Zoe Margolis wins libel damages

Zoe Margolis, author of the Girl with the one-track mind blog and books under the pseudonym Abby Lee, yesterday won libel damages from the Independent on Sunday following publication of an article she had written in which she was falsely referred to as a “hooker” in the headline.

Margolis, a prolific writer and commentator on female sexuality, women’s issues and modern technology, as well as an ambassador for the young people’s sexual health charity Brook, wrote an article for the Independent on Sunday, published 7 March 2010, about her experiences following her loss of anonymity. The piece was mistakenly headlined in both the print and online editions of the paper: “I was a hoooker who became an agony aunt.” Despite being informed of the mistake and a changed (although offensive, but not defamatory) headline was published in a later print edition, the Independent on Sunday failed to adeqately mitigate and consequently the URL title remained defamatory for an excessive number of hours after they were notified. The Indepenent on Sunday did print an apology on 12 March 2010, but this in no way adequately rectified their ealier mistake, since it was an extremely small piece, not publicised to nearly the same extent.

The case was settled out of court and an official press release published on Margolis’s blog states:

These proceedings have now come to a conclusion and substantial damages have been offered to Ms. Margolis for the distress and impact to her reputation, both personal and professional, that this libel caused.

A statement was read yesterday at the Royal Courts of Justice before Mr Justice Eady, who heard that Margolis had suffered distress and embarassment following the publication of these untrue statements, something which continues to have a detrimental impact on her life. While the payment of damages probably does not compensate Margolis for the anguish this has, and is likely will continue, to cause her, hopefully this victory will herald a change in the way in which the media portrays female sexuality.

Margolis, who tried to maintain her anonymity following the release of her first book, Girl with a one-track mind, was unnecessarily exposed by the Sunday Times in a disgusting manner shortly following its publication in 2006. However, despite the personal upset this caused, Margolis has continued to fight against gender stereotypes and is now a dynamic and inspirational commentator on female sexuality. It is ironic that publication of her second book, Girl with a one track mind: exposed in March this year, was likewise noted with an inaccurate and derogatory press piece that misreprested her lifestyle choices.

It is doubtless that the mistake made by the Independent on Sunday emanated from the inability of sub-editors to distinguish between Margolis and Brooke Maganti, author of the Belle du Jour blog and books. However, while both women write about sex and sexuality this is where the comparison ends. Margolis, who until her exposure worked in the film industry, is a woman who simply enjoys sex and writes about her experiences, whereas Magnanti has written extensively about her experiences as a prostitute. This case has demonstrated the inability of the media to appreciate that a woman can be open about her sexuality and sexual desire without having to already be seemingly ‘transgressive’ in some way – which is why the two women became almost interchangeable at Independent HQ. It isn’t acceptable for a woman to speak candidly about sex because there still seems to be a prevailing attitude that a woman cannot enjoy sex, or even openly admit to having sex, unless there is a reason to excuse why she has done so. Even then, a woman, regardless of whether she is a sex worker or not, is still denigrated in some way and her every move is subject to scrutiny when we should be allowed to make any lifestyle choice we wish free from prejudice and categorisation.

The Independent on Sunday confirmed the outdated and sexist stereotypes that Margolis effectively challenges through her writing, and hopefully she will continue to show that is is acceptable for a woman to be at ease and open about her sexuality despite the limitless obstacles she has to overcome.