Report: Debate vs Julie Bindel at Essex University

Those familiar with the state of anti-porn argument will know it’s pretty comparable with anti-climate change argument: very little in the way of evidence, but plenty in the way of noise, indignation, conspiracy theory and “it stands to reason”-type arguments.

The foundation of today’s anti-porn rhetoric was laid by Catharine Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin (“the Macdworkinites”) in the 1980s, and the arguments appear not to have evolved greatly in the intervening decades; today’s anti-porn feminism lacks the flair and (evil) genius of the Macdworkinites. For this reason, it’s increasingly easy to demolish claims of harm caused by pornography; the problem is that the media is still largely in the sway of the “OMG what about the children?!” brigade. It’s for this reason that I founded Sex & Censorship: to present evidence-based argument against the combined religious/feminist weight of porn panic.

University debates are a rare opportunity to be heard equally in a fair environment (rather than the 90 seconds of shouting allowed by the news media), and I take every opportunity to participate in these (contact me if you’d like me to debate or speak at your university or college). I therefore seized yesterday’s opportunity to debate the radical feminist Julie Bindel with glee.

Things warmed up on the day before the debate, with the publication of an article in the student newspaper that managed to disparage both myself and Bindel at once, referring to her as a homophobe and transphobe, while I was simply branded a “multi-millionaire”. Sadly (for me), this claim wasn’t true, but even if it had been, I failed to see the relevance in this context: surely “sexual freedom advocate”, “free speech activist” or even just “blogger” would have been more useful.

So when I met Bindel on the train to Colchester, we were able to find some common cause, and jokingly speculate about which one of us might be more protested-against: her, the transphobe; or me, the spokesman for patriarchal oppression.

The debate took place in a packed lecture theatre; Bindel had been scheduled to speak first, but the chair asked if we could switch places, for fear that protesters would shout her down and end the session early.

In my introduction, I made mention of the importance of free speech on university campuses, including (in fact, especially) speech that we might consider offensive or otherwise unpleasant. Universities are supposed to be hubs of free thought, but there is a disturbing, and rising, trend among student unions to shut down “bad” speech, from bans on the Sun newspaper, to closing down a rugby club for speech crimes, to multiple bans on Bindel herself.

I then took a statement from a piece Bindel had written about pornography, and set out to demonstrate that it is not backed by solid evidence; indeed, it runs counter to the known evidence:

There is … a direct link between violence against women and pornography

I made the following points:

  • The term “pornography” tends to refer to all sexual/erotic imagery, so that arguments deployed against porn are then used to attack  Page 3, music videos and other media that most people wouldn’t consider pornographic.
  • To claim that large numbers of women are abused by the porn industry, without being able to point to any actual arrests or prosecutions is strange indeed. Where are the victims that anti-porn campaigners so often talk about?
  • Why are only women (supposedly) harmed by sexual expression, and not men? This seems to perpetuate the old fashioned view that sex is something men do to women, rather than something both men and women can enjoy.
  • The sexual objectification concept – the curiously vague idea that men who view sexual imagery become more dangerous towards women – is backed by no statistical evidence. To the contrary, the availability of porn widely correlates with a declines in sexual violence.
  • Why does “objectification” only seem to work in sexual contexts? Why can men see a woman run a marathon but not assume that all women must be marathon runners?
  • To blame porn for sexual violence is to remove blame from rapists.
  • Although the porn industry is often painted as a male-dominated one, there are many female, and feminist, porn directors.
  • Nobody could judge whether “women are demeaned by porn”, except for pornstars themselves; I then read a series of statements from pornstars in answer to the question “Do you find working in porn to be demeaning?” – they all answered no, of course.

Short on time (I actually overran the 15 minutes allowed), I had little opportunity to go through much of the evidence; but I pointed out that the UK government (via Ofcom) has conducted its own research into whether porn is harmful, and could find no evidence of harm. It also polled 20 other European governments about their own research into whether porn might harm under-age viewers, and stated:

No country found evidence that sexually explicit material harms children

Despite this, the government has introduced various censorship laws and regulations, just in case…

Julie Bindel’s contribution (thankfully not shouted down by protesters) was packed with familiar claims and anecdotes, many obviously drawn from her campaigning colleague Gail Dines, and the UK anti-sex group Object. Various scare words and stories were dredged up; the term “porn baron” was thrown around, and links between the porn industry and organised crime were hinted at, but not backed with evidence. Choosing an ad hominem attack, she suggested that I currently make a living from the porn industry (actually, I closed my website business in 2012).

Although there was no formal vote at the end of the session, the chairman asked for a show of hands partway through on the question of whether pornography should be banned; no more than half a dozen, of an audience of perhaps 150, raised their hands. I hope that my contribution had made many change their minds.

But perhaps the culture is simply changing. Maybe young people, having grown up with the Internet and pornography, no longer fear sexual expression, and cannot easily be persuaded to. This would be good news indeed!

Object Reject “Rapist” Allegations As False

Here’s a quick update regarding my recent letter to Object (the human rights organisation/hate group – take your pick), in which I questioned Object’s frequent accusations of rape against the sex entertainment industries.

The letter was written on 1st October. Four days later, Object tweeted the following response:

We would, of course be horrified, if these allegations were made in error, and look forward to Object’s reply with interest. Watch this space for more updates.

Coming Up: S&C in Debate

I will be involved in the following events over the next month, both close to London:

  • On 22nd October, I will meet the journalist and radical feminist Julie Bindel to debate the question: “Does Pornography Degrade Women, and If So, Should It Be Banned?” This will take place at the University of Essex in Colchester, at 2pm.
  • On 13th November, I will be taking part in a discussion on pornography at Royal Holloway University of London, at 6pm.

Neither are public events, but outside attendees may be admitted by request. Please let me know if you would like to attend.

I don’t get paid (other than expenses) to take part in these events, but consider it essential that moral panic and misinformation are countered with evidence-based argument. The alternative is to see sexual freedom and free speech continually eroded based on fear and ignorance.

If you would like to support the campaign and help us grow, please make a donation, large or small!

Debate vs Object

Object, the anti-sex morality group posing as a human rights organisation, generally refuse to engage with the porn industry, and certainly refuse to meet with the women they claim to be “rescuing” from their work as pornstars, strippers, sex workers or models.

Occasionally though, we get a rare moment to meet them face to face on TV or at university debates. Today I had one such opportunity to meet them in a (sadly short) televised debate on London Live. Here’s what happened…

 

Everything Everywhere?
Not If you want to look at adult content

EE Admits Filtering Problem

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you may have seen my occasional screams about my mobile phone provider. Specifically, my provider is EE, and my problem is that they really, really don’t want me to look at porn (or anything else their filtering system considers unsuitable for under-18s).

I’m in my forties, and I’ve been an Orange customer for years. I also disabled Content Lock (EE’s version of mobile content filtering) years ago. So when I upgraded my phone at the start of this year, and was transferred from Orange to EE (a joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile), I expected nothing to change. But it didn’t take long to discover that my shiny new HTC One, equipped with super-fast 4G access, wouldn’t let me look at porn.

I phoned EE, who explained that industry guidelines require providers to re-enable content filtering (OK, enough euphemism – let’s call it what it is: Internet censorship) every time a customer upgrades their phone. Presumably, this is in case the customer becomes younger between upgrades. It could happen, right? You’ve never seen Benjamin Button?

So anyway, the nice man at EE switched off Content Lock for me, and all was well. For a few weeks anyway, until one day, I found my Internet access censored again. So I phoned EE again, and the (confused) support person apologised, and uncensored my phone. And then some time later it happened again. And again.

Today, I phoned them again with the same problem. And finally, EE admitted fault. A known system bug is blocking content, even for age-verified adults who have requested uncensored access to the Net. I pointed out that this has been happening to me for months, and they admitted that this problem has been happening for a long time.

It certainly has. For my book, Porn Panic (it’s coming soon, thanks for your patience!) I interviewed Sue, a Twitter follower who has had the same problem for far longer than me, and told me:

Over a period of six months I was having to call at least once a day to remove the filter, I couldn’t access blogs, adult sites, national lottery etc even Google was blocked on occasion. The call centre staff were genuinely apologetic and we ended up on first name terms!  Apparently once I proved I was over 18 the filters would be permanently turned off. I did say there was no way I could be below 18. I pay via direct debit each month, the account is in my name and I have been a customer of theirs for over 10 years. They agreed that indeed was proof enough but some system glitch meant it wasn’t clearing properly.

As a person who keeps a close eye on censorship activity, I often find it hard not to get drawn into conspiracy theories. I don’t believe that anti-sex Nazis at EE are deliberately censoring adults’ phones against their will. But I do believe that the system is rigged to discourage people from getting full Internet access. Few people are as persistent as myself or Sue. Many people leave their filtering switched on (the default setting) out of laziness, lack of time, or to avoid the embarrassment of asking a stranger to switch on the porn.

We are facing censorship by a thousand cuts. Mobile phone filtering which is enabled by default, and which re-enables itself whenever we upgrade our phones. Home filtering which is “optional”… so long as you are the bill payer (if your wife, husband, parent or landlord has switched off the porn, then tough luck). Public WiFi networks that are increasingly filtered, with no option to switch them off.

The stupidest thing about all of this is that the filtering is so easy to circumvent. I install the Tor browser on all my devices, which allows me to access the uncensored Internet, and avoid state surveillance in the process (Tor browsers are available for PC, Mac, Android and iOS devices – unless you believe that you should be blocked and spied upon, I’d recommend installing them).

Amusingly, the EE support engineer I spoke to today gave me a workaround for their own accidental blocking, telling me that the Opera Mini browser also circumvents their filtering.

But we shouldn’t laugh too loud: filtering technology will no doubt strengthen; and attacks on Tor (or the Dark Net as the mainstream media refers to it) are increasing; the implication being that people who seek online privacy must be potential gangsters, terrorists and/or paedophiles.

We shouldn’t have to be circumventing filtering or spying systems. While filtering is a perfectly valid option for ISPs to offer their customers, it shouldn’t be mandated in any way, or switched on by default. Filtering is just the first step: don’t expect the control freaks within the UK state to leave it here. Both Labour and Conservative parties have joined the Porn Panic, so don’t expect a change of government to make things any better. The campaign to uncensor the  Internet must go on.

Religious people more likely to claim porn addiction

A new study has revealed Religious people are less likely than non-religious people to report using pornography, but tellingly those who do use it are more likely to claim they are addicted to it.

This may not be an especially new idea but it is the first study I have come across, specifically in recent years where there has been consistent and what seems to be increasingly anti-porn pressure coming from religion-based groups or individuals.

Porn addiction is, and has always been, notoriously poorly defined, and has no official diagnosis. Even porn itself is hard to define, with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart saying “I’ll know it when I see it” during the 1964 trial – Jacobellis v. Ohio. As reported here last year, the very existence of porn addiction is viewed with skepticism by psychologists.

“There are a lot of people out there [who] identify themselves as porn addicts,” Joshua Grubbs, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Grubbs and his colleagues performed two studies to investigate whether being religious is related to perceptions of porn addiction.

The first study involved young college students from three different U.S. universities, and the second study involved older adults. The researchers asked participants whether they watched porn and, if they did, whether they considered themselves to be addicted to it.

They also measured how religious the participants were, the extent to which they could control their use of porn, to what lengths they would go to access pornography and whether they disapprove of porn morally.

In both studies, they found that religious individuals were less likely than nonreligious individuals to report using porn. Religious people who do use porn, however, are exposed to about the same amount as nonreligious people are, the researchers said.

Religious people were more likely than nonreligious people to disapprove of porn on moral grounds, and were also more likely to perceive their use as an addiction.

“Despite the fact that religious people feel more addicted to porn, they’re not using it more,” Grubbs said. They probably just feel more addicted because they disapprove of it, he said.

In fact they may be using it far less than non-religious people but because those instances where they turn to porn are at such odds with years and years of religious and moral teachings about a specific view of what is acceptable they may well feel an overwhelming sense of shame or guilt.

Religious people could be using the term addiction as a get out of jail for free card and an excuse that helps shield them from judgment in their community.

Criminalised For Receiving “Extreme Porn” Via WhatsApp

Two UK men in their twenties have been convicted of possessing extreme pornography in a case involving the distribution of images featuring beastiality.

Despite the judge accepting that that the two men had not solicited the images Gary Ticehurst, 28, of Canvey Island, Essex, and Mark Kelly, 25, of Romford were both given a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay £500 costs.

Both pleaded guilty to possessing the images on their smartphones. Kelly pleaded guilty to one count of “possessing an extreme pornographic image likely to cause injury”, and three counts of possessing pornographic images involving animals. Ticehurst admitted one count of possessing an extreme pornographic image as well as two counts of possessing pornographic images involving animals.

The images were found after Police had stopped the two men for unrelated matters and a routine inspection of their phones was carried out.

Both men defended themselves in court. Kelly said he had deleted the received videos from his WhatsApp, adding that he was unaware that images were saved to his camera roll. “I didn’t even watch the full content of the video. It was very sick and disturbing,” he told the court.

Judge Paul Worsley told the court that his was imposing a “lenient” sentence, accepting that neither man had solicited the content nor had attempted to share it with others.

“You have pleaded guilty to possessing truly disgusting images,” Judge Worsley said adding “It makes a big difference if someone goes out of their way to seek it, or if they’re sent it by some mischievous colleague.”

Even after the judge’s leniency and appearing to have accepted the indirect means the duo were sent the offending images he still imposed a significant punishment.

These kind of cases are always frustrating for me to listen to or read about. Yes I find beastilaity disgusting, yes it’s currently a crime HOWEVER i’ve had random WhatsApp messages from people i’ve met once or twice, or on occasion never, there is no telling what content is in them.

It is literally like trying to convict someone of possessing an e-mail selling illegal viagra. There will be lots of truly innocent individuals caught up in these kind of charges.

My mind is pondering the demo sex and censorship held outside the UK launch of Stop Porn Culture. It would have been so easy for the Police to have stopped and searched any one of us on the basis that we were demonstrating and who knows how many of us the could have detained on these ambiguous, spurious and damn right silly charges.

That is the kind of abuse these laws, coupled with heavy handed powers can fuel.

Beware The Department of Dirty!

The UK government’s efforts to protect citizens from the terrible dangers that lie only a mouse click away sometimes seem completely ludicrous. And that’s because they are. Indeed, the British public has given its verdict on the “porn filters” by switching them off en-masse.

So this fun little one-minute video from the Open Rights Group (aka Department of Dirty) is a great response. If you don’t laugh, you might cry.

The Peel - now a memory. Photo: www.bronfilms.com

Saving Endangered Strippers

Stripper and activist Edie Lamort muses on the devastating effects of gentrification on the strip pub scene she knows and loves.

“I feel like an endangered species that is becoming extinct because my natural habitat is being destroyed.” – Solitaire

Protect The Wildlife

As the the Tsunami of gentrification crashes through my city, laying waste to communities and culture, leaving it like driftwood in its wake, I wonder how long my industry will survive. My industry is the traditional strip pub. Not the glossy US style corporate club but the family owned strip pub with jug collections and stage shows. The place where customers relax at the bar without being pestered for private dances and where we are individual showgirls not identikit sexbots. But the whole pub industry is in freefall no matter what kind of entertainment they have. Pubs up and down the land stand ruined and concealed in hoardings as landlords go out of business and breweries go into administration. The Peel in South London closed down in April because the brewery, Punch Taverns, is in so much debt that it needs to sell off the land to property developers. It was such a quirky place inside with a wonderful old vaudeville-esq stage, so that the dancers would call it Twin Peaks. It was also a live venue that hosted band nights promoted by indie record labels. Many a famous name in music has played there. When it closed the landlord said to me, ‘They just want to destroy all alternative culture.”

On Monday 21st July the bulldozers moved in to raze it to the ground. It will now be turned into ‘luxury’ flats, the biggest con of our age.

So as the time comes for me to hang up my G-String, here are the things I will desperately miss about being a Striptease Artiste!

The Money

Well of course! This makes life so much fun; it is the lure and the second main thing that holds you to the job. You too can eradicate the crushing misery of poverty in a few easy shifts! Doors will open and opportunities will appear for you. Over the past few years I have had my feet in both worlds; ‘normal’ job and dancing and all I can say is ‘Thank God for dancing!’ The times it has covered the shortfall that ‘normal’ job wages haven’t are too numerous to count. I don’t claim in work benefits, instead I pole dance, but the need is the same. At least I can’t be called a scrounger, only a slut.

Performance

I recent asked a group of fellow strippers, “What’s the most important part of the job? The money or the performance?” The general consensus was that both are of equal importance and it was impossible to rank. We are creative, extrovert people who wither and die in office admin jobs. We like to display and play with the audience, to get the adulation and to flirt. You can be witty, you can be silly then you can be sultry and moody. Essentially you can express yourself when you are improvising a dance on stage. So many offices I’ve stepped into are like morgues, with browbeaten people repressed and under manners, radiating a low-level emission of desperation. I look at the guys and think, ‘Yup, you’ll be in Browns soon!’

In the traditional pubs we choose our music, our costume and choreograph our individual shows, therefore we get creative satisfaction. Copying someone’s show or music is frowned upon: think for yourself! Girls train on the pole at home and in dance schools to put on a great stage show. Creativity and performance are incredibly satisfying. Especially live performance as you have the immediate response of the audience. A few dazzling minutes on stage give you a confidence and pizzazz, a vitality and a certain élan.

As it is essentially a part time job for full time wages it allowed the creative types space to do other things. Shoreditch at its peak was a creative hub and dancers contributed to this. I did music, others ran dance troupes, set up club nights, made art, sculptures and designed clothes. We were part of a scene that was rich in ideas and creativity and that spawned many a mainstream fad.

Glamour

When you are earning money and performing to an adoring crowd you feel like a star. Things are not as good as they were in the Golden Age of Striptease – the 90s and the 00s – but up until the financial crash it had all the essential components of glamour, baby!

The sexual confidence, the allure, the looks, the self-possession and individuality. It was an environment that bred confidence and sass and allowed it to flourish. Dancers had the clothes, the cars, the luxury foreign travel and went to all the fashionable places because money makes that happen. They are also independent free spirits, the artists, the performers, the risk takers and life’s go-getters. Why sit at a desk job when you can dance and get all those things you always wanted? Dancers have attitude, wit and sass and they use it!

Freedom and Independence

I went on holiday to Thailand and met a group of friendly East Coast Americans. We kept in touch and one rainy Tuesday I spoke to one who said ‘Why don’t you come over for the weekend? We’re having party and you can stay here if you want.’ So I phoned Browns to cancel my week’s bookings. It was fine, there are plenty of girls who want to earn money and my shifts would easily be covered. I would just work more the next week and recover the money. Then I got out my credit card and booked a flight to NYC. By that evening I was in the US and at the party. This sense of freedom and independence is such a wonderful experience. You feel totally in control of your own life when you can choose your hours and generate your own financial security. Money in itself won’t make you happy but the opportunity and the freedom it brings will certainly help.

Being Physical

“Office work has ruined my life”, said an overweight and despondent looking customer to me, a few years ago. I didn’t understand what he meant until I started tentatively venturing into that landscape. When you are a dancer your job is a high paid workout. The strength and tone and the general feeling of health you get from being physical goes unnoticed, until you stop! Sitting for hours in an overly air-conditioned, uncomfortable environment with fluorescent  lights overhead is bad for your health. Within a few months of working in an office I began to feel my strength ebbing away and to learn that there was such a thing as back fat. Your life becomes a fight against the sedentary weakening of your body, as feeder-like colleagues bring in biscuits and cakes, relentlessly! We are not designed to be so static and feeling your body in its peak of health, as it is supposed to be, is joyful.

Walking on the Wild Side

If you are a bit kooky see it as a blessing; why on earth would you want to be normal and boring? It’s not an enriching place to be hence people are drawn to the deviant and the risqué. The inhabitants of the traditional strip pub are the weird and wonderful multitudes of humanity and I mean that for everyone. The customers of course display most of these attributes but the owners, the bar staff, the DJs, the bouncers and the dancers are permitted to be themselves and to be self expressed. I delight in meeting the many varied and whacky people of the world.

From the OCD punters and the drunken morons, to the intensely clever and interesting guys, you will see all sides of humanity. We’ve had gay guys and older gentlemen with a penchant for cross-dressing, come out to us because they feel like it’s an environment they can be free in.

“Love them whores they never judge you, well what can you say when you’re a whore?” – Perry Farrell

Not that we are whores. I know how tetchy people get about language.

The dancers can be divided into ‘creative’ and ‘businesswomen’, with one or two nutters, and everyone becomes larger than life. You will also be at the forefront or each new wave of immigration so will meet people from all over the world, speaking many different languages. About 70% of my friends are immigrants because of this job. There is a sense of camaraderie that develops because we are demonized by society at large so we need to have each other’s backs. This has given me some of the best friends I’ve ever known. I have met the most outrageous characters, the most eccentric, the funniest, the smartest, the wittiest and the most independent, and thank God for that!

If you like music, art, fashion, performance and dance you will mourn the loss of the London subcultures, including dancing, because these are the places that spawn creativity. They are fragile ecosystems of low rent and liberal attitudes that allow the evolution of the ‘next big thing’: the next music trend, the next art movement, the next fashion and the next development in dance. They are nurseries of ideas and trends that feed into the mainstream and keep it alive and interesting. Without this fragile reef, the mainstream will become stale and drab, with nothing to feed it. As the corporate vandals smash through neighbourhoods I wonder how long it will take us to recover. Occasionally things will breakthrough and you will see a great band, hear a great DJ or see someone looking amazing. The urge will always be there and will ultimately triumph but right now things are looking drab.

Just remember, when you destroy the cultural ecosystem, it’s not just the animals that suffer.

(Photo of The Peel courtesy www.bronfilms.com).

mindbrowse

Calling Anti-Porn Feminists!

On July 22nd, the female-run site Sssh.com will host a live debate titled “Women in porn: shattering the myths”.

Or at least, they would like to. The problem being that they can’t find anybody to put the anti-porn case. It’s not as if there’s any lack of anti-porn women. There are plenty of campaigners prepared to write endless column inches or countless books about the evils of pornography; numerous (lucrative) speaking tours take place to spread the word that porn is a serious threat to women and children.

But debates, it seems, are a different matter. So here is a shout out to anti-porn feminists. Hey Object! Yo UK Feminista! Ahem Gail Dines! Please mail Mindbrowse if you would like to take part.

The debate (or cordial discussion) will take place at MindBrowse.com on 22nd July at 3pm EST (8pm UK time), and will be live-tweeted using the hashtag #WomenInPorn. It will feature Cindy Gallop, Kelly Holland and Ashley Fires.

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The UK is sleepwalking into censorship

  • The most censored country in the EU
  • Internet 'porn filtering' blocks far more than porn!

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