Belle de Jour by Numbers

Posted: July 3, 2011 in cock, Feminism, Porn, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

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:

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.

  1. Nico D says:

    “…when ‘straight’ men watch ‘straight’ porn…”

    Right. There is no such thing as straight porn.

  2. Nico D says:

    Mainstream feminism’s relationship to pornography and “sexualization” is dysfunctional.

    • Belle de jour is not a ‘mainstream feminist’ by her own account.

    • Nico D says:

      Just to clarify, by putting “sexualization” in quotes, I mean that the thing or process typically called “sexualization” is more complex and nuanced than its casual use suggests.

      I put in quotes because I’m never sure what others mean when they say it. It’s a way of using the word, without actually using it using it.


      • Nico D says:

        I’ve not read Belle/Brooke say that so can’t comment on that..

        “Mainstream” can have a pejorative overtone, like “pop,” as not being weighty enough. When I used it above, it was as shorthand for the strains of feminism that now operate in the higher-traffic feminist blogosphere. Speaking broadly. As in the broad stream, where these things get talked about most regularly and enthusiastically… which is not to imply any kind of consensus.or coherence… though there do seem to be centers of gravity….

        Feminism comes not in waves but in whirlpools.

  3. redpesto says:

    Hmmm…if I wanted a less heteronormative critique of porn/the sex industry, I’d read someone like Patrick Califia.

    If Magnanti/BdJ is able to use her science background to critique junk ‘science’ in ‘research’ about sex, or to use a solid background in research methods to do the same, I’d be grateful (see her critique of the Lilith report?). It’s the same way I don’t expect Ben ‘Bad Science’ Goldacre to come over all literary criticism when he’s demolishing the claims of ‘Awful Poo Lady’ Giillian McKeith.

    • yes her paper on the lilith report was good.

      But her more recent stuff has relied on a ‘scientific’ heteronormative view of sex that makes out sex/gender is innate and natural and sexuality differences can be tested by doing ‘experiments’ – which have been shown to be dodgy. when I tried to speak with her about this she blocked me and sent me a nasty email.

      She is not exposing ‘bad science’ so much as the bits of science she does not agree with.

  4. what I mean is, heteronormative studies ARE bad science as they miss out the range of sexual orientations people have. She never picks up on this which is bad critique.

    • redpesto says:

      “what I mean is, heteronormative studies ARE bad science as they miss out the range of sexual orientations people have”

      Yes, they can be – but studies that explicitly focuses on heterosexuals (however [self-]defined) at least get to state their terms (just as studies of LGBTQ people do, even though they don’t focus on straights). Beyond that, it may imply be yet another version of the nature/nurture row, even if Magnanti/BdJ gets to critique what’s being claimed in terms of ‘nature’ (especially by exposing the lack of rigour in the data collection).

      Here’s a case in point: you’ve already given the ‘Real Men Don’t Buy Girls’ campaign a good kicking; here’s the Village Voice setting out how and why the data is bogus:

      “As far as I’m concerned, [the University of Pennsylvania study] has no scientific credibility to it,” he says. “That figure was in a report that was never really subjected to any kind of peer review. It wasn’t published in any scientific journal.” (David Finkelhor, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire)

      • People like Belle de jour. I am not going to try and convince people to not like her. It is difficult taking on such popular figures, when they do not allow comments on their blog, and then be expected to debate their work fully and comprehensively on my blog when I critique them.

        Why do you think she doesn’t allow comments? Or answer questions on twitter? Why did she email me telling me I don’t know how to read a scientific paper?

        Because she is such a good critiquer of science? Or because she is scared I am unearthing a weakness in her theory/method?

  5. redpesto says:

    Why do you think she doesn’t allow comments? Or answer questions on twitter? Why did she email me telling me I don’t know how to read a scientific paper?

    Because she is such a good critiquer of science? Or because she is scared I am unearthing a weakness in her theory/method?

    I can’t comment on what you/BdJ have said/tweeted to each other. However, I suspect one reason she doesn’t allow comments is not so much because of critiques like yours, but because of all the anti-sex work/sex industry flak she’s received, the result of her being – paradoxically – both somehow ‘unrepresentative’ of sex workers yet the one most often cited in arguments about sex work. Unfortunately, everyone else gets shut out of any direct debate as well, even if it doesn’t shut down discussion elsewhere.

  6. paul says:

    QRG, I totally share your frustration with the Science trump card… Whenever it’s pulled I always think of the Church. There is that same shared assumption that absolute truth resides solely in its own paradigm of Truth / Reality, the same appeal to the barrier of language (scientific language the mere layperson can’t hope to understand versus Scholastic Latin the mere layperson can’t hope to understand), white lab coats instead of black cassocks or red hats etc…

    I also completely agree with your observation about the “big, bulging pink elephant in the room.” Perhaps the only truly “heterosexual porn” might be that which features no people of the same sex. However, there is still the problem that masturbation, I would say, is definitionally a homosexual activity.

    • I think it depends on the viewer too. so if a woman is watching ‘straight porn’ with one man and one woman in, she is still watching another woman in an erotic way. which is kind of queer…

  7. billsnshits says:

    There seems to be a confusion between an act performed and the viewers of that act.
    So “straight porn” is porn that depicts hugging between a man and a woman.
    When you talk like this, there’s no distinction between what is on the screen and what is looking at the screen.
    So, apparently, I guess, a man watching two women suck each other’s tongues is liable to turn him into a lesbian. And when the chicks put on strap-ons and “do” each other, if he’s still watching, he’s watching gay male porn. Which naturally means he’s indulging his gay homosexual identity instincts. He’s watching a version of two men screwing, only it’s two women with plastic cocks who are “virtualizing” the gay porn. But it’s still “gay”. and that’s just for starters.

    I never read her blog and probably never will. Largely due to the itv show. It presented a stunningly seductive billie piper with a stunningly sexy voice, making the most vacuous pronouncements about sex. So I couldn’t stop watching billie, but this exposed me to the god-awful dialogue, which I now presume to be the substance of Magnanti’s “take”.

    But it’s impossible for her not to identify primarily as a “pro sex” rebel against a puritan social norm. I know nobody on here considers it “in good taste” to even acknowledge that conservatism exists, focusing most laudably on the problems with hypocritical liberals (which few liberals do).
    Nevertheless, the dominance of the “homophobia” theme and the “anti/pro/tolerant-of pornography” theme in modern pop politics creates a right/left opposition (however illusory) which will be, to such as Dr. Magnanti, meaningful oppositions in which to operate.

    So, and this is pure guessing shot-in-the-dark, belle de jour may believe that making a popular case for any kind of sexual liberalization would best be done from the voices of women (those who are regulated under the law by virtue/sin of having a vagina and potentially birthing – as much of a false construct and gender fascism as that is) b/c so much about sex law and opinion is covered in a mendacious veneer that it’s all to “protect the womenz “. I tend to agree with her. But I also can’t imagine calling this science. It’s all politics, when you tailor your arguments for political gain.

    Perhaps a female who romanticized an admittedly safe-and-successful enough adventure to qualify as romantic in a safe bourgeois sense, really just is all heternormative. But what does it say that there’s enough of a heteronormative audience out there? Or are we yet again confusing what is depicted with the viewer? Her adventures servicing men might primarily be viewed by doggedly lesbian grandmas or gay-gay gay men. The str8’s might find it all a bit heteronormatively been-there-done-that. And the social and sexual conservatives and feminists (undeniably heteronormative groups) are still too busy saying that sex-hurts-women-and-so-hurts-men-as-they-hurt-women to even consider her or her type as anything but a bad joke, set on ruining us all.

    Then again, that feminists (b.s. theory) and conservatives (immasculated gut reaction) both consider homosexuality to be a disgusting icky thing , may provide a clue about all this.

    • billsnshits says:

      I mean feminists find homosexuality icky and problematic as theory. And conservatives find it icky just b/c they’re afraid that if they don’t find it gut-level icky, that means they’ll be gay and taking it up the arse by tea time.

  8. billsnshits says:

    In fact, so far, the most effective critique against censorship of sexuality in all its forms, in the larger public awareness, has been to present it as avenue of capitalist success/conformity. (pro sex “the prostitute is powerful b/c she makes money”).
    That has also been the way to deride sexual objectification as the universal norm of sex and evil in itself (it takes the humanity out of sex and commodifies people, like chattel)
    It has also been the way to keep everything the same, b/c really queer “queer” sex/porn gets ignored when buyer and seller are confusing.

    I guess it all comes down to rejecting capitalism as the prime descriptor of the world, if we are to take an interest in truly queer sex.
    and the impulse to make money is probably too strong to ever accomplish that. The best things in life are free, but you can give…and all that.

  9. Chère Madame ‘Quiet Riot Girl’, Certified owner (since 1989) of the Trademark “Sexonomics”, I am grateful for your critical remarks concerning Brooke Magnanti’s forthcoming book with the title “Sexonomics”. Her singular emphasis on prostitution and pronography manifests that she has absolutely no idea of the meaning and significance of “sexonomics” In its original definition in my text “The Golden Triangle: Sexuality, Money, Power – Sexonomics” (copyright 1991 and available on my website, for which reason I sent her an Email pointing out the misrepresentation and the illegal use of my Trademark. Not even bothering to send me a reply and apologize (neither have her literary agents and her published), behaviour typical of persons to whom profit at any moral price appears to be the ultimate measure of success. I thank you for your critical note concerning Brooke Magnanti’s behaviour (and, presumably, character). May I point out that I have arranged to place Ms. Magnanti’s face, with a short description of her misdeeds into the pillory on my blog “The Sexonomics Hall of Shame. Respectfully, Dr. Adalbert Lallier

    • Hell Dr Lallier
      I am sorry to hear about your problems with BM and ‘sexonomics’.
      I have received an email from her and it wasn’t pleasant so you aren’t missing much!

      I dislike the woman on a personal level, but I think her behaviour is quite typical within academic publishing. It is quite a cutthroat business!

      She has not been updating her blog lately. Maybe she does not want her work to be in the public domain and open to critique before publication.

      Good luck!


      • Thank you indeed for your kind response. It now seems that BM has since chaned the (proposed) title of her book ‘sexonomics”, into something else, referring to ‘sexonomics’ as “not really a word”. But she still continues using it on her Blog. I On June 16h and June 23rd, the Google Webcrawler discovered the following (disgusting) statement on her (new) blog: The Sex Myth: “… Adalbert Lallier can kiss my ass … . No even the (Ancient Indian) Kama Sutra)designated “Elephant Woman” would use this kind of vile language. Yet, surprisingly, BM still continues attracting an apparently numerous audience.

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