Monday, November 16, 2009

Apparently sex is quite a good way of grabbing people's attention

Of all the various dribblings about the news that Call Girl/Blogger Belle de Jour is really a research scientist one comment stands out in this piece by Rowan Pelling:

She was very smart indeed – always the mark of the born courtesan – and a gifted, witty writer.

Quite. Of all the bits of conventional wisdom one hears (don't have red wine with fish, no invading force has ever won a war in Afghanistan - really?) by far the most infuriating is the argument that men aren't interested in a woman who is as bright or brighter than them.

Now doubtless there are a great many men who are indeed insecure enough to be put off by intelligence in a woman - and a great number of women insecure enough to convince themselves that such creatures are entirely representative as an excuse for their own romantic failures or shortcomings. But this isn't remotely true.

Quite apart from the fact that if there is anything clandestine, furtive (even sordid, if you like) about a relationship, the smarter the other party the better - properly (or even improperly) speaking, one wants the mind as well as the body stimulated. And to do that you want a girl with a bit of imagination, after all.


Another interesting thing, quite apart from the fact that most condemnatory reactions to the story have come from self-styled feminists who resent the fact that Dr Brooke Magnanti hasn't had a rough enough time of it, is her rationale for becoming a prostitute.

When she could no longer afford her rent, she started to think: “What can I do that I can start doing straightaway, that doesn’t require a great deal of training or investment to get started, that’s cash in hand and that leaves me spare time to do my work in?”

It may be coincidence, but this is echoes the arguments of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in Superfreakonomics, who explore how in prostitution, like any other business, people make similar calculations and respond to incentives.

One can also see this phenomenon in publishing and journalism. I'm afraid this next observation really is going to be a variant on the sex sells theme, but media organisations know the high class hooker/writer unmasked as research scientist story is a godsend because people love a little salaciousness. An even better example is the Freakonomics crew themselves. Their book is studded (if that's the right word) with facts that pander to the reader's endless curiosity about the seamier sides of life (Eg: hookers in Chicago are more likely to sleep with a cop than to be arrested by one, pimps are far more useful to society than estate agents - that one probably isn't much of a surprise really). It's one way of flogging a book about economics, after all.

Any way, so much for the supply. As for the demand, there is the argument that one reason why people (well, men mainly) are willing to fork out vast sums to call girls (£300 an hour in Belle de Jour's case) is that they get something they can't get from their other halves. This might come down to willingness to perform certain sexual acts, of course, but - to return to the Pelling argument - it would strongly suggest that in many cases intelligence, wit and imagination would all be highly desirable too.

It would be nice to think you can't put a price on these attributes. But, of course, that often isn't the case at all.

[Amusing, but distracting typo now corrected]

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Blogger Douglas said...

Of all the bits of conventional wisdom one hears, don't have red wine with fist...

I say.

1:31 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Oops. Thanks for that Douglas. It's now corrected. Nothing freudian about that, at all.

2:28 pm  

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