Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Let's not talk about sex

So, Abby Lee - author of the brilliantly entertaining blog "the girl with the one track mind", which led to a book of the same name - is probably stopping her blog. The reason: her real identity (Zoe Margolis) was "outed" by a gutter publication masquerading as a Sunday newspaper.
As a result, not only has she had to leave home, but all her friends, family, lovers, work colleagues and passing acquaintances, know what she does, who she does it with, and when and where she masturbates. Being outed means she can't write candidly any more.
This brilliant blog details the attempts of a 33-year-old single woman to find sexual partners. She thinks about sex a lot (ie has a one track mind) and writes about what she does and who she does it with in a witty and engaging way.
What's happened to her has certainly given me pause for thought, both for myself and as a feminist. Now I've made it a personal rule that I won't write about anything here that I wouldn't want my family or my (obviously liberal) employer to see. This blog is about the politics of sex, not actual shagging - especially not any that I've ever done myself! I post under my real name: given that I'm a career journalist/writer, it would be stupid not to. Still, if I ever slip up and say something that isn't in the public domain - that I identify as bisexual, am in a long-term relationship with a man and have had relationships in the past with women and men - then I might have problems.
It's partly because I am a journalist that I am so disgusted by what's happened. Many of us try to be ethical in our dealings with other people. Ms Anna Mikhailova, however, the author of this "expos", is obviously motivated entirely by ambition. While knowing full well that Abby/Zoe is worried about her perfectly legal and moral exploits being known to the world, she goes ahead and does it anyway.
The undivine Ms M throws around plenty of damning words: "shameless", "commitment-free", "low-brow pornography". She also throws into doubt the fact that Zoe actually wrote the book. "Much of its commercial value depends on readers believing it is the true account of a sexually liberated women". Why would anyone think it wasn't? Abby/Zoe writes about fancying some of the actors she works with. Well, why wouldn't she? Anna M hides her prissy moralism very badly.
Of course, she is obviously trying to make her mark - an internet search of her name reveals four pieces done at the Sunday Times (two as a joint byline) and many others at a publication called Oxford Student, so perhaps she was on work experience at the ST.
The ST, a Murdoch-owned paper, has behaved really hypocritically - they published a piece by Abby/Zoe, and excerpted her book. Then, a few weeks later, they do this to her. Why? It seems needlessly mean, particularly as Abby/Zoe writes at length about how worried she is that she will be "found out".
There is no reason for the public to know the real identity of Abby/Zoe. In fact, I doubt if the public is actually interested. She is not a public figure, a celebrity, a member of parliament. She's an ordinary woman on the crew of British films. Or she was. Now, she's not getting any work.

Women, know your place
So for me, this issue has some led to some pretty thumping political conclusions. 1) If you (a woman) want to be taken seriously or have a career, don't write about sex. 2) don't believe for a second that you can think about, or act like, men do when it comes to sex.
The media has decided there are two acceptable ways for women to be sexually - and everyone knows that when women try to be sexual in unacceptable ways, they have to be punished. The first is: woman who wants a long-term relationship, or is already in one, and within that wants sex. If she is young and innocent, or has been married for a long time, fine. If she is over-30 and single, it's going to be tough because there is cellulite and weight gain, men who won't commit, the biological clock, and career demands to worry about. She will have to resort to some kind of manipulation - or at least bloody good luck - to get a man. It's the Bridget Jones scenario. But Bridget Jones started off as a satire.
The second is: kiss and tell girl, who has sex with footballers, and as a career goal wants to be famous, which she will achieve by posing naked for men's magazines. She is invariably under 25. Most of the women in Big Brother fall into this category.
If you might in any way fall into this latter camp, then you can forget any idea that you have the right to think. After all, a one-track mind can only focus on sex; women's poor little brains are much too small to actually have an intellect too. If you think about/write about sex - and especially if you are involved in the sex industry at all, in any way, ever - then you are necesssarily a stupid victim, probably not knowing what is good for you due to sexual abuse or other abuse by men. Look at all the hoo-hah surrounding the Belle de Jour blog/book. BdJ is or was an escort who blogged about it, and the supposition is and was that it couldn't be a real prostitute writing it because it was too well done. Now, I have no idea who BdJ is, whether it is a female escort or a male jobbing hack or a team of people, but in a way it doesn't matter. It's the supposition that all prostitutes are dimwits, incapable of stringing a sentence together / no intelligent woman (who wasn't a junkie) would ever be in the sex industry that I object to. And good liberal journalists (like me) are as likely to believe that as anyone crawling up the posterior of Rupert Murdoch. Perhaps they should check out a blog like this.
But anyway, Abby/Zoe is not in the sex industry. She is simply a woman trying to follow her own desires, writing about wanting sex in a way that many women can recognise. I certainly can. She doesn't write about wanting a boyfriend, about being insecure, about wanting to settle down. Occasionally, she even writes about having sex with women. But in no sense is she a victim in her search for sex.

What a man can do
If she was a man, no one would be remotely interested. I presume there are blogs about straight(ish) men pursuing sex with women, but no one gives them book deals or is interested in knowing who they really are. And gay men are almost expected to talk about/write about casual sex: Mark Simpson, for instance, who among other things writes fascinating stuff about having sex with "straight" men, is perfectly explicit.
But Abby/Zoe is a woman, and she has not played by the rules. She specifically says that she started blogging to write about sex a progressive, feminist, sex-positive way, something she didn't see covered elsewhere. Interestingly, some of the reviews on the amazon site also think she is pandering to male fantasies. But there are mentally healthy women who are interested in casual sex. There are!
"The idea that men use love to get sex and women use sex to get love is a myth," she says. "In my experience, men want and need love just as much as women, and women seek sexual pleasure just as much as men do. The difference is that it's still unacceptable for men to admit to that emotional need, in case they are labelled weak or feminine, and if a woman is open about her sexual desires, she's instantly labelled a slut." As she has clearly been.
As Natalie Angier, Pulitzer-prize winning science correspondent puts it "Women are said to have lower sex drives than men, yet they are universally punished if they display evidence to the contrary."
Just like Abby Lee/Zoe Margolis is being punished right now. And Anna Mikhailova, traitor to women who want to play by their own rules, has her reward: a byline, a few hundred pounds, and a leg up on a very slippery career ladder.


Artroxu said...

O M G ! ! ! I LOVE YOU!! You are brilliant! It's so great to hear a Bisexual sex positive feminist write so eloquently about this double standard. Thank you from the bottom of my kinky little heart!!!

Sue George said...


Anonymous said...

Very true, very well written!