Category Archives: Comment

It’s About Censorship, Not Sexism

A year ago, the hideous ISP filters came into force. Although they had been sold as “porn filters”, they ended up blocking all sorts of things that had nothing to do with porn, from drug and self-harm information to nudity, even in non-sexual contexts. Initially, there was a spike of public outrage, but quickly the issue fell into the swamp of identity politics. On discovering that various gay and trans sites were blocked, the outrage became about homophobia and transphobia. ISPs moved to quickly unblock sites that had been identified by the press, and the media lost interest. The filters remained in place, and still today, up to 20% of sites are blocked by them. What could have become a broad-based movement for free speech fizzled out.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
Install a VPN

On Monday, a new law came into place, extending DVD censorship controls on to Internet videos. None of this was new or unexpected. The censorship rules which have caused so much outrage this week have been in place for many years.

The new law – which I explained on this blog – is probably the greatest attack on free expression that the UK has seen since the BBFC was empowered, in 1984, to censor all video works before they could be released. One of the BBFC’s first policy decisions was to ban all explicit sex on video. And so, the UK became one of the few democratic countries whose population was banned from legally buying porn on DVD, until this rule was eventually challenged by the porn industry in 2000. Forced to accept explicit sex acts, the BBFC (along with the police and CPS) clung to as much power as possible, and still refused to approve many, many “niche” sex acts on DVD.

By mid-decade, this barely mattered any more. Broadband Internet connections made DVD increasingly redundant, and likewise the BBFC, which saw its revenues steadily fall. Pete Johnson, a BBFC manager, tried to reverse this decline by introducing the BBFC Online scheme in 2007. But this had no statutory backing, and never took off.

In 2010, Johnson moved from the BBFC to head a new regulator, ATVOD, and (via a complex use/misuse of EU law), was empowered to implement regulations for VoD sites. His first – and only significant – action was to implement onerous age-verification requirements for UK porn sites: rules that were not implemented anywhere else in Europe. As a result, many businesses (including my own) closed, and others (such as Playboy’s UK operation) moved overseas, shedding jobs in the UK.

The new law adds power to ATVOD’s existing regulations, and for the first time, enforces the BBFC’s R18 rules online. This year’s fashion among the new-left has been to label everything sexist: toys are sexist, and computer games are sexist, and that comedian is sexist, and he’s sexist, and you’re sexist, and that tree is sexist… and so of course, by cherry-picking BBFC rules, the new law was also deemed to be sexist. Not a huge step towards Chinese-style Internet censorship that will harm everybody’s right to access information. Sexist.

So yes, it’s true (as well as ludicrous) that female ejaculation – aka squirting – is one of the many acts now banned, and easy to assume this is sexism (since, of course, male ejaculation is still allowed to be seen). In fact, within the BBFC’s reasoning process – which makes sense within its own, screwed-up logic – this makes perfect sense. The powers-that-be have deemed urination in a sexual context to be unacceptable, and since the evidence as to the nature of squirting is still far from conclusive, they have also banned that. Commentators have also complained that gagging on cocks is still approved; but in fact, the BBFC will cut such scenes if they are deemed to be “potentially life-threatening”. And they will allow similar acts to be carried out by a woman with a strap-on. And the ban on face-sitting isn’t an attempt by The Patriarchy to attack female domination, any more than the ban on strangulation of female models is an attack on male domination. The rules may be extremely stupid, but they’re not sexist.

Although the most immediate casualties of the law will be fetish sites, it’s not especially about targeting fetish either – that just happens to be the first thing in the way of the bulldozer. As already mentioned, the BBFC tried as hard to ban “vanilla” sex as it did to ban kink. It’s just that it lost that particular battle in court.

So what is this about? As the name of our campaign suggests, it’s about both Sex and Censorship. It’s odd that almost nobody noticed what actually happened on Monday: well over 99% of the world’s websites are now technically illegal here in the UK. Not because of the R18 thing, but the other part: the one requiring sites to validate a visitor’s age before they’re allowed to see any naughty bit.

There are multiple interests here: anti-sex moralists (of both religious and feminist varieties) who are truly outraged by sex, and want it all banned; vested interests that stand to earn money and power from censorship (ATVOD and the BBFC, for example); and authoritarian interests that are looking to find excuses to block online content. In the latter case, porn is just one of a number of excuses, as are terrorism and copyright theft. Those familiar with Orwell will recognise that the British state, liberal on the surface, is deeply authoritarian beneath.

This week’s public outrage is an opportunity to build the movement for free expression to a new level, and it would be a shame if certain “It’s all about meeeee!” narratives were allowed to distract from that.

The new law is actually a means to an end, not an end in itself. A process that began (suitably) in 1984 is still rolling along. If you would like to support as we build the case against censorship, please join our list or even send a donation, large or small. Next year is going to be “interesting” for the UK, and not in a good way.

Feminism, free speech and keeping your enemy in plain sight

Journalist Nichi Hodgson takes a look at a feminism that justifies censorship in the name of fighting sexism. This article was originally posted on her blog, and is republished here with her permission.

If you’ve been thinking about feminism and free speech in the wake of the Julien Blanc debacle, I recommend you read Helen Lewis’ article for the Guardian on free speech and trolling. In it, she makes the little-mentioned point that the way we broadcast on social media is leading to ‘context collapse’. Yet to some extent this applies to Blanc too. The context for the PUA movement’s performative braggodocio is a country where the Westboro Baptist Church can caw for the death of homosexuals in the name of true faith in God, and where the right of abortion protestors to shout in the face of vulnerable womenleaving clinics is effectively a constitutional right.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we have to accept Blanc’s feckless brand of manipulation (as manipulative of men as it is women) out of some kind of culturally relative sympathy.  But it does help to explain how Blanc could establish his expensive workshops and get his stomp on in the grounds of maligned masculinity.

Lewis argues that it was right to deny Blanc a visa because his free speech is inciteful of violence against women. The problem, as ever, is proving incitement. It’s not impossible to do, of course, (although it raises serious questions about personal responsibility). But what the wider debate about free speech vs sexism is demonstrating is that it may be time to broaden our hate speech laws if we want to make it an offence to incite gender-based violence. To do that could throw up some interesting results – such as whether OBJECT constitutes a hate group, for example (here’s an interesting post from Sex and Censorship on the topic). After all, feminists against misogynistic language need to be careful. Labelling men rapists, where they have not been charged with a criminal offence, is defamatory.

Lewis’ argument is astute and articulate. But it is also unfortunately an argument diluted to censorship by campaigning feminists in their war against sexism. No More Page 3 have managed to persuade Tesco to censor the covers of tabloid papers on the basis of their sexism and so-called ‘harm’ against women. Yet they cite no independent, empirical research to back up their claims.

Support Sex & Censorship:
Buy Porn Panic! - The Book

What’s more, they need to watch out that they don’t inadvertently curtail women’s sexual freedom. I’ve just been told that my next book won’t be for sale in supermarkets unless I tone down the title, for example. Guess what it’s about? Yep – female sexual liberation. Incidentally, there’ll be no scantily clad anything on the cover.

What’s more, the war against sexism is at risk of mis-serving its  most serious victims. We talk of ‘rape culture’ but seem to ignore the real details, causes and context of the 85,000s rape that take place in England and Wales. We harp on about the assault that is a street-side ‘hey baby’ while it’s revealed that Margaret Thatcher knew of the Westminster paedophile ring. Sexism and harassment manifest at every social level. Of course the government is going to round on individuals like Blanc – it helps deflect from their own multifarious abuses. But is Blanc really who we should be getting aerated about over a prime minster who turned a blind eye to eye – watering sexual assault, alleged murder and the abuse of scores of young men?

Personally, I’d rather be able to hear Julien Blanc. Milton’s argument in Areopagitica is that the broader the range if views we are privy to, the better we can crystallise our own. Keep your enemies in plain sight, especially when they are misogynists.

As the American academic Stanley Fish has it, “Free speech is what’s left over when you have determined which kinds of speech cannot be permitted to flourish”. Fish, of course, like Lewis, also believes that’s a good thing.

But that’s the thing about the internet. You can’t round on its dark, anti-social, hateful voices the way you can out there in civic society.

Nor can they hide.

That too, is a good thing.

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.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
Install a VPN

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).

The Sex Workers’ Opera

One of things that took me by surprise when I launched my porn website a decade ago was the amount of hatred thrown at pornstars. As I got to know the sex industries better, I discovered that strippers and prostitutes are the targets of similar abuse – or worse. But the biggest surprise was the source of much of the hatred: not from a religious-minded “patriarchy”, as I’d expected, but in large part from other women, and especially from feminists.

This was bizarre, given that feminist morality campaigners were claiming they were out to rescue these women. When “rescuing” entails spitting on strippers as they go to work, supporting immigration and drug squad raids on brothels, and calling for well-paid women to be made unemployed, one has to suspect the true motivations of the rescuer.

Pornstars are public performers, and tend not to be particularly shy or retiring. But most prostitutes, out of necessity (partly thanks to the bigotry of the rescue industry), seek privacy. In my campaigning work, I’ve often encountered women who have had their livelihoods attacked, but have chosen to stay silent because of the fear of stigma, should they choose to defend themselves. The video-on-demand regulator ATVOD, for example, chooses to publish the real names and addresses of sex workers who run video websites. It is, of course, purely coincidental that a number of such women have chosen to close down their sites rather than be forced to publicly defend their right to run them.

Anti-sex campaigners rely on sex workers’ fear of publicity, knowing that few will openly challenge their campaigns of misinformation. So when I watched the excellent Sex Workers’ Opera at a packed theatre in East London last night, I was deeply impressed by (among other things) the bravery of the performers, many of whom were sex workers.

The performance opened with a rant from a “member of the audience”, who jumped on stage and began shouting about “objectification” and “trafficking”, while screaming SHUT UP! at anybody who dared look in her direction. This rapidly set the scene: in this war of morality-dressed-as-concern, even those sex workers who dare to speak for themselves must be denied a voice. They must be saved, and if they don’t want to be saved, it just shows how badly sex work has fucked them up psychologically, thus reinforcing the need to save them.

The performances were based on sex workers’ own stories, and so were poignant as well as frequently funny; they often struck a chord with sex workers who were present in the audience. The police raid in which women were taken from their workplaces and locked in cells “for their protection”; the women forced to work alone, and made more vulnerable to attack, by laws against brothels; the prostitute who found herself giving marriage guidance counselling to her client; the dominatrix; the submissive. A section of the performance was by webcam workers, and was projected onto a screen rather than performed live on stage. There was an excellent performance by a pole dancer.

Having expected a fairly amateur affair (after all, none of these were professional singers or actors), I was surprised by the quality of the writing, production and performances. For sure, there were some rough edges – but for a two-day play staged by non-professionals, the quality was easily good enough for me to enjoy the entire show.

The overall message was a simple one, which was laid bare in the finale: Listen To Me. How dare outsiders deign to speak on behalf of those whose voices they refuse to hear? How dare moralists insist to know more about sex work than the sex workers themselves?

Want to see it? Sadly, you’ve probably missed it. Tonight’s is the final performance, and it’s almost certainly sold out, as yesterday’s was. But the show was strong enough that, with professional production, it could be revived as something bigger and better in future. Let’s hope this happens, and that these voices reach an ever wider audience. You can join their Facebook page or follow on Twitter to keep in touch.

Jameela Jamil’s Porn Panic

On Thursday evening, BBC3 showed a whole hour of porn panic, hosted by Radio One presenter Jameela Jamil. The programme’s title, Porn What’s The Harm, suggested an open-minded enquiry into the question of whether porn is harmful to teenagers who view it. But this was never going to be an unbiased look at the issue. Jamil has long made clear her dislike of pornography. And the programme was as full of misinformation and panic as we expected.

Jamil’s opening words set the scene: “Porn is everywhere!” Um… is it? Of course it isn’t – this is a standard porn panic statement. And it wasn’t alone. Barely a minute passed without Jamil making clear her shock, horror and disgust: “UNBELIEVABLY explicit sex acts”, “In the homes, in the minds, in the lives of our children”, “This is unbelievable!”, “Ordinary families have to deal with this every day”, “Countless children have already been exposed to shocking images”, “I’m horrified!”, “Bombarded with these pornographic images”, and on and on and on…

According to the Internet, Jamil is 28. Yet I wondered at times if she is perhaps in her 50s. Although Internet porn has been freely available for a full generation, Jamil seems to believe she grew up in an innocent, porn-free age, and that young people today are growing up in a different world to the one she did. The web has been widely available for about 20 years, and porn has always featured very heavily, and has been easy to access. And porn on video has been widely available since the 1980s. Anybody under 30 has had easy access to Internet pornography since their early teens, and most people under 50 will have had some exposure to porn as a teenager.

There was a genuine laugh out loud moment for me, when Jamil describes seeing porn at 15, a scene involving a woman and a cucumber, and says: it “…made me not eat a salad for 12 years!” So now we know: porn is responsible for Britain’s unhealthy diets as well as every other bad thing that’s ever happened.

When talking about teens “sexting” images to each other, she again appears to be far older than she actually is. “I’m so glad that every boyfriend I’ve had until now was before picture messaging”, she says. And since picture messaging has been around for a decade or so, poor Jameela has clearly been single since she was 18!

The programme conducts a survey of teens and finds the average age of first accessing porn is 14 – so no great surprise. It then goes on to look at the effects of porn on teens. Rather than speak to experts, the teenagers themselves are asked how they are affected. Such self-report evidence is of little value. How can teens compare themselves to the person they would be if they hadn’t watched porn? How can teens today compare themselves to the teenagers of the 1970s who didn’t have easy access to pornography?

Predictably, although she claimed to be interested in the effects of porn on teens, Jamil didn’t interview any psychologists. If she had, she’d have discovered there is little evidence that pornography is harmful. Instead, there was a brief appearance by two “experts in sexualisation”. And as has already been covered here, sexualisation is simply another keyword designed to invoke moral panic.

Undaunted by the lack of evidence of harm, Jamil goes into full-blown moral panic mode. She raises the case of an 11 year old boy who raped his 8 year old sister after – we are told – looking at porn. And she interviews a rape victim who is “convinced pornography played a part in the attack”.

Of course, if porn really was causing people to commit sexual violence, there would have been a steep rise in sexual crime in the past 30 years, as porn consumption has increased – and as is now well known, the reverse has happened. There is a reverse correlation between porn consumption and sexual violence.

In linking porn to rape, Jamil is playing a trick that has been employed by morality campaigners since at least the 1980s. And like those campaigners, she is guilty of switching the blame for rape away from the rapist, and giving rapists an excuse for their behaviour: “the porn made me do it”.

And then, like all good purveyors of panic, Jamil casually adds child abuse imagery to the equation, helping blur the line between consenting adult sex and the rape of children.

She throws in several other tried-and-tested panic tools for good measure, such as blaming porn for women who have cosmetic surgery on their labia. According to this idea, all vulva in pornography are neat and small, and this makes women seek surgery to copy the pornstars. In fact, porn has taught people that vaginas are not all the same, and some scenes (link NSFW!) positively worship generously-proportioned female genitalia. Her evidence that this is happening? “I often see reports in the media linking porn to labiaplasties”. You mean the same media that allows dishonest, moralistic documentaries like yours to be broadcast on TV, Jameela?

It is disappointing that such propaganda is still broadcast by the BBC in the place of informed, panic-free comment. And of course, there’s an agenda. While pretending to be naive of all things porn, Jamil throws in some very current political soundbites. When browsing porn, she expresses shock that she has not been asked to verify her age, thus fitting in surprisingly neatly with ATVOD’s recent campaign aimed at giving ATVOD statutory powers to censor the Internet. If she had tried to access the same sites from a PC on which child protection software was installed, she wouldn’t have been able to access the images that so shocked her.

So come on BBC: this discussion is welcome, but let’s have some honest, evidence based programming, rather than endless panic aimed at building public support for Internet censorship.

The Bad Taste Police Censor the Internet

When the government rolled out the Great Firewall of Cameron – the nickname given to the porn filters now provided as default by most residential broadband providers in the UK – they asked us to think of the children. Think of the shattered lives we can save by blocking child pornography, they said. And who would argue against that intention? Not the ISPs, certainly.

But like all major changes which forego public scrutiny, the filters are now stepping beyond their original remit, seeping into parts of the internet that shouldn’t be of governmental concern. According to comments made recently by James Brokenshire, the minister for immigration and security (a somewhat inflammatory departmental conflation), the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) have been spending much of their time flagging “unsavoury” content on sites such as YouTube, in an effort to avert the “radicalisation of individuals.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I will point out that CTIRU has been performing this public service – the flagging of what Brokenshire refers to as “unsavoury” material – since at least 2010, and has in fact flagged 29,000 videos since February of that year. However, with the new filters for explicit material already set as default for most UK households thanks to pressure on private companies, and Brokenshire calling for further government interference in restricting online content, it seems only sensible to have concerns over the future of these restrictive practices.

By one branch of government, we’ve been told it’s for child safety; by another, we’re told it’s a counter-terrorism effort. The fact is, if the government is so keen on the idea of persistent online censorship it’s willing to wrap the package twice, we should be worried.

Let’s be clear about something else here: we’re not talking about illegal content, or even arguing about what legal restraints should or should not be placed on online content. Brokenshire’s proposal for extended restrictions, in his own words, would be applied to content “that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive.”

And I’m sure the British population is just thrilled that the minister has deemed himself fit to make that decision on their behalf.

As Danny O’Brien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation says aptly, “politicians have proved to be terrible arbiters of taste. If you don’t think much of their suits and haircuts, you’re not going to think much of what they think acceptable or unsavoury for public consumption.”

This is another unfortunate mask censorship often wears: that of the bumbling do-gooder trying to sanitise the world and make it seem like a much nicer place. Unfortunately, whilst this tactic might work fantastically for your eight-year-old – keeping the magic of childhood alive – when applied to a population of adults, all it does it attempt to curb rogue behaviour, or (arguably the most disturbing word Brokenshire has used), “radicalism.”

Being politically radical is not the same as being violent; Hitler might have been a radical, but so was Ghandi. Radicalism in politics can mean many things. It can mean chaining yourself to railings to get votes for women, or taking a machete to a soldier in the street. It can be the biggest push for change, whether towards a progressive vision of the future or a draconian era of surveillance and the curtailing of civil liberties. What it isn’t, however, is intrinsically threatening, which is why there is no just cause to censor politically radical content on the internet – especially when the mainstream is supporting censorship.

Why I Danced in Spearmint Rhino

Last week, we heard that Camden Council in London may withdraw licensing from the strip venue, Spearmint Rhino. This was greeted with joy by anti-sex feminists. But what about the women who will lose well-paid jobs? A former Spearmint Rhino dancer explains what stripping there meant for her.

Like many people of my generation, once I graduated I felt lost. Applying for jobs was a job in itself and waiting for the rejection letters became a cause for not bothering to get out of bed in the morning. Watching my dole money dwindle and my chances of earning a living minimise, I remembered a friend telling me that on her gap year in Japan she began stripping to find her travels.  The thought played with me as I summed up the courage to ask my boyfriend to lend me groceries. Fuck it, I thought. If other women are doing it, then I can.

Before I could change my mind I took myself around the city that night. I went into four different strip clubs, each time telling the guy on the door why I was there and if it would be alright if I had a look around and spoke to the girls about what it was like to work there.  Spearmint Rhino seemed the safest, the most discreet, with the best security and the highest payout. That was on the Tuesday. By Friday it was my first shift. By Monday I could afford my rent again.

Stripping wasn’t the easiest job I’ve ever done, but it was certainly the most enjoyable. Even now when I look back on my days there I remember the good before the bad. I compare it to the other jobs I worked before I since and though it wasn’t perfect, what job is? The long nights and sore feet were necessary for the money I brought home. The competition between other girls helped me drive my determination, strengthen my sales pitch and hone in on my unique selling points. The difficult customers taught me interpersonal skills, patience and negotiation tactics.

Being self employed is not easy, but since working there I know that working in such a high pressure, intense workspace means that every job since has reaped the benefits. And what about exploitation? Power is an interesting dynamic. It is not held solely by the customer, nor by me as the dancer. It’s an exchange of money, interest, attention and services. To feel exploited as a stripper must imply that anyone selling services with their body should also feel under the thumb of capital; that they do, but why should only sex workers be punished for it?

Working at Spearmint Rhino pulled me out of poverty in a way that no other job allowed me to do. Because no other job would hire me. Working there not only paid me in money, but also confidence that I had something worth selling. Not just my body, but also my mind to the customers who laughed at my jokes, entertained me with conversation and spent time with me. Attractive waitresses, nurses, teachers and care assistants aren’t punished by having their jobs taken away from them; only those women who dare to mix sexuality with autonomy and smack a price tag on it. If I hadn’t worked my way out of debt by stripping, I dread to think what my options would have been.

17 Anti-Porn Arguments

It’s difficult to pin down and deal with all of the anti-porn arguments flying around. They seem to mutate constantly, and often contradict each other. For those of us who regularly encounter anti-porn activists, it’s hard to explain to others the sheer lack of intelligence in the anti-porn movement. Just as in the climate-change “debate”, there isn’t really much of a debate at all – just facts clashing with dogma to create noise.

So I’m indebted to the anti-porn campaigner (well, anti-porn entrepreneur is probably more accurate) known as One Angry Girl, who seems to be a minor celebrity in the puritanical feminist community, and even has a testimonial on her site from a member of our favourite UK anti-sex group, Object.

OAG has kindly pulled together 17 “pro-porn” statements, and her rebuttals, into one handy crib-sheet. And since I was in the mood for a blogging marathon, here are all 17, with my own comments. Her points are made using a “They say”/”You say” formula, and feature a high venom/fact ratio.

OAG is very, very angry that some women take off their clothes for money. She’s so livid, she’s determined to stop them from doing so. Because that will make her feel better, for some  reason which she never explains. So here it is: proof that porn is evil.

 1) They say: But they’re enjoying themselves

You say: If they enjoy it so much, then they would be willing to do it for $7.50 per hour.

I say: How do you know they wouldn’t? Some do it for free – check out all the amateur porn that people upload themselves.

Or: Women in porn are often screaming with joy, but sometimes they are also screaming in pain. Which should we believe? If their pleasure is real, and not faked, then their pain is also real, and not faked.

I say: Have you tried asking the women how they feel during a scene? No? Why not? Shouldn’t you learn something about how this art-form actually works behind the scenes, before dedicating your life to hating it?

Or: Once Jenna Jameson got very powerful in the industry, she began refusing  do scenes involving anal sex. This suggests to me that she doesn’t actually enjoy anal sex. Yet Im sure if you investigate her earlier movies, you can probably find a scene or two where she is appearing to enjoy it. Why? Its called acting.

I say: Some pornstars I’ve met choose not to have anal sex on camera; some choose to do it. Agencies will ask girls up-front what their “levels” are: anal, boy-girl, girl-girl, solo, etc. The girl gets to choose. The key thing isn’t whether anal sex hurts, or if you find it icky: it is the C-word: Consent. For somebody who sells anti-rape bumper stickers on your site, you don’t seem to care much about consent.

2) They say: Strippers are empowered

You say: If they’re so powerful, then why do strip clubs have security guards protecting the dancers? Why do women working bachelor parties have to take security with them?

I say: Erm… in my experience, they don’t.

Or: How is it empowering for women to give men exactly what they’ve come to expect from us?

I say: I find it empowering when I make a woman cum. Likewise, I know many women find it empowering to give a man a hard-on.

Or: How is it empowering to grovel and compete for male attention and cash…like a trained seal doing flips in a tank to get his fish reward?

I say: You could ask strippers that question. But since you don’t actually care what they think, you won’t. Your comment about being a “trained seal” simply reveals your disdain for the stripper. So be clear: are you trying to rescue them, or do you merely hate them?

3) Porn/prostitution have always been around, they always will be, so what’re you gonna do?

You say: Rape, murder, and incest have always been around too. Should we be okay with those things?

I say: Porn and prostitution involve consent. Rape, murder, incest do not. Consent good, coercion bad. Got it yet?

4) They say: Porn-stars and strippers are celebrating their sexuality

You say: Why does celebrating your sexuality always seem to happen in public for strangers and a paycheck? Does anyone ever get to celebrate their sexuality in private with their partner?

I say: Yes, pornstars (and most of the rest of us) also fuck in private. Many of them are in relationships, and many are married. They’re real people with minds, feelings, and lives beyond the porn set. And they also choose to earn money fucking on camera. And you choose to obsess about it.

5) They say: My partner and I both enjoy using porn, so what’s the problem? Who’s getting hurt?

You say: Some people like to wear fur coats, or eat veal, or shop at Wal-Mart. Your enjoyment of a product does not erase the suffering that went into creating that product.

I say: I’m pretty sure animals don’t surrender their fur or their meat consensually. When pornstars are skinned to make coats or killed for their meat, I’ll join your anti-porn crusade.

6) They say: Ok, maybe some of the women in porn didn’t freely choose their careers, but lots of them did.

You say: If you have a comprehensive research survey of all current and former porn workers, I’d love to see it. There isn’t one available. However, there are major studies involving prostitutes around the world, which found that 90% of them wanted out immediately, but didn’t have the resources.

I say: There’s plenty of research into porn – but you’re clearly not interested in seeing it. For example here’s a study covering 10,000 pornstars, which is around 10,000 more than you’ve researched. But then, facts and prejudice don’t sit well together.

7) They say: Ok, well not everyone who uses porn becomes a rapist/addicted/fucked-up

You say: Not everyone who smokes cigarettes gets lung cancer, and cigarettes still come with warning labels.

I say: Porn use correlates with declining rates of sexual violence. So if porn is creating rapists, why do the statistics not show this?

8) They say: If you hate porn, just don’t watch it

You say: That’s like saying if you hate air pollution, dont breathe. I’m surrounded by porn everywhere I go whether I like it or not. Where’s my free choice not to see it?

I say: If you think you’re surrounded by porn everywhere you go, you might be confusing “porn” with “everything”. You are clearly unusually sensitive to displays of sexuality. Perhaps – as this article in Psychology Today suggests, porn isn’t the problem: You are!

9) They say: Nobody is forcing them to do it. It’s their choice.

You say: The word “choice” implies that there was at least one other viable option available. What was their other option?

I say: They could do a job that doesn’t involve getting naked, but for less money, like the rest of us do. Or are you implying that pornstars are too dumb to do anything else? Who forced you to design and sell shouty T-shirts? It surely wasn’t your choice. Let me rescue you!

10) They say: Pornography and prostitution are different.

You say: Not really, pornography is just prostitution plus a camera.

I say: No, doing porn isn’t exactly the same as prostitution, but for sure they both involve money and sex. And since you don’t seem to be anti-money, you’re quite clearly anti-sex.

11) They say: Porn has always existed. Look at Pompeii.

You say: Three wall paintings in Pompeii do not compare to the multi-billion dollar global industry we have today. That’s like comparing a caveman’s smoke signals to the iPhone.

I say: Pompeii didn’t just have a few wall paintings: it had many explicit statues on public display like the one recently shown in the British Museum of Pan having sex with a goat. Quite possibly, your Roman ancestors were selling angry T-shirts (in Latin).

12) They say: You just hate sex.

You  say: Porn is not sex, but a distorted, for-sale, fictionalized version of sex. If I told you I don’t eat at Burger King, would you tell me I hated food?

I say: No, but if you became upset by pictures of flame-grilled Whoppers, I might think you’re crazy.

Or: I like sex just fine. But I prefer to have sex only with someone I actually know and like, for free, in private with no strangers watching. Why is that weird to you?

I say: It’s not weird to have sex in private. Most people (including pornstars) do that. Nobody is telling you how to conduct your sex life. Why are you so determined to tell other people how to lead their sex lives? Perhaps you’d make a good dominatrix.

13) They say: You’re just jealous because you’re not as pretty as a porn-star

You say: Even porn-stars don’t look like their original selves. After a few rounds of surgery, a dye job, and some makeup I could look exactly like them.

I say: You clearly haven’t looked at much porn. Porn is far more accepting of non-standard ideas of beauty than most other forms of performance. I’ve met pornstars from 18 to 70, and every shape, size and race. You too could be a pornstar, without the need for surgery or a dye job (and don’t worry, makeup will be provided for you on-set). Of course, the only person who can decide whether you should be a pornstar is you.

14) They say: You’re just jealous because men like them better than you.

You say: It’s been successfully proven that just about any naked woman can get any straight man’s attention pretty quickly. It’s not hard to do, and it doesn’t make you special.

I say: Meeeeee-OW!

15) They say: I’ve watched porn and I’ve never raped anyone.

You say: I guess you are arguing that words and images paired together do not have the power to influence human behavior. If that is your argument, then kindly explain:

[1] the multi-billion dollar industry called ‘advertising’
[2] kids learning their ABCs from Sesame Street
[3] people learning to make a meal by watching Martha Stewart
[4] public service announcements telling us not to drink and drive
[5] (insert your own example here)

I say: And horror films make people murder each other with chainsaws, and Grand Theft Auto makes people run over old ladies for fun. Except they don’t. Because the human mind is a little more complex than you think.

16) They say: The women in the industry make more money than men, therefore it’s empowering to them.

You say: It’s true that pornography and prostitution are the only industries where a woman can out-earn her male counterparts. What does that say about our economy, or about women’s power, that the only way for a woman to outearn a man is to get naked and fuck strangers?

I say: So when male bankers earn more than women, women are oppressed? But when female pornstars out-earn male ones, that also means women are oppressed? In fact, you (finally) raise an interesting question. And there are interesting answers. But why aren’t you campaigning for women to earn more in banking rather than attacking the one trade where women do earn more?

17) They say: You want to censor all porn!

You say: I haven’t ever mentioned censorship, which doesn’t address demand for porn. You’re saying that to shut me up and it won’t work.

I say: It’s true, you haven’t mentioned censorship, though most anti-porn campaigners are pro-censorship. In fact, you haven’t mentioned any solution to these “problems” at all. Funny that… perhaps you don’t actually give a damn, and you just want to sell more angry T-shirts? According to your site, you’ve sold 24,000 of them. Yay capitalism!

Sephy Hallow Objects to Objectification

As a woman that likes porn, I’m often drawn into the debate on the objectification of women. What’s degrading, demeaning or a thorn in the side of the feminist cause is often the subject of discussion, and I frequently find people asking me to defend (or at least consolidate) my views on feminism and pornography. How can I be both pro-equality and pro-porn? Isn’t that like an animal rights activist explaining their views whilst chomping down on a bloody steak?

Obviously, I’m going to argue that it’s not analogous. In fact, I’m going to take the shockingly controversial view that a woman’s body is not a battlefield on which to project sexual politics, and that the war waged over the female body treats women as ragdolls in a moral tug-of-war; that, in fact, if you want to stop women being objectified, you have to first consider that dragging all female bodies into sexual politics is the ultimate act of objectification.

But there’s that word again – objectification – and once again, it strikes me that the root of this debate, this word that is dragged up again and again, typically goes unanalysed. So let me start by putting that right.

Objectification, from the root “object”, is the process by which we figuratively consider a living thing in the terms of an object – that is to say, we cognitively turn it into an object, treating it in the same terms as a table or chair. With me so far? Good. Because I’m about to challenge your assumptions about the concept of objectification.

When I say we treat something like a table or chair, I don’t mean we use it to serve a purpose – as a means to an end. Cold and inhuman though that might seem, we use people to serve purposes all the time, in every single job on the planet, so that’s nothing new.

What I mean is that if you want to move the chair across the room, or stand on it to switch off the fire alarm or reach a high shelf, you don’t consult it first. You don’t consider its preference in the matter, or if it even has one – you simply assume that it doesn’t, with the understanding that objects don’t have cognition. It’s a fairly safe assumption (though I will regret saying this if there is ever a great uprising of inanimate objects), and there are no moral objections to treating objects in this manner. The problem comes when you apply the same logic to a sentient, self-aware being – as our culture frequently does with women.

There are problems with the way human culture treats women, and I am not going to deny that – we have a long way to go. However, what I am going to point out is the glaring irony of fighting against female objectification, whilst disregarding the opinions individual women have about the way they use their own bodies; that is the very definition of objectification.

I am not naïve about the sex industry, and of course I object to content produced under duress. I also know full well that women are regularly treated in society as objects; there have been many short-lived attempts (usually in clubs) to treat me as a sex toy – but I’m not that either. The truth is, I’m just a woman that’s sick of having her gender put before her rights, by both feminists and chauvinists alike.

My body is many things. It is the source of my voice, and the way I understand pleasure and pain. It is the face I am recognised by and the gestures and idiosyncrasies I am known for. Above all, though, it is mine. And I’m fucking tired of being told by everyone around me that the way I act, the way I dress, and the way I conduct myself sexually have something to do with their political agenda.

So to anyone anti-porn – especially if you’re pro-equality – I’m telling you now: leave us alone. Stop telling women how to regulate their sexuality. Stop telling us how we’re allowed to portray our sexuality. Stop telling us what we’re allowed to do on camera, or what we’re allowed to enjoy in privacy.

We sure as hell don’t consent to your demands over our bodies.

A Critical Look at Stop Porn Culture (by a Lesbian Woman)

I will start out by letting everyone know that I make absolutely NO money off of the adult industry whatsoever, I have several friends in the adult entertainment industry, I am a lesbian woman, I have a college education (EMT-B & Human Development) I am Canadian, I am a person who politically is a left leaning Libertarian and am a supporter of the adult industry.

I have always been fairly critical of Stop Porn Culture & Dr. Gail Dines’ viewpoint & arguments against pornography. However I used to believe that it was just a group that had misguided views & ideas of what pornography was but its intentions were inherently good. It also crossed my mind that maybe they were so passionate about their cause, that it might have left them blinded to see any viewpoint but their own. Now I believe differently.

One of my issues is that I have never heard Dr. Dines speak on hardcore lesbian or gay pornography. I myself have seen the so-called acts of ‘degradation & humiliation’ (Gail’s words, not mine) in gay/lesbian adult media, but yet nothing has been said about this form of adult entertainment by her or her organization. I know the excuse will probably that the target audience are heterosexual males (especially in the case of lesbian pornography), but I’m genuinely interested in knowing why this is never mentioned. Is it less degrading because the “body punishing sex” is being perpetrated by a member of the same gender? I am in no way agreeing with Dr. Dines’ views on pornography, but her focus does seem to intentionally solely be on heterosexual pornography.

As a member of the LGBT community, this troubles me. Why hasn’t Dr. Dines addressed abuse within same-sex relationships in pornography? I always hear in lecture after lecture the “body punishing” & “women being gagged with penises” explanation. However I never hear about “butch girls gagging femmes with strapons” or “male on male rape fantasy” porn. By this standard it seems to me that Dr. Dines is (possibly even subconsciously) bashing the heterosexual male. I thought she was was supposed to be leader & academic speaker of an anti-pornography organization, not attack the adult viewing habits of the hetero male. The focus seems to be very direct, deliberate, and intentional. Not at the ENTIRE industry like SPC claims.

A number of SPC (Stop Porn Culture ) members/supporters have been extremely abusive toward those with opposing views. Insults, defamation, accusations & assumptions ran wild. These included a passive agressive death threat, accusations of beastiality, claims that I support rape & enjoy watching women be raped, questioning if I am a pedophile, and saying that I was happy when a 13 year old raped his sister. When I questioned/informed SPC about this they told me it was upto the Sex & Censorship moderators on their facebook page to deal with it. I had explained to them that I actually had concern for THEIR organization. Afterall, I wouldn’t want some of my biggest & outspoken supporters to be making these obscene & untrue claims because naturally people assume guilt by association. Despite the people making these claims were on Dr. Dines facebook friends list. These concerns were simply brushed off & ignored. Gail herself has refered to female pornographers/supporters of the adult entertainment industry as ‘scabs’. She especially likes to use immature terms towards males defending the industry brushing them off as ‘boy-men’, ‘creeps’ and ‘porny men’. It shocked me that an academic would resort to using these words. I was dumbfounded and at a loss of words that someone who professes to hate abuse, bullying and derogatory words would behave in this childish, infantile manner.

Gail’s refusal to debate women who hold their jobs in the sex work/adult entertainment industry in high regard is unusual for someone of her academic level. She is highly avoidant when it comes to those who question her beliefs or debunks her research. She often misquotes forums, researchers, and adult stars to coincide with her message. I frankly do not understand it. Why doesn’t she want to debate? Is Gail afraid that the likes of Nina Hartley, Lily Cade and Tristan Taormino will utterly wipe the floor with her uncited & unsourced research? Is she afraid of losing her credibility by having actual people (especially women) currently in the business speak positively about it? Although I don’t know if you could lose much more credibility than by hanging out with the likes of Shelley Lubben (whom now apparently is a ‘Doctor’ as well).

In closing, I am proud to say I support the adult industry, sex workers & the anti censorship movement. I’m proud of who I am & As a PROUD WOMAN I stand by my beliefs.

Warmest Regards & Stay Safe,
-Kat C