Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

The Jewish Journal and the Jewish Belle de Jour

The Jewish Journal reports on the University of Bristol  prostitute Belle de Jour who has revealed her identity as a UK cancer researcher, Brooke Magnanti. But why should such be reported in the Jewish Journal?  Well, it turns out that Magnanti is Jewish.

The Jewish Journal found the following quote from Magnanti from the Daily Mail as being particularly tasteless-

‘My mother’s family are Jewish; there’s this hoarding thing, saving, being prepared – if you’re in debt, somebody could come and knock on your door and take it all away tomorrow.’

That explanation sent columnists in a stammering outrage.  Where to take umbrage first: at the ethnic stereotype?  At the leap from debt to paid sex? At the idea of a smart woman taking life-threatening risks?

Leaving the stereotypical reference to Jewish people aside, it is outrageous by implication to liken herself – an educated woman waiting to get her PhD – to the kind of pitifully poverty-stricken and powerless female who, the world over, becomes a prostitute because of need.

The Jewish Journal then reports:

Dr Magnanti, who studied anthropology and math in Florida, was completing a PhD at Sheffield University’s department of forensic pathology when she became a call girl. Realising she had no objection to having sex for money, she contacted an agency and worked as a prostitute from 2003 to late 2004, which she said was ‘so much more enjoyable’ than her shifts in another job as a computer programmer.

The Belle du Jour blog became a hot media property, spurring speculation about the true author, a lucrative book deal.  The book was serialized on UK prime time television in 2007’s “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” starring actress of Billie Piper, and eventually played on pay cable in the US…

The blog made no secret of Belle du Jour’s Jewish background.  But in a recent post, though, Magnanti provided a slightly different explanation of why she turned to a life of $600 hour sex rather than the workaday grind:
Once upon a (very long) time ago, after being a student and before moving to London, I had a year of working several jobs at the same time. They were, in case you wondered, at an art gallery, a bookshop, a map/travel store, and an internship for the professional employment I later returned to. I put two thirds of my earnings into savings… savings that didn’t last half as long as I needed them to, or thought they would, and were long gone by the time I moved to London.

It was a busy time of my life. So busy, in fact, there were days I literally had to choose between having time enough to eat and getting enough sleep. I lost weight to the point at which my father, all ten stone of him, was concerned for my health. And once out the other side I promised – no, I swore – I would never do that again.
Which is not, incidentally, the reason I became a call girl a couple of years later – though certainly it was an experience informing that decision.

So was it boredom, or a “Jewish” aversion to debt that led Magnanti into her secret life as a hooker with a heart of…Goldstein?  Her father, a plumber who lives in Holiday, Florida, told the Daily Mail it’s all his fault: after his divorce from Magnanti’s mother, he visited as many as 150 prostitutes, and introduced his daughter to many of them. 
‘Of those, four or five were deep emotional relationships, and Brooke met those women. She saw that prostitutes were human. They were women.
‘Brooke did not approve of me seeing the prostitutes, not because they were selling their bodies for sex but because of their drug use.
‘We had a very big falling out. Brooke said some harsh things that she hoped would help me – but which had the opposite effect.’

But the former plumber said he was proud of his daughter, saying: ‘She has not done anything wrong. Brooke is a very independent woman, and I support whatever she has done.’
He added: ‘I am glad that she is no longer a prostitute. In my experience prostitution is wrong and corrupts people. I know that from my own experience.

So what does Judaism teach about prostitution?  Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, jewishjournal.com’s resident expert on sex and Jewish law, put it this way:
“Don’t believe any balderdash that says Jews can visit prostitutes. Judaism demands that all men and women experience sex the best way. And that is, where they can have really uninhibited sex because they are devoted to each other. They are not ashamed to be around one another because they are totally committed. They are not afraid of exposing their soft underbelly. Many people today have sex with full body armor, with all their inhibitions intact, with their defenses up.”

Judaism condemns prostitution.  Then again, it has some pretty harsh things to say about eating shrimp, and plenty of Jews enjoy that too. So are we shocked, shocked that a bright Jewish woman would turn to tricks to make a living?  No—just that she’d somehow ascribe “a pathological aversion to being in debt”  as a Jewish trait.  Way to shatter one stereotype and spread another.

The dankprofessor feels that the Jewish Journal goes beyond the fringe when it asserts that somehow Magnanti shatters one stereotype and spreads another. I did not even know that there was a stereotype of a Jewish prostitute or of Jews suffering a pathological aversion to being in debt.

In any case, if people are so prone to engage in stereotypical thinking as reported by the Jewish Journal, maybe people will start stereotyping sex workers as cancer researchers. OK, not as cancer researchers but as British cancer researchers.  This sort of thing simply can’t happen in the United States.

November 17, 2009 - Posted by | Jewish Journal, prostitution, sex, sex work, sex workers, sexual politics, University of Bristol

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