so caught up in herself to give me a well-rounded argument.