As an intelligent woman with a doctorate (stop sniggering at the back), I am used to people being awed by my wisdom, like, absolutely never. No one ever calls me “Dr”. They call my partner “Dr”. He has a PhD too, which is obviously the main achievement in his life. I am his partner, which is obviously the main achievement in my life, since I get called “Mrs His-Surname” all the fucking time. This sort of thing never happens to Belle de Jour, aka Dr Brooke Magnanti. Everyone falls over themselves to acknowledge her credentials. What’s the big difference? I’ve written a published thesis and shagged men from every sodding continent. Just because I did it for beer and the odd kebab doesn’t make me less of an intellectual giant.
Now before I go any further I’ve a confession to make (no, not a rude one): as with Harry Potter and The Matrix, Confessions of a Call Girl is one of those cultural phenomena about which I feel qualified to have an opinion despite having never consulted the primary sources. I didn’t read the blog, never bought the book and refused to watch the TV episodes with Billie Piper getting her kit off (nothing shall be permitted to sully the memory of Because we want to). Even so, I feel I’ve absorbed the general “message” of it all, which is, as far as I can tell: Dr Magnanti / Belle de Jour is really challenging and transgressive because she’s worked as a prostitute without also being thick. She has thoughts about stuff and can even do science. Isn’t this, like, really fucking weird? The other thing about Dr Magnanti is that she poses a problem for all those stupid feminists who are all funny and freaky about sex, and don’t like shaving their cunts and whatnot. That’s why the right-wing press are happy to use the “Dr” title. A Times review of Magnanti’s new book, The Sex Myth, notes that “she has no time for third-wave feminists who have taken up the “finger-wagging role of the patriarchy”". The reviewer goes on to give her seal of her approval:
As a woman who respects herself and happens to have a nicely trimmed muff, I can see her point.
Hey, well done you! It’s not like women have ever been told before that self-respect and muff-trimming can go hand in hand. I mean, I must have dreamt the whole of the 1990s (God, I have the weirdest imagination. Gail Porter on the Houses of Parliament – what am I like?).
To be honest, I don’t really have an axe to grind with Belle or Dr Magnanti. I haven’t read her stuff and it might be really compelling (the rudey stuff, I mean. I’m not going anywhere near her thesis on macrobioinformatics, and no, I didn’t just make that word up – it is, apparently, what her research is about). But all the cultural crap that surrounds her really sticks in my craw (don’t actually know where my craw is. Could that be rude, too?). I’m really sick of all this pathetic fascination with her – gasp! – double life and amazingly revolutionary challenge to a total straw-man parody of nuanced feminist debate.
So basically, I want to say this: fans of Dr Brooke Magnanti, I’ve done a PhD, I’ve been a total slag, so why don’t you listen to me for a change?
Hey, look, is there anyone still there? It’s me, Mrs His-Surname.
POSTSCRIPT: Since I wrote this, the Evening Standard has written a snide piece including the line ‘Dr Magnanti, as she likes to call herself’. So I, um, might have made some rather sweeping statements here. But hey, Brooke, I get this ALL THE TIME. Welcome to my world. Fancy sharing a kebab?