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Been There. Done What?!
August 25, 2010 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Jillian Lauren recently wrote a book about her experiences as a harem girl in Brunei. LA Weekly also went in-depth into her story.

While Jillian has made out OK, her benefactor, Prince Jefri Bolkiah has not. He has been accused of embezzling money from Brunei and has been involved in many legal battles.

Back in 2008, Prince Jefri's wife, Kelly, also spoke about her experiences with him.
posted by reenum (88 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sometimes I really miss the good old-fashioned culture of shame.

I mean really.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:43 AM on August 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


If there's a better example of being an "attention whore," I have yet to see it.
posted by rhymer at 9:47 AM on August 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


This is the same Prince Jefri who named a yacht "Tits" and the two tenders "Nipple 1" and "Nipple 2", yes?
posted by longbaugh at 9:47 AM on August 25, 2010


It's amazing to me that the LA Times groups her book with "Paradise Beneath Her Feet" (an excellent overview of women's changing roles in the Middle East) and Roxana Saberi's book about being imprisoned in Iran. AND her book has been sold in 11 countries. Who is her publicist?
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 9:55 AM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder what it is that makes one "punk rock" these days.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:56 AM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


So this is what our world has come to: a disingenuous harem girl, putting in just enough hours to get a book deal. Same as all those faux-with-a-sense-of-irony-and-a-blog strippers out there.
posted by grounded at 9:56 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought it would be interesting, but I'm just grossed out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:08 AM on August 25, 2010


I didn't realize harems were optional.
posted by ODiV at 10:11 AM on August 25, 2010


I hate these photos so much. SO much. They make me clench. Shades of the exotic Orient, encompassing everything east of Greece. What's a few thousand miles between the Middle East and Southeast Asia? Ugh.
posted by superquail at 10:28 AM on August 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


But she has tattoos! And she knits! So she's one of us!
posted by lukemeister at 10:34 AM on August 25, 2010


As someone who read this book let me tell you, no need. The story is not nearly as titilating as you might hope and her daddy issues are boringly prominent. It's too bad because I think there's a good story in there but she did not tell it.
posted by ch1x0r at 10:37 AM on August 25, 2010


I'll admit to sometimes fantasizing about lounging on couches like tigers on rocks while wearing an evening gown instead of being a desk jockey. But then I realize that I wouldn't have the freedom to use the money as I desired, so to me the wealth would be pointless because I have no interest in designer shopping sprees.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:49 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


So is this the female version of the LA douchebag?
posted by hal_c_on at 10:49 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've encountered women who were trafficked and who were, in a very real sense, slaves. So I'm sensitive about using demeaning phrases to describe women who sold sex for money.

But this article makes me realise that, sometimes, a whore really is just a whore.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:19 AM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't see the need to throw out insults. A woman makes a mistake in her youth and, it seems, spends a big chunk of time dealing with the psychological consequences. She writes a book about it. It seems reasonable to me. If a young American guy did something similar, say became a drug-mule for the Yakusa, he'd probably write a book about it too.
posted by Kattullus at 11:20 AM on August 25, 2010 [14 favorites]


I'm really surprised by the amount of hostility towards her here. What would make this story okay for her to tell? If she condemned the people who employed her? Turned to religion and spoke with horror and shame about what she had done? Embraced it and told a gritty and painless story?

Or maybe what leotrotsky implies - nothing? Feel shame and keep quiet is the only option?

I'm quite willing to believe ch1x0r is dead-on and the book isn't worth reading, but that's itself doesn't have to make her a villain, does it?
posted by phearlez at 11:25 AM on August 25, 2010 [13 favorites]


Wow, another memoir about transgressing traditional conservative values only to finally embrace them in the end. Shocking. But on a serious note, at least she actually did something that wasn't eating a different cheese every day for a year or having a Twitter account. Goddamn I hate the publishing industry so much.
posted by fryman at 11:26 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


putting in just enough hours to get a book deal.

She was eighteen, she spent a year there, came back and blew most of the money on heroin. I can't see how you'd ever be the same again after doing that.
posted by mecran01 at 11:28 AM on August 25, 2010


Wow, another memoir about transgressing traditional conservative values only to finally embrace them in the end.

She's a burlesque performer now, genius, which you'd know if you read the LA Weekly piece.

If you want to try to make yourself look smart and worldly by snarking you should do enough basic research so as not to embarrass yourself.
posted by phearlez at 11:29 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Rich people seriously confuse me. 2.5 million on a badminton coach? 1 million on guards for his exotic bird collection? 5000 sports cars?

...man, and I thought I was being extravagant when I bought two of the same button-up shirts the other day.
posted by zennish at 11:37 AM on August 25, 2010


She's a burlesque performer now, genius, which you'd know if you read the LA Weekly piece.

If you want to try to make yourself look smart and worldly by snarking you should do enough basic research so as not to embarrass yourself.


I read the LA Weekly piece and understand that she performs burlesque. She also has a husband and a child. My point is that the formula of memoirs relies on a redemptive arc, the culmination of which often reinforces dominant, traditional values. Do you think she would have sold her story if she didn't "clean up", so to speak, in the end? The LA Weekly article presents her as being fairly ambivalent about her experience (she keeps a photo album), but in the end she is no longer a sex worker, no longer using, and so I still think that fits the formula of memoirs.

Personally, I think anyone that kicks heroin deserves kudos, but for her memoir, as a piece of literature, its seems written as to capitalize on the shock value of being a sex slave in a harem. According to the LA Weekly article, "That unglamorous, sad, pedestrian part is not covered in the memoir: the drugs, the rehab, the slow, torturous climb to sobriety."
posted by fryman at 11:42 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just finished writing a book about the time I spent living in post-collapse Russia when I was 22. I thought it was going to be all "look at the zany, devil-may-care, live-life-to-the-fullest things I did!" But when I finished writing it I realized it was all "Jesus Christ, what was I thinking when I did all this stuff? And what will other people think of me if they read it? Did I have a death wish? Was I crazy?" Reading about my experiences in book form makes me see that I was far more disturbed than I realized back then, and the fact that I thought the story would be a fun jaunt about a girl on her own when I sat down to write it may indicate that I'm far more disturbed NOW than I realize.

I haven't read this woman's book and thus don't really have an opinion about it. I hope my book comes across as me partly trying to assess WHY I took such risks rather than just "Look at all the crazy shit I did!" On the other hand, most people I know who learned the tawdry truth about my past would have a hard time NOT judging the decisions I made. I just hope that at the same time they're calling me a junkie slut they're remembering there's a lot more to me than that, and that you can make equally questionable/compromising decisions staying at home in Ames, Iowa.
posted by staggering termagant at 12:00 PM on August 25, 2010 [19 favorites]


She's a burlesque performer now, genius,

Yawn. Nowadays in Los Angeles being a burlesque dancer is pretty much conservative and traditional. I'd be more surprised if she wasn't a tattooed pseudo-stripper.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 12:21 PM on August 25, 2010


And, she's HAWT!
posted by Samizdata at 12:31 PM on August 25, 2010


"I'm really surprised by the amount of hostility towards her here. What would make this story okay for her to tell?"

Not getting paid for it. That's also what would have made it ok for her to suck brother's dicks and boink the prince.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:49 PM on August 25, 2010


Typically I hate the trainwreck that is the Modern Love column of the NYTimes. Of course, I can't look away. So I hate myself for reading it and feeling gross afterwards.

Very recently, there was a piece in that column that I really liked. I really, really liked it. I was shocked, because every time I read Modern Love, I feel so much self-loathing for not looking away.

This particular column was by Jillian Lauren. And I have nothing in common with her, save some similarities of feelings I had when I was getting married, but I really felt sympathy for her. I haven't read her book, but I think the piece she wrote for the Times might shed some light on how utterly alone she felt in the aftermath and how hard she was trying to turn her life around. Though I've never been a sex worker, I know my own feelings about money and how it pushes me around, what it's like to feel totally uprooted and turned around, and feel completely alone and scared, and desperate for control.

That's what I sort of saw in her piece. I think she has depth and is worthwhile, and if I wasn't icked out by Brunei, I'd read her book. But I wish she'd turned her post-Brunei stuff into a book because it was pretty good and relate-able.
posted by anniecat at 12:54 PM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Disclosure: I have not read the links. I have no opinion about her behavior or what she saw or what she wrote. I don't care what she does - there are interesting people everywhere, doing all kinds of things, whether burlesque or rocket science, or street-sweeping.

Nonetheless, I do have a snap-judgment about her, based on one photo. How judgmental of me. I saw the tat on her arm. I have nothing against tats in principle, but the kind of tat a person gets, I find personally very telling. Very, very telling. When you have a tat that elaborate, it means you must have spent some time thinking about it - it wasn't something you did on the spur of the moment at age 18. You know it's something that's pretty permanent. You chose it, pretty carefully. It says a lot about you. And this tat, the banal, cheesy, "weeping clown" quality of what she put on her epidermis gives me a glimpse of the kind of mind that decided to do this, pick this, endorse this.
posted by VikingSword at 12:59 PM on August 25, 2010


I also think that that essay I linked to probably shows that she isn't an attention whore. She probably just wanted to write and the publishing douchebags were all like, write something sexy about being in a harem.

I really liked this paragraph (from the Modern Love column):

My experience was that men generally thought a past like mine granted them permission to objectify me. I had seen it happen a hundred times. The moment I listed the catalog of my indiscretions, I automatically dropped a few pegs in class, brains and general worth. Time and again I had watched the relief in men’s eyes as they realized they weren’t obligated to summon their liberal arts college sensitivity training in an attempt to respect me.
posted by anniecat at 12:59 PM on August 25, 2010


But this article makes me realise that, sometimes, a whore really is just a whore.

Wow. I guess sometimes condescension and meanness is just condescension and meanness.
posted by anniecat at 1:03 PM on August 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


"I'm really surprised by the amount of hostility towards her here. What would make this story okay for her to tell?"

I don't get the feeling she's really learned much or has any actual regret. She's revelling in her extraordinarily sad past. And that's her right. But gee, don't people even try to have class anymore? I feel bad for her child, who will now have a permanent record of how mom used to suck dicks for money and was passed around from sultan to prince to whomever - with pictures to prove it! And who obviously enjoys recounting this part of her past? And does this woman not value her parents, with whom she does not speak? Not, apparently, enough to quit selling herself, even today.

It's not hostility exactly, but I do have a slight disgust for people who lead utterly self-indulgent lives and then try to market their unrepentant self-indulgence as something other than what it is, a metaphorical kind of sluttishness. (Also rather literal in her case.) It just seems like a giant waste to me, and I probably wouldn't make such a judgment about someone if she weren't so hellbent on publicising herself at the future expense of her child, relationship with her parents and any little semblance of personal character.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:09 PM on August 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


When you have a tat that elaborate, it means you must have spent some time thinking about it

that's a fair amount of projection on your part. That tattoo is not very elaborate, original or even very well done. It doesn't give you a glimpse into her soul. All it says about her is that she once got a mediocre tattoo.
posted by billyfleetwood at 1:13 PM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]



That tattoo is not [...], original or even very well done.

and

It doesn't give you a glimpse into her soul.

comedy gold!

All it says about her is that she once got a mediocre tattoo.

"All", heh.

Thanks.

Searching for agreement, yes, indeed it tells me nothing about her soul, but being that I don't believe in souls, it's no great loss. On the other hand, about her mind...
posted by VikingSword at 1:23 PM on August 25, 2010


I'm really astonished by what awful people some of you are.
posted by phearlez at 1:28 PM on August 25, 2010 [14 favorites]


Sometimes I really miss the good old-fashioned culture of shame.

This thread started with a literal, explicit slut-shaming, and it just went downhill from there...

"attention whore,"... "a whore really is just a whore"... "That's also what would have made it ok for her to suck brother's dicks and boink the prince."... "I feel bad for her child, who will now have a permanent record of how mom used to suck dicks for money and was passed around from sultan to prince to whomever..."

I am not exactly (ok, not by any stretch of the imagination) the most uptight or PC commenter here on the blue, but even I am sort of aghast at the level of vitriol on display in here, from both ends of the gender spectrum.

Surely we can do better than this? Or, at the very least, can we get some of the much-vaunted MeFi mod cleanup in aisle 95110 here?
posted by rusty at 1:51 PM on August 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm really astonished by what awful people some of you are.

MetaFilter as a whole has gotten a lot better about its anti-women sentiments right up until the moment some of the members meet a woman who angers them politically.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:58 PM on August 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Or, at the very least, can we get some of the much-vaunted MeFi mod cleanup in aisle 95110 here?

I'm going to politely suggest that if people really want MeFi to be a place that isn't toxic to women and humans generally, then quit the smug name-calling and talk about topics like adult people might. And if they can't do that, they might want to go to MetaTalk. It's really poisoning the possibility of discussion here.
posted by jessamyn at 2:12 PM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Another review here
posted by rhymer at 2:31 PM on August 25, 2010


That sounds like an interesting read. I might check it out. Thank you for posting it.
posted by NoraReed at 2:41 PM on August 25, 2010


She was eighteen, she spent a year there, came back and blew most of the money on heroin. I can't see how you'd ever be the same again after doing that.

You cannot step twice into the same river.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:55 PM on August 25, 2010


Power tasted like an oyster, like I’d swallowed the sea, all its memories and calm and rot and brutality.

I'm willing to shame her for writing like this.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:57 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


What surprises me most is that this book has a reader's guide with pre-fab group discussion questions. Is this normal nowadays?
posted by GuyZero at 3:19 PM on August 25, 2010


You guys can be complete assholes sometimes.

If this woman posted the exact same story in a metafilter comment, it would have 1000 favorites and get sidebarred.
posted by empath at 3:20 PM on August 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


'Normal' is a strong word, but it's very, very common, especially within particular genres (e.g., 'inspirational' fiction).
posted by box at 3:20 PM on August 25, 2010


Yeah, I dunno. I don't feel like she should be ashamed of her sexual history, either. But at the same time, if the prince had written a book about his life as head of a harem, I have a feeling the tone of this thread would be pretty damn nasty. If the difference is that she was young and impressionable...well...I mean, look, she wanted to get close to money, and didn't mind using sex to get there, and now she's an exotic dancer who's married to a rock star...I mean, question being, was she led astray, or did she just not get what she was looking for? I'm thinking it's the latter, and if so, then we should also be totally cool with the prince here...right?

...Three cheers for harem man?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:35 PM on August 25, 2010


I wonder what it is that makes one "punk rock" these days.

White privilege.
posted by fuq at 3:43 PM on August 25, 2010


The women who have mentioned fantasizing about harems to me haven't talked about wanting to be in a harem, they've talked about wanting to have their own harem of men.
posted by XMLicious at 3:45 PM on August 25, 2010


I hardly think that someone who is keeping a harem is comparable to someone who is part of one.

I don't really know anything about harms though and was sincere in my question above. Are harems voluntary? Was this one an exception? Or just for her? Does the LA Weekly article go into that? That's where I'm off to next.
posted by ODiV at 3:45 PM on August 25, 2010


As far as I can tell, this seems to have been a voluntary arrangement. If so, I don't see a difference between a person who keeps a harem and a person who belongs to one. If, however, I have misunderstood what happened here, then Jillian Lauren is the victim of several crimes and this should be a very different conversation we're having.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:49 PM on August 25, 2010


I tried to imagine being a drug-mule for the Yakuza, then writing a book about it, but I began to wonder if I would be able to taste anything but my own blood after my severed genitalia were stuffed into my mouth about an hour after my agent began shopping around my sample chapter, and after that it was on to Wikipedia to see if the Yakuza had anything similar to yubitsume for canaries, because it isn't as if they're Italian, they'd do something totally different, and along the way I realized that I had gotten that from The Dark Half and wondered if the Urban Dictionary entry for "squealer scars" effectively predated The Dark Knight ("And as for the television's so-called plan ... Batman has no jurisdiction. He'll find him and make him squeal. I know the squealers when I see them." How did he get those scars?) or if it just got ret-conned in?

In conclusion, I don't know what the Yakuza do to snitches but I am going to guess that it would involve violating my bodily integrity at such a level that I would be sufficiently intimidated and dissuaded from writing a book. This one has made my Amazon wishlist, though, now that it's out.
posted by adipocere at 3:56 PM on August 25, 2010


Are you people serious? She was 18, and the problem is the toleration of a male who is able to apparently purchase young women by the thousands just because he's rich. But no, let's rip her because she's a slutty whore slut?

Generally speaking, women who do sex work are overwhelmingly likely to do so either because 1) they choose to freely and have the means and volition to do so, 2) are potentially suffering from trauma that has resulted in them entering the industry, or 3) are being exploited or otherwise pressured by socioeconomic and patriarchal forces in some way (ie selling their body because women are viewed as material goods rather than persons).

If its 1, what the hell is wrong with letting a woman have sex and getting paid for it, other that patriarchal notions of female roles in society? If its 2 or 3, how the hell are you justified in attacking the victim instead of the system perpetuating a terrible cultural regime?

Explain to me how any of these three reasons justifies attacking the woman for engaging in a combination of sex and gainful employment, both of which are good things in the overall scheme of the world.

Even if you object to sex work as an extension of patriarchy (a pretty valid objection), that doesn't mean that the woman is the correct target of vitriol. Its the patriarchy that's bad. Jesus. The reaction in here is like a high school hallway full of fundamentalist Young Republicans.
posted by shen1138 at 4:07 PM on August 25, 2010 [13 favorites]


Look, if you all want to get angry, get angry at me. The parts of the book where the women who weren't picked had hot all-ladies action? HAWT. Because seriously, this book is pretty titillating. That was it's point, right?
posted by GuyZero at 4:12 PM on August 25, 2010


Her mission in life was to be absent from her body. To be floating five feet above it at all times, seeing everything but feeling nothing.

"That mechanism was already in place," she murmurs. "It wasn't like I learned how to dissociate by stripping. In order to make the decision at 17 years old, to get up on a stage and take my clothes off, I already had the capacity to be numb at a moment's notice. The tricky part is, I stopped being able to control it."

Harem girls aren't born. They are made. "My father abused us, and that is a fact," she says. He beat her. The physical and verbal abuse "did a lot of damage to my little heart," she adds.


WOW WHAT A TOTAL WHORE, AMIRITE?
posted by Ouisch at 4:15 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you people serious? She was 18, and the problem is the toleration of a male who is able to apparently purchase young women by the thousands just because he's rich. But no, let's rip her because she's a slutty whore slut?

Why are we removing agency from her? Unless I'm totally missing something, he didn't purchase her from someone. It's not a human trafficking situation. If it's all right for her to accept a bargain, why is it bad for him to make it?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:17 PM on August 25, 2010


He lied about where they were going, and she didn't feel entirely free to leave. And she was raped at least once while she was there.
posted by empath at 4:26 PM on August 25, 2010


I think everyone should have the type of sex they want with however many partners they want, whoever they want. The sleeze factor comes when they sell it for me. I don't like how she made her sexual experiences a commodity, and it was her who did that since she said in the LA Weekly article that she could have left. It's not really about her gender, as I would feel the same if this was about a (voluntary) male prostitute. I think it's totally un-classy, maybe even a little inhumane to put a price on interpersonal relations like that while also putting yourself at risk for preventable disease.

If she was in a trafficed slave situation, my sympathies go out to her, but she seems to have a sense of pride about making money off the whole thing. She's also playing the "no one gets me card" when she should have realized that when she made a conscious decision to be a sex worker, not everyone would accept that as a "good" choice.
posted by WeekendJen at 4:27 PM on August 25, 2010


Seriously, the misogyny in this thread is mindblowing.
posted by empath at 4:27 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


why is it bad for him to make it?

Personally, I have no problem with him, her, or any amount of sex / exchange of money that people have (assuming no exploitation, trafficking, etc.). My point was if you do have a problem with this sort of thing, it makes no sense to rip on the woman, unless you're a big time supporter of patriarchy itself. In which that case it makes perfect sense why you'd slut-shame the woman but give a free pass to the prince.
posted by shen1138 at 4:31 PM on August 25, 2010


"I did feel that I could leave. But I didn't feel like I could come and go freely. If I were to put my foot down, I would have had a ticket in my hand. But I wouldn't have been able to come back."

This to me says that she accepted the position knowing the deal she was getting into.
posted by WeekendJen at 4:31 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


As far as not feeling like she could leave goes, I did read far enough into one of the articles to see that she felt like she couldn't leave whenever she wanted and be allowed to come back. We have a word for that: It's "job."

If she was raped, that's obviously horrible and another story entirely.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:32 PM on August 25, 2010


The prince doesn't get a free pass from me. He's scum for thinking he can go around buying people.
posted by WeekendJen at 4:35 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


adipocere: In conclusion, I don't know what the Yakuza do to snitches but I am going to guess that it would involve violating my bodily integrity at such a level that I would be sufficiently intimidated and dissuaded from writing a book.

There have been a number of Yakuza tell-alls, e.g. Yakuza Moon and Toppamano.

kittens for breakfast: Why are we removing agency from her?

We aren't. We're just acknowledging that 18 year olds make stupid decisions all the time and that holding people responsible for their youthful idiocy is absurd. I suppose I'm not really delivering news when I point out that women get judged harsher for their teenage mistakes than men do. That's fucked, to put it mildly.
posted by Kattullus at 4:40 PM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


But it isn't. Not when the prince locks you in a freezing-cold room for four hours with no bathroom and you have to urinate so badly you consider peeing in the trash can.

"You have been here long?" Prince Jefri asks her, sounding pleased.

Not when you fall asleep and wake to him thrusting hard into you without a condom at the peak of the AIDS epidemic, this man who has slept with literally thousands of girls. "I couldn't find my voice to stop him," she writes.

posted by empath at 4:56 PM on August 25, 2010


She did her thing; she seems to feel okay about it; and now she's written a book.

Good for her.
posted by darth_tedious at 5:04 PM on August 25, 2010


I don't get the hostility. She did some things that were both unusual and kind of a bad idea, and now she wrote about it. From the snippets, it doesn't look like the kind of writing I enjoy, but I'm not going to piss all over her for that.

She made some bad choices, had to live with the consequences, and is living on a different part of the narrative arc now. These days, that means a book, and I hope for her sake it stays happily ever after.
posted by Forktine at 5:30 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


We aren't. We're just acknowledging that 18 year olds make stupid decisions all the time and that holding people responsible for their youthful idiocy is absurd. I suppose I'm not really delivering news when I point out that women get judged harsher for their teenage mistakes than men do. That's fucked, to put it mildly.

Yeah, but she doesn't seem to think she made a mistake. If she was victimized, that's awful, but it doesn't seem like her objection is to being part of a harem, per se, but rather that abuses took place within that structure. She sought out a sugar daddy, found the wrong one, and then...well, you know, she sounds pretty much like a kept woman now. This is not exactly a feminist triumph. If we stand by her choices, then this whole evil patriarchy thing must be okay to some measure, as her choices can't happen in its absence, or we must conclude that she's basically the pawn of the patriarchy, which robs her of agency. I guess we could conclude that she made a choice that seemed like a good one and turned out to be a bad one and then got lucky to meet a guy who could give her the life that was what she actually wanted to begin with, a guy who just happened to be a wealthy rock star, by sheer cosmic wow, but it...kinda seems like she's a gold digger. Which is fine, since we all have our own criteria for mate selection, but it complicates matters because that seems icky and it also means we kinda have to be cool with men who basically buy (willing) women, as long as they're (presumably) "nice." This is hard for me...and for that matter, it's not really easy for me to feel any better about women who seek out monied men. Though I maybe should be okay with both, because we really are all on our own paths, and really, couldn't our selection criteria seem off to anyone who didn't share it? I think so. Generally, though, the whole thing makes me feel like I need a shower all around. What I'm not sure of, however, is that having a less than 100% "yay!" reaction to this whole story is an indicator of misogyny. I think it's way more complicated than all of that...but also way less, because ultimately this is no one's business but hers (that she wrote a widely-publicized book about).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:36 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm really surprised by the incredibly harsh words in this thread. I read the interview and I found it fascinating. I've been guilty of "slut-shaming" myself, but I sympathized with this woman. I can see why such a lifestyle would be seductive, especially to someone from an abusive, dysfunctional home. It seems like a bracing antidote to the romance novels about sheiks and harem life that still proliferate, even today. Take that, E.M. Hull!

(I was also thinking Lauren's memoir is an interesting contrast to Fatima Mernissi's book, Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood, about growing up in a middle-class harem in Morocco in the 1940s. I can't recommend this book highly enough.)
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 5:37 PM on August 25, 2010


She sought out a sugar daddy, found the wrong one, and then...well, you know, she sounds pretty much like a kept woman now. This is not exactly a feminist triumph. If we stand by her choices, then this whole evil patriarchy thing must be okay to some measure, as her choices can't happen in its absence, or we must conclude that she's basically the pawn of the patriarchy, which robs her of agency.

You know, if you are trying to be a feminist, not using terms like 'sugar daddy' would be a good start.
posted by empath at 5:40 PM on August 25, 2010


It's a confusing narrative to get one's head around because you have to simultaneously reconcile the fact that here is someone who had already survived abuse from her father, whose strategy for coping with her troubled past was to put herself in a position to become a prostitute, with the misplaced bravado with which she's promoting her life story. I can see how an immature teenager with little self-esteem, and seemingly no life skills could think that this was her best available option at the time, or maybe this is all she deserved in life. I think the negative reactions in the comments are reactions to the red herring - the lavish gifts, lifestyle, and her claim that she was there "voluntarily." She goes to great effort to own her choices, but then there are passages like this:

Snarfing caviar by the spoonful straight from the jar, drinking expensive wine, nothing to do but wait — it sounds like a vacation.

But it isn't. Not when the prince locks you in a freezing-cold room for four hours with no bathroom and you have to urinate so badly you consider peeing in the trash can.

"You have been here long?" Prince Jefri asks her, sounding pleased.

Not when you fall asleep and wake to him thrusting hard into you without a condom at the peak of the AIDS epidemic, this man who has slept with literally thousands of girls. "I couldn't find my voice to stop him," she writes
.

It's a complicated story, not black and white, and made more difficult to process because it's hard to reconcile her statement that she was there "voluntarily," with the fact that she was an immature teenager with a history of abuse, her passport had been seized, her freedom of movement restricted, and she was under surveillance 24/7. She seems to think that by accepting lavish gifts and treatment, that she was compensated for her victimization. On one hand she made some really, really bad decisions to go back there and continue that lifestyle, and it's admirable that she owns her own responsibility for that. But on the other hand, I could understand how someone with no self-esteem would want to return to that situation because it seems like the best of all possible options. Look the way she describes herself:
"I knew I was a hooker, but somehow I felt like Cinderella,"

In a sick way, she missed Prince Jefri's way of saying "good girl" to her, as if she were a dog. It "felt like approval, almost love," which felt like "victory," she writes.

Although she claims she became a sex worker by choice, I don't think she's being entirely honest about that. I think this is someone who became a sex worker for all of the wrong reasons, in which case the tale - which she's spinning as a tale of empowerment - is actually pretty pathetic. And that inherent dishonesty is, I suspect, why many commenters are having negative gut reactions to her oddly aggrandizing spin on her life story.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:42 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, if you are trying to be a feminist, not using terms like 'sugar daddy' would be a good start.

I'm not trying to be anything. I think it's kind of ridiculous for men to call themselves feminists, not because we're all inherently sexist, but because it's an inherently self-serving thing for a man to do, so I just don't do it. But this isn't about me anyway. What term do you think is better for a man who provides a woman with a lavish lifestyle in exchange for sex? Seriously. John?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:46 PM on August 25, 2010


Wow, there's a lot of hate in this thread.

I'm most surprised by the fact that she's now married to a guy from Weezer.
posted by delmoi at 5:49 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


> On one hand she made some really, really bad decisions to go back there

Again, I don't have the sense that she views them that way.

> she claims she became a sex worker by choice, I don't think she's being entirely honest about that.... in which case the tale - which she's spinning as a tale of empowerment - is actually pretty pathetic.

I dunno-- if indeed her childhood abuse robs her of agency, doesn't that make this judgment a little unnecessarily harsh?

I've the sense, perhaps inaccurate, that if this woman's book argued that a) her Prince Made of Pure Money was eeeevil and b) she is a Fallen Woman Who Sees the Error of Her Ways (Which Actually Weren't Her Ways But Were Ways That Abstract Yet Enormous Forces Pressed Upon Her Helpless Naive Zombie Self) and You, Dear Reader, Are So Much More Virtuous Than Me, this book's reception would not be nearly cold.
posted by darth_tedious at 6:10 PM on August 25, 2010


What surprises me most is that this book has a reader's guide with pre-fab group discussion questions. Is this normal nowadays?

1. Compare and contrast the experiences of the author with the experiences of Prince Jefri's fifth wife, Claire Kelly. Are they similar or different? Why or why not?

2. Compare and contrast the experiences of the author with the experiences of the cast of MTV's Jersey Shore. Are they similar or different? Why or why not?

3. Compare and contrast the experiences of the author with the experiences of the female characters on AMC's Mad Men. Are they similar or different? Why or why not?
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:23 PM on August 25, 2010


"Our body is a moulded river." — Novalis

Surely I'm not alone here in having misspent the only youth I'll ever know? Inexperience outshines niggling doubts; destiny and ignorance are inextricable. Forget sex — people will pay just to watch you burn.

So, a familiar story: squander everything, reap regret, and hope that by the end you'll merit some human kindness.
posted by Haruspex at 6:49 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


We're just acknowledging that 18 year olds make stupid decisions all the time and that holding people responsible for their youthful idiocy is absurd. I suppose I'm not really delivering news when I point out that women get judged harsher for their teenage mistakes than men do. That's fucked, to put it mildly.

But a lot of the criticism of comments here taken those comments out of context. While I can't honestly say I have a lot of actual respect for anyone who'd fly halfway around the world to have unprotected sex with a load of cretinous losers in exchange for some Gucci bags, beautiful dresses and sustenance of a heroin habit, I would, in fact, normally resist comment and chalk it all up to youthful idiocy. But if you look at my comments collectively, it's pretty clear that what's really wrong about her isn't the sex for money as such, but rather the great pride she exudes over memories of it all, which pretty obviously override any concerns for her family. Her mother's not speaking with her, and I can't imagine the traumas which await when her child one day learns to Google.

Being a feminist doesn't mean that women can't act like whores. Or that such a character a "sugar daddy" no longer exists for anyone. Or that any possibility of judging a person's morals and standards is no longer allowed. It means that people, male or female, should be considered equitably. Or equally. I'm not sure of the exact English word, but I'm sure you know what I mean. The sultan and the prince seem like real pigs, and when a post is made about their newly-published book(s), I promise to criticise them at least as much.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:02 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've the sense, perhaps inaccurate, that if this woman's book argued that a) her Prince Made of Pure Money was eeeevil and b) she is a Fallen Woman Who Sees the Error of Her Ways (Which Actually Weren't Her Ways But Were Ways That Abstract Yet Enormous Forces Pressed Upon Her Helpless Naive Zombie Self) and You, Dear Reader, Are So Much More Virtuous Than Me, this book's reception would not be nearly cold.

You're spot on there, I think, because that concrete, simple narrative is inherently easier for us to grasp and with which to sympathize. The LA Weekly story says it well: "It is a book you want to hate. The literary landscape is overrun with sensitive young girl coming-of-age tales full of angst and hard-won insight."

I should clarify, I didn't mean to use the word "pathetic" in a perjorative/judgmental way so much as a synonym for "sad." I think the problem I'm having about this is that I really, really want to feel some sympathy for her. I want to see this a story of empowerment, triumph over obstacles, but I really only see this a story of victimization and I want her to come out and say that, but she's not. Thus, I think I'd feel more comfortable if she said something like "I did this really dumb thing - boy was I a bonehead" rather than "Here is this thing I did, and I don't regret doing this." I'd like to see much more regret, especially given the awful, awful experiences of not only being objectified by the Prince, but by the other women in the harem. Maybe I'd also like to see some acknowledgment of the obstacles her family has to face in dealing with her past that she has very publicly chosen to splay out for public consumption.

tl;dr: I guess I'm having exactly the same problem that DeeXtrovert said much more succinctly and eloquently above, which bears repeating:

I don't get the feeling she's really learned much or has any actual regret. She's revelling in her extraordinarily sad past. And that's her right. But gee, don't people even try to have class anymore? I feel bad for her child, who will now have a permanent record of how mom used to suck dicks for money and was passed around from sultan to prince to whomever - with pictures to prove it! And who obviously enjoys recounting this part of her past? And does this woman not value her parents, with whom she does not speak? Not, apparently, enough to quit selling herself, even today.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:02 PM on August 25, 2010


> I'd like to see much more regret, especially given the awful, awful experiences of not only being objectified by the Prince, but by the other women in the harem. Maybe I'd also like to see some acknowledgment of the obstacles her family has to face in dealing with her past that she has very publicly chosen to splay out for public consumption.

Thanks; these are informative answers.

I see it this way: Experience is quite subjective. Just as everyone has particular, and distinct, preferences/predilections/kinks/fixations/whathaveyou, the Harem Girl shtick obviously did the trick for her, at a certain point in time.

Given the way she describes things, it seems not to have been, from her perspective, an awful, awful perspective-- just a Weird Wild Job That Was Kind of Fun But Yeah Eventually Went Bad So I Quit-- really, the sort of description given to a great many jobs.

She obviously chooses to see herself as an adventuress, rather than a victim.

Isn't that a healthier, more adaptive identity?

Look at it this way: Trauma can be thought of as the consequence of a horrid experience for which you don't have a subjectively convincing explanation; she on, the other hand, has an explanation-- I'm a Wild 'n' Crazy Bad Girl, Wink-Wink-- and seems, as I've noted, pretty okay with things.

As for parents and children: Parents are expected to clutch pearls, no?

And while it's possible that some vile parents will go out of their way to inform their children of this woman's Shameful Past... it's also dimly, dimly possible that we might live in a future in which a woman can do sexually unusual stuff in her youth, and yet not be scorned for it-- and in particular, not be scorned because of her apparent lack of shame.
posted by darth_tedious at 7:46 PM on August 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


it's pretty clear that what's really wrong about her isn't the sex for money as such, but rather the great pride she exudes over memories of it all, which pretty obviously override any concerns for her family. Her mother's not speaking with her, and I can't imagine the traumas which await when her child one day learns to Google.

Her mother was married to the guy who beat her, her dad, right? Honestly, good on her for being able to own the whole weird situation and write about it and compartmentalize it and go be a person who still has some self-esteem now. I'd rather personally probably be a rich sultan's whore than some sort of book-shilling middle class suburban mom but that's what makes the world so great, right? People are different. And we all get to make different choices.

These sort of "my titilating past, let me show you it" books are popular now. Why are they popular? Because people like to read them and talk about them and get all judgey over them. In my personal moral compass, yeah it's tawdry to sort of make money talking about this sort of thing, but if the world were all people like me, there would be no television and we'd all eat soup for dinner every night. I guess to me there's a big difference between "Wow, I wouldn't have done that" and "Wow, she sucks. And also is a whore." Like, a really big difference. More power to you, owning your own narrative.

What surprises me most is that this book has a reader's guide with pre-fab group discussion questions. Is this normal nowadays?

It's normal for books expected to become really popular among the suburban housewife set, yeah. There but for the grace of god, you guys!
posted by jessamyn at 7:52 PM on August 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


She obviously chooses to see herself as an adventuress, rather than a victim.

Isn't that a healthier, more adaptive identity?

Good question, and an excellent point. I think it's important to develop a healthy relationship with your past. If she were selling this as a story of survival, then I'd find it easier to support. But this book isn't being marketed as the story of a woman who confronts and overcomes her past; it's being marketed as:

A secret Xanadu. A charming prince. Add decadence, excess, and a rebellious teenager and you have an unforgettable and twisted modern fairy tale.

n.b.: To sell the book she chooses to paint the rapist, the man who treats women like objects, as "a charming prince." A sadistic and destructive environment full of dysfunctional women being paid for providing sex upon demand with funds of questionable provenance is portrayed as a "Xanadu." Her experience in Dubai is portrayed as a "twisted modern fairy tale." She's free to write her own narrative, but she's essentially romanticizing victimization of women as a freaking fairy tale. I find that repugnant, especially if it's being sold as some escapist fantasy for suburban housewives. I also find it disrespectful to all the women who have survived this submissive "fantasy" of surrendering their free will to "Prince Charming" and are still dealing with the painful ramifications. It's also dishonest for her to implicitly compare herself with legitimate, competent sex workers (e.g., Belle de Jour) who, unlike Lauren, bargain equally at arms' length for a commercial sex transaction on their own terms.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:28 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Authors are not consulted on marketing. They have no say.

She didn't invent the fantasy of a rapist/prince, a paradise/prison, hell/fairytale, or any other fucked up elements in the "romance of victimization" genre. I mean, have you read any romance novels?
posted by desuetude at 10:04 PM on August 25, 2010


"...it's pretty clear that what's really wrong about her isn't the sex for money as such, but rather the great pride she exudes over memories of it all, which pretty obviously override any concerns for her family."

I read the articles, to include the NYT piece she wrote, and didn't get that sense at all.
posted by ambient2 at 11:07 PM on August 25, 2010


Authors are not consulted on marketing. They have no say. She didn't invent the fantasy of a rapist/prince, a paradise/prison, hell/fairytale, or any other fucked up elements in the "romance of victimization" genre. I mean, have you read any romance novels?.

Okay, fair enough. But I'm having a hard time buying that excuse, because that quote was taken directly from her website, at the bottom of which says "Copyright Jillian Lauren. All Rights Reserved."
Even if that domain is maintained by her publisher, every link from her blog points back to jillianlauren.com. So it's hard for me to buy that she's not either complicit, if not outright endorsing the narrative that's being sold.

Even in her own words, she's not honest about her own experience: "Some Girls: My Life in a Harem is, in many ways, a typical coming of age memoir about a teenage girl in New York who tries to be an actress and goes way off the rails." I think portraying a story of an abusive childhood followed by her experiences in exploiting herself as a "typical coming of age memoir about a teenage girl" who "goes way off the rails" is a bit insulting to all of the teenage girls who manage to earn high school diplomas, college degrees and pick career choices that they find fulfilling, and don't require submitting themselves to having sex against their will.

I guess I'm just trying to figure out the mixed messages in the thread. If she's selling her memoir as a thrilling memoir of a "whore/prostitute," as opposed to a "victim" it seems unfair to call out the commenters who indicated their distaste with this approach by accusing them of "slut shaming" and being misogynists. My sense is that the comments chastising her for a lack of "shame" were a crude way of expressing their distaste with a woman who is essentially selling a post hac endorsement of an environment in which women are victimized both by a powerful man and other women competing for attention of a powerful man. On the other hand, if she's legitimately interested in having her story succeed as an tale of survival, she's not doing herself any favors by endorsing the narrative of her past as some sort of modern fairy tale.

What would be far more interesting is if, as in life, it were a narrative of something in between - an honest acknowledgment of a situation that she found simultaneously horrible and wonderful and comparing that to her situation now. But based on ch1x0r's review above, it sounds like the book doesn't succeed at that, which is a shame because based on her NYT article, she seems to have some interesting things to say about her ongoing journey of being a modern woman, finding her own identity apart from her rockstar husband and her adorable son. For those of us who grew up in an era with a paucity of independent heroines who could fight their own battles and didn't need to define their identities through strapping young men who would "tame" them, this narrative is a disappointing step backward. But as Jessamyn cleverly points out above, my outrage likely only serves to fuel the fire of this titillating memoir genre, so getting judgey ultimately is unproductive, other than for the sake of debate.
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:48 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think portraying a story of an abusive childhood followed by her experiences in exploiting herself as a "typical coming of age memoir about a teenage girl" who "goes way off the rails" is a bit insulting to all of the teenage girls who manage to earn high school diplomas, college degrees and pick career choices that they find fulfilling, and don't require submitting themselves to having sex against their will.

Insulting? I don't think a lot of teenage girls want to have to leave an abusive home and know that their only source of income was to be one of a thousand sex toys waiting for a prince to cum on their faces. That's not what a typical teen girl fantasizes about, and I find her experiences horrific. I'm guessing the "modern fairytale" concept is used ironically. She was young, she wanted to be independent, but she was alone and this is what she fell into and frankly, it was a rational choice for her. It would have been great if she had left home and gotten a big break that didn't involve compromising herself sexually, but that is unrealistic. The teen girls who manage to earn diplomas, etc. have the emotional support network and resources she didn't have at the time. And it takes more than just financial resources.

Most people who are victimized probably think that they are "in many ways" normal. Maybe she's trying to feel normal. Maybe her therapist helped her own the experience so it wasn't so devastating to her. Maybe she is normal.

What I honestly sense under all the bristling is smugness and a desire to feel superior to her because she's not showing the typical signs of being victimized, such as overt shame and regret. And why should she bother laying out all her shame and regret for anybody? So everyone knows that she's "learned her lesson"?
posted by anniecat at 6:33 AM on August 26, 2010


I guess I'm just trying to figure out the mixed messages in the thread. If she's selling her memoir as a thrilling memoir of a "whore/prostitute," as opposed to a "victim" it seems unfair to call out the commenters who indicated their distaste with this approach by accusing them of "slut shaming" and being misogynists. My sense is that the comments chastising her for a lack of "shame" were a crude way of expressing their distaste with a woman who is essentially selling a post hac endorsement of an environment in which women are victimized both by a powerful man and other women competing for attention of a powerful man. On the other hand, if she's legitimately interested in having her story succeed as an tale of survival, she's not doing herself any favors by endorsing the narrative of her past as some sort of modern fairy tale.

Why do you have to judge her life choices at all? If she harmed anyone, it was herself. Her story is an unusual one, and an interesting one. I just don't get all the moral judgements.
posted by empath at 6:35 AM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I guess to me there's a big difference between "Wow, I wouldn't have done that" and "Wow, she sucks. And also is a whore." Like, a really big difference.

Exactly. The people heaping on this loathing here spend a lot of suggestions like "I'd like to see much more regret" "what's really wrong about her isn't the sex for money as such, but rather the great pride she exudes over memories of it all" and any number of other little bits. Ways where if she's only just phrased everything she says in her memoir just right then perhaps they'd be willing to speak about her as a person with a complicated story. Someone who has a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings, not all of them how we think we'd react, not all of them perhaps as bright-line as would make

Too bad she didn't know the magic words and is just a whorebag cum dumpster selfishly lining her pockets with the misery of her parents and future shame of her child. Go away and shut up, slut, how dare you make a dime off your story, your experience, your pain. Shut up till you learn to process it properly - the way we think you should understand your experience, which we know the true shape of, not you.

Despicable.
posted by phearlez at 7:35 AM on August 26, 2010


Okay, fair enough. But I'm having a hard time buying that excuse, because that quote was taken directly from her website, at the bottom of which says "Copyright Jillian Lauren. All Rights Reserved." Even if that domain is maintained by her publisher, every link from her blog points back to jillianlauren.com. So it's hard for me to buy that she's not either complicit, if not outright endorsing the narrative that's being sold.

Mefites who are published authors or work in the publishing industry could fill in more accurate details on the typical contractual obligations of getting your book published. But of course she's endorsing the narrative being sold. She's not forced to excerpt quotes on her personal website, but why would she reject the mechanism that's going to get her books into people's hands? When she does the talk-show circuit she can talk about how she feels about whether her book romanticizes victimization.

Getting published is a strange thing, and most authors I know have had to really think about how they feel about the line between the art/craft of their writing and the salable product of Their Book, and likewise their personal and professional identity as a writer versus their Job as The Author.

I think portraying a story of an abusive childhood followed by her experiences in exploiting herself as a "typical coming of age memoir about a teenage girl" who "goes way off the rails" is a bit insulting to all of the teenage girls who manage to earn high school diplomas, college degrees and pick career choices that they find fulfilling, and don't require submitting themselves to having sex against their will.

I think you're reading this awfully literally. "Typical" in the approval-seeking behavior, the rebellion, the whims, figuring out perspective on sexuality, et cetera, of your typical teenage girl. I mean, I can identify the universal coming-of-age themes in Pride and Prejudice despite a personal lack of urgency to secure a husband who will inherit my property and provide me with an income.
posted by desuetude at 8:22 AM on August 26, 2010


I'm guessing the "modern fairytale" concept is used ironically.
I hope you are right about this.

Why do you have to judge her life choices at all? If she harmed anyone, it was herself.
Because the main post and the articles linked therein frame the narrative of her book as a defense of her life choices. This narrative is being offered up for sale and we are discussing the merits of her product.

I mean, I can identify the universal coming-of-age themes in Pride and Prejudice despite a personal lack of urgency to secure a husband who will inherit my property and provide me with an income.

Yes, yes, I like this observation. I certainly can't speak for the other ladies here on MeFi, but for me, one of these universal themes is the struggle of finding self-esteem as a teenage girl/young adult. That bit in the LA Weekly article I quoted above is incredibly sad and poignant: In a sick way, she missed Prince Jefri's way of saying "good girl" to her, as if she were a dog. It "felt like approval, almost love," which felt like "victory," she writes. That strikes me as, unfortunately, an all too common feeling amongst young women. I hope her narrative isn't endorsing a view that the road to self-esteem includes a mandatory rest stop at exploitation. As I said earlier, I think the negative reactions of other commenters aren't reactions to her personally, so much as a reaction to a perception [hopefully a misperception?] that she's romanticizing victimization. Think about how unseemly a narrative romanticizing victimization may strike someone else who has been victimized and I think you can appreciate why this book may not be everyone's cup-o-tea.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:09 AM on August 26, 2010


Has the story itself been corroborated? Truth stranger than fiction, of course, but there are certain stories that kind of ring the suspicion bell, at least for me.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:58 PM on August 26, 2010


This thread made me sad. This woman wrote about her experiences. She's writing her own version of the story, her own narrative. This is what feminism WANTS. Yes, she might have a different version to tell ten, twenty, forty years down the road. She should tell that too. We should get to hear women's experiences through women's eyes, even when those eyes don't see things the way we'd might wish they would. Yes, people buy the book because it plays to sex and titillation and there might be much more compelling stories that never get bought/told, but that doesn't make *her* wrong.

As far as embarrassing her kid - well, you know, she's not the one who made sex, sex work, or exploitation something to be ashamed of. The people talking about how it will hurt her kid, yeah, sure, in the eyes of people who see a mom's past sexual history as something that reflects negatively on her and her kid. The eyes of people who are part of the problem.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:26 AM on August 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


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