I Am Mutilated

Yesterday morning, whilst reading the news, I was shocked to learn that I have officially been mutilated. My junk, one of the rare parts of my body I like the look of, has undergone a “harmful procedure” that has left me officially a sufferer of Female Genital Mutilation – and what’s more, I paid someone to do it.

Around two years ago, I sought out the service of a friendly gent in a sterile environment to do the deed. For the small sum of £40, he, with my consent, unwittingly committed an act of Female Genital Mutilation upon my formerly unscathed lady-bits. My quick, and not entirely painless, outing left me with a shiny clitoral hood piercing, which has since brought me great aesthetic and sensory pleasure – but today it has been classified by the Department of Health as a mutilation. Not that my ears, tongue, lower lip or navel has been mutilated; only genital piercings constitute an act of grievous bodily modifications, and only on women.

As with all arguments around sensitive issues, there is always the complication of nuance to consider. So let me be clear here: I was 24 years old when I had my clitoral hood pierced. I was a consenting adult, neither coerced nor under the influence of any substance. I consented; nervously, but wholeheartedly. And whilst I’m not about to go into the finer points of my sex life (there are many trolls out there I’d rather not feed), I can say that decision has brought greater pleasure into my life since. I am against forced procedures or piercings on men or women of any age. However, I am also against branding women as “mutilated” for choosing to modify their genitals.

I want greater protection for women and girls who suffer genital mutilation; but protection does not start with smothering the rights of adult women over the control of their bodies.

This is the second time in the last few months our government has taken away the expression of female sexual pleasure in the name of protection. First we were told face-sitting wasn’t allowed in British porn; now we’re denied the right to pierce our bodies, and questions about consensual labiaplasty are being raised. Rape convictions rates in the UK are amongst the lowest in Europe; there are 170,000 women in this country living with real FGM. And now someone wants to ignore the issues and fudge the statistics by throwing consensual body modification into the mix.

As one of the molly-coddled masses in question, I have to ask: how is reducing the range of my available sexual expression and genital pleasure – both aesthetic and sensory – going to protect me from being aggressively sexualised, raped or genitally tortured?

We don’t ban BDSM because of domestic violence. We don’t ban acid face peels because of Katie Piper; one is a consensual cosmetic procedure and the other is a sickening act of grievous bodily harm. So why is the fate of my genitals determined by the harm done to another woman? In revoking the rights to consensual activity, we aren’t protecting consent. We’re denying it. Intrinsic danger provokes the need to make an act illegal – not the potential for abuse.

I know what mutilation is. As a former self-harmer, I have waged war against my own body with a number of sharp objects, and I have the scars to prove it. I haven’t committed bodily abuse against myself in 7 years; so to be told my decision to have my clitoral hood pierced was an act of self-mutilation – to be denied authority over my own body as an act of protection – has seriously pissed me off.

I want the World Health Organisation to prevent forced genital piercings. I want to provide protection to those suffering from FGM. But I also want our governing bodies to understand the difference between force and consent. And what they seem to have overlooked is this: the irony of classifying a consensual act as illegal is that it removes the right to consent from women. It forces them to abstain from modifications, thereby making a decision for them. It revokes their right to consent – and to bodily authority.

Most of you will agree that a dangerous acid attack and a cosmetic chemical peel are in no way comparable. Many of you will note that there is an enormous distinction between my own self-abuse issues and the torturous removal of female foreskin, and I will absolutely concede. Andperhaps it is ridiculous to compare legislative force to forced genital torture; but then, if these things are ridiculous, so is the comparison between a consensual piercing and an unwanted surgery. Ridiculous – and harmful to FGM’s cause.

No Sex Please, We’re British! UK Judges Fired for Looking at Porn

It emerged this week that four judges have left their jobs (one resigned, three fired) for looking at porn on their work computers. As usual in any news story involving pornography, the newspapers all excitedly reported the event, but none (that I could see) added any common sense to the issue.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice, is quoted as saying the judges’ behaviour is “inexcusable”, but no clarification is provided to explain why he thinks this: then again, Lord Thomas is a huge fan of stoking up Porn Panic, having stated his belief a few weeks ago that pornography causes rape and murder… all available evidence, as we know, points in the opposite direction – that porn use is linked with a widespread and long-term reduction in violence. Surely, the truly inexcusable thing is for such a senior judge to make such an inflammatory statement. But when it comes to porn, panic tends to triumph over fact.

It was made clear that none of the viewed material was illegal in the UK. No child abuse imagery, no heavy BDSM, not even a bit of harmless (but banned) squirting. It seems unlikely that the sackings would have occurred if the judges had been watching Breaking Bad rather than smut.

So the sackings appear to have been made purely on the standard British measure of morality: that sex is worse than violence, horror, or pretty much anything else.

Comment from normally sensible sources was equally silly – after all, the British press couldn’t possibly treat us like grown-ups when it comes to pornography. And so Zoe Williams in the Guardian, rather than question why consenting sex between adults is still treated as a taboo, provides a confused analysis: apparently, the judges are “backward” because they don’t understand how to browse in privacy mode, and this is somehow linked to the lack of ethnic diversity in the legal profession… or something. Is Williams suggesting that black judges would be less likely to enjoy pornography, or that an enjoyment of porn is somehow racist? Are the judges “backward” for looking at porn, or is Williams backward for being unable to say out loud that sex – and depictions of sex – are not harmful?

Why were these men fired, and why does nobody in the media seem to be asking this question?

From our perspective, the sackings (and their press coverage) are simply an indication that the British middle-classes are still deeply uncomfortable talking about sex. They like it to be under cover, secretive. Nobody needs to know, do they…? Let’s make it our little secret.

The ongoing revelations about the scale of establishment child abuse in the 1980s and earlier decades suggest that secrecy is harmful, not porn. We shouldn’t trust an establishment that is trying to turn back the clock to those dark times. We live in healthier and safer times. It is heartening to learn that judges are just like the rest of us, and sad to find that the heads of the judiciary, and the mass media, are still terrified to accept that sex between consenting adults is OK.

Trans-Denying Feminists (aka “TERFs”) – Transphobic or Just Plain Wrong?

I had generally avoided the “debate” over trans rights and transphobia, which is characterised by plenty of heat and little light, until I debated against Julie Bindel last year on pornography at the University of Essex. There had been calls to cancel the debate, based on Bindel’s alleged transphobia (despite the debate having nothing to do with the issue), and we were inevitably met by a shouty little group of students accusing Bindel of being a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist).

Bindel has been “No Platformed” by  a number of student unions (or rather, the elitist little clique that controls many student unions and decides what the rest of the student body should or should not hear on campus). Ludicrously, such people claim that refusing to allow a person to speak on campus isn’t censorship. “It’s not censorship to deny someone a platform…”. It’s worrying that some of these authoritarian bullies will form the next generation of politicians, and will inevitably try to extend No Platform beyond universities: “It’s not censorship. We’re simply denying bloggers a platform by throwing them in jail”.

The new left, obsessed with identity politics, and lacking the intelligent analysis of earlier generations of progressives, has trouble formulating intelligent positions, and instead resorts to labelling people bigots and trying to silence them. Are Bindel, Germaine Greer and other feminists really hate-filled “transphobes”? To me, this avoids the more important question: are they right? And undoubtedly, the answer is No. They are wrong: but their mistake is a fundamental one that is broadly shared across the new left, not just TERFs.

The success of liberal values in the 1960s established equality as an essential for any enlightened society. Women, racial minorities and homosexuals all took great strides forward in their legal statuses (although the inevitable cultural battles continued). But post-modern left thinkers, especially feminists, took things further, deciding that nature itself must be declared equal. Thus, biological differences were increasingly denied: it was deemed that every child was equally capable of everything, and that individual differences in intelligence, in ability and in gender behaviours were therefore cultural, rather than rooted in biology.

So as religious objections to evolution have faded, the post-modernists have become the new creationists, denying the increasing weight of science that demonstrates how important genes are to all of our core instincts and behaviours.

The 1970s feminist movement declared gender identity to be a cultural, not a biological attribute, with hilarious consequences, which I remember well, as my mother and her friends were Women’s Libbers. It was widely predicted for example that women, now liberated, would come to equal men in sporting achievements (to be fair, there was an uptick in female world records, but this turned out to be down to the widespread use of drugs by Eastern bloc countries). It was also believed that the tendency for women to obsess over their appearances far more than men was due to “patriarchal oppression”, and so women’s lib would mean an end to mini-skirts, make-up and high heels: in fact, greater female economic independence has led to exactly the opposite scenario, with sales of cosmetics, beauty products and female clothes booming. On race, the success of West Africans in power sports, and East Africans in endurance events, was put down to “racial oppression”, rather than biological advantages.

Most fundamentally, it was deemed that children’s gender identities could be crafted by giving them different toys to play with. Thus, boys of my generation were given dolls to play with as well as trains, and toy weaponry was frowned upon. Generation after generation of feminist mothers have tried, and failed, to override their children’s innate sense of gender identity. (Some time ago I saw a very good blog by a feminist mother on how giving birth to two boys destroyed her belief that gender behaviours were merely cultural – if anyone knows of the link, please let me know and I’ll add it here).

By the 1990s, the science was well advanced, and increasingly showed that gender and sexual behaviours were in large part genetic. Twin studies allowed the effects of genes and environment to be isolated and measured, and once the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, we gained the ability to directly “read” which genes were linked with each of our behaviours. Evolutionary psychology, neuroscience and genetics all developed rapidly and gradually demolished the foundations of post-modern thinking. The 1999 book Why Men Don’t Iron was one of many that explained the emerging understanding about gender behaviours, and was made into a TV programme. Similarly, the book Why Is Sex Fun included a chapter titled “Why Do Men Hunt?” By 2013, neuroscience had advanced to the point where it unveiled, in detail, the different wiring of male and female brains.

But like all true religious believers, the post-modernists became increasingly shrill, as the rug of scientific evidence was yanked from beneath them. They attacked biology covertly, dismissing solid, mainstream science as “biological determinism”. In terms of science denial, they are greater offenders than even climate-change sceptics: the science they deny is far older and more solid than climate science.

Bizarrely, the post-modernists allow for one loophole: in response to claims from the religious right that homosexuality is cultural and therefore curable, they are prepared to accept the biological roots of homosexuality. But on gender, they take the same position as the religious right do over homosexuality: it is cultural, and therefore must be curable.

As with sexuality, a minority of individuals are born possessing gender identities that depart from the mainstream. As with all other people, trans people deserve equality, and their human rights to be upheld. They deserve to live a life free from stigma and bullying, and for their chosen identities to be honoured by the world. The battle for trans rights is belatedly being fought, having been largely overlooked by earlier generations. In a sign that this debate has now fully entered the mainstream, new-left darling Owen Jones, never an early entrant to any issue, has recently contributed one of his typically worthy-but-unenlightening perspectives.

And so inevitably, trans activists have clashed with some among the older generation of feminists, still wed to the discredited idea of nurture over nature. Bindel and co are probably not bigoted; they are simply wrong; they cannot shake off the progressive ideas of their youths that have turned out to be discredited by science.

But the TERFs are not the only people still clinging on to this rejection of science. A leading female sex blogger responded to a science article I tweeted by tweeting back at me: “Biological determinism is fucking bollocks!” – illustrating the low quality of debate around these subjects. The ongoing arguments over “gendered” toys continue, based on the silly assumption that Barbie dolls and pink Lego bricks are somehow responsible for the lack of female CEOs and nuclear physicists. Despite 50 years of post-modern parenting, gender differences are as strong as ever.

Like all religious-type movements, biology-denying feminism will crash and burn, but it will become increasingly shrill on the way down. Discussions over sex, sexuality and gender in the absence of scientific understanding invariably produce laughable nonsense. Equal rights are a legal and ethical idea: they don’t require underlying conformity. We are all different, we are all equal.

Morality-Based Employment Discrimination

My employment with a UK-based, mainstream fashion brand was recently terminated on account of my adult work and business conflicting with the interests of the company.

When I accepted the job of Multimedia Designer and Developer with Missguided it did not occur to me that my experience in the online adult industry might work against me.

I lasted five days in what seemed a perfectly suited role for my skills, experience and enthusiasm before the company terminated my contract under the probationary terms of employment. The only explanation they gave shortly before marching me out of the building was ‘for reasons we can’t elaborate on at this time.’

Of course, I was certain of the reasoning behind it and I was aware that they took a view that, in my opinion, was narrow-minded and shallow of the adult work I have produced but instead of allowing me the courtesy of responding to their concerns they chose to cut ties.

An ‘official‘ reason eventually came through the recruiting agency that had placed me in the role; I was told that Missguided felt my adult business ‘conflicted’ with the interests and values of their brand.

I have still yet to receive any official, written confirmation of my contact’s termination.

Additional frustration was caused due to the fact that I had been upfront and honest from the very start with Pervlens Media proudly placed on my CV (which both interviewers had with them during my interview), we discussed areas of work I had been engaged in in the past and they had over three weeks to do their due diligence before my start date.

It was especially surprising to me as Missguided paints itself as an edgy, modern, progressive and fresh brand and I thought if anyone would be able to look past the adult content, even embrace it as something that makes my experience that little more unique, they would.

I have held jobs previously in roles with companies like Urban Vision, a partnership with Salford City Council, that had me, on a regular basis, coming into contact and dealing with council officers, Councillors, elected officials and members of the public.

It is probably a well-known fact, perhaps even to be expected, that a past in adult films will close off mainstream opportunities and employment .

Renee Richards, a well-known UK adult ex-performer, has experienced such discrimination too, and lost at least two jobs due to her past life, commenting;

“I worked in the adult (porn) industry for four and a half years, and performed in over 200 films. In that time I did not feel degraded nor did I find working in the industry demeaning. However, since leaving the industry I have been treated in a demeaning and degrading way by people who are not in the adult industry, who have either found out of their own volition that I used to work in the adult industry, or by me telling them.”

I wanted to share my experience as this kind of discrimination is often allowed under current employment law and is rarely spoken about and contrary to what people may think affects those behind the camera too such as back office and support staff of adult companies just as much as it can affect the performers and ‘stars’ of adult entertainment.

Legal advice that I sought shortly after the termination confirmed that the law is not only extremely employer-sided in the first two years of employment, especially so during the probationary period, but employers are not even legally obliged to elaborate or give written confirmation of the reasons for dismissal.

It has left me pondering – when did the UK become a place where we allow judgements on an individual with work history in a perfectly legal industry who was upfront and honest about it influence the ability or skill to do a job?

[Note: Missguided have been contacted for comment. At the time of publication, no reply has been received.]

Where Does The Green Party Stand on Sexual Freedom?

As the May election approaches, we should all be considering our individual priorities, and selecting an appropriate party and candidate to vote for. So for me (as you might expect) the erosion of civil liberties is far and away the biggest issue we face at this election, and especially those issues around sexual freedom and free expression.

Which parties are the strongest in these areas? Well to begin with, we can ignore the two largest: both Labour and the Tories have appalling records in these areas, climbing over each other to censor online expression and then insisting that the other side isn’t being tough enough on terrorists/protecting children/[insert your favourite threat to humanity].

UKIP’s libertarian noises have been a clever tactic to attract those who are sick of the politically-correct authoritarianism of the puritan left. But there can be nothing pro-liberty about UKIP in practise: their support comes overwhelmingly from older, socially conservative voters, who would be outraged by a loosening of policy on sex or drugs. UKIP has no mandate for expanding civil liberties, but their anti-immigration policies would require a large investment in the security state. More police with more powers? No thanks.

Putting aside the tiny parties (the Pirates have already featured here), there are two choices remaining: the Greens or the Lib Dems. Many of my sex-positive friends are enthusiastic supporters of the Greens, who are projected as a pro-liberty, left-wing alternative. I have doubts whether the Greens are either especially libertine or left (that discussion can continue elsewhere!) But where do they stand on sex? I was sent a link today to a statement of policy which has left me just as uncertain as before.

On Sexual Freedom

The Green Party believes that the law should not seek to regulate consensual sexual activities between adults where these do not affect others…

– This is a bland statement, rendered of little value by the “where these do not affect others” part, which is a get-out-of-jail-free card. Do the existence of strip clubs “affect others”? Anti-sex campaigners think so, and have long made (discredited) arguments that strip clubs cause an increase in sexual violence. Do lads’ mags or Page 3 affect others? Pro-censorship campaigners say these “objectify women” and make supermarkets and newsagents uncomfortable places for some women to visit. Anti-gay rights campaigners have long considered that the rights of gay people have wider, detrimental (but hard-to-quantify) effects on society. Basically, any sex act that doesn’t happen between two people in private might be said to “affect others”.

4/10

On Censorship

The statement continues:

... restrictions and censorship of sexually explicit material should be ended, except for those aimed at protecting children. The following are direct quotes from our official policy.

RR550 … Adults should be free to do as they wish with their own bodies, and to practice whatever form of sexual activity they wish by themselves or with each other by mutual consent. This includes the freedom not only to engage in such sexual acts, but also to be photographed or filmed doing so, to make such images available to other adults with their consent, and to be able to view such images. That someone might receive payment for any of these activities should not affect this freedom.

http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/rr.html#RR550

– This is a much stronger statement, but heavily undermined by the caveat “except for those aimed at protecting children” (my highlight above). Most UK censorship of sexual expression exists under the “protecting children” caveat. This includes the total ban on hardcore porn on TV – even at 3am, even PIN-protected – because (according to Ofcom) children might know the PIN and have access to a TV at 3am. The filters on home broadband, public WiFi and mobile Internet connections exist to “protect children”, but in practise block a lot of valuable content to both children and adults. ATVOD’s harassment of UK-based adult websites is done under the seemingly false pretext of child protection.

5/10

Sex Work

The statement continues:

RR554 Therefore, all aspects of sex work involving consenting adults should be decriminalised. Restrictions and censorship of sexually explicit material should be ended, except for those which are aimed at protecting children. Workers in the sex industry should enjoy the same rights as other workers such as the right to join unions (SeeWR410), the right to choose whether to work co-operatively with others etc. Decriminalisation would also help facilitate the collection of taxes due from those involved in sex work. Legal discrimination against sex workers should be ended (for example, in child custody cases, where evidence of sex work is often taken to mean that a person is an unfit parent).http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/rr.html#RR555

This is a strong, positive statement. It continues…

At the time that the 2008 bill was passed we did not have a Green MP in Parliament so did not have a vote. However our policy towards all forms of sex work is a liberal one advocating decriminalisation with protections against exploitation, abuse and trafficking.

And here’s the BIG problem with the Greens. They have a great sex work policy, and they now have one MP, Caroline Lucas. But Lucas is a vociferous opponent of Green policy on sex work, as well as a leading supporter of the censorious No More Page 3 campaign. Which way would she vote on these issues? We have no idea.

Note also the inclusion of the T-word… “trafficking” here. The blurring of lines between sex work and trafficking is based on the largely mythical idea of “sex trafficking”, which is used to attack the legitimacy of sex work. Not good.

7/10

We will try to carry more party-based coverage in the run-up to the election. If party supporters and representatives would like to provide us information on their policies related to these subjects, or write a post for this blog, please contact us.

B&Q Embraces Kinksters as 50 Shades is Released

Once upon a time, the fetish world was a dark, seedy place for the hardcore enthusiast only. Thanks to the Internet, kink has increasingly entered the mainstream, but we can thank 50 Shades of Grey for really bringing BDSM to suburbia.

50 Shades has outraged pro-censorship activists and the Daily Mail more than any porn ever could, because it has penetrated the reading lists and the bedrooms of respectable British housewives. Morality campaigners, horrified at the success of the books, have tried to link them to domestic violence, and have even called for book burnings. With the movie about to be released, the anti-50 Shades campaigners have launched a boycott, calling on people to donate to sexual abuse charities instead of watching it at the cinema.

None of this outrage has made a dent in public enthusiasm for 50 Shades, or the resulting interest in BDSM.

Indeed, BDSM is now so mainstream that the DIY chain store B&Q has jumped in on the act. In a “leaked memo to staff“, B&Q have warned employees to expect a surge of interest in BDSM-related products when the 50 Shades movie premières, including ropes, cable ties and tape.

It may be a surprise to B&Q staff that there are alternative uses for these apparently boring products, but the kink community is way ahead of them. London-based dominatrix Ms Tytania enthusiastically endorses B&Q’s products:

Every kinkster knows that their local DIY store is a treasure trove of pervertables: a term used to describe every happy find in its seemingly mundane aisles. This knowledge passes from kinkster to kinkster, and it’s a good thing, because along with the instructions, come the safety rules and common sense. Ever since I discovered the kink scene in London, I’ve been told of marvellous contraptions and materials that can be bought cheaply at B&Q, how to use them, and what to do with them, safely. If you know where to look, B&Q could be your favourite sex shop.

One of my favourite activities is japanese rope bondage: the art of tying people up, securely, inescapably and aesthetically. B&Q sell my favourite rope: 6mm, red polypropylene, in their rope & chains aisle. Well, I hope they still sell it, because it’s proven to be so hard-wearing and durable, that even though I use it to suspend 15 stone blokes from my ceiling suspension (made with concrete screws from yes, you guessed it, B&Q), it still looks as good as new after more than 8 years . It’s a beautiful, solid coral red and machine washable. Soft to the touch against the skin and cut in lengths of 4, 6 or 10 metres (anything longer would be too tangly), easily the best rope I’ve ever used for Shibari.

While enthusiasts embrace the convergence of BDSM and DIY, some strike a note of caution to inexperienced enthusiasts trying out kink for the first time. Sexpert Emily Dubberley says:

If B&Q staff are going to be given a memo on use of equipment, it is important they are aware of safety guidelines so they don’t put any customers at risk. There are many great books and websites out there exploring how to practice BDSM safely: 50 Shades wasn’t written as a sex manual, but a fantasy. As such, while it may inspire you, it’s not a good idea to assume you can use it as a ‘how to’ guide: as I’m sure even EL James would agree. BDSM is as safe as any sex, as long as conducted with informed consent and knowledge: while I applaud B&Q’s approach towards diverse sexuality, and celebration of customer satisfaction, they also need to consider customer safety.

Ms Tytania agrees. Noting that B&Q’s memo had mentioned cable ties, she provides the following advice:

Never use bungee or elastic rope, cable ties or binds. Gaffer tape is OK, but it can stick to hair or beards and result on the wrong type of pain. You only want the good kind of pain during play, the type that helps you space out and drift away into submission, not the one that snaps you out of it in agony. If you are planning to give rope a try, use 3 metre long lengths that are simple to unknot and tie up the limbs only, always above or below joints. Never put rope on the joints themselves. To ensure that the tightness is right, I slip a finger between the rope and the limb: if it fits, it’s neither too tight nor too loose. And have a pair of medical scissors at hand, the ones used to cut through bandages, in case you need to cut (in this case, Boots is your friend).

So there you have it, folks: go out there and enjoy yourselves. But be careful out there.

Oi Russell! If I Can’t Strip, It’s Not My Revolution!

Dear Russell,

Forgive the blatant sexual objectification of my own body to get your attention. Given your past reputation and my occupation, it seems fitting.

I’ve got a bone to pick with you… not wishing to sound like another critic in the army of naysayers lining up to knock lumps out of you (it beggars belief to observe the emotional violence levelled at you sometimes) as I think of you as someone who has done remarkably well, who has struggled against and overcome uncommon adversity, worked hard and transformed unimaginable pain into joyous medicine for the soul: laughter. You are a public figure of whom the Buddha himself would be proud.

I want to talk to you about feminism; specifically, how women are represented on the Trews. I’m not talking about the Feminism of yester-year, the bra-burning, militant Greenham Commoners, or the suffragettes who fought to the death for a right that became obsolete anyway. I’m not referring to any of these tired old tropes, which, thanks to decades of media conditioning and unhelpful narratives, continue to diminish the movement.

I’m talking about the value of women in society. How women are valued and treated in our culture, the rights, freedoms and options that they are afforded, or not afforded, by the rest of society i.e. men, and how these freedoms are enshrined in our culture, law and heritage. Simple.

I’ve heard you mention Guy Debord before – his book “Society of the Spectacle” explains how modern culture places a higher value on how things look above their reality, to all our detriment. Our present society likes nothing better than to endlessly pore over images of women, scrutinising every inch. We know that appraising women primarily for their attractiveness and the way they look is harmful to us all, yet it persists.

Media representations of gender are essential to public perceptions and beliefs, therefore the ways in which women are represented in popular mainstream media say a lot about cultural attitudes towards them. The legendary academic Jean Kilbourne nails this in her work ‘Killing Us Softly’, identifying attitudes alongside representations of women in advertising. Admirably, you have also pinpointed the problem of objectification, idolatry, and deification of women, turning them into 2d objects and projecting narratives onto them. You seem to have an impressive grasp of feminist ideology, revealed in episode 12 ‘Is Renee Zellweger getting older’ when you explain the “Madonna/Whore” delineation of female de-sexualised archetypes.

But it begs the question, what are you doing to create alternatives to the usual media mechanisms that silence womens’ voices and deny their personalities? How has the Trews facilitated a discussion about the value of women in society and the media? As a feminist myself, and a big fan of your work, I’m sorely disappointed.

I’ve been watching the Trews for about a year now; the part of me that bloody loves you, and always has, is thoroughly excited and inspired to witness you, with your knowledge, illustriousness, and sheer audacity, having a square go at tackling corruption, greed and ignorance head-on. But, sadly, the feminist part of me that is awake to female representation and subjugation is horrified by the lack of women on the Trews.

With the exception of the Focus E15 mums and Lindsay from the New Era Estate, who are magnificent exemplars of utter mightiness in the struggle for social justice in the UK, there has been a dearth of other women like them. So far I have been dismayed by the lack of outspoken, assertive, intelligent, empowered women in comparison to the number of men who fit that description. There is a growing alumni of impressive and influential male guests, including Scroobius Pip, Brenden Ogle, George Monbiot, Jolyon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse, B Dolan, Dan Pinchbeck, Dave DeGraw, Mo Ansar, Rufus Hound, David Baddiel, and Alain De Botton. Conversely, is it fair to say that Chloe and Alesha the Cambridge drop-outs, your PA Nicola, and the little girl on the tube represent the full opinion, intellect and creative spirit of half the population?

You invited Helena Norberg-Hodge to share her expertise on trade agreements and food justice, but your habit of continually interrupting her to translate what she was saying into your “layman’s terms” was undermining. Ok, it’s part of your adorable shtick, and she’s not the only guest who is put through your jovial “everyday folk” filter, you do this with male guests too. But there is something disconcerting about her interview. You are more deferential with men, you hang off their every word – not so with Helena.

In episode 164, ‘Is David Cameron The Terrorist?’ you appear with Alec Baldwin, Max Keiser and Stacey Herbert. Worryingly, you introduced both male guests using their full names – but Stacey is just Stacey. She barely gets a word in throughout the discussion, and she is the last person to be addressed on each question. When she does offer a weird analogy about the banking system being like Ebola she doesn’t get to qualify it; instead Max Keiser interjects with “Ah, haha, well I think what Stacey is alluding to there…” Talk about patronising!

Even more worryingly, this has already been brought to your attention! In episode 106, ‘Is The Trews Sexist?’ a fan suggests that you redress the balance of male/female guests, in order to avoid the classic narrative of male-dominated politics. As a life-long fan of your humour I appreciated the delicious irony of your response, ordering your female butler upstairs to boss her about like a patriarchal overlord. Truly hilarious, but you didn’t actually take the hint.

Your most noteworthy female guest so far is undoubtedly Naomi Klein. Does that mean you’ll only take a woman seriously if she triggers anti-globalisation movements with her best selling books? Not a bad criterion to have for your guests, in which case what the bloody hell is Alistair Campbell (spin doctor to Blair’s Evil Empire) doing there? I understand the point – Campbell is human underneath etc. But what is the wider message being sent out to female fans?

I could go on but you’ve probably got the message. I don’t believe for a second I’m the first person to point this out to you – in fact you revealed an awareness of your sexist tendencies by apologising to that politician on Question Time for calling her “love”. Maybe your eyes are opening to the myriad ways that women are still stifled, undermined and disregarded.

What, then, qualifies me to aim this diatribe at you? Obviously, I’m a woman and a feminist. I’m also a “stripper activist”. I co-founded a group called East London Strippers Collective, a group of strippers who have gathered out of shared grievances about our industry, and a desire to improve it. We are committed to self-organisation, self-empowerment and ethical business practises. We seek to challenge stereotypes and widely held erroneous beliefs about our work, provoking better-informed dialogue about strippers and sex-workers in general.

How can a feminist be a stripper, I hear you think? Easily. For us pro-choice, sex-positive feminists our work is built on the principle that women have the right to be sexual beings, the right to choose what they do with their own bodies – the same principle that made abortion and homosexuality a legal right.

ELSC believe that women (and men) have the right to strip and not be stigmatised for it. We imagine that if clubs were run as egalitarian businesses, owned and managed by workers we might create a more respectful and sympathetic environment within the industry, changing the wider social impact. Our manifesto challenges the patriarchal conventions on which the industry is built, and ensures that no individual can profit from the work of another.

Unsavoury workplace controls, exploitative business practises and unhealthy manipulations of male and female sexuality are as much a consequence of capitalist greed than anything else. The more we strive to take back autonomy in our workplaces, the more useful and effective we can be in society, which makes us no different from any other exploited work force seeking an end to greed and exploitation. In many ways, the sex industry is the definitive capitalist business model, entirely profit driven. But I can imagine it being different.

Russell, your call for Revolution is a symphony of inspiration to me. I’m a politicised radical who believes in change. I went to anti-war demos and climate riots, some of my best mates fought high profile climate-justice court trials. What I learned during my informative years as an anti-capitalist rebel I am now applying to my choice of work. As an activist, visual artist and a practising Buddhist I’ve had ample opportunity to re-imagine the world. The task of our generation is re-imagining a system that serves people over profit; gender equality must be part of that system.

My vision for Revolution includes strippers. It includes all sex-workers. Because what they offer society is untold insight into gender biases and power relationships. I refer to this New Statesman article by Alison Phipps ’Why Feminism Needs Trans People and Sex Workers’;

“Sex workers are part of an industry which, although diverse, is profoundly gendered and based on the commodification of sex and desire. From this position they have unique insights into how gendered power relations and sexual scripts work… the gendered structures that radical feminism identified in the 1970s may have already become more complex and slippery in our postmodern world. Surely, those most likely to understand these present-day structures are those oppressed by them the most.”

As we strive ahead together calling out greed and corruption, I want the freedom to strip! I want to provide sexual entertainment to those who would otherwise be devoid of it, for the landscape of our art and culture to include tits and willies, and celebrations of nudity and sexuality. I believe there is value in sex work, and that those who choose to do it deserve recognition. I want my positive experiences as a stripper to be acknowledged and my negative experiences to serve as caution. I want to use my knowledge and understanding of my choice of work to be a source of transformation and inspiration to others.

I’d like to know what you think about this potential sticking point; because in the words of the glorious, articulate and mercifully female political agitator Emma Goldman… if I can’t strip, it’s not my Revolution.

Prostitution: Fact & Fiction

The following is taken from a press release received today from the English Collective of Prostitutes. Increasingly, sex workers are being presented as victims who have no control over their lives, and thus the state is urged to step in and “rescue” them – which in practise, means arresting them and preventing them working, publishing their photos in the press to shame them, and deporting them if they are illegal immigrants.

PROSTITUTION: FACT AND FICTION

CLAIM #1: 80% of women in prostitution are controlled by traffickers.

FACT #1: This is a lie. Less than 6% of sex workers are trafficked. “Many migrants prefer working in the sex industry rather than the “unrewarding and sometimes exploitative conditions they meet in non-sexual jobs”.

CLAIM #2: The average age of entry into prostitution internationally is 13 years old.

FACT #2: This statistic is a lie. It comes from a survey of YOUNG PEOPLE under 18 years old.

CLAIM #3: 50% of women in prostitution in the UK started being paid for sex acts before they were 18 years old.

FACT #3: This statistic is misleading. It fosters the view that many sex workers started as children which is reinforced by the oft quoted erroneous statistic that the “average age of entry into prostitution is 13″. In fact, the same survey found 80% of female sex workers in the UK started working over the age of 16. A survey of adult sex workers in Stockton found that the average age of entry into prostitution was 20.

CLAIM #4: 95% of women in street prostitution are problematic drug users.

FACT #4: This figure is unreliable. It comes from Home Office funded “exiting and support projectsSex workers who don’t use drugs have little contact with these projects and are unlikely to be surveyed. There are no reliable figures of drug use among sex workers and therefore no evidence that the rate of drug use is higher than among journalists, politicians or celebrity chefs.

CLAIM #5:  The Swedish law that criminalised clients whilst decriminalising street workers is a successful model; there is a decrease in prostitution and trafficking.

FACT #5a: There no evidence that trafficking, rape and other violence has decreased in Sweden. However, recent research shows that sex workers face increased stigma and are more vulnerable to violence.

FACT #5b: There is no reliable evidence that the Swedish law has resulted in a reduction in prostitution.  One oft quoted statistic is from a survey that found the number of men saying they buy sexual services has decreased from 14% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008. How can this be trusted when buying sex was not criminal in 1996 so there were less reasons for men to lie?  The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare found it was “difficult to discern any clear trend” up or down.  Evidence of an increase in massage parlours in Stockholm is ignored.

CLAIM #6: Decriminalisation does not work.

FACT #6: This is not true. New Zealand decriminalised in 2003 with verifiable improvements in sex workers’ health and safety. The law removed prostitution from the criminal law, allowed people to work together collectively, and distinguished between violence and consenting sex. It reinforced offences against compelling anyone into prostitution, stating a specific right for sex workers to refuse any client. A comprehensive five-year government review found: no increase in prostitution, no increase in trafficking; drug users treated as patients not criminals; sex workers were more able to report violence and leave prostitution if they choose.[x] Legalisation (like in Germany, Nevada and the Netherlands) is state-run prostitution which sets up a two-tier system where the most vulnerable workers remain illegal. It is opposed by most sex workers.

Decriminalisation has received vocal support from World Health organisation, UNAids, Human Rights Watch, Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women and 100s of other organisations worldwide.

CLAIM #7: 68% of women in prostitution experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

FACT #7: This figure is absurd! Researcher Melissa Farley and this research were reprimanded by Canadian Supreme Court Judge Himmel because Farley “failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post- traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely, that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.”

CLAIM #8: Once in prostitution, 9 out of 10 women report wanting to exit but feel unable to do so.

FACT #8: Another absurd statistic from the discredited Ms Farley. Even if it were true, it could as easily be claimed that once in factory, office, agricultural and domestic work: “9 out of 10 women report wanting to exit but feel unable to do so.” Financial alternatives and resources for women, not abolition of prostitution would better address this.

CLAIM #9: 70% of sex workers spent time in care.

FACT #9: This statistic is untrue. It is based on studies of YOUNG PEOPLE who were“more likely to have had a background of troubled family relations or the care system than adults involved in sex.

CLAIM #10: Over half of women involved in prostitution in the UK have been raped and/or sexually assaulted — the vast majority of these assaults perpetrated by sex buyers.

FACT #10: This figure may be true. It is a survey of women working on the STREET. Sex workers experience high levels of rape and other violence but this does not mean that prostitution is violence.

Using violence to justify the criminalisation of clients is deceitful as it ignores evidence that criminalisation forces sex workers to work in isolation at greater risk of attack. Women Against Rape report that 1 in 4 women have been raped and that only 6.5% of reported rapes result in convictions. Police time and resources are desperately needed to focus on the investigation of actual violence not the policing of consenting sex.

FACT #11: Prostitution is about ….. money!

The majority of sex workers are women and men (including transgender women and men) who decided to sell sex in order to escape poverty or “achieve a better standard of living for themselves”. 74% of off-street sex workers “cited the need to pay household expenses and support their children”.

Anti-Sex Work Comedian Kate Smurthwaite Silenced! Or was she…?

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, all but the most delusional bloggers have become keenly aware of the importance of free speech, and the need to defend it against those who would take it away. This has been quite a shift for a Britain that has, over the last few years, become increasingly obsessed with not causing offence to anyone at any time.

This week, Spiked posted a well-publicised study into how free expression is being crushed in universities up and down the country in order not to confront students with ideas that might make them uncomfortable (though being challenged by new ideas is the very point of a university education, some might say). These bans – on everything from outside speakers to The Sun and Robin Thicke records – are often led by student unions, populated by our future politicians. So it’s a cause for concern.

And right on cue, a new case came to light. Comedian Kate Smurthwaite had her gig at Goldsmith’s College cancelled after feminist protests. Smurthwaite was immediately all over the media, commenting on how she was apparently “the wrong kind of feminist” and therefore had to be ‘silenced’ – that popular phrase used by people with high public profiles whenever anyone criticises them.

Classy: blaming sex workers, not rapists, for rape
Classy: blaming sex workers, not rapists, for rape

Of course, I was appalled by this story. I’ll admit to not knowing who Kate Smurthwaite was prior to this point, and upon researching her, she turns out to be a rather nasty piece of work – a vocal supporter of the ‘Nordic model’ in relation to sex work and someone not adverse to abusing sex workers on Twitter (‘rape enablers’ and comparisons to murderers are some of her charming claims) and who has trotted out zombie stats on the sex industry as fact. She’s campaigned against strip clubs, and is a supporter of Object.

But still, she’s entitled to the free speech that she wants to deny others. Not that she’s exactly short of platforms. Despite being an obscure and (as we shall see) rather unpopular comedian, she’s appeared on Question Time, for instance, and other TV discussion shows. Which rather suggests that she’s very much the RIGHT kind of feminist as far as the BBC are concerned – how many pro-porn feminists have had similar exposure? But if her show was closed down due to threats, then that’s clearly not on. We should combat horrible people and their horrible opinions by debate, not denial of platform – otherwise, it suggests that our arguments are as weak as those of Object. They might force Dapper Laughs out of business, but we are surely not that nasty?

But it doesn’t take long before this story sets the Bullshit Alarm ringing. It was the idea of her being “the wrong kind of feminist” that first raised my eyebrows. Now, I have no knowledge of the beliefs held by Goldsmith’s Feminist Society, but my experience of other feminist groups – especially student groups – is that the Nordic Model is hardly unpopular. Perhaps the feminists at Goldsmith are especially progressive when it comes to sex workers – though as 70 per cent of members had voted for the show to go ahead, perhaps they are not. The fact that they were co-organisers also suggests that they had no issue with her.

But let’s assume that the remaining 30 per cent were VERY angry and did indeed plan to protest. I have no idea how many people make up the Goldsmith’s Feminist Society, but I suspect that 30 per cent of the membership would not number in the hundreds. And there is no suggestion that this would be a violent protest – just sign waving and shouting. Uncomfortable for attending students perhaps (and we know how much they value their comfort) but a threat to security? Hardly. If Spearmint Rhino can cope with Object fanatics screaming abuse at XBIZ attendees, I’m sure this venue would have managed without calling in the riot squad.

But then, the Feminist Society has denied that any such protest was planned. This is unusual – usually, objectors are quick to crow about their victories, not issue denials. So where did the claims about a protest come from, if not from the Feminist Society? Well, they seem to have come from Smurthwaite herself.

To quote the event organiser on comedy site Chortle: “Kate told me 24 hours before that there was likely to be a picket with lots of students and non students outside the venue.” Ahh, I see. But why would Smurthwaite sabotage her own show? Well, perhaps the fact that after being on sale for “several” weeks, only eight tickets had been sold might offer up a clue. But that’s probably just me being cynical.

I’ve no doubt that in the fact of the alleged threat of protest put the wind up the venue, which will be governed by idiotic Student Union ‘safe space’ policies, which in theory are to ensure that all students can access venues equally, but in practice ensures that no difficult or challenging art, performance of discussion can take place – only opinions accepted by all (or, more accurately, by all the right people) can be expressed. In that sense, this is indeed related to the spate of university ‘no platform’ bans and suppression of free speech. But it also feels like a neat bit of manipulation. And while we might experience a spot of schadenfreude at one of the censorial having the tables turned on them, let’s not be fooled into thinking this is any sort of victory. The same thing could happen to any of us, but unlike Smurthwaite, we’re probably not going to get any invitations to appear on Question Time or TV panel discussion shows as a result. And unlike Dapper Laughs, she is unlikely to be ritually humiliated on Newsnight as her grossly offensive tweets to sex workers are disapprovingly read back to her. However much she might want to claim otherwise, Smurthwaite has in no way been silenced.

2015: The Year to Vote for Freedom

An election year comment from Loz Kaye, Leader of Pirate Party UK

For some time now, a nasty puritan streak has been growing in British public life, fed by prejudices both from the left and right. I don’t need to go through each instance: just search back through the history of this blog. Week after week we have seen moral outrage after outrage, crackdown after crackdown.

The absurdity of the AVMS video on demand regulations, or anti-facesitting laws if you prefer, seemed to sum up the sense of panic and how it is infringing peoples’ freedoms. At the heart of sexuality and how we use our bodies has to be consent. It is preposterous to outlaw images of an act that you can consent to. Worse still, in my view that undermines the very concept of consent itself, turning it in to something which is arbitrarily given and withheld by others, not yourself.

That is inherently political and no wonder that the following demonstration was at Westminster, however much MPs looked the other way.

This new puritanism is indeed politically motivated. The pressure on Internet Service Providers to move to default web filtering came directly from Cameron and the likes of Claire Perry pandering to tabloid scare headlines. What we learnt in 2014 was that, as so many of us warned, this led to censorship, including websites there to help victims of abuse or to support LGBT people.

The focus for so much of the moral panic has been the perceived “wild west” of the Internet. We in the Pirate Party have right from our outset opposed the use of web blocking as a state means of personal control.

Web censorship is not a tool for sexual health promotion. State censorship is not a tool for creating equality. Curtailing freedom of expression is not a tool for supporting victims of crime.

If 2014 saw us on the back foot, 2015 is the year to set the agenda. These are the key positive aims as I see it:

  • Change the direction of the Department of Culture Media and Sport pressure and work to remove default web filtering.

  • Work with advertising standards to make sure ISPs don’t misrepresent filters as foolproof parenting tools.

  • Stop the use of web filtering and blocking as a pretended social policy tool.

  • Reverse the ATVOD censorship moves.

  • DCMS should launch a review into the role of OFCOM and ATVOD in controlling freedom of expression.

  • Disband the “copyright cops” PIPCU to give programmes working with victims of abuse a £2 million boost over 3 years.

  • Embed removing of stigma about discussing sexuality frankly as a vital part of public health strategy.

I’m sure you can think of plenty more, let me know what they are and I’ll be happy to work for them.

The reason that politics has drifted so far in an authoritarian direction, particularly when it comes to sexual freedom, is that most politicians see it at best as a peripheral issue, at worst as a career ruining one, not to be touched with a barge pole. Of course ensuring the safety of sex workers, the well-being of LGBT people or removing stigma about discussing sexual health is not marginal, it’s literally a matter of life and death.

It is our job in 2015 to assert this not a peripheral issue, to destroy the myth that liking particular types of images means that you are unconcerned with the welfare of women or young people, and to support candidates who do have the guts to stand up.

At the risk of angering ATVOD, I would suggest that you can be a bit forceful in 2015. As it’s a general election year, it’s your opportunity to tell MPs and candidates what to do.

It’s very simple. For the next few months tell candidates that you expect them to actively support sexual freedom of expression with the kind of policies that I outlined, or you won’t vote for them.

Let them know that you will tell as many other people as you can to join you in finding a pro-freedom candidate. And stick to that, despite all the scaremongering about wasted votes or two horse races you’ll hear. Don’t let your MP get away with claiming this is not something that concerns their constituents after May 7th.

I suspect that most people reading this blog will not be afraid to try something new. It may be that you should consider doing that in May.

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The UK is sleepwalking into censorship

  • Thousands of websites blocked by filters
  • Porn is just the starting point
  • Free expression is under threat!

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