What's So Wrong About Being A Fame Whore?S

Melissa Petro, the schoolteacher ousted for writing about her sex-work past, wants you to know she's not a fame-whore. But would that be so bad?

In an interview with Marie Claire, Petro discusses her decisions to strip and later sell sex on Craigslist, and talks about her current status — now that she's been booted from the classroom, she's been relegated to one of the New York City school district's infamous "rubber rooms," where she believes she'll remain in limbo til she quits. But amid all this, something else stood out. Says Petro of all the media attention she's receiving:

In one paper, I'm being made out as some sort of moron blabbermouth. In the next article I'm villainized for somehow masterfully calculating this whole thing. I've been called an "attention whore" and a "media whore," which is honestly more offensive than just a plain old whore, because at least when I was prostituting, I was getting paid. Let it just be said that I've in no way profited off these circumstances, certainly not monetarily. I don't write for the money, or for the publicity — certainly not this kind of publicity. I write because I'm a writer, and because these are issues I feel strongly about.

I'm not really sure I buy this. I believe Petro didn't want to lose her job, or be vilified, and I believe she hasn't profited from the experience (yet, that is — a little notoriety never hurt anybody's book-deal prospects). But most people who write for publication do think about being read — if they didn't, they'd just keep a journal. And really, what's wrong with that? Why is "attention whore" the ultimate insult?

Tavi touched on this back in June, when she wrote, "'She just wants attention' is a phrase I frequently hear. It's in regards to the girl who cut herself, and the girl who was on anti-depressants. Or the girl (this girl, actually) who had anxiety attacks, or the anorexic girl." She noted that "a need for attention can also be a call for all kinds of help" — but plenty of people do want attention for attention's sake. Is that really such a terrible — or unusual — thing?

Yes, attention-seeking can be bad if it takes focus away from people or issues that really need it. But Petro's writing was actually drawing attention to important issues. And even if not all her motives were so lofty, she'd hardly be the first person who wanted to get famous. We pretend to prefer people who unwillingly have fame thrust upon them, but we shouldn't forget that lots of people who do important or interesting things in this world do them at least in part to get noticed. Few of us are entirely pure, and frankly, that's fine.

With the advent of reality TV and the opening up of a whole bunch of new avenues for (often fleeting) fame, the charge of fame-whoring has grown both more popular and more damning. It's like we're embarrassed about our appetite for knowing about other people, and express this embarrassment by deriding them for wanting our attention. In fact, this is pretty similar to the way society views actual prostitutes: we're ashamed of our sex drives, and so we stigmatize the people who make a living satisfying them. But just as Petro's sex-work past didn't make her a bad teacher, any attention-seeking in the present wouldn't make her a bad person. Let's face it — lots of people want to be famous. What really matters is what they do to get there.

Exclusive: Diary Of A Call Girl Turned Teacher [Marie Claire]

Earlier: Teacher Unjustly Punished For Revealing Her Sex-Work Past
Women Who Want Attention

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