Writer and sex worker Charlotte Shane recently panned cultural historian Betsy Prioleau's Swoon, which promises to reveal "surprising seductive secrets" of men like Casanova, Lord Byron, and Julius Caesar, in Bookforum.
The book, subtitled "Great Seducers and Why Women Love" them, claims to answer "one of history's most vexing questions: What do women want?" (You know, the ETERNAL QUESTION.) But Shane found Prioleau's "regressive framework for interpreting romance, which tends towards sexism, classism, and even racism" problematic:
She strikes ugly notes early on when she dismisses today's pick-up artists as only being able to bed "desperate" and "sad, lonely" women like "strippers" and "ladies with 'porn star' skills." Her lauded seducers, in contrast, win over "premier" and "superior" women, which proves they're real men, not "boys or sissies." Women are "particularly susceptible to mind spells" and unusually difficult to understand, which is why it takes "a gay man in a straight man's body" to be able to figure them out.
Accordingly, female passivity is assumed and even championed. The aforementioned excellent women need only be in the right place at the right time to find themselves chosen by a seducer; no effort on their part is required, least of all sexual self-knowledge. Statistics on "female sexual dysfunction" are presented without critique and it's understood that all a woman needs is the right man in order to achieve life-altering orgasms. (Similarly unquestioned is the use of orgasm as sexual scoring device.)
The first comment on the review is from "Betsy Prioleau, Ph.D," who is clearly upset about the negative review, which is fair; bad reviews are hard to take! But her main qualm isn't as much with the content as it is with the fact that a prostitute somehow had a good enough grasp of the English language to write it:
This is my first review by a prostitute-and a first book review for this prostitute (to my knowledge). I have no quarrel with prostitutes, as long as they know how to read. But "Nightmare Brunette," as she calls herself, apparently didn't read SWOON. I never suggested that ladies' men are role models; I say off the bat that they happen to have a big secret-what rocks women-which we can harvest and put to positive uses. "Racism, sexism, classism?" What was she smoking? I profile at least five African Americans, celebrate "hot choosers" (ultra-feminists), and boldface the theme of classlessness among ladykillers. And her view of what I say they have in common is a figment of her imagination. I'm frankly shocked that a publication as distinguished as Bookforum would publish such a lowbrow, dishonest, and poorly executed critique. And I welcome smart criticism!
Betsy Prioleau, Ph.D.
We reached out to Prioleau and her publicist, but haven't heard back. A post from a reader on Prioleau's Facebook page referencing the comment was deleted within a few hours.
"On a serious note, this is what happens when a prostitute tries to do something other than the same work; she's publicly shamed for her past," Shane tweeted. Indeed.