Belle de Jour, now known as Dr Brooke Magnanti, is writing a book called Sexonomics.
She is blogging about the topics that will be covered in the book: mainly pornography, sex work and the sex industry. It is a critical look at the media, research and feminist analyses of these areas. It sounds great, but I have had quite a few problems with what I have read so far on her blog.
1) Just The Facts
The first problem I have had is her attachment to ‘science’ and ‘facts’. Sex and the sex industry are a very complex area, and we all bring our own subjectivities to the table. Brooke is someone who made a name for herself writing about being a ‘high class’ sex worker. This identity is never far from her analyses. She seems most concerned with ‘women’ in the sex industry, and also with media and social attitudes to sex/sex work/porn, from a white, middle class perspective, which is her own perspective. But Brooke is also a scientist by trade, and so she presents herself as able to critique ‘science’ of sex, and offer the ‘true’ factual version of events as a scientific researcher. For me, as you know from some of my previous writings, ‘science’ is one of the most problematic areas in sex and sex research. I do not rate it above social studies or personal accounts, that is for sure.
When I did challenge Brooke on her use of one particular study by J Michael Bailey:
she blocked me on twitter, sent me a rude email and basically told me I didn’t know what I was talking about, because I am not a scientist. I do have a PHD though, as does she. But just in social science. And, as she does not allow comments on her blog, her version of the ‘facts’, her ‘truth’ will always be what takes precedent. She is not allowing other voices to even attempt to enter into her writing process. How lonely it must be, being a true scientist.
2) No, seriously, what about teh menz?
I just had this great blog brought to my attention: http://noseriouslywhatabouttehmenz.wordpress.com/
It is a question I should like to pose to Brooke: what about men in porn, in sex work , in sex itself? Her focus, for example in this set of posts about porn, is all on women. As porn actresses, as potential ‘victims’ of porn, as the people most qualified to comment about the role of porn in people’s lives. The newsnight debate she took part in recently that she refers to, included only women guest speakers, but she does not comment on this. I expect she would if it had have been all men! Brooke distances herself from ‘feminism’ as a dogma, but her analysis is ‘feminist’ in that it is women-centric. This, for a forthcoming book aimed to be a serious study of sex in the economy, is a huge oversight in my view. When she does mention men, e.g in the post ‘does porn make men see women differently?’ it is always in relation to women, and nearly always (with one brief exception) with men cast as consumers of porn, women as subjects/objects. And again, in these posts she seems to be aiming to reveal the ‘truth’ about pornography as opposed to the ‘myths’ put about by the media. But I do not think there is one truth. It is a very complex area. One which includes men!
3) You so heteronormative, girl!
Brooke Magnanti is not stupid. In fact, she is very, very clever. Much cleverer than me. She is actually making money out of writing about sex. I am the stupid one in many ways. She is also clever in that in her current writing about the sex economy, she is using a lot of the ‘right’ words, that make people think she is a good, liberal critic of draconian attitudes to porn and sex.
For example, in her recent posts about pornography debates above, she mentions ‘queer’ porn, and how a lot of the discussions are very ‘heteronormative’ in approach. She also discusses ‘feminist’ pornography and mentions some big names in the field like Anna Span and Jiz Lee. These people have currency not just in the industry but in the ‘critical’ industry of how we talk about pornography. She gives them a nod. They will think she is covering their interests and their work.
But is she? I have found all Brooke’s essays so far completely and utterly heteronormative in themselves. In her post on whether or not porn ‘makes men see women differently’ for example, she does not once refer to gay porn, or the fact some men are either not heterosexual or do not watch exclusively heterosexual pornography. Or, the big, bulging pink elephant in the room that I like to bring up every now and again, that when ‘straight’ men watch ‘straight’ porn they are not just looking at women but also at naked big-cocked men and their naked big ejaculating cocks.
The studies she refers to in this piece also fail to mention that not all men are heterosexual.
So, to summarise, I am very impressed by Brooke Magnanti. She is convincing a lot of people whom I respect, that she has a balanced, ‘scientific’ and politically sound approach to critiquing pornography, sex work and the sex economy. She is doing this despite (or because of?) her unquestioning acceptance of the value of ‘science’ in the study of sexualities, her complete focus on women in the sex economy, and her heteronormative perspective.
I am sure she will sell lots of books.
But will she bust the ‘myths’ about sex in consumer capitalism? I don’t think so. She is reinforcing them.