‘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.


15 thoughts on “‘Belle de Jour’ cliché collection. [UPDATED]

  1. The Belle De jour/Happy Hooker image is just one person’s story and the media really only cares about ratings and not peoples everyday real lives. they want to take what they need from you to make viewers believe it’s reality. for some being in the sex trade is horrible and others they have bad days and good days, just like everyone else out there in the world who has a job. but they only show the really bad or the really good and nothing in between

    • Exactly. And it’s unbelievably patronising to their readers – some of whom will probably be sex workers, because we get EVERYWHERE, but they never imagine that because they think we’re all either in dungeons, or, well, being Belle de Jour, and there’s only one of her – to say “it’s not all like Belle de Jour you know!” as if that’s some great insight? Particularly in the second article I linked to, the author says something like (oh, fine, I’ll fine the quote – ugh, reading this again – my eyes, my eyes …), “I can almost hear the inevitable wittering – ‘My best friend’s mum’s sister’s niece’s bridesmaid’s daughter works as a prostitute … ‘” – and I just think it is SO TELLING that he envisions his imaginary interlocutor having such a distant relationship to a sex worker. Like, dude. Loads of people reading this article will be sex workers or friends of sex workers. WE’RE NOT UNICORNS. And as you say, we have good days, we have bad days: it’s a patronising trope to use on the general public, but when you imagine him telling sex works this (as he is) it just GOES OFF ALL THE SCALES OF NOT OKAY.

      … phew, sorry, rant. In short: yes. I agree 🙂

  2. They don’t get it that, for some sex workers – male or female – it IS “all Belle de Jour” ; for most it’s OK, or mixed; for some, it’s a terrible experience that they’re trapped in. But there are probably more Belle de Jours than people who are damaged by it. It might be helpful to see sex workers in developing countries, those born into brothels, call girls in Aus or NY erning 2k a day, streetwalkers in London earning £25 from each client, trafficked people, underage people and people in illegal brothels in countries where prostitution is legal, separately. Because for the first two categories, it is likely to be a bad experience. For the third, it’s likely to be similar to Belle de Jour (and so on). The sex industry cannot be generalised any more than the fashion industry (child labour in Eastern Europe v fashion designers).

    • The garment industry is actually an analogy I’ve used myself elsewhere – great minds, etc ;-). I agree that the “sex industry” is almost a misnomer its so segmented/highly differentiated – something I’m frequently struck by is the extent to which prohibitionists talk of the sex industry as if it’s a couple of huge corporations, analogous to say News Corp or the way the oil industry operates – whereas actually, yeah, there’s big brands like Playboy, and presumably the mafia runs *some* brothels ( … I guess?), but the reality is that in a vast number of cases the sex industry is a cottage industry. It’s people like you and me selling sex out of our bedrooms. It’s a couple of friends working together out of a flat, or, if there’s a boss/manager, s/he’ll have 5 or 10 employees. If you’re working indoors in the UK, the belle de Jour trope is likely to make literally no sense in terms of your life, because it attempts to force sex workers in this strict dichotomy that most people won’t recognise – because lives aren’t strictly binary.

  3. It also comes down to the individual. Brooke was educated and a talented writer; she had the personal skills and qualification levels to easily leave the sex industry, or dip in and out of it as she wanted. For her it was more of a choice; she wouldn’t have starved or (probably) not have had to quit uni if she’d stopped (because of grants/loans/overdraft/discretionary fund). However, in some regions, you may actually starve if you don’t do sex work. Similarly, someone who is addicted, unhealthy with a history of abuse, who finds it hard to keep a non-sex work job may feel differently about sex work or have a different relationship to their work. It can’t be generalised as either empowering or exploitative. Personally, I’d say overall sex work in the UK in 2012 is empowering, though streetwalking does not seem to be empowering.

    • The other huge problem with the Belle de Jour trope is that additionally to being really totalising in an either/or sense, it fatally lacks detail in *its own terms* – who are Belle de Jours? What are these authors trying to indicate/evoke? I mean, I have a good education, I’m impeccably middle class, I work (generally) at the *higher* (ish) end of “the industry” (whatever that means) – I have loads of privileges and I could probably quit, well, not exactly tomorrow (rent’s due!) but with some planning, at a time of my own choosing. So am *I* a ‘Belle de Jour’? I’ve also experienced *some violence* working in the sex industry; I’ve certainly *had to do stuff* (I don’t necessarily mean sexually, the ‘some violence’ refers to that! [and not with a gun at my head]) that I didn’t particularly want to do and that felt shit. Am I *still* a Belle de Jour? The danger of this argument is of course that it allows prohibitionists to be all like “EVEN the classy ones have a shit time! Prostitution IS violence!” (dear prohibs: if I ever catch you using my experiences of sexual violence for your own political ends, I will come after you with a shovel and dig out your eyeballs) … but I guess what I’m getting at is, by using the Belle de Jour trope, they’re trying to make people with complex lives & experiences (i.e everybody) invisible, and they’re trying to pretend that politics and experience are THE SAME – so, “you Belle de Jour dilettantes support sex workers rights just because you’ve NEVER HAD a bad experience!” – when, actually, I’m not a Belle de Jour because no one except BM is, and I support sex worker’s rights because my good experiences, my bad experiences, and my political antenanna in general suggest to me that the sex worker’s rights movement has the correct analysis.

      • Actually, I’d say your comments are as good as your posts, especially the one directly above. Nobody is a Belle de Jour except BM, and when she wrote as BdJ she didn’t make any claims about sex work being non-exploitative. Although I’ve not read the whole book cos of extreme envy (I will try to read it now seeing as I’m getting Rolanded for money too so have no reason to dribble with jealousy now) as I understand, it was a diary in blog form, then a book which expanded on that. It wasn’t an argument about sex work, nor political in any way (unlike your blog and mine, which is only primarily a diary). These ‘feminists’ are trying to imply that BM thinks sex work is never ever exploitative, though I’ve yet to find a quote of her saying that. And yeah nobody’s life is binary. Even dJ never claimed that every day of her life was sunshine and rainbows – she just didn’t write that she experienced violence, that doesn’t mean she didn’t; there are many things she didn’t write, such as what she had for dinner everyday or about her trips to the bathroom. Her blog/book wasn’t political.

      • Sorry, had to go to watch the fencing. What I was going to say was: Isn’t it weird how when a sex worker says, “I experienced some violence” or “I had to do stuff I didn’t want to” we automatically assume the worst. Yeah, I know some get murdered, adbucted, or chucked out of a car travelling at 50mph…but these aren’t common or universal experiences. And in all jobs you have to do stuff you don’t want to and experience harassment, bullying, or verbal abuse at least a couple of times in your career.

  4. I appreciate the good intentions of people like Jacqui Smith, thinking that they’re helping women, but they have a tendency to replace research with excitement, jumping on figures like 25,000 trafficked women to justify their cause (or agenda, depending on how you look at it) without making the effort to learn about the industry they’re so eager to control. Of course some people are trafficked into the sex industry and not everyone working in it has a super day every single time they go to work, but what the prohibitionists do is belittle and patronise sex workers – all in the name of doing good. I realise I’m preaching to the converted here – what I’m actually saying is I agree with everything in your post and comments (and love your blog, by the way).

    • Thank you! The question of good intentions/misguidedness Vs. Badness/evilness interests me rather more than it should – there’s a good bit at the start of an essay on AIDs by Eve Kofosky Sedgewick (oof, bet I’ve spelt both bits of her name wrong!) where she’s recounting a conversation in which (this was in like 1987) they’re discussing conspiracy theories around the HIV pandemic, and the other person in the conversation is like, “RIGHT. What would it change if we had proof? What if we had incontrovertible proof tomorrow that AIDs was started by the US govt in order to kill gay people, black people, drug users and hookers? What would that CHANGE?” and Eve K-S is like, “oh yeah, it wouldn’t change anything – we already know that the US govt holds those lives pretty cheap, in general. We already organise based on that, because the evidence of our lives demonstrates that that is true, and actually, the details of deliberateness Vs. not-caring-enough don’t matter enough for it to be important”. So I try not to waste too much time wondering whether this or that individual is acting from misguided good intentions or all-out malice, because it shouldn’t make a different, y’know? But inevitably I do end up trying to distinguish between the misguided & the evil, because humans are programmed to be excessively interested in humans and human motivations.

      The other thing of course is that even if I concluded that in general it is 98% evil to 2% misguided, that shouldn’t change how I initially respond to any individual Wrong Person, because they might be in the 2%. Or they might not. Who can tell, straight off. And if you end up cynical and angry with everyone you’re giving them too much (“there’s more to give than what they take from you” as Au Revoir Simone sing). (Though I am struck by how I’ve sold sex for lie over 2 years, and remain uncynical like a spring born lamb with regards to men, but 4 months of sex worker rights blogging has left me extremely prone to thoughts like, “seeming really reasonably is a great rhetorical trick”.)


      • It’s a great tangent, though. I like the sound of Eve Kofosky Sedgewick. As another (though still relevant, I think) tangent, I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Pisani who’s worked in the field of HIV for years. This talk is brilliant http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/elizabeth_pisani_sex_drugs_and_hiv_let_s_get_rational_1.html She talks about the “good aids and bad aids” – people who get it through things like blood transfusions (i.e. things that are no fault of their own) have good aids and people who get it through drugs and sex have bad aids and those with good aids get sympathy and treatment and those with bad aids get no sympathy and have trouble getting treatment. There’s so much cross-over between what looks like good intentions and what’s evil with the result that, often, they have the same effect on whatever it is they think they’re helping (good intentions people are, too often, uninformed and think they’re helping society by rescuing individuals and telling them the way they live their life and how they choose to make a living is wrong and evil people think they’re helping society by ridding it of undesirables and further stigmatising them). A good example is the anti-prostitution policy that organisations have to have in order to get USAID so they can’t use the funds to provide treatment for sex workers because they’re just scum and need to be got rid of, as far as the policy-makers of USAID are concerned. Another requirement they have, along with PEPFAR (the funding organisation George W named after himself – the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief), is that any treatment or preventive measures like condoms and clean needles have to be bought from American companies which charge a huge amount more than local companies or generic medicine. Elizabeth Pisani’s book The Wisdom of Whores is well worth reading. It’s very interesting from a good intentions versus evil point of view (and for lots of other reasons) and I don’t think it’ll stop you feeling uncynical about men, though there’s lots in it to piss you off about man, if that makes sense. It pissed me off, but it fascinated me, too.

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