Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Belle de Jour's Blog 'Q & A'

The new blog by the real woman behind the penname of British erotic author Belle de Jour has generated a lot of interest, and some controversy that she addressed in a recent "Q&A" style post.

After almost a year hiatus from the blogisphere, Dr. Brooke L. Magnanti, 35, a.k.a. Belle de Jour, launched the blog Sexonomics.

Brooke has a unique and important voice that should be taken seriously about a variety of topics that includes sex work and sex workers.

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."

At the top of her new blog, Brooke writes:

"Hi! My name is Brooke Magnanti, but you may know me better as the author of the Belle de Jour blog and books. This is where I write about social & political stuff, mostly relating to sex. Yes, there's going to be a book.

As an ex-sex worker, you can imagine what my bias is. Nevertheless, I am also a scientist, so will do my best to present the evidence base for each post.

I love discussion but don't have the time to moderate comments. By all means, feel free to discuss on Twitter or your own blog!

Speaking of which, I'm on Twitter — you can follow me here."

Since its debut, Brooke has used her knowledge of sex work, as well as her scientific/ research training to address a myriad of topics. The following is Brooke's post in its entirety addressing some reader's concerns, and questions. Read it below, or directly at Sexonomics:


Frequently Asked Questions

"Here are some questions, comments, and criticisms about this blog addressed:

1. "Pardon me for being a naysayer, but isn't your blog a little one-sided?"
(question via Twitter)

Clearly I have a bias (see disclaimer over there in the left-hand column, just below the photo). However, one thing that's important to keep in mind is that when it comes to topics like sex,everyone has a bias. This blog is mostly to address the fact that most of what is presented in popular media also has a bias, but it's a bias of a very different kind. I know I'm not alone, but the press would certainly have you think so.

I don't happen to believe that it is possible to remove bias. We're not Vulcans. Rather, I hope that by discussing and linking to some of the excellent analysis and research that rarely gets mentioned in the press, other information can start to enter what has become a very one-sided discussion.

Takeaway message: I'm not the BBC, I'm a blogger. Take what you like, feel free to leave the rest.

2. "Why don't you write about something important for a change?"
(question via Twitter)

I have to admit I thought that was a strange question. I'm known mainly for writing chick-lit style memoirs, and occasionally, research into underfunded areas of children's health. Neither of those is 'important' as such, unless of course the topic happens to affect you. Which in my case and on these issues? It does.

Takeaway message: There's a lot of other content on the internet to explore if you don't happen to like this.

3. "Is this an attack on feminism?"

Originally I started writing about an altogether different topic - sexualisation and sexual culture — because I was really, really annoyed with the tendency of a lot of people to write off other women for making choices they disagree with. You know, all those books by middle class Oxbridge/Ivy Leaguers having Thinky Thoughts about how uncomfortable boob jobs make them feel. Books usually featuring pink, sparkly, stripper-silhouette covers.

By the way, it's totally okay to feel uncomfortable about boob jobs. Ain't gonna stop people getting them though. Variety is the spice of life, y'all.

However, as read and wrote more on the subject, I found that actually the "problem" is not the first-world preoccupations of modern feminism per se but a tendency we, as humans, have to make snap decisions based on very little evidence. Sometimes that's all we can do. But other times, and especially when private attitudes have the power to affect public policy, I think it's worth going back to the data and examining what they really say.

It's one thing to interpret evidence from the viewpoint of a particular ideology, and quite another when ideological beliefs are used to prevent and distort the dissemination of facts.

Takeaway message: Er, kind of. But probably not in the way you think.

4. "Why are you defending rape/trafficking/(other evil stuff)?"

I'm not, actually. Rape and forced sex trafficking are — rightly — reviled and illegal. Where they happen, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

What we should keep in mind, though, is that the best way to attack the problem of trafficking is not by making sex work illegal. Here is a discussion. The best way to reduce demand for prostitution is not to criminalise buyers. Here is a discussion. The best way to reduce the number of, and conviction rates for, rape is not to blame adult entertainment for its existence. Here is a discussion. There is an abundance of evidence supporting these views; check out the links in my posts for sources and discussion.

I am hopeful that readers will understand the clear difference between consensual and non-consensual sex acts. Non-consensual sex acts are always wrong. Attacking consensual sex does nothing to eliminate non-consensual sex. We need to be clear about these distinctions when it comes to targeting and reducing real crimes.

Takeaway message: Rape and forced trafficking are serious crimes, and hyperbole does not help its victims.

5. "Why aren't there comments on the blog?"

Oh, loads of reasons. The biggest one is time. It's pretty clear from the kind of rubbish that pops up in any media mention of my writing that if comments were enabled, I would spend a lot of time deleting hate mail and talking to the police. They're kind of getting sick of hearing from me as it is. Let's free up some of their valuable time to investigate real trafficking and rapes, amirite? Lack of comment space here does not mean you have no say. Isn't that what your own blog/Twitter feed/whatever is for?

Takeaway message: Anyone who cares to lecture me in blogging etiquette is welcome to invent a time machine, go back to 1999, and tell me then. I'll still probably ignore you though ;-)

6. "Isn't so-and-so already writing about this/has written about it better?"

Probably yes. I am deeply indebted to a load of amazing people whose strong writing and activism far, far precedes anything I've done. But again, there's already so much one-way bias in popular media. Maybe the way to promote a message is by having many sources. We don't all need to be under the same umbrella to be effective.

If you know of an interesting researcher or source, tell me! My knowledge is far from encyclopaedic. More information = more better.

Takeaway message: Yes! And some of those great people are in my link list and mentioned in the posts.

7. "Weren't you supposed to be writing fiction?"

Yeah, but this just struck me as interesting, and relevant, and something I wanted to do right now. Besides the world already has as many magical realism novels about undead Saami reindeer gods and talking photos of Burt Reynolds as it needs, don't you think?"

Posted by Belle de Jour at 05:02

[IMPORTANT NOTE TO READERS OF THIS BLOG: Brooke has literally thousands of followers so she generally does not even see blogs that have picked up her posts, like this one. As a result, she has no way to respond directly to positive or critical remarks, thus I believe it inappropriate to post them here.]

If you have any interest in thoughtful discussions about sex-related and scientific topics, I urge you to follow Brooke's blog. She is a unique woman, and an equally unique writer who should NOT be missed.

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 the UK, as well as the importance of ensuring the rights of sex workers.

— The Curator


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