Belle de Jour’s unveiling shows lack of class

16 Nov

belle de jourSo a lot of talk today is about the unveiling of Belle de Jour, the upper-end prostitute portrayed by Billie Piper in the TV programme you may have seen.

The  picture of the real Belle de Jour, an elegant blonde woman, dressed in a coffee-coloured silk dressing gown, adorns the pages to a mixed response. She is now a scientist, specialising in childhood cancer, and explains that she worked as a prostitute to fund her PhD.

Now I know prostitution is a very tricky issue, with the constant balancing act between freedom of choice and exploitation.  Hers is clearly meant to be a freedom of choice demonstration and she profited immensely from it, admitting she was “very lucky” to have had no bad experiences.  The problem is this misrepresentation that she comes from a higher caste of sex workers. Yes, it is a very different ball game to wear a Valentino dress and sit poised and confident in a hotel bar until your C.E.O appointment turns up. But the idea is the same and the act is the same as those sex workers on the streets of Ipswich, just swap a plush leather chaise-lounge for the back seat of a Ford.

It is the class system which seperates these women, certainly not anything else. An activist from the International Union of Sex Workers said: “Loads of people who work in the sex industry are academics – education is a very expensive habit.”  Getting to university itself is expensive enough and not achievable for many. Getting a PhD is a luxury available to a further minority.

Looking at this woman in her dressing gown with her coiffed hair does annoy me, because she is not the truth. The truth is the masses of women, the world over, who find themselves in exploitative and very dangerous situations, due to sheer desperation. Whether its the desperation of drugs or feeding their children and family, they are not afforded the luxury of being desperate for education. Education is a dream beyond the perameters. Cycles of poverty and low aspirations mean this carries on.

The idea that this woman was ‘desperate’ enough for her PhD to put herself into their shoes willingly is a mockery to all the women fighting to be given fairer chances to education, careers and most importantly, freedom.


Posted by on November 16, 2009 in Uncategorized



4 responses to “Belle de Jour’s unveiling shows lack of class

  1. stephenpaterson

    November 16, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Like all markets, this market clearly has upper and lower ends. As street sex workers are generally estimated to constitute only 10-15% or so of sex workers in developed countries, it would seem that the sex workers of Ipswich were less typical in this respect than Belle de Joer.

    There will always be those who choose sex work, but sex work seems also destined to be seen as a last resort of desperate persons, especially women. This latter group are generally less successful for a variety of reasons – the problems that cause them to fail in other areas can equally affect them in sex work, and, because they are driven purely by desperation, they will have no enthusiasm for, or interest in, the work.

    You seem to be in a state of denial about this woman being “the truth”. I would suggest she is as much a part of the truth as any other past or present sex worker, in a world of highly diverse persons who take up this occupation for whatever reasons.

    No doubt there are some exploited sex workers. But then, exploitation can occur in any commercial transaction, for labour or for goods. A recent survey of sex workers revealed that far more considered themselves to be exploiting their clients – by charging money their clients could ill afford and taking advantage of people’s loneliness – than felt exploited by either clients or other persons within the sex industry. Check out the Suzanne Jenkins study here:

    • explosivechutney

      November 17, 2009 at 11:22 am

      Yep, as I said it’s a complex balance between freedom of choice and exploitation, and I do recognise that all women have the right to exercise their choice. What I’m also saying is that this choice, however, is driven by so many other factors and if these factors were different, it would affect their choice. This is seen through their ‘failure’ in other aspects of life or work – why do they think they failed, is it due to low aspirations, lack of education or training, pregnancy at a young age with no support thereafter? It is these kinds of reasons making them ‘choose’ a life as a sex worker as other doors have been closed for them.

      Even Belle de Jour’s ‘choice’ came from her need to fund her PhD – maybe eventually she found she was enjoying exploiting her clients, but this is what pushed her to start in the first place. I don’t think she represents the truth of her fellow sex workers because her claims to freedom are flawed.

      I checked out your link and I think Dr Mai’s comments on stigmatisation are interesting. The sex workers he surveyed said this is the main problem of working in the sex industry. But I wonder where this stigmatisation is coming from – sure, a lot of it comes externally but could there not inevitable be a stigmatisation coming from within? Belle de Jour demonstrates this when she’s reluctant to reveal her work to her boyfriend – it’s because she’s nervous of his reaction but also unveiling a hidden side of herself to somebody close means it is out in the open and she would have to acknowledge it as the truth, rather than a secret part of her life. I’m not saying stigmatisation of sex workers is right, but it is important to weigh up its sources.

      Tanya Gold puts it very well in her piece in The Guardian today on the gruesome realities of prostitution:

      • stephenpaterson

        November 17, 2009 at 12:07 pm

        You are right in your assertion that it is important to weigh up the causes of stigmatisation of sex workers. Dr Eugene Butler of the Adam Smith Institute recently described sex work as, properly, a caring profession, and one wonders why members of such a profession should find themselves stigmatised.

        Even states that have done most to decriminalise sex work, such as New Zealand and parts of Australia, still acknowledge a problem with stigmatisation.

        I believe the internet, as it radically changes all other aspects of life, is similarly changing sex work, at least in the developed world. I think it is becoming increasingly a matter of choice rather than of desperation.

        This reflects itself in some statistics. For example, the proportion of street sex workers highly addicted to class A or B drugs has risen rapidly overt the last decade (proper Class B drugs, not cannabis). Whilst a number of factors could have caused this, including the prevalence and cost of such drugs, I believe that many sex workers who were on the streets and who have the wherewithal have emigrated to the net, where they are at least safer than on the streets and not subject to attacks by the general public. Consequently, the drug addicted are left behind.

        I suppose Belle de Joer’s reluctance to inform her boyfriend could stem from concern at the perceived hurt it would cause him, as well as comeback on her.

        You must forgive me – I hadn’t realised you’ve just started blogging until after I commented first time round. However, I’ve now been welcomed to the messy world of exploding chutney!

        Do you think sex work affects British Asian women differently to other British women, or other Asian women, possibly due to religious or other cultural background?

        Someone (I’ve forgotten who) said only man could create a shortage of something every woman has an infinite supply of!

        Although I’ve never been too sure about Black Widow spiders….

      • explosivechutney

        November 17, 2009 at 5:04 pm

        I think there is definitely a more hidden culture when it comes to British Asian sex workers, or people in the sex industry. Then again, sex generally is still very taboo in Asian communities – we have just about got around to people kissing on the lips in Bollywood films, with no tongues of course – that’s for the midnight showing.

        Yes I think you’re right that religion and culture play a part – which is worrying because this makes them much more vulnerable to exploitation and danger. I haven’t seen a lot of research into this but I would still say that British Asian sex workers are among the minorities – there would be more women who come from Asian countries such as India, Nepal, Pakistan etc who get trafficked into prostitution here.

        I fail to see how the internet makes any difference in changing prostitution. The risks and dangers are exactly the same- meeting a stranger will always carry these risks, whether you do it online or in a bar. You can argue that this is the case for other jobs too but the overall chance of attack is significantly higher in sex work. And that doesn’t even cover the STIs and psychological damage. The charity Eaves4women’s report ( shows that more than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted. I just don’t see how choice has any part to play here.

        And yes, I have just started blogging so welcome! It’s a strange and interesting little world.

        I think that people could learn from black widow spiders – sometimes its best to just keep away.


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