A kiss ‘n’ tell story about a footballer, sex and prostitutes is nothing new.
But while we fully expect Wayne Rooney to hang his head in shame after news that he paid for prostitutes came to light, he’s not the only one feeling humiliated.
The newspapers are filled with hand-wringing apologies from the middle-class homes of the two escort daughters.
Instead of tawdry interviews from cashing in on Rooney’s fall from grace — the embarrased families of Jennifer Thompson, 21, and Helen Wood, 23, who had sex with Rooney at The Lowry Hotel near Manchester last July, have both come forward to ask for public forgiveness. It’s clear that they never expected their rebellious daughters to become escorts — and are utterly shocked and outraged by recent events.
Research scientist Dr Brooke Magnanti, aka Belle de Jour, whose infamous blog about her life as a call girl was made into a TV series starring Billie Piper, however, isn’t surprised that these two educated girls should have ended up as escorts.
“Obviously, the economy is the key. More and more women are realising that the stereotype of the drug addicted streetwalker does not always (or even often) apply, and are voting with their wallets, so to speak.”
Wood is a single mother, struggling to look after her son Jack while holding down a job and completing a hairdressing course, and Thompson found that life in the escort business earned her a good wage.
While it’s easy to stereotype sex workers and those involved in the ‘adult entertainment industry’, recent research by the University of Leeds revealed that one in four lap dancers has a degree.
It appears that the sex working industry is becoming increasingly gentrified, and the people involved are more likely to be educated. So is it time to accept that the boundaries about what is an acceptable way to make a living have shifted?
“I am concerned that by selling her story Thompson’s damaged not only her chances of further sex work but now also has others’ prejudices to contend with,” says Magnanti.
“We’ve come a long way in accepting people for doing what is, let’s face it, a legal and storied profession. But there is still a lot of hate against sex workers. I hope she’s strong enough to withstand the critcism, it’s not easy.”
But it shouldn’t be forgotten, adds Catherine Redfern, of The New Feminist Movement, that not everyone wants to make their living this way.
“No one should be forced to do any kind of work that they really don’t want to do, simply to survive,” she says.
“And obviously this applies whether a woman has a degree or has no qualifications at all. The idea that this is more of a concern just because women with degrees are doing this work, is abhorrent.”
Redfern, who recently co-authored a new book, Reclaiming The F Word: The New Feminist Movement, is concerned that the recent survey underlines a worrying trend.
“The fact that it’s predominantly female students, and not male students who are doing this, highlights the entrenched sexism of the sex industry.
“It promotes the idea of women as passive sex objects to be looked at by men. We need to question why this is considered the norm, how society is set up to encourage men and women to see their sexuality in this rigid, binary way, and encourage a much more diverse view.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Magnanti takes a far more pragmatic view.
“I guess I was the only person in the country who wasn’t surpised at the survey’s results,” she says candidly.
“Stripping and sex work are a lot like waiting tables — some people have what it takes to do it for life, but most people are just moving through it on the way to another career.”
“Many of the women I met in the business were well-educated enough to know a minimum wage job couldn’t possibly fund their futures.”
Both experts agree that changes in the way higher education is funded has forced more women to make difficult choices.
“In my opinion, it says less about women and feminism than it does about education and government priorities. I’m sure the survey results would have been very different if the study was conducted back when students had grants for university fees,” says Magnanti.
But she adds that when it comes to sex and people’s private lives, it is absolutely hypocritical for others to judge.
“There isn’t a person in this country with a spotless past if you look hard enough. What happens next is down ultimately to Rooney, and of course his wife.”
Famous call girls
:: The acceptable face of prostitution, Billie Piper played Belle de Jour in A Secret Diary Of A Call Girl. The series is based on the experiences of Dr Brooke Magnanti, who became a call girl while she was in the final stages of writing her Phd. Her blog was then turned into a best-selling book, and screenplay for the ITV1 drama.
:: Two years ago, Ashley Alexandra Dupre was at the centre of a scandal which rocked New York society. Governor Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign when it was revealed he used a prostitution service called Emperors Club VIP - Dupre was the escort in question.
:: When Heidi Fleiss was put under the criminal spotlight in the Nineties, many A-list celebs and politicians reportedly felt a little vulnerable. As the most infamous madame of modern times, reports about Fleiss’s drug abuse and issues with domestic violence have kept her in the spotlight ever since, as have the secrets she purports to keep about America’s elite.
:: Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men is published in paperback by Phoenix, priced £6.99. Available September 16.
:: Reclaiming The F Word: The New Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune is published in paperback by Zed Books, priced £12.99. Available now.