Dr. Brooke Magnanti renounces feminism

by Josephine Tsui // 11 May 2011, 23:22

Tags: Belle de Jour, prostitution, science, sex work

Brooke-Magnanti-007.jpg


Have you heard?

Dr. Brooke Magnanti’s aka “Belle de Jour” had a fall out with feminism.

The first sentence of her press release of her new book, Sexonomics, declares “Belle de Jour, aka Brooke Magnanti stands up to her feminist critics”. It was also written in her previous blog before the archives were deleted. In her press release, she explains;

“Up until November 2009, I would have said I was a feminist. Then I found out the hard way that feminism in this country is like the Ivy League: it's mostly filled with the sort of people you spent your school years avoiding”

This is disappointing in two ways; A) Feminism is a diverse fields of opinions, and not everyone who carries the flag of feminism is anti-sex work. B) In Magnanti’s new blog, Sexonomics, she uses her scientific education to reveal myths of the economics of sex which has long been debated in feminist discourse.

With the first point, not all feminists are anti-sex work. Feminism is a diverse discourse and many people have different opinions over sex work. While not everyone agrees, there should be room for discussion. As was written in Feministe March 2008,

“..sex workers can be feminists because there are sex workers who are feminists. I’m not big on playing occupational Feminist Police, and as far as I can tell, sex workers have long been on the margins of society. They’ve been shamed and they’ve pushed the sexual envelope, and in some ways they’ve been at the forefront of challenging the patriarchal model of women and family.”

However, since her outing of her sex blog, she has had many critiques of her profession, many of whom are anti-sex work feminists. It`s understandable why Magnanti has been defiant against feminists with the volume of anti-sex work critique she has received. It’s disappointing that despite the open opinions within feminism, Magnanti feels ostracized from the community and would rather renounce the name than contribute to debate as a proud member.

Secondly, sex-work research could use more scientific rigor. While there are many theories about oppression or empowerment of sex-workers, none of that matters if we don`t have hard data to back up the theory. I am one feminist who is imploring for more scientific rigor in sex work research. Everyone needs to be critical of popular scientific research and how the media may twist the message to suit popular messages.

Magnanti`s newest blog does a great job of upholding scientific rigor as a valid way to explore this sensitive feminist topics. For example, she writes a five part series critiquing the Lilith reports’ which link an increase of rape with the number of lap dance clubs in Camden. Part 1, she demonstrates a problem with their mathematics. Part 3, she digs into further research demonstrating over a 10 year trend, Rapes in Camden were actually falling. Part 4, she shows there is no correlation between the number of lapdance clubs and the incidences of rape by comparing different London boroughs. While giving room for the Lilith report’s author’s opinion for not wanting lapdance clubs in Camden, in Part 5, she rightly points a finger to the Lilith report on their missuse of scientific tools.

“Claiming the methods of science, without buying in to the philosophy of how and why they work, is unethical. If you don’t play by the same rules, you can’t use the same tools.”

All of this research and her skills of a science background have proven useful in shedding the real light of rape trends with lapdance clubs in Camden. This is not against feminism, but rather brings scientific rigor to an area where many people have personal biases.

While her critique of feminism may be warranted in relation to the backlash against her previous profession, her newest comments in the recent press release have not been so fair;

“I genuinely do not get the third-wave bluestocking professional feminists in this country. Genuinely. I've tried to give a shit about maternity leave and who does the housework, and all I can come up with is, if your job doesn't give you as much time off as you want, suck it up or get another job. If your partner doesn't do the washing-up, same”

What Magnanti may be forgetting is that not all women have the opportunity to find another job, or find another partner that may not suit all of her needs According to the UK Office of National Statistics, the unemployment rate for the three months to February 2011 “the number of unemployed women increased by 14,000 to reach 1.03 million.” I`m sure she recognises that while she was able to ask for £300-a-night escort, not all prostitutes are in the same position.

Cheer up Brooke! Hopefully the fire from you being outed will die down soon. But on the plus side, riding the wave will get you some great book sales! And don`t forget, there are some feminists who still love your work.

Comments From You

Vicky // Posted 12 May 2011 at 13:34

A recent F-word blog post produced a long and quite fiesty comment thread about sex work, and one comment that really stands out in my memory is this one from Rebecca Mott: "If women have the privilege to choose prostitution, and have the privilege to not to endure violence as their norm, then they are often privileged enough not to have the need to be a prostitute."

That comment immediately flashed into my mind when I read Brooke Magnanti's dismissal of women's concerns about maternity leave and housework. "I've tried to give a shit...and all I can come up with is, if your job doesn't give you as much time off as you want, suck it up or get another job. If your partner doesn't do the washing-up, same.”

These are the words of a woman who clearly has the ability to make choices like that at the drop of a hat. The vast majority of women are not in this fortunate position. I don't think you have to be a bluestocking to recognise that you might have privileges that other women haven't, and just because YOU find something easy or empowering, that doesn't mean that it's easy or empowering for everybody. Feminism does not permit you to be egocentric.

Mary Tracy // Posted 12 May 2011 at 14:27

Oh, FFS.

First of all, Magnanti is not the only female in the history of humanity to have a scientific background.

I should add that radical feminists have questioned the value of science. So if they don't want to use "science" to justify their ideas, they are entitled to do so. Not everyone has to believe in science.

Second, come on! You can use "scientific" tools to justify everything under the Sun. Science did a fantastic job at justifying the Holocoust and slavery. So, yeah.

And as for "personal bias", that's just too much for words. There is a huge incentive for feminists to embrace sex-work: it's called money. I've been in this movement for years, and invariably, those feminists speaking in favour of sex-work have been rich and famous, while those speaking against have been pot-noodle poor and known only to their cats.

You can be rich and famous, or you can be right. You can't be both.

That is why we are discussing Magnanti's views, no matter how ludicrous, but not Rebecca Mott's views.

By the way, Rebecca rocks.

Louise // Posted 12 May 2011 at 17:12

This is a woman who made derogatory comments about her coworkers, partners, ex partners and considered anyone involved with her fair game for her writing, all of whom then got catapulted to fame against their will along with her for being unfortunate enough to have a personal relationship with her. If one of my ex-partners did that, I'd be murderously unhinged, and he'd be eating his own bollocks. So, sorry, I don't have much sympathy with this woman's lack of personal safety-what she did was well beyond provocation.

This is a woman who was willing to sleep with other people's husbands, sometimes in their house, then complains that she isn't supported by the "Sisterhood". I'm sorry, but for me to experience any kind of "Sisterhood" with anyone, requires that if my partner is willing to shag them, they are firstly not willing to do it, and secondly willing to tell me. Immediately. Before my partner receives his next kiss. Sure it might be the husband's choice to cheat, and I am not saying she should have a legal obligation to police my marriage, but to expect support from me on the basis that we are both women and are therefore somehow in the same boat? Sorry- I need more of a contribution than that before I'm willing to offer it.

As for the prostitution debate- noone doubts there are high-class call girls. And most women fighting to end prostitution wouldn't be fighting that fight if everyone in the industry was Dr Brooke Magnanti-people in an economic position to make a free economic choice about whether to have sex for money. The argument is that the upside of her getting to make that choice necessarily involves a downside, that downside including the trafficking and rape of less privileged women, and that her career choice is somewhat less important than that. I don't see how she contributes anything to the debate. She is one example of one call girl who chose to do what she does. That's not what anyone is worrying about.

spicy // Posted 13 May 2011 at 00:33

I think Rebecca and everyone on this thread rocks!

Feminist Avatar // Posted 13 May 2011 at 09:22

Perhaps, her partners should have got a high court injunction. ;)

Jennifer McMahon // Posted 13 May 2011 at 17:23

@MaryTracy

Although I understand where you are coming from, I think it is wrong to blame science for anything. Science is just a tool for ascertaining the truth. Like any tool, it can be misused. People did a good job of justifying the holocaust - not science.

I am a radical feminist - I do not question science. I question motives, bias and privilege.

Holly Combe // Posted 14 May 2011 at 01:14

Science is just a tool for ascertaining the truth. Like any tool, it can be misused. People did a good job of justifying the holocaust - not science. (Jennifer McMahon)

I have to admit I do tend to get alarm bells whenever I see social issues reduced down to statistics, science and “facts” but what you say here reminds me that this reaction possibly just boils down to not trusting human beings to be objective. It’s easy, as a subjectivist, to react against any social research that purports to adhere to scientific principles but I’m glad that there are feminists and feminist allies out there who master and defend them. As you say, science is just a tool.

Going back to the topic itself, Magnanti’s dismissal of so-called “bluestocking” concerns really disappointed me and I agree with what others have said about her not acknowledging economic realities. However (@Mary Tracy), I’m not sure I can agree that money is inevitably behind any feminist decisions to “embrace” sex work. In my experience, it is not so cut and dried as being “rich and famous” or “right”. I certainly know of feminists who have got into sex work themselves or defended it (if and where it is a choice, that is) who are “pot noodle poor” and I’m sure we can all think of high profile feminists who are vociferously against sex work but certainly don’t appear to be scraping together a living.

...just because YOU find something easy or empowering, that doesn't mean that it's easy or empowering for everybody (Vicky)

Absolutely but I think the reverse is also true: just because some people are forced into something does not mean others are somehow duty-bound not to choose it and, though it has been said that no-one is worrying about Magnanti choosing to do what she does, I do sometimes see an implication that her choice is somehow partially responsible for other women’s lack of it. As Louise says:

...the argument is that the upside of (Magnanti) getting to make that choice necessarily involves a downside

It is my hope that this doesn’t need to be a case of either
A) supporting and facilitating the rights of prostituted people (i.e. those forced or pushed into the sex trade) to exit but also ridiculing any notion of sex workers’ rights in a non-exiting context as a case of “Yay! Sex work is sooo empowering and all the women who do it have CHOSEN to!” or
B) actually holding up cases like Brooke Magnanti’s to claim sex work is always a choice and that forced prostitution does not exist

(@Louise. The issue of sleeping with other women’s partners is probably too huge to go into when I’ve already written a long comment but I will say that I think it’s problematic when “sisterhood” seems to entail holding women to somewhat higher standards than men. I also think a partner who cheats in a monogamous relationship is more responsible for the breaking of those boundaries than the other woman or man. However, I do appreciate that you acknowledge a cheater’s “choice to cheat” and are not saying Magnanti “should have a legal obligation” to police your marriage so I’ll stop there and save those thoughts for another thread.)

Kate // Posted 16 May 2011 at 10:00

I read the write-up of this press release in the Guardian a little while ago, and obviously was infuriated, especially by her delightful comments about maternity leave etc. I'm not sure that not having the first clue about feminism actually constitutes having a position ABOUT feminism. Never mind.

However, on her other comments: I went to a feminist conference in London a little while ago, and was really shocked about the uniformity of anti-sex work opinion. I think maybe I picked the wrong conference, and it was not representative of the diversity of feminist opinion in this country. However, I can understand why Magnanti, as a prominent sex worker, feels persecuted by some elements of the feminist community. I myself felt persecuted at this conference simply for believing that it is possible for sex work to be uncoerced.

Verbena // Posted 12 July 2012 at 09:08

@Jennifer McMahon
"I am a radical feminist - I do not question science. I question motives, bias and privilege."

I think that makes you a liberal feminist.

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