The woman behind famous erotic British author Belle de Jour is beyond bright, articulate and highly educated, she's a writer with an important voice about many topics including sex work and sex workers.
As a result, Dr. Brooke L. Magnanti, 35, the real "Belle" is often invited to pen a guest column or blog on a topic of reader interest. Most recently, Brooke was asked to write a guest blog for the non-profit charity, WeAreEQUALs, which describes itself as: "Your chance to join the debate and get involved. We want to hear opinions, ideas and experiences of gender inequality in your world.
Each week EQUALS blog will invite an expert within their field to contribute on a range of topics surrounding inequality issues.
EQUALS is a partnership of leading charities that have come together to step-up the call to demand a more equal world."
Last week, Brooke penned a thoughtful and thought-provoking guest blog about the horrible treatment of sex workers in the U.K. The blog generated a lot of comments, several quite aggressively negative toward Brooke's viewpoints. It wasn't long before WeAreEQUALS appeared to try to distance itself from the column, then the link to her column mysteriously disappeared from its homepage.
As you might imagine, there was an uproar about its disappearance. Brooke herself questioned the action on Twitter. I have waited to report Brooke's wonderful column until this controversy ended. I can happily report that the column is back on Equals' homepage and the link re-established!
In 2009, Brooke revealed her identity after a newspaper was about to disclose it without her permission. Brooke, formerly of Bristol, England, was a noted scientist whose specialist areas were developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. She has a PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science and had worked at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health as part of a team that researched the potential effects on babies of their mothers' exposure to toxic chemicals.
But, from 2003 to late 2004, Brooke worked as a high-class call girl for a London escort service. She has written an award-winning blog and several bestselling books based on her experiences as a sex worker. Her writing also formed the basis of the TV series Secret Diary of a Call Girl on Showtime, starring Billie Piper in the title role of "Belle."
Recently, she and her husband moved to Scotland, after Brooke decided to take a hiatus from penning new entries for her award-winning blog (where she says simply, "Belle de Jour is the pen name of Brooke Magnanti, a UK-based writer and science researcher. Interests: whiskey, taphonomy, PGP encryption), in favor of concentrating on writing a new book, and a variety of articles. She also decided to leave the field of science behind because of the funding crunch in the U.K. for research projects. She has said that since she has other means of support — name her incredible writing — she didn't want to take a science slot from a researcher who does not.
The following is Brooke's complete guest blog post, as well as the website where it appears:
Equals invited guest blogger Dr Brooke Magnanti to post her experiences of gender inequality.
Magnanti is a science researcher and the author of the Belle de Jour books and blog.
EQUALS believes in women and men from different perspectives being able to air their views (even if we don’t agree with all of them) and share comments, as we are committed to open and fair debate.
‘There is still a large, and largely silent, population of women in this country whose rights are compromised on daily basis’ -- Brooke Magnanti
"When we think of the battles for women’s equality, we tend these days to dwell on issues like childcare or maternity leave. If the focus shifts outside of the bubble of middle class privilege, it is to consider the plight of women in developing countries, many of whom are denied basic rights such as education. Surely, we think, all the fundamental battles have been won; surely in the Western world the problem now is tweaking the makeup of boardrooms or discussing the right height of kitten heel for a female MP. We’ve done it, we think. We’re nearly there. We’re winning.
And yet there is still a large, and largely silent, population of women in this country whose rights are compromised on daily basis.
That group is sex workers.
While not all people who engage in sex work are women, the vast majority are, and when laws and policies are written, they are usually written to address female, heterosexual sex work. Anti-trafficking efforts focus on women; so, too, does outreach for streetwalkers.
And yet we fall down on some of the most basic equalities when it comes to this group of women. Consider, for instance, the case of Newcastle policeman Stephen Mitchell, convicted of raping women he met in the line of duty. Women with pasts, sometimes addicts and streetwalkers. But women nonetheless. He terrorized women for seven years before being brought to justice.
When sex workers are attacked by serial murderers, the discussion of ‘prostitutes’ rather than ‘women’ absorbs the press. As if, somehow, by having exchanged money for sex – an act which is legal in this country – one forever relinquishes the right to expect not to be murdered. Yes, sex work is sometimes dangerous. But perhaps we, as a society, should be asking ourselves whether our endless judgment of sex workers, rather than doing anything to stop violent murderers, is exacerbating the problem.
Earlier this year, in Florida, policeman Jimmy Dac Ho confessed to handcuffing and killing an escort after he refused to pay her. Former colleagues recalled Ho as sexually inappropriate with his female co-workers, and a string of domestic abuse allegations caused him to lose a previous job. It’s small wonder, then, that sex workers can feel mistrustful and suspicious of the police.
In Surrey, brothel madam Hanna Morris rang police after two armed and masked men robbed her establishment. She was the one who was arrested. The criminals who broke in were never pursued. It seems a perverse action to say the least, and does nothing to reassure women who may already be vulnerable to crime. If the police won’t help them, if the media and public label them, how can we call this society equal? I’m afraid to say that even people whose morality you may disapprove of deserve the full protection of law. That’s kind of how it’s meant to work in our society.
Unfortunately for those who think sex work should be criminalised, there is ample evidence to show that this ends up putting women in an even worse position. Afraid or unable to call on the police. Less likely to assert themselves with potentially dangerous clients. And as seen in places like Cambodia, at higher risk for infections like HIV. It’s an uncomfortable truth we must face up to — making sex work illegal puts women at risk.
For me, women will be equal when any crime against a woman is investigated and prosecuted the same regardless of her occupation and regardless of her sexual history. Human rights are human rights, full-stop, for women — all women — including women in sex work."
The following details the unpleasant, and undeserved, controversy as it played out at the WeAreEQUALS website:
admin March 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm
"Thank you all for your comments. We controversially put this post up as we would really like to hear your thoughts. The guest bloggers that post for us are NOT the voice of the EQUALS campaign.
We have lots of guest bloggers lined up from …all different walks of life – for everyone to debate, post your thoughts and comment."
March 9, 2011 at 10:21 pm
(Commentor's name withheld.) "What the hell? This afternoon this blog post was featured on the home page, and now it’s mysteriously disappeared.
Yeah, great work WeAreEquals. You suck… a total bunch of hypocrites. I’m glad I’m a bloke, as I’d be even more enraged to think that you somehow “represent” my beliefs if I was a woman."
admin March 9, 2011 at 10:23 pm
"Er…..it still is on the homepage?!?"
March 10, 2011 at 8:34 am
"(Commentor's name withheld) Lol…. it wasn’t when I looked? Wish I’d taken a screenshot now!"
Brooke posted the following on Twitter on the same day:
— WeAreEQUALS removes link to my post b/c of comment. I wonder about their commitment to diverse & challenging voices.
— WeAreEQUALS removes link to my post b/c of comment. No support for diverse & challenging voices. What do you think?
— Cheers, WeAreEQUALS, for proving my point by removing the link. Only some women are "equals".
— Here's a controversial notion: all women, not just ones you agree with, count in this equality business.
— They un-tweeted it & took it straight off the landing page. It's still deep linked... for now.
— I fail to understand what's so "controversial" about the idea that women in sex work are women too, WeAreEQUALS.
As The Curator, I can only thank WeAreEQUALS for restoring this important guest post by Brooke, as well as the myriad comments that it generated. I was frankly deeply saddened and angered by its initial decision to pull the well-written piece. I'm just glad that the organization had a change of heart.
Brooke's books include: Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men, 2009; Belle’s Best Bits, 2009; 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.
Each one is well-worth reading and re–reading, you can trust me! You can find all of her books at the U.K.’s largest independent bookseller, Waterstones.
Also check out Brooke's op-ed articles on a variety of topics including reforming libel law in Britain, and well as the importance of ensuring the rights of sex workers.
— The Curator