Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Girl With A One Track Mind: Exposed
By Zoe Margolis (aka Abby Lee)
Pan Mcmillan 2010

‘Girl with a one-track mind’ first came into being in 2004, as a blog by ‘Abby Lee’, documenting her full and eventful sex life. The blog proved so popular that it was turned into a book. And that’s when the trouble started. ‘Abby Lee’ who had described her sex life in intimate and graphic detail under a pseudonym, was outed by a national newspaper as the very real Zoe Margolis. ‘Girl with a one track mind: Exposed’ tells the story of Zoe’s outing, how it impacted on her personal and professionally, and how she attempted to rebuild her life and continue to enjoy and blog about her sexuality despite the obstacles put in her way.

On one level ‘Exposed’ is an easily readable, refreshingly honest and funny account of a thirty-something woman’s sexual adventures. As such it works very well. If you pick it up feeling a little un-worldly or maybe even prudish about women’s sexuality, there’s a good chance that by the time you put it down you will be enlightened and persuaded that there’s nothing wrong with women enjoying their bodies and those of whoever they may choose to have thrust in front of them. You might even have picked up some useful tips. Margolis deftly and humorously explores issues such as masturbation, sadomasochism, experiments with same-sex sex, men’s genital hygiene, horniness during menstruation and other topics that are still left very much under-examined in our oh-so-sexualised but also sexist and censorious culture.

But there is much more to Exposed than one woman’s quest for sexual gratification and liberation. In the book Margolis documents how, until she was outed she was a runner on major film UK productions and had been developing her film industry career for a decade. The best passages of the book for me are when she describes the atmosphere of working on film sets as the only female crew-member. She had to deal with a daily barrage of sexist comments, sexual innuendo and sexual advances which to some extent she accepted as part of the territory. She describes how she developed a method of being more explicit and outrageous than the blokes so they could never intimidate her or catch her off-guard. But along with always being expected to make cups of tea at the drop of a hat, arrogant condescending actors and the extremely long-hours culture of the film business, this male-dominated, testosterone fuelled environment would have been stressful for any woman to thrive in and remain sane. When she was outed, Margolis immediately knew she would be the laughing stock of the set, and that her career was in danger. That she got sacked over the phone came as more of a shock. The film producers were worried about the effect revelations of her double life would have on the reputation, and presumably box-office returns, of ‘child-friendly’ brands such as Harry Potter.

So suddenly, the book changes from being a light-hearted ‘sex romp’ to a moving , honest and angry account of how women are punished at work and in the media for being their sexual selves. Margolis negotiates the shift in tone expertly and shows herself as a capable writer, not ‘just’ a sex-blogger. The harassment from the paper that outed Zoe included door-stepping her for photos, digging into her and her family’s personal life, publishing details of her mum’s career, and sending threatening emails. This was then followed by a stream of unwanted attention from the rest of the press and accusations, many from anonymous internet users, that her outing was part of a planned publicity campaign. Attacked by her former employer, the press, and then the internet ‘community’ which had first welcomed her, it is no wonder she felt ‘stuck in a kind of nightmare’ and narrowly missed having a complete breakdown.

Once she gets over the initial shock and sadness of her life as she knows it falling apart, Margolis manages to regain her composure and she injects plenty of humour into the tale. She describes her dad being threatened by builders for rummaging in their van, which he thought belonged to paparazzi, for example, and Zoe’s embarrassment when her mum reacts to reading an excerpt from her first book where Zoe and a man in America enjoy an intimate moment together (that includes plenty of cunnilingus) . She also raises some laughs with tales of dating minor celebrities after being outed, joined as they are in a mutual desire for privacy and no-strings sex.

The fact that Margolis is so honest about the struggle she goes through to maintain her sexual openness in the full glare of the media spotlight after having her confidence shattered, is heartening and touching. The reader is willing this story to have a happy ending. In many ways it does: in her new ‘public’ role, Zoe works as an ambassador for the young women’s sexual health charity, Brook, putting her media profile and expertise to good use. The work of organisations such as Brook is vital in a culture where young women are bombarded with sexualised images and role models, but also judged for being sexually active, when what they need is information and support.
She also mentions in the book being in talks with producers to make a film out of it, which as she said would be wonderful ‘karma’, after how badly she was treated by the film industry.

But there are clouds on the horizon. Since the second book was published, Margolis has already become engaged in a legal battle with the Independent on Sunday newspaper, who, in the headline for an article supposedly supporting her, called her ‘a hooker’ and ‘a good-time-girl turned agony aunt’. This distressing occurrence underlines why her book is so important. Women are still not able to enjoy and discuss the ins and outs of their sex lives without being frowned upon, harassed and labelled.

I don’t know quite what will come of her blog now that Margolis lives her life very much in the public- eye. She already posts much less frequently and explicitly on it, for obvious and utterly understandable reasons. But, blog or not, I hope Zoe continues her campaign for liberation from the small-minded misogyny of the tabloids, the film industry, the ‘respectable’ broadsheets and society in general. I am pretty sure she will.

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