On Saturday, I was gifted with the opportunity to go and see Dr Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle du Jour – yes, that one) at the Wellcome Collection’s Unclean Beings. My wonderful Twitter pal, @DoktorG, generously left his two tickets at the desk for me – he couldn’t make it for the day, and didn’t want the tickets to go to waste. Ben and I couldn’t stay for the whole day, either, but were determined to at least see Dr Magnanti (and cash in on a free lunch).
It still boggles me, by the way, that Twitter can work like this – I have never met @DoktorG in “the real world”, and yet look at the generosity. Thanks, @DoktorG!
Dr Magnanti was there to speak about, yes you guessed it, prostitution. Her talk was entitled “Why is paid sex dirty?”, and was sadly less than an hour long. I say sadly because Dr Magnanti is such a wonderful speaker.
Dr Magnanti, having actually worked AS a hooker, didn’t bring the stuffiness and drama that usually surrounds a discussion about sex work – there was no “shock” factor and patronisation you would get in, say, a Channel 4 documentary. Dr Magnanti gave a brief history of “the oldest profession”, and offered some opinions as to why it is considered so taboo. She also voiced her own opinion about why this label of “dirty” is so unnecessary – it is, after all, a job. In many societies (different countries, different times), prostitutes earn more money, have more power and more protection, than most other women in “respectable” professions. Someone in the audience gave a statistic of something like 8c a week as a factory worker versus $9 a week as a hooker (somewhere in the Far East I think, but honestly, I have a memory like a sieve).
What followed was an excellent Q&A session, where there were some good questions (What about male prostitutes? Why is the stigma attached to women so much stronger?) and some terrible ones (Why did you choose to reveal your identity as Belle du Jour when you did? Do you regret it, or has it made you a stronger person?).
Long and short: if you get the opportunity to see Dr Magnanti speak, take it. She is not to be missed.
Finally, whilst we were at the Wellcome Collection, I took the opportunity to finally have a look at the temporary Dirt exhibition. Excitingly, I was actually featured in this gallery. Don’t believe me? OK, then I had to break the rules and take a surreptitious photo in this gallery (DO NOT DO THIS – IT’S NAUGHTY AND NOT ALLOWED). See number 12 –
Exciting stuff, right? Find out more about this exhibit (the Laid to Rest project) – I think they’re still taking dust donations, so if you want to see your name in a public gallery (eeee) then go ahead!