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Brooke Magnanti

 Brooke Magnanti

Identity and Identification
27 May 2010, 18.00-19.00 (PAST EVENT)
Arnolfini, Bristol (see map)

Event

Brooke Magnanti is a Bristol-based researcher with a forensic science doctorate in human identification, but is better known as Belle de Jour. Magnanti started an award-winning blog in 2003, and her best-selling anonymous books were adapted into a television series starring Billie Piper. Magnanti reflects on both her research and her life as Belle de Jour, and the questions being raised about technology and ethics of online and real life identities, particularly in the age of digital social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Biography

Brooke Magnanti is a research scientist, blogger and writer, who, until her identity was revealed in November 2009, was better known by the pen name Belle de Jour. Her diary, published as the anonymous blog Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl became increasingly popular, as speculation surrounded the identity of Belle de Jour, and whether the diary was even real. Remaining anonymous, Magnanti went on to have her experiences published, as The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl in 2005 and The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl in 2006.

In 2007, Belle’s blogs and books were adapted into a television program, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, starring Billie Piper as Belle, with the real name Hannah Baxter. Having also written as a newspaper columnist, Belle moved into fiction publishing. In November 2009, reportedly fearing an ex-boyfriend was about to reveal her real identity, Magnanti revealed to a newspaper her real name and current occupation as a researcher in child health at the University of Bristol.

35 Comments »

Responses

  1. jona says:
    March 21st, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    She still couldn’t get what she wanted in life without selling her body. PhD or food and rent, doesn’t matter. Quite sad.

  2. Ksmith says:
    March 21st, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    I’d be interested in this if Magnanti REALLY wanted discussion on her past life as a sex worker. That includes listening to some things that don’t support her views. Judging from her blog entries and interviews, though, it seems she just wants to hear people who agree with her/tell her she’s brave, edgy, etc. and cut down everyone else as “sex-negative,” “prudes,” or “anti choice.” I really hope that she’ll put down her ego and address some intelligent and legit criticism. We’ll see, but I’ve been waiting a while now…

  3. commentaire de dépassement says:
    March 22nd, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    Give the lady a break and let her get on with what she needs to do for her scientific or research work. I’ve read through Belle’s published offline words, and in none of the novels did I find anything except her experiences that she decided to write about, whether people find the world’s oldest profession acceptable or not. Just because she decided to do so under a pseudonym makes her no different to most other writers out there who do the same for their books. Addressing the sort of topic being discussed for this talk is important for any social environment. There are many inauthentic types in the world, but Dr. Magnanti doesn’t appear to one of them. best of luck for presenting your talk.

  4. Em says:
    March 23rd, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    ugh, I’ll pass. I’ve thought her kind of interesting before, but she’s gotten a little too self-righteous, shrieking and bitter lately for my taste. Really seems to have an agenda and yes, cuts down on opposing views with a vengeance.

  5. Oliveira says:
    March 24th, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Em: it’s quite unsurprising that she “cuts down on opposing views” when those opposing views are “you iz a dirty ho”.

  6. ellie says:
    March 24th, 2010 at 9:37 am

    srsly,

    leave her alone.
    she’s quite a lovely lady when you get to know her. you’re all being immature. it’s not your life, it’s hers. stop judging what she does and start noticing you’re own faults.

    so what if she was a prostitute? she’s beautiful and she’s smart. she doesn’t really care what others think.

    you all need to grow up.
    gosh.

  7. Lucy says:
    March 24th, 2010 at 9:46 am

    The talk sounds really interesting, well done Brooke for addressing these issues. I’m very impressed with your calm reactions to the unsolicited opinions in the media (and in these comments) about your lifestyle choices.

  8. Emma Jane Davies says:
    March 24th, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Wow, Dr Magnanti hasn’t yet given the talk and already she has moralists condemning her under the hackneyed old guise of ‘she isn’t interested in hearing MY opinion about her body.’

    It is obvious what that opinion is, and that the holder of said opinion wants to make themselves look like some sort of victim, though I can’t quite see how it does.

    Dr M. has not politicised her former life. Why not keep your wild imagination in check and afford her the same standard?

  9. Sarah says:
    March 24th, 2010 at 10:14 am

    The haters need to grow up and not be so ego-centric.

    Brooke’s choices are completely her own, and you are not forced to agree with them. However there is no need to bad mouth someone you’ve never even met, with your preconceived, and frankly crap, opinions.

  10. tits says:
    March 24th, 2010 at 11:33 am

    My work pays me to turn up, use my mind and my body to perform a service for eight hours a day. That’s all service industry work is. I think what people do to earn money is entirely a personal choice. If you don’t like the choices other people have made you have the right to keep your mouth shut. No one is going to make you go to a talk.

    And as for ‘cutting down opposing views with a vengeance’ I have only ever seen her disagree respectfully and, frequently, wittily to those opposing views that are very rarely expressed with any degree of respect.

  11. Sadie says:
    March 24th, 2010 at 11:36 am

    @jona et al: I think you will find that Dr Brooke Magnanti never sold her body. She sold her time and her skills, and, like all of us who have a job, used her body and mind to do so.
    Is it really ‘sad’ that some people have to sell their skills to make money?
    Or are you just afraid of sex?

  12. lonny says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Oliveira
    Actually, there’s been a lot more to the opposing debate than “You iz a dirty ho.” I’ve seen lots of intelligent commentary. Magnanti isn’t addressing any of it, just sticking to the whole “I’m sex positive and anyone saying differently is a feminazi” thing. it’s gotten to be a real drag.

  13. lonny says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Oh yes, and how about we stop tagging the opposition as “moralists” everyone? Is that the fallback word now, replacing “anti-sex conservatives,” etc? Because a lot of this has nothing at all to do with thinking that sex workers are immoral.

    I think I’m middle-of-the road, tending toward liberal, not especially a feminist. But as a woman, I really don’t like how sex work commodifies women’s bodies. It’s not a feminist thing. It’s a “I have to be a woman in this world” thing, and I’m really tired of how women’s sexuality is sold and used to sell things. Because I don’t have a choice in the consequences of that. And those consequences never stay within the confines of prostitution, they spill over to all women.

  14. lonny says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Sadie, tits,
    No disrespect intended, but it really seems like you’re kind of tapdancing around the issue: “it’s just a job, it’s just sex, etc” Would like your opinion on my above post if you have the time.

  15. kelsey says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    # Sadie says:
    March 24th, 2010 at 11:36 am

    @jona et al: I think you will find that Dr Brooke Magnanti never sold her body. She sold her time and her skills, and, like all of us who have a job, used her body and mind to do so.

    –quite the willful self-delusion there.

    Is it really ’sad’ that some people have to sell their skills to make money?
    Or are you just afraid of sex?

    –and quite the strawman.

    and that pretty much summarises the arguments coming from Magnanti’s camp.

  16. kelsey says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    oh, wait:

    # Sarah says:
    March 24th, 2010 at 10:14 am

    The haters need to grow up and not be so ego-centric.

    Brooke’s choices are completely her own, and you are not forced to agree with them. However there is no need to bad mouth someone you’ve never even met, with your preconceived, and frankly crap, opinions.

    –also a good summary. Translation: ‘Brooke is above reproach and although she can give her opinions, you have no right to express yours, so just shut up!’
    Kind of a Bill O’Reilly of Fox News approach to debate, but whatever works for you/makes you think you can be shielded from things in the world you don’t like/agree with.
    Wow. Just wow. You don’t even see the hypocrisy of that, do you?

  17. commentaire de dépassement says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    watches kitty claws protract and retract.

  18. Sadie says:
    March 31st, 2010 at 9:57 am

    It’s not a wilful self delusion, it’s the facts.
    If you sell something, it ceases to be in your possession. Last I checked, Brooke Magnanti still owned her body.

    I’ll give you RENTED, if it makes you feel better. But it wasn’t her body on sale. It was what she can do with it.

  19. MMurphy says:
    March 31st, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Just popped over to her blog and Twitter to see what the fuss is. YIKES. I don’t understand all of her lashing out and what her beef is with feminism. Seems like it’s just a convenient scapegoat for her, but just my opinion.
    Sounds like a good topic for a talk though. I’ve always found frustrating the ability for one to build up and then “ditch” an online identity when the person is being held accountable for things they said/did under that identity. Def a topic that needs discussion these days.

  20. kelsey says:
    March 31st, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    @Sadie:
    I think you know what’s meant. But OK, I’ll put it another way: She’s selling women’s sexuality. Not just hers. She’s selling yours, and your mother’s, your sister’s (if youhave one) because prostitution relies on demand for women’s bodies. ANY woman’s body.As far as ethics for online identities, I wonder why Brooke doesn’t open up her Belle blog for comments. Is it ethical to write diatribes against other people and not give them the ability to respond?

  21. Amanda Agosh says:
    April 2nd, 2010 at 11:21 am

    I think there is a difference in a person living their life and a person doing their profession. I know I am different in the two. As long as she is great, let her be.

  22. masquerade says:
    April 2nd, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    @kelsey:

    Brooke’s decision to sell her sexual services is not forcing anyone else to sell theirs. She is not selling anyone’s sexuality but her own, because nobody else’s sexuality is hers to sell.

    There will always be misogynists out there who think that every woman should have sex with them simply because they are women; thankfully such men are not the majority. The absence of sex workers would not affect the amount of men who think like this – their attentions would simply be directed more towards people who don’t want them due to the lack of a safe, private outlet. If the sex workers don’t mind it, why should anyone else?

  23. Sadie says:
    April 2nd, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    @Kelsey. Brooke’s selling my mother’s sexuality like Nigella’s selling my mother’s cakes, Carol Ann’s selling my mother’s poetry and Germaine’s selling my mother’s feminism.

  24. kelsey says:
    April 3rd, 2010 at 4:35 am

    @masquerade, Sadie:
    Missed my point entirely.
    Prostitution relies on a hypersexualized image of women.
    Prostitution=women’s sexuality as a luxury good. That means your sexuality. Any woman’s sexuality.

  25. masquerade says:
    April 3rd, 2010 at 11:29 am

    @kelsey:

    Prostitution relies on men being men and wanting sex. Men will always want sex and ridding the world of prostitutes would not change the way that men view women. If some women wish to present a hypersexualised image of themselves, that’s fine with me. The fact that somebody else is a prostitute does not affect my own sexuality, nor anybody else’s, in any way shape or form.

    I don’t think you credit men with enough intelligence/common sense. Just because prostitutes exist, it doesn’t mean men can’t tell the difference between how one may behave with a prostitute and what is acceptable behaviour towards any other woman (or indeed a prostitute when she isn’t working). After all, the existence of male escorts doesn’t make every woman treat every man as a source of sex and nothing else.

  26. kelsey says:
    April 3rd, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    masquerade, I disagree, and I think it’s sad that people give in to the “boys will be boys, the world is as it is, it’s the oldest profession, (as if being really old somehow automatically makes it right?) ” etc. These man WILL change their attitude about women, but it’s up to women to stop giving in to the acceptance of their bodies being, as I said, luxury goods. The very thing that Magnanti did, and continues to capitalize on.

    As far as giving credit to men, I don’t see how viewing “some” kinds of women differently than others is necessarily a good thing if, as I’ve said, all women are caught up in the hypersexualizing of their bodies that prostitution promotes.
    As far as male escorts, that’s a whole different arena, having to do with historical status of each gender, etc etc. In other words, whole other thread.

    Anyway, this is all prob diverting from the topic of the talk, I just commented b/c others got the ball rolling about all of this on this forum.
    *Oh yeah, please forgive my slipping in and out of British spelling. I’m from the U.S. but am working in advertising in the UK and get lazy about it.

  27. masquerade says:
    April 4th, 2010 at 10:59 am

    @kelsey:

    I am aware that just because something has gone on for a long time, that does not mean it is right (look at the Catholic church, after all!) However, ridding the world of prostitutes will still not stop men from wanting sex. Wanting sex is not a bad thing, so long as it is done safely and consensually. Prostitutes give that opportunity.

    Why would male escorts be in an entirely different category because they are men? If you’re going for historical context, the fight for women’s rights means that women are allowed to do what they want with their own bodies. If they wish to prostitute their bodies, that is their own lookout, not anybody else’s.

    I don’t think prostitution “promotes” anything other than a safe outlet for people to fulfil their sexual desires outside a relationship. Just because there are women out there who want to have sex doesn’t mean that men think we would all do that. If an woman does not wish to be seen as hypersexualised, that is her own choice – she doesn’t have to go clubbing wearing miniskirts and low-cut tops and she doesn’t have to sleep with anyone she doesn’t want to.

    No problem about the spelling by the way, you could be using “text talk” after all!

  28. kelsey says:
    April 5th, 2010 at 2:41 am

    masquerade,
    Well, men wanting sex is natural and healthy of course, but beside the point I’m trying to make here. The thing I’m saying about prostitution, even if it’s consensual, is that if women’s sexuality is hyped as an in-demand luxury good, even if you choose NOT to be a prostitute, you really don’t have a choice in your sexuality being seen as something that can be bought.

    Let me put it this way: Magnanti posted about how she would not disclose her identity to readers wanting to book her as clients. She said “and isn’t it more fun wondering if the woman sitting next to you on the bus is me?” I thought that rather telling, how she tried to include all women in it, kind of taking away their choice not to be a part of it: this encouragement to look at all women as potential things to be had. You could be sitting next to that man on the bus, or the girl who’d been a victim of sexual assault, … suddenly getting attention they don’t want. And that is what prostitution kind of thrives on. If you’re a woman, there’s always somehow a price on your body, even if you say it’s not for sale. Like someone said earlier, you can’t keep the effects of prostitution neatly within the profession itself, it thrives on an image of a whole gender.

    So yes, you have a choice in what you do with your body. I’m not trying to take that away. I just think a lot more thought should be given to the effects that all women have to deal with, and in my opinion, prostitutes are selling something that belongs to all women, and that is selfish.

    Male escorts? Not to downplay the issues involved in male escorting, but I think there are vast differences. male escorting is relatively rare, male sexuality is not exploited anywhere near the level it is for women, or portrayed the way it is in the culture (ads, etc) . So men as a whole aren’t really affected to the degree woman are. But like I said, that’s prob a topic for a senior thesis.

    Anyway, I do see what you’re saying; I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree. And sorry, I really didn’t intend to take over the discussion area with some Women’s Studies-type lecture, so apologies, but I just had to comment because someone tried pulling the whole “Oh, you disagree with prostitution being seen as safe and healthy? What’s wrong, you’re afraid of sex?” thing that i’ve seen too many times– kind of akin to how I’ve seen of Magnanti trying to portray people that disagree with her as “Professional Feminist Manhaters” and other such categories on her blog and Twitter. I’m sure there’s plenty, but you would think from her comments that that’s all there is to this issue: her side, and Haters. Which does kind of tie in with ethics of online identities, the way you can steer the issues& discussion by cutting off commentary, choosing which comments you respond to, ignoring others…
    Anyway, gotta go re-learn my Brit spelling now, back to the office… :-)

  29. Steve Murray says:
    April 7th, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Kelsey:
    …”[I'm] working in advertising”..

    LOL, Kelsey outs herself as a hooker !!

  30. kelsey says:
    April 8th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    @Steve Murray:
    Heh, maybe there’s a TV series in it for me ;-)

  31. droid says:
    April 14th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    well, girls always sell sex. besides they work as prostitute or not

  32. Tess says:
    April 28th, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Having done some cursory research on Magnanti, I encountered a lonely, insecure woman who saw prostitution as a kind of dating agency. A way to meet men and have an excuse to get dressed up on a Saturday night. “Belle de Jour” is like an alter ego created to escape the demons that possess Magnanti. The only reason she’s on the podium is because she got very rich & marginally famous (in the same league as the cheeky girls) as a prostitute. And, the only reason people will turn up, myself included, is to have a rare opportunity to hold her to account. Not for prostituting herself, but for prostituting other women. “The surest way to tell the prostitute walking into a hotel at Heathrow is to look for the lady in the designer suit. Fact”. On behalf of all the women harassed by sleazy men in flammable shirts, we thank you Dr Magnanti. Boob tube or business suit, unaccompanied women are always fair game.

    Contrary to the gospel according to Bagnanti, prostitution has nothing to do with passion. See her blog. The only passion I discerned was in response to her critics. Reacting to protests against her winning a Guardian blog competition she wrote, “Reckon your life is more interesting, your insight more relevant, your wit more sparkling? The Guardian hath spoken and laid a garland at this doorstep”. Apart from being supercilious (which is never attractive) there was something menacing about her tone. Magnanti offered to donate her winnings to charity but reneged after all the to do. In order to teach her dissenters a lesson, she decided to keep the money because, “Mama needs a new pair of Jimmy Choos” (so there).

  33. Steve Murray says:
    April 30th, 2010 at 1:44 am

    Droid:
    “well, girls always sell sex. besides they work as prostitute or not”

    There is an evolutionary component to this, and both sexes ‘sell’ sex (advertise ‘genetic health’) – most sexed species undergo a certain amount of sexual selection, leading to gross exaggeration of feminine and masculine features in us compared to chimps for example.

    Sex selection may have even been a major factor in evolving bigger brains, adding brain over brawn features like wit, deviousness and wisdom into a positive feedback loop principally on the male side – i.e. selected for by the females.

    Many (most?) bird species have the ‘beauty’ on the male side, with the females commonly ‘drab’, although an alternative theory (handicap principle) has it that e.g. in the peacocks tail it may be that each individual’s relative success in dragging such an ecumbrance around to reproductive age is the proof of genetical fitness.

  34. droid says:
    April 30th, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Steve Murray, ок. Both sexes sell sex. But girls do it better. Exclude peacocks.

  35. IDEALE (Idea on Wing) Hubs Pages says:
    May 30th, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Has anyone wondered about the independent spirit of this woman
    who rises as a phoenix from the ashes of a destructive enterprise?

    Isn’t this what this is all about?

    Making sure that women who fall into circumstances beyond their control find and tailor the choices they make in life.

    I admire her for rising above her circumstances. She is a role model for women who want to aspire to something more than a predatory culture that wants to demean and dehumanize women in general.

    To me, she is a primary source of women who have overcome distress and is trying to present life in a historical and educational context.

    I would support her in the venture in educating women that they do have choices as to what they can do in life and not her shoot her down because of some previous choices made as a younger woman.

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