Laurie Penny considers why so many Oxbridge students are going into prostitution and stripping, and the impact the media coverage of their stories has on women in less privileged positions
Teacups are tinkling in outrage as an army of Oxbridge-educated prostitutes terrorises the Home Counties. Maths prodigy Sufiah Yusof has been outed as the latest Oxbridge girl-genius to exchange her blue stockings for suspenders and a push-up bra, while literary ‘happy hooker’ Ruth Fowler becomes the latest in a tired line of well-educated young beauties to land a book deal for her racy autobiography. The story, of course, is an old favourite just screaming to be partnered with extensive photographs of the scholars in various states of graphic undress. And the story is an old favourite precisely because of what it seems to say about women: even the highest-achieving and most privileged are still just whores who only really want to be fucked roughly for money after very expensive dinners.
The blogging revolution has led us to expect to get into our hookers’ heads as well as their knickers, but it’s still a tacky fantasy, far removed from the reality of prostitution for most women. Fowler and Yusof are not saying anything new. After the News of the World ratted Yusof out as a fallen child, she had the temerity and strength of character to stand up for her choices and declare herself more than a hapless victim of circumstance. Good for her. The message that she and Fowler have been complicit in sending, though, is neither groundbreaking nor feminist. This is all we’re good for – that’s the only sub-text every time a well-heeled young woman decides to rent her pert little academic arse at a hundred for hire. Johns everywhere must be rubbing their hands with glee: even the clever ones, the posh bitches who think they’re better than you, will turn into the willing nymphettes of your stickiest wet dreams at the flash of a fiver. We’ll let them into our elite universities, but under their scholar’s gowns they’ll always be slappers.