‘Belle de Jour’ cliché collection. [UPDATED]

You know how the Stool Pigeon has that feature called ‘achingly beautiful‘, where they quote music journalists using the phrase, coz people using clichés are a bit funny? I thought it might be amusing (at this stage, ‘finding things amusing’ is the only thing standing between me and stabbing myself in the brain with a fork) to do an occasional feature on the prohibitionist ‘Belle de Jour’ trope – a trope which, almost without exception, inadvertently indicates “this writer doesn’t know as much about this issue as they think they do”. Hee! Aw, prohibs, I’m just teasing yous.

Here’s my two examples to kick us off:

“With TV programmes such as Belle de Jour not only glossing over the damage done by men who buy women for sex but also glamourising prostitution as a viable career, confusion among young women as to what is empowering and what is exploitative is completely understandable. Belle de Jour‘s TV realisation as ‘The Secret Diary of a Call Girl’ was based on Belle de Jour‘s blog and book, a development that very much represents the sort of ‘brand development’ seen previously in Playboy.” (Rape Crisis & Women’s Support Project News, issue 8, spring 2011. p.3)

“No doubt such Belle de Jours do exist. But the point is they exist as an extremely tiny minority. For most prostitutes their work provides a misery almost without limits.” (Hell de Jour: The Sex Trade & its Advocates, Tony Mckenna, HuffPo, 2012.)

And a new addition, sent to me by the legendary Maggie McNeill, via twitter:

 

Obviously I’m not going to go looking for other examples, because I am fully confident that they will continue to fall into my lap, like problematically-worded over-ripe plums. Do, however, feel free to forward to me any juicy examples you find – either via twitter, where my moniker is @pastachips, or by email – glasgowsexworker at gmail dot com – or, of course, in the comments. This feature could be achingly beautiful.

Object #1: Style.

Reading the Object website is making me furious and sad. You’d almost think that additionally to repelling critical thought on the part of their ‘activists’ (“did someone say ‘objectification’? Quick, we must start a petition opposing this thing, whatever it is!”),  they’re aiming to avoid criticism from those of us who’re not so down with the covering up of all naked ladies (okay, they don’t specifically say “all”. That’s because they don’t offer any definitions whatsoever, like some kind of politics-as-rorsarch test) by making their content such a twilight swampland of semi-truths, untruths, innuendo, issue-jumble, elision, and facts-that-make-you-go “well, duh”, that it is impossible to ever get a handle on the shifting morass, like trying to catch a glimpse of the Loch Ness monster while watching a sped-up time-lapse of the last 10,000 years of the earth’s geological history, shot from space. Not only does the monster not exist – you’re also being offered a plethora of distracting, irrelevant information, at the wrong level of detail, some of it dressed up to look like semi-relevancy. Sorry, was that too harsh? Just wait ’til we zoom in.

As I say, I’d almost think that was some kind of tactic to deflect the criticism they’d garner if they stated their aims in any way intelligibly, but the shoddy design of the website (it holds up the illusion of ‘serious NGO is serious’ for about forty-five seconds) suggests that that might be crediting them with too high a degree of intentionality.

So. I did think their page ‘the Facts‘ looked rather on the short side (that’s – what, two hundred words or so? To unpack the whole of ‘objectification’ and ‘sex object culture’? Hmm), and then I noticed that they’ve got a bunch of references for citations that no longer exist, i.e, they’ve cut most of their ‘facts’ but neglected to adjust the footnotes. Neato! Why have they cut what looks like two thirds of the page? Looks to me like, because someone did some research and pointed out to them that it was the hugest bunkum since forever, and instead of, like, acknowledging that, or standing by their convictions and maybe adding more meat to the poor, fictional gruel of their argument, they rather quickly and haphazardly deleted the lot.

(Lazy sods, I bet you won’t click on that link. In case you don’t, here’s some nuggets from the Object factoid armoury, prior to their hasty track-covering. “Over half (54%) of all women around the world say they first became aware of the need to be physically attractive between 6 and 17 years of age.” The blogger comments, “yes … and?”, speaking for all thinking people in whom that fact has failed to instil the seemingly hoped-for horror. Or how about, “Eating disorders are as common amongst women as autism”? This fact provokes the obvious response from our researcher, “OK … and is that a lot? And if so, what does it say about the causes of eating disorders? Or of autism, for that matter?” I used to think that Ben Goldacre’s schtick was a little played out – surely we’ve all gathered by now that homeopaths and shampoo companies fib? – but this reminds me of how bad science and bad statistics have an eternal half-life in bad politics, like Voldemort on unicorn blood – er, which, you’ll doubtless recall, leaves the drinker neither fully alive nor fully dead.)

Object activists were respectfully invited to respond to the above (and other) criticisms of their website content, but vanished into the internet ether – along with the content in question – leaving only a footnoted absence. Oh absent presence!

Here’s my second telling ‘clunk’ from the style police. Moving away from the ‘Facts’ (rather thin-pickings, though I will deal with them in more detail later) and onto the FAQ, we find the sentence, “The message is loud and clear: to be validated as a female, you have to be ‘hot’”. Now, shaven of context, I don’t think this sentence is completely off. There’s plenty of evidence that women’s appearances are scrutinised, in misogynist ways, and you don’t have to be a swivel-eyed Object-ivist to think so. What’s interesting – and problematic, and telling – about this sentence is the way in which it uses the word ‘female’.

Most feminists I know recoil from the word ‘female’ when it’s used in this way. ‘Female what?!’, we cry, en masse. ‘Female baboon? Female rat-catcher?’ – in normal English, ‘female’ is generally a descriptor that modifies a second noun, because we already have a word for grown female human, and that word is woman. So, what are they getting from this clunky use of language? Hm. Well.

To give you the full paragraph, “Girls are targeted at younger and younger ages as consumers of sex object culture. WH Smith sell pink Playboy pencil cases – yet Playboy is a global pornography brand;  Amazon sell pole dancing kits with paper money as toys; Tesco even sell ‘Porn Star’ T shirts for 3-6 month year old girls. Celebrities endorse the pornography industry and glamour models are held out as role models for young girls. The message is loud and clear: to be validated as a female, you have to be ‘hot’. This is increasingly the case as pornography and the sex industries (such as prostitution or lap dancing) become part of our mainstream culture and everyday lives.”

A lot of Object’s argument here (what you can call argument) appears to hang on a silent elision between (grown up) women and (innocent, girl) children. The sentence “to be validated as female” operates here as the hidden hinge between children (the words “young girls” literally abuts our hinge sentence at it’s northern end), and adult women (the presumed – readerly – “our” of “mainstream culture” fame). Even if we buy into Object’s analysis around ‘objectification’ and ‘sex object culture’, we might quibble slightly at being asked to treat young girls and adult women the same. (We might further wonder if there’s not a relevant third category, “teenagers”, that might require additional nuance again, but apparently not so much.) The word “female”, by being non-age specific, allows Object to attempt to sneak these various different categories past us, under our actual noses, without alerting us to the intellectual sleight of hand that’s asking us to transport our feelings about children-and-sexuality (“girls are targeted at younger and younger ages”), and, unchanged, apply it to women (” … become part of our mainstream culture and everyday lives”).

Object might want to claim that ‘sex object culture’ is so hegemonic that it does treat seven year olds and twenty seven year olds the same (provided they’re ‘female’, of course. “Women: aw, aren’t they just like girls?!” – feminism … apparently). But that’s not the argument they’ve made – mostly because that might entail actually making an argument at all, and, y’know, carrying in through in a fairly transparent manner – whereas in fact, they’ve invoked vague unease through linking prepubescent girls with sexuality, and then linked those tropes of threatened childhood innocence (I say ‘tropes’, because, as I’ll show later, their facts aren’t exactly ‘factual’, as such) to the implicit adult reader, and her sexuality. Creepy! Weird! No, not “mainstream culture”. I mean Object.

More on this to come, when I can bear it.

How to blog anonymously (and how not to): a re-blog from Belle du Jour.

[Someone is trying to get Dr Brooke Magnanti’s blog – and this post specifically – taken down. She’s asked that it be re-blogged in order to keep the content up and reachable by as many people as possible, so here it is. I’d be very interested to know who it is that’s trying to get this taken down – especially as it’s reasonably, well – not innocuous, but more a toolkit than an argument, y’know? Someone out there doesn’t want Dr Magnanti to have a platform, and specifically doesn’t want her to help other sex workers have a voice in a safe context – i.e, anonymously … I wonder if there’s anyone out there who thinks their politics would benefit from the suppression of sex worker voices? Hmmm! Nope, I can’t think of anyone. Good good.]

Further to yesterday’s post, this is a list of thoughts prompted by a request from Linkmachinego on the topic of being an anonymous writer and blogger. Maybe not exactly a how-to (since the outcome is not guaranteed) as a post on things I did, things I should have done, and things I learned.

It’s not up to me to decide if you “deserve” to be anonymous. My feeling is, if you’re starting out as a writer and do not yet feel comfortable writing under your own name, that is your business and not mine. I also think sex workers should consider starting from a position of anonymity and decide later if they want to be out, please don’t be naive. Statistics I made up right now show 99 out of 100 people who claim ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ are talking out of their arses.

The items in the list fall into three general categories: internet-based, legal and real-world tips, and interpersonal. Many straddle more than one of these categories. All three are important.

This is written for a general audience because most people who blog now do not have extensive technical knowledge, they just want to write and be read. That’s a good thing by the way. If you already know all of this, then great, but many people won’t. Don’t be sneery about their lack of prior knowledge. Bringing everyone up to speed on the technology is not the goal: clear steps you can use to help protect your identity from being discovered are.

Disclaimer: I’m no longer anonymous so these steps are clearly not airtight. Also there are other sources of information on the Web, some of which are more comprehensive and more current than my advice. I accept no responsibility for any outcome of following this advice. Please don’t use it to do illegal or highly sensitive things. Also please don’t use pseudonyms to be a dick.

Continue reading

Belle du Jour.

Dr Brooke Magnanti is giving a talk TONIGHT in Glasgow at the Admiral bar! 7.30pm! Be there! Like, now! Also, treat the rest of your life as one extended drinking game and take a shot whenever a prohibitionist tells you, “prostitution – it’s not all like Belle du Jour, you know”. O RLY. NO WAY. Please give me more of your fascinating insight – is London perhaps not all as depicted in Made in Chelsea? What about Essex? Not wall-to-wall TOWIE? You’re breaking my heart.

Life: not the same as on tee vee. Who knew?!

Interesting links.

How 19th Century Prostitutes Were Among the Freest, Wealthiest, Most Educated Women of Their Time‘: “In the nineteenth century, a woman who owned property, made high wages, had sex outside of marriage, performed or received oral sex, used birth control, consorted with men of other races, danced, drank, or walked alone in public, wore makeup, perfume, or stylish clothes — and was not ashamed — was probably a whore”.

How To Be An Accountable Ally, by the punchily named Abortion Gang.

A piece on the stigmatisation of sex workers from the Pambazuka News: ‘“I’ve come to terms with my own sexuality, I think. I’ve definitely sort of realised that it is just, well in my opinion, a physical act of pleasure. It’s OK for a woman to actually enjoy sex. There I’ve grown in leaps and bounds, but just coming from … a conservative upbringing, you know as a woman you are brought up not to sleep around. And then you’re a slut and a whore and so on…”’

Sex Workers In The Neighbourhood‘: “When Jesus was asked about which part of the Law is most important, he answers, “Love God, love your neighbor.” My friend and I have had lots of conversations about being a neighbor to the individuals who are trading sex. What would that look like? How would it play out?”

Why We Should Teach Young Men About The Sex Industry‘, is a really interesting piece from an ‘out’ client. I’d love for more clients to come out, because that would demonstrate how profoundly, boringly normal and non-monsterous they are, but obviously its scary. Props to this guy!

… And also this guy. Chris Dangerfield – Sex Tourist, is another piece by an out client. Also ace. Thanks pal!

And finally, this, from twitter:

Which made me think about how most of the work I’ve done for women’s organisations over the years has been unpaid. And now some of those same women’s organisations think they can tell me about my own exploitation. Funny world.

Scrapbook.

i. Cutiepie Luca is interviewed in Vice, talking about trafficking and the Olympics.

ii. Back while I was observing the deliberations of the Justice Committee, Laura and N were doing rather more important work going round the brothels and saunas of Edinburgh, talking to the employees about the Bill, the consultation, and the on-going activities of Scot-PEP. Laura’s funny, you should definitely go read her report on that.

iii. Kate has written a piece, ‘Notes From a Sex Industry Novice‘ on how she discovered nuance in the sex industry, and quit prohibitionism. For obvious reasons (like, that’s how change happens) I’m interested in the process whereby people alter their opinions – so this was really interesting to me.

iv. Finally, and this isn’t directly related to sex work, but it’s still pretty relevant (and ace): ‘Kony This: Ghana think tank turns the tables on white saviours‘ – ” … the project is brilliant and simple: it’s a global network that collects problems from the “first world” and submits them to think tanks in the “third world”: in Cuba, the think tank is a three-generation family, in El Salvador a rural radio station, in Ghana a group of bike mechanics. The project then returns to the first-world community to implement the suggested solutions.” Incidentally, here’s a good pun in Irish that’ll make you feel super-macaronic, mixing Irish, English, and the language of memes …

(Hint: ‘Cá bhfuil tú i do Kony?’ means ‘where are you from?’ in Irish.)

Jigsaw, Jigsaw Youth. (And I’m on holiday.)

 

I can sell my body if I wanna
God knows you already sold your mind
I may sell my body for money sometimes
But you can’t stop the fire that burns inside of me

You think I don’t know
I’m here to tell you I do

You think I don’t know
I know the truth about you yeah

Jigsaw, jigsaw youth
We go with the kids
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Jigsaw, jigsaw youth

We know there’s not one way, one light, one stupid truth
Don’t fit your definitions
Don’t need your demands
Not into win/lose reality
Won’t fit in with your plan.