Category Archives: Comment

Page 3: A Model’s Voice

The debates around censoring Page 3 and lads’ mags largely ignores the opinions, rights and careers of models. Model, pornstar and dominatrix Zara du Rose has a message for women who attack her choices in the name of feminism.

As most of you are aware, there’s a huge campaign running to abolish nudity in the tabloid papers.

But what really is the problem?

Is it that people think the page is sexist, that they are afraid of the naked body and how a pair of tits could ‘damage’ a child, or that they don’t agree with some women’s choice of career?

For me, this whole campaign seems to be coming from an extremist form of feminism, where these self-acclaimed feminists are telling the rest of us women how we are wrong to choose to bare all for a career.

They seem to have the loudest voice, with demonstrations outside The Sun headquarters & numerous articles written to explain why they think this should be banned, and why we should all ‘think of the children’.

But, who is speaking to the women who have featured on page 3? Why haven’t they had equal coverage on the situation?

Now, before anyone bangs on about how this may sound like an ‘anti-feminism’ rant – I do class myself as a feminist, one who believes in equal opportunities, and where women should have the right to choose a path, however non-conventional.

What I have seen increasingly in the last 12 months is criticism and hate from other women, because I have chosen to get naked for all to see, and made a career out of it.

I’ve been told that I’m degrading myself, letting women down as a whole… these comments hurt a hell of a lot when they come from other women! But as soon as I start explaining myself, and why I feel empowered by what I do, I instantly get shot down. It seems some people aren’t willing to have a constructive debate about this.

This women-on-women hate is going to have a huge impact on many sex workers, and push us all apart. We should be standing together, not fighting between ourselves!

Yes, it was my choice to become a sex worker, yes I feel that what I do empowers me and gives me the confidence to continue, so why is it so wrong!?

Funnily enough, I do agree with a couple of points from the No More Page 3 campaign: yes, women should be represented equally in the newspapers, and our achievements celebrated, but does a page with a topless photo really degrade all women?

I feel that this situation has got out of hand, and a big portion of the people campaigning against Page 3 have lost sight of what it’s really about.

Here’s one thought for you: David Beckham has been the star of numerous billboard campaigns across the UK and overseas in the last few years. More often than not, scantily clad in nothing but a very revealing pair of boxer shorts which leave very little to the imagination.

How is this form of nudity be allowed to appear in ads, in our streets, yet a women who has chosen to pose topless for Page 3 isn’t?

Seems a little sexist, no?

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Sex is all around us; we all do it, so why does it feel like this country as a whole is terrified of it!? The new porn laws, the “porn filters” and now No More Page 3 & Lose The Lads’ Mags: porn is being attacked because the government say it’s damaging our children. But I say, instead of hiding away from it and damaging our livelihoods, why not EDUCATE the next generation about porn?!

The more restrictions that go into place, the more the industry (& the girls in it!) will go underground. We need to embrace the 21st century and accept that porn is something most of us look at, not hide away from it.

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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.

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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.

This Anti-Porn Law is Our Clause 28

My earliest memories of a sexual minority being unjustly targeted and criminalised come from the gay scene in the late 80s. Friends who came to London to dance their youth away and to go cottaging, who had never had an interest in politics, suddenly found themselves getting up in arms, angry and belligerent, when the Thatcher government’s notorious Clause 28 came into force.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 banned the promotion, and even the discussion in schools, of homosexuality as a valid form of family relationship. It used the predictable argument of protecting children from harm. But as is often the case, the legislators were twenty years behind the times and unprepared for an urban, unclosetted gay community that was proud of its nascent culture, articulate and ready for battle. According to the papers of the day, lesbians abseiled into the House of Lords; gay activists crashed into the BBC Studios and highjacked the news. It was claimed that:

putting Clause 28 through parliament was one of the greatest promotions of homosexuality we have ever seen.”

Boy George, then demonised on the tabloids as a heroin-fuelled deviant and has-been, released No Clause 28, a single that helped put this legislation in the spotlight. Young people of all sexualities danced to the revolution, presenting gay culture as a fun and creative force, in opposition to their dull, archaic detractors. It was like being tut-tutted by your grandad, only it was real legislation. British gays’ pride in their cult of pleasure whilst denouncing prejudice, was a masterstroke that has paid off ever since. Perhaps the best lesson that the gay movement has taught future activists is: carry on, fiercely, and have fun while doing it. Something that was instinctively followed when independent porn producers, sex workers, groups from the thriving BDSM london scene and their allies, demonstrated in Parliament Square on December 12th of this year.

When the AVMS Regulations came into force two weeks earlier, on December 1st, 2014, it had a similar electrifying effect to Clause 28, mobilising individuals and groups that until then, had had very little interest in politics. Independent fetish porn producers were directly affected by banning the representation of sexual activities that appear regularly, safely and consensually in our work, as were women, LGBT and queer people, and the porn that they make. It felt as if those who wrote this legislation had no knowledge, or rather, no acknowledgement, of any sex that deviates from a narrow, normative, heterosexual, procreative model. It’s no wonder that the deviants came out in force, once again uncloseted, angry and political. Women and gay/queer people know a lot about being demonised for using their bodies for purposes that are neither procreative nor to make a man hard.

The protest was a defiant celebration of, and public pride in, sexual difference. You could feel the stirrings of a nascent movement that was not going to be bullied by shame. Staging a mass facesitting was arguably its master stroke, but was criticised both by insiders and outsiders, for displaying a sex act to a non-consenting public (of mostly London tourists). Personally, I wasn’t too concerned about this. One of the many contributions of modern gay culture to the world is the legitimisation of public sex, challenging bourgeois myths of sex as a fiercely private affair. Plus, this was London in December, and the protesters were wearing three layers of clothing. Unless you were the incarnation of Mary Whitehouse, Sodom and Gomorrah it wasn’t.

But I am still a bit of a natural born killjoy, so my fear, which I vocalised in some interviews, was at first that the spectacle of a mass facesitting would give the media the perfect excuse to exploit the banal and ignore the real purpose of the protest: never underestimate the media circus’ power to trivialise the most serious subjects.

Fortunately for the protesters, the potential for farce had long before been appropriated by the AVMS Regulations, also fabulously monikered Female Ejaculation Ban. Its ridiculousness said more about our rulers, than about those perverts in Parliament Square. There was enough potential for juicy jokes on the state’s weird obsession with spanking and squirting to fill many newspaper pages. Did I just type weird obsession? Surely, I meant predictable. Anyway, I’m digressing.

The AVMS Regulations politicised and united groups that, as I have already mentioned, have not, until now, been known for their interest in politics: namely the porn industry and the fetish scene (sex workers, on the other hand, being traditionally marginalised, have a long history of political activism). Most of the adult industry follows a neoliberal, capitalist model that worships financial gain at any cost, so the big studios aren’t going to come out in defence of the competition. The fetish scene, being very white, male and middle class, suffers from a short-sighted fetishisation of persecution. I have lost count of the many times London kinksters complain about not feeling “special”, in an increasingly tolerant culture. I hear you, you poor snowflake. These complaints can only come from people who have never suffered stigma of any kind.

But back to these freshly politicised sexual minorities, who clearly understand the dangers of discrimination and stigma: there are many similarities between the mobilising effect that the AVMS Regulations had in the independent porn producers and BDSM scene, and Clause 28 in the gay community. Neither gays nor women can enjoy their pleasures lawfully, it seems, without becoming a threat to society.

For years, Backlash has looked at the long history of the gay movement for models and references. They are, after all, 30 years ahead of us in terms of political activism. We also share a feminist perspective because sexual stigma is often blatantly gendered. Sexual discrimination, whether it’s against cottaging or against facesitting, is also pretty much the same: it hates anything that does not validate reproduction and a hierarchy that bows to male desire, one where the female is always at the bottom and subservient to it. Anything that doesn’t follow this narrative is, invariably, harmful to children and a the end of civilisation as we know it. Perhaps our unimaginative powers-that-be are taking facesitting and “being on top” too literally.

So yeah, gays, women and those unclassifiable weirdos, the queers: Backlash have defended many of them. Everything that we have encountered in court, at employment tribunals, in law, in the media, the gay movement fought against 30 years ago. When we look for ways to understand, then defend, all sorts of cases against sexual difference, we refer back to gay activism. We stand on the shoulders of giants. When faced with sexual discrimination, I often find myself wondering: what did the gays do before?

There is some hope that the AVMS Regulations will be repealed in the end, and that activism and protest will play a major part. One of the most positive effects of Clause 28 was that it had the exact opposite effect that it sought. Instead of silencing homosexuality, as it thought it would, by banning schools from even discussing it, it highlighted institutional homophobia and a shift in society towards tolerance of sexual minorities. It did indeed catapult gay culture into the mainstream, and found support from many quarters, as well as from the general public, who felt no gay threat, but rather, sympathy, for a persecuted minority.

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So what can we do, while this law is still in force, with all its arbitrary, misogynistic, frankly farcical prohibitions? Because farcical or not, it still has the potential to make many people’s lives a living hell. Clause 28 wasn’t repealed until 2003, by the Blair government. Based on cases defended by Backlash, I have seen that these laws are often used to kick people who are already down. The AVMS Regulations, like ATVOD before, will force many independent porn studios that are a model of resilience in the financial crisis, to close down: even though nobody (to our knowledge) has died after a severe facesitting session.

And what to do next? I get asked that a lot. Carry on sitting on people’s faces on your videos and supporting your independent studios by buying from them. Back in 1988, gay people carried on being gay, doing what gay people do, and becoming an inspiring role model for an increasingly diverse society. Porn, and specifically, independently produced porn, creates cultural artefacts. Contrary to the opinion of our detractors, and of sexually awkward legislators, porn doesn’t exist in a criminal demi-monde or in a cultural vacuum. It’s a product of its time that talks about the world it comes from. Niche porn offers an education into the less discussed forms of sexual expression. It’s worth protesting, disobeying, fighting for our right to a more diverse porn. Thank to gay activism, we have a much richer world, with more ways of living and connecting. We are following in their footsteps.

I keep writing that I saw the beginning of a nascent movement after December 1st, because so many people united against persecution of diversity. So much was written and said. It started a fascinating debate about the role of porn in our culture, as I’ve already mentioned; but also, about misogyny, sexual autonomy, art and porn, porn and feminism, the complexity of porn and those who make it… And last but no least, it fuelled a debate about state censorship. Much more needs to be said, written and shouted. I hope that, after the inevitable lull of Christmas, the anger will still be there.

Last month, many must have realised that they are not alone and that they are not helpless deviants living on the fringes of society. It’s been immensely satisfying to connect with other porn producers who, like me, consider our work legitimate, ethical, creative, relevant. Something that deserves to be respected as a valid profession. Like the gay movement 30 years ago, we all agreed that we were not going to tolerate being criminalised and silenced by outmoded legislators. We were not going to accept sexual stigma as an inevitable result of running a discredited business. And we were fed up with being misrepresented as pimps, as coerced women, as unsophisticated, easily bullied smut-peddlers. The so-called Porn Ban was an unprecedented call to arms for all those who work in the less corporate side of the adult industry but also, for those who enjoy watching and exploring the less trodden paths of human sexuality. So yeah, things have perhaps to get worse before they get better and maybe ATVOD or the AVMS Regulations, much as we resent and oppose them, might be the catalyser. Everybody needs a kick in the arse sometimes, to feel the anger.

Can Sex-Positive Feminism Exist?

When I tell people I am a feminist, I get a wrinkle of the nose. Their face screws up, like they have smelled something bad; it is the expression I pull when the milk has soured.

“But you’re so sensible,” they protest. As though feminism requires the loss of brain cells for participation.

For a while, I even shunned the term myself. “It’s too gendered,” I’d say, feeling that my views were about gender equality, and therefore should not be posed as something one-sided. I’d phrase my views awkwardly – I’d call myself a “gender egalitarian”, for instance. I justified that it didn’t have the same ring to it, the same catchy title, but at least it was more precise in representing my views. Then, when I graduated, I sat through an eye-opening speech by feminist writer and critic Linda Grant. Grant had written books on politics and sex, and novels to boot. She was the woman I always wanted to be. And she was a feminist.

“I tried to get a store card in 1984,” she told the audience. “I was declined, because I didn’t have my father or husband present to sign off on the transaction. That’s when I became interested in feminism,” she said. Sitting there, in my mortar board and robes, I felt suddenly far too naïve to be in the ceremony.

I was born only 4 years after Grant’s anecdote took place. I had always considered feminism to be an archaic thing, a movement that brought us the vote and then went off the deep end with fits of misandry, censorship and sex-hating, and that wasn’t me. When I thought of feminism, I thought of Andrea Dworkin. I didn’t think of Linda Grant. I had simplified a complex political movement into a handful of successes and a whole heap of crazy. I had resisted identifying with anything feminist, because I was sex-positive, anti-censorship, totally behind the idea of sex as a fun recreation, someone who enjoyed pornography and vocally supported sex workers. I was someone who saw society’s next goal involving better protection for sex work of all varieties, who wanted consent to be respected by law regardless of whether money or cameras were involved. All this time, I thought that meant I wasn’t a feminist. And all this time, I realised in that audience, I was wrong.

Feminism is a complicated set of ideas, with an equally complicated set of people behind it. Like any complicated ideology, feminism is riddled with nuance and debate, and it isn’t stagnant: there are revelations and evolutions in ideas all the time. I don’t agree with all feminists; I want gender equality, both between the binary sexes and for those who don’t identify in those terms, but I don’t always agree on what that means. For some, it means that removing the idea that women are sex objects means removing women from sex, especially in public expression, and on that note I heartily disagree. For me, and – I assure you, readers who are still scowling, still wondering how such a nice girl ended up here, many people just like me – feminism is about claiming our right to consent. For me, feminism protects my ability to have sex, to enjoy it, and not be shamed; but equally, it protects me from being forced to explain my lack of consent in other situations. Feminism is about my right to say yes or no without being threatened, either by the society that would deem me a slut, or the rejected party who is angered by my audacity to decline.

I am a sex-positive feminist, and I can tell you, we are not on the verge of non-existence – we are not lost dinosaurs, wandering around in a wasteland, looking for creatures of our kind. We are real women, trying to express our views without being shouted down for being “feminist.” If you really want to help gender equality and the progression of society’s view on sex, judge feminists on the quality of their individual content, not the merit of the banner of feminism. Maybe then we can start to get somewhere.

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.

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.

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.

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.