Brooke Magnanti's Surprisingly Logical Call Girl Confession: That's DR. Belle Du Jour To You

Unless you've been in solitary confinement, you're aware of the fact that Belle de Jour, blogger, former prostitute, and head of the Diary of a London Call Girl publishing empire has revealed herself to be Dr. Brooke Magnanti, research scientist at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health.

When she's not blogging about her past sexploits, she using her Ph.D. in informatics, epidemiology, and forensic science to research the effects of pesticides on children. How's that for an unexpected spin on the whore-with-the-heart-of-gold theme? I'm kinda jealous of her, I have to admit. Magnanti is like a year of feminist studies rolled into one. I would have loved to be the first credible candidate for one of feminism's holy grails: the empowered sex worker—able to expose herself to patriarchal fantasies of male domination without becoming damaged goods.

We may have to add her to our pantheon of saints right up there with Susan Faludi and Katha Pollitt. I don't think I've ever heard a more level-headed and reasonable explanation for becoming a call-girl than this one by Magnanti:

"I couldn't find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn't have my Ph.D. yet. I didn't have a lot of spare time on my hands because I was still making corrections and preparing for the viva; and I got through my savings a lot faster than I thought I would. … What can I do that I can start doing straightaway, that doesn't require a great deal of training or investment to get started, that's cash in hand and that leaves me spare time to do my work in?"

Is this woman a scientist or what? Now before you go all ballistic and chastise either myself or Dr. Magnanti for our lack of moral fiber, let me add two things: working as an escort is not illegal in the United Kingdom. Yup, prostitution is above board in England—it's the activities that make sex work a nasty dangerous enterprise that are illegal—no streetwalking, no pimps, no brothels. Secondly, the idea that prostitution is the only commodified form of erotic activity is crazy. Consider the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition for a moment—$6.99 and all you get is the illusion of female sexuality. Magnanti may well be the rare woman who can, as Gloria Steinem put it to Vermont Woman, "experience sexuality as power.…It's not sexuality that's the problem, it's whose sexuality and why?" That's also why I can love Belle de Jour and still condemn human trafficking, the prostitution of children, and pimping without appearing hypocritical or naive.

And lest you think I dodged the whole morality question, let me answer in more detail by punting to a smarter mind. In Feminist Issues in Prostitution, Sarah Bromberg asserts that our stern disapproval of call girls stems "from an underlying assumption in conventional morality that involvement in prostitution will "necessarily" have degenerative effects on a person leading her to other criminal activities.…Prostitution is not a profound condition of degeneracy and in many instances it may be a self-regarding expression of a person surviving in the best way given their skills and opportunities." Take that, you Puritans!

So, I'm a big fan of Dr. Magnanti now; I might even buy her new book, Belle de Jour's Guide to Men. I have a feeling her point of view might be more interesting than the play-hard-to-get, treat-men-like-untrainable-dogs claptrap we women usually get. [As it turns out, the start of chapter one hits the "men are like untrainable dogs" metaphor pretty hard. I guess some stereotypes are hard to break, even if you're a pioneering scientist/call girl.]