This podcast contains two interviews I did in 2012, with “Shelley” and “Edie”, two strippers-turned-activists. In hindsight, these interviews are important, because they mark the point when a small feminist morality movement began to grow. In Edie’s words, the strippers were “the canaries in the coalmine”. The attacks on strip clubs may have seemed irrelevant to most people, but they were followed by far bigger attacks on free expression in the subsequent years. You can also find this podcast on YouTube.
Thanks to a supporter who contacted me via my Facebook page, I discovered that my book Porn Panic! has been briefly discussed on a Facebook feminist group called Level Up. Which is nice – except that the discussion is deeply inaccurate, and handily illustrates some of the deep problems within the identity-obsessed left that my book identifies.
I should point out here (to anyone poised to suggest that my taking issue with feminism is “sexist”) that the book has been well reviewed by female reviewers and readers, including this lovely tweet received today:
So anyway, the Level Up thread (shown in this screenshot) begins by complaining that Porn Panic! conflates “objecting to the objectification of female bodies with censorship” (followed by a sad/angry face).
It then proceeds with a series of increasingly wrong claims. I applied to join the group in order to respond (politely, of course!) but it’s looking like my application is being overlooked. Hence this post.
Having been branded everything from a Nazi to a misogynist and (this week’s favourite insult) an alt-right sympathiser, I think it becomes ever more important to correct false claims.
Do I conflate objecting about objectification with censorship?
Yes, pretty much. Not directly, but by pointing out that claims of “objectification” invariably come along with “something must be done!” demands. The deeper point is that objectification itself is a dodgy concept, suggesting that one woman can demand another woman’s image be removed, simply on the basis they’re both women. So a model doesn’t have a right to work, because feminists demand a right for no woman, anywhere, to be “objectified”. It’s nonsense, of course – the only person who has a right to decide where her image is seen is the person who owns the body in the image, not random strangers. “Objectification” has become an excuse for bullies to attack the right of women to self-expression.
Do I claim feminism is a driving force for censorship?
Yes, very much so. The poster complains that I equate censors with “feminists complaining about sexism”. That’s not very accurate, except in the sense that some feminists don’t know the difference between sexism and sexual expression. So when a feminist says “sexualised music videos are sexist and something should be done!” then really they’re saying “erotic images of women are harmful and must be censored”. Porn Panic! documents many real-life examples of this behaviour.
Am I connected with Spiked?
A commenter responds: “A quick google suggests that the author is connected with the vile brigade of Spiked”. Quick googling has replaced genuine research for many people online. I can only assume she found a review of my book in Spiked. But then, the book has also been reviewed (favourably) by feminist bloggers, and nobody’s suggested this connects me to feminism.
Are Spiked vile? “Vile” is one of those words that identitarians (including feminists) seem to throw around with abandon. Spiked is an interesting publication, with roots in the far-left Revolutionary Communist Party, but currently is a blend of liberal/libertarian and other viewpoints. I support the excellent Spiked defence of free speech, which is desperately needed in these censorious times. Spiked is refreshingly radical on other issues too, though we part company on issues like Brexit (I’m a staunch remoaner).
Have Zero Books gone all libertarian?
The commentor goes on to say: “…Zero Books which used to be a very interesting publisher has been literally taken over by the Spiked/Institute of Ideas crowd and they seem to publish little else than their questionable ‘libertarian’ stuff…”
I’m incredibly proud to have been published by Zero Books. They’re a left-wing imprint that (unlike much of the left) hasn’t been gripped by authoritarian or identitarian viewpoints. My publisher Douglas Lain seems to be one of the few Marxists left in the world who knows what Marxism is; and though I no longer call myself a Marxist, it’s important to differentiate between Marx’s ideas and the claptrap spouted by most “Marxists”. I’m also an ex-leftie left distraught at the atrociously reactionary state of the political left, so Zero Books is my ideal publisher. Unlike many on the left, ZB looks for intelligent viewpoints from many sides for their podcast and YouTube channel. They have not “literally” been taken over by Spiked, Institute of Ideas (which is linked to Spiked) or libertarians.
Freeze Peach is bad, m’kay?
The poster replies: “Eurgh yeah I’ve seen way too much of Spiked moaning about freeze peach on university campuses. They can’t even be bothered to find out what freedom of speech entails” – which is pretty hilarious, as she goes on to say “…no platforming is people demonstrating freedom of action!” (No Platform being one of the most blatant forms of censorship now prevalent on the left).
“Freeze Peach” is a way of sneering at free speech that has become fashionable among lefties (the fact they need to sneer at free speech at all is revealing). Ironically, I even mention the term in my book:
“Free speech, once the bedrock of liberalism, has – quite literally – become a dirty word on the political left. For a while in 2014, it even became fashionable for some online activists to mock the defence of free speech as FREEZEPEACH, using the argument that free speech cannot be allowed while some groups remain oppressed. The argument is a circular one, because in the swamp of identity politics, some groups are deemed to be permanently oppressed, by definition. So the argument goes: all women are oppressed; all men are privileged; therefore men cannot have free speech, because they use it to oppress women.”
I’d welcome the chance to discuss these points further via the Level Up group or elsewhere. You know where to find me!
Dr David J Ley, a psychologist specialising in sexual matters, and especially pornography, has recently been at the receiving end of a barrage of online abuse, following the announcement he would be speaking at a conference on the treatment of adolescent sex offenders. Dr Ley (author of Ethical Porn For Dicks) was due to give a speech titled: “Promoting Responsible Porn Use in Youth and Adolescents”.
Sexual violence is highest in the adolescent age group. An influential study called Pornography, Rape and the Internet (PDF) found that pornography viewing appears to significantly reduce sexual violence in this age group:
“I find that the arrival of the internet was associated with a reduction in rape incidence. While the internet is obviously used for many purposes other than pornography, it is notable that growth in internet usage had no apparent effect on other crimes. Moreover, when I disaggregate the rape data by offender age, I find that the effect of the internet on rape is concentrated among those for whom the internet-induced fall in the non-pecuniary price of pornography was the largest – men ages 15-19″
So anyone with an interest in reducing sexual violence – one might assume – would have found Dr Ley’s talk informative and beneficial. But morality campaigners thought otherwise, and set out to get the talk cancelled.
The tweets varied from the infantile…
… to the murderous…
… and of course, someone managed to blame capitalism (because nobody EVER thought of wanking before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations)…
Ley’s Speech Cancelled
Following the abuse, and a letter-writing campaign to the conference organiser, Dr Ley’s invitation was withdrawn, and he will no longer be speaking at the event. The letters repeated standard myths about pornography, and contained veiled threats to disrupt the conference:
“You are hosting the porn industry. This is quite likely to increase sex trafficking at the hotel where hosting!
I certainly will raise my voice and bring women to protest this conference!!
We will protest the venue as well as the entire conference. Pornography does not help sexual offenders!
We need to retake the moral high ground: We believe sexual repression is harmful. We believe sexual freedom reduces harm. The puritan left, like the religious right, would return us to the sexual dark ages, and that will be deeply harmful for everyone.
I’ve attended London’s Notting Hill Carnival most years since 1981. This year, like most, I went both days: Sunday with the family, Monday just to dance. Carnival showcases a West Indian culture that (unlike European cultures) shows no shame in blurring the line between dance and sex. And of course, this openness is bound to upset western sensibilities. Once, conservatives would have complained bitterly about the displays of sexuality, but the mantle of anti-sex puritanism has now been firmly taken over by the political left, and especially by parts of the feminist movement.
As an anti-censorship activist over the past decade, I began to notice about five years ago that anti-sex feminists had particular issues with black music and dance. I dedicated some time to documenting this in my book Porn Panic!
“Since their invention, music videos had come under fire from morality campaigners, but this was a phenomenon better known in the United States, with its powerful Christian right, than in Britain. Many of the attacks on popular music in America contained thinly-veiled racism. US Society was racially segregated for most of its history, until relatively recently, and most white Americans had had little contact with black Americans or their cultures, until the rise of music recording and radio. Although black artists were often boycotted by radio stations, white performers, from Elvis Presley onwards, began to copy black music, and young white people began to dance to it. Unsurprisingly, this infuriated white conservatives.
A 1960s circular from the Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans reads as follows:
“Help Save The Youth of America
DON’T BUY NEGRO RECORDS
(If you don’t want to serve negroes in your place of business, then do not have negro records on your jukebox or listen to negro records on the radio.)
The screaming, idiotic words, and savage music of these records are undermining the morals of our white youth in America.
Don’t Let Your Children Buy, or Listen To These Negro Records…”
Such a message shows more than hatred or anger: it reveals fear. As well as breaching the carefully constructed walls of racial segregation, black music and dance had caused a deeper concern: it was highly sexual. African dance had always been more ‘wild’ than the European equivalent. Now, as civil rights and anti-colonialism movements peaked, and segregation ended, continents were belatedly colliding. For the first time, black music entered mainstream Western culture. The dam broke. This was not a meeting of equals: African culture poured over white society like a tsunami.
Blues, jazz and rock and roll had just been the beginning. Now soul, hip hop, disco, reggae, dancehall, afrobeat, soca, dub, house, R&B, and many other genres sold records by the millions and entered the charts worldwide. By the turn of the century, it was hard to find music in the British charts that did not have some black roots.
And the videos that came with the music showed another African influence: clothing became skimpier, hips and backsides rolled in a way that white bodies had never before moved. As the moral panic against ‘sexualised’ music videos took root, it was not just a reaction to music; it was a reaction to blackmusic.
Black female artists came under particular attack during the Big Panic. Especially singled out for criticism were Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. But far from apologise and cover themselves up, all three of these artists revelled in their displays of sexuality, and responded to attacks by becoming more ‘sexualised’, apparently taking enjoyment from taunting the mostly white, middle-class commentators that were attacking them. Beyoncé’s famous performance outfits became more revealing. Rihanna turned up to the 2014 Council of Fashion Designers Awards in a near-transparent dress, which generated an inevitable barrage of outrage. Minaj’s Anaconda video gave the finger to her critics, being a celebration of her famously rounded backside, and featuring the line, delivered as a parody of a prissy, white girl: “Oh. My. Gosh. Look at her BUTT!”
Prudish anger mounted, with article headlines such as “Don’t call Beyonce’s sexual empowerment feminism” trying to create a faux-liberal case for demanding that the singers cover themselves up. But there was no contest: three of the world’s most confident and talented black female performers could easily handle whatever the bloggers and journalists could dish out. Commentators were reduced to whining, inaccurately and patronisingly, that the singers were the ‘victims’ of a white, male-dominated capitalist music machine. The women, and their millions of fans, paid little attention.
Given how deeply rooted the Big Panic was in the political left, and that the anti-sex movement was dominated by white, middle-class women, endless overt attacks on black performers would begin to look suspiciously racist. A white target for the rage was needed. Enter Miley Cyrus.
Cyrus had committed multiple sins in the eyes of moralists. She had been a child star, and now had the nerve to grow up and become an attractive young woman. She appeared naked in the video for her single, Wrecking Ball, and, most outrageous of all, during a 2013 live TV performance, she twerked.
Although twerking was a fairly new term, it described a dance move that had been around for decades, if not centuries. Nobody who has seen videos for hip hop, dancehall, R&B or other black music styles could be unaware of the ways in which some black female dancers could move their hips, buttocks and thighs. I had been a happy witness to this at least since I started attending London’s Notting Hill Carnival and West Indian parties in my teens. It is hardly surprising that twerking provoked the backlash it did among so many commentators: the link between dance and sex had never been more obvious.
Now the anti-sex movement could finally take aim from the moral high ground. Object teamed up with black feminist group Imkaan, created an astroturf campaign to censor music videos called Rewind and Reframe, and, with help of the ever-supportive Guardian, began to insinuate that Cyrus’s twerking was not just sexist, but in some way racist too. Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman ludicrously complained that Cyrus had ‘culturally appropriated’ black people by daring to move her buttocks in a certain way, and having apparently worked herself into an angry froth, described the performance as a ‘minstrel show’. Under the guise of anti-racism, here was a white ‘liberal’ journalist doing what racists had done in the Deep South decades earlier: trying to stop black culture from being adopted by white people. In place of an exhortation not to buy ‘negro records’, the new left had found new language to express their discomfort that white kids were copying the dance moves of black artists.
Freeman’s real problem was revealed in the article when she wrote of Cyrus “…adding in a racial element while she copied the dance moves of strippers and bellowed her love of drugs”. Black people, nudity and drugs: the triumvirate that has upset white conservatives for centuries. She even dared to invoke (or appropriate, perhaps) Martin Luther King, ending the article by stating that she ‘had a dream’:
“I have a dream that female celebrities will one day feel that they don’t need to imitate porn actors on magazine covers and in their stage acts. I have a dream that the predominantly white music world will stop reducing black music to grills and bitches and twerking. And I have a dream that stupid songs about seducing “good girls” will be laughed at instead of sent to No 1.”
Freeman’s dream, of a world free of strippers, porn, drugs, good girls doing bad things, and white people doing black things, is hardly a progressive one. She could have found her dream in Selma, Alabama, in 1963, where King made his famous speech. If any article summed up the 21st century collapse of the left into ugly conservatism, this one did.
If it had appeared alone, Freeman’s article might have simply been a one-off piece representing her own views. But it was not: the Guardian was in campaign mode. The piece was handily followed and supported a couple of months later by an article from Imkaan’s Ikamara Larasi titled ‘Why must we accept the casual racism in pop videos?’, putting the boot in on Miley Cyrus once again, and adding the ‘authenticity’ of a black voice to Freeman’s messy argument (albeit a black voice with close links to Object). And in case we did not get the message, a month later Larasi wrote another Guardian piece, ‘Sexed-up music videos are everyone’s problem’. Beyond her two attacks on music videos, Larasi was not again seen in the Guardian; her work was done.
In addition to Freeman’s and Larasi’s contributions, the Guardian carried a surreal ‘news’ piece on the story that 73 year old Christian singer Cliff Richard also disapproved of Cyrus’s behaviour, and he “just hopes she grows out of it”.
However clumsy and quasi-racist it might have been, the Guardian’s attack on ‘sexualised music videos’ helped do the trick. It was never about convincing Cyrus fans – the goal was to put pressure on the UK authorities. Just one month after Larasi’s second article, in January 2014, the Guardian wrote in approving terms that the BBFC wanted to regulate (i.e. censor) music videos in the same way it did feature films. Of course it did: the BBFC, let us not forget, is a private business.
“Following the issuing of new classification guidance from the BBFC on Monday, the organisation’s assistant director, David Austin, said it was responding to pressure from parents who were concerned about the sexual imagery freely available to children who had access to the web…”
And a few months afterwards, in August 2014, the Prime Minister, David Cameron announced in a speech on (ominously) The Family that the government was backing censorship of music videos:
“From October, we’re going to help parents protect their children from some of the graphic content in online music videos by working with the British Board of Film Classification, Vevo and YouTube to pilot the age rating of these videos.”
The Big Panic had claimed a an important cultural scalp. Without any genuine public discussion or outcry, and certainly without any research showing that ‘sexualised music videos’ were causing any harm to anyone, music – and especially black music – would be subject to prurient censorship controls. The old Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans would be proud.”
Currently circulating on social media: a video purporting to show a woman being attacked by a “Muslim rape gang”, somewhere in Europe. This video pops up repeatedly, often claimed to be in different locations. Its spread is orchestrated by far-right blogs, which may in turn be creations of the Russian state as part of Putin’s war on the EU and European stability. The claim is a hoax – the video in fact shows an attack on a woman by a Czech drug gang last May. The protagonist was jailed in December.
There is no accusation more potent than a rape allegation against “foreigners”. This taps deep into our primitive, evolved instincts; as I’ve written previously, the most valuable asset in any human society is its fertile women. Much of what is called “racism” actually stems from anger amongst men that “their women” may cross tribal lines to mate with outsiders. The loss of female mates from the tribe is the greatest loss of all. Thus, a stereotypical complaint about immigration is that “they come over here, take our women…”. When an accusation of rape is made against outsiders – whether true or false – the lynch mob is more than happy to spring into action. The idea that “our women” might voluntarily mate with foreigners is difficult to accept – far easier to believe that force was used.
Rape claims were a driving force behind the lynchings of black men in the US South in the early 20th century. Nobody knows how many of these claims were fabricated. But one can suspect that the proportion is high – after all, with lynch mobs on the loose, and no effective protection by the law, how many Southern black men would be likely to risk raping white women? This was demonstrated only recently, when a woman – Caroline Bryant Donham – admitted she had fabricated a rape allegation against a 14 year old black boy in 1955. The accused, Emmett Till, was lynched.
Foreigner rape claims are so powerful that they can even be utilised as a tool of war. During the 2003 Iraq War, a US soldier, Jessica Lynch, was famously captured by Iraqi forces. Rape claims abounded. It shows something about the human psyche (and the relative value put on male and female lives) that claims of rape against one woman aroused more anti-Arab emotion in America than dozens of male deaths in battle. The rape claims turned out to be false, but the propaganda helped rally American support for Bush’s war. As if to demonstrate the link between rape accusations and racism, two other female soldiers had also been captured: one black, and one native American. Unlike Lynch, neither became household names.
So it is unsurprising that, of all the accusations made against Muslim men in Europe by the far-right, rape allegations are the most popular. This formula has been reused and refined for a number of years. The English Defence League often focused on accusations against Pakistani men, while ignoring similar claims against white men. Their attitude seemed to be: rapes are OK, so long as “our tribe” is perpetrating them.
The feminist movement has been culpable of aiding and abetting the far-right by also making false or exaggerated rape claims, though typically against all men as a group rather than immigrants. In recent years, some feminist commentators have deliberately stoked up fear of sexual violence, using fake statistics and unrepresentative anecdotes. The prevalence of sexual violence in the western world has, in fact, been falling for decades, rather than rising. This is inconvenient for a movement that claims ‘rape culture’ is a dangerous force and is turning men everywhere into dangerous brutes. The “campus rape” hoax has been a recent example – the media happily reported a fake epidemic of sexual violence on university campuses.
These claims are used to empower an increasingly intolerant feminist movement, which requires male evil for its continued existence. Further, there is good money for “women’s rights” organisations in false rape claims. Canadian columnist Margaret Wente has exposed the rape culture myth, and accused its proponents of being a ‘grievance industry’:
“The evidence is overwhelming. We are more enlightened now, and men – most men, anyway – behave much better. That is bad news for the grievance industry, which must stretch its definitions of assault and abuse to ridiculous extremes to keep its numbers up.”
The far-right has increasingly adopted feminist language and propaganda in its attempts to demonise Europe’s Muslim population. The fascists of the 1930s had a traditional view of women as mothers and home-makers. Today’s fascists stress how liberal they are, and use their supposed liberalism against Muslim migrants, accusing Muslims (mostly falsely) of not accepting European values such as women’s rights. This ignores, of course, the fact that women’s rights are almost as recent an innovation in the West as they are in the rest of the world.
We must demand proof rather than blindly accept far-right accusations of “Muslim rape”, or feminist rape-culture accusations against men in general. Among the strongest of our western values is the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In the specific case of rape, this value is under attack by fascists and feminists alike.
My book Porn Panic!, which was published in August by Zero Books, is an unusual book, and has had strong reviews – from those on both sides of the porn debate. The book charts attacks on pornography – in part from a personal perspective – and then takes a big step back to take a broad look at the state of our society today; and concludes that we’re not in a good place, nor moving in a good direction. This is more than a book about pornography: it’s a book about fascism.
It’s no secret that authoritarians will always target sexual libertines, nor that authoritarian states consistently attempt to suppress the sexual urge. This is a lesson that has been learned repeatedly through history; every spike in sexual freedom has eventually been met with a conservative backlash. The pattern is so marked, and so consistent, that it almost seems burned into our DNA. And of course, it is: sex is such a fundamental part of the human psyche that it plays a hidden role in most of our behaviours. Sex is about far more than either reproduction or pleasure. It forms a vital role in our economic and social life; it is probably the most valuable commodity we as humans trade, and it was certainly the first. Sexual freedom offends, because it threatens so many vested interests.
So when, as a tech entrepreneur in the mid-90s, I built some of the earliest Internet porn sites, I was uniquely positioned to watch the backlash unfold. Indeed, I fully expected the backlash, and watched with interest. After all, I live in the UK, a country that has gone through more contortions than almost any other to stop its citizens watching smut. Would our prudish authorities simply roll over as the digital network swept away their carefully assembled powers of censorship? Not a chance.
And similarly, the grassroots backlash was to be expected. What took me by surprise was the nature of the backlash. In a country where religion has withered to a point of virtual irrelevance, a Christian campaign for decency would be simply laughed off. Instead, the anti-sex fury came from my tribe, the political left. A conservative strand of feminism, born in the USA in the 1980s, was at the core of the anti-sex reaction. Its first victims were strippers in east London, who fought back as feminists and trade unionists attempted to put them out of well-paid work and kill a niche culture. One of the strippers, who features in Porn Panic!, referred to herself as the “canary in the coalmine”. She understood like few others that a tsunami was building.
From strip clubs, the movement surged forward, attacking sexual expression in all forms, and then expanding to attack free speech in general. It was a movement of the left that embodied all the worst attributes of the old conservative right: it began to attack concepts of racial and sexual equality that had been the outcome of the liberal revolutions of the 1960s. It was inherently anti-science, preferring to create new facts that suited its ideology. This was a new fascism, and its ideas were entering the mainstream.
A feminist campaign against Tyler the Creator, a hip hop artist, led to Theresa May banning him from touring the UK.
One of the core themes of my book Porn Panic! is the way in which feminism has become a force for censorship. While pro-censorship feminism began decades ago by attacking pornography as ‘misogynistic’, its scope has since broadened significantly. Now, any expression that might be labelled as misogynistic, or offensive to women, becomes a valid target for censorship.
One of the most shocking recent examples of feminism-as-censorship was the ban (by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May) on a popular hip hop artist, Tyler the Creator, from the UK. The following is an extract from Porn Panic!:
… The next ban of an ‘unsuitable foreigner’ was a breathtakingly pointless piece of cultural (and probably racial) bullying. Tyler the Creator, a young, black American hip hop artist was barred from the UK (where he had been planning to tour) in August 2015. The basis of the ban was that he had written and performed misogynistic and homophobic lyrics several years earlier, at the age of 18. There could have been no serious suggestion that Tyler was any kind of threat to anyone – especially since his lyrics were no longer of the crude kind that had once caused offence. But now, his mere physical presence was deemed to be a significant enough problem that he should be barred from entering the country.
The smell of witch-hunt was again in the air. Some primitive human fear instinct had elevated a young man who had once penned some unpleasant words to the status of kryptonite; merely being in his presence might turn young British men into violent rapists and homophobes! The ‘rape culture’ meme came into play. While rape is measurable, rape culture is not. It is the superstitious idea that rape somehow hangs in the air and infects people like a virus. Carriers must be quarantined.
The hand of pro-censorship feminism was again visible. Collective Shout, an Australian feminist group with a history of anti-porn campaigning, had already successfully petitioned to have Tyler banned from Australia based on his lyrics and alleged bad behaviour. The British ban merely rubber-stamped the earlier Australian decision. Where have all the racists gone? Leftward. They appear to have realised that lynching a black man is no longer OK; unless you first label him a misogynist. Then it’s fine.
Hip hop has long been a proxy for racism. It is a black artform that has lasted decades and grown from strength to strength. Although a creation of New York City, it encapsulates the African excellence in rhythmic, spoken word performance. It has elevated poetry to new heights and become the world’s most widely-adopted musical form, in every language. It is common to hear hip hop dismissed in its entirety as ‘cRap’ (geddit?) This makes no more sense than to dismiss all poetry, or all guitar music. Hip hop infuriates because it represents a global triumph of something uniquely African.
Small, forgettable events like the inexplicable travel ban on a young American man are litmus tests for our political system and societal attitudes. Our culture does not appear to be in a good place right now.
There was a time when we on the British left owned terms like Unity and Solidarity. The broad left had formed around a single, enormous issue: the obscenity of poverty. Thus, the left once represented the disadvantaged, and the right fought to maintain the old status quo. When fascism last surged in the 1930s, it was the left’s broad base that ensured British fascism was crushed: it alone could unite the mighty industrial working class with immigrants and sympathetic liberals. It was opposition to poverty that united white working class people with the immigrants – Irish, Jewish, Black and Asian – that came to Britain over the past century. Ultimately, this was why the left eventually championed the fight against racism: because it understood that the biggest problems faced by immigrants – bad housing, low pay, state indifference, routine violence – were shared by poor white people, and formed alliances in factories and poor communities that transcended race.
Racism was never a one-way street. Tension and violence grew in high-immigration communities because of mistrust and misunderstanding on both sides. Mass immigration – then, as now – benefited the economy as a whole, but placed a disproportionate burden on poor communities. People who complained about rapid, disconcerting change in their neighbourhoods were not uniformly attacked as “racists”; instead, the left sought to find common ground and build unity. The Notting Hill Carnival is one of the lasting testaments to this approach: it was a community creation designed to bring white and black people together in the wake of race riots.
But the Labour Movement, the foundation of the old left, effectively collapsed during the 1980s and 90s for a variety of reasons. The left dwindled, and found new power bases: no longer in factories or council estates; instead in academia and the public sector. It lost touch with working class people, and lost interest in poverty. It instead adopted identity politics, dividing people by race, gender, sexuality just as it once united people across these lines. It became whiter and more middle-class, and gradually came to represent the interests of white, middle-class people above all others. Step by step, from the 80s onward, the left took on the attitudes of the old fascist movements, seeking to divide society into isolated, opposing groups of people.
None of this mattered much, until a new surge in left-wing support followed the 2008 financial crash. My initial excitement at the left-wing resurgence turned into disgust as I saw what the left had now become.
I first noticed the shift via my involvement in sexual freedom causes. The old Christian right had died along with Mary Whitehouse. Now, a new conservative movement surfaced, this time based around the remnants of the old feminist movement. The new attackers of sexual freedom came from the organs of the new-left: universities, trade unions, local authorities and the Labour Party. This new left had lost all interest in tackling poverty and disadvantage, because they had no experience or understanding of it. Instead, they declared gender, skin colour and sexuality to be the true marks of oppression. So, porn and other sexual expression came under attack, not because it was “ungodly” but because it was deemed to “oppress women”. Thieves had stolen the language of the (now defunct) progressive left and used it to advance fascist agendas.
So we saw the grotesque sight of middle-class “left-wing” people declaring themselves to be “oppressed” (for reason of possessing a vagina or extra melanin in their skin), and attacking poor white communities as “privileged”. The new-left had restarted the class war, but this time was firmly on the other side.
So when Edie Lamort, a stripper-activist (who I interviewed some time back), declared herself some years ago to be the “canary in the coalmine”, she was very prescient. The attacks on her and her comrades, by fascists in left-wing clothing, were indeed an early sign of a broad attack on liberal values from the political left.
The pus-filled boil of identity politics, quietly swelling since the 80s, really only burst within the past couple of years. And now, the identity fascists are dismantling all remnants of cross-community solidarity as rapidly as possible. Every progressive movement of recent years is collapsing as identity politics moves in. Among the most spectacular examples has been the undermining of the campaign against police violence in the United States. A few years ago, thanks to smartphones and social media, and campaigns such as Copblock, a bright light was shone for the first time on the astonishing violence of US policing. Although there was clearly a strong racial element, police violence was meted out across all communities. If there was a particular “identity” group at the receiving end, it was overwhelmingly poor, young men, of all races.
But to make it a “male issue” would have been foolish and divisive. A Martin Luther King character, should one exist today, would identify a common cause and an opportunity for cross-community solidarity; but this is not the liberal 60s, and there appears to be no room for uniting characters like MLK today. Instead, the issue was seized by black nationalists. The hashtag #filmthepolice gave way to #blacklivesmatter. In a remarkable reversal of logic, black nationalists – backed by identity fascists – declared #alllivesmatter to be a “racist” sentiment. Never mind that numerically, the single biggest identity group to be shot by police was white men; or that, proportionately the greatest sufferers were native American men. The issue was now owned by the 24% of victims who were black, and the other 76% were excluded (Source: The Counted). This marked the high watermark of the campaign against police violence: it had been killed by sectarianism. If there ever was a signal to white working class people that nobody cares for them, here it was.
Now, when a 12 year old (white) girl was shot dead by police, there would be no community mobilisation, no public outcry. After all, what hashtag does one use in such a case? #Alllivesmatter was already deemed racist, and #whitelivesmatter would be even worse. So, the girl’s name never made it into the public consciousness: Ciara Meyer RIP: killed by police, forgotten by identity politics.
Now, it seems, the scourge of mass shootings in the US is going the same way. While only a couple of years ago, every shooting was met with horror, and renewed calls for gun controls, now the campaign has been targeted, divided and sunk by identity politics. A steady stream of mass killings – driven by easy access to guns, however much the gun lobby denied it – was punctuated a year ago by the killing of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina. Like many such mass killings, the shooter was an angry/crazy/hateful (take your pick) white man. Unlike most others, the targets were exclusively black.
Dylan Roof, the shooter, was no doubt motivated by racist views: but statistically, the event was an outlier. It makes no sense to declare a single atrocity, carried out by a single person, to be representative of anything but the views of that person. Racial violence has, in fact, tumbled a long, long way since the days of the lynch mob. But identity politics (which previously had no interest in the long succession of mass shootings) now awoke, and declared the issue a black-owned one.
And with the recent mass-shooting in a gay club in Orlando, the divisiveness reaches a whole new level. This time, identity fascists of the right blame “Islam”, while those of the left are determined to blame “Homophobia”. But neither explanation is matched by a genuine trend: neither Islamist nor homophobic atrocities are regular enough events to be anything but outliers. Homophobia may still be commonplace, but is almost certainly at its lowest level in US history. The same old explanation holds true for this mass shooting as for all the hundreds of others: an angry/crazy/hateful individual managed to get hold of military-style weaponry.
Identity politics is really the politics of the self. The identity warrior’s deepest instinct is: “How can I make this all about MEEEE?” Thus, the ever-vapid commentator Owen Jones walked out of a Sky News dicussion on the Orlando shooting, ostensibly because the other commentators were refusing to acknowledge homophobia. But in reality, Jones had finally found an American massacre that he, as a gay man, could associate himself with, and so become outraged about. Never mind that, as a British person, the chance he will ever encounter a mass shooting is close to zero. Never mind that many of the dead were undocumented Latino migrants rather than middle-class British journalists. Jones’ sexuality is the hook with which he can claim a stake in the misery of strangers, far away.
And here is the real tragedy of identity politics: solidarity is dying. While, only a few years ago, we could all unite to express shock at the killing of a black person by a racist, or a gay person by a homophobe, or a Jew by an anti-semite, now this is quietly breaking down. Now, every atrocity is an identity atrocity, and so every atrocity fosters further anger and division, while not so long ago we could unite in our common humanity against the tiny minority that commit vile acts of hate.
Identity politics is the politics of self-pity. If I were to choose this route, I could assert my Jewishness: henceforth, I could declare any anti-semitic attack to be all about MEEE. But I choose not to be defined by my Jewish heritage, however much self-pity it could allow me to wallow in. My children are Nigerian-Jewish; should they revel only in the victimhood of Jews and Nigerians? Should my daughter declare herself a Judeo-Nigerian Feminist, and add gender self-pity to black and semitic self-pity? We are in a race to the bottom: when we selectively ignore horror, because we don’t identify with the identity of the victims, we are losing our humanity.
Is it surprising, therefore, that poor whites would now also choose to unite around their racial identity? Is the rise of Donald Trump or of Nigel Farage so surprising in this climate? This new ascent of the fascist right was clearly preempted and driven by the rise of fascist politics on the left. We have no chance of resisting the rise of of the far-right in Europe and America if we adopt fascist methods and ideas ourselves. We need to rediscover the solidarity of the old left: we must stand shoulder to shoulder with those who suffer, however much – or little – they resemble ourselves.
I have a confession: for many years, I was a loyal Guardian reader. At one point, prior to the arrival of smartphones and apps, I bought the paper, at a quid a time, perhaps three or four times a week. I always enjoyed, and wanted to support, its high quality, liberal-minded news coverage. It was saddening, therefore, to became aware of the deeply conservative slide the paper was taking, most of all when it came to the subject of sex. In the Guardian’s war on sexual expression, honest journalism at the paper has been sidelined, and bigoted opinions have appeared in place of fact. This bigotry hasn’t just been directed towards strippers, models and pornstars, but also has included deeply racist attitudes. I documented much of this in my book Porn Panic! (which is now available for pre-order on Amazon).
The Guardian’s descent into social conservatism dates back more than a decade. Brooke Magnanti – better known as Belle de Jour – who had blogged about her life as a sex worker, was awarded the Guardian’s blogger of the year award in 2003. She recounts in her book The Sex Myth that a group of Guardian journalists threatened to resign en-masse should she be offered a column. She instead went to write for the Telegraph. The irony that the right-wing paper was more accepting of sex work than the supposedly liberal Guardian was not lost on Magnanti.
In 2013, the paper published an editorial titled “Internet pornography: never again” in which it openly called for Internet censorship. The paper’s liberal values had been overruled by its hatred of sexual expression.
But porn is not the only area in which the Graun has succumbed to moral panic and pro-censorship attitudes. It has joined a far bigger and more worrying war on free expression. This time, the justification for censorship is the very Victorian idea that women are incapable of dealing with the same situations as men. Gender equality is under fierce attack, as it has been many times in history; this time, bemusingly, the attacks come from the political left. This massive assault on gender equality, and on free speech, began to rear its head a few years ago, and began with Twitter.
The War on Twitter
Twitter has long been hated by control freaks. Unlike Facebook, Twitter has been reluctant to censor the content of its posts. This has led the platform to be far edgier than Facebook, and thus more exciting and anarchic. The UK government first signalled its discomfort with free speech on this scale when it blamed Twitter, in part, for the UK riots of 2011. You get the message: free speech is all very well when you’re sending photos of kittens, but too much can be a dangerous thing. This is the age-old mantra of dictators and fascists, and it apparently never gets tired. Threats by David Cameron to provide a “kill switch” for emergency situations were thankfully ignored by Twitter, which is protected from state censorship by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
The control freak tendency instead reached for the oldest trick in the book: Twitter’s free speech is a threat to womankind! The opportunity to play this card came when a journalist, Caroline Criado-Perez, was abused on Twitter. Now, here was the perfect victim: a photogenic, blonde, middle-class journalist. The press initially reported the abuse as if it had come from a multitude of people, implying that Twitter’s free speech policy was somehow turning hordes of men into misogynistic monsters, and coining the term “misogynistic Twitter trolls”.
Yet once the moral panic had dissipated, it turned out that the abuse received by Criado-Perez had largely originated from two people, and (inconvenient for the “MASSIVE MISOGYNY” narrative), the worst offender was a woman, Isabella Sorley. Furthermore, Sorley had 25 previous arrests, mostly for being drunk and disorderly. Here was a minor story of two unpleasant people – at least one of whom was probably mentally ill – sending horrible tweets to another person; but in the hands of the pro-censorship feminist lobby, it had become a false message that misogyny was everywhere, and that too much free speech can be a bad thing – at least, for ladies.
A line had been crossed: ugly, foul-mouthed working class people are not supposed to come into contact with nice, blonde, middle-class ladies. When the two were imprisoned for their speech crime, the press was notably silent in questioning the sentences.
The Criado-Perez case set a precedent, and suddenly feminist commentators were climbing over each other to discover widespread online misogyny. The only problem with this “analysis” was that beyond anecdotes, there was no evidence to be found that women were being systemically targeted more than men. Indeed, when Demos carried out comprehensive research into abuse on Twitter, it was found that men were far more likely to be targeted than women.
This mirrored the situation with real-world violence, which men are far more likely to experience than women. Indeed, in a rare moment of clarity a 2008 Guardian article stated:
“Although it is the attacks on young women that we are most likely to respond to, it is young men who, overwhelmingly, are victims of violence (as the stories of knife attacks over the past year so well illustrate).”
This is hardly a radical new idea: we know that men are more likely to experience violence, and always have been. Despite this, neo-feminists have chosen to cherry-pick evidence to fit their “massive systemic misogyny” narrative. In other words, it isn’t that women are being targeted: it’s just that women are considered weaker and less capable of handling things that should be the preserve of men. This is, of course, not a feminist message at all: gender equality was once the core thing that feminists believed in, and the infantilisation of women was frowned upon. But from the 80s onward, the feminist movement has become ever more conservative in its attitudes, to the extent that it now largely opposes feminist positions from the 1960s. 1960s feminists argued that women were capable of handling any situation that men could. 2016 feminists disagree.
The neo-feminist view of women, while being nothing like the second-wave feminist view, is remarkably similar to the Victorian one. In Victorian times, women were considered to be frail creatures, prone to “hysteria”, “lunacy” and prone to fainting. Thus, they could not possibly be expected to handle gender equality. Since the Women’s Lib era, there have been frequent campaigns by conservatives to put women back in their place. What has changed is that now, the conservatives are on the political left, and call themselves feminists. The old forces that resisted gender equality – such as the Tory Party and the Daily Mail – have been replaced by new ones, including the Labour Party and the Guardian.
As demonstrated by violence statistics and the Demos study of online abuse, the feminist claim that women suffer more abuse than men is simply false. This is a huge problem for a movement whose single message is that women are “oppressed” by “patriarchy” and “structural misogyny”. Quite simply, if there did exist widespread hate of women by men, then women would suffer more violence and online abuse than men, not less.
And now, enter the Guardian to save the day. Last week, the paper published its own study into online abuse, and unlike any previous study, it found that women were, indeed, more likely to be victims. The study (and accompanying daily drumbeat of moral panic) was chillingly titled “The Web We Want” (“we”, meaning Oxbridge-educated Guardian journalists). Here was the Guardian in campaign mode, pretending to be publishing news but in reality whipping up a Daily Mail-esque moral panic over free speech:
“…along with online camaraderie, the vituperative modes of interaction took hold: bullying, shaming and intimidation… For women it frequently assumes a particularly violent and sexualised form, sometimes extending to public rape threats; for ethnic minorities it is often racist.”
In a nutshell, here is the methodology of the conservative left: attack free expression, but using left-wing language. Don’t say “Christian family values are under threat”, say “OMG people are being sexist, racist and homophobic! We must stop them!”
But it is, indeed, puzzling that the Guardian’s findings overturn conventional wisdom. Puzzling that is, until the methodology is examined: it is simply laughable. The explanation is packed with irrelevant technical detail (they used Postgres database software, and wrote scripts in Perl – so what?) which apparently is only included to distract the reader from the important bit. The entire article contains one useful, and very revealing, sentence:
“In our analysis we took blocked comments as an indicator of abuse and/or disruption”
So the reasoning is entirely circular, and hugely dishonest. Guardian moderators, acting (one presumes) under Guardian policy, block posts they subjectively consider to be sexist, racist and homophobic. They then examine the blocked posts and (shock horror!) discover they are largely sexist, racist and homophobic. The newspaper is guilty of the worst sort of misinformation: making a headline claim and then providing small print that doesn’t back it.
This is far from being the Guardian’s first campaign for censorship – it has actively campaigned for porn, “sexualised” imagery and (black) music videos to be censored. But this is the broadest attack so far, targeting the very basis of online free speech. Furthermore, the moral panic is obviously carefully planned and orchestrated, with day-by-day updates. Unsurprisingly, a Labour voice has now joined the campaign, with an Orwellian call by Yvette Cooper for “greater monitoring of online harassment”. Labour MP John Mann is already on record as calling for internet bans on “trolls”: crushing people’s right to speak out if the authorities consider them unsavoury. The implications for controversial political speech are profound.
Little of this could fly in America, where free speech has been protected since 1789. But speech in Britain has no such protection, and so (as predicted by George Orwell in 1984) is a soft touch for “nice” censorship, designed by a paternalistic state to protect us from ourselves.
My book Porn Panic!, which documents sexual prudery, the decline of the progressive left, and the rise of a new fascism, is now available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US.
This story is hardly an unusual one. Sex workers experience slut-shaming and other abuse as standard if they dare have a public presence. I have a number of Facebook friends who are prostitutes, pornstars, webcam girls and strippers, and I’m all too aware how often they are attacked online. I’m sharing these images with permission from sex worker and activist Laura Renvoize, who was the subject of the abuse, and chose to share them on Facebook.
The comments reveal how a pseudo-left, pseudo-feminist narrative is often adopted by middle-class women who feel the need to intellectualise their slut-shaming. These days, since it’s become fashionable to be left-wing (or at least, to sound left-wing), attacks on sex workers tend to be veiled in pseudo-left language. It is fascinating that the old left issues of sexism, racism and capitalism have now become excuses for anti-sex work and other forms of bigotry.
Unfortunately, this is indicative of the intellectual rot on the new left. Simply shouting CAPITALISM has become a substitute for reasoned argument. Note the claim that Laura is ‘a disgrace to women and girls’: in this version of feminism, no woman can be liberated, since every woman is (we’re told) answerable to all other women for their behaviour.
Note also the argument-hopping: Laura is told that her chosen work is violence against women (one would think she would have been the first to notice that) and is then blamed for breaking up nice families by sleeping with attached men and other crimes. Prostitution is said to be a “sick industry that promotes everything wrong with the world”. Entertainingly, prostitutes are often (as here) that told they don’t “value themselves” – a strange accusation to throw at some of the highest paid people in society.