Dr Brooke Magnanti is currently defending herself against a libel suit. She is defending herself by having to prove that she was a prostitute. Interesting that having been a professional sex worker could work to her legal benefit!
Dr Magnanti is better known to the world under her nom de plume (nom de guerre?) Belle du Jour. She wrote an anonymous blog about her life as a London escort from 2003. It became a top ten best-selling book and successful TV series starring Billie Piper under the name Secret Diary of a Call Girl. (BTW it’s really funny and I like it a lot)
She wrote the blog under a pseudonym because of the negative reaction she expected. When her name finally became public in 2009, along with the fact that she became an escort to fund her PhD studies, there was, indeed, a furore.
But, maybe because her “coming out” was linked to a TV show, there was also a lot of positive publicity and coverage for her. Journalists hunted for muck to rake and found some pretty unusual stuff about her upbringing. But after someone has proudly fronted up about being a hooker, there’s not a lot more you can throw at them.
And that is when it becomes interesting. Maybe because she had got the story out first and in excruciating detail through her blog. Perhaps because she is articulate and attractive (as well as apparently being incredibly prickly and happy to pick a fight!). Or possibly she is a bellwether that social norms are changing.
But now, as a columnist for the Telegraph (!) occasional TV personality and TED speaker she has become the acceptable face of my profession. To the point where her aggressive defence against a libel case by her ex lover Owen Morris, has the public and press responding in an interesting way.
Mr Morris claims that she effectively “made up” her life as an escort and did not work in the sex industry as she claims. He then says that when he was “outed” at the same time as her, Dr Magnanti’s blog and books effectively destroyed his career and made him unemployable.
Leave aside the fact that Dr Magnanti herself is now married and has a perfectly good career. But the fact that a woman can now defend herself by citing her work as a prostitute in a positive light is interesting. Only ten years ago Belle du Jour would have been burned at the stake. But now Brooke Magnanti is almost a heroine for women’s rights and Mr Morris looks slightly outdated in his aggressively negative views and beliefs about the sex trade and people’s attitudes to it.
Have the views of society changed that much? Can women now do what they want with their bodies and make careers doing so without public shame? Absolutely not. Would our Ibiza escorts be received in the same positive light by their friends, family and society if they were outed? Certainly not! That’s why so many choose to have their public profiles pixellated on our website.
Dr Magnanti is unusual in her positive public profile. But are attitudes slowly moving in the right direction? The tenor of this case seems to suggest so.
Let’s see how the publicity plays out as the case continues. As a final aside, I wouldn’t fancy taking her forensic intellect and personality on in court!